SHAMELESS PLUG: Please check out my original fiction on Amazon. Strangers In Boston, by T.S. Mann.

Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations belongs to J.K. Rowling.

Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game
Chapter 24: The Goblet of Fire (Aftermath)

From the Daily Prophet (Early Sunday Edition)
1 November 1994


By Rita Skeeter

The much-anticipated Selection Ceremony for the Triwizard Tournament Champions held at Hogwarts last night was marred, first by controversy, then by horror! The Ceremony initially proceeded as expected with all the pomp and circumstance the Ministry promised. Although perhaps the whole proceedings were doomed from the start due to the Ministry's bizarre decision to allow the Dark Lord McAvity to participate in the ceremony, crucially by being the dignitary tasked with placing into the Goblet of Fire the parameters according to which the Tournament's challenges will be designed.

Whether what happened next was due to some malice from McAvity or not, this reporter couldn't say, but the end results speak for themselves. The Goblet initially performed its functions as expected in naming the Champions. First was Bulgarian Quidditch star Viktor Krum for Durmstrang. The second selection was more unexpected, however: a Seventh Year Beauxbatons student named Flower De Lacore, about whom little is known, though this reporter noted that the entire Beauxbatons delegation seemed shocked by young Flower's selection. We at the Daily Prophet wish Flower the best of luck. Finally, to represent Hogwarts, the Goblet selected popular Sixth Year Hufflepuff Cedric Diggory, son of well-respected Ministry official Amos Diggory.

But it was only after those three Champions had left the room that things started to go horribly wrong. For the Goblet then unexpectedly spat out a fourth selection form, and even more surprisingly, it was a form with two names on it: Jim Potter and Harry Black! The former, of course, needs no introduction: the world-famous Boy-Who-Lived who saved us all from the scourge of You-Know-Who! The other is his estranged Slytherin sibling who captured the attention of the whole nation by achieving emancipation from his neglectful parents, the Lordship of an Ancient and Noble House, and extraordinary fame and fortune in his own right all before the age of 14! This reporter personally observed both siblings after their names were selected, and it was obvious from their reactions that neither had expected to be chosen in that manner.

But the forced inclusion of underage competitors in a contest for NEWT-level students was not the worst development, dear readers! No, it was the fact that, in addition to adding young Jim and Harry to the list of competitors, the Goblet was also tampered with to make the Challenges far more dangerous to all the Champions. Indeed, it appears that this simple academic competition has been transformed into a blood sport that will pit five bright young students against Class XXXXX monsters! Even worse, a loss of magic is now the penalty for any Champions who refuse to compete, and death is a possibility for dozens of judges, ministry officials, and foreign leaders if any attempt is made to deviate from the Goblet's lethal games!

It was at this moment that Harry Black stepped forward and, despite his Slytherin Sorting, showed bravery that would make any Gryffindor proud. Rather than risk the lives of those officials who might be punished by that vile vessel for trying to cancel the Tournament, he boldly insisted on competing despite the danger. Inspired by his heroism and calm self-assurance, the other four Champions all swiftly joined him. Truly, we at the Daily Prophet are moved by this display and wish success and safety to all five competitors.

Finally, to dispel some rumors which may have arisen since the events of last night, this reporter wishes to clarify that, apparently, both Jim Potter and Harry Black admitted to placing their names into the Goblet of Fire, with young Harry candidly admitting that he simply wished to prove he could bypass the protections set up by both Dumbledore and the Ministry to prevent underaged entrants. He was not alone in undertaking that challenge, as this reporter has learned that no fewer than seven students other than Black and Potter were able to bypass the Age Line and enter their names, though thankfully they were not also selected. A mark of pride for those resourceful students? Or a sad commentary on the capacity of our leaders to protect the future of Wizarding Britain from those who would do them harm? I'm sure my readers can decide that on their own.

Be that as it may, however, Headmaster Dumbledore was insistent that their selection was due to malfeasance by some other party. Perhaps the Ministry should take the opportunity to further interrogate the Dark Lord McAvity, who was the ICW representative who entered the flawed contest parameters and who even now has taken up residence at Hogwarts! Or could there be a connection between this fiasco and the horrific events which took place last summer at the Quidditch World Cup, events which the Ministry attributed to Peter Pettigrew and Augustus Rookwood? After all, those two Death Eater traitors remain at large after their bloody rampage through the Ministry last spring that left seventeen people dead and former Chief Auror James Potter's career in shambles. Indeed, perhaps the vindictive Pettigrew seeks to humiliate James Potter further by endangering both of his sons in this Tournament of Death!

Not that Potter (now the Junior Assistant to the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office) can't endanger the Boy-Who-Lived on his own. For this reporter has learned that the form Jim Potter entered into the Goblet of Fire had been signed by his father, whose defense (such as it is) to a charge of child endangerment is that he didn't bother to read the form before signing it!

The Office of the Minister for Magic
7:30 a.m.

Cornelius Fudge slapped the paper down on his desk angrily and glared at the two men now sitting across the desk from him, with particular ire focused on the younger (and more vacuous) of the two.

"Ludo," said Cornelius, "explain to me, please, after everything that happened last night with the Tournament, why you thought it was a good idea to meet with Rita Skeeter and tell her every blasted thing that happened before the Ministry had a chance to issue a statement?!"

Bagman seemed on the verge of bursting into tears at the Minister's angry questioning.

"I didn't think anything of it, Corny! I mean, Minister Fudge," he wailed. "I'd already agreed to meet with Rita at the Three Broomsticks immediately after the Selection Ceremony! You know, just a few drinks and a quick interview! I had no way of knowing about the Goblet going all persnickety! I just thought it was going to be a puff piece! Something to make the Department look good!"

Crouch scoffed at Ludo's idiocy. "Yes, Ludo, well done as usual." Then, he turned to Fudge.

"Obviously, these weren't the sort of headlines we were looking for, but the truth would have come out soon enough. There were too many people in the room, and I doubt Albus would have concealed the nature of the Goblet's sabotage, particularly since he has three students now endangered by the Tournament."

Fudge shook his head in amazement. "How did this happen, Barty? Is there anything to the insinuations that it was McAvity? Or maybe Pettigrew and Rookwood?"

"You would have to ask Amelia about the latter two, though as far as I've heard through back channels, there are no indications that either of them is in Britain right now. That said, coming on the heels of the Quidditch World Cup, this certainly seems like it might be connected, given that both events were terrorist acts meant to embarrass our government on the international stage."

"Terrorist?!" yelped Ludo. Crouch glared at him before turning back to Fudge.

"At a minimum, the sabotage of the Goblet will endanger the lives of five high-profile schoolchildren. And worse, make us complicit in their endangerment. The only alternative is, as Albus suggested, to have curse breakers attempt to … well, for lack of a better term, disarm the Goblet as if it were a Muggle bomb. And if that went wrong, it would literally be a decapitation strike against Wizarding Britain, the Entente Magique, the Balkan Alliance, and the ICW itself, aside from all the other casualties."

Cornelius fumed. "I know, I know. Understand, Barty, if it were just my own safety …"

The Minister trailed off without finishing the thought. He didn't think his former political rival would believe him if he said he'd be willing to risk his own life for a chance to save those five children. Indeed, he wasn't entirely sure he believed it himself. It was easy to talk piously about self-sacrifice after the opportunity to do so had already been eliminated, after all.

"For what it's worth," Crouch said, "my assistant, Percy Weasley, and I will be taking up rooms at Hogwarts for the foreseeable future. I will be personally overseeing the investigation into what went wrong with the Goblet. Percy's young but quite brilliant. Hopefully, with his help, we can figure a way around all this."

"What about your other departmental duties?" Fudge asked. Crouch shrugged.

"I'd already begun delegating all my other responsibilities, as it was always my intention to retire from the DIMC next July. I'd planned to issue a formal letter of resignation in January, but no sense beating around the bush. With your consent, I would like to focus 100% of my attention on the Tournament."

"Of course, of course," Fudge said with a nod. "And perhaps while you're there, you can keep an eye on McAvity and see if perhaps he did have something to do with all this."

Crouch's eye twitched at the thought of staying in close quarters with the wizard he'd publicly accused of engineering the murder of his first wife.

"But in the meantime, I'm calling a Special Session of the Wizengamot for later this week. I want you to make a report on everything you've learned by then. Just you, Crouch." The Minister turned and directed a harsh glare towards Bagman.

"Ludo, you will stand next to him and be ready to answer any question put specifically to you. And otherwise, you will keep your mouth shut! And specifically, you will have no contact with Rita Skeeter. Do you understand me?"

Ludo nodded fearfully. Then, Fudge was distracted by another thought.

"By 'make us complicit,' I assume you refer to the fact that, as Minister, I will be personally obligated to help make sure the Challenges are set up according to whatever damned-fool instructions the Goblet chooses to issue. How is that going to …"

The Minister's query was interrupted by a sudden flash of light that heralded the arrival of a wooden box on the man's desk. All three men jumped in surprise. The box sat facing Minister Fudge, and he immediately noticed that his name was burned into the top lid in an elegant script just beneath an embossed image that appeared to be a cup with flames shooting out of it.

"… work?" Cornelius said wearily. "Well, it seems the Goblet has just answered that question for us."

He debated casting detection Charms to see if there were any traps or curses, but then decided that, at this point, it hardly mattered since the Goblet apparently had the power to summarily execute people at any range. Fudge opened the box and withdrew a scroll, which he unfurled. He spent several minutes studying his instructions with wide eyes before setting the scroll aside and rubbing his eyes in frustration.

"Minister?" Crouch asked cautiously.

"One of the Champions is Amos Diggory's boy, yes? I suppose that means we need to keep him out of the loop on any Challenges, or it would constitute cheating in the boy's favor. Which, in turn, means we can't just go to Wales or the Hebrides for this."

"Wales? The Hebrides?" Ludo inquired in confusion. Fudge ignored him and fixed a firm gaze on Barty Crouch.

"Here's your first Tournament-related task, Barty," he said ruefully. "Get on the Floo to the Dragon Reserve in Romania. Tell them we need five dragons ready for transport to Hogwarts no later than 27 November."

"Dragons," Crouch practically whispered. Beside him, Ludo went utterly pale.

"Specifically … nesting mothers."

The Durmstrang Ship
8:15 a.m.

Viktor Krum was on his way to debark from the Durmstrang ship for breakfast in the Hogwarts Great Hall (followed by a meeting with his fellow Champions), when Alexander Nott barked out his name before stepping back into his private cabin. The Durmstrang Head Boy looked angry for some reason. Viktor sighed and told his fellow Bogatyrs that he would join them later. Then, he followed Nott into the cabin. Idly, he looked around and noted that the Head Boy's room was bigger than the cabin he was sharing with three other boys. He briefly contemplated the fact that this would have been his room had Bulgarian nationalism not compelled him to turn down the Head Boy position in favor of flying for his national team.

Not that he would have traded his time with the Bulgarian team for anything, but it sometimes made his relations with the classmate who'd taken the Head Boy spot in place of him complicated.

"Head Boy wished for to speak to Viktor?" he said rather loudly before closing the door. In response, Alex looked at him in confusion.

"Zashto govorish na angliĭski vmesto na bŭlgarski?" he asked in Viktor's mother tongue. Krum just raised his chin.

"Viktor is speaking Englander instead of Bulgarian because Viktor wishes for to master Englander speech," the Bulgarian said mulishly. "Whenever Viktor slips into other languages but especially Bulgarian, Viktor … loses improvements what Viktor has gained."

Alex rolled his eyes. "Viktor, you don't need to be fluent in English. You already speak six languages as if you were born to them."

Viktor shook his head. "Alex learned Bulgarian. Viktor will learn Englander."

The Head Boy snorted softly. "Well, you can start by calling it English instead of Englander."

Viktor considered that. "Eng-leesh," he said slowly.

"Close enough. And enough about languages! I want to know why the hell I had to hear from Karkaroff at the staff meeting this morning that this damned Tournament is now potentially lethal!"

"Viktor is not afraid," he said defiantly. "Viktor is Bogatyr …!"

"Fuck the fucking Bogatyrs!" Alex suddenly yelled. "This isn't about damned House pride! This is about your life! Even if there's no way out of it, you could at least have come and told me yourself!"

"Viktor did not return with Headmaster until late!" the Seeker said defensively. "Head Boy was already asleep!"

"And stop calling me Head Boy!" Alex sputtered angrily. Despite himself, Viktor smiled.

"Why? Viktor likes it when Head Boy's face turn purple."

At that, Alex began to curse in a variety of foreign languages. Then, Viktor stepped forward and put his hands on Alex's shoulders.

"It was Alex who said that Alex and Viktor … that we … should be discreet. Until schooling is done. For both our families' sakes. Because Viktor's family … my family is old-fashioned and controlling and would not approve. And your family is … uzhasno."

"Horrible, yes. But just my wicked stepmother. The rest are all dead. And my … my Theo isn't uzhasno."

"Your Theo is also not family. Or else you could call him brother."

Alex looked unsettled at that, and Viktor pulled him into a hug.

"Be at peace, lyubimi," the Bulgarian said softly. "Viktor will survive Tournament. Survive and win. Then, Viktor will have fame and money enough for to come to England and protect you from wicked Mother of the Steppes. That is what Bogatyrs are for, after all."

Alex pulled back and looked into Viktor's eyes. "Yeah, well, I'm not a brave Bogatyr. I got Sorted into House Bolyarin. And we Boyars always know how to get what we want."

"Ha. And what does my Boyar want now?"

Alex's answer came in the form of a kiss.

A brief digression on housing at Beauxbatons and Durmstrang …

While the Hogwarts Houses generally stuck to their own tables for meals, the visiting students were encouraged to "mix things up" from day to day so that they would have the chance to meet Hogwarts students from different Houses (and, of course, students from the other foreign school). Most of the visitors found the intense focus that Britain placed on House selection (and at the age of eleven!) and the resulting inter-House conflicts to be quite odd.

Beauxbatons, for example, had nothing resembling Houses. Instead, students were randomly assigned by year to four-person suites, and then randomly reassigned after the Winter and Spring Breaks. (Beauxbatons did not associate those breaks with any Muggle holiday.) Starting in Third Year, students whose grades were high enough could request to be roommates, or even suitemates if four students became friends and wished to share a suite. Third-Year students taking more demanding courses could also request assignment to "quiet floors," while the very top performers in each academic year were allowed private rooms with en suite bathrooms. (It was a source of great frustration to Fleur Delacour that her uncle had forbidden her from drawing attention to herself by taking the top spot in her year, even if it would have afforded her a private room that would have facilitated many of her extracurricular activities.) With those exceptions, housing at Beauxbatons was randomized as much as possible.

Durmstrang, on the other hand, had seven Houses. Literally so—each House had its own separate residence hall on the Durmstrang grounds unconnected to the main facility. Referred to colloquially as dachas, each of these dormitories could house up to 200 students. Each dacha was designed to represent the character of the occupying House, from the flamboyant Bogatyr Tower with its solid gold cupola to the stately Neoclassical-inspired Bolyarin Manor to the foreboding Czarnobóg Hut, an enormous wooden structure that rests on what appear to be the legs of an enormous bird that can occasionally cause the whole building to rise up and walk around the grounds.

For the most part, there was very little rivalry between the Durmstrang Houses, largely because the Sortings did not take place until the start of each student's Third Year, which afforded two years to form friendships outside of the House structure. For those two initial years, students were grouped together in large, military-style barracks segregated only by gender. Also (and perhaps more importantly), the Durmstrang Quidditch teams were completely unrelated to the House system, with students from all seven Houses allowed to try out for one of eight teams (four junior teams for years 2-4 and four senior teams for years 5-7).

The Durmstrang students were as cagey about how their Sortings occurred as the Hogwarts students were about the Sorting Hat, but the process seemed to involve not only some kind of magical psychological evaluation, but also an assessment of the magical strengths demonstrated during the first two years and each student's general interests, preferences, background, and career goals. That said, each Durmstrang House had its own reputation, which also played a role in the Sorting process.

For example, House Bogatyr was associated with physical and mental excellence, a strong code of personal honor, and a reputation for recklessness. A Hogwarts graduate might well think of Bogatyr as comparable to Gryffindor but with fewer pranks and more calisthenics. House Bolyarin, in contrast, was associated with ambition, political acumen, teamworking, and leadership skills, and a British wizard might think of a Boyar as either a particularly aggressive (if not ruthless) Hufflepuff or perhaps an unusually nice Slytherin. The other Houses were, in no particular order, House Keraunos, House Zmeyevich, House Zorya, House Taltos, and House Czarnobóg, each of which had its good and bad qualities.

House rivalries were generally far less cutthroat at Durmstrang than the hostility between the Gryffindors and Slytherins that, in the past, had disrupted Hogwarts with violence on both sides. That said, there was a traditional friendly rivalry between both the Bogatyrs and the gruff Storm Kings of House Keraunos on one side and the mischievous Dragons of House Zmeyevich on the other. (The Dragons were bitterly disappointed that Draco Malfoy did not come to their House simply because of his name.) The rivalry between the Bogatyrs and the Black Wolves of House Czarnobóg has been far more serious and occasionally violent. Of course, everyone at Durmstrang seems to have a bit of a rivalry with the Black Wolves, as most of Durmstrang's sinister reputation among the larger Wizarding World could be attributed to House Czarnobóg.

Grindelwald had been a Black Wolf, after all.

(For more information about the history and culture of the Durmstrang Institute, see The History of Magic (12th Edition) by Bathilda Bagshot, included under Supplemental Reading.)

The Great Hall
8:30 a.m.

To Blaise Zabini's surprise, Fleur Delacour strode confidently over to the Slytherin table with a small wicker basket at her side. She did not so much as look at the rest of the Beauxbatons contingent, most of whom were presently sitting at the Ravenclaw table. The other Beauxbatons students were certainly watching her (glaring at her in some cases), but Fleur paid them no heed. And she did so in a way that let all of them know she was paying them no heed. As a Slytherin, Blaise was impressed.

"Bonjour, cousin," Fleur said brightly. "Your friend 'Arry has asked that we Champions meet later thees morning to discuss what 'appened last night and how we can work together going forward. I brought some food from zee care package Maman sent zis morning to share with my fellow Champions. Pastries straight from La Pâtisserie Enchanteresse in zee Quartier Magique. A nice brunch dominical over which to discuss our impending deaths. I thought I would share one weeth my favorite cousin."

"How unusually kind of you," Blaise said with a smirk. Despite his snark, the boy's eyes lit up at the mention of La Pâtisserie Enchanteresse, the best magical patisserie-boulangerie in all of France. Which basically made it the best such bakery in all the world as far as he was concerned.

"Yes, eet was," she said. "But zen, I remembered that all my favorite cousins are back in France, so I decided to offer something to you instead. Pain au chocolat?"

Blaise made a face. "Er, no thank you, Fleur. I have … a bad history with pain au chocolat. Have you anything else?"

Fleur shrugged and looked through the basket. "You may 'ave your choice of a mocha Paris-Brest or a religieuse à la fraise."

"Hmm. Well, I'm more of a Brest man than a religious one." Blaise smirked, while Fleur simply scoffed at the double-entendre. She reached into the basket and delicately handed him a Paris-Brest, which, for the uninitiated, was a two-layer choux pastry in the shape of a wheel, filled with a mocha-praline crème. The religieuse à la fraise, on the other hand, was a double pastry filled with a strawberry crème and coated with strawberry frosting. The pastry was called a religieuse because the French decided it was shaped like Catholic nun, though Blaise for one could not see the resemblance.

Despite his teasing, the Slytherin was grateful. While the food at Hogwarts was generally good, no house elf could compete with the artistry of magical French patisserie. Blaise invited his cousin to sit with him for a while before her meeting. Fleur duly took a seat next to Blaise and blandly ignored the stares from the other Slytherins around them.

"So, what happened in the Beauxbatons carriage after last night's insanity?" the boy asked between delicious bites. "Your uncle looked … displeased."

Fleur shrugged almost defiantly. "He'll get over it," she said with a noticeable lack of French accent.

And, in fact, Gabriel Delacour had been quite furious at how Fleur had thrown away years spent hiding beneath the notice of her classmates and instructors by getting herself selected as the Beauxbatons Champion. And also how she'd defied his direct orders in doing so. Of course, there was nothing to be done now that her name had come out, and, as Fleur herself had said as an after-the-fact justification, by being in the Tournament, she would have a chance to get closer to both Jim Potter and Harry Black. Unmollified, her uncle had confiscated her stealth suit, a very, very expensive bit of enchanted clothing which Le Bureau de L'Inconnu had assigned to her for "missions of national importance, not childish acts of rebellion."

Somewhat more troublingly, Chevalier Delacour also advised Fleur that she would not be returning home for Christmas with her family as expected. Rather, Jacques and Apolline Delacour would be coming to Scotland just after the New Year in time for the Second Challenge, along with Fleur's young sister, eight-year-old Gabrielle. The little girl had been named after their uncle, the older (and more politically important) Gabriel Delacour. Uncle Gabriel darkly intimated his hope that Fleur's parents could "talk some sense" into her. Or failing that, that the presence of Fleur's young sister at the Tournament might "impress upon you the risks your defiance might impose on your loved ones." She was distracted from her dark musings when Blaise peered into the gift basket.

"I must say," he said with a cheeky grin. "It's a bit surprising that your mother sends you this much pastry as a 'care package.' However will you keep your girlish figure?"

Fleur laughed brightly. "It is zee oddest thing, cousin. I can eat what I want and never gain any weight."

"I imagine that's a source of endless frustration to your classmates."

She turned and looked over at her Beauxbatons classmates at the Ravenclaw table.

"Oui," she said. "I certainly hope so."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Great Hall, Lee Jordan went pale at the sight of a particular barn owl flapping into the Hall and heading in his direction. He grew even paler when he took the envelope it carried and noticed that it was addressed to him in red ink. Red ink because Lee's uncle, Mundungus Fletcher, was too professional to send a Howler to bellow out details about the family business in a public forum.

And indeed, the letter, once opened, appeared to be an innocuous note from his mother full of nothing but gossip about various family members and neighbors back in London, and the ink was black instead of red. But off to one side, there was a tiny inkblot that, if one looked at it just right, resembled a little handprint. A black hand, as it were. Lee looked around to make sure no one was watching. Then, he rubbed his thumb over the inkblot and whispered a word. Instantly, the black ink swam around on the page and changed from black to red, forming a message only he could read.

To My Idiot Nephew,

I have seldom been as FUCKING PISSED at a family member as I am right now, and I want you to know that if you weren't my baby sister's boy, there would be some "mutual acquaintances" waiting for you at the next Hogsmeade Weekend to introduce you to the Knee-Cap Breaking Curse, a rare bit of magic that is cast with a Beater's bat in place of a wand.

I hope I don't have to explain to you the nature and enormity of your foul-up, but since you made said foul-up, you've apparently gone stupid, so I will explain just in case. YOU DO NOT GIVE 50-1 ODDS TO ANYONE WITHOUT CONSULTING ME. AND IF YOU DO GIVE OUT 50-1 ODDS FOR SOME INANE REASON, YOU DO NOT ACCEPT A BET LARGER THAN YOU (AND BY YOU, I MEAN ME) CAN COVER!

Because of your thoughtless blunder, I now owe a grand total of TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND GALLEONS to a quartet of Hogwarts students! And of the four, two are cousins to my indispensable numbers guy, one is Lord of an Ancient and Noble House historically known for horrifically murdering people who piss them off, and the fourth one is THE FUCKING MONTESSI HEIR!

So, nephew, here is what you are going to do. In no particular order but as soon as possible, you will:

BEG your two ginger friends for a few weeks' forbearance on the 5000 Galleons we owe them. I should have that much scraped together by the end of November out of bets on the First Task and our "transport fee" activities.

Go to Blaise Zabini. SHOW him the utmost respect! And ask him (by which I mean BEG HIM) to intercede with Harry Black on our behalf and for the two of them to grant us a six-month forbearance in which to come up with the 20K we owe to them.

In the meantime, until the debt is paid, you will consider yourself the personal servant of both Black and Zabini. Inform them of this and let them know that they should not hesitate to call upon you (or, through you, upon me) for any services they require up to and including killing somebody!

If they do want us to kill somebody, thank your lucky stars it won't be you doing the deed, simply because I promised your mother that I would never let you into that side of the business. Let me know immediately through the special channel and I'll call in a contractor.

I love you, nephew, but love will only get you so far where our little thing is concerned. Never, ever, EVER screw up like this again. You make me look bad in front of others whose opinions matter. And that's something I can't tolerate even for your mother's sake.

Burn after reading.


Lee read the letter three times before putting his thumb over the tiny black hand sigil next to Mundungus Fletcher's initials to encrypt the missive once more. Then, he looked up across the room towards the Slytherin table, where Blaise Zabini sat next to one of the French birds, the one who'd beaten the odds to become Champion (and Fleur Delacour had been such a dark horse that no one had even made a bet on her). The Weasley Twins weren't down for breakfast yet, so he might as well deal with the scariest of the four people mentioned first.

Of course, they were all scary in one way or another. Lee slept in the same dorm as the Weasley Twins, and there were all kinds of stories about the new Lord Wilkes. But Blaise Zabini was a Slytherin, the future capo of the Italian Wizarding Mafia, and the son of the notorious Widow Zabini. Plus, there were rumors floating around that Zabini might be into blokes.

Not that there was anything wrong with that in the abstract, of course. But while Uncle Dung had promised Lee wouldn't have to kill for Zabini, the boy couldn't help but wonder what other "services" might still be on the table. Then, he simply shrugged.

"Merlin," he muttered under his breath. "The things a guy has to do to make an honest Galleon these days."

9:00 a.m.

Sirius Black fumed as he read the Daily Prophet but fought to bring his emotions under control. The last thing he wanted was for someone to rush towards him with a Calming Draught in hand like he was a bloody invalid. And while histrionic in tone, the article about the Goblet selections from the prior night had no new information beyond what Harry had told him in their mirror-call.

Across the table sat Sirius's house guest, Serena Zabini, who gave him a reassuring look.

"I am certain that the Headmaster and the others are doing whatever they can to see to your godson's safety. And besides, Harry has proven himself to be most resourceful."

"Resourcefulness can only get you so far against a XXXXX monster, though," Sirius said ruefully. "Most grown wizards wouldn't last more than a minute against one."

Serena laughed softly. "Most grown wizards wouldn't last a minute against Harry either, I suspect."

"True. I just … I just want to be there to help him."

"And you will be, mio caro. But the first Challenge is not for several weeks. He has time. You have time."

With that, the Countess set aside her napkin and rose from her seat.

"Come, amico mio. Breakfast is over. Let us dress for the day before us."

Sirius blinked. "Where are we going?"

"First to your owlery. I shall send a message back to my family in Italy. We have many connections across Europe. I shall, as the Muggles say, 'put out feelers' and see what information there is about who might have done this thing to your godson. Then, I shall reach out to my dear cousin, Gabriel, who is here as one of the Beauxbatons judges, and find out what he knows and what he suspects."

Serena walked over and put a hand on Sirius's shoulder. "And then, you shall take me to Diagon Alley and show me the sights of Wizarding Britain. Let us have one day free of worries and concern before we hurl ourselves into doing what we most for those we care about. Perhaps dinner at Summerisles, about which I have heard so much."

Sirius looked up at the glamorous witch. "And after Summerisles?"

She smiled and crooked an eyebrow. "Then, we shall see where the night takes us."

10:00 a.m.

Harry had picked an empty third-floor classroom with a lovely view of the Black Lake for his meeting with the other Champions. Krum and Diggory were the first two to arrive and, despite the seriousness of their situation, the two were nevertheless engaged in a debate about Seeker tactics. Delacour came next with a small wicker basket under her arm.

"Ah hope you all 'ave an appetite," she said brightly as she opened the basket to unleash the irresistible aroma of French patisserie. "Maman has sent me a care package."

"That's very gracious of you, Fleur," began Harry, "but to be honest I'm not very—Oooo are those Napoleons?!"

The French witch sniffed disdainfully. "Zey are called mille-feuille," she said tartly. "In Magical France, we do not glamourize ze memory of ze despot Emperor."

Harry chuckled. "Holding a grudge over the name of a pastry since the early 19th century. How very French."

Fleur nodded. "Oui. And how very British of you to say so."

Flummoxed by the exotic French pastries (about which he knew very little) and their relationship to some bloke named Napoleon (about which he knew nothing), Cedric peered into the basket and retrieved something that seemed doughnut-like but oblong and covered in chocolate. Fleur helpfully identified it as an éclair, and as he bit into it, he was surprised to find it filled with a very sweet cream of some kind. He swiftly grabbed a napkin to wipe his face.

His father wouldn't like it if he made a mess of himself after all.

"Where is Potter?" he asked Harry. "You did tell him about this meeting, right?"

"Of course," Harry said sharply. "I sent word through Hermione."

Cedric put up a hand. "I didn't mean to imply otherwise. But I know you two have that Oath of Enmity thing going."

At that, Fleur and Viktor looked at Harry in surprise.

"I did not know such things existed in Britain," said Fleur. "Zey were banned in France after zee Revolution."

Viktor snorted. "More that they were irreverent after the Revolution, yes? You had no aristocrats left who could swear such things against one another."

"Irrelevant," Fleur corrected. "And no, we did not. But zee Magical Legislature also passed laws making eet a crime to improperly influence the mind of another wizard or witch by any means."

Harry's eyebrows rose in surprise. "I should like to talk with you sometime about those laws, Fleur. I'm of the opinion that the British laws on that topic are … lax."

"What about your lot, Viktor?" asked Cedric. "I don't know much about the Balkan Alliance. Do you still have … aristocrats, I guess?"

"Depends on country. Balkan Alliance is many nations bound by treaty, just like …" He paused in annoyance and then snapped his fingers towards Fleur. "Your thing."

"Zee Entente Magique," Fleur supplied. "Zee British use zee French title for our alliance."

Viktor absorbed that. "Like Entente Magique. Balkan Alliance is many nations. Some still have lords and ladies after fashion. My homeland of Bulgaria does. So do Poland and … Viking places?"

"Scandinavia?" guessed Cedric, who was surprised that correcting the Bulgarian's odd linguistic quirks seemed to have become a parlor game.

"Da. Those governments still have hered ... herdit ... rulerships passed down upon death."

"Hang on," Harry interrupted in some confusion. "Why are there Scandinavian countries in the Balkan Alliance?"

Viktor shrugged. "Balkan Alliance started in Balkan countries. Many other nations joined later so that we could match …" He trailed off and looked back and forth between Harry and Cedric somewhat sheepishly. Fleur, less embarrassed by the politics involved, finished his thought.

"He means zat most Eastern European magical nations joined zee Balkan Alliance for zee same reason zat most Western European magical nations joined zee Entente Magique. Independently, zee smaller nations are no match for Wizarding Britain, but together, we can pool our resources and exert power in zee ICW equivalent to zat of your nation."

The Bulgarian nodded, somewhat worried that he might have offended the two British students, though they were obviously more confused than bothered. "Balkan Alliance has existed in some form since Secrecy of Statute came into being. Was logical for smaller nations to ally with us."

"And, naturellement, France was zee only logical nation to become zee backbone of zee Western alliance."

"Naturellement," Harry said dryly before turning to the main topic of the morning's discussion. His plan had been to brainstorm likely Class XXXXX creatures that the Goblet might select as obstacles for the first challenge, as well as probable formats for the Challenges. He was quite surprised to find that Cedric Diggory of all people was already on the ball.

"Right, then," said Diggory as he pulled a stack of papers out of a bag and set them on the table. With a flick of his wand, the Gemino Charm made copies for everyone.

"This is a spreadsheet that lists every Challenge that has appeared in the Triwizard Tournament from 1792 all the way back to 1552, which is as far back as we could find comprehensive records available in the Hogwarts library. There are earlier references to the Tournament in various older editions of Hogwarts: A History, but they didn't discuss in depth what the Challenges were. But this gives us fifty Tournaments to work with."

"Impressive that you got all this done so fast, Diggory," said Harry. "And, no offense, but how did you get this done so fast?"

"Well, I'm a Hufflepuff dating a popular Ravenclaw prefect, so that's two Houses who are invested in my doing well. Or at least surviving. And I'd be grateful if you all called me Cedric."

The others agreed with that and invited everyone to use their first names as well (even though Harry, Fleur, and Viktor were already on a first name basis).

"Unfortunately, I don't know how useful this will be for the First Challenge," Cedric continued. "Other than 1792, the Tournament never required a XXXXX creature for any tasks."

"Perhaps," said Fleur. "But zis is still useful. It is likely that zee nature of the Challenges themselves were not changed in 1792 save for zee addition of a more lethal creature."

"Quite," said Cedric, who blanched at Fleur's casual reference to "lethal creatures."

Just then, the door opened, and a flushed Jim Potter entered. "Sorry I'm late," he said. "Went to the wrong room."

"Well, better late than never," Harry said blandly. "Please, have a seat and a pastry, and we'll fill you in on what we've learned so far."

At that point, the other three Champions immediately noticed the rising tension in the room. Jim sat as far from Harry as the size of the table would allow, and he continually insisted on questioning every proposal Harry offered. For his part, Harry responded with barely restrained sarcasm to every comment Jim made. It didn't help that being in close proximity to his "idiot Gryffindor brother" was giving Harry a headache that cried out for a potion of some kind.

After two hours of brainstorming, the Champions still had little to go on, but the consensus was that the First Challenge would probably require them to get uncomfortably close to the targeted creature, either to do something to it or to take something from it. Mercifully, no task in recorded history had required a Champion to attack or even directly provoke a First Task creature, so they wouldn't have to kill the thing. On the other hand, under most Tournament guidelines, they would lose a significant number of points if they did kill the creature. So just shooting the thing with the Killing Curse, even if they could get legal authority to do so, would likely be treated as a Tournament failure.

Adding another complication, while the Champions could compare notes on what the First Task would be, they could not simply jointly come up with the optimal strategy. If anything, they would have to take efforts to make sure they weren't copying one another. According to the Tournament Rules, if a Champion used a technique for the First Challenge that the Goblet of Fire deemed too similar to one a prior Champion had already used, the later Champion would suffer an automatic 10-point penalty to the final score, and for each subsequent Champion to use the same solution, the penalty would increase by an additional 10 points. The pre-penalty scores for each Challenge were taken from the average of all the individual judges' scores which could range from zero to 50. If penalties imposed by the Goblet reduced the Champion's score to zero or below, it would be treated as a failure to participate, with an accompanying loss of magic! The very thought of that shook the quintet, and while they wanted to help each other against the Challenge, the nature of it also made them wary of revealing too much of their plans.

"I guess that means using a broom is out," said Jim to Viktor. "You're better at it than me, I reckon. So you should be the one to have that option."

Viktor waved him off. "Viktor has seen both Jim Potter and Harry Black on broom. Broom riding may not even be useful option. Bagman said Champions could only use wand and can take no magic items into arena."

Jim looked glum at that. Then, he glanced over at Harry who seemed amused that his suggestion of using a broom was shot down so quickly. Jim quickly looked away and fought down the anger that his father's idiotic Imperius screwup had instilled in him.

Finally, the meeting broke up, but the five students agreed to meet again regularly. To Harry's surprise, Jim was the last to leave. Harry crooked an eyebrow expectantly in his direction.

"So … are you okay?" Jim asked.

"In what sense?" Harry asked cautiously.

"I mean … are you okay being around me? You know, with the Oath thing."

"I am acutely aware of the Oath thing. But I can focus past it … for the most part."

"Because of Occlumency?" Jim asked.

"Don't be ridiculous," Harry said dryly. "Our government frowns upon Occlumency, and I am a loyal supporter of the Ministry's laws and policies. I would no more pursue a study of Occlumency than I would become an illegal Animagus."

Jim glowered at that but didn't rise to the bait. "Fair enough, I reckon. So do you have any ideas who might have wanted us both in the Tournament?"

Harry shrugged. "I've got ideas. Your godfather seems like the most obvious suspect, what with him being a Death Eater with a grudge against both your family and me as an individual. I still don't know why he put both our names on the same form like that. Possibly it was just a screwup on his part."

Jim pushed down a sudden spike of anger over Harry's insults against Peter Pettigrew. It was ridiculous that Jim might still feel any sympathy for the traitor, but between a lifetime looking up to the man as a beloved uncle combined with the Imperius-induced compulsion to distrust Harry, he couldn't quite help the impulse.

"Any other thoughts?" he asked.

Harry thought about it for a moment. "Assuming this isn't Death Eater-related, I'm wondering if it's to do with Ludo Bagman."

"Bagman?" Jim asked in surprise. "Why him? He's a complete moron!"

"That he is. But he's the only person involved with the Tournament who seems to view our addition with barely restrained glee rather than horror. And I am reliably informed that he has gambling issues. I suspect a lot of Galleons changed hands when our names came out like that. I've got people looking into it."

Jim looked at him suspiciously. "People?"

"Yes. People." Harry reached up to massage his temples. "Are we done, Potter? You're really starting to give me a headache. I don't mean that as an insult. Talking to you without hexing or even insulting you is literally giving me a headache."

Jim nodded slowly. "If you say so. But I was hoping we could also talk about the other thing."

"What other thing?" Harry snapped irritably.

"… Vernon Dursley."

At that name, Harry openly sneered at Jim. "What about the dead walrus?"

Jim frowned in response to Harry's cruel description of the dead man who was presently haunting Jim's home. The dead man who was quite insistent that his death was somehow Harry's fault.

"I'm sorry I came after you the other day after the newspaper article came out," Jim said suddenly. "I was upset, and I wasn't thinking clearly."

"Par for the course," Harry muttered under his breath. Jim ignored the dig.

"But I assume you've had your people or whatever looking into that as well. I was hoping you'd share what you've learned."

Harry lifted his chin defiantly. "And if I've learned that she really did it? Would you want to know that?"

Jim flinched. "I would certainly want to hear what evidence you had."

"Well, I'm not the one to talk to about that, Jim. But if you want answers, you should start by asking your mother if she's an Occlumens or not. You know, that legally suspect ability you just accused me of having? Because if she does and she's a Level 4 or higher, she can beat Veritaserum and claim to be innocent of crimes she committed."

Jim studied his estranged brother for a moment. "You know, it's funny. I honestly can't tell if you hope she did do it or she didn't."

Harry snorted. "You want to hear something even funnier? I honestly can't tell either. Now is that all?"

The other boy's face hardened in response to the dismissal. "Yeah, that's all. Thanks for nothing!"

Jim turned and strode angrily out of the room. The second he was gone, Harry staggered slightly, and he grabbed the back of a chair to steady himself while closing his eyes against the aching head pain and the sudden vertigo that were plaguing him. After a minute or so, Harry collected himself and left the room as well to head for the Infirmary in search of a Headache Potion.

Severus Snape's Quarters
3:00 p.m.

Snape sighed in irritation at the soft knock on his door. He'd been up the night before assisting Dumbledore in a futile effort to learn who had sabotaged the Goblet of Fire. He'd also made an early morning visit to Malfoy Manor to consult with Lucius. There had been no changes to Snape's Dark Mark (and, of course, Lucius no longer carried any such marking), and from their mutual resources there were no signs of the Dark Lord's presence in Britain. But Lucius's instinct was that whatever was happening with the Triwizard Tournament was somehow connected to the World Cup attack. And between the Dark Mark in the sky, the anti-Apparation wards identical to those used by Death Eaters, and the presence of the late, unlamented Tiberius Nott on the scene, it was clear that the attack bore Voldemort's fingerprints. Its purpose was still elusive, though the fact that the Goblet of Fire was present at both events was certainly suggestive.

Irritated by the interruption, Snape strode to the door and pulled it open. It was Lily. He froze in surprise for a moment before composing himself and inviting her inside.

"What brings you to see me, Lily?" he asked. Lily was visibly nervous, he noticed, and she wrung her hands while sitting down on the couch.

"Is this about last night?" he added.

"No, not as such. Although … if you know anything new …"

"No new developments since last evening, I'm afraid. I'm sure the Headmaster will apprise you of any new information."

"Of course, of course," Lily said distractedly before gathering her wits.

"I'm here about something else. Something pertaining to what we discussed last week in my chambers. About … Occlumency."

Instantly, Snape's wand was in his hand, and he cast several detection and privacy Charms, including a Charm specifically to detect Animagi. None registered, which was to be expected as Snape had fitted his quarters and his Potions lab with wards designed to repel insects of all kinds, and, at the moment, that was the only type of Animagus of concern to him. Once that was done, he nodded to his confused guest.

"Go on," he said without explanation of his spellcasting. Lily stared at him and then shrugged.

"Based on what you told me and … some evidence I discovered at 4 Privet Drive, I … I now believe you were correct earlier. I am an Occlumens but have somehow forgotten about it. Just as I apparently took a course on Muggle Pharmacology and have also forgotten about it."

She took a deep breath. "I'm here asking for your help to recover those lost memories. I … I think I really did murder Vernon Dursley, but … I need to know, one way or the other."

Snape stared at her in consternation. "Why?!"

Lily stared back in equal confusion. "What do you mean why?! If my memories have been tampered with, why wouldn't I want to know the truth?"

"Because it is clear that your ignorance is intentional on your part and has, in fact, provided you with your strongest defense against murder charges and an eventual Azkaban sentence!"

"You can't know that!" the witch exclaimed.

"It is by far the most likely explanation for the facts before us. And attempting to undo the memory alterations you have inflicted upon yourself, aside from the real danger of damaging your psyche, will also leave you vulnerable to being made to testify against yourself!"

Lily buried her face in her hands. "I understand that there are risks, Severus. But … I can't deal with simply not knowing. With always wondering if there's a part of myself that's … evil."

The Slyltherin snorted. "I would hardly consider you evil for engineering the death of the man who had abused your child before trying to murder him with a doxy swarm."

"But what else would I … no, would she do if that part of me gets back in charge. For better or worse, the Lily Potter sitting before you right now considers murdering someone in cold blood to be unthinkable. Who knows what other unthinkable thoughts I might be having and don't realize it?!"

Snape started to respond, but Lily interrupted.

"Sev, we both know you have contingent Occlumency triggers of your own. How can you live with knowing that somewhere deep inside your mind, there is another you and you don't know what it's capable of?!"

Something in the way she framed the question brought Snape up short, and his face was suddenly stricken. Finally, he relented.

"What you propose will require an extensive use of Legilimency over a period of several weeks to map out your interior psychic architecture and determine which of your memories are real and which are false. The process is arduous, painful, and ultimately may be a waste of time. And as I've said, you may well find that answers you find are not worth the price you pay to obtain them."

"Maybe, but it's a price I'm willing to pay," said Lily earnestly. "I'm not afraid."

Snape growled softly and leaned forward. "You will be, Lily. You will be."

The Muggleborn witch stared at him for several seconds. "Did … did you just quote Yoda at me?"

Snape scowled and leaned back in his chair. "My ward, Justin Finch-Fletchley. While my intention was for our relationship to be strictly transactional, he and his family have shown a desire for us to develop a familial relationship despite how extremely distantly we're related. At one point that included … movie night."

Despite herself, Lily laughed at the thought of Severus Snape being press-ganged into watching The Empire Strikes Back with a family of Muggles.

"I must confess," Snape continued, "that I understood none of the plot, but I found the dialogue of that little house elf in the swamp quite compelling."

9:30 p.m.

"This was a mistake," said the Countess Serena Zabini while looking up at the ceiling.

Sirius Black, who was lying next to her and still trying to catch his breath, looked at her in concern and perhaps a little offense.

"Well, look, I know I'm a bit out of practice, but I didn't think it was that bad."

Serena looked over at her paramour fondly and smiled at his remark. "You were most impressive, tesoro. It was an enjoyable experience I have not had in some time. I was referring, however, to the larger situation."

"Oh?" Sirius asked in confusion. "How so?"

Privately, Black was suddenly nervous. He'd known, after all, what happened to her seven husbands, though nothing against the Countess had ever been proven. But he'd assumed he'd be safe so long as they didn't actually tie the knot. The witch's currently pensive expression now made him wonder how safe he was.

Serena didn't answer at first. Rather, she rose from the bed and picked up her wand before summoning first a satin robe to don and then her nearby purse. From within it, she removed a small carton bearing the label Pall Mall. The witch walked over towards the window while lighting a cigarette with her wand. She inhaled deeply and then blew out a large puff of smoke. Behind her, Sirius got out of bed as well and followed her, not bothering with a robe.

"Those are Muggle cigarettes," he said in surprise. "You smoke?"

She turned to him as if surprised by such a silly question.

"I am Italian," she said simply.

"Ah, of course." Sirius reached out and took the lit cigarette from her before taking a puff himself. Then, he broke out into a coughing fit before quickly handing the cigarette back.

"Sorry – coff, coff – I used to be a smoker before Azkaban. Fourteen years of forced withdrawal. You know what the Muggles say: These things will kill you."

Sirius laughed. Serena did not.

"So," the wizard said returning to the subject. "Why was this a mistake in your eyes?"

"It was a mistake, Sirius Black, because I let passion overcome my reason. If I allow this to continue, I believe I would come to love you. And you me. And inevitably, we would marry. And then you would die."

A chill ran down Sirius's bare back, and he suddenly wished he'd put on a robe after all.

"Die. Like your seven husbands did?"

"Eight," Serena replied. "No one ever remembers my first husband, Paolo."

Sirius looked at her strangely and waited for her to continue. She took another drag on the Pall Mall and began her story.

"Once upon a time, there was a little girl who grew up on a large estate in Italia. Her magic was strong, as was the magic of her family. But she was young and impetuous and had read too many tales of amore e passione. In time, she went off to school at Beauxbatons. But every summer she came home, and from her window, she watched in delight as Paolo, the handsome Squib who worked at the villa as a stable boy, attended to his duties. Very frequently with his shirt off. When she was a little older, the girl developed quite an interest in horseback riding, and she came to know Paolo very well indeed."

She smiled fondly at the memory.

"After the little girl completed her seventh year of schooling, she returned home only to find that her family had found her a husband. A wealthy and influential German potioneer some thirty years her senior. The little girl—no longer so little, of course—was horrified. In a fit of childish tantrum, she ran to Paolo and begged him to run away with her. As smitten with her as she was with him, the two eloped. They were happy together for a time, and soon, the young bride was with child."

Serena took another drag as her face turned colder.

"And then, one day, Paolo was run over and killed by a speeding Muggle motorist who'd had too much to drink, and the shock of it caused his young bride to miscarry."

The witch turned away from the window to look deeply into Sirius's eyes.

"I returned to the House of Zabini with nothing, hoping they would take pity on me. And they did, after a fashion. They erased all evidence of my marriage to Paolo and soon after, I was married off to that same rich wizard. He was much older than I, but kind and quite besotted with me. And in time, I came to truly care for him. Then, one day, less than a year into our marriage, my second husband was working on a potion in his laboratory when something went wrong, and he died from poisonous fumes. I was not yet twenty and already a widow twice over.

"It was only then that my grandmother, the matriarch of the House of Zabini told me the truth. I was a Maledictus, the inheritor of a blood curse passed down through the women of our family, and the first woman to show signs of the curse in three generations."

Serena gave a brittle smile.

"She actually congratulated me. For while it was a curse for me, it was a blessing for my family. You see, the Zabini Maledictus manifests as a form of fate binding. Inevitably, I would be drawn to men who were doomed to die, and they would be drawn just as inexorably to me. While the curse itself was not selective, with Divination, it was a simple matter to point me in the direction of men of wealth and power and influence who were surrounded by omens of ill fortune and then, as the saying goes, see what developed. Those I came to care about and even love would come to feel the same towards me and offer to take my hand in matrimony. And in due course, they would die and leave everything to the Zabini coffers."

"Eight husbands," Sirius whispered.

"Yes. And I loved every one of them." Serena vanished the cigarette with a wandless gesture and then took one of Sirius's hands in her own. "That is why this was a mistake which cannot continue. Because if we do, I think I would fall in love with you, and you with me. And I would make you happy in the time left to us. But when you died, I fear your godson would hold it against me regardless of fault. And I would not have him look at me with hatred for something not of my doing or my desire."

Sirius swallowed deeply. "So … you think that because you are attracted to me, it means I'm …"

He trailed off, unable to complete the thought. So, she did it for him.

"My curse has left me a bride and a widow eight times over, Sirius. I have become very sensitive to its workings."

Then, she took his hand and turned it over before gently tracing her fingers along the life-line of his palm, a quick Divination to confirm what she already knew to be true. She looked up at him sadly.

"I am sorry, truly sorry. But the portents are unmistakable."

Sirius's eyes widened. "How … how long?"

She looked at his palm again. "At least six months. Perhaps as much as two years. But certainly no more. I am sorry, but I cannot say more precisely than that."

The wizard nodded slowly. "Of course. Divination is … an imprecise art. But I thank you for your … insight. And for both the kindness and the pleasure you have shown me tonight."

He lifted her hand and kissed it before summoning a robe for himself and retiring to his own bedchamber. He lay in bed staring out the window at the night sky while grappling with what Serena Zabini had told him. But eventually, sleep came.

Later that night, Sirius Black had The Nightmare for the first time.


NEXT: As the Wizengamot weighs in on the Tournament debacle, young Lord Wilkes takes the opportunity to meet up with his "father" once more.

AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is being written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.

AN2: As you might guess from Fleur's interactions with Blaise and with Harry, I watch a lot of The Great British Bake-Off.

AN3: In addition to this new chapter, please check out the companion piece published alongside it: Supplemental Reading, which will contain background information that might be of interest to POS readers. The first few chapters will concern the history of the Durmstrang Institute and the political structure and history of Eastern Europe.

AN4: What the Sinister Man is reading:

Hermione Granger and the Theft of Magic by Scribbling Steve. It's several years after the defeat of Voldemort, and Harry is an Auror assigned to track down occult tomes that have fallen into Muggle hands. His job leads him to Hermione Granger, a Muggle grad student whose research threatens the Statute of Secrecy. Only it turns out that she's not a Muggle at all, but rather the first Muggleborn to manifest powers since 1982. Harry must help Hermione to master her powers and quickly while working to unravel the conspiracy of why Britain has seen no Muggleborns since Voldemort's first defeat.

The Fragile House of Black by Fantismal and Jormandugr. Kreacher defies his orders and comes to Sirius Black to beg him to save Regulus. And everything changes as a result. The main story is Power the Dark Lord Knows Not, which is 72 chapters and completed. There are 18 side stories that flesh out the House of Black. A truly mammoth project and I can't believe I only just found it.

Dumbledore's Secret by JukeHero461. How the last meeting between Harry and Dumbledore in OotP should have gone.

When In Doubt, Obliviate by Sarah1281 (the same author as the beloved Oh God, Not Again!). Through a ridiculous contrivance, Gilderoy Lockhart adopts baby Harry, in the process somehow saving Sirius from arrest and the Longbottoms from insanity. Glorious crack and hilariously funny.

AN5: Special thanks to my Discord editors: _Paryanoia, BlueWater5, Earwing, EssayOfThoughts | Aich, Farsight, JimRavenCruisin' (Gods of Irony), kean, Krisni, MadNova, Plantae\, PrettyPinkCupcake, Sakkiko. Sehrrhes, skyari, and TrendyTreky. With special shout-outs to MadNova for help with the Italian and Plantae for help with the Bulgarian. Thanks guys!

AN6: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 19,003. Followers: 20,888. Favorites: 19,193. Communities: 256 Discord followers: 5,610! Go Team POS!