Potter and Black: The Goblet of Fire

Padfoot and Moony

Padfoot and Moony

As they entered March the weather became drier, but the winds skinned their hands and faces every time they went out onto the grounds. There were delays in the post because the owls kept being blown off course. The brown owl that Harry had sent to Sirius with the dates of the Hogsmeade weekend turned up at breakfast on Friday morning.

Sirius's letter was almost as short as the previous one.

Be at stile at end of road out of Hogsmeade (past Dervish and Banges) at two o'clock on Saturday afternoon.

'He can't come back again!' said Arabella. 'If he's caught…'

'Made it so far, though, hasn't he?' said Ron. 'And it's not like the place is swarming with dementors anymore.'

Harry folded up the letter and put it inside his robes.

Even though Arabella was worried, she still wanted to see Sirius in his human form again. During the final lesson of the afternoon – double Potions – feeling considerably more cheerful than usual when she was descending the steps to the dungeons.

Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle were standing in a huddle outside the classroom door with Pansy's gang of Slytherin girls. All of them were looking at something Arabella couldn't see. Pansy's pug-like face looked excitedly around Goyle's back as Arabella, Harry, Ron and Hermione approached.

'There they are, there they are!' she giggled, and the Slytherins broke apart. Arabella saw that Pansy was holding a magazine in her hands – Witch Weekly. She recognized a picture of a boy with a big broken heart in the background.

'You might find something to interest you in there, Black!' Pansy said loudly, and she threw the magazine at Arabella, who caught it. At that moment, the dungeon door opened, and Snape beckoned them all inside.

Arabella, Harry, Ron and Hermione headed for a table at the back of the dungeon as usual. Once Snape had turned his back on them to write up the ingredients of today's potion on the blackboard, Arabella rifled through the magazine under the desk. In the centre pages, Arabella found what they were looking for. Harry, Ron and Hermione leaned in closer.

Love Triangle or Love Pentagon?: Harry Potter's Secret Heartache

A boy like no other, perhaps - yet a boy suffering all the usual pangs of adolescence, writes Rita Skeeter. Deprived of love since the tragic demise of his parents, fourteen-year-old Harry Potter thought he had found solace at Hogwarts with his best friends (or something more), Arabella Black, daughter of mass-murdered Sirius Black, and Muggle-born Hermione Granger. Little did he know that he would shortly be suffering yet another emotional blow in a life already littered with personal loss.

Miss Granger, a plain but ambitious girl, seems to have a taste for famous wizards that Harry alone cannot satisfy. Since the arrival at Hogwarts of Viktor Krum, Bulgarian Seeker and hero of the last World Quidditch Cup, Miss Granger has been toying with both boys' affections. Krum, who is openly smitten with the devious Miss Granger, has already invited her to visit him in Bulgaria over the summer holidays, and insists that he has 'never felt this way about any other girl.'

However, it might not be Miss Granger's doubtful natural charms that have captured these unfortunate boys' interest.

'She's really ugly,' says Pansy Parkinson, a pretty and vivacious fourth-year student, 'but she'd be well up to making a Love Potion, she's quite brainy. I think that's how she's doing it.'

Love Potions are, of course, banned at Hogwarts, and no doubt Albus Dumbledore will want to investigate these claims.

Meanwhile, Miss Black, a pretty but vicious girl, seems to be following in her family's footsteps and has been reported to have her father's violent tendencies.

'She's punched me twice,' said Draco Malfoy, a handsome fourth year student, 'and I really didn't do or say anything to her. She's family, and I've been trying to get close to her, but she's too much like her father.'

Miss Black also seems to be like her best friend Miss Granger and also seems to be toying with Harry Potter's heart. With the arrival of Victor Krum came Nikola Stefanov, fellow Durmstrang student and a very handsome young man.

'She's pretty but mostly plain,' said Nikola. 'She seems to be more bent on getting Harry Potter jealous. It seemed like our relationship was just a game to her. I wanted to end it as soon as I found out, but she kept insisting that we stay together. She said that I will get to do things to her… intimate things to her if we stayed together, but I ended it right then and there.'

The promise of an intimate relationship from Miss Black to mess with Harry's heart, is not surprising considering who she is related to. Among Sirius Black are Bellatrix Lestrange, Regulus Black, Araminta Mehflua, just to name a few. Albus Dumbledore will want to keep a closer eye on her behaviour.

It seems to be that these two ambitious girls are hoping to climb the social ladder and is willing to step on Harry Potter along the way. In the meantime, Harry Potter's well-wishers must hope that, next time, he will try his luck on more worthier candidates.

'She's made me out to be a whore!' hissed angrily at Arabella, her eyes burning with fury as she gripped the article very tightly. She then turned to Hermione, who was looking astonished, and said, 'Hermione, I want you to do everything you can to destroy her. I don't care what you do, blackmail, anything, but break her. Find out anything, and everything you can.'

'She's made you two out to be some sort of - of scarlet women!' hissed Ron.

Hermione stopped looking astonished and snorted with laughter. 'Scarlet women?' she repeated, shaking with suppressed giggles as she looked around at Ron.

'It's what my mum calls them,' Ron muttered, his ears going red.

Arabella threw the article at an empty chair and looked over at the Slytherins, who were watching them closely to see whether or not they were upset by the article. Arabella was upset, but she wasn't going to let the Slytherins see that. Arabella gave a mocking smile and did the princess wave to them before she, Hermione, Harry and Ron started to unpack the ingredients they would need for their Wit-Sharpening Potion.

'You okay?' whispered Harry to Arabella, so that nobody but the two of them would be able to hear.

'No,' said Arabella shortly. 'I'm going to kill Skeeter and Nikola.'

'I'm sorry,' said Harry. 'If we didn't pull that prank on –'

'He still would have done something like this,' said Arabella, cutting his apology off. 'His stupid, egotistical pride got in the way.'

After unpacking their ingredients, they started to work on their potions in silence.

'There's something funny, though,' said Hermione ten minutes later, holding her pestle suspended over a bowl of scarab beetles. 'How could Rita Skeeter have known…?'

'Known what?' said Ron quickly. 'You haven't been mixing up Love Potions, have you?'

'Don't be stupid,' Hermione snapped, starting to pound up her beetles again. 'No, it's just…how did she know Viktor asked me to visit him over the summer?'

Hermione blushed scarlet as she said this and determinedly avoided Ron's eyes.

'What?' said Ron, dropping his pestle with a loud clunk.

'He asked me right after he'd pulled me out of the lake,' Hermione muttered. 'After he'd got rid of his shark's head. Madam Pomfrey gave us both blankets and then he sort of pulled me away from the judges so they wouldn't hear, and he said, if I wasn't doing anything over the summer, would I like to -'

'And what did you say?' said Ron, who had picked up his pestle and was grinding it on the desk, a good six inches from his bowl, because he was looking at Hermione.

'And he did say he'd never felt the same way about anyone else,' Hermione went on, going so red now that Arabella could almost feel the heat coming from her, 'but how could Rita Skeeter have heard him? She wasn't there…or was she? Maybe she has got an Invisibility Cloak; maybe she sneaked onto the grounds to watch the second task…'

'And what did you say?' Ron repeated, pounding his pestle down so hard that it dented the desk.

'Well, I was too busy seeing whether -'

'Fascinating through your social life undoubtedly is Miss Granger,' said an icy voice right behind them, and the four of them jumped, 'I must as you not to discuss it in my class. Ten points from Gryffindor.'

Snape had glided over to their desk while they were talking. The whole class was now looking around at them; Malfoy took the opportunity to flash POTTER STINKS across the dungeon at Harry.

'Ah…reading magazines under the table as well?' Snape added, snatching up the copy of Witch Weekly. 'A further ten points from Gryffindor…oh but of course…' Snapes black eyes glittered as they fell on Rita Skeeter's article. 'Potter has to keep up with his press cuttings…'

The dungeon rang with the Slytherins' laughter, and an unpleasant smile curled Snape's thin mouth. To Arabella's further fury, he began to read the article aloud.

'Love Triangle or Love Pentagon?: Harry Potter's Secret Heartache… dear, dear. Potter, what's ailing you now? A boy like no other, perhaps…'

Arabella could feel her face burning. Snape paused at the end of every sentence to all the Slytherins a hearty laugh. He read Arabella's part with the upmost enthusiasm. It sounded ten times worse.

'She said that I will get to do things to her… intimate things to her… my, my, my Black, following in your mother's footsteps? Or is this your aunt's?' drawled Snape.

'My mother was no whore,' snapped Arabella. 'Nor was my aunt,' she added thinking about Andy.

'Don't be so sure of yourself Black. Your aunt, as that werewolf of yours used to call her Arry affectionately,' drawled Snape, rolling his eyes, 'was no doubly something along the lines.'

'No, she wasn't,' said Arabella, though she had no idea who he was talking about.

Snape ignored her and finished reading the magazine.

''…Harry Potter's well-wishers must hope that, next time, he will try his luck on more worthier candidates...' How very touching,' sneered Snape, rolling up the magazine to continued gales of laughter from the Slytherins. 'Well, I think I had better separate the four of you, so you can keep your minds on your potions rather than on your tangled love lives. Weasley, you stay here. Black, over there, beside Miss Parkinson. Miss Granger, beside Longbottom. Potter - that table in front of my desk. Move. Now.'

Annoyed and furious, Arabella threw her ingredients into her cauldron and dragged it over to Pansy on the right side of the dungeon. Determined not to look at Pansy's pug face, Arabella focused on her potion. Arabella felt that if she looked at Pansy, she would get the urge to take her knife and smash it on her face. Instead, she focused on mashing her scarab beetles, imagining them as Skeeter and Nikola.

'So,' whispered Pansy as she was cutting her beetles rather than mashing them, 'how far do you go with him?'

Arabella ignored her.

'But I do wonder what he did see in you in the first place,' continued Pansy as she added her slice up beetles, 'I mean it's not like you are some great sort of beauty or something and your mother is probably be as ugly.'

'First of all, your mother would have probably been as ugly is the correct sentence. If you're going to insult me at least do it properly. It's past tense because, unfortunately, my mother's dead and I'm here stuck with you, a pathetic little pug trying to get some attention by talking to a lame-ass reporter for a stupid magazine. Tell me, what made you talk to Rita Skeeter? The fact that Victor Krum talked to Hermione, a Muggle-born before a pureblood? I bet that really stung, but it was probably because none of the foreign students gave you a second glance or found you uninteresting, am I right? Tell me, which is it?' snapped Arabella, taking a long hard look at Pansy.

Pansy looked furious, but didn't say anything back to Arabella. Pansy just continued on what her work with more anger directed towards potion.

Arabella continued on with her potion with a little smirk on her face. I come from The Noble and Most Ancient House of Blacks, and we do not take shit from anybody she thought just as Karkaroff came barging in the classroom and was talking very rapidly to Snape. He was showing something on his left arm at Snape, it seemed to be urgent. He was hovering around Snape for the remainder of class.

As soon as the bell rung, Arabella threw her books and ingredients in her bag and left to catch up with Ron, Hermione and Harry, who was telling them about what Karkaroff wanted.

They left the castle at noon the next day. They went to Gladrags Wizardwear to buy a present for Dobby, where they had fun selecting the most lurid socks they could find, including a pair patterned with flashing gold and silver stars, and another that screamed loudly when they became too smelly. Then, at half past one, they made their way up the High Street, past Dervish and Banges, and out toward the edge of the village.

Arabella had never been in this direction before. They were walking toward the foot of the mountain in whose shadow Hogsmeade lay. Then they turned a corner and saw two stiles at the end of the lane. Waiting for them were Remus Lupin and a very large, shaggy black dog, which was carrying some newspapers in its mouth.

'Hello Remus,' said Harry when they reached the pair. 'Hello Sirius.'

Arabella beamed at the pair of them.

'No more job, Moony?' she asked. 'I thought you were looking for one in York?'

'More important things than a job,' said Remus, shrugging as they began to walk across the scrubby patch of ground that rose to meet the rocky foot of the mountain. 'Like trying to contain Padfoot in a house.'

'I don't blame him,' said Arabella as they climbed over the stile and followed. 'I would hate to be in that place.'

'You know where it is then?' asked Remus as they got higher up onto the mountain.

'Of course I know where it is,' said Arabella. 'Where else would he be able to stay?'

Harry, Ron and Hermione were looking confused as godfather and goddaughter continued on with their conversation as they climbed for nearly half an hour they climbed a steep stoney path.

Then, at last, Sirius slipped out of sight, and when they reached the place where he had vanished, thy saw a narrow fissure. They squeezed into it and found themselves in a cool, dimly lit cave. Inside the cave was Sirius Black, who transformed from the black dog.

Sirius was wearing a plain button up shirt and seemed to be getting some meat back in his bones. His hair seemed shorter and was washed. He pulled the old Daily Prophet from his mouth and hugged Arabella fiercely.

'Do you want me to kill Nikola?' he asked Sirius as he pulled away from her. 'Me and Moony could do it during the full moon.'

'No,' said Arabella firmly. 'What are you two doing here? You already came to the Second Task; this is too risky.'

'I'm fulfilling my duty as a father and a godfather,' said Sirius, grinning at all of them. 'Same goes for Moony. Don't worry about me.' He was still grinning, but seeing the anxiety in Arabella's and Harry's faces, said more seriously, 'I want to be on the spot. Your last letter… well, let's just say things are getting fishier. We've been getting the paper, but by the looks of it, we're not the only one who's getting worried.'

He nodded at the Daily Prophets on the cave floor, and Ron picked it up and unfolded them. Harry, however continued to stare at Sirius.

'What if they catch you? What if you're seen?'

'Don't worry about me,' said Sirius, shrugging. 'I'm fine and safe. This is the second time I've been outside. We wanted to talk to you after the Second Task, but we didn't have much time. The six of us and Dumbledore are the only ones that know I'm an Animagus.'

Ron nudged Harry and passed him the Daily Prophets, Arabella read over his shoulder. There were two: The first bore the headline Ministry Illness of Bartemius Crouch, the second, Ministry Witch Still Missing-Minister of Magic Now Personally Involved.

Arabella scanned the story about Crouch very quickly. Some phrases jumped out: hasn't been seen in public since November…house appears deserted…St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries decline comment…Ministry refuses to confirm rumors of critical illness…

'They're making it sound like he's dying,' said Harry slowly. 'But he can't be that ill if he managed to get up here…'

'My brothers Crouch's personal assistant,' Ron informed Sirius. 'He says Crouch is suffering from overwork.'

'Mind you, he did look ill, last time I saw him up close,' said Harry slowly, still reading the story. 'The night my name came out of the goblet…'

'Getting his comeuppance for sacking Winky, isn't he?' said Hermione, an edge to her voice. 'I bet he wishes he hadn't done it now - bet he feels the difference now she's not there to look after him.'

'Hermione's obsessed with house-elfs,' Ron muttered to Sirius and Remus, casting Hermione a dark look.

Sirius and Remus, however, looked interested.

'Crouch sacked his house-elf?' asked Sirius.

'Yeah, at the Quidditch World Cup,' said Harry, and he launched into the story of the Dark Mark's appearance, and Winky being found with Harry's wand clutched in her hand, Mr. Crouch's fury, and Arabella recognizing the voice. When Harry had finished, Sirius was on his feet again and had started pacing up and down the cave, while Remus was thinking very intently as his eyes were fixed on the floor.

'Let's get this straight,' said Remus after a while. 'You first saw the elf in the Top Box. She was saving Crouch a seat, right?'

'Right,' said Arabella, Harry, Ron, and Hermione together.

'But Crouch didn't turn up for the match?'

'No,' said Harry. 'I think he said he'd been too busy.'

Sirius paced all around the cave in silence. Then he said, 'Harry, did you check your pockets for your wand after you'd left the Top Box?'

'Erm…' Harry thought hard. 'No,' he said finally. 'I didn't need to use it before we got in the forest. And then I put my hand in my pocket, and all that was in there were my Omnioculars.'

He stared at Sirius. 'Are you saying whoever conjured the Mark stole my wand in the Top Box?'

'It's possible,' said Sirius.

'Winky didn't steal that wand!' Hermione insisted.

'The elf wasn't the only one in that box,' said Sirius, his brow furrowed as he continued to pace.

'Who else was sitting behind you?'

'Loads of people,' said Harry. 'Some Bulgarian ministers…Cornelius Fudge…the Malfoys…'

'The Malfoys!' said Ron suddenly, so loudly that his voice echoed all around the cave, and Buckbeak tossed his head nervously. 'I bet it was Lucius Malfoy!'

'Anyone else?' said Remus.

'No one,' said Harry.

'Yes, there was Ludo Bagman,' said Arabella.

'Oh yeah…'

'Ludo Bagman,' scoffed Sirius. 'Never trust him with anything. He'll tell the whole wizarding world what going on with your life every chance he gets.'

'What?' asked Harry. 'Why?'

'Ludo Bagman is the reason why Sirius and Kassandra had to go into hiding. He accidently blurted out some information about Kassandra to some Death Eaters, and they had to go into hiding,' said Remus. 'Sirius never forgave him for that.'

'What?' yelled Arabella, Harry, Ron and Hermione. Rita bloody Skeeter was right…

'But he seems okay,' said Harry. 'He keeps offering to help me with the Triwizard Tournament.'

'Does he, now?' said Remus, frowning. 'I wonder why he'd do that.'

'Says he's taken a liking to me,' said Harry.

'Hmm,' said Remus, looking thoughtful.

'We saw him in the forest just before the Dark Mark appeared,' Hermione told Sirius. 'Remember?' she said to Arabella, Harry and Ron.

'Yeah, but he didn't stay in the forest, did he?' said Ron. 'The moment we told him about the riot, he went off to the campsite.'

'How do you know?' shot back Hermione. 'It's more likey he did it then Winky. He did blurt out important information to Death Eaters without thinking.'

'Told you,' said Ron, looking meaningfully at Sirius and Remus, 'told you she's obsessed with house -'

But Remus held up a hand to silence Ron.

'When the Dark Mark had been conjured, and the elf had been discovered holding Harry's wand, what did Crouch do?'

'Went to look in the bushes,' said Harry, 'but there wasn't anyone else there.'

'Of course,' Sirius muttered, pacing up and down, 'of course, he'd want to pin it on anyone but his own elf…and then he sacked her?'

'Yes,' said Hermione in a heated voice, 'he sacked her, just because she hadn't stayed in her tent and let herself get trampled -'

'Hermione, will you give it a rest with the elf!' said Ron.

Sirius shook his head and said, 'She's got the measure of Crouch better than you have, Ron. If you want to know what a mans like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.'

He ran a hand over his face, evidently thinking hard.

'All these absences of Barty Crouch's…he goes to the trouble of making sure his house-elf saves him a seat at the Quidditch World Cup, but doesn't bother to turn up and watch. He works very hard to reinstate the Triwizard Tournament, and then stops coming to that too…It's not like Crouch. If he's ever taken a day off work because of illness before this, I'll eat Buckbeak.'

'D'you know Crouch, then?' said Harry.

Sirius, Remus and Arabella's faces darkened. Sirius looked like they murdered he was believed to be, while Remus looked like the werewolf society depicts him to be. Arabella looked as much as a Black at that moment than Sirius and you could almost see the resemblance between her and Bellatrix Lestrange.

'Oh I know Crouch all right,' Sirius said quietly. 'He was the one who gave the order for me to be sent to Azkaban - without a trial.'

'What?' said Ron and Hermione together.

'You're kidding!' said Harry.

'No, I'm not,' said Sirius. 'Crouch used to be Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, didn't you know?'

Harry, Ron, and Hermione shook their heads.

'He was tipped for the next Minister of Magic,' said Sirius. 'He's a great wizard, Barty Crouch, powerfully magical - and power-hungry. Oh never a Voldemort supporter,' he said, reading the look on Harry's face. 'No, Barty Crouch was always very outspoken against the Dark Side. But then a lot of people who were against the Dark Side…well, you wouldn't understand…you're too young…'

'That's what my dad said at the World Cup,' said Ron, with a trace of irritation in his voice. 'Try us, why don't you?'

A grin flashed across Sirius's face.

'Should I take this Moony, or do you want to take a stab at it?' asked Sirius, as he turned to Remus.

'No, no, go ahead,' said Remus, gesturing him to continue.

'All right, I'll try you…' He walked once up the cave, back again, and then said, 'Imagine that Voldemort's powerful now. You don't know who his supporters are, you don't know who's working for him and who isn't; you know he can control people so that they do terrible things without being able to stop themselves. You're scared for yourself, and your family, and your friends. Every week, news comes of more deaths, more disappearances, more torturing…the Ministry of Magic's in disarray, they don't know what to do, they're trying to keep everything hidden from the Muggles, but meanwhile, Muggles are dying too. Terror everywhere…panic…confusion…that's how it used to be.

'Well, times like that bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Crouch's principles might've been good in the beginning - I wouldn't know. He rose quickly through the Ministry, and he started ordering very harsh measures against Voldemorts supporters. The Aurors were given new powers - powers to kill rather than capture, for instance. And I wasn't the only one who was handed straight to the dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side. He had his supporters, mind you - plenty of people thought he was going about things the right way, and there were a lot of witches and wizards clamoring for him to take over as Minister of Magic. When Voldemort disappeared, it looked like only a matter of time until Crouch got the top job. But then something rather unfortunate happened a while later. Crouch's own son was caught with a group of Death Eaters who'd managed to talk their way out of Azkaban. Apparently they were trying to find Voldemort and return him to power.'

'Crouch's son was caught?' gasped Hermione.

'You never told them?' asked Remus towards Arabella. Sirius looked away at this.

'I told them about Bellatrix,' said Arabella, she then turned to Harry, Ron and Hermione. 'Barty Crouch Jr. was caught torturing with Bellatrix Lestrange, her husband Rodolphus and his brother Rabastan Lestrange. They're the ones who tortured my mother.'

'Crouch's son was a Death Eater?' said Harry.

'Yup,' said Arabella. 'Full-fledged Death Eater.'

'He tried to pass it off like he was innocent during the trial, but after getting the memory from Arabella, they managed to convict Crouch Jr.,' said Remus. 'They saw him cast the Cruciatus Cure on Kassandra. He wouldn't have gotten out of that one.'

'Nasty little shock for old Barty, I'd imagine,' said Sirius bitterly. 'Should have spent a bit more time at home with his family, shouldn't he? Ought to have left the office early once in a while…gotten to know his own son.'

'Didn't Crouch try and get his son off?' Hermione whispered.

Sirius let out a laugh that was much more like a bark.

'Crouch let his son off? I thought you had the measure of him, Hermione! Anything that threatened to tarnish his reputation had to go; he had dedicated his whole life to becoming Minister of Magic. You saw him dismiss a devoted house-elf because she associated him with the Dark Mark again - doesn't that tell you what he's like? Crouch's fatherly affection stretched just far enough to give his son a trial, and by all accounts, it wasn't much more than an excuse for Crouch to show how much he hated the boy…then he sent him straight to Azkaban.'

'He gave his own son to the dementors?' asked Harry quietly.

'That's right,' said Sirius, and he didn't look remotely amused now. 'I saw the dementors bringing him in, watched them through the bars in my cell door. He can't have been more than nineteen. They took him into a cell near mine. He was screaming for his mother by nightfall. He went quiet after a few days, though…they all went quiet in the end…except when they shrieked in their sleep…'

For a moment, the deadened look in Sirius's eyes became more pronounced than ever, as though shutters had closed behind them.

'So he's still in Azkaban?' Harry said.

'No,' said Sirius dully. 'No, he's not in there anymore. He died about a year after they brought him in.'

'He died?' asked Arabella.

'He wasn't the only one,' said Sirius bitterly. 'Most go mad in there, and plenty stop eating in the end. They lose the will to live. You could always tell when a death was coming, because the dementors could sense it, they got excited. That boy looked pretty sickly when he arrived. Crouch being an important Ministry member, he and his wife were allowed a deathbed visit. That was the last time I saw Barty Crouch, half carrying his wife past my cell. She died herself, apparently, shortly afterward. Grief. Wasted away just like the boy. Crouch never came for his son's body. The dementors buried him outside the fortress; I watched them do it.'

'Crouch lost it all, just as he was about to make it,' said Remus. 'One moment, a hero, poised to become Minister of Magic… next, his son dead, his wife dead, the family name dishonored, and a big drop in popularity. Once Crouch Jr. had died, people started feeling a bit more sympathetic toward the son and started asking how a nice young lad from a good family had gone down the wrong path. The conclusion was that his father never cared much for him. So Cornelius Fudge got the top job, and Crouch was pushed into the Department of International Magical Cooperation.'

There was a long silence.

'Moody says Crouch is obsessed with catching Dark wizards,' Harry told Sirius and Remus.

'Yeah, I've heard it's become a bit of a mania with him,' said Sirius, nodding. 'If you ask me, he still thinks he can bring back the old popularity by catching one more Death Eater.'

'And he sneaked up here to search Snape's office!' said Ron triumphantly, looking at Hermione.

'Yes, and that doesn't make sense at all,' said Sirius.

'Yeah, it does!' said Ron excitedly, but Sirius and Remus shook their heads.

'Listen, if Crouch wants to investigate Snape, why hasn't he been coming to judge the tournament? It would be an ideal excuse to make regular visits to Hogwarts and keep an eye on him,' said Sirius.

'So you think Snape could be up to something, then?' asked Harry, but Hermione broke in.

'Look, I don't care what you say, Dumbledore trusts Snape -'

'Oh give it a rest, Hermione,' said Ron impatiently. 'I know Dumbledore's brilliant and everything, but that doesn't mean a really clever Dark wizard couldn't fool him -'

'Why did Snape save Harry's life in the first year, then? Why didn't he just let him die?'

'I dunno - maybe he thought Dumbledore would kick him out-'

'What d'you think, Sirius?' Harry said loudly, and Ron and Hermione stopped bickering to listen.

'I think they've both got a point,' said Sirius, looking thoughtfully at Ron and Hermione. 'Ever since I found out Snape was teaching here, I've wondered why Dumbledore hired him. Snape's always been fascinated by the Dark Arts, he was famous for it at school. Slimy, oily, greasy-haired kid, he was,' Sirius added, and Arabella, Harry and Ron grinned at each other. 'Snape knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the kids in seventh year, and he was part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters. Who were they again, Moony?'

'Rosier and Wilkes – they were both killed by Aurors the year before Voldemort fell. The Lestranges – you know them. Avery – he apparently got out of trouble by saying that he was under the Imperius Curse the whole time – he's still at large. But as far as I know, Severus was never even accused of being a Death Eater,' said Remus.

'Not that that means much,' said Sirius. 'Plenty of them were never caught. And Snape's certainly clever and cunning enough to keep himself out of trouble.'

'Snape knows Karkaroff pretty well, but he wants to keep that quiet,' said Ron.

'Yeah, you should've seen Snape's face when Karkaroff turned up in Potions yesterday!' said Harry quickly. 'Karkaroff wanted to talk to Snape, he says Snape's been avoiding him. Karkaroff looked really worried. He showed Snape something on his arm, but I couldn't see what it was.'

'He showed Snape something on his arm?' said Sirius, looking frankly bewildered. He ran his fingers distractedly through his filthy hair, then shrugged again. 'Well, I've no idea what that's about…but if Karkaroff's genuinely worried, and he's going to Snape for answers… There's still the fact that Dumbledore trusts Snape, and I know Dumbledore trusts where a lot of other people wouldn't, but I just can't see him letting Snape teach at Hogwarts if he'd ever worked for Voldemort.'

'Why are Moody and Crouch so keen to get into Snape's office then?' said Ron stubbornly.

'It's Mad-Eye,' said Arabella, as though that should solve every problem in the world. 'He takes his job very seriously. He doesn't trust many people, especially after all he saw when he was working as an Auror.'

'He's never kill if he could help it,' said Remus. 'Always brought people in alive where possible. He was tough, but he never descended to the level of a death Eater. Crouch, though… he's a different matter… is he really ill? If he is, why did he make the effort to drag himself up to Snape's office? And if he's not…what's he up to? What was he doing at the World Cup that was so important he didn't turn up in the Top Box? What's he been doing while he should have been judging the tournament?'

They lapsed into silence. Finally, Sirius looked up at Ron.

'You say your brother's Crouch's personal assistant? Any chance you could ask him if he's seen Crouch lately?'

'I can try,' said Ron doubtfully. 'Better not make it sound like I reckon Crouch is up to anything dodgy, though. Percy loves Crouch.'

'And you might try and find out whether they've got any leads on Bertha Jorkins while you're at it,' said Sirius, gesturing to the second copy of the Daily Prophet.

'Bagman told me they hadn't,' said Harry.

'Yeah, blabbering fool's been going on about how bad Bertha's memory is. Well, maybe she's changed since I knew her, but the Bertha we knew wasn't forgetful at all - quite the reverse. She was a bit dim, but she had an excellent memory for gossip. It used to get her into a lot of trouble; she never knew when to keep her mouth shut. I can see her being a bit of a liability at the Ministry of Magic…maybe that's why Bagman didn't bother to look for her for so long…'

Remus was looking as though they had forgotten some important information.

'Harry, did you say anything else?' asked Remus.

'No,' said Harry.

'Yes you did,' said Hermione, sternly, and then turned to Arabella. 'You recognized the voice that summoned the Dark Mark.'

'Yeah, but it's not like I can remember who it is,' said Arabella, shrugging.

'But –'

'I have a couple questions,' said Arabella, turning her full attention towards Sirius and Remus. 'Did mom know Voldemort and who is Arry?'

Sirius and Remus seemed to have paled considerably. Sirius's eyes seemed to have gotten darker as Remus was looking at her as though he saw a ghost.

'Who told you about that?' said Sirius.

'Harry heard Voldemort mention something about it during his dream, and Snape mentioned Arry,' said Arabella. 'Who is she? How does mom know Voldemort?'

'This is not the time to be talking about this,' said Remus harshly, getting up. 'It's time to go.'

'But we –'

'I agree,' said Sirius, getting up. 'It's time you got back to school.'

He turned back into the black dog and walked out of the cave with Remus right behind him.

'What was that?' said Ron as they got up and followed Sirius and Remus.

'No idea,' said Arabella. 'Let's just go.'

They walked back down the mountainside, across the boulder-like ground, and back to the stile with Remus and Sirius walked in front of them. Somewhere along the walk Remus and Sirius seemed to have calm down considerable and was determined to forget about the last couple minutes of their conversation.

'Now listen…' said Remus, looking at all of them. 'I – we – don't want you lot sneaking out of school to me us, all right? Just send notes. We still want to hear about anything odd. But don't leave Hogwarts without permission. It would be an ideal opportunity for someone to attack you, Harry.'

'No one's tried to attack me so far, except a dragon and a couple of grindylows,' Harry said, but Remus scowled at him.

'I don't care… Everything will be better when this tournament's over and that's not until June. And if you're talking about Sirius amongst yourselves, call him Snuffles, okay?'

Arabella and Ron snorted, remembering the time the Weasleys picked her up before the Quidditch World Cup, but nodded with Harry and Hermione.

Each of them patted Sirius on his head. Remus and Arabella hugged as Harry, Ron and Hermione shook his hands. Sirius and Remus turned around and set back along the outskirts of the village as they made their way back into Hogsmeade and up toward Hogwarts.

On the way, Arabella saw someone she's been meaning to see again for some time. Well, since yesterday.

Arabella broke off from Harry, Ron and Hermione, and walked behind Nikola as he was talking to a third year. She tapped him on his left shoulder blade lightly. As he was turning around, Arabella gave him one big punch on his nose with her right hand. He gave a small yell of surprise and fell to the ground. The third year took a couple steps backwards before heading inside one of the stores after looking at Arabella's face.

'Arabella!' said a voice that sounded like Hermione, but she wasn't paying attention.

'Stay away from me,' said Arabella in a voice that was not entirely her own. 'Stay away from my friends. If you talk to another reporter again, I will tell Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall about what happened that night, and they will definitely tell Karkaroff' – Nikola's eyes widened –'terrified of him, are you? Well, imagine him, McGonagall and Dumbledore coming after you. Ten time worse.'

Arabella made a motion of kicking him on the side. She wasn't going to kick him, just wanted to scare him a bit. Nikola made a sound that sounded like a scared mouse. Arabella smirked before moving around his body and walked back to Harry, Ron and Hermione, who had a scandalized face.

'Let's go back, shall we?' asked Arabella.

Ron gave s snorting sort of laugh as Hermione gave a disapproving sort of hum. Harry offered his right arm as Arabella looped her left arm around his as they walked back to the castle. Ron and Hermione exchanged significant looks, but said nothing.

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