Potter and Black: The Goblet of Fire

By ArabellaBlack

Adventure / Romance

The Madness of Mr Crouch and the Dream

The Madness of Mr Crouch and the Dream

Arabella, Harry, Ron, and Hermione went up to the Owlery after breakfast on Sunday to send a letter to Percy, asking whether he had seen Mr Crouch lately. They used Hedwig, because it had been so long since she'd had a job. When they had watched her fly out of sight through the Owlery window, they proceeded down to the kitchen to give Dobby his new socks.

The house-elves gave them a very cheery welcome, bowing and curtsying and bustling around making tea again. Dobby was ecstatic about his present.

'Harry Potter is too good to Dobby!' he squeaked, wiping large tears out of his enormous eyes.

'You saved my life with that gillyweed, Dobby, you really did,' said Harry.

'No chance of more of those eclairs, is there?' said Ron, who was looking around at the beaming and bowing house-elves.

'You've just had breakfast!' said Hermione irritably, but a great silver platter of eclairs was already zooming toward them, supported by four elves. 'Dobby, where's Winky?' she added, looking around.

'Winky is over there by the fire, miss,' said Dobby quietly, his ears drooping slightly.

'Oh dear,' said Hermione as she spotted Winky.

Arabella looked over at the fireplace too. Winky was sitting on the same stool as last time, but she looked very filthy, her clothes were ragged an unwashed. She was clutching a bottle of butterbear and swaying slightly on her stool, staring into the fireplace. As they watched her, she gave an enormous hiccup.

'Winky is getting through six bottles a day now,' whispered Dobby.

'But butterbear's not strong,' said Arabella.

Dobby shook his head. ''Tis strong for a house-elf, miss,' he said.

Winky hiccupped again. The elves who had brought the eclairs gave her disapproving looks as they returned to work.

'Winky is pining,' Dobby whispered sadly. 'Winky wants to go home. Winky still thinks Mr Crouch is her master, sir, and nothing Dobby says will persuade her that Professor Dumbledore is her master now.'

'Hey, Winky,' said Harry suddenly, walking over to her and bending down, 'you don't know what Mr Crouch might be up to, do you? Because he's stopped turning up to judge the Triwizard Tournament.'

Winky's eyes flickered. Her enormous pupils focused on Harry. She swayed slightly again and then said, 'M - Master is stopped - hic - coming?'

'Yeah,' said Harry, 'we haven't seen him since the first task. The Daily Prophet's saying he's ill.'

Winky swayed some more, staring blurrily at Harry.

'Master- hic- ill?'

Her bottom lip began to tremble.

'But we're not sure if that's true,' said Hermione quickly.

'Master is needing his - his - Winky!' whimpered the elf. 'Master cannot - hic - manage - hic - all by himself…'

'Other people manage to do their own housework, you know, Winky,' Hermione said severely.

'Winky - hic - is not only - hic - doing housework for Mr. Crouch!' Winky squeaked indignantly, swaying worse than ever and slopping butterbeer down her already heavily stained blouse. 'Master is - hic - trusting Winky with - hic – the most important - hic - the most secret…'

'What?' said Harry.

But Winky shook her head very hard, spilling more butterbeer down herself.

'Winky keeps - hic - her master's secrets,' she said mutinously, swaying very heavily now, frowning up at Harry with her eyes crossed. 'You is - hic - nosing, you is.'

'Winky must not talk like that to Harry Potter!' said Dobby angrily. 'Harry Potter is brave and noble and Harry Potter is not nosy!'

'He is nosing - hic - into my master's - hic - private and secret - hic - Winky is a good house-elf- hic - Winky keeps her silence - hic - people trying to - hic – pry and poke - hic -'

Winky's eyelids drooped and suddenly, without warning, she slid off her stool into the hearth, snoring loudly. The empty bottle of butterbeer rolled away across the stone-flagged floor. Half a dozen house-elves came hurrying forward, looking disgusted. One of them picked up the bottle; the others covered Winky with a large checked tablecloth and tucked the ends in neatly, hiding her from view.

'We is sorry you had to see that, sirs and miss!' squeaked a nearby elf, shaking his head and looking very ashamed. 'We is hoping you will not judge us all by Winky, sirs and miss!'

'She's unhappy!' said Hermione, exasperated. 'Why don't you try and cheer her up instead of covering her up?'

'Begging your pardon, miss,' said the house-elf, bowing deeply again, 'but house-elves has no right to be unhappy when there is work to be done and masters to be served.'

'Oh for heavens sake!' Hermione cried. 'Listen to me, all of you! You've got just as much right as wizards to be unhappy! You've got the right to wages and holidays and proper clothes, you don't have to do everything you're told - look at Dobby!'

'Miss will please keep Dobby out of this,' Dobby mumbled, looking scared. The cheery smiles had vanished from the faces of the house-elves around the kitchen. They were suddenly looking at Hermione as though she were mad and dangerous.

'We has your extra food!' squeaked an elf at Harry's elbow, and he shoved a large ham, a dozen cakes, and some fruit into Harry's arms. 'Good-bye!'

The house-elves crowded around Arabella, Harry, Ron, and Hermione and began shunting them out of the kitchen, many little hands pushing in the smalls of their backs.

'Thank you for the socks, Harry Potter!' Dobby called miserably from the hearth, where he was standing next to the lumpy tablecloth that was Winky.

'You couldn't keep your mouth shut, could you, Hermione?' said Ron angrily as the kitchen door slammed shut behind them. 'They won't want us visiting them now! We could've tried to get more stuff out of Winky about Crouch!'

'Oh as if you care about that!' scoffed Hermione. 'You only like coming down here for the food!'

It was an irritable sort of day as Ron and Hermione kept bickering at each other. Arabella got tired of it, and by the look on Harry's face, he did too. In the end, it was the two of them that finished the food the house-elves gave to them.

By breakfast the next day Ron's and Hermione's bad moods had burnt out, and to Arabella' relief, Ron's dark predictions that the house-elves would send substandard food up to the Gryffindor table because Hermione had insulted them proved false; the bacon, eggs, and kippers were quite as good as usual.

When the post owls arrived, Hermione looked up eagerly; she seemed to be expecting something.

'Percy won't've had time to answer yet,' said Ron. 'We only sent Hedwig yesterday.'

'No, it's not that,' said Hermione. 'I've taken out a subscription to the Daily Prophet. I'm getting sick of finding everything out from the Slytherins.'

'Good thinking!' said Harry, also looking up at the owls. 'Hey, Hermione, I think you're in luck -'

A gray owl was soaring down toward them.

'It hasn't got a newspaper, though,' she said, looking disappointed. 'It's -'

The gray owl landed in front of Arabella's plate, closely followed by four barn owls, a brown owl and a tawny.

'What the -?' Arabella said, taking the letter from the gray owl, opening it, and starting to read. 'Really?!'

'What's up?' said Ron.

Arabella cleared her throat, and said in a very high pitched annoying voice, 'You are a wicked girl, Black. Harry Potter deserves better than a murderer's daughter. Hope you rot in Azkaban, you horrible, ugly swine.'

Arabella opened the rest of them; most of them were for her, and one for Hermione. They seemed to think that Harry being in love with Arabella to be an insult to themselves.

'Harry Potter can do much better than the likes of you... You deserve to burn in hell… OUCH!'

Arabella opened the last envelope and a yellowish-green liquid that smelled strongly of petrol gushed over her hands, which began to erupt in large yellow boils.

'Undiluted bubotuber pus!' said Ron, picking up the envelope gingerly and sniffing it.

'OW!' said Arabella as she tried to rub the pus off her hands with a napkin, but her fingers were now thickly covered in painful sore.

'You'd better get up to the hospital wing,' said Harry as the owls around her took flight. 'We'll tell Professor Sprout where you've gone…'

'I'll come,' said Hermione, getting up and walking beside Arabella as they walked to the hospital wing.

'What did your letter say?' asked Arabella as tears started in her eyes when she tried to cover her hands.

'Just that I was unworthy of Harry's love,' said Hermione, rolling her eyes. 'It's really stupid. They seem to hate you more.'

'Probably think that I would make our kids join Voldemort and follow in my father's footsteps, killing everyone,' spat out Arabella as they reached the hospital wing.

Hermione explained what happened to Madam Pomfrey and she got to work immediately. She kept muttering under her breath about the stupidity of the people who sent her the letters. Arabella kept insisting that Hermione go to Herbology, but Hermione refused, telling her to shut up and stay still.

It took a while before the pus managed to some-what settle down, but her hand was still swollen. Some of the boils were still there, but Madam Pomfrey said that they should be gone in a couple days, and wrapped her hands heavily in bandages.

Arabella and Hermione missed Herbology and managed to make it half way through Care of Magical Creatures.

'I on'y buried a hundred coins. Oh there yer two are!' said Hagrid as soon as he spotted them. 'Well, let's check how yeh've done! Count yer coins! An' there's no point tryin' ter steal any, Goyle. It's leprechaun gold. Vanishes after a few hours.'

Goyle emptied his bodies, looking extremely sulky. Whatever Arabella and Hermione missed sounded fun. They apparently had a competition of some sorts and Ron won, earning an enormous slab of Honeydukes chocolate for a prize. The bell rang across the grounds for lunch; the rest of the class set off back to the castle, but Arabella, Hermione, Harry and Ron stayed behind to help Hagrid put the nifflers back in their boxes.

'What yeh done ter your hands, Arabella?' said Hagrid, looking concerned.

Arabella scowled as Hermione told him about the hate mail they both had received that morning, and the envelope full of bubotuber pus.

'Aaag, don' worry, Arabella,' said Hagrid gently, looking down at her. 'I got some o' those letter an all, after Rita Skeeter wrote abou' me mum. 'Yeh're a monster an' yeh should be put down.' 'Yer mother killed innocent people an' if you had any decency you'd jump in a lake.''

'No!' said Hermione, shocked.

'Yeah,' said Hagrid, heaving the niffler crates over by his cabin wall. 'They're jus' nutters, Arabella. Don' open 'em if yeh get any more. Chuck 'em straigh' in the fire.'

'You missed a really good lesson,' Harry told Arabella and Hermione as they headed back toward the castle. 'They're good, nifflers, aren't they, Ron?'

Ron, however, was frowning at the chocolate Hagrid had given him. He looked thoroughly put out about something.

'What's the matter?' said Harry. 'Wrong flavor?'

'No,' said Ron shortly. 'Why didn't you tell me about the gold?'

'What gold?' said Harry.

'The gold I gave you at the Quidditch World Cup,' said Ron. 'The leprechaun gold I gave you for my Omnioculars. In the Top Box. Why didn't you tell me it disappeared?'

Arabella had no idea what Ron was talking about until Harry said, 'I dunno… I never noticed it had gone. I was more worried about my wand, wasn't I?'

They climbed the steps into the entrance hall and went into the Great Hall for lunch.

'Must be nice,' Ron said abruptly, when they had sat down and started serving themselves roast beef and Yorkshire puddings. 'To have so much money you don't notice if a pocketful of Galleons goes missing.'

'Listen, I had other stuff on my mind that night!' said Harry impatiently. 'We all did, remember?'

'I didn't know leprechaun gold vanishes,' Ron muttered. 'I thought I was paying you back. You shouldn't've given me that Chudley Cannon hat for Christmas.'

'Forget it, all right?' said Harry

Ron speared a roast potato on the end of his fork, glaring at it. Then he said, 'I hate being poor.'

Arabella, Harry and Hermione looked at each other. Neither of them really knew what to say.

'It's rubbish,' said Ron, still glaring down at his potato. 'I don't blame Fred and George for trying to make some extra money. Wish I could. Wish I had a niffler.'

'Well, we know what to get you next Christmas,' said Hermione brightly. Then, when Ron continued to look gloomy, she said, 'Come on, Ron, it could be worse. At least your fingers aren't full of pus.'

'Gee, thanks for reminding me, Hermione,' said Arabella sarcastically as she was having a lot of difficulty managing her knife and fork. Her fingers were really stiff and swollen. 'That bloody Skeeter woman!' she burst out as a big piece of chicken fell on her robes, and slammed her knife and fork down on the table hard. 'Hermione'll get her back for this. Won't you Hermione?'

'And what makes you think that?' said Hermione, even though Arabella already knew she was plotting ways in getting Rita Skeeter back.

'Because you hate her as much as me,' said Arabella.

Hate mail continued to arrive over the following week. Some of them were for Hermione, but most were for Arabella. Neither one of them had opened a single one, but there were several Howlers that they couldn't stop. They exploded at the Gryffindor table and shrieked insults at Arabella about her father, her godfather, how ugly she was and how Harry Potter deserved better for the whole Great Hall to hear. It was getting harder to listen to them.

'It'll die down, though,' he told Arabella, 'if we just ignore it…People got bored with that stuff she wrote about me last time.'

'I want to know how she's listening into private conversations when she's supposed to be banned from the grounds!' said Hermione angrily.

Hermione hung back in their next Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson to ask Professor Moody something. The rest of the class was very eager to leave; Moody had given them such a rigorous test of hex-deflection that many of them were nursing small injuries. Arabella had such a bad case of Twitchy Eyes, she had to hold one of her hand over them and the other one on Harry's arm as she walked away from the class.

'Well, Rita's definitely not using an Invisibility Cloak!' Hermione panted five minutes later, catching up with Arabella, Harry and Ron in the entrance hall and pulling Arabella's hand away from one of her twitching eyes so that he could hear her. 'Moody says he didn't see her anywhere near the judges' table at the second task, or anywhere near the lake!'

'Hermione, is there any point in telling you to drop this?' said Ron.

'No!' said Hermione and Arabella.

'I want to know how she heard me talking to Viktor! And how she found out about Hagrid's mum!' said Hermione.

'Maybe she had you bugged,' said Harry.

'Bugged?' said Ron blankly. 'What…put fleas on her or something?'

Harry started explaining about hidden microphones and recording equipment. Ron was fascinated, but Hermione interrupted them.

'Aren't you two ever going to read Hogwarts, A History?'

'What's the point?' said Ron. 'You know it by heart, we can just ask you.'

'All those substitutes for magic Muggles use - electricity, computers, and radar, and all those things - they all go haywire around Hogwarts, there's too much magic in the air. No, Rita's using magic to eavesdrop, she must be…If I could just find out what it is…ooh, if it's illegal, I'll have her…'

'Haven't we got enough to worry about?' Ron asked her. 'Do we have to start a vendetta against Rita Skeeter as well?'

'I'm not asking you to help!' Hermione snapped. 'I'll do it on my own!'

She marched back up the marble staircase without a backward glance. Arabella was quite sure she was going to the library.

'What's the betting she comes back with a box of I Hate Rita Skeeter badges?' said Ron.

Hermione, however, did not ask Arabella, Harry, and Ron to help her pursue vengeance against Rita Skeeter, for which they were grateful, because their workload was mounting ever higher in the days before the Easter holidays. Arabella was in awe with the fact that Hermione could research magical methods of eavesdropping as well as everything else they had to do. She was struggling to get through all their homework, and Harry and Ron were in the same situation.

Hedwig didn't return until the end of the Easter holidays. Percy's letter was enclosed in a package of Easter eggs that Mrs. Weasley had sent. Both Harry's and Ron's were the size of dragon eggs and full of homemade toffee. Hermione's was smaller than a chicken egg and Arabella didn't get anything.

'Your mom doesn't read Witch Weekly, by any chance, does she, Ron?' Arabella asked quietly.

'Yeah,' said Ron, whose mouth was full of toffee. 'Gets it for the recipes.'

Arabella looked sadly at the ground as Hermione did the same at her tiny egg.

'Don't you want to see what Percy's written?' Harry asked her hastily.

Percy's letter was short and irritated.

As I am constantly telling the Daily Prophet, Mr. Crouch is taking a well-deserved break. He is sending in regular owls with instructions. No, I haven't actually seen him, but I think I can be trusted to know my own superior's handwriting. I have quite enough to do at the moment without trying to quash these ridiculous rumors.

Please don't bother me again unless it's something important. Happy Easter.

The start of the summer term meant that the third and final task in the Triwizard Tournament was coming up. On the last week of May, Harry had to left eh Gryffindor Tower at half-past eight to go down to the Quidditch field with Bagman and the rest of the champions, something regarding the third task. Couple hours later, Harry returned back and hurried straight for where they were sitting and told them everything.

'It comes down to this,' said Hermione, rubbing her forehead. 'Either Mr. Crouch attacked Viktor, or somebody else attacked both of them when Viktor wasn't looking.'

'It must've been Crouch,' said Ron at once. 'That's why he was gone when Harry and Dumbledore got there. He'd done a runner.'

'I don't think so,' said Harry, shaking his head. 'He seemed really weak - I don't reckon he was up to Disapparating or anything.'

'You can't Disapparate on the Hogwarts grounds, haven't I told you enough times?' said Hermione.

'Okay…hows this for a theory,' said Ron excitedly. 'Krum attacked Crouch - no, wait for it - and then Stunned himself!'

'And then he suddenly evaporated in thin air?' said Arabella coldly.

'Oh yeah…'

It was daybreak. Arabella, Harry, Ron and Hermione had crept out of their dormitories very early and hurried up to the Owlery to send a note to Sirius and Remus. Now they were standing looking out at the misty grounds. All four of them were puffy-eyed and pale because they had been talking late into the night about Mr. Crouch.

'Let's just go through it again one more time, Harry,' said Arabella. 'What did Crouch say exactly?'

'I've told you, he wasn't making much sense,' said Harry. 'He said he wanted to warn Dumbledore about something. He definitely mentioned Bertha Jorkins, and he seemed to think she was dead. He kept saying stuff was his fault…He mentioned his son.'

'Well, that was his fault,' said Hermione testily.

'He was out of his mind,' said Harry. 'Half the time he seemed to think his wife and son were still alive, and he kept talking to Percy about work and giving him instructions.'

'And…remind me what he said about You-Know-Who?' said Ron tentatively.

'I've told you,' Harry repeated dully. 'He said he's getting stronger.'

There was a pause. Then Ron said in a falsely confident voice, 'But he was out of his mind, like you said, so half of it was probably just raving…'

'He was sanest when he was trying to talk about Voldemort,' said Harry, and Ron winced at the sound of the name. 'He was having real trouble stringing two words together, but that was when he seemed to know where he was, and know what he wanted to do. He just kept saying he had to see Dumbledore.'

Harry turned away from the window and stared up into the rafters.

'If Snape hadn't held me up,' Harry said bitterly, 'we might've got there in time. 'The headmaster is busy. Potter…what's this rubbish, Potter?' Why couldn't he have just got out of the way?'

'Maybe he didn't want you to get there!' said Ron quickly. 'Maybe - hang on - how fast d'you reckon he could've gotten down to the forest? D'you reckon he could've beaten you and Dumbledore there?'

'Not unless he can turn himself into a bat or something,' said Harry.

'Wouldn't put it past him,' Arabella muttered.

'We need to see Professor Moody,' said Hermione. 'We need to find out whether he found Mr. Crouch.'

'If he had the Marauder's Map on him, it would've been easy,' said Harry.

'Unless Crouch was already outside the grounds,' said Ron, 'because it only shows up to the boundaries, doesn't -'

'Shh!' said Arabella suddenly.

Someone was climbing the steps up to the Owlery. Arabella could hear two voices arguing, coming closer and closer.

- that's blackmail, that is, we could get into a lot of trouble for that-'

'- we've tried being polite; it's time to play dirty, like him. He wouldn't like the Ministry of

Magic knowing what he did -'

'I'm telling you, if you put that in writing, it's blackmail!'

'Yeah, and you won't be complaining if we get a nice fat payoff, will you?'

The Owlery door banged open. Fred and George came over the threshold, then froze at the sight of Arabella, Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

'What're you doing here?' Ron and Fred said at the same time.

'Sending a letter,' said Harry and George in unison.

'What, at this time?' said Arabella and Fred.

Fred grinned.

'Fine - we won't ask you what you're doing, if you don't ask us,' he said. He was holding a sealed envelope in his hands. Arabella glanced at it, but Fred, whether accidentally or on purpose, shifted his hand so that the name on it was covered.

'Well, don't let us hold you up,' Fred said, making a mock bow and pointing at the door.

Ron didn't move. 'Who're you blackmailing?' he said.

The grin vanished from Fred's face. Harry saw George half glance at Fred, before smiling at Ron.

'Don't be stupid, I was only joking,' he said easily.

'Didn't sound like that,' said Ron.

Fred and George looked at each other. Then Fred said abruptly, 'I've told you before, Ron, keep your nose out if you like it the shape it is. Can't see why you would, but -'

'It's my business if you're blackmailing someone,' said Ron. 'George's right, you could end up in serious trouble for that.'

'Told you, I was joking,' said George. He walked over to Fred, pulled the letter out of his hands, and began attaching it to the leg of the nearest barn owl. 'You're starting to sound a bit like our dear older brother, you are, Ron. Carry on like this and you'll be made a prefect.'

'No, I won't!' said Ron hotly.

George carried the barn owl over to the window and it took off. George turned around and grinned at Ron.

'Well, stop telling people what to do then. See you later.'

He and Fred left the Owlery. Arabella, Harry, Ron, and Hermione stared at one another.

'You don't think they know something about all this, do you?' Hermione whispered. 'About Crouch and everything?'

'No,' said Harry. 'If it was something that serious, they'd tell someone. They'd tell Dumbledore.'

Ron, however, was looking uncomfortable.

'What's the matter?' Arabella asked him.

'Well…' said Ron slowly, 'I dunno if they would. They're…they're obsessed with making money lately, I noticed it when I was hanging around with them - when - you know -'

'We weren't talking.' Harry finished the sentence for him. 'Yeah, but blackmail…'

'It's this joke shop idea they've got,' said Ron. 'I thought they were only saying it to annoy Mum, but they really mean it, they want to start one. They've only got a year left at Hogwarts, they keep going on about how it's time to think about their future, and Dad can't help them, and they need gold to get started.'

Hermione was looking uncomfortable now.

'Yes, but…they wouldn't do anything against the law to get gold.'

'Wouldn't they?' said Ron, looking skeptical. 'I dunno…they don't exactly mind breaking rules, do they?'

'Yes, but this is the law' said Hermione, looking scared. 'This isn't some silly school rule…They'll get a lot more than detention for blackmail! Ron… maybe you'd better tell Percy…'

'Are you mad?' said Ron. 'Tell Percy? He'd probably do a Crouch and turn them in.'

He stared at the window through which Fred and George's owl had departed, then said, 'Come on, let's get some breakfast.'

'D'you think it's too early to go and see Professor Moody?' Hermione said as they went down the spiral staircase.

'Yeah,' said Arabella. 'Went to his one time at four o'clock in the morning. Nearly lost my arm that day. Let's give it till break.'

'What were you doing at his house at four o'clock?' asked Harry .

'It was April fool's day. I thought I would be able to catch him, or something. I was young and stupid,' said Arabella, shaking her head at the memory.

History of Magic had rarely gone so slowly. Arabella kept checking Ron's watch, which was moving so slowly she could have sworn it had stopped working. All four of them were so tired they could happily have put their heads down on the desks and slept; even Hermione wasn't taking her usual notes, but was sitting with her head on her hand, gazing at Professor Binns with her eyes out of focus.

When the bell finally rang, they hurried out into the corridors toward the Dark Arts classroom and found Professor Moody leaving it. He looked as tired as they felt. The eyelid of his normal eye was drooping, giving his face an even more lopsided appearance than usual.

'Professor Moody?' Harry called as they made their way toward him through the crowd.

'Hello, Potter,' growled Moody. His magical eye followed a couple of passing first years, who sped up, looking nervous; it rolled into the back of Moody's head and watched them around the corner before he spoke again.

'Come in here.'

He stood back to let them into his empty classroom, limped in after them, and closed the door.

'Did you find him?' Harry asked without preamble. 'Mr. Crouch?'

'No,' said Moody. He moved over to his desk, sat down, stretched out his wooden leg with a slight groan, and pulled out his hip flask.

'Did you use the map?' Harry said.

'Of course,' said Moody, taking a swig from his flask. 'Took a leaf out of your book, Potter. Summoned it from my office into the forest. He wasn't anywhere on there.'

'So he did Disapparate?' said Ron.

'You can't Disapparate on the grounds, Ron!' said Hermione. 'There are other ways he could have disappeared, aren't there, Professor?'

Moody's magical eye quivered as it rested on Hermione. 'You're another one who might think about a career as an Auror,' he told her. 'Mind works the right way Granger.'

Hermione flushed pink with pleasure.

'Well, he wasn't invisible,' said Arabella. 'The map shows invisible people. He must've left the grounds, then.'

'But under his own steam?' said Hermione eagerly, 'or because someone made him?'

'Yeah, someone could've - could've pulled him onto a broom and flown off with him, couldn't they?' said Ron quickly, looking hopefully at Moody as if he too wanted to be told he had the makings of an Auror.

'We can't rule out kidnap,' growled Moody.

'So,' said Ron, 'd'you reckon he's somewhere in Hogsmeade?'

'Could be anywhere,' said Moody, shaking his head. 'Only thing we know for sure is that he's not here.'

He yawned widely, so that his scars stretched, and his lopsided mouth revealed a number of missing teeth. Then he said, 'Now, Dumbledore's told me you four fancy yourselves as investigators, but there's nothing you can do for Crouch. The Ministry'll be looking for him now, Dumbledore's notified them. Potter, you just keep your mind on the third task.'

'What?' said Harry. 'Oh yeah…'

'Should be right up your street, this one,' said Moody, looking up at Harry and scratching his scarred and stubbly chin. 'From what Dumbledore's said, you've managed to get through stuff like this plenty of times. Broke your way through a series of obstacles guarding the Sorcerer's Stone in your first year, didn't you?'

'We helped,' Ron said quickly. 'Me, Hermione and Arabella helped.'

Moody grinned.

'Well, help him practice for this one, and I'll be very surprised if he doesn't win,' said Moody. 'In the meantime…constant vigilance, Potter. Constant vigilance.'

He took another long draw from his hip flask, and his magical eye swiveled onto the window.

'You three,' counseled Moody, his normal eye on Arabella, Ron and Hermione, 'you stick close to Potter, all right? I'm keeping an eye on things, but all the same… you can never have too many eyes out.'

Sirius and Remus sent their owl back the very next morning. It fluttered down beside Harry at the same moment that a tawny owl landed in front of Hermione, clutching a copy of the Daily Prophet in its beak. She took the newspaper, scanned the first few pages, said, 'Ha! She hasn't got wind of Crouch!' then joined Arabella, Ron, and Harry in reading what Sirius and Remus had to say on the mysterious events of the night before last.

Harry - what do you think you are playing at, walking off into the forest with Viktor Krum? I want you to swear, by return owl, that you are not going to go walking with anyone else at night. There is somebody highly dangerous at Hogwarts. It is clear to me that they wanted to stop Crouch from seeing Dumbledore and you were probably feet away from them in the dark. You could have been killed.

Your name didn't get into the Goblet of Fire by accident. If someone's trying to attack you, they're on their last chance. Stay close to Arabella, Ron and Hermione, do not leave Gryffindor Tower after hours, and arm yourself for the third task. Practice Stunning and Disarming. A few hexes wouldn't go amiss either. There's nothing you can do about Crouch. Keep your head down and look after yourself. I'm waiting for your letter giving me your word you won't stray out-of-bounds again.

P&M

'Who're they to lecture me about being out-of-bounds?' said Harry in mild indignation as he folded up the letter and put it inside his robes. 'After all the stuff they did at school!'

'They're worried about you!' said Arabella sharply. 'Just like Moody, Hagrid and us! So listen to them!'

'No one's tried to attack me all year,' said Harry. 'No one's done anything to me at all-'

'Except put your name in the Goblet of Fire,' said Arabella. 'And they did it for a reason, Harry. Snuffles and Moony are right. Maybe they're waiting their time, building up momentum. This might be the task they're going to get you.'

'Look,' said Harry impatiently, 'let's say they're right, and someone Stunned Krum to kidnap Crouch. Well, they would've been in the trees near us, wouldn't they? But they waited till I was out of the way until they acted, didn't they? So it doesn't look like I'm their target, does it?'

'They couldn't have made it look like an accident if they murdered you in the forest!' said Arabella. 'But if you die during a task –'

'They didn't care about attacking Krum, did they?' said Harry. 'Why didn't they just polish me off at the same time? They could've made it look like Krum and I had a duel or something.'

'I don't understand it either, Harry,' said Arabella desperately. 'I just know that there are lot of odd things that are happening and you've got to get training for the third task, straight away. And you've got to write back to Snuffle and Moony, promising them that you're not going to go sneaking off alone again.'

The Hogwarts grounds never looked more inviting than when they had to stay indoors. For the next few days they spent all of their free time either in the library looking up hexes, or else in empty classrooms, which they sneaked into to practice. Harry was concentrating on the Stunning Spell, which he had never used before. The trouble was that practicing it involved certain sacrifices on Arabella's, Ron's and Hermione's part.

'Can't we kidnap Mrs. Norris?' Ron suggested on Monday lunchtime as he lay flat on his back in the middle of their Charms classroom, having just been Stunned and reawoken by Harry for the fifth time in a row. 'Let's Stun her for a bit. Or you could use Dobby, Harry, I bet he'd do anything to help you. I'm not complaining or anything' - he got gingerly to his feet, rubbing his backside - 'but I'm aching all over…'

'Well, you keep missing the cushions, don't you!' said Hermione impatiently, rearranging the pile of cushions they had used for the Banishing Spell, which Flitwick had left in a cabinet. 'Just try and fall backward!'

'Once you're Stunned, you can't aim too well, Hermione!' said Ron angrily. 'Why don't you take a turn?'

'Well, I think Harry's got it now, anyway,' said Hermione hastily. 'And we don't have to worry about Disarming, because he's been able to do that for ages…I think we ought to start on some of these hexes this evening.'

Arabella looked down at the list they had made in the library.

'What about this one?' said Arabella. 'The Impediment Curse. Should slow down anything that's trying to attack you.'

The bell rang. They hastily shoved the cushions back into Flitwick's cupboard and slipped out of the classroom.

'See you at dinner!' said Hermione, and she set off for Arithmancy, while Arabella, Harry and Ron headed toward Divination.

'It's going to be boiling in Trelawney's room, she never puts out that fire,' said Ron as they started up the staircase toward the silver ladder and the trapdoor.

He was quite right. The dimly lit room was swelteringly hot. The fumes from the perfumed fire were heavier than ever.

'My dears,' said Professor Trelawney, sitting down in her winged armchair in front of the class and peering around at them all with her strangely enlarged eyes, 'we have almost finished our work on planetary divination. Today, however, will be an excellent opportunity to examine the effects of Mars, for he is placed most interestingly at the present time. If you will all look this way, I will dim the lights…'

She waved her wand and the lamps went out. The fire was the only source of light now. Professor Trelawney bent down and lifted, from under her chair, a miniature model of the solar system, contained within a glass dome. It was a beautiful thing; each of the moons glimmered in place around the nine planets and the fiery sun, all of them hanging in thin air beneath the glass.

Arabella watched lazily as Professor Trelawney began to point out the fascinating angle Mars was making to Neptune. The heavily fumes washed over her as her eyelids began to droop, somehow managed to stay awake. It would have been an uncomfortable angle if she slept on the chair.

As Professor Trelawney kept going on about how Mars and Neptune were connected, Arabella's eyes wondered over the classroom. Lavender and Parvati were listening intently to Professor Trelawney while Seamus and Dean were playing a game of tic-tack-toe. Ron looked bored and kept picking his fingernails as his head was on the fist of his left arm on top of the table. Harry was asleep beside her, looking quite peaceful. She then looked back at Professor Trelawney, trying to actually listen to her, but finding it quite difficult.

Then Harry started to twitch. It was first a little jerk, then he ended up on the floor, shaking and rolling madly and clutching his scar. His face was turning red and he started to sweat a bit.

'Harry! Harry!' said Ron, as he and Arabella kneeled beside him. They both tried to hold him down, to stop the shaking. Everybody was standing over them, and Harry opened his eyes, which were watering.

'You all right?' asked Ron, looking terrified.

'Of course he isn't!' said Professor Trelawney, looking thoroughly excited. Her great eyes loomed over Harry, gazing at him. 'What was it Potter? A premonition? An apparition? What did you see?'

'Nothing,' said Harry, as he sat up.

'You were clutching your scar!' said Professor Trelawney. 'You were rolling on the floor, clutching your scar! Come now Potter, I have experience in these matters!'

'I think he needs to go to the hospital,' said Arabella, cutting in. 'Probably just a bad headache, but can never be too sure.'

'My dear, Potter was undoubtedly stimulated by the extraordinary clairvoyant vibrations of my room!' said Professor Trelawney. 'If you leave now, we may lose the opportunity to see further than Potter has ever -'

'He needs to see Madam Pomfrey,' said Arabella firmly, as she and Ron helped Harry up. The class backed away. They all looked scared. 'We'll see you later,' said Arabella to Ron as she picked up their bags and headed for the trapdoor, ignoring Professor Trelawney, who was looking frustrated.

'We have to go see Dumbledore,' said Harry as they reached the bottom of the stepladder.

'I know,' said Arabella as they headed towards Dumbledore's office. 'Snuffles and Moony told me to take you, and that's what I'm doing. It was obviously some sort of dream like the one you have over summer.'

'I saw Wormtail,' Harry blurted out. 'Voldemort said that he was lucky that he didn't ruin everything because someone was dead, but he said that there was still me and… you, if you disagreed.'

'Did he say who was killed? Or what?' asked Arabella.

'No,' said Harry, shaking his head. 'Voldemort then tortured Wormtail.'

'And that's when you woke up,' said Arabella.

Voldemort probably did know her mother; Arabella gathered that when they met up with Sirius and Remus. It just bugged her that she didn't know why, or how that would have happened, or who this Arry was. She somehow knew that these two things were connected somehow, and that the name sounded a bit likes hers. This was bugging her, but she couldn't ask Sirius and Remus again, they'd probably find a way to change the subject.

Arabella and Harry walked to the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to Dumbledore's office.

'Do you know the password?' asked Arabella.

'Sherbet lemon?' said Harry uncertainly.

The gargoyle did not move.

'Chocolate Frog,' said Arabella.

'Pear Drop.'

'Fizzing Whizbee.'

'Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans… oh no he doesn't like them, does he? Oh just open, can't you?' said Harry angrily. 'I really need to see him, its urgent!'

The gargoyle remained immovable.

Harry kicked it, achieving nothing but probably a broken toe.

'Sugar Quill! Cockroach Cluster!'

The gargoyle sprang to life and jumped aside. They blinked.

'Cockroach Cluster?' said Arabella, amazed. 'Really?'

They hurried through the gap in the walls and stepped onto the foot of a spiral stone staircase, which moved slowly upward as the doors closed behind them, taking them up to a polished oak door with a brass door knocker.

They could hear voice from inside the office. They stepped off the moving staircase, and listened, not wanted to barge in.

'Dumbledore, I'm afraid I don't see the connection, don't see it at all!' It was the voice of the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. 'Ludo says Berthas perfectly capable of getting herself lost. I agree we would have expected to have found her by now, but all the same, we've no evidence of foul play, Dumbledore, none at all. As for her disappearance being linked with Barty Crouch's!'

'And what do you thinks happened to Barty Crouch, Minister?' said Moody's growling voice.

'I see two possibilities, Alastor,' said Fudge. 'Either Crouch has finally cracked - more than likely, I'm sure you'll agree, given his personal history - lost his mind, and gone wandering off somewhere -'

'He wandered extremely quickly, if that is the case, Cornelius,' said Dumbledore calmly.

'Or else - well…' Fudge sounded embarrassed. 'Well, I'll reserve judgment until after I've seen the place where he was found, but you say it was just past the Beauxbatons carriage? Dumbledore, you know what that woman is?'

'I consider her to be a very able headmistress - and an excellent dancer,' said Dumbledore quietly.

'Dumbledore, come!' said Fudge angrily. 'Don't you think you might be prejudiced in her favor because of Hagrid? They don't all turn out harmless - if, indeed, you can call Hagrid harmless, with that monster fixation he's got -'

'I no more suspect Madame Maxime than Hagrid,' said Dumbledore, just as calmly. 'I think it possible that it is you who are prejudiced, Cornelius.'

'Can we wrap up this discussion?' growled Moody.

'Yes, yes, let's go down to the grounds, then,' said Fudge impatiently.

'No, it's not that,' said Moody, 'it's just that Potter and Black want a word with you, Dumbledore. They've just outside the door.'

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