It was another blistering day in London. Harry and Hermione had to squint as the sun reflected from the gleaming black limousine which pulled up alongside the pavement outside Number 11 Grimmauld Place. Like everyone else who passed through this part of London, the chauffeur remarked on the oddity of the numbering of the townhouses, and the missing Number 12. The chauffeur opened the boot, but Lupin and Sirius insisted on stowing Harry and Hermione’s trunks, the tent, and their own luggage without his assistance.
The chauffeur didn’t even bat an eye when an orange cat and a snowy owl entered the rear of the vehicle along with the four passengers. He had seen much stranger things going on in the back of the limo in his time as a driver - some of them not entirely legal - and he was paid very well to look the other way.
Neither Harry nor Hermione had ever ridden in a limousine before, and both were very impressed by the luxurious ride, not to mention being quite pleased with the air-conditioning. But neither of them were more amazed than Neville when they picked him up at the Leaky Cauldron, as the Hogwarts Express was the closest he had ever come to muggle forms of transportation.
“Wow!” Neville gasped, “This is really cool! I’ve never been in a car before.”
“What about the Knight Bus?” asked Harry. “Ever been on that?”
“No!” Neville shook his head and peered through the tinted window at all of the other vehicles whizzing along the motorway. “Gran and I usually travel by floo to get most places - and going from the Leaky Cauldron to King’s Cross is the only time I'm ever in the Muggle world.”
Several hours later, after stopping for lunch along the way, the limo pulled into a carpark near a campsite in the middle of a heath by the coast in Norfolk. Neville was so cheerful that he practically skipped out of the vehicle when they arrived. Harry and Hermione chortled as Lupin and Sirius regarded the happy lad in amusement.
“Thanks for the burgers and chips Mr Black!” said Neville, grinning at Sirius. “I’ve never had that before. And thanks for bringing me to the World Cup... Gran’s not really into quidditch.”
“It’s my pleasure Neville!” Sirius responded. “And in any case, it’s all down to Harry really...”
“Yeah... yeah it is!” Neville was still feeling a bit surprised, but thrilled that Harry had considered him a close enough friend to bring him along. “Thanks for inviting me Harry!”
“You’re welcome Neville!” said Harry, returning Neville’s grin.
“Oh... look, it’s Luna!” Hermione waved as Luna approached them with someone who had wild looking silver hair and a spangly lemon-yellow suit which sparkled in the sun.
“Hi Hermione... Hello Harry and Neville!” shouted Luna, waving back and smiling beatifically.
“Ah... Mr Black I presume! Xenophilius Lovegood... but Xeno will do...” beamed the wizard with silver candy-floss hair as he shook Sirius’s hand.
“Xeno it is then! Please... call me Sirius, and this is my good friend Remus...”
“A pleasure to meet you Xeno,” smiled Lupin, shaking Mr Lovegood’s hand as well.
“And you too Remus...” Mr Lovegood turned to address Sirius again. “Very kind of you to spring for ticket upgrades for myself and my daughter, Sirius! We would have had to arrive a week ago if not... By the way, has anyone ever mentioned that you look remarkably like Stubby Boardman, the lead singer of the Hobgoblins?”
Seeing Harry’s bemused expression, Neville chortled and whispered in his ear, “It’s true actually! Your godfather does look a bit like Stubby...”
Neville trailed off as he and Harry and Hermione goggled at a pair of weary, grumpy looking men approaching them from just over a rise. Judging by the odd clothing ensembles, Harry and Hermione presumed that they were both wizards who hadn’t had much experience dressing like muggles. The one wearing a tweed suit with galoshes could have nearly passed for a muggle, but Neville palmed his face as he peered at the one wearing a kilt and a poncho.
“I may not know much about Muggle transport, but at least I know how to dress,” Neville murmured.
“I helped Daddy with his outfit,” giggled Luna.
“Oh!” said Hermione, reddening. “It’s... erm... a lovely colour Luna!”
Luna had to bite her own lip to restrain herself from laughing even harder.
“It’s alright Hermione...” she said. “I know Daddy looks a bit funny in that outfit! That was about the most I could get him to compromise his wardrobe. We’re all supposed to be dressing like muggles according to the dress code for the World Cup. There’s a hundred thousand wizards attending and we’re supposed to blend in so that we don’t draw attention to ourselves, but a lot of older wizards either don’t know how, or don’t want to dress like muggles...”
“Alright then,” Lupin interjected, getting the teens’ attention. “According to Basil, we’re all in the first campground, just over that way...”
Sirius and Lupin erected the tent quickly, then helped Mr Lovegood set up his while Harry and Hermione wandered through the campground with Neville and Luna. They immediately spotted the misspelled sign designating the spot where the Weasleys would be planting their tent the following morning, as it was was only three spaces away.
The atmosphere was jubilant and festive, and even though wizards weren’t supposed to be performing magic, security officials had largely given up trying to stop them. At the moment they were focused mostly on trying to keep the peace between some goblin vendors who had taken offence at the belligerent antics of a rowdy group of drunken leprechauns.
“...tried to take us for fools,” one of the goblins was snarling. “As if we didn’t know their gold is worthless...”
“Now, now,” said the security wizard, “These look like perfectly good galleons to me...”
“Bah!” the angry goblin snorted. “Shows how much wizards know! That gold will vanish in a few hours...”
Several security officials were also chasing after an inebriated wizard dressed as a jester who was flying upside down on a broom very low through the campsite and giggling madly while knocking people’s drinks out of their hands.
When he heard someone squealing Hermione’s name, Harry spun around and grinned to see two giddy Gryffindors bearing down on them. Parvati and Lavender both gave Hermione and Harry a hug, and greeted Neville and Luna warmly. The six of them spent the rest of the afternoon together until evening fell.
Harry and Hermione, and Luna and Neville returned to their tents to find that Sirius and Lupin had a roaring campfire going already with a grill over it. Mr Lovegood was fascinated, and very impressed that Sirius had mastered the muggle art of the barbecue.
Eventually it came time to call it a night; Luna and her father retired to their tent. Harry and Hermione had peered into Sirius’s tent earlier in the day, but neither of them had got over yet that it that not only was the interior vastly bigger than the exterior, it also looked like the penthouse suite of a five star hotel inside. There was even a small fountain in the foyer.
“I love magic!” chortled Harry. “This is amazing! I doubt anyone would consider this ‘roughing it’ mind you!”
“I know...” Neville grinned. “Wizard tents are brilliant! Gran has one a bit like this - not that we’ve been camping very much together. Usually it’s just me and some grown-up cousins that I don’t see very often.”
“It looks awfully modern though... like a posh muggle residence!” said Hermione, biting her lip pensively.
“Oh yeah... I suppose so,” Neville muttered. “Gran’s is decorated like our manor.”
“That’s because I bought this one at the beginning of the summer when I knew we’d be needing one,” said Sirius, overhearing as he entered with Lupin after dousing the campfire. “Let me just say that I found it much more appealing than the tent which belonged to my parents...”
“No doubt!” Lupin smiled. “In any case, there are four bedrooms. Sirius and I can share one, and there’s one for each of you...”
“...which you can do with as you see fit!” Sirius concluded with a knowing smirk as he looked directly at Harry and Hermione. They both turned a bit pink; Lupin raised his eyebrows and rubbed his forehead, pretending he had no idea what Sirius was on about. Neville didn’t quite get it, and supposed it must be some sort of in-joke.
After she was certain that Neville had gone to bed, Hermione slipped out of her room and stole into Harry’s with a wind-up alarm clock. Harry grinned at her nervously, delighted that they’d have at least two more nights to snuggle together, and relieved that Hermione would be leaving early in the morning, hopefully before he embarrassed himself again.
The campground was even more lively the following morning as every spot was now filled, and there were even more vendors hawking their wares.
“Harry, Hermione... over here!” shouted Ron when he spied them exiting their tent. “You made it! Good t’see you too Neville!”
“Morning, Ron,” said Neville, smiling awkwardly; he felt a bit better and less out of place when Luna poked her head out of the Lovegood tent and sidled up next to him.
“Hi Ron!” Harry grinned and peered at Mr Weasley who appeared to be struggling to light a fire with matches while Fred and George just looked on and chuckled at him.
“What’s going on here?” asked Harry, looking at the broken matches strewn everywhere.
“Blooming daft if you ask me,” Ron rolled his eyes. “We’ve got a flat inside our tent with an oven and everything. But Dad wants t’do everything the muggle way.”
“At least he’s having fun with it,” said Ginny, who had just stepped out of the Weasley tent.
“Here Mr Weasley, let me help you,” Hermione offered kindly, shooting a reproachful look at Ron and Fred and George as she got the fire off to a good start. Once it was nice and hot, Mr Weasley offered breakfast to everyone including Neville and Luna, and soon eggs and sausages were sizzling in frying pans over the flames.
Ginny gave a little shriek when a sound like a small gunshot went off, and Percy appeared in their midst.
“Stop doing that, you prat,” she snapped, only slightly mollified when Percy grinned at her benevolently and ruffled her hair.
“Just apparated Dad,” Percy said loudly and quite unnecessarily. As he helped himself to eggs and sausages, Percy spotted Harry and Hermione among the Weasleys and frowned slightly.
Percy had never been Harry’s favourite Weasley - not so much due to Percy’s bossiness, but more due to the pompous air of superiority that Percy projected along with it. This was the first time that Harry had really felt uncomfortable around Percy though. There was something slightly odious about the way Percy was looking at him and Hermione, and Harry wondered what that was all about.
Those thoughts were soon swept aside when two more freckled redheads arrived by foot. Having apparated just outside the campsite and walked in, they both rolled their eyes at Percy as they grabbed helpings of breakfast. Harry took an instant liking to the new arrivals, suddenly realising who they were.
“Aha... You must be Harry Potter!” said the shorter, stockier redhead with an easy grin. “I’m Charlie - how’re you doing?”
“Great!” Harry replied, returning the smile. “How’s Norbert the Dragon?”
“Turned out that she’s a girl, so she’s Norberta now. But blimey, you actually remembered which Weasley I’m supposed to be!” Charlie laughed. “Not too shabby...”
“I suppose Hermione’s rubbed off on me a bit,” Harry chortled.
“Oh yeah, the brilliant one I’ve heard so much about! Nice to meet you too finally, Hermione...” Hermione blushed at being called brilliant and said “Hi,” as Charlie continued the introductions, “...and these are...?”
“Our friends, Neville and Luna...” said Harry.
After Neville and Luna both said “Hello,” the eldest Weasley brother, Bill, began a second cheerful round of introductions. He was taller; his long hair was tied back in a ponytail and a fang earring dangled from one ear. Bill had a definite aura of “cool” about him.
Two more apparition cracks startled the Weasleys and their guests. Harry looked up to see a pair of wizards who couldn’t possibly look more different from each other if they’d tried.
One of them appeared to be a very austere looking, impeccably groomed head of a giant corporation with a toothbrush moustache, a crisp part in his slicked steely grey hair, and a perfectly pressed business suit. The other reminded Harry of a giant shifty looking bumblebee who had gone to seed in his much-too-tight-around-the-middle yellow and black striped quidditch outfit.
“Morning Barty, Ludo,” said Mr Weasley. “Kids, meet the two who brought the World Cup to Britain this year, Ludo Bagman, Head of Magical Games and Sports, and Barty Crouch, Head of International Magical Cooperation...”
“Ah... hello Arthur!” Barty Crouch interjected. “I've been meaning to speak to you, but I'm a bit busy just now, popping about looking for the Bulgarians. Someone said they might have wandered this direction.”
“Sorry, can’t say that I’ve seen them yet Barty.”
“No matter... I’ll catch up with them soon enough...”
“Good Morning Mr Crouch sir!” said Percy eagerly, who had been trying to get a word in edgewise. “Would you like a cup of tea sir?”
“What? Oh... thank you Weatherby! By all means,” Barty Crouch responded. “Splendid job on that cauldron report by the way! I’ll be sure to put in a good word with the Senior Undersecretary for you. You’re just the sort she’s looking for.”
Percy quivered with excitement, almost beside himself with glee at the news. Barty Crouch took two sips of tea absentmindedly and then disapparated, leaving Ludo behind.
“Percy’s interning for Crouch at the Ministry,” Fred whispered in Harry’s ear.
“Maybe one day Crouch will even remember his name!” George chortled in Harry’s other ear.
“Sounds like Percy’s already trying to move up though if he’s angling for an internship with the Senior Undersecretary,” Harry quietly retorted. “Isn’t the Senior Undersecretary sort of a deputy to the Minister?”
“Yes... That’s right Harry,” murmured Hermione.
Ludo Bagman’s eyes widened when he spotted the mess of black hair between the two redheads and the bushy haired girl. The hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end when Bagman’s eyes flicked to his scar and narrowed slightly, a sly smile creeping to the Bumblebee’s lips.
“Harry Potter!” the shifty looking Ministry wizard murmured. “Well, well... jolly good to meet you Mr Potter!” Then Bagman’s eyes quickly darted back towards Mr Weasley. “By the way Arthur, fancy a wager on the match?”
“What? Oh... er... betting’s not really my thing Ludo!” said Mr Weasley.
“Oh, come on Arthur...! I’ll give you good odds...” Bagman shot Mr Weasley a winning smile.
“Er... maybe a Galleon on Ireland then.”
Bagman’s face fell at the dismal offer.
“We’ll take you on,” piped up Fred after hastily whispering with George. “Thirty Seven Galleons, fifteen Sickles and Three Knuts - Ireland wins but Viktor Krum gets the Snitch.”
Ludo Bagman’s eyes lit up greedily again. “Ireland wins but Bulgaria gets the Snitch? You’re on lads... I’ll take that bet.”
“Now... really Ludo, they’re a bit young to be gambling!” Mr Weasley protested.
“Come now Arthur... don’t be a spoilsport! It’s all in good fun,” grinned Bagman as he hastily scribbled down Fred and George’s bet in his notebook.
“Right... well, it’s all on you then, boys!” sighed Mr Weasley. “Just don’t tell your mother! By the way Ludo, any news about Bertha Jorkins yet? She’s been missing for months now - shouldn’t you have someone looking for her?”
Harry stiffened and frowned at Bagman. Bertha Jorkins - for some reason the name sounded familiar, but where had he heard it before? Hermione glanced at Harry worriedly when she sensed his second odd reaction to Ludo Bagman. Harry shook his head slightly, and she made a note to herself to ask him about it later. Hermione wasn’t the only one to spot his distraction though.
“Are you alright Harry?” asked Luna after she and Neville departed the Weasley campsite with him, Hermione, and Ron.
“Er...” said Harry.
“Why wouldn’t Harry be okay?” said Ron, who hadn’t noticed a thing.
“Oh... Mr Bagman! There’s something a bit creepy about him!” Luna replied bluntly. “Harry saw it too.”
Ron raised his eyebrows, trying his hardest not to laugh.
“I thought Crouch was the creepy one!” muttered Neville.
Dusk had fallen, and the lights came up around the stadium as it neared time for the Quidditch Final to begin. Harry and Hermione had spent most of the day with Luna, Neville and Ron, and a good part of the afternoon with Ginny as well. They had wandered the campsite purchasing souvenirs, playing games, and buying snacks at food booths. Then they had returned to their tents to clean up and prepare for their evening at the match.
“Thank you for the omnioculars Harry,” beamed Hermione, squeezing his hand tightly as they followed Sirius, Mr Weasley, Lupin, and Mr Lovegood up to the highest box in the stands. “That was really sweet of you to buy some for the others too.”
Indeed, Neville and Luna were just ahead of them on the purple carpeted stairs, chatting animatedly with Ginny, all of them with a pair of brass omnioculars dangling from their necks. Harry grinned back at Hermione and pulled her a bit closer to him, both of them pleased that Neville had gradually relaxed among the others throughout the day. Ginny, Luna, and Neville had gravitated towards each other all afternoon and Neville seemed to be delighted with the attention. Hermione felt a bit giddy from all the excitement, and really wanted to give Harry a proper hug and a kiss, but didn’t dare to in front of everyone.
“Yeah... thanks again Harry!” said Ron, fidgeting with the omnioculars as he climbed the stairs beside them. “These things are smashing...”
Ron glanced at Harry, seeing his arm around Hermione's middle. A peculiar expression flickered across Ron's features before he broke into a grin.
“Er... what’s with the fancy get-ups?” Ron sniggered, peering at Harry’s tuxedo, his eyes lingering on Hermione in her pearly evening gown, as if seeing her for the first time. “You look like a penguin, Harry!”
“Oh... these?” Harry chortled, “Just a little something we threw on. No... actually Sirius suggested it seeing as we’re all sitting in one of the Top Boxes with the Poshes and top Ministry Officials. I do feel a bit like a penguin though to tell you the truth. Seems a bit weird for a sports match really...”
Finally they arrived at the Top Box and filed into the front row. Ginny and Luna whispered and giggled as they took the end seats with Neville sandwiched between them. Neville’s face reddened and Hermione smirked as she sat next to Luna. Harry couldn’t quite make out what Luna and Ginny had said to each other, but judging by Neville’s goofy expression, it had something to do with him. Harry grinned and flashed Neville a thumbs up.
As Ron settled into the seat on the other side of Harry, an odd creature in the seats behind him caught his attention.
“Urk... what’s that?” muttered Ron.
“Pardon?” Harry turned to see what Ron was gawking at. The creature had its face buried in its hands, but Harry would have recognised those bat-like ears anywhere.
“Dobby? ” said Harry incredulously.
Hermione spun around to say hello as well, but when the frightened house-elf peeked out from behind its spindly fingers, they could both see it wasn’t Dobby at all. Indeed, there was something vaguely feminine about this particular house-elf.
“Did sir just call me Dobby?” squeaked the house-elf.
“Er... yeah! I’m really sorry... I thought you were someone I knew,” said Harry, flushing in embarrassment.
“But I knows Dobby too sir,” the house-elf squeaked. Her eyes flicked to Harry’s scar. “You is Harry Potter,” she gasped. “Dobby speaks of you often. My name is Winky sir, and I is being very pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Harry grinned. “It’s nice to meet you too Winky. So how is Dobby these days?”
“Dobby is working at Hogwarts sir...” Winky frowned. “Meaning no disrespect sir, but I is not sure you is doing Dobby any favours - he is liking to be paid now sir! Dobby tells me that the Headmaster is giving him good wages...”
“Well that’s a good thing...” Hermione interjected.
“...and why shouldn’t he like being paid?” continued Harry, frowning himself now. “It’s about time...”
“No, no, no!” squealed Winky as she peered between her fingers, her big eyes bulging even more in horror. “House-elfs is not supposed to like being paid. We is liking to work hard for our masters and is doing whatever they is telling us to do, not racketing around and getting up to mischief unbecoming of a house-elf...”
“So he’s having a bit of fun too - after the way he was treated, I couldn’t be happier for him!” said Harry, beginning to feel as horrified as Winky appeared to be, but for precisely the opposite reason. Harry couldn’t fathom why anybody would want to be a slave. Ron peered at the house-elf with great interest, seeming to hang on her every word.
“House-elfs is not supposed to be having fun sir - I is not liking heights, but I is a good house-elf who obeys without any want of reward. So here I sits with my... er...” The house-elf seemed distracted momentarily, her eyes darting towards the empty seat beside her.
“...I mean, I is saving a seat for my master sir! I is not letting scary heights stop me...” Winky glanced at the railing of the balcony from which they overlooked the stadium, and uttered another terrified squeal before hiding her face completely in her hands again and quieting.
“So that’s a house-elf,” murmured Ron. “Weird little things, aren’t they?” he concluded with a wistful expression of longing, imagining having a house-elf of his very own.
“I suppose so...” said Harry stiffly as Hermione shot Ron a dirty look.
Ron seemed not to notice and began twiddling the knobs on his omnioculars as he peered at the crowd through them. Harry and Hermione were distracted from Ron when Minister Fudge appeared with a delegation of foreign dignitaries.
“Ah, hello Arthur...” Fudge beamed amiably and shook Mr Weasley’s hand. “I see you’ve brought the family. Good to see you again Warlock Black... Mr Lupin!” Fudge shook Sirius’s hand and Lupin’s warmly; he looked slightly uncomfortable when he reached out for Mr Lovegood’s hand though. “...Er... nice to see you again Xeno!”
Minister Fudge was pleasantly surprised when Mr Lovegood shook his hand vigorously, beaming at him. Luna’s father leaned in and murmured something in the Minister’s ear. Fudge gulped, wondering how seriously he should take Xenophilius's information. He recovered himself quickly though, and began introducing the foreign dignitaries as other officials and very wealthy looking wizards and witches filed into the Top Box.
Mr Weasley and Sirius - whom Fudge kept referring to as Warlock Black - shook the hands of many important people. Percy looked almost apoplectic with jealousy when Minister Fudge blew right past him and moved along the aisle to Harry, whom the Minister greeted as an old friend.
“Splendid to see you again Harry!” Fudge beamed.
“You too sir!” Harry grinned at the Minister, whom he felt very warmly towards for emancipating him the previous summer. But Harry’s hopes that the Minister would simply leave it at that were soon dashed.
“Harry... I’d like you to meet Mr Oblansk - the Bulgarian Minister of Magic - and the members of his delegation, among a few others...”
“Oh... er... certainly sir! Of course, I’d... er... be happy to.” Harry swallowed awkwardly as he stood up.
As much as Harry was quite pleased to greet the Minister, he hated being on display and wished he were elsewhere, anonymously swallowed up in the crowd. Harry felt a load better when Hermione stood up beside him and took his free hand, smiling brightly. Sirius nodded supportively and mouthed the words “keep smiling,” at him.
Harry followed Sirius’s silent instruction, and felt much less ridiculous now about wearing a tuxedo to a quidditch match - especially with Hermione at his side looking elegant in her gown as cameras flashed while he shook the hands of foreign officials and other important people. An expression not altogether unlike Percy’s crossed Ron’s features as he watched Harry greeting all the VIP’s.
“Blimey! ... Glad that’s done with,” Harry whispered with obvious relief as he sat back down, hoping that the worst was over, not noticing the look on Ron’s face.
“Yeah... I bet!” Ron muttered darkly.
“Oh no,” groaned Harry, looking past Ron, “the Malfoys!”
Ron whirled around in his seat, envy forgotten when he spied the enemy approaching. Hermione scowled and tightened her grip on Harry’s arm when the pale boy with platinum blond hair peered at her with obvious disgust. Mr Weasley narrowed his eyes at the elder Malfoy, no doubt recalling the fight they’d had in Flourish and Blotts.
“Warlock Malfoy... delighted...” said Minister Fudge, looking anything but delighted as he stood up stiffly and politely reached out to shake Lucius Malfoy’s hand.
“Ah, Fudge,” said the Warlock with long platinum hair, a sneer curling his lip as he looked down the row of Weasleys, his eyes finally coming to rest on Harry and Hermione. “My, my... the standards really are slipping these days. Well... with a bit of luck, the Ministry will be cleaning house in the near future.”
“This Box appears to be a bit overbooked, dear,” the elder Malfoy said to his wife, who looked more than a bit embarrassed. “Come along Draco, the other Top Box looks a bit less crowded.”
“Slimy gits!” fumed Ron. Harry and Hermione couldn’t agree more
As the Malfoys departed, everyone’s tension drained away - except for Harry’s when he spotted Ludo Bagman charging into the Primary Top Box.
“Well, time to get this show on the road, eh Minister?” said Bagman excitedly.
“Ready when you are Ludo,” the Minister replied, feeling much better now.
Ludo Bagman placed the tip of his wand against his throat, and his voice filled the stadium. The crowd of one hundred thousand strong roared and cheered as Bagman introduced the 422nd Quidditch World Cup. Hermione bit her lip in consternation.
“It can’t possibly be the 422nd World Cup if it began in 1473 and they only hold it once every four years as they claim!” Hermione whispered in Harry’s ear. “It has to be the 130th, and the first one must have been held in 1474.”
Luna overheard her and leaned in to quietly respond. “You’re right Hermione - it would have had to start in year 306 for this to be the 422nd, and broomsticks weren’t even used for transportation until 962... Daddy says that the IAQ just made it up to sound more impressive. It actually did start in 1473, but nobody could remember what happened in the 1877 World Cup, so they replayed it in 1878 and it’s been continuing every four years from that point on.”
“Who cares?” snorted Ron as he peered over the balcony through his omnioculars, goggling at the field down below and drooling. “The Bulgarian mascots have just entered the stadium...”
“My word, so they have,” muttered Mr Weasley, quickly wiping his glasses on his shirt and replacing them for a better viewing. “Looks like they’ve brought Veela.”
Fred, George, and Neville were also gawking and drooling over the ledge at the sultry women dancing on the field below to the Bulgarian National Anthem. The golden hair of the Veela seemed to flow through the air in slow motion as they danced, and they appeared to be bathed in starlight. They were wearing gossamer wisps of fabric which revealed much more of their silvery glowing skin than it covered - and nearly the entire stadium fell under the Veela’s spell. Luna started giggling, and Ginny rolled her eyes.
Harry smirked in amusement and felt a surge of elation when he saw everyone’s attention focused intently on the field below. He had his own enchanting beauty in a pearly evening gown to thank for standing by him during the daunting task of greeting all the VIP’s. While everyone else was looking the other way, Harry took the golden opportunity to steal a steamy kiss from Hermione. When he came up for air, Hermione was blissfully surprised and breathless, her lips still tingling.
Harry’s amusement turned to alarm when he saw Ron with one leg over the railing, preparing to dive off the balcony into the midst of the Veela at least a hundred metres below. He grabbed Ron by his belt and hauled him back to his seat just as the music stopped.
“What’d you do that for Harry?” snapped Ron.
“He just saved your life!” said Hermione, her haughty tone leavened by the tingly warm glow of satisfaction that not even beautiful Sirens could distract her Harry. “And if you’ve got your eyes back in your head, you may want to use them to look at the Irish Mascots...”
Ron was still pining over the Veela, decidedly uninterested in the Leprechauns and their light show... until gold coins rained down from the shamrock formation above them. Ron’s face lit up as the gold collected in heaps on the floor of the balcony.
“I’m rich,” he shouted, gleefully grabbing at the piles of gold and stuffing it into his pockets before shoving a handful of galleons at Harry.
“There you go,” Ron yelled happily, “for the Omnioculars. Now you’ve got to buy me a Christmas present. Hah!”
Harry glanced at Hermione uncertainly. “Should I tell him?”
“Maybe you’d better Harry...” she said sympathetically. “He’ll be wondering where the rest of it went later if you don’t.”
“Tell me what?” said Ron in exasperation. “What’s with you two today? Why won’t you take the gold Harry?”
“It’s Leprechaun Gold Ron. It’ll vanish in a few hours...” Harry peered at his friend earnestly. “You know I was only joking when I said that earlier about the Omnioculars being an early Christmas Present don’t you?”
“Er... yeah! I know...” said Ron, deflating. “I just wanted to be able to pay you back...”
“You’re my friend Ron! I don’t care if you ever pay me back. I just want to share what I have with you.”
“Th...thanks Harry!” Ron swallowed glumly, and tried his best to bury his pride.
Finally the teams were introduced, and Leprechaun Gold and Veela were forgotten completely when Viktor Krum soared through the stadium; Ron was the biggest Krum fan of all. He had even bought a magically animated Krum figurine before the game. And once the match began, the thrill of watching Viktor Krum’s daring aerial manoeuvres took everyone’s breath away.
The match was fast paced and intense, with injuries on both sides. Emotions ran high; the Veela and the Leprechauns nearly got into it with each other several times during the game. The Irish team was a more cohesive unit by far, but as Harry watched the 422nd Quidditch World Cup Final - or more accurately, the 130th - he knew that Bagman was going to lose his bet with the Weasley Twins. Krum was just that good - and so were the Irish Chasers.
“I don’t understand,” Ron shouted over the hubbub of the roaring crowd following the game. “Why did Krum catch the Snitch while the Irish Team were still 160 points ahead? What an idiot!”
“They were too far ahead for the Bulgarians to catch up Ron. He wanted to end it on his own terms,” said Harry, knowing that he would have done exactly the same thing himself in Krum’s place.
“Krum looks a dreadful mess,” said Hermione, glancing at the bloodied Seeker then turning to gaze at Harry. “He may be really grumpy, but he’s almost as brave as you are Harry...”
“He is, isn’t he... flying injured like that!” chimed in Luna, beaming at Harry as she leapt up and down gleefully next to Neville. “Still, it's only a bloody nose and black eyes... he didn’t catch it while flying with a broken arm like you did Harry...”
“Er... that Wronski Feint was a real masterstroke - I can’t wait to give it a go myself...” Harry deflected, trying his utmost not to show the swell of pleasure he was feeling at being compared favourably to the world's most highly regarded professional Seeker by Hermione and Luna.
“Yeah... Krum was amazing!” yelled Ginny as she bounced around happily too. “But the Irish Chasers were brilliant!”
Neville wanted to get a word in as well, but he was too tongue-tied as Ginny and Luna both had him in their clutches as they jumped joyously, cheering and squealing loudly in his ears.
The celebration for the Irish victory carried on late into the evening. Everyone ended up in front of the Weasley tent for a raucous party around a blazing fire; even Parvati and Lavender, and Seamus and Dean showed up. Parents looked the other way, pretending that they didn’t see a thing when Seamus surreptitiously passed a little flask of Firewhiskey among the younger teens. When Harry noticed Ron hogging the spot next to Seamus, he wondered where Dean was.
“He’s over there chatting up Ginny...” giggled Hermione slightly tipsily.
“Oh yeah...” chortled Harry, very relieved that Ginny really seemed to be over her crush on him. “It looks like Luna and Neville are getting on well too.... You alright Hermione?” Harry asked when she giggled again.
“I... I think so,” Hermione blushed. “I... I only had one sip Harry - but it was enough for me.”
“Me too,” Harry grinned. “I had one good swallow and my throat still feels like it’s on fire... It’s funny, I didn’t really notice that so much when Dumbledore gave us a sip after killing the Locket...”
Percy arrived with his girlfriend Penelope Clearwater and scowled at his father when he saw the noisy party going on in front of their tent. Penelope protested that the party looked like fun when he turned around and stalked away with her. The party continued for a good while, but finally parents decided that it was time for bed and everyone made their way through the campsite to their respective tents.
“Well, that was quite a bash. The Weasleys certainly know how to have a good time,” said Sirius with a grin after walking Luna and her father back at their tent.
“So how are you three holding up?” asked Lupin, raising his eyebrows and giving them a knowing smile. “Do I need to prepare any hangover potions?”
“Certainly not for me!” said Neville, looking thoroughly embarrassed. “I... er... it tasted horrible... and I ended up spewing it all over Luna.”
“She didn’t seem to mind though Neville,” giggled Hermione. “Luna still seems to like you.”
Neville grinned awkwardly. He still couldn’t quite believe that he’d actually managed to semi-successfully navigate a social event, and had actually talked to girls about things which had nothing to do with school. Luna had actually been much more fun to talk to than he had been led to believe by many of his schoolmates. And even more incomprehensible to Neville, Ginny and Luna had actually seemed to enjoy his company.
“Er... Hermione and I should be good,” said Harry. “We only had a little bit, and that was plenty... most of the effects have already worn off. I hope Ron doesn’t get into too much trouble though - I think he and Seamus drank the most.”
“Ah... not unless that Percy lad spills the beans to their mum. ” Sirius shook his head. “Ron should be alright - it was a very small flask, and Arthur wouldn’t have looked the other way if he thought it would cause too much fuss.”
“Still, this was a special occasion,” Lupin admonished, looking quite pleased. “Firewhiskey is much stronger than Butterbeer and not generally advisable for consumption by those under seventeen - I’m glad you were all sensible about it.”
“I have to say, you were much more sensible about it than James and I were at your age in any case Harry!” Sirius chuckled. “We were both quite fortunate that Pomfrey treats patient confidentiality with high regard and didn’t turn us in to McGonagall.”
Once back at the tent, Harry changed into his pyjamas and crawled into bed. He cheerfully replayed some key moments of the match in his mind’s eye, especially some of Viktor Krum’s more spectacular moves, determined to reproduce them at a later date on his Firebolt. At least he did so until he heard his door open and spied Hermione tiptoeing into his room with her alarm clock.
Harry grinned as Hermione clambered into bed beside him. They shared several long humid kisses, arms wrapped around each other, each kiss growing deeper and steamier until they fell apart panting, both of them knowing this would be their last chance at privacy for a long time to come.
Hermione peered at Harry, her face glowing and flushed, messy curls of tawny hair strewn across her cheeks. Harry’s face looked equally torn between longing and anxiety, and Hermione knew that he needed a short while to collect himself as much as she did to simply enjoy a peaceful cuddle.
“Erm... I... I’ll be right back Harry... just a few minutes... er... I forgot... something... in my room...”
“Er... alright Hermione?” Harry’s eyes widened in perplex. Hermione never forgot anything. But as her eyes met his, the message came through loud and clear - she needed release as much he did - and they both blushed a deeper shade of red and grinned at each other nervously.
“Oh... alright Hermione! Er... see you in a few minutes then... just one more kiss before you go maybe?” Harry said impishly. Hermione nodded, eyelashes fluttering as she smiled shyly; their lips met humidly one more time as they cradled each other in their arms with caresses which roamed slightly further than they had in the past.
Hermione departed Harry’s room, and by the time she returned, they were both much more relaxed, though neither could meet the other’s eyes at first without reddening again. But that didn’t matter, as Hermione was ready to just snuggle next to Harry now, curled under his arm with her tresses spilling over his shoulder, and her own arm across his chest.
They both let out contented sighs, and Harry began to drift, feeling at peace with the world.
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