Chapter 1 - The Boys of Summer by A.J. Hall
“Quikket?” said Arthur Weasley vaguely. “What is Quikket?”
“Not Quikket. Krikket.” His eldest son Bill adopted one of those “God created slugs, and thereafter parents” tones so familiar to the middle aged and contraceptively challenged.
“With three Ks,” he added, as an afterthought. Being a talented wizard has never required an ability to spell. “It’s a muggle sport. Terribly complicated. Goes on for days.”
“So what’s new?”
“Please, Dad. Eric’s Dad’s got the tickets and everything. It’s just with their grandmother getting ill in the South of France the family can’t go, and he really wants us to use them - it’d be rude not to.”
Arthur Weasley sighed. Sometimes, he felt, fatherhood was not his vocation.
“OK. I suppose. If you insist. Give me the Floo Powder jar. I’ll need to pick up the tickets, and check when we have to be in this Leads place -“
Arthur tossed a pinch of powder into the flames and announced ,”The Ecckerslike residence, Pontefract” as he stepped fearlessly into them. Bill looked momentarily uneasy. Nothing his friend Eric had ever said about the family whippet caused him to believe that a wizard who walked out of the fireplace of their quiet Yorkshire home would be greeted in a welcoming or appropriate manner.
The crisp morning air off the moors was chill but somehow welcoming as Arthur Weasley limped through the gates of Headingley Cricket Ground on the final day of the Third Test against Australia. Behind him Bill followed, lugging the heroically large picnic his mother expected might just keep body and soul together for the rest of the day.
Around them a subdued English crowd, and a small but over-excited body of Australian supporters, expressed themselves variously. Despite yesterday’s fight-back (which had taken England from 6-1 to 351-9) it seemed hardly plausible that they had done more than wrestle respectability from the jaws of utter humiliation. Still - the match had lasted until its final day, which was more than many Englishmen (though less than two of the Aussies) would have dared bet after its disastrous opening.
Arthur and Bill settled themselves in their seats in the stand next to the overgrown railway signalling box which Yorkshiremen thought of as the pavilion. The heavy wheeled covers which had protected the pitch from rain overnight were rolled back - the bails were placed tenderly on the stumps - the Australian fielders came jogging aggressively out - the two batsman strolled after them with exaggerated nonchalance - the hands of the pavilion clock twitched onto the stroke of eleven - the silence of the crowd was so intense one could have heard a feather fall in Baildon-
“Play!” called the umpire.
The greatest Australian fast bowler of the century began his run up. The greatest England all-rounder of several centuries thwacked his bat down, once, and waited.
There were giants on the earth in those days.
Only fourteen more runs had been added (two unholy clouts to the boundary, and a handful of singles) when the England innings ended. The two batsmen and the rejoicing Aussies loped back inside. The spectators waited - the inevitable procession of men in inappropriately worded tee-shirts (“I’m so glad Molly isn’t here” Arthur muttered fervently as one particular example caught his eye) made their way round the racetrack from the various bars, bearing multiple pints in flimsy plastic glasses -
Almost stunned by the sheer volume of his father’s yell, Bill dived for cover behind a row of plastic tip-up seating. He was only just in time. The hex hit the stadium as a wall of pure sound. The noise of an excited, apprehensive, three parts drunk crowd was cut off like a radio hit by lightning. Bill peered anxiously through the gap between the white plastic chairs in front of him, the weight of his father’s arm heavy on the back of his neck. Over the Kirkstall Lane end green smoke was drifting upwards, and beginning to form a shape. He shut his eyes tightly, willing tears not to come. He knew what shape the smoke would form, when the drifting had to stop.
“Crawl” his father hissed in his ear. “Get to the pavilion. Need to warn the Muggles. Senior Ministry man here. Don’t let them see you.”
Bill began to crawl, slowly and agonisingly. Tarmac crumbs bit into the bare flesh of his knees. Shards of discarded pint plastics scarred his flesh. He gritted his teeth, and crawled on. Above the ground the sky darkened.
After an age they reached a flight of steps leading beneath the stand. He essayed a cautious glimpse, but there was no-one looking in his direction. A small huddle of the more vociferous former supporters were lying immobile against the further sight screens. Dark-robed figures were moving around them. Otherwise the crowd stood, frozen, as they had been gesturing, or fidgeting, or getting out another eccles cake, only minutes before. He and his father scuttled quickly beneath the grateful shelter of the terracing.
From there it was an easy fifty yard dash to the back of the pavilion. A Muggle steward, his jaw dropped in open mouthed protest, stood frozen at the back door. He was in no condition to deny them entry. Bill and his father nipped in, and up the stairs.
The first door they came to was locked. Bill was unsurprised to see his father had his wand out.
“Alohomora” Arthur Weasley commanded.
“A Latin word with a Greek ending, ” a voice said, weakly, as the door sprang open. “No good can come of it”.
A man stepped forward to meet them as they advanced. He was grey haired, and looked very pale. Something about the look in his hazel eyes was faintly reminiscent of Bill’s headmaster, Albus Dumbeldore. Bill recognised the man instantly as the England cricket captain.
“Thank goodness,” Arthur exclaimed. “I thought all the Mugg- I thought everyone was paralysed.”
The man shook his head. “About half of us are awake - and a couple of the Aussies. I think they weren’t as on edge - thought everything was nearly over. I don’t know about the VIPs, either - they were downstairs when it happened - what the hell was it, anyway?”
Arthur Weasley opened his mouth, but before he could say anything a cold echoing voice made itself felt throughout the ground.
“We are the Voice of Lord Voldemort. We have this ground in our power. All Muggles are paralysed and under our complete control. Any wizard who attempts to resist will be destroyed utterly. We demand the release from Azkaban of Travers - of Mulciber - of Dolohov - of all our political prisoners. You have forty five minutes to accede to our demands. After that, the Muggles here will begin to die. Submit to the will of the Dark Lord.”
“Um,” said the England captain. “And who would Lord Voldemort be, when he’s at home?”
Arthur looked at him in a dumbfounded way. Bill swallowed, and said nervously.
“He’s a wizard. A really, really seriously evil wizard. A sort of ultimately evil wizard, really.”
“Ah” said the England captain. “And this really, really evil wizard’s supporters would seem to be trying to disrupt the Headingley Test to get someone released from prison, would that be it?”
Bill nodded, wordlessly.
“Ah well, I suppose the kid did say ultimately evil, not ultimately original,” the England captain muttered to himself. He looked at Bill and Arthur, who was still holding out his wand. “And you’d be the forces of good, then?”
“Ah, yes. At least, I do my best.” Arthur added hopefully “Ministry, you know.”
“Well, I suppose the civil service can happen to the best of us - er, what Ministry would that be, exactly?”
“Ministry for Magic - Misuse of Muggle artifacts department. You know, ordinary objects suddenly behaving in a truly bizarre way - shrinking, crumbling, vanishing, that sort of thing - because they’re enchanted?”
“Well, there had to be some excuse for the England middle order, I suppose. Are there any more of you in the ground?”
“I don’t know”, Arthur said, suddenly struck. “Obviously the Death Ea- I mean, You Know Who’s supporters must think so. Perhaps if I tried calling out?”
“If there’s some way you can do it without alerting the other side. I don’t think I could take a heap of evil magicians descending on the pavilion on top of all my other problems - do you people have a secret handshake, or something?”
Arthur grinned. For a moment, Bill was fleetingly reminded of Charlie. Then his father tapped his voicebox with his wand, said “Sonorus ” (the England captain looked briefly pained and muttered “Call that an imperative? Cos I don’t”) and then whistled a distinctive four note phrase in a magically enhanced voice.
There were a moment’s heavy silence. Then, with a whisper of flapping robes four figures Apparated into the pavilion around them: a round faced blond wizard who looked rather like a farmer taking a well earned mid harvest break; a middle aged witch, dressed in theatrically flowing robes, too much make up, brassy hoop earrings and still clasping a sign marked “Gipsy Rose Lee : Fortunes” ; a young witch of about 19 or so with long untidy brown hair, a tea stained satchel on her shoulder and her finger resolutely marking her place in a book entitled “Sources and Sorcery: Was Jane Austen Magic or Muggle?” and, finally, a dark haired wizard with awesome cheekbones, a black leather jacket, and rather artistically ripped blue jeans. At this last apparition Arthur blinked slightly.
“Hello, Sirius. Never knew you were interested in this Quikket thing.”
Sirius grinned. “Got a friend playing. You know how it is”.
Arthur nodded. “Well, can I introduce - “
He turned to the England captain, and paused, awkwardly, as he realised he was quite unaware of his name. The captain looked blandly back at him.
“We have?” Sirius tried to look innocent, which was something he did badly.
“You are Guy’s friend, I take it? Admittedly, last time we met you were calling yourself “Dog Faced Dick The Dope King of the Underworld” which, taking everything into consideration I’m rather relieved to reassure myself was evidently a pseudonym, but surely I can’t have got the wrong man? The one with the motorbike? And the jazz saxophone? And the rather lethal hooch? And the - ah - blonde young lady friends? The seventeen blonde young lady friends?”
“Oh, that party,” Sirius said, a rather relieved look on his face.
“Anyway, we can’t hang about here all day. You’d better come into our dressing room and we’ll discuss what to do.”
At this moment, however, two very small teenage witches rushed in through the door that Arthur had left open. Bill recognised them as two Ravenclaw sixth years. The tiny brunette one was wearing a tee-shirt that said
“We Have Your Entwives. Pay Up if you want to see them again”. The the other, who was plumper and wore glasses, bore the legend “Herbert Von Karajan is Guilty, OK - the Timpani” on her bust. As she rushed past him Bill noticed that on her back it read, “Nothing about Herbert Von Karajan is OK - the string section” . The long haired witch looked up from her book for the first time.
“You two took your time”.
“You know we don’t have our apparation licences yet. We came as fast as we could. Ought we to let one of you know there’s an unconscious Death Eater lying next to the heavy roller?”
There was a quick gasp of excitement.
“What’s he doing there?” the England captain asked.
The musical witch shrugged. “We couldn’t work out how to undo the mechanism to stuff him inside.”
“Well done, girls,” Arthur Weasley said. “How did you do it?”
“I asked for his autograph, and she nipped up behind and stunned him while he’d got his pen in his wand hand.”
Sirius raised his eyebrows. “Gave you his autograph? What sort of plonker goes about giving autographs in the middle of a hostage standoff?”
At this moment the door to the England dressing room swung open and two cricketers strode out, one the tanned giant who had been batting earlier, who waved enthusiastically to Sirius as soon as he spotted him, and the other a slighter figure with a mop of blonde curls, the appearance of whom unaccountably caused the Ravenclaw girls to go pink, and tongue tied.
“Mm,” said the England captain. “Maybe I’ll include it in my mission briefing.”
“What’s up, skip?”
“We’re at the centre of a terrorist attack by Dark magicians. Apparently they’re holding the entire crowd in suspended animation.”
The curly haired cricketer looked worried. “You haven’t been trying Guy’s hayfever inhaler, have you?”
“No. I haven’t. Look, there’s one of the enemy lying unconscious next to the heavy roller. Bring him in.” The two cricketers thundered off, and the remainder of their captain’s instructions (” but don’t damage any bits we might need for interrogation”) trailed after them on the wind.
Arthur was looking troubled.
“This is clearly a major magical emergency. Standard procedures say I ought to alert the Muggle prime minister at once, so we can co-ordinate our efforts.”
The England captain looked as though he had suddenly bitten into a slightly rotten lemon. “Ah. Now I could help you there. If her Rolls got here in time you might find her in the VIP reception room on the ground floor of the pavilion. She was supposed to greet the teams at lunch time. I’m not sure she’ll necessarily be conscious, but at least she’s handy.”
The Muggle prime minister was more than conscious. She was livid.
“I hold you entirely responsible,” she said to the England captain, as he and the others entered the room. Arthur Weasley looked rather shocked
“No - you’ve made a mistake. This is You Know Who’s supporters. Surely the Minister has kept you up to date on their activities?”
She snorted. “We should never have let them have a wiggly border in the first place.”
Arthur looked baffled. The England captain, on the other hand, looked all too enlightened. He pulled himself together with a visible effort. “I think you should make up your own mind, PM. We’ve captured one. Two of the team are bringing him in for interrogation.”
At this moment the two cricketers pushed through the door with a limp bundle, which they dropped at the feet of the Prime Minister with rather the air, Bill thought, of the neighbour’s kneazle depositing a stunned gnome on the hearthrug. With a couple of quick spells Arthur bound it hand and foot, muttered “enervate” and leapt back.
The PM glared at it, and snapped, “Right. Well, I’ve got a few questions for you, whatever you think you’re in aid of,” took a deep breath, and began.
After some minutes the England captain drew in his breath with a pointed hiss. “PM, are you quite sure these are the right questions? I mean, so far he’s told you he supports a firm line on immigration and an independent nuclear deterrent, made some rather illiberal comments about single mothers, suggested four ways of dealing with Arthur Scargill, all of them unpleasant and at least three of them definitely illegal -“
“That crucial thing sounded quite promising, I thought.”
”- but has said nothing at all about where this Voldemort has his people, and what their aims are.”
“Nor will I,” the Death Eater announced proudly. “No torture you can use, Muggle, no, not you or your snivelling mudblood supporters will drag one word of the Plan out of me.”
The England captain rolled up his sleeves. “Well, you had your chance. Lulu, get Fiery.”
The curly haired cricketer blenched, but left the room silently.
“If you want to change your mind, here’s a whistle. Three blasts will bring me back to hear what you have to say. But only if you use it in the next ten minutes. After that - ” He opened and spread his hands as though invisible sand were trickling to the floor from them. The Death Eater stared straight back at him. He shrugged, turned on his heel, and left the room. The others followed him.
At the foot of the stairs leading from the dressing room the man addressed as Lulu was arguing with a balding man wearing a England sweater. The captain interrupted. “Boycs. Glad to see you. Look, there’s a huge fan of yours in that room. He wants to hear all about your career, from the very beginning. Do you mind? Just while there’s this hold up.”
The balding man nodded, and ducked into the room containing the bound Death Eater. Arthur Weasley looked helplessly after him. “Will he be safe?”
The captain shrugged. “Probably not. But you did tell me he was a supporter of the most evil wizard known to man.”
“And I reckon a Young Conservative to boot,” the long haired witch muttered. The PM shot her a filthy look.
They had scarcely reached the door of the dressing room when an ear splitting serenade of whistles rent the air. Sirius made it back to the Death Eater a short head in front of Lulu. The Death Eater was writhing in his bonds, a look of abject terror on his face.
“I will tell you,” he gasped. “Everything you want to know.”
Arthur Weasley stepped out onto the players’ balcony clutching the statement they had prepared. Behind him in the England dressing room Bill surreptitiously crossed all his fingers, two sets of toes (a trick Eric had taught him) and held his breath. The farmer wizard (whose name, as it happened, was Elias Shufflebottom) patted him reassuringly on the shoulder and whispered, “Don’t you fret. Tha feyther’s doin’ a grand job, lad.”
“Anyway,” Sirius added practically, “we’re holding a shield over him that’d take a nuclear missile to get through.”
The PM looked up. “Now, there’s a thought.”
The England captain frowned, but said nothing. Perhaps, having already won the argument about no negotiation with terrorists (“But it’s to buy time, PM”) and the argument about who was to make the speech (“But you’d be exposing yourself to too much risk, PM”) he was simply exhausted. However, the small musical witch cleared her throat.
“Such a nice man, the Headingley MP,” she commented. “I met him at the YC garden party last week. There’s a man who really deserves a huge majority.”
“Of course, we do have to look at saving the innocent lives out there as a priority, however much pressure may be on us to make a strong military statement.”
Arthur Weasley’s magically enhanced voice came drifting back into the room.
“…conditional Ministry for Magic authority to negotiate….difficult issues…..kindly prioritise your requirements…written statement of your objectives….detailed specification of demands…”
Arthur came back inside. He looked rather breathless, but his wand hand was commendably steady.
“How long do you think we’ve got?”.
The England captain shrugged. “Ages, I should think. Any given bunch of idealists isn’t going to agree how to prioritize anything under an hour and a half, whether they’re trying to bring about the triumph of ultimate evil or simply saving the whales. And then I expect they’ll have a long discussion about what colour the “go faster” stripes should be on the getaway carpet. Plenty of time for the next stage of the plan.”
“Um. Are you quite sure about this bit?” Sirius asked.
“Yes. I needed a magical person with histrionic ability. You were the best of the choices I had.”
Sirius said nothing but glanced meaningfully across at the fortune-telling witch. The England captain followed his gaze.
“Miss Trelawney’s talents are needed in another role,” he said firmly. “As a result of her detailed knowledge of the outer parts of the ground, gained during her- her recent professional engagement here.”
She fixed him with a soulful gaze. “Call me Sybil, darling. Although Jupiter has not been in the ascendant for me in recent years my art is nonetheless true, and my art tells me you are truly simpatico.” She took a huge square of white linen (which Bill noticed had “Dragonara Hotel” embroidered on one corner) from the depths of her bead fringed handbag, and dabbed her bulging blue eyes with it before turning back to Sirius. “Sweetie, what you have to do is live the role. Feel it, feel it in every fibre of your being. Be Test Match Special. Become Test Match Special. Live, sleep and breathe Test Match Special.”
“But I’ve never even heard Test Match Special.”
Lulu looked puzzled. “How do you know him, then?” He nodded across at Guy.
“Met him in the pub. We got chatting about motorbikes. You could have knocked me over with an anchovy fillet when he told me what he did for a living. Anyway, what am I supposed to sound like?”
The long haired witch and her friends had been whispering together in the corner. Now they looked up.
“It’s quite easy. All you have to do is put on one of those plummy sorts of voices-“
“-that sounds as though you’re wearing a polka dotted bow tie-“
“-and have been drinking claret steadily-“
“-for about the last forty years-“
“-and make a lot of remarks about cakes-“
“-and pigeons -“
“-and the number 22 bus from Shipley-“
“-and no-one will suspect a thing,” the Entwife witch finished triumphantly.
The England captain looked at them. “I know I’m going to regret this, but just where did you lot find out about Test Match Special?”
The musical witch looked at him. “Have you ever heard World Wizarding Network? Oh, sorry, silly question in the circumstances. Well, just think Radio 2.”
“-With none of the raw energy of the real thing-“
“-With special home made cheesy bits added-“
” It’s a magical scandal. I wouldn’t be surprised if half those Death Eaters out there didn’t join up on a promise to take a meat cleaver to Singalong with Celestina”
“So Mandy got hold of a Muggle radio a few years ago, and smuggled it back to Hogwarts after the Easter holidays -“
“Hang on a minute,” Sirius interrupted. “I know for a fact that no Muggle electrical equipment works anywhere near Hogwarts.”
The long haired witch looked shifty.
“Well, that’s generally true. However, after a bit of trial and error, we worked out you can actually get quite decent reception in that abandoned werewolf lair in the Forbidden Forest - you know, just past the centaurs’ top secret astronomical observatory and before you get to the giant spider traps. “
Sirius was silent for a moment. He appeared to be counting on his fingers.
“That means breaking fourteen major school rules, and risking at least 10 different ways of near certain death.”
The musical witch’s voice held a note of quiet pride.
“Twenty two major school rules, actually. They’ve added quite a lot more since you were there.”
“Some of them to cover contingencies we hadn’t even speculated about before they made a rule against them,” the long-haired witch muttered.
“And you’d risk all that just to hear a bunch of total wazzocks witter about cake?”
“Well, and pigeons.”
“And the number 22 bus from Shipley.”
The England captain cleared him throat. “Well, entrancing as it may be to walk through a garden of bright images, is it not distracting your minds from another subject of more than equal importance?”
“He means, ‘Get cracking’,” Lulu translated.
“I do. And be careful. There’s a lot of dangerous people out there. Oh, and Guy? What exactly is your strategy for dealing with any attack on you between here and the commentary box?”
Guy gestured towards Sirius.
“If it’s magical he’ll get to zap it first, and then I’ll hit what’s left very hard. If it isn’t magical I’ll just hit it very hard anyway and there won’t be anything left to need zapping.”
“Well, you seem to have all the bases covered. Good luck.”
At his signal, Arthur Weasley raised the warding charm on the dressing room door momentarily. Guy and Sirius loped off. The England captain looked after them in a rather worried way. The long haired witch caught the direction of his glance.
“I wouldn’t worry,” she said sympathetically. “I’ve known Sirius since I was two, and he’s not nearly as big a prat as he looks.”
The England captain sighed.
“Thanks. That’s half my problems solved. Now, has each of you got your radio? If yours goes wrong, nick another from a spectator - they won’t be needing them. Get yourself into position - try not to let yourselves be spotted - but don’t move until you hear your own personal signal. And the signal for regrouping on the pavilion is “is this the real world”, got it? Then God bless all who sail in her.”
Guy sprinted for the commentary box, unleashing a turn of speed that was impressive even by his standards. According to their informant there had to be a Death Eater concealed in the scorecard seller’s kiosk, covering the steps. She risked raising her head for a better angle of fire. Sirius, aiming from behind a convenient sightscreen, was quicker to the draw. Leaving a very surprised looking lizard in his wake he joined his friend in the box.
Compared to the eerie stillness of the ground outside the scene of chaos in the box looked almost homelike, like the wreckage of a very successful dinner party. Two somnolent commentators slumped before the microphone in a litter of empty wine bottles and cake tins, just as the Suspensory Hex had overtaken them, and a bearded man snoozed at the back, his head pillowed on a stack of yellow-jacketed volumes. Guy tossed the commentators away with a ruthless hand, and the two of them waded through the surrounding detritus to the control comsole on which an angry red light was flashing.
Sirius looked at it and pressed a button marked “Link to Studio” hopefully. A very annoyed sounding voice blared out.
“So there is life on Mars! What the hell are you clowns doing? We haven’t had a squeak out of you in nearly an hour - we’ve been reduced to playing the Tied Test Rain Stopped Play Recording for about the fourth time this summer already - who’s there and what excuse do you have for it?”
“We’ve been having a spot of crowd trouble, sir. Some protestors are trying to make capital out of the PM’s visit. She asked us to cut off the oxygen of publicity from the protestors, sir.”
This was almost true. The PM’s actual request, however, had omitted the words “of publicity”.
“Until things are brought back under control we thought we’d have a sort of TMS Desert Island Discs, to fill in time.”
The voice sounded very dubious. “Are you quite sure? Who’s going to be the castaway?”
Sirius caught Guy’s eye. Guy bared his teeth in a feral grin. On the desk in front of him was a large red button, above which there was a placard which said, in various DayGlo colours.”This is the Live Broadcast button. As in really, really broadcasting. Live. To the Nation. No funny business with this button, ever. And that goes for you too, Johnners. PB”.
He pressed it.
“Well, HELLO, Headingley,” Guy said.
“And that was “In an English country garden” covered by the Buzzcocks. Now, before you choose your next record, Guy, why don’t you have one of these interesting little chocolate buns sent in by one of our listeners in Haight-Ashbury?”
Unobtrusively, Elias Shufflebottom, assisted by the Aussie wicketkeeper (a rotund man with a distinct resemblance to a disillusioned walrus), began to mobilise the contents of the groundsman’s hut. Wicked looking secateurs, divot cutters and the two smaller rollers began to assume a magical life of their own.
Back in the adrenalin-charged silence of the dressing room Bill noticed that Sybil Trelawney, who had been fiddling nervously with her beads as she awaited her own cue, seemed to have dozed off. The PM fumed silently in a corner, and the England captain sketched improbable field placings on the back of a scorecard. Bill glared at his father, and his simmering mutiny broke into speech.
“It’s not fair.You gave them a proper job, not kept them stuck in here doing nothing! And they aren’t much older than me! Besides, they’re girls!”
Arthur Weasley looked helpless.
“Fiends from hell, more like,” the England captain observed. “Anyway, I wouldn’t get too upset if I were you. Everyone’s scheduled to regroup on the pavilion, so if there is going to be a doomed last stand you’ll be right in the middle of it. Much better than being picked off in an inconclusive skirmish in the opening stages.”
“Oh, I do wish I could have got him out of here,” Arthur moaned.
“He’s conscious, and he’s got magical ability. That puts him at a long way ahead of a few thousand kids out there. ” The England captain nodded grimly towards the window. “Kids, I might add, who wouldn’t be in any danger either if they hadn’t come to watch my team play cricket. You can imagine exactly how chuffed I’ll feel about having that on my conscience if we do end up in a doomed last stand.”
“If it’s a doomed last stand you won’t have it on your conscience for very long,” Bill said helpfully. The England captain raised an eyebrow at him, but he grinned back unrepentantly.
Arthur looked rather flustered and muttered “You won’t have to worry about it however it goes. The Accidental Magical Reversal Squad will have to modify your memory so you won’t remember any of this. It’ll have to do for all the Mug- I mean, all the non-magical people here.”
“I’m not sure I particularly care to have my mind messed about with, thanks. Why?”
“Well, there’d be a public panic if all the Muggles knew about You Know Who. Your Prime Minister quite agreed. And the ones before. They’ve always accepted the need for Memory Charms. In fact, I was told you Muggles have something similar yourselves - now, what do you call it?”
“No-o, Dee Notices, I was told. I’ve always wondered how you do it, myself.”
The England captain was obviously on the point of explaining when a sudden restive movement from the PM in the corner caused him to change his mind.
“Anyway, we need to do some thinking. There’s a lot of them, but the enemies we’ve seen so far look like student activist types to me, and not exactly the sharpest knives in the canteen, at that. And, of course, this Voldemort character isn’t here. At least, not yet.”
Bill gulped. It had not occurred to him that a personal appearance by the Dark Lord was a possibility.
“If he did hand pick them he certainly can’t have intended this mission to succeed. Perhaps it’s meant to be a diversion from something else he’s got on. Or maybe he’s worried about young pretenders, so he’s giving them a chance to screw up publicly. In that case, once we start winning, he’ll stay as far away as possible and make a rather messy example of the survivors when they crawl back. On the other hand, if by some chance they do get the upper hand, he’ll have to show up in the final stages to claim the credit, in case they get the idea they can manage without him. But if that happens most of us will have been wiped out by that time, so we needn’t worry too much.”
“That’s comforting.” Arthur Weasley smiled weakly. “I only hope you’ve read him right.”
“Just because I’ve never fancied the eviloverlording lark doesn’t mean that if I did go in for it I wouldn’t be good. Which reminds me, there is one final option.”
“It’s just possible that he might wait until the Death Eaters are right on the back foot and then show up, executing the survivors for incompetence after he’s snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. It’s by far the best strategic choice, if he’s got bags of self confidence, considerable talent, and a very cool head.”
Bill distinctly saw his father cross his fingers.
“Anyway, let’s look on the bright side. Maybe he’s got other things on his plate. Perhaps at this very moment the Wizard equivalent of the SAS is storming his secret hideout-“
“The Ministry’s never found it. For all we know it could be anywhere from the Gobi Desert to the Falkland Islands.”
A deep voice from near the door startled them all. “Now that’s a place you’re really going to have to watch out for, my dear.”
They all spun round. Sybil Trelawney, her eyes oddly unfocussed, was looking straight at the Muggle Prime Minister.
“What was that you just called me?”
Sybil Trelawney blinked awake. She was conscious of them all looking at her rather oddly. From the neglected radio in the corner the opening strains of “Aquarius” drifted into the room.
“Sorry, did I say something? Goodness, I must have dropped off for a minute. Hot in here, isn’t it? Oh darlings, I have to rush. They’re playing my song!”
She skittered down the dressing room steps in a flurry of draperies. They stared blankly after her.
Outside the battle was heating up.
The game plan had been simple.
“Get them onto the pitch and away from the hostages,” the England captain had decreed. “Then take out as many as you can. Capture, not kill. We may need hostages of our own before this is over.”
Elias, working from the groundsman’s hut, and Sybil, magically mobilising a phalanx of fast food vans from their stands near the main gates, formed the two limbs of a pincer movement, driving the Death Eaters from their hiding places in a hail of grease and fried onions, grass clippings and pesticide sprays. Bill gasped in appreciation as Sybil Transfigured a hot dog stand into a Rottweiler, sent it into the Western terrace to snap ferociously at the legs of a brace of the enemy who had been hiding there, and then allowed it to resume its natural shape and douse them in a blinding rain of ketchup as they bolted onto the open field.
The three Ravenclaw girls whipped dangerously back and forth across the pitch, mounted on the pitch covers, which they had converted by a simple Leviosa charm into huge lethal sledges, skimming at a height of two feet above the ground. They clung on like seasick Valkyries, aiming stunning and disarming spells at the Death Eaters as Sybil and Elias drove them from cover. The toiling cricketers did their best to shield the girls from return fire using the sightscreens, which rattled across the ground like demented dodgems, occasionally with the benefit of help from the commentary box. As a particularly heavy screen scored a foot deep trench across the wicket just short of a length at the Football Stand End the England captain visibly winced. Arthur Weasley patted him anxiously on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m sure the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad will have the pitch right as rain in no time. When they turn up, that is.”
“Hm. I’ve hung around too many archaeologists to believe that one. They say the earth never completely forgets what’s been done to it, even after thousands of years. You can still see the traces of mediaeval strip farming in aerial photos, f’rinstance.”
And he absentmindedly jotted on his pad, “Important; W from K’stall Ln esp if wind changes.”
“Oh, no!” Bill gasped suddenly. Off to the left a shower of red sparks flew up. The defenders paused momentarily in their work and the England captain rushed to the window.
“One of our lot in trouble. Can’t see who from here.”
Arthur grabbed his wand. ” I’m going to cause a diversion - see if the others can get them to the pavilion while I’ve got them confused.”
He dived out onto the players’ balcony, pointed his wand in the general direction of square leg, and muttered “Simulacro draconis.”
The vast sweep of wings brushed low over the ground. Unclear, momentarily, whether the monstrous beast was friend or foe, the fighters paused in their struggle. From a neglected radio came a momentary squawk of surprise, quickly concealed.
“Oh I say! A simply enormous pigeon has just flown across the pitch. Well, I think we can safely say that’s quite the biggest pigeon we’ve ever seen in an Ashes game. Yes, Bill’s nodding at me - quite definitely, the biggest ever pigeon to appear in Test cricket. Well, they most certainly can’t resume play until that one flaps off - the batsmen would have every reason to complain about the light - and the heat might give them grounds for concern, too. Anyway, here’s the final record of Guy’s eight selections, and after that it’ll be back to the studio for the Shipping Forecast, and then the news.”
The strains of “Bohemian Rhapsody” burst from the radio. Bill gasped as the pseudo-dragon circled the ground once more, and dived low over a small group of Death eaters in the Main Stand, who cowered as it breathed out convincing looking flames.
Moments later there was a loud hammering on the dressing room door. The England captain took a quick sidewise glance out of the window, and nodded. Bill pushed the door open a fraction and the Australian fast bowler shouldered his way through, half supporting a very pale Elias Shufflebottom, and trailed by the long haired witch.
“Sorry,” Elias said. “Took my eye off the ball, I reckon. One of them buggers came up behind me and tried Avada Kedavra on me.”
Arthur Weasley’s eyes widened. “But why aren’t you -er -“
Elias nodded at the Aussie player. “He blocked it.”
“But nothing blocks Avada Kedavra. All the Defence against the Dark Arts books say so.”
The long haired witch cleared her throat. “Well, they’d better put in a footnote. Something like ‘Nothing blocks Avada Kedavra except a Lillee beamer in the teeth bowled from a ten metre distance before you get the words out’.”
“He sort of swallowed his own curse. It was bizarre. There was a flash of green light and he keeled over dead.”
“How did the body look? Unmarked?”
“Well, apart from his dentures being stuck six inches out though the back of his neck,” the long haired witch said, and was abruptly and noisily sick into the waste paper basket.
The forces of good were definitely in the ascendant. The Ravenclaw girls, regrouping on the pavilion in accordance with instructions, reported that Guy and Sirius, having finished their nefarious business in the commentary box, were cutting a swathe through the enemy as they returned to base; that Sybil and the wicket keeper had been covering their tactical withdrawal with a bombardment of truly unsavoury comestibles from the fast food outlets; that the remaining Death Eaters appeared too scattered and demoralised to organise an effective counter-attack; and that their leaders’ concentration was evidently weakening, since a number of the spectators were already beginning to cast off the effects of the Suspensory Hex. Under the direction of a somewhat revived Elias, the remaining cricketers were trussing up unconscious and disarmed adversaries with ropes specially conjured for the occasion, and pitching them into the Yorkshire members’ dining room for future reference.
Arthur was begining to breathe freely for the first time in hours.
“Should we go and help mop up?” he suggested to the England captain, who hesitated a moment, then nodded. The PM looked frostily at him.
“You don’t surely intend to leave me here, alone?”
“The Ministry will be sending an appropriate delegation just as soon as I can get a message to them,” Arthur promised. “I’m sure you’d like to take the opportunity to -er - freshen up before meeting them? Your assistants should be about coming round, too. Bill, I spotted some tea things downstairs. Could you organise the Prime Minister a cup of tea while we’re finishing up?”
Bill gritted his teeth and looked as though he was about to say something. The PM fixed him with a steely glare.
“Milk, one sugar. And ginger biscuits, if you have them.”
“Yes, Prime Minister,” Bill said meekly.
“I’ll send the some of the lads back in to look after you” the England captain added.
Arthur, the England captain, and the two Ravenclaw girls left the dressing room. Bill scrambled down the stairs in their wake, and into the little cubby hole to the left of the pavilion door where on a sticky shelf he found a box of tea bags, a rather suspect looking milk bottle, and a lidded plastic jug with a long snake-like object coming out of the side of it. He prodded the jug dubiously with his wand tip, and when it did nothing he levered off the lid and peered inside. Water, little flaky bits, and another snake-like object, this time made of metal and - another cautious poke with the wand - completely rigid.
“Weird,” Bill breathed. He considered his options One, ask the Muggle PM. Two, go out into the tail end of a surprisingly noisy battle and ask the England captain to suspend mopping up operations while he showed him how Muggle kettles worked.
Nasty choice. There must be a third way.
He thought briefly, drew in a deep breath, took a cautious look round the door, and tapped the jug smartly on the side with the wand, muttering “Caldera”. The water leaped into bubbling life, and Bill started to hunt for reasonably clean mugs without regrettable slogans.
“What do you mean by this outrage?”
The Prime Minister’s voice was so loud that for one second Bill thought she was standing right behind him. He spun round, and saw her in the passage, looking through an open door into the VIP reception room. Among the scattered bodies of the PM’s entourage a tall figure was standing facing her, his wand drooping negligently at his side from one long fingered white hand. As Bill stared past the Prime Minster’s blue clad back straight at the stranger’s chalk pale face time slowed around him. Sounds came from very far away, and movement was impossibly laboured. He felt as though he were drowning in treacle.
From some weirdly calm part of his mind a goldfish thought swirled sluggishly to the surface.
Eric really, really isn’t going to believe this. Ever.
Bill heard the stranger speak; from a very long way away, it seemed, an amused drawl, with almost a hiss in it.
“I know you, of course. But I fear you don’t know me. An error that should be rectified. I am Lord Voldemort.”
“You most certainly are not.”
Voldemort’s red eyes blinked in pure surprise. The Muggle PM continued.
” I am fully aware of the membership of the Upper House, and you, I’m glad to say, aren’t in it. Furthermore, I haven’t seen your name on any Honours List that’s gone past me, and I can assure you that if I do, I shall personally strike it off. Voldemort you may be called (though I doubt it); Lord you are not and never will be.”
This is for real No second chances.
Bill lifted his wand, pointed it straight at the enemy, and gasped, with all the power he could put behind it.
Voldemort’s wand did not arc out of his fingers in a glorious shower of sparks, as Bill had hoped. It flopped, rather limply, a distance of about four feet forward - Voldemort leaned forward with an expression of extreme puzzlement - and the man called Lulu burst through the door at a dead run, scooped, rolled, and fetched up on his feet at the other end of the VIP suite with Voldemort’s fielded wand in his fingers. Arriving on his heels, the England fast bowler scooped up the PM, and threw her bodily backwards into the cubby hole on top of Bill. She gave a squawk of indignation as the impact of her landing laddered her tights and disarranged her hair, which had hitherto maintained a helmet-like immobility.
“Even the President of the United States, sometimes hasta stand naked,” the fast bowler informed her reassuringly, as he disposed all six foot eight of himself across the entrance to the cubby hole, shielding Bill and the PM as far as possible.
At this moment a young Death Eater (the recent bruises beginning to bloom on his sallow face and the dishevellment of his long lank hair testifying to the fact that he had been a casualty in the recent battle, and had only just freed himself from imprisonment) scrambled in through the window to the VIP suite.
“My Lord! You must save yourself! Aurors are arriving - The Ministry -“
Voldemort looked coldly at him.
“I see you have allowed this rabble of Muggles and Mudbloods to dispossess you of your wand. In that case, kindly retrieve mine in its place and bring it to me. Its safe - and prompt - return may dispose me to look more leniently on your part in this - fiasco.”
The final word disappeared in a hiss, and Voldemort vanished. The Death Eater stood in silence, his back to the window. Lulu, from a safe distance, waggled Voldemort’s wand at him, and grinned.
“Don’t you just hate it when the skipper’s got a strop on?”
“Insulting me again?”
The England captain, together with Arthur Weasley, had entered the pavilion without the others hearing him. Without bothering to hear Lulu’s answer he looked at the wand, and then at the Death Eater. He raised an eyebrow.
“Would you care to explain?”
“It’s the head honcho’s,” Lulu said enthusiastically. “The kid got him to drop it, and I caught it. Good souvenir, eh?”
The England captain nodded towards the Death Eater, who was actually making rather a competent job of Sneering Nonchalantly While Unarmed And Completely Outnumbered. “And what sort of souvenir would he make? I don’t fancy having his head stuffed and mounted on the dressing room wall, somehow. What’s he doing there?”
“His boss just left him to collect the wand, and vanished.”
“Hm.” The England captain seemed to be giving the matter some thought. Then he nodded to Lulu who, with a resigned air tossed the wand in his direction. The captain pulled it out of the air without apparently looking at it, braced the point against the door frame, and bent it as far as it would go, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the Death Eater.
“I take it these things are replaceable?”
Bill noticed his father looked tireder than he had ever seen him.
“Oh yes. The way things are going for us at the moment You Know Who would get a dozen new ones inscribed with his initials in platinum lettering free by the next owl post if you snapped that one.”
“So if I do break it the only person who suffers is our friend here. I see. Can you two keep him covered?”
Arthur nodded, and Bill raised his own wand once more.
“Well, I suppose this one might have sentimental value for him. And I don’t fancy having anyone’s blood on my hands, even if he is a misguided young idiot. Sorry, Lulu, but I think we’ll have to give back your souvenir.”
He looked straight at the Death Eater.”I recommend you scram. Give this to Voldemort with my compliments. Tell him-“
“From Muggles with love?” Lulu suggested.
His captain grinned. “That’ll do. Catch!”
He flung it hard at the Death Eater, who fumbled the catch, held it, and Disapparated. A moment later there was the pounding of heavy feet outside, and Sirius and Guy burst into the VIP suite.
Arthur looked at the England captain. “What? You don’t think he’s going to pass on that message, do you?”
“Well, not unless he wants to spend the rest of the century as a goldfish, I should think. But he knows we were the one’s who really saved his bacon. And I never find it hurts to drop a hint to the lads on the other side that their old man might be losing his edge. Anyway, what news from you two?”
“Knee deep in Aurors out there,” Sirius announced. “They’ll be here in a minute.”
Arthur looked puzzled. “How did they get here in time? I thought we were goners.”
Guy nodded at Sirius. “He worked out a way of getting an SOS out on Wizard frequencies.”
“But won’t the Muggles guess -“
“Ah. That was the clever bit. They’ll have heard it as some rare archive footage of Sir Garfield Sobers being attacked by a duck. I was the duck.”
Outside, around the ground, the forces of the Ministry for Magic were methodically reversing the damage, reviving the spectators, and using Memory Charms to conceal the evidence. Inside the pavilion the erstwhile defenders disposed themselves around the VIP suite in crest-fallen silence.
The fussily self important wizard who had introduced himself as “Cornelius Fudge - Magical Law Enforcement” had been holding forth for some minutes. He was not, the England captain decided, a man who was afraid of stating the obvious. Nor, indeed, for restating it once he had stated it the first time.
“This,” Fudge said as he surveyed the litter of the VIP suite (where an assortment of Prime Ministerial aides were struggling back to consciousness with splitting headaches and a strong sense that, on the whole, dead was preferable) “is atrocious.”
His colleague, a large hearty man wearing a spade cut ginger beard and rather raffish robes which combined to give him the air of a Don-harrying adventurer of the Court of the first Elizabeth, flashed the assembled company a grin which, the England captain thought, showed rather too much self-conscious bonhomie, and rather too little genuine warmth. “Now, Cornelius, don’t be too hard on them” he remonstrated. “They weren’t to know. After all, if we told everyone our plans what sort of a department of mysteries would we be?”
“That’s not the point, Augustus. If they’d only gone through proper channels -“
“But the ground was completely blanketed -“
‘So you thought , evidently. Anyway, I trust you are now satisfied, Arthur, that what we have seen here today was an exercise on the part of Rookwood’s boys to flush out some extremely silly young hotheads (from good families, too, I’m sorry to say) who seem to have decided their version of teenage rebellion is flaunting support for You Know Who. Bless me, they were no more capable of killing anyone than of flying across the Atlantic without broomsticks. None of the Muggles was in the slightest danger. In fact, the only fatality of any sort was the regrettable loss of one of Augustus’ undercover men to that Muggle barbarian -“
“Brave lad,” Rookwood said, shaking his head. “But he knew the risks when he joined. Friendly fire or enemy action, it’s all the same to him now. Cornelius, please try and soften the blow for his poor mother when you write - for my sake.”
“But You Know Who was here, I saw -“
Bill’s protest cut off as the England captain’s hand bit into his shoulder with astonishing force.
Cornelius Fudge looked at him sadly. “A good enough imitation to fool a youngster like you. The Muggle Prime Minister wasn’t fooled, though: what was that phrase she used “Posturing imposter” - very good, eh, Augustus? Pity she couldn’t stay - splendid woman - wasted as a Muggle. Ah well. Onwards and upwards. The Aurors will be along to see to the memory charms on the players - they’ll be about the last. Arthur, report to my office first thing tomorrow - I can’t see how we can fully convince the Muggles nothing peculiar has happened whatever we do - it’ll mean weeks of overtime at best - you could have had more sense -“
Still muttering, he Disapparated. Augustus Rookwood favoured them all with another smile.
“Jolly sporting effort, though. That’s the spirit that’ll see the Dark Lord licked - - not that a bunch of kids, Muggles and second raters would have had any chance against real Death Eaters, but it showed courage, after all. Well, be seeing you, Arthur.”
He tipped his hat to Sybil Trelawney, then he, too, Disapparated.
There was a moment’s pause, then Sirius began swearing. He continued fluently for some minutes. In his few pauses for breath Guy and the two Australians offered expert additional suggestions. Bill tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible while trying to save up some of the choicer gems for Eric’s benefit. His father seemed too dispirited even to think about putting an Ear Stopping charm on him.
Eventually Sirius ran to a stop, probably because he felt it would be inartistic to attempt to surpass his final creative effort (which involved both Ministry officials, several kilos of Deep Heat, and a use for a broomstick which would not only have been excruciatingly painful and anatomically implausible but outlawed under the Geneva Convention for good measure).
“It’s not that I mind on my own account,” he said finally. “It’s no skin off my nose if the Ministry of Magic think I’m You Know Who’s seriously evil twin brother, the one with the hunch back and the truly repellent personal habits. But you should have been bloody well promoted, Arthur.”
“Instead of which I’ll probably end up sacked.”
Bill looked at his father in horror.
“I can see that’s what Fudge is thinking. I mean, with the best will in the world no memory charms are going to stop news of this one leaking out. That whole crowd is going to go home convinced something damn strange happened here today - the minute they start speculating about what it was then that’s it - a grade one contravention of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, without mitigation. I’ll be lucky if it’s just the sack-” He broke off.
The England captain held out his hand to him.
“And more honour to those who foresee (and many do foresee) that Ephialties will appear and the Medes, at last, break through,” he said . “We know what we owe you, even if we aren’t going to know it for more than a few more minutes. And it strikes me that your best chance is if the crowd go home thinking about something even more extraordinary that they can remember properly.”
He rolled back his sleeves, and gathered his team members to him by eye.
“Gentlemen, we have a match to win.”