Percy threw Fred an extremely nasty look and stoked the fire vigorously to bring the kettle back to the boil.

“Any news of Bertha Jorkins yet, Ludo?” Mr. Weasley asked as Bagman settled himself down on the grass beside them all.

“Not a dicky bird,” said Bagman comfortably. “But she’ll turn up. Poor old Bertha… memory like a leaky cauldron and no sense of direction. Lost, you take my word for it. She’ll wander back into the office sometime in October, thinking it’s still July.”

“You don’t think it might be time to send someone to look for her?” Mr. Weasley suggested tentatively as Percy handed Bagman his tea.

“Barty Crouch keeps saying that,” said Bagman, his round eyes widening innocently, “but we really can’t spare anyone at the moment. Oh—talk of the devil! Barty!”

A wizard had just Apparated at their fireside, and he could not have made more of a contrast with Ludo Bagman, sprawled on the grass in his old Wasp robes. Barty Crouch was a stiff, upright, elderly man, dressed in an impeccably crisp suit and tie. The parting in his short gray hair was almost unnaturally straight, and his narrow toothbrush mustache looked as though he trimmed it using a slide rule. His shoes were very highly polished. Harry could see at once why Percy idolized him. Percy was a great believer in rigidly following rules, and Mr. Crouch had complied with the rule about Muggle dressing so thoroughly that he could have passed for a bank manager; Harry doubted even Uncle Vernon would have spotted him for what he really was.

“Pull up a bit of grass, Barty,” said Ludo brightly, patting the ground beside him.

“No thank you, Ludo,” said Crouch, and there was a bite of impatience in his voice. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. The Bulgarians are insisting we add another twelve seats to the Top Box.”

“Oh is that what they’re after?” said Bagman. “I thought the chap was asking to borrow a pair of tweezers. Bit of a strong accent.”

“Mr. Crouch!” said Percy breathlessly, sunk into a kind of halfbow that made him look like a hunchback. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Oh,” said Mr. Crouch, looking over at Percy in mild surprise. “Yes—thank you, Weatherby.”



Fred and George choked into their own cups. Percy, very pink around the ears, busied himself with the kettle.

“Oh and I’ve been wanting a word with you too, Arthur,” said Mr. Crouch, his sharp eyes falling upon Mr. Weasley. “Ali Bashir’s on the warpath. He wants a word with you about your embargo on flying carpets.”

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