"Cricket?" said Remus Lupin vaguely. "Isn't that the game where Muggles bat around balls on the ground? They don't even fly, do they?"
Sirius pulled on one sleeve of his leather jacket. "Well, perhaps it's not nearly as exciting as Quidditch, but it does have a certain flavour. Besides, I have a friend playing. England is favoured to lose 500 to 1 so I figured I should show some support. I would have asked you to come along, of course, but I had a feeling you would -"
Remus stared at him as if he'd grown two heads.
"You're not going to just sit around organising the kitchen cupboards again while I'm gone, are you? Or putting your books in alphabetical order?"
"I'll bet it would still be more interesting that what you're about to get off to."
Sirius shrugged and waved his wand to rip another hole in his jeans. "What do you think? Can I pick up some cute, cricket-loving Muggle girl?"
"You look ridiculous," Remus muttered. "Who wears a leather jacket in the middle of the summer?"
"Me, evidently. You're just jealous because if you wear anything but tweed you look like you're dressing up for Halloween."
Remus scowled. "Oh, sod off. And have a marvellous time watching Muggles bat around some non-flying balls. I don't know how you can stand the excitement."
"Don't wait up!" Sirius called cheerfully as he tipped an imaginary hat and Disapparated.
"You're a long way from home, aren't you?" Sirius asked the Australian girl sitting next to him in the stands. She was wearing a pink and green sleeveless shirt with a logo he didn't recognise, but it did show off her tits quite nicely, and it wasn't as if he cared what team she was rooting for when he noticed her looking appreciatively at his ripped jeans.
"Had to come see my boys wipe the floor with the pansy Brits," she said sweetly, flipping her blonde ponytail behind her shoulder.
"Not all Brits are pansies," he assured her, grinning. "What do you say we make a little wager on the game? If you win, I'll buy you dinner. If we win, I'll buy you dinner and breakfast."
She laughed, but before he could respond, her laugh died - died in midair as if snatched from her mouth, and accompanied by an impossibly loud wall of noise just above them.
Sirius saw the hex just in time to grab the girl and shove them both down to a ducking position, but when he looked back up and saw the green smoke, he realized that she wasn't moving. Her mouth was open in that frozen laugh, one hand lightly suspended as if she'd been about to flick her ponytail again.
"Oh, bugger," he muttered as he saw the Dark Mark forming in the air above the stands. "And Remus thought this wasn't going to be exciting."
When he saw dark-cloaked figures weaving through the frozen crowd, he decided that the motionless Aussie was probably safer down there on the floor. "Sorry about this," he said apologetically. "If you wake up, I really will buy you dinner."
With that, he started to make his way through the statues of enthusiasts, pausing to grab a plastic cup filled with ale out of one man's frozen hands. "I think I need this more than you right now," he said, gulping it back and then ducking to avoid more cloaked figures heading his way.
"We are the Voice of Lord Voldemort," came a sudden chilling, echoing voice cutting through the crowd. "We have this ground in our power. All Muggles are paralysed and under our complete control."
"Couldn't have figured that one out," Sirius muttered.
"...any wizard who attempts to resist will be destroyed utterly."
"Well, now, that is useful information."
"... 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."
He felt a twinge of sympathy for the Aussie girl with the nice tits.
"... submit to the will of the Dark Lord."
Sirius snorted. "Okay," he said to himself, looking out over the stands. "There's got to be more wizards here. All I have to do is find them, and then we'll figure out what to do. I'll be damned if You-Know-Who is going to muck up cricket."
As if in response to his unspoken plea, he suddenly heard a whistle - a distinctive four-note phrase cutting through the silence.
"Thank Merlin," he sighed, and immediately Disapparated.
Arthur Weasley was blinking in surprise when Sirius appeared in front of him, in a pavilion on the other side of the ground just outside the English team's changing rooms.
"Hello, Sirius," he finally said. "Never knew you were interested in this Quikket thing."
Sirius grinned. Boy, was he glad to see a familiar face. "Got a friend playing - you know how it is." That reminded him of Guy. Wonder if he was frozen somewhere? Poor chap.
Sirius was about to say hello to Bill, when Arthur cleared his throat and added, "Well, can I introduce - "
Sirius turned and saw a grey-haired man with hazel eyes and a very familiar look about him. Then he had an a-ha moment and realised where they had met. Of course, that didn't help him remember his name. He played cricket, Sirius thought.
"We've met," the man said blandly.
"We have?" Sirius tried to look innocent, deciding that overall forgetfulness was less rude than forgetting his name.
"You are Guy's friend, I take it?"
Sirius cleared his throat, and the man continued.
"Admittedly, the 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?"
Sirius maintained a carefully blank expression.
The man looked as if he were trying not to make a face as he continued. "The one with the motorbike?"
Oh yes, Sirius thought.
"And the jazz saxophone?"
Right. Thank god for auto-play charms. The ladies love a musician.
"And the rather lethal hooch?"
Mmmmm. That was a good party.
"And the, ah, blonde young lady friends?"
A very good party.
"The seventeen blonde young lady friends?"
"Oh, that party," Sirius said, feigning relief as if he suddenly remembered. Of course, the bloke still hadn't offered his name. Maybe it started with an "M." Matthew? Mark?
He was about to inquire about Guy, when Matthew-or-Mark continued, "Anyway, we can't hang about here all day. You'd better come into our dressing room and we'll discuss what to do."
Two girls suddenly burst in through the open door - young girls, Sirius noted with some disappointment. But when they immediately went to the side of a longhaired girl, he realised that he knew her.
He hadn't noticed her before because her face had been buried in a book. Rebecca? Reagan? She was only a couple of years younger than him, but Andromeda used to baby-sit her before she started Hogwarts.
He continued trying to remember her name as she scolded the two younger girls, and when he surveyed the thick book in her hand with the dull title, he made a mental note to try and fix her up with Remus if she wasn't dating anyone - if they all got out of here alive and everything.
The girls were telling an animated tale about a Death Eater that they'd stunned, distracting him by asking for his autograph.
Sirius lifted his eyebrows incredulously. "Gave you his autograph? What sort of plonker goes about giving autographs in the middle of a hostage standoff?" A very vain one, evidently. Vain and stupid.
At that moment, another door opened and two cricketers walked in, one of whom was Guy. He waved enthusiastically at Sirius, who let out a little sigh of relief upon seeing him walking around unfrozen.
The pair of them were soon under orders by Mark-or-Matthew to go retrieve the unconscious Death Eater (oh, he was the captain, Sirius realised).
Sirius watched the two younger girls follow the exiting players with their eyes, and made a mental note to see about getting some cricket whites. Apparently birds went wild over them.
Somewhere in between meeting the Prime Minister (who was, as it turned out, quite terrifying in the same way that his mum was terrifying), interrogating the Death Eater, and Arthur issuing a statement to negotiate and buy them some time, Mark-or-Matthew informed Sirius that he would be perfect for the next stage of their plan (getting out an SOS to Aurors and the like) because he had histrionic ability.
"What's histrionic?" Sirius asked.
"Er, excessively dramatic. Emotional. Acting."
"Oh. You need someone who can bullshit."
"In a manner, yes."
He was still sceptical, especially later when this crazy bird named Sybil informed him that he needed to be Test Match Special. Become Test Match Special. Live, sleep, and breathe Test Match Special.
"But I've never even heard of Test Match Special," he said. Maybe it was a brand of detergent? Or a mixed drink?
Oh. Apparently it was some sort of radio broadcast.
The other cricketers seemed confused as to how he knew Guy, if he didn't even know enough about cricket to be familiar with TMS. "Met him in the pub," Sirius explained. "We got chatting about motorbikes." It was always frustrating, chatting with Muggles about motorbikes, when he couldn't brag that his could fly. "You could have knocked me over with an anchovy fillet - " His stomach rumbled. "When he told me what he did for a living. Anyway, what am I supposed to sound like?"
Rebecca-or-Reagan and her friends suddenly started blabbering at full speed about polka dots and clarets and pigeons and buses. He just sort of stared at them, not understanding a bit of what they were saying. Obviously nutters, the lot of them.
The Muggles seemed quite interested in how they knew about Test Match Special (Sirius was rather intrigued, himself), and it turned out that they'd snuck a radio into the abandoned werewolf lair in the Forbidden Forest.
Sirius couldn't decide whether to be impressed or horrified. Either way, he decided to sack the idea about setting up Remus with Rebecca-or-Reagan even if she did read thick books with scary titles.
Apparently Guy was going with him to the commentary box, and he promised to "hit very hard" anything that attacked them on the way that Sirius couldn't zap with magic. Surveying the giant of a man, Sirius thought this was a good plan.
When Arthur raised the wards on the room and Sirius and Guy headed out, Sirius waited until the others were out of earshot before he said, "I don't think your captain likes me very much."
"Yeah," Guy agreed. "He pretty much thinks you're a big prat."
They made it to the commentary booth with little trouble - though Sirius did have to turn one Death Eater into a lizard (a very evil looking lizard, Guy noted).
By the time they had cleared the area of frozen commentators, Sirius had found the "Link to Studio" button and within seconds there was a blaring voice demanding excuses for the dead air time. He blurted something about the Prime Minister and protestors and cutting off publicity.
Then he had a brilliant idea, remembering a BBC Radio programme he did know about. "Until things are brought back under control," he said, "we thought we'd have a sort of TMS Desert Island Discs, to fill in the time." After all, playing eight songs and the commentary in between should give them plenty of time to accomplish their task.
When the voice at the studio wanted to know who was going to be the castaway, Sirius gave Guy a pointed glance. The cricketer grinned and hit the brightly labelled Live Broadcast button.
"Well, HELLO, Headingley," he said.
Sirius stifled a laugh by clearing his throat. "We're here live, with Guy, er, Ian Botham of the English cricket team." He tried to remember what the girls had said about being a Test Match Special commentator. "There have been lots of, erm, pigeons here today on the field. And I've got a fine glass of claret - good thing I've taking the 22 bus back to Shipley, eh?" He laughed nervously. "That's a smashing polka dotted tie you've got there, Guy. Care to share with us the records you'd most like to take to a desert island?"
Guy watched him with abject horror. "Thank you, Sirius, for that... colourful introduction. Let's start out with something right up my alley, shall we? How about 'English Country Garden'?"
Sirius made a face. Apparently Guy's musical taste was about on par with Remus'.
"The Buzzcocks version, of course," Guy added.
Sirius grinned. Perhaps all was not lost.
But by the time, about half an hour later, that the hippie strains of Hair were floating through the commentary booth and out into the world at large (Merlin save them, he thought), Sirius had had about enough of Guy's desert island.
"I'm glad I'm not trapped on there with you," he mumbled, switching off the microphone.
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, age of Aquarius...
Guy ignored his complaint and asked, "So, any progress on figuring out how to get that message out over wizard frequencies?"
Sirius nodded. "I'm still trying to figure out how to disguise it so that Muggles don't actually hear the SOS, but I've almost got it worked out..."
As the song ended, Sirius switched the microphone back on just in time to hear Guy gasp, "Bugger me," as he stared out over the pitch.
Sirius' eyes widened as he watched the dragon swoop over the stands and then low across the grass. He gave a brief squawk of surprise and then covered himself. "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..."
He blabbered on for a moment more about how the pigeon was most definitely keeping the cricketers from resuming play, and then announced Guy's final song selection. He put on "Bohemian Rhapsody" before Guy could make him play The Carpenters or something.
"Okay," he said, switching off the radio and turning to Guy. "Things are obviously getting very hairy down there."
Guy continued to stare at the dragon. "You don't say."
"I think I know how to get the SOS over wizarding channels. We'll disguise it as some rare archive footage of - er, name me a famous cricket player."
"Garfield Sobers. Being attacked by a duck. I'll be Sobers; you'll be the duck."
Guy just stared at him. "Why do I have to be the duck? I'm the cricket player!"
"I have to get the spell in there, don't I? Now, repeat after me. Quack."
"Quack." Guy rolled his eyes.
"Once more with feeling. Quack."
"Quack, you miserable git."
"Good! You're a natural."
By the time they broadcast their message and ran back to the VIP suite where the others were waiting, Sirius and Guy had missed a personal appearance by Voldemort.
No harm seemed to have been done, however, and the others were quite pleased to hear Sirius' good news about the Aurors on their way, thanks to his hidden message and partially due to Guy's brilliant rendition of a duck.
"Quack," Guy said, when asked to repeat his performance.
Apparently the entire operation had been quite poorly run by some of Voldemort's underlings, and Sirius hated to imagine how he was going to deal with them once they all got back to the Evil Headquarters.
It didn't take long for Ministry workers to arrive and start reversing the damage on the frozen Muggles. Sirius was about to go check on the Australian girl, when a fussy wizard with his head held high burst into the suite and introduced himself as "Cornelius Fudge, Magical Law Enforcement."
Sirius listened with his mouth open and eyes narrowed as Fudge and his associate, Augustus Rookwood, explained that the Death Eater attack had not been Death Eaters at all, but rather part of a secret exercise to flush out young supporters of Voldemort - that the Death Eater they'd interrogated was actually an undercover agent.
And when Bill Weasley tried to protest that Voldemort had been there, Fudge shushed him condescendingly and scolded Arthur for all of the weeks of overtime that were going to go into convincing the Muggles that nothing peculiar had happened.
After he Disapparated, Rookwood smiled. "Jolly sporting good 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."
As soon as Rookwood Disapparated, Sirius started to swear. He went on for several minutes, hearing Bill and the young girls mutter "bunch of kids?" while the cricketers went on about "second raters" and Arthur looked too miserable to even notice that Sirius was providing an entirely new vocabulary for his son.
Once Sirius got to the juicier bits, fuelled by suggestions from Guy and some of the other players, Bill looked as if he were taking mental notes for later use.
Sirius ended by pointing out that he didn't care what the Ministry thought of him, but that Arthur should have bloody well been promoted.
Arthur, in the meantime, was quite sure he'd be sacked. "With the best will in the world, no memory charms are going to stop news of this one leaking out," he said morosely. "The whole crowd is going to go home convinced that something damn strange happened here today."
Matthew-or-Mark held out a hand to Arthur, assuring him that he and his team would certainly appreciate all of their efforts, at least for the next several minutes before the Ministry workers would come in and hit them with memory charms.
Wait - Mike! That was it! Sirius grinned happily upon remembering the English captain's name, just as he was rolling up his sleeves and announcing to his team that the best thing they could do for Arthur was to make sure that the crowd went home thinking that something even more extraordinary had happened.
"Gentlemen," he said. "We have a match to win."
Well, Sirius thought. At 500 to 1 that would be extraordinary.
Remus was cleaning the andirons when Sirius got home. But rather than pointing out that it was a magic fireplace and they didn't need andirons, let alone clean ones, Sirius grinned broadly at him.
"Have fun?" Remus asked absently.
"Well, it was definitely the most interesting cricket match I've ever been to."
"Oh? Did the English win?"
"Yeah," Sirius told him, "We won. Boy oh boy, did we win." Too bad he hadn't been able to find that Aussie bird again.
Remus gave a non-interested grunt in reply as Sirius shrugged off his leather jacket. "Hey, Moony? I'm considering heading down a new career path. Think I could have a future in radio broadcasting?" He decided this was a brilliant segue into his glorious tale of defeating the forces of evil.
Remus snorted. "Well, you've definitely got a face for radio."
"Thanks - wait. Hey!"
Just for that, Sirius decided to let Remus read about it in the papers.