Previously: Severus decided to attend the Quidditch World Cup as soon as Remus left with Ariel under the premise that her affinity to danger is too much of a risk to take, and Cedric saved Ariel from… tripping. Harry, Ron, and Hermione have also decided to leave Ariel alone for the time being, but the Cup's attendants have other plans…
Remus had been right about assembling the tent — it had been a bloody nightmare trying to figure out how to put the stupid thing together. Hermione ended up having to intervene when Sirius had started bickering with Remus about which side was meant to be pegged into the ground. Ariel would have previously assumed that knowing a tent was upside down or not would've be pretty elementary, but Sirius had the remarkable habit of continually proving her wrong about that sort of thing. It was endearing, in a Sirius-sort-of-way.
Thankfully, Hermione had left with Ron as soon as they'd got the tent the right side up, which left Ariel to unpack her bag in moderate peace. It was hard enough to concentrate on keeping her guard up without them there, with Harry in the room next to hers, and Remus and Sirius hovering. The place was obnoxiously huge — she could probably fit at least three Spinner's Ends in it easily. Remus had spent fifteen minutes trying to navigate the tent with the map it had come with while he and Sirius bickered over rooming. There were six bedrooms, apparently, along with four bathrooms, living room, kitchen, and study. Ariel couldn't understand for the life of her why Sirius chose something so large for a trip that was only supposed to last for a day. She wondered if it was a Pureblood thing — Damon liked to dress up, even on weekends, when Ariel was more than content with staying in her pajamas all day.
She let herself fall into the center of her bed as she set down her bag. Staring up at the tent ceiling, Ariel tried tapping at her Shields, finding that they were still there. They always were, but she'd developed the habit of constantly checking on them. She'd wanted to ask her father if he did it too, but had decided not letting him know about her newfound protection was the best route for now. Ariel would tell him when things… quieted. Harry was safer behind Shields anyway. Without them, Ariel didn't know how she'd hold herself together in his presence.
She didn't know what to do with herself, except try and set out to explore the campgrounds. There wasn't any unpacking to do, really. Ariel sat up, glancing around the room, which was colored a pale yellow. The bedspread felt like silk beneath her fingers, the twin bed pushed against the magic-made window. To Ariel's right, there was a wooden chest, along with a desk and chair. There didn't seem to be much sense in putting her change of clothes in anything, and so, when she rose, she threw her bag onto the desktop with a heavy thunk. Her father had given her ten galleons — which Ariel had no clue what to even do with — but she supposed she could go and see what the Cup had in store, beside Quidditch. Ariel had always liked exploring, when it didn't get her into trouble. Sneaking off didn't seem like it would be too hard…
Even though Ariel knew he would've been miserable, she wished her father had come.
She shook her head and tried to rid herself of anything remotely negative for the time being. Time away from Severus might just be a good thing… Ariel had a stinking suspicion that all the time spent together had turned her into a hermit. Not that she'd wasn't already one… but she'd never felt this unwilling to go out and socialize, especially with her family, which had doubled since Remus and Sirius' unexpected arrivals. Family was all she'd wanted, even when it had been right in front of her all along.
Not to mention that this was the first time Ariel would be away from said family. Severus had been undoubtedly overprotective of her, even as she'd grown to a more independent age. While Ariel already missed him, she couldn't help but feel a twitch of excitement that for once, he wouldn't be looming over her. She'd never had that before… not even at Hogwarts, with him teaching there and all.
With a wicked smirk, Ariel leapt to her feet.
The stairs were laden with a thick, red carpet that felt like velvet to the touch. She wasn't used to such lavish quarters, but supposed that it wasn't the worst thing in the world. The Weasley's tent had smelt like mothballs and cats — they'd borrowed it from some older chap at the Ministry. Ariel had thought one look around that place would send Ron taking Sirius up on his (multiple) offers to stay with them instead, but he'd only shrugged and headed straight for the fridge. Ginny and Hermione were sharing a smaller tent together, which Ariel assumed Mr Weasley had borrowed as well, and also smelt like it was at least a hundred years old.
Outside, Ariel found Mr Weasley around a fire pit, small, tiny sticks that resembled toothpicks littering the grass around him. She saw Hermione toying around with one, dragging it quickly across a small box to produce a flame at the tip. She frowned — why didn't they just use their wands?
She was quickly reminded as to why when she turned and saw Sirius walking towards them, slouched forward with an expression of great annoyance, accompanied by three wizards — Ariel recognized two of them from earlier, when they'd been checking into the grounds with the Muggle that Mr Weasley had ended up Obliviating. One had a thick mustache that reminded her of Vernon Dursley's, the other wearing a fedora that was much too small for his head. The last one was a whole head shorter than the other two. They all wore the same displeased scowls, though, as they marched behind Sirius.
"Turning into a dog in the middle of the campgrounds is a liability!" Ariel heard Mustache fume. "Surely you must have realized that!"
"Well, how the bloody hell else am I supposed to get around?" Sirius grouched. "The first glance someone gets of me, I'll be swarmed. The press is fucking unyielding."
"The press aren't worried about Sirius Black," Fedora snapped. "They're waging bets and sniffing around for team members, like the rest of the fans. Animagi are on strict restrictions — this was made abundantly clear to anyone who purchased tickets."
"You haven't had to deal with them for months on end." Sirius growled.
"We haven't had any issues with them so far," Shorty sniffed.
"Well a rooty-fucking-toot for you."
Ariel quickly averted her eyes as all four of theirs landed on her. Sirius had kept shooting weird glances at her earlier, like he wanted to talk to her, but was waiting for the right moment. It didn't sit well with Ariel. Talking to Sirius most likely meant making awkward conversation, and while she was happy he was around, that didn't mean she wanted to have a heart-to-heart anytime soon. The day he'd found out about her father's real role in her life in Dumbledore's office was an event seared into her memory forever.
Sirius made a rude gesture towards the three wizards — who appeared scandalized before they grumbled off, their heads bent low together in a gossipy manner — and started off in her direction. Ariel's heart gave a frantic leap as her eyes darted around the campsite. There was no sign of Remus… just Mr Weasley and Hermione playing with the toothpicks around the fire pit. Maybe if she stabbed herself in the eye with one —
"There you are, Padfoot!" Harry's voice called, sounding a bit relieved. When Ariel turned, he was ducking out of the Weasley's first tent with Ron right behind him. He caught her gaze, his blue eyes flashing in warning when he caught her staring. That was the new response Ariel usually got from Ron… though, she'd noticed that he never glared if Harry was looking too.
Ariel quickly pivoted around the other side of the tent, letting the breath she'd been holding in rush out. Crisis averted, she thought to herself, although, she couldn't help but feel a tad guilty. Sirius reminded her of a puppy that kept losing track of its owner. Part of her did want to talk to him about everything… but Sirius wasn't Remus, and she kept thinking that he'd react the same way if Ariel told him how she really felt. Remus had figured it out on his own; Sirius had been told the truth in order to get him to back off on Severus a bit. Besides, if Harry was around, this definitely wasn't the time or place to do this.
Peeking around the corner, Ariel watched as Harry, Ron, and Hermione made their way over to Sirius, who seemed confused about something. After a moment, he shrugged and turned into Padfoot. She rolled her eyes, hoping that the three Ministry officials had found someone else to chew out far, far away by now. Sirius wasn't one for rules, especially if they weren't directly convenient for him.
Ariel watched Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Padfoot begin walking away from the campsite just as her necklace hummed around her neck.
Reassure me that you're still in one piece
She rolled her eyes, but clenched the pendent tightly in her hands. For now
Where are you?
That was an odd question. Ariel frowned, wondering if Remus had conveniently not told her father where they'd be setting up camp. It didn't seem like something her father would forget to demand from him.
The tent, she answered, wondering if that's all he wanted to know. Maybe she was just overthinking… but where else would she be?
Exploring the campgrounds, Ariel thought to herself. Her stomach gave an unpleasant squirm. She knew Severus could read minds… could he sense disobedience too? Probably. Ariel hadn't been able to get anything past him when she'd been little. He had a sixth sense for that kind of thing. But why should it matter if she had some fun by herself or not? She wasn't technically doing anything wrong… she just knew that her father wouldn't approve… but then again, he wasn't here.
He didn't answer her response. It made Ariel feel uneasy, like he was going to materialize out of thin air when she least expected it.
(that was actually a very real possibility)
As Ariel slowly crept back to the front of the tent, she caught sight of Remus dashing outside. Surveying the scene one last time to make sure Sirius and Harry hadn't doubled back, she waved at him. A relieved, benign smile crossed over Remus' face when he saw her. He looked a bit frazzled — the tent had been stressful, and Ariel could only imagine what else they had to get in order. Ariel had asked him if he'd needed help earlier, but he'd shooed her away, assuring her that the time before the Cup was to be spent having fun.
Fun, Ariel thought with a roll of her eyes. Fun all by myself, with no friends, and a godfather who's trying to do damage control.
"There are you!" Remus trotted over to her. "I thought I'd have to drag you outside."
Ariel felt her face flame a bit at the comment — was she really that anti social? — but tried not to let it show. "I wanted to take a look around. Is that alright?"
He looked surprised, which bothered Ariel even more "Of course, love. Do whatever you please. Anywhere particular in mind?"
She shrugged. "Just around the campgrounds for now. I won't go far, I promise."
Remus glanced around, like he was expecting someone to be waiting nearby. "Alone?"
"No, I'm going with all my friends." Ariel gestured to the empty space around her with an eye roll. "Can't you see that they're all pining from my attention?"
His lips twitched. "Would you like some company?"
Her eyes flickered to Mr Weasley, who was frantically blowing on his fingers. He'd hurt himself somehow on the sticks he was playing with, if someone didn't intervene soon. "Maybe you should stay here and hold down the fort. "
"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you didn't want me to come along."
Ariel shrugged. "I was just planning on exploring. I don't want to bore you to death."
"You?" Remus smirked, ruffling her hair. "Never."
She ducked away from his hand. "I'll be back before the game starts. Okay?"
He gave a reluctant sigh. "Alright. Don't stray too far. Do you have your wand?"
"Always." her father made her keep it in her sleeve nowadays, even if she was home with him.
"Stay close. If you need anything…"
"I know, Remus." Ariel gave him a quick hug before hurrying out of the tent and back out into the open air. It felt good against her skin, the passing breeze just cool enough to keep it from feeling blistering hot. Spinner's End was always cold — this was comfortably warm, like lying under bed sheets after you turned out the light to go to sleep. The air smelt cleaner too, more like Hogwarts' grounds. Ariel had always pictured herself living somewhere like London when she was older… but she could get used to the outdoors, if she let herself.
Ariel supposed she could just follow Harry and see where he had gone off to with Sirius… but that sounded pathetic, even by her standards. She wondered if she should try and find Damon, but finding Damon ran the risk of running into Lucius, and that wasn't worth all the company in the world. Besides, he was probably occupying the most expensive plot here, and Ariel didn't know where to even begin searching. She'd end up getting hopelessly lost, and then her father would kill Remus.
Getting lost would afford her the opportunity to miss watching the Cup, though…
No — Ariel shook her head at herself. She'd sit with Remus and enjoy herself. She'd make herself have fun, if she needed to. Sirius and Remus had spent all this money on her ticket, and Ariel was trying to make up reasons not to go. What did it say about it, that she was trying to make excuses to be left alone?
Ariel set off in the opposite direction of Harry and Sirius, determined to find something entertaining to do that would change her mindset. She felt trapped all of a sudden, stuck on a feeling that she couldn't shake. She picked up the pace, wanting to be as far away from the tent as she could make herself. Distance from everyone was suddenly all Ariel wanted — to be someone else, to be doing something other than what she did every single day, if only for a few hours.
She was walking so fast that she didn't notice the ground was uneven again, and that she needed to watch her step.
There was a split second where Ariel's brain connected the sharp thrust forward to falling, but it was too late to stop it from happening. She yelped as her foot caught on something, only to be pulled back by —
"Wow," said a familiar voice. "that's two for two, Potter."
Ariel fought the wave of mortification that surged through her. You've got to be fucking kidding me.
The hand on her arm and the amused voice belonged to Cedric Diggory… again. His sandy haired shimmered against the sunlight. Ariel wondered when the sun had crept out without her knowing, but she suddenly felt very warm, and it had nothing to do with the blood rushing to her cheeks in embarrassment.
"Bugger," Ariel wheezed, trying to catch her breath. Her heart was hammering against her ribcage from the rush. "This is getting ridiculous."
"You're telling me." Cedric let go of her as Ariel straightened up. "I almost tripped over myself trying to get over here."
"You're a real hero." she said dryly. "Thank you again, though, I guess. I don't know what's wrong with me today."
"Maybe you shouldn't have left your tent." Cedric suggested, his lips twitching in amusement. She could tell he was really trying hard not to laugh, or at least smile. Normally, that would've just made Ariel angry, but it was… sweet, in Hufflepuff sort of way, the kind only one of them could pull off. If Damon had given her that same face, she would've punched him.
Ariel bit back the retort on her lips. "I was actually trying to force myself not to hide all day. I'm trying to be outgoing."
"Sounds dangerous so far." he grinned. "I just saw your brother pass by. Maybe you should stick near him."
Ariel blinked back dully. She didn't know why this was important to share with her, but could hardly blame him for doing so.
"Harry," Cedric clarified when she didn't respond, as if she had another sibling ignoring her. "Were you trying to catch up with him?"
"Er, no." she wrinkled her nose. "I don't know what he's doing, but I was going off by myself for a while."
His eyebrows knitted together. "Really? Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were with him… I've seen you hang around them before. You're not going to join them?"
"They're er… not really my friends." Ariel said, feeling uncomfortable. "They're Harry's."
"So you were going to walk around all by yourself?"
Merlin, it sounded even more stupid out loud, but she was sick of lying. "My brother and I don't get on very well." Ariel told him truthfully.
As she anticipated, he looked surprised. "Really? I know you're in different Houses and all, but I always thought you got on alright. I remember you were always hovering over him his first year… or am I thinking of Granger?"
Ariel fought the urge to roll her eyes as the mention of Hermione "No, it was definitely me. We… have different opinion of things, I guess. I don't really know how to explain it."
Cedric gave her a funny look. "If you say so. Do you need help walking to the tent?"
"I can walk back myself, thanks very much." Ariel said, unable to keep the edge out of her voice. "And actually, I want to see if there's anything worth seeing around here, if that's alright with you."
Cedric grinned. "I don't believe you."
"I wasn't paying attention before —"
"Or this morning."
"It was a coincidence." she muttered. "They should put up signs or something."
Cedric silently lifted a hand. When Ariel followed his gesture, she found herself staring at a giant sign plastered between two giant fir trees that read "CAUTION: UNEVEN GROUND. NO RUNNING."
"Like I said," Cedric gave a triumphant smirk. "you really shouldn't be alone out here."
"So what?" Ariel rolled her eyes. "You're going to babysit me? I won't pay you for it, if that's what you're after."
"Does that mean you do need a babysitter?"
She studied Cedric closely. It was obvious that his teasing wasn't serious, or she would've Hexed his mouth off by now, but Ariel couldn't tell where this was going either. No one had ever taken an interest in her before… especially a boy… a good-looking older boy. Was he trying to get Ariel to ask him to come along?
"Maybe," she said slowly. "but it would only be as a safety precaution."
Cedric grinned. "Or you could just admit you'd appreciate the company."
Appreciate the company? Did that mean he didn't mind hers? That sounded… suspicious. She was an outsider in her own House, and other students from different Houses definitely didn't want to "keep her company." That was… unless —
Ariel snorted. "Oh, now I see what this is all about. You don't have your usual crowd either."
He shrugged. "They're around. I haven't really looked for anyone just yet. I've been too busy saving serial trippers."
"Sounds exhausting." she allowed herself to finally flash him a small smile. "I guess I could let you tag along. Maybe you'll find them along the way."
"Maybe," Cedric's grey eyes twinkled at her. People usually didn't do that — twinkle. Dumbledore did, but Dumbledore could qualify to become a star, at this point. He sparkled enough, robes excluded.
Ariel walked beside him, trying to keep herself from shoving her hands in her pockets. She was suddenly very self conscious about everything she did, from brushing the hair blowing in her face behind her ears, to making sure that her satchel —
She groaned. She'd left her money back in the bloody tent!
"Something wrong?" Cedric asked as Ariel stopped short.
"I need to go and grab something from my bag." she bit her lip, waiting for him to say he was going to go on ahead without her. She barely knew him, but she couldn't help but hope he wouldn't leave so soon. The… niceness was so… strange. He'd never spoken to her once during school, and even though Ariel couldn't figure out why he wanted to talk to her now, she wasn't about to pass up an opportunity spending the afternoon with someone who didn't know her from a hole in the ground (and not the hole she'd fallen into with her brother).
Cedric shrugged. "Lead the way. I'm in no rush."
Ariel bit off her smile. Don't get too excited. Why are we doing this?
Because it's better than doing nothing.
It's not if we're just going to end up disappointed.
Disappointed with what?
She couldn't answer that last question. She'd ask Remus about it later, maybe. He seemed the type that knew how to sort through confusion without making the situation worse.
Tracing her steps back to the campgrounds, Cedric didn't seem to have much to say anymore. Ariel wanted to talk, afraid he'd misinterpret her silence, but kept her mouth shut. Forcing conversation was a terrible idea, especially if there was nothing to talk about. He just stared at the sky, squinting as the sun peeked out from behind some passing clouds. The sunlight bounced off his sandy hair again, making Ariel squint as she stared at him.
She quickly averted her eyes — staring wasn't something she did either… at least, not unless she was trying to figure someone out. Cedric wasn't under that kind of scrutiny… yet. Her Inner-Dad was screaming at her inability to separate loneliness and trustworthiness.
There was also the fact that she was trying really hard not to trip again. Ariel couldn't help it — it had become common ever since she'd gone through her growth spurt. Her legs were too long and too uncoordinated.
"I'll be back in a second," Ariel told Cedric once they'd reached the tent.
He gave a small smirk, like he was thinking about saying something, but had decided against it, and nodded instead. She caught a glimpse of how his eyes widened at the size of Sirius' tent, and felt her face go red again. Next to the Weasley's, it felt… obnoxious.
She raced inside and back upstairs, grabbing the bag of galleons her father had given her. It was a deep maroon, with gold string tying it closed. It was awfully fancy for a bag to hold galleons, and fancy wasn't really her father's style. Ariel had the stinking suspicion it had been a family heirloom of some kind, but hadn't thought to ask. It had been thoughtful enough for him to think of her monetarily.
Remus was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs, one arched eyebrow slowly making its way up his face. "What're you doing back already?"
Ariel gave him an exasperated look, trying not to let the growing flush in her cheeks bother her. "I'm going to meet a friend. I forgot my money."
Remus quirked an eyebrow. "A friend? Who?"
"You and Cedric are friends?"
"It's a tentative situation."
Remus gave her a skeptical look.
"Remus," Ariel groaned. "C'mon! He's waiting for me!"
"Sorry, I meant… money?"
Ariel glared halfheartedly, trying to bite the smile off her face. "Dad gave me some just in case. I don't think he intended for me to actually spend it, but I figured I'd try and get him something for his birthday while I'm here. I don't get to go shopping… ever."
"So… you're going shopping… for Severus… with Cedric?"
Merlin, it sounded like a bad game of Mad Libs out loud.
"Dad is secondary," Ariel sighed. "Speaking of which, I thought only he was the one who gave me the third degree."
"I'm just making sure I'm hearing things correctly." Remus said, his face lighting up like a Christmas tree.
She snickered, quickly composing herself as she hurried out of the tent and back to Cedric.
Severus was extremely disappointed when he arrived at the campgrounds and found that they hadn't been consumed by a natural disaster yet. Locating Ariel in the midst of chaos would have been stressful, but whisking her away without raising a few eyebrows would have been easier than… this.
He had no intentions of staying longer than needs dictated — which meant until the Cup itself was over and Ariel was in bed — but felt the overwhelming need stay and watch her anyway. Severus still couldn't pinpoint whether or not this sudden change of plans had to do with his utter and complete lack of faith in the mutts, or the Mark on his arm darkening. He supposed it was a culmination of both, added on to the addition probability that Ariel and Harry were more than likely to get in trouble in situations such as this, even without prompting. Severus had let Ariel go because he trusted her enough to know what she could handle, but it wouldn't hurt anyone to have an extra set of eyes on her and Harry.
"Hurt," being a loose term — Severus could already feel his insides shriveling up at the sound of horns and cheers in the distance. Team pride, combined with overall human idiocy, was a nauseating combination. It was infinitely worse than Hogwarts. Severus could recall many a time when he'd argued with Dumbledore to try and get out of attending Quidditch matches when Ariel had been younger, afraid she'd turn into a fanatic by osmosis. Luckily, she'd been smart enough not to fall into it. The most she'd ever enjoyed a broom was if Harry was the one flying it.
With a heavy sigh, Severus set off towards the far left field, where Lupin had informed him they'd be staying for the day. He had no intentions of letting the dogs know he was here, which was why he'd come under the disguise of the Muggle who lived next door. Severus had even managed to swipe some clothes, knowing that robes would only get him stopped by Ministry officials scouring the grounds. Security was tight, which should have comforted him, but it only grated on his already strained nerves. More Ministry officials meant more people, and there was nothing Severus hated more than that.
He narrowed his eyes at a group of teenagers blowing green kazoos, wishing immediate death upon all of them, as he retrieved his pocket watch from his Muggle trousers. Reassure me that you're still in one piece, he thought, watching as the words faded away. Part of Severus wondered if Ariel would be too afraid of the boy to do much of anything, but then again, this was Ariel, and Ariel had a penchant for making her own version of entertainment.
His lips curved upwards at her response — For now.
Where are you?
Relieved, Severus set off in the direction of Black's plot. If he could catch up with her now, that meant there'd be less of a chance that he'd lose sight of her as the day went on.
Taking long strides across the lawn, Severus found himself already feeling extremely uncomfortable. He wasn't used to this much sunshine. It was making him dizzy. The most he could tolerate was a short walk across the Hogwarts grounds during the summer, when Ariel had been little.
Speaking of the girl —
It probably wasn't for the best to let her know he was here… yet. Severus would let her have her fun, or whatever she tried to conjure up, as long as it wasn't causing any trouble. If things began to go south, like Severus predicted they would, then he would reveal himself. She probably wouldn't be happy, but he'd cross that bridge when he came to it. It wasn't like Ariel had made him swear that he wouldn't show up. Besides, she wasn't one to throw a fit over his unexpected arrival. A disturbing fact, but one nonetheless.
Severus could see the top of Black's tent as he approached. It was a skyscraper compared to the pathetic puddles of fabric surrounding it. He might've even given Lucius a run for his money. It made Severus want to set everything on fire. Maybe he would, before the day was out. Then Ariel could come home early, and Severus wouldn't have to worry more than he already was.
Disillusioning himself behind the trunk of a very large fir tree, Severus quickly rolled up his sleeve, grabbing the skin just about the Mark. He checked every morning now, but hadn't had a chance this morning, between seeing Ariel off and Polyjuicing into the Muggle next door. It was hidden now, under the effects of the potion, but he could still feel it, like a second skin. Severus wondered if it had filled in more, if it had moved when he wasn't looking.
"So… where is Ariel?" a very familiar voice asked from nearby — Harry.
Severus quickly smoothed down his sleeve and peered around the trunk of the tree. Above him, something rustled in the leaves, drowning out the soft murmur of a response. He shot the invisible wildlife a dirty look, scanning the grounds for the source of the voice. He located it quickly — Harry was standing by the outskirts of the camp with Lupin, their conversation suddenly too low for him to make out. Severus had heard him mention Ariel's name…
But why would Harry have to ask where his daughter was, if she was supposed to be within Lupin's sights at all times?
"Point me," Severus snarled to his pocket watch. He'd promised Ariel that he hadn't put any such tracking spell on the necklace, but that had been the epitome of a blatant lie. He'd take Ariel's wrath over this than not knowing where she was any day.
The wand point south — the complete opposite direction of Black's tent. Ariel wasn't at the campsite with Lupin, which meant she was somewhere alone.
Severus was going to turn the werewolf into a rug when he was done with him.
He charged off in the direction his wand pointed.
Harry couldn't remember when he'd been more excited. He'd never attended an official gathering of wizards before, and this one was definitely meeting all of his expectations. There was so much Harry hadn't grown up with that he'd never thought of before — little things, like little wizards. They'd passed a toddler engorging a slug on the way to the well to get water for the Weasley's tent, and Harry had been staggered by the fact that he'd never thought of young kids having magic. It was a bizarre concept.
"You lot don't have sinks?" Sirius was asking Ron, giving a wince as the bucket of water they'd filled sloshed over the edge. He had been levitating it, but a group of Ministry wizards that had been trailing them for quite some time had screeched for him to stop.
"We do." Ron gave a sheepish smile in apology. "Dad wants our experience to be as Muggle as possible, and magic sinks in magic tents isn't part of that."
"Well, I'll give him points for authenticity." Sirius said under his breath.
"I should have stayed with him." Hermione said with a sigh. "He's going to end up burning himself with those matches… or using all of them up before we actually need to cook something."
"Remus'll help Arthur if he needs it." Sirius reassured her. "He's good at this campy stuff… said his dad used to take him when he was a kid. I'll take his word for it, after trying to get that fucking tent up. Anyway, if you need running water, you're both more than welcome to use ours. I don't care what Remus says — I'm taking a hot shower whether he likes it or not."
They all laughed at that as they strolled back into camp. Sirius set down the heavy bucket with a grunt, rubbing his lower back as he straightened back up. Hermione and Ron made their way over to the Weasley's tent, shaking their heads at the matchstick massacre that had apparently unfolded while they were gone.
Sirius gave his shoulder a squeeze, causing Harry to turn. "Excited about tonight?"
Harry grinned. "Do nifflers like gold?"
He chuckled. "I remember your dad and I went to the Cup when we were around your age. It was held in France that year, though. Your grandad treated all of us… good man. Your father was bouncing off the walls the entire time. His mum had to put a sticking charm on his seat during the game."
"Remus told me that the other night. He also said that when you went to go take a piss that night, you got scared by a squirrel and woke up half the camp."
"It was a bear." Sirius growled. "And he knows it."
"It wasn't." said Remus' voice to their left. When Harry turned around, he was heading towards them with an unopened box of matches — he would've bet his wand arm they were for Mr Weasley. "James swore his life on it."
"Of course he did." Sirius gave an eye roll that seemed far too forced. "Whatever. I know what I saw. Speaking of seeing things — is your goddaughter ever going to emerge from her room, or are we going to have to light the bloody thing on fire?"
"Please, don't do that." Remus threw the matchbox at him. "Give these to Arthur, if you would. He ran out, and you packed four extra boxes for some inane reason. And Ariel isn't in the tent, so spare our oh-so humble abode for now."
Harry couldn't help but snicker as Sirius grinned crookedly. "Hermione told me to bring some spares, actually. She had a feeling Arthur may go a little… overboard with the Muggle aspects of it all."
"Smart girl." Remus mused.
Sirius strode away towards the Weasley's tent as Remus shoved his hands in his pockets. He seemed to relish in the sunshine as much as Sirius did — or had, at least the first few months of his freedom. Harry couldn't say it wasn't pleasant. There was something different about the sun here, and the sun from the cabin. It was cool up in the mountains… crisp and quiet, the sunlight straining to reach them. In a distance sense, it reminded Harry of how cool Spinner's End had been —
He cringed at the thought of Snape, the Dark Mark painted on his pale arm…
Harry glanced around the campgrounds with caution. "So… where is Ariel?"
"She went out with a friend — Cedric Diggory, actually." said Remus.
Harry couldn't have heard him right. He stuck a finger in his ear, and tried again. "She's where?"
"With Cedric. They're having a look around, I believe."
"Ariel doesn't have friends."
Remus gave him a disapproving look. "I know you two still aren't on the best of terms, but comments like that don't help."
"No, I didn't mean it like that. She really doesn't… especially not Cedric. He's two years older than her anyway… what's she doing hanging around him?"
"They hit it off, I suppose." Remus gave a quick shrug, but his eyes were sparkling.
Harry's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Did you do something?"
"What could I have possibly done?"
"I don't know… did you set the tent on fire?"
Remus rolled his eyes. "You're spending too much time around Sirius."
"Did Diggory sent the tent on fire?"
"Go see for yourself." Remus waved off in no particular direction. "Take Ron and Hermione with you — explore for a bit, like your sister is."
Still not convinced, Harry watched Remus follow after Sirius, who was lifting the flap of the Weasley's tent to let Ron and Hermione through. They both looked as excited as Harry felt a moment ago. Now, he felt… strange, a gnawing growing in the pit of his stomach.
because it is the things that you do not see clearly that can kill you —
"Hermione, do you know Cedric at all?" Harry asked her, watching her expression closely as they approached.
She appeared surprised, but shook her head. "No, but he seems nice enough… he's the one who asked for a rematch when you fell off your broom last year. Why?"
"Remus said he and Ariel are out together."
Hermione's eyes widened. "Like… a date?"
"What? No!" Harry shook his head wildly. "Like as… friends. I think. She never mentioned him before…"
"Well, you haven't spoken to her in months, mate." Ron shrugged. "Maybe Ariel and him got friendly during school?"
"I guess…" he trailed off, trying to remember if while ignoring it, he'd caught glimpses of them together. He definitely hadn't — that would've caught his attention. Cedric was popular and athletic, two things Ariel was not.
"Let's take a walk," Harry suggested. "Maybe we'll see them… or maybe Remus was just pulling my leg."
"That's Victor Krum," Cedric was saying as Ariel's eyes locked on a rather impressive collection of what appeared to be potions tailored towards Quidditch players. "He's the youngest Seeker in half a century, you know."
They'd been walking for about half an hour now, trying to see as much as they could before someone recognized her again. It had happened twice already — the first time from a group of American witches a little older than Ariel, another an already slightly intoxicated older man. Luckily, Cedric had proved to have excellent tact, helping them to escape before the entire crowd could turn their heads. They'd been extremely lucky, really; everyone seemed much too enthralled in the Cup and Quidditch and players to notice her pushing her way through them anyway. Ariel was both shocked and delighted to see how much was being sold here, though the numbers seemed to be dwindling as she and Cedric strolled around. Ministry officials were shutting down vendors like they were stomping on cockroaches. There was more than she'd expected here, but unfortunately, nothing that Severus would've liked. Most of it was merchandise, and her father definitely wasn't the type to sport some, even on a good day.
"Hm, yes." Ariel hummed in agreement.
Cedric huffed in exasperation, but never stopped smiling. "You really don't know anything about Quidditch, do you?"
"Nope." Ariel agreed cheerfully. "And I plan on keeping it that way."
"How can someone we grew up at Hogwarts be so opposed to the greatest sport known to wizardkind?"
"Easy — boredom." she laughed at his outraged expression. "I would fall asleep, or complain about how cold I was if the weather was bad. I hated it. Everyone moved too fast… if the players weren't the best, it would be a never-ending back and forth with no one scoring points… ugh, it was awful."
"Growing up at Hogwarts doesn't sound too bad, though."
"It wasn't." Ariel smiled.
"So, what was it like?" Cedric asked, a curious light in his eyes.
She opened her mouth to say that it had been good, but backtracked when she realized that Cedric wasn't supposed to be privy to that sort of thing. It was almost too easy to forget that the wizarding world thought Dumbledore had been watching her all these years. Ariel silently wondered what his reaction would be if she told him that Professor Snape had let her climb on her shoulders when no one was looking and had read her to sleep every night. Probably horror. Or he'd laugh at her. Both Ariel could live with, but knew that telling Cedric anything wasn't realistic. For all she knew, he could only be hanging out with her to satisfy his own curiosity.
It bothered her that she didn't care about that possibility.
"Magical." Ariel decided on, wiggling her fingers at him.
Cedric barked a laugh. "Touché. So I guess that's more of a second-time sort of thing, right?"
Her heart skipped a beat. Second time? Second what? Ariel barely knew him… this certainly wasn't a date, right? No, that was impossible. Boys didn't like her. Boys were… a whole other animal. She was overthinking this, the way she overthought everything.
"Sure," Ariel managed a weak smile.
When he touched her arm, the feeling in her heart began to hurt.
Curling his lip at everyone he passed, Severus soon found himself squeezed between two vendor tents in his hunt for his daughter. One was selling a rip-off of Sleekeazys, the other some sort of lipstick that changed color. It was all incredibly nauseating, his daughter's whereabouts aside. Severus was going to maim Lupin when he got his hands on him. What part of keep an eye on Ariel hadn't gotten through his thick skull?
Scanning the crowd, he quickly located a familiar head of auburn hair. His chest rushed with relief, only to fill up again with a newfound sense of agitation. Didn't the girl have an ounce of self preservation? Ariel had to — she was his daughter, after all. Perhaps that sort of thing ripened with age. Regardless, Severus was ready to haul her back to Spinner's End and place a Sticking Charm on her bed. Any number of people could easily recognize her, and if she attracted the wrong person's attention —
Ariel was smiling up at someone. Severus strained to see through the throng of people, while also trying to make sure he didn't lose sight of his daughter. There was someone significantly taller beside her, someone familiar. She was —
Severus blinked in shock. He was so taken off guard that he didn't even bother to sneer at a wizard who'd knocked shoulders with him by accident.
She wasn't alone. On the contrary, she was very much keeping company with someone — a seventh year someone.
Severus had never seen Cedric Diggory with Ariel before, and she had never mentioned Diggory to him. He would have remembered that… he kept tabs on all the little shits, and the only one who Ariel could stomach was Bellatrix's brat. Ariel would have spoken of him. Severus was sure of it.
So what was she doing with him now?
Coming back to reality, Severus started forward, intent on demanding to know what the hell was going on, but he stopped himself. Lupin had mentioned that the Diggorys were Portkeying with them to the field, hadn't he? Perhaps Ariel had landed in the boy's company by accident… without Harry by her side, she would have been rather lonely…
No, that was no excuse. Boys were… not in the equation, when it came to Ariel. There were no boys period. Ever. Bellatrix's brat was a blip in the road Severus had yet to crush under his fist. This was exponentially worse than her wandering around by her lonesome — what was Lupin thinking —
Diggory grabbed her arm, pulling her along as he pointed to something — Severus nearly took off his head with a Hex, but forced his wand arm down and glared viciously in their direction. What was Ariel doing?
She threw her head back and laughed — it rang over the low roar of the crowd. Severus wondered how they all didn't stop and see where the sound came from. He could pinpoint it in the middle of a stadium full of screaming people, if he had to.
Seething, Severus ground his teeth together and slipped into the throng of people, silently praying they would all drop dead and make his life easier. He stared Ariel and Diggory down, intent on making himself unseen, but he could already see Ariel looking around as the boy chattered away. Severus was afraid if he took his eyes off of them, they'd disappear, but he was also trying to tell himself that he wasn't a pedophiliac stalker. He sneered at a group of teenagers that were blocking his path, ready to Hex them aside if need be. This was infinitely worse than Hogwarts. Here, Severus held no real authority over demon-sent hellspawn.
When they moved, Ariel was staring right at him.
She would've recognized the Muggle — Severus used this disguise every year when he brought her to Kings Cross.
Her dark eyes locked onto his — Ariel immediately recognized him, and for once, Severus really didn't care. He wanted her to storm over to him and leave Diggory. If Severus could, he would've grabbed her already, but trying to kidnap the Girl-Who-Lived in the middle of a wizard crowd would only end with him in Azkaban. Ariel would undoubtedly put up a fight anyway. There was a furious, disappointed glow to her eyes Severus had ignited many times before.
Severus felt the pocket watch in his trousers vibrate.
Thought you didn't like Quidditch, it read.
"'Take a walk,' he said.'" Ron was mumbling. "'Maybe we'll see them,' he said."
Harry craned his neck over Hermione's head just in time to see Cedric Diggory put his hand on Ariel's shoulder — they'd holed themselves behind a tent, which proved to be an optimal spot for spying on his sister. For someone that didn't know her from squat, Cedric sure seemed to be getting pretty close. Ariel responded by smiling up at him — it didn't look forced at all. Her expressions were incredibly confusing. One minute, Ariel was beaming up at Cedric like the sun was shining out of his arse, and the next, she was glaring wildly into the crowd around her. Hermione had pointed out a man nearby that looked vaguely familiar to Harry, but he couldn't figure out where he knew him from. And why would Ariel be trying to make him blow up with the force of her glower? Was that a genetic thing? Could glowers be passed from father to daughter?
"What is she doing?" Harry asked aloud, mostly to himself.
"They're just looking at potions stuff." Ron said, sounding bored. "I thought I saw Seamus back there — can we go now?"
"Seamus can wait." Hermione threw over her shoulder. "This is much more interesting."
Ron made a noise in the back of his throat. "I thought we didn't care about what Ariel did."
"We don't," said Harry, who knew for a fact he was lying. "I'm just making sure she's… okay."
He could live with that, though. It wasn't like Harry hated Ariel. He knew what hate felt like — he hated the Dursleys, had even hated Snape for a while. Harry did know, however, that Ariel thought he hated her, but he wasn't ready to clear that up yet. It kept her at arm's length.
That didn't mean he couldn't check up on her, though. Harry hadn't seen her since the hole, since the night Snape had rolled up his sleeve and shown him Voldemort's legacy painted on his skin. Cedric Diggory wasn't alarming, anyway… he was just… an unexpected development. Harry made a mental note to make sure Sirius didn't find out about this — Remus wouldn't tell him, and there was a reason for that. Besides, it wasn't his place anymore.
"Harry Potter?" a high-pitched voice asked from behind them.
They all nearly jumped out of their skin. Concentrating on one's sister took a lot of focus, especially when you were trying not to be seen.
Maybe too much focus, because while they'd been focusing on Ariel and Cedric, a house elf with tennis-ball green eyes had snuck up on them. It was wearing what looked like a dirty satchel… or potato sack. Harry couldn't really tell. It was staring at Harry as if it were a blind man seeing the sun for the very first time, very unlike Kreacher, Sirius' house elf, who did nothing but glare and wish swift and imminent suffering upon Sirius.
Harry blinked down at elf with tennis-ball eyes — they were starting to unnerve him a bit. "I — I er, yes, I'm Harry."
"Dobby has been sent by his young Masters!" the house elf said. "Dobby is here to tell Harry and Ariel Potter that they must leave the Quidditch World Cup!"
The three of them collectively gawked at each other, and then, back down at Dobby. Ron took a protective step in front of him.
"Why — what? Who are your Masters?" Harry asked, deciding that when dissecting that question, knowing where a warning was coming from was probably the best place to start.
"Dobby cannot say, Harry Potter —"
"Why not?" Ron cut in, looking over his shoulder.
Dobby's ears curled back. "Young Master says it is to be protecting them, sir."
"Young Masters?" Hermione echoed. "As in, someone we might know from school?"
It's ears went flat against his head. "Dobby has said too much. Dobby's Young Masters said he's only to tell you and leave… but you is without Ariel Potter, sir."
Harry gazed down incredulously at Dobby. "Was that… something your Masters wanted to make sure you got done?"
Dobby nodded meekly. Harry looked at Hermione and Ron, who were just as speechless as he was.
"Why do they have to leave?" Hermione asked in a gentler voice, crouching down so that she was level with the elf.
He wrung his hands together. "Young Masters did not say, miss. They only gave Dobby orders."
"Did they… think something bad would happen?" Ron swallowed loudly.
"Dobby cannot say… Dobby has only heard things…"
Harry peered back out at his sister, finding that she'd moved further down the row of wizarding vendors. The man Hermione suspected Ariel kept glaring at had edged away as well. Harry squinted at him, wondering if that was the danger Dobby the house elf was referring to — if it was, he needed to warn Ariel… but what he did something? What if he was waiting to get Harry and Ariel out in the open together? He needed to get Sirius and Remus — but he couldn't leave Ariel alone…
Harry didn't get a chance to figure out a plan — the man looked straight at him, the muscles rolling in his face like a clap of thunder before he charged towards them.
"Go!" Harry hissed at Ron and Hermione. "That bloke is coming straight towards us!"
"We can't leave the back way!" Hermione whispered frantically.
"If we go back the way we came in, we'll run right into him!"
"We can't just stay here if he's coming straight towards us!"
"We'll just make a run for it!" Ron insisted hastily. "Let's go!"
Harry whirled around, and smashed into someone's frame. He felt Ron pull him back while he grappled for his wand in his back pocket. Stranger-Man stared down at the three of them, his eyes shimmering like hot coals. There was something odd about his face… like there was something beneath the skin, like a body behind a curtain.
"Why am I not surprised?" Stranger-Man pinched the bridge of his nose.
"You're stalking my sister." Harry growled. "Get out of my way before I Hex your bollocks off."
"Astute observation, Mr Potter." the stranger said dryly. "What's next? The Hex itself? Or were you planning on continuing to state the blatantly obvious?"
The way he said it… the inflections in his tone… Harry knew that voice anywhere, even if it wasn't his.
"... Snape?" he asked hesitantly, sounding out each letter like a syllable.
"Professor?" Hermione squeaked, a hint of a correction in her tone directed towards Harry.
"Where — where do he come from?" Ron whispered, loud enough for Snape to hear and roll his eyes.
"From kingdom come and all beyond that's burned." he drawled. "What the hell are the three of you doing? Spying?"
"I could be asking you the same thing." Harry crossed his arms as he recovered. "Sirius said you weren't coming. Were you watching Ariel too?"
Not-Snape's jaw clenched. "That's none of your business."
"So then why are you here?"
"I don't care to repeat myself." he snapped. "What are you up to?"
Harry moved to the side so that Not-Snape could see Dobby, who was for some reason, still there. Not-Snape's narrowed eyes moved from Harry to the house elf, a dangerous glint building in them. They were like two black beetles. Harry could tell immediately that Snape recognized Dobby, and what family he must've belonged to, and so did Dobby, because he disappeared with a soft pop!
"He said he had a message for us." said Harry. "He said we have to leave the Cup."
His eyes — or Not-Snape's eyes — burned into his. "Go and get your sister. Now."
Harry bristled at bit at the command, but immediately did as he was told.
When house elves showed up and told you there was danger afoot, you didn't waste time by arguing.
A/N: Hi friends. It's been a long time; three months to be exact. I don't feel like writing an uber long note, so just check out my profile page if you want to know where I've been.
I hope you enjoy this chapter. It was a ton of fun to write. I'd love to know what you thought, and what you'd like to see in the future. Xx