Chapter 10: What Never Comes Early or Late
Day: Ten (Even Number)
Finding a magical camera was actually a difficult proposition; Harry would not know this. Having a Creevy brother always about, ever eager to snap a picture, or two hundred, had made him unaware that managing to have a magical camera might be difficult.
Because Harry wanted one snapshot to remember his historical field trip by.
It was perhaps a silly thing to want. In fact, Harry knew it was, but the idea had latched onto him and he knew he didn't want to leave until he'd managed to snag a Potter family portrait, as it were. It was the sort of thing that hadn't happened in fifteen years, it would be a picture where Harry was more than a chubby baby face with black hair and green eyes. To have something like that, not many people could understand how precious that was. Harry was oddly amused to find that he had managed to find a sappy moment during this strange trip. He'd tried his utmost to avoid such. But to hell with it, if he wanted one bloody photo, Fate would just have to deal with it.
"Morning," Harry greeted, feeling oddly happy this morning. His new plot, i.e. finding a camera, had given him something else to occupy his mind.
Alice nodded at his greeting; Frank opened a palm in a wave before yawning.
"I expected more excitement."Harry said dryly. "After all, you are the ones who get to roam around the village today."
Frank nodded. "Gets sort of boring after third year," he admitted.
"Not boring enough to miss out on butterbeers at the Three Broomsticks," Ethan said, sliding onto the bench to join them. "Did you catch the legs on Ted's daughter?" The seventh year grabbed some toast and pot of jelly while winking in Frank's direction.
"Rosmerta is—" Frank broke off and coughed before stumbling on. "—very good at serving." However Alice didn't seem to mind whatever he'd intended to say.
"You know anyone around with a camera?" Harry asked, changing the conversation abruptly.
"A camera?" Alice asked, tilting her head thoughtfully.
Ethan leaned forward, a bit of jelly on his chin. "What might you be needing a camera for?"
"Uh, thought I'd take some pictures of the Hogwarts architecture," Harry lied swiftly. "You know, to send to my guardians."
"They must really like that sort of thing, and going to China to see a wall and everything." Ethan shook his head, not seeming to believe much of what Harry said. Harry found it odd that Ethan was the only one to see through the bullshit he was spreading.
"Better off someone who might loan me their camera for a bit," Harry prodded again.
Frank shook his head. "Sort of a Muggle-born thing. You could ask Lily; I think I remember seeing her with one once."
Alice shook her head in the negative. "Broke in fourth year."
Harry found himself wondering what happened to the pictures she took prior to that. Of course, the destruction of Godric's Hollow had probably caused some damage to his family's mementos. Death, carnage and Dark Lords can do that to keepsakes.
"Anyone else?" Harry asked.
The group shrugged or looked uninterested, making Harry start to doubt his chances of finding a camera. Maybe he could ask Dumbledore; the headmaster had quite a few gadgets in that office of his, but Merlin only knew what sort of device Dumbledore would produce. (He need only think of the trunk the man had provided to cast that idea aside)
Harry wouldn't let it bother him: there must be a camera somewhere in this school, in the next few days he going to be here he just had to keep his eyes open. Perhaps he'd snag a few photos for Neville as well. If he wandered around opening broom closets he was bound to catch a picture of Alice and Frank—if he had to be traumatized by his parents, someone might as well share the emotion.
"What are you planning to do stuck in the castle all day?" Ethan asked. He finished his breakfast and leaned forward, twisting the back of his hair with a finger.
"Um, sit around, I suppose," Harry hadn't actually given it much thought: just knowing he wouldn't have to worry about coming future, that he wouldn't have to try and think about his parents and their fate was enough.
"I won't even bother suggesting you should do your homework." Lily said, finally joined them.
"Awake before noon: impressive," Alice teased.
"And I keep asking, what homework?" Harry mentioned.
Lily opened her mouth, perhaps to tell him exactly what homework. Thankfully, that potentially boring speech was averted by Ethan making gagging sounds. Lily's gaze was cold enough to freeze water, but it didn't seem to bother him.
"Well, I think that sounds right boring, mate. Maybe you should ask your dorm mates for a way to sneak into the village. Merlin knows I spotted Sirius Black there before he was a third year."
Harry shrugged. "I'm not worried; with the upper years gone, it should be quiet. Maybe I'll do some flying."
That wasn't actually a bad idea. He'd enjoyed the game the other day, but it would be nice to find a spot where he could really allow his Firebolt to fly at the speed he was used to. Indeed, the more he thought about, the more he decided it was a good idea. He'd missed out on practice all this week, and providing he returned sometime before the fortnight, he'd need to be in prime form for the game against Ravenclaw. Cho was determined to make a name for herself before graduating, something he wasn't about to let happen.
"Well, if you think so," Ethan allowed.
"Morning, Harry," a new voice intruded. Harry looked up to see Hortense poised above Ethan, her well made-up face grinning to see him. Her expression changed into a pout. "It's not going to be the same without you in Hogsmeade," she said seriously.
Her intentions were obvious, but Harry bore it well. But then, Frank had said that subtlety wasn't one of her skills.
"Seeing as he's never been to Hogsmeade," Ethan interrupted, "it will actually be just the same."
Hortense's eyes grew a little frosty. "Well, you're a fine friend. At least I'm going to miss you, Harry. Be sure you get that permission slip signed." She waved her hand, walking past him, an obvious sway to her hips.
Ethan watched her go. "Even I'm not that desperate," he commented.
Harry watched. It seemed obvious that on some level Lily wanted to retaliate: his mother couldn't seem to allow anyone to be spoken badly about. But then, there wasn't much to offer in Hortense's defense.
"Apparently Parkinson really has a thing for her," Alice mentioned.
Harry avoided a gag. "Bad juice, bad juice," he muttered, pushing the pumpkin juice away from him. The others seemed a little confused about the reaction, and Frank sipped his own drink carefully. But Harry was feeling too sick to care: he was starting to get the bad feeling that he knew why Hortense seemed familiar. He simply hoped he was wrong.
"Well, I'm off for some flying," Harry said, getting to his feet. He couldn't help a smile, considering how he'd be able to spend the day doing his favorite thing. Cutting through Hogwarts and back to Gryffindor seemed to take no time at all.
He entered his dorm room to get his broom, waving at a departing James. "Have fun in Hogsmeade," he said to his father.
"Too bad you can't come," James said politely.
Harry shrugged. "I will next time."
He'd managed to forget his trunk in the dorm that morning. Opening it, he removed the Firebolt.
"How you doing," he hissed in to the Boa Vine.
"Small ," the vine hissed.
It didn't look like it was doing well, away from sun, smashed in a miniaturized trunk: the vine had turned a rusty brown color, losing the vibrant green Harry had come to know it as.
"Maybe I can let you out some today," Harry considered.
"Stay ," the plant argued. In its current state, the plant seemed to have some difficulty speaking; if Parseltongue could sound scratchy, this plant managed it. Still, it did have a point: now that a week had past, Harry could leave anytime. What had Dumbledore said? It all depended on metabolism...something like that.
Harry frowned at the plant, but still closed the lid before shrinking his trunk and placing it back in his pockets.
Snatching his broom from his bed, he walked to the window and shoved it open. Not wanting to bother climbing down, Harry stood on the sill for a moment before jumping into the open air, swinging his legs under his broom as he began to plummet to the earth. With a rush of speed, he was airborne, soaring over the Hogwarts grounds.
It was going to be a wonderful day.
It was going to be a terrible day.
James Potter could see that now. Sirius would be off with Heather or Hannah, whatever her name was, and he'd be spending Hogsmeade with the boys. His best mates. Remus would looking longingly at the bookstore until someone suggested they pop in, wherein they might lose Remus. Peter would only want to stop into the Three Broomsticks: he still seemed to have a slight crush on Rosmerta. She had graduated a couple years ago and was way out of his league, but Peter still hadn't discovered that. They'd amble over to the Zonkos at some point and restock for the coming months, which wasn't nearly as interesting as visiting a magical joke shop sounded.
All and all, it might seem like a pretty good day—if you were back in third year.
James had grown a little tired of the same old thing, especially when he'd had a little something else in mind. Or perhaps 'someone' might be the better way of phrasing it. Lily Evans was the blastedest girl he'd ever met. Stubborn to the point of annoying, a temper to match her hair, all book smarts and no common sense, more loyal than any Hufflepuff, brave as any Gryffindor, and damned it all, he was pissed at her. The girl wouldn't give a bloke a chance. And, he wanted to know, what had he ever done to her?
Alright, there had been a few pranks. He'd been young, how else was he supposed to let her know he liked her—he hadn't even known it himself! And if the girl couldn't take a joke... whatever happened to forgive and forget, eh?
He sighed; it was probably pointless anyway. He was almost mad enough to ask another girl to Hogsmeade, but he knew it would only be an attempt to make her jealous. And he didn't think he'd be able to stand her if she wasn't, not even just a little bit.
So, here he was with his mates. Just three single guys enjoying a lovely Saturday in the village, free from the rules of the school.
"Oh, look at that," Remus said. He was peering into the window of the bookstore with some excitement. "The new Marius book is out." There was a strange glint to the werewolf's eye.
James rolled his eyes; Remus and his Marius Books. As far as James was concerned, this was one of Remus's more annoying qualities, and that was saying something when the person in question was a werewolf. Given the choice he'd prefer Remus keep his furry little problem and drop the books, but both seemed equally unlikely. Not that he could help it, James supposed: they'd sort of fed into each other. Werewolves weren't terribly popular in the wizarding world, and certainly not as playmates for wizarding children. Remus had grown up fairly isolated. He probably thought books were his friends. It was nothing like James's childhood. His mother had always been arranging 'play dates'. He'd probably gotten together with every pure-blood or half-blood child within two years of his age.
James watched as Remus looked at the cover of the Marius book; the fifth one, he believed. Errr, why did he even know that!? The bright purple cover was marked by a gold script: Marius Mage and Secret of the Tomb. What utter rubbish. Wizarding novels tended to be trash in the first place, but the Marius books tended to be the worst of the lot. Remus had tried to get all his friends to read them; James had stomached his way through half of the first book., Marius Mage and the Key of the Ancients. Despite his friends' disinterest, Remus would chat about them from time to time. Thus, they all knew more about Marius Mage than most wanted to.
"Let's go in," Remus pressed. It was an unusually assertive demand from the prefect, so James shrugged and followed him inside. As if it would have been avoidable.
Talk about feeling like a hippogriff in an apothecary. James looked around with his hands in his pockets, only a few Ravenclaws scattered about, their heads bent over books.
No surprise there, Inx isn't about, is he? thought James nervously. He and the owner of the shop had a row a few years ago; James still claimed that he couldn't possibly be held responsible for that small fire. The fireworks had clearly stated that they were inflammable, was it his fault that the man's collection of fire elemental texts were sensitive to sparks? Sticking his hands behind his back, he peered about. Ducking further into the shelves he looked around curiously. Maybe Lily would be here, he thought wistfully
Remus, on the other hand, was already hurrying up to Mr. Inx. He was short, balding man with a bulbous nose and small eyes. His rather large spectacles, however, had a way of magnifying those eyes to an alarming degree.
"Ah, Mr. Lupin," the man greeted.
"Mr. Inx," Remus greeted. "You have the new Marius book; I thought that wasn't supposed to come out until next month."
Inx chuckled. "Ah well, there was a wee accident with a time turner: seems the publisher got them done a bit ahead of schedule. I told the president of WWR Publishing not to fool around with time travel to speed up printing. I said to him, someday you'll break one and then really have a problem on your hands. Time sand really isn't something to mess around with. Better than late though—if they would have been late, I'd have had to close the shop to keep the Marius fans out of my hair. What is left of it anyway." He patted his balding head with a chuckle.
Remus nodded. "I'll take a copy." He wasn't interested at all in why the books were there sooner, just that they were there.
Inx chuckled. "Yes; got one saved for you. Figured you'd drop in today."
Remus waited impatiently at the counter, tapping his foot against the floor, as Mr. Inx went to the back room for one of the books.
"Can't keep them up front, they fly off the shelves. Literally actually, must be some new gimmick."
Had Remus not been so preoccupied, he might have wondered where his friends wandered off to.
Surprisingly enough, they hadn't left the shop. Peter was trailing behind James, who seemed to be looking for something. They'd wandered all the way back to Historical Fiction. Peter looked curiously at the cover of one of the books: it showed a well-endowed brunette having her shirt tugged at by a large Scottish, kilt-wearing swordsman. 'Will Wandorra submit to Percival's Passion?'
Peter found himself wondering if she would. He flipped the book over to read more.
"Drat," James muttered.
"What!" Peter dropped the book, moving away guiltily.
"Nothing," James said. Lily didn't seem to be browsing the bookstore today. Which seemed out of character, based on what little he knew about her. "Let's drag Remus away," he suggested.
Peter nodded, casting one last glance at Bewitching the Wandless as he left.
It took a moment to find their friend. Remus had joined the other patrons, sitting in a chair, his nose buried in a book. "Come on," James said, tapping Remus on the shoulder.
"Huh?" Remus looked up. "Uh...alright." He seemed a little hesitant but stood all the same.
"So you got another Marius Book?" Peter asked. Peter was perhaps the only other Marauder who had demonstrated some interest in Remus's little hobby. Peter had even managed to read three of them, an impressive number considering that Sirius and James's attempts at reading (added together) didn't even equal a whole book.
"Does it look like the evil Lord Quietiusnex is going to come back?"
James suffered in silence.
"In the last book he made an attempt on Marius's life, but Marius was saved because the ghost of his mother came to him and told him what he needed to do. I was wondering if they were going to explain some of that in this book. How can she be a ghost and not be a ghost? That doesn't seem possible based on the ghosts I've met."
"Hmm, can you loan me that one?" Peter asked.
"Oh, come on," James vented. "Don't you think these stories are a little...far-fetched?" He had to say it.
"No, it's very accurate magically. Rowlsten has a Master level in magical theory." Remus's argument was something James had heard before, yet he couldn't help prodding it.
"Okay, so the writer has some fancy qualifications—that doesn't mean that story is logical. Marius Mage is just a kid the first time he comes up against Lord Quintuplet."
"Quietiusnex actually," Remus corrected.
"Yeah, well, he's like a first year, right?" James questioned. He didn't wait for the answer. "Is the evil Lord Quintupled just stupid or something? Why isn't he able to kill him?"
Remus shook his head. "I've explained this, he was saved by—"
"His parents' love, I remember. And Marius has some sort of prophecy that only he can defeat Lord Quintastic, right? What was it again?"
"A boy born to two renegades, born at the winter's end, he shall be the only one with the power to end these dark times that now consume us," Remus recited dutifully.
"It's scary that you know that," James said with a shake of his head. "Anyway, how many kids out there could that have fit? What makes Marius the only one, eh? And, is Marius stupid? He has all this money his parents left for him; why is he sticking around year after year? He should go to Fiji or something."
"Marius wouldn't run away," Peter argued.
"He's fictional, Peter," James challenged; he hoped Peter knew that.
"I'm not debating this with you until you've read the books," Remus seemed to decide.
James sighed. "I'm only saying, it seems too ridiculous to be real." Remus wasn't listening anymore, and to be truthful, neither was James. He'd spotted a head of red hair entering the Three Broomsticks. Changing his direction, he headed for the small pub.
"Butterbeers on me," he offered.
As with any Hogsmeade weekend, the Three Broomsticks was jammed with people; thankfully some spell made the inside bigger than the outside would suggest. The wizarding pub was a popular congregation area for wizards and witches up for a day of shopping, as well as the town's many residents. Still, most of the people crowding the pub that day were Hogwarts students: third year Muggle-borns tasting butterbeer for the first time, some inter-house friends lifting a few and catching up on stories, some older couples enjoying some of the private booths. Also, the food wasn't bad (not for pub fare, anyway). The building was built quite a bit in the past—how far back James didn't know— solid woodwork and a mahogany bar were the main focus of the room. An abundance of candles and a roaring fire place made up for the paltry number of windows, a small row of three near the door. It created a place that was smoky, dimly lit, smelling of ale and meat, and filled with voices. In short, it was a comfortable place
Rosmerta seemed to have taken the helm. Her father Ted had managed the place for longer than anyone could remember. 'Course, his father had been named Ted, too (and his father before him and so on); it made it difficult to tell. The old man still ran the bar, and he wouldn't quite give up the kitchens either, if the rumors were true. Not that Rosmerta seemed to mind much; she had been a kind hearted Hufflepuff, only three or so years above them. (And quite the minx if you believed those rumors as well)
She approached them when they entered, her eyes flashing. "Hello there, you all; hope you brought your galleons this time," she teased them, flicking a lock of her hair as she spoke.
"Now I told you last time, Rosmerta m'dear," James said glibly, "how was I to know that Sirius had switched out my money for Leprechaun gold?"
She scrunched her nose and hid a laugh. "Well, be sure that scoundrel hasn't been by your pocketbook lately. 'Course he's probably far too busy wooing the lasses, eh? He was in here earlier, a different girl than last time, again."
James couldn't avoid the slight cringe. However, he quickly flashed Rosmerta a smile. "Wouldn't happen to be in the mood to help me with my own romantic intentions?" he asked the older girl.
She seemed thoughtful for a moment. "And whom might they be on? I don't want my pub blasted apart if you and Lily Evans get in another snarl."
"Just sit me near her; I promise no damage of private property," James avowed.
"Yeah, well, if you weren't a handsome bugger, I'd have tossed you out long ago." She smiled at him in a friendly way.
The three Marauders crisscrossed the room, heading toward a corner of the pub that was a little quieter. It was located toward the back wall: no windows, but a good view of the bathrooms. Still, James hadn't chosen the spot for the view. Well, not a view of the town anyway. The noisier crowd was gathered up near the bar, listening to a Quidditch match commentary on the pub wireless. There seemed to be fans of both the Puddlemere United and the Harpies as both cheers and jeers resounded when either side scored.
"Budge up, Fletcher," Rosmerta said, nudging a lump of a man who was sitting alone at one table.
"Now there, Rosmerta sweetheart, I haven't even finished my drink yet," the man said. He pulled his hat off, revealing ginger colored hair, and turned his eyes upon her in an expression which might have been endearing, if not for his bloodshot baggy eyes.
"Go on up to the bar: Dad wants to talk to you about something."
"Now Rosmerta dear, you know full well that I told your father that only half of those spoons I sold you were self-stirring-spoons. If the blasted, pardon, if the spoons all needed to stir, he should have gone to the Alley—not that he'd have found my price." The man rubbed his hands as he spoke, glancing up at the young woman with honest eyes, which again were only half-convincing.
"It's not about the spoons," she said, waving the matter away. "He wants to get some of those fairy lights for Christmas."
"Well then," Fletcher said rising to his feet, "I suppose I'll pop up there, then. Just happen to know where I might find some."
"Here you are, boys." Rosmerta wiped the table down. "You be wanting the usual?"
"Yes, please," Peter said. This was his first opportunity to speak to the young mistress of the Three Broomsticks.
She patted his arm fondly. "Aren't you the polite one? Why you hanging around this one?" She jerked her thumb in James's direction, causing him to splutter indignation. She gave the Quidditch star a condescending glance. "There you are: I've seated you near your lady love. Can't help you after that." She passed James, patting his cheeks in a sisterly way. James pushed her away, claiming revenge but smiling as he did so.
Once Rosmerta was gone, his eyes fell upon the only girl that mattered. Although why would be a question he'd want answered someday. Lily was sitting with Morgan today. He hadn't been aware that they were friends, but then, he supposed that Lily's only friend was Alice, and that was a girl that was probably busy today. He sent a cautious glance toward some of the darker booths, but he didn't spot the blonde Gryffindor and her seventh year boyfriend.
James looked over at his friends, who were being rather quiet, it seemed. Remus had already opened his Marius book, seemingly unaware of the noisy pub. Peter was glancing back towards the bar area where Rosmerta was laughing with a few of the Quidditch fans.
Well, they'd be of no help. Playing it casual, James got to his feet, sauntering behind Lily. "Hello there," he greeted, whispering into her hair.
Lily jerked. "Merlin, Potter! What do you think you're doing?"
"Just greeting my fellow classmates," he explained, leaning on a chair. "And how are you today Morgan?"
"Fine," the girl answered, looking into her cherry-colored drink.
James moved from Lily's side, leaning against the table and peering over Morgan's shoulder.
"You feeling any better after that stray bludger?" he asked her.
"Go back to your own friends, supposing you have any," Lily hissed back at him.
"When was I talking to you, Evans?" James asked, his tone dripping venom.
Lily took a breath. Her lips had gone pale and her emerald eyes slitted. "Don't you draw Morgan into this. Just because I said I didn't want to go to Hogsmeade with you doesn't mean you have the—"
A large boom shook the surrounding area, interrupting what was no doubt a tedious bit of drama. The tables around the pub jerked about, chairs were tipped over, and those who had been standing managed to spill their drinks upon their neighbors. James Potter hadn't had anything to drink; however, he had managed to fling forward slightly, his palms landing in a rather, erm, enviable position. At least he thought so. Lily didn't seem as pleased about it. She shoved him off, her face growing red, either in rage or embarrassment, James wasn't certain.
The noise of the pub had been cut drastically, which allowed James to hear Lily's muttered comment, "Perv."
"Hey," he grumbled back.
Peter and Remus had stumbled up behind him. "What do you think that was?" Peter asked.
"Sounded like a firework," James suggested. He grinned. "You don't suppose Sirius got into another fight with Zonko?"
Remus, however, was looking a little more concerned. "James," he said hesitantly, "I smell smoke."
James paused, not really knowing what that could mean. He might have easily dismissed it as a prank, but there was something in Remus's tone that made him think the 'smoke' might have a more serious nature. He'd learned to trust Remus's nose.
"How about I take a peek outside?" he suggested cavalierly, winking in Lily's direction.
"Oh, don't try and act like a hero," she huffed. Rising to her feet the red-haired girl moved past them all, joining a crowd that was moving toward the doors and windows. It seemed most of the pub's patrons had the same idea. They bustled about, talking with a curious chatter.
James was ready to join in the excitement, except that he spotted one face that didn't seem amused. Professor Barten wasn't moving toward the door; he was still seated at the bar, his wand casually in hand. The man's sharp eyes seemed to be looking over the crowd, his head cocked as if he was listening to something.
"Hey, Lily, wait," James called, he moved after her, darting into the crowd. Coming up behind her, he touched her shoulder, making her turn her head to look back at him. "Maybe we shouldn't go out there," he stated.
Lily scrunched up her face in an annoyed gesture, then turned back toward the doorway.
Suddenly the people in the front yelled in alarm. The people directly in front of them stepped back and a low mutter of complaints came as people were jostled about. Lily was elbowed by a tall fifth year James recognized as a Ravenclaw. She winced and rubbed her shoulder.
"Watch it," James growled at the taller boy.
"I'm fine." Lily shoved him away, standing on her tiptoes to try and see what the commotion was about.
The noise had stilled some and James was able to make out a few distinct phrases among the shouting. "The apothecary!", "Fire!" and "Merlin's bleeding staff!" (The last not really of much importance.)
Another shock wave seemed to shake the building. Overhead, the beams rattled and sawdust filtered down upon the students and few adults who had come to a halt, no longer pressing toward the door. The silence seemed very thick after the loud commotion that had rent through the crowded pub just moments ago.
One figure moved at a quick pace toward the fireplace. "Well, ta, Rosmerta," the man said. James recognized him as the Fletcher man who had been at their table earlier. He tossed some green powder in the flames, shouting his destination...only nothing happened. After a moment of waiting the man jumped out, patting the hems of his trousers that had caught on fire once the magical flame had reverted back to its normal state.
"Cor," the man cried, still swiping at his singed trousers. "There is something wrong with the Floo," he announced to the room, although that should have been obvious.
Another boom sent people tottering again, banging into each other. Some girls screamed and someone must have fallen down and gotten hurt because James heard what sounded like pained sobs. He tried to look over people's heads, but it was simply too shifting and chaotic to figure out where the noise had come from.
The shaking ceiling had worked to panic more individuals.
"Let's get out of here before the roof falls in," James heard someone behind him shouted. The unseen figure was soon jostling James, and was joined by half the crowd all fiercely determined to reach the exit.
Having a little more weight and height, James dug in his heels and managed to fall to the side. He looked around startled to spot Lily being pushed forward along with the others. He caught her gaze for a moment and thought he saw shards of fear in her emerald eyes, although her expression was a tight line not omitting any emotion.
"Lily!" James called, flinging himself into the crowd, he trying to catch up with her. A hand latched onto his robes, tugging him back. He spotted Peter clutching at him nervously, his gaze meeting James as if to ask for instruction. He knew his friend wasn't the sort to handle difficult situations well, but he found himself irritated at the moment. He shook the shorter boy loose and plunged back into the crowd.
"Lily!" he called again. Caught in the push towards a door he couldn't even spot anymore, the faces of these individual people had all blurred into an indistinct crowd hung on its own instincts.
"James!" a voice suddenly reached out to him.
He turned around, spotting the point of his search. Lily was pushed against a wall, managing to have stopped just short of the door. She seemed to be sheltering something beside her, taking the rough jabs that came her way as she fought against the tide of people. James wasn't quite as polite, knocking people out of his way, he reached her side and tried to block her from the onslaught with his back. It was only now that he was near enough that he could tell what, or rather who, she was protecting: a young girl was latched to Lily's side. She must have been a third year, but she was very short and thin. James didn't know her, but tears streamed down her face pitifully.
"I think she broke her arm," Lily said, trying to reach above the din.
"WHAT!" James called back, moving his ear closer to her lips.
"SHE BROKE HER ARM!" Lily yelled, but it was still difficult to hear, even with her breath washing against his neck.
James looked back at the little girl. "LET'S GET AWAY FROM HERE!" he called. He'd been stuck in the back several times as people tried to leave, but he didn't really think of that now. Looking at the girl's tearful face he felt utterly unequipped to help her, but getting her out of the mob couldn't hurt.
James held out his arms to the girl; she looked uncertain so James gestured picking her up.
It didn't turn out to be as heroic looking as he thought it would be. Because of her injured arm, and the push of the crowd, he found himself lifting her more like a potato sack. He'd just had her settled against his chest steadily when a sharp jab to his side sent him sprawling. With the additional top weight the girl was providing, his balance was thrown off. He gripped her legs tightly trying not to loose her in the scuffle.
"Budge it," a tall man grunted as James struggled to regain his footing. Only one foot on the ground, he was twisted around and pushed out of the pub. The girl wrapped an arm around his neck almost strangling him, but he managed to shake her off some once he was on solid ground again. He staggered, looking around at the sunlight. He managed to catch himself before taking a tumble and making a real arse of himself.
He would have said that it was nice to be out in the fresh air, but it really wasn't that fresh. The acrid smell of the burning apothecary filled the air with a smoky smell that made him cough. Once again, he was shoved out of the way as another exiting patron seemed determined to move in his direction.
His rubbed his chest grumpily with his free hand. Maybe his valiant effort to block Lily had not been the best idea. It was just a fire: people didn't have to panic so.
Lily burst from the pub, her expression more annoyed than worried, "There you are!"
In the road, people were able to span out more, heading in whatever destination they thought best. She approached them quite easily, which was slightly annoying considering how James had been shuffled about.
James had landed in a position out of the main flow of travel. Most of the students were heading back towards the castle, while some of the adults seemed to be Hogsmeade locals and were hurrying home to check on their own properties. Either way, it was either left or right; James had wandered straight, ending across from the Three Broomsticks. People still seemed to grapple about, trying to decide whether they wanted to exit or not.
"Are you alright?" Lily asked, her manner oddly caring.
"Lils, never knew you cared," he replied with a cheeky grin. Maybe he was growing on her.
She frowned and narrowed her brows angrily. Ah, that was an expression he knew. "I wasn't talking to you, Potter," she spat. "What did you think you were playing at, acting the hero? I said she broke her arm, not her leg, you idiot. She could have walked just fine and then we wouldn't have been tossed about."
"No big deal, right?" James argued. He looked down at the slim girl he was still carrying, and set her down gently. "See? All's well that ends well."
"I wasn't actually wanting to leave the pub," Lily said frostily.
"You can go back in: no one is stopping you."
"Arguing already." Remus appeared at their sides, looking only faintly amused. But that seemed to leave him when he managed to catch a good view of the burning apothecary. The ingredients inside had set the flames burning at different colors. It was really amazing looking if you thought about it that way. A few other people had gathered around for a gander. Some seemed to be clever enough to remember the charm that conjured water, but it was doing little good.
"Quite the sight," James said. It wasn't actually too bad outside; why had they wanted to stay in anyway?
"It's not something for your amusement," Lily lectured.
"Girl, if you can't just sit and watch a bloody fire without opening your gob—" He was cut off by a furious glare, and wisely turned away from her. "What's going on inside?" he asked Remus, ignoring the spluttering invectives coming from Lily's direction.
"Barten is trying to get everyone under control, and Rosmerta is hexing those who aren't listening. I don't fancy being the bloke who managed to knock over a tea tray; when she gets a hold of him, he'll have preferred getting crushed by the roof. Less painful, anyway."
"Imagine Barten liked that," James said thoughtfully.
"Don't think so," Remus frowned. "He looked a little tense, actually."
James and Remus moved a little more down the street, passing a stationary store, the Quidditch shop, and a place that sold fancy robes. Lily and the third year hung back, but still followed. The prefect seemed to have gotten over her ire for the moment and was speaking gently to the girl; her wand was out and the injury was quickly bound in a white wrapping. The small blonde third year seemed to have swallowed some of her fear and was trying to catch up with James and Remus, her eyes glued on the flames.
"Exciting, eh?" James said speculatively. "Nothing like a good fire to make a boring Hogsmeade visit a little more memorable."
"Is that all you think it is?" Remus questioned, he continued gazing at the blaze.
"What else could it be?" James almost found himself laughing: it really was ridiculous. Everyone had panicked over something so little. What world did they think they were living in? This Dark Lord had everyone spooked, but Voldemort had never attacked a town; that would be foolish. He was targeting Muggle-borns and pure-bloods who had married Muggles and such, everyone knew that. That was barmy enough on its own.
"I don't feel so good," Remus said, suddenly.
James turned at the odd comment, a shock of concern hitting him when he got a look at his friend. Remus's face was pale and a thin line of sweat had gathered on his brow.
Come to that, why did it seem like the temperature had dropped twenty degrees in a manner of seconds? James didn't quite know, but he was starting to feel bad himself. It wasn't sick, really: it just felt like he'd lost a Quidditch game, or something even worse. It was hard to put words to. He looked over his shoulder at Lily, who was looking around nervously as well, her fair complexion growing paler. Not quite knowing why she looked up and met James's gaze. She moved a little further up the street, standing closer to James and Remus; the young girl was clutching her arm fretfully now.
" Do you—Remus!" Lily called in alarm.
James could only watch helplessly as his friend collapsed onto the ground. He crouched beside him, noting a frown marring the werewolf's expression and tears forming in the corners of his eyes.
"Nooo, nooo," Remus moaned fitfully.
Down the road, Barten emerged from the pub. He looked around worriedly, but whatever he was looking for, he didn't see. However, that didn't seem to diminish his worry. He spotted the students, and jogged toward them. In a minute, he was at their side, not bothering to check on Remus, only looking at him with a stony expression.
"Your friend would have a tough time of it," he said coldly.
"Professor, he just—!" James tugged at Remus but his friend showed no sign of any recognition.
Another man emerged from the pub. He too ran quickly towards them, stopping before Barten. James thought he remembered seeing the black wizard next to the professor at the bar. "See if Rosmerta has any chocolate," Barten said to a man. Why in Merlin's name would they needed chocolate now?
The stranger paused. "I'm rubbish around them, you remember," he said, looking at the ground.
"Some have a right to be," Barten said almost gently. But then James figured he must have imagined it because the Defense professor's face was just as expressionless.
Still the young wizard nodded, crossing back to the pub despite the shaking of his legs. James noticed that the man couldn't seem to run anymore.
The temperature continued to drop. And suddenly James was starting to see why: some odd creatures were gliding toward them. The had come from right, emerging, no doubt, from the alleys behind some of the shops on the other side of the street. They weren't close enough to take in much detail, but he knew they couldn't be human. They glided on the air like specters. They were skirting around the fire and air seemed to freeze in his throat the nearer they drew; the cold was so intense it seemed to be freezing something deeper than flesh, like his very soul was shaking in the chill. The few people that were near them seemed to tumble to the ground. What happened to them, James didn't see, they were soon hidden behind more of the creatures.
James climbed to his feet, pulling out his wand. He didn't now what they were, but he didn't want them any closer.
"Good: you're mobile. Get out of here." Barten shoved James toward Lily and the still unknown third year. "Take them," the Defense professor ordered. James nodded dumbly for a moment, he was starting to walk towards the pub when he realized that Barten was following them.
"What about Remus?" James found himself protesting.
Barten looked at the collapsed student; James hadn't realized how cold his professor's eyes looked. "Can you carry him? Levitate him to safety? You have the strength, boy? Those are dementors: they suck the magic right out of you." Barten's cold cynicism was infuriating. James swallowed; he was having enough trouble putting his own feet in front of the other. James continued staring at his friend, and stubbornly moved away from the pub. He couldn't carry him. He raised his wand—maybe magic would be better. Levi- levicorpus? That was the spell. He moved his wand but the words seemed hard to say, his magic seemed hard to find.
"Levicorpus– " James's voice rasped. Remus seemed to lift only inches off the ground.
He wiped at his sweaty forehead, his eyes moving back to the street. They seemed impossibly closer. Still he stood before his friend, his body bending like a reed. And those things—they were moving faster than the growing chill. Before he had a moment to think, they passed the fire. They moved like one organism almost, only one or two breaking from the group when they stumbled upon a person who had collapsed under their power. James strained to see what they were doing with those people.
Barten cursed and appeared beside him, his own face looking drawn. He tugged at James's shoulder, trying to drag him away from Remus and toward the pub.
"You want to be an auror, Potter? It's time you learned about sacrifice."
A Wronski Feint is perhaps one of the most dangerous maneuvers a seeker can attempt. It is also the most sought after among the professional teams. Captain of the Holy Harpies once said, "Don't even bother applying for the post of seeker if you can't manage it." Oddly enough, despite its desirability, a Wronski feint is only really effective twenty percent of the time. There are simply too many factors at work, and if the opposing seeker is worth their salt, they should be able to spot the bluff before plowing into the pitch. Also, the fact that the move has made it into a even an average seeker's training manual, well, it takes away some of the surprise. When it was (or would be, depending on your frame of time) invented, Josef Wronski managed to trick a good deal of his opponents. Now, however, it had become somewhat stale. Perhaps the real reason it is so popular has more to do with the fact that crowds seem to enjoy it, giving an exciting edge to a Quidditch match: showmanship has always been a part of any professional sport.
But there is actually another reason why coaches prefere their seekers to possess the skill. Frankly, it is a good judge of nerve. Seekers need to be fearless, they need to ride the winds at breakneck paces, all to chase after a little winged ball. Good seekers are always courageous, but the really great ones are also a little mad. They have to be. They have to be the sort of people who forget about gravity, the sort of people who leave more than just the ground behind. And if a seeker can preform a picture-perfect Wronski Feint, well, they might have the sort of madness that a team is looking for.
That being said, it spoke to Harry's character that the Wronski Feint was his favorite Quidditch play.
He was enjoying the empty Quidditch pitch now, flying sharp Wronski Feints and loving the rush his Firebolt gave him when he let it out full speed. His called his current flights 'sharp Wronskis' but it was almost a different flying pattern. Probably pointless in a game, but helluva lot of fun to fly. He'd fly almost vertically down, then arch up just as suddenly, forming a parabola—not that a mathematical term meant much to Harry. He'd just discovered he could do it one day, and it had brought the best of both worlds: the weightless of falling and the rush of shooting up. It had given his Quidditch mates back home coronaries, but it was a great ride. The only downside was the sudden urge to puke from time to time, but if you could control your gag reflex, no problem.
A faint boom was enough to break him off course. Harry had been flying upward when he jerked at the echoing noise, losing his altitude and falling slightly to the left. He couldn't see anything, still surrounded by the Quidditch stands, but he corrected his flight path and was soon soaring above the stadium.
Smoke was already beginning to mar the blue sky, making it easy to spot the source of the commotion.
His heart thudded uncomfortably in his chest as he watched the gray smoke curl ominously above the town of Hogsmeade. It could be harmless, but he knew it wasn't. He didn't think: his broom was already moving in that direction. Where others might dismiss, Harry reacted.
Despite what some Potions Masters may think, he did have a brain, and it caught up after a moment.
What was he thinking? This wasn't the present. It wasn't as if he could change things. Harry hung absently on his broom, the edge of the Hogwart's grounds below him, his eyes watching the rising smoke with a grimace. It had already happened.
"All time travelers were meant to travel, and hence if they didn't travel history would not be as we know it. So I shan't tell you to be too careful. If you were meant to do something, then you've already done it."
Ah, he knew that voice. That was the sort of thing that Dumbledore said: utterly unhelpful.
Another explosion seemed to rock the village of Hogsmeade, a cloud of smoke emerged from the town. He tried to look away, to turn his back on it. This wasn't his problem.
Who am I kidding? Harry thought grimly.
He let his broom slip higher into the air. The wind currents buffeted against his face, pressing his glasses against his skin and making his hair lie flat against his head. Hogsmeade wasn't far from the Hogwarts's grounds, but he chose to climb higher rather than approach the town directly. He was nearing the border of the village when he felt them.
Perhaps he should have seen them first: a quadrant of tall, black-robed, soul-sucking monsters isn't really something that can hide on a sunny day, even in a magical village. But he didn't spot them: he felt them, that same chill, the rush of memories that seemed to drag him down faster than gravity. He was practically a dementor alarm bell.
He pulled his broom higher, trying to shake off some of their power. He needed a clear head, and since he had the chance at a bird's-eye-view, he was going to take it.
From the air, the small village of Hogsmeade looked like the best toy train set: little brightly painted houses, the main avenue showing crooked brick streets and alleys branching off like dark rivers. Some of the houses were a little more modern with shingled roofs, but a few rooftops gleamed the golden hue of thatch. The train station was off to the west, near the lake, but the tracks ran alongside the town, seeming to box the place in. Harry could spot his favorite stores; having spent three years wandering through the small town, he was quite familiar with the small hamlet. And, as with much in the wizarding world, not much would change in the next twenty years or so.
The Three Broomsticks welcomed you into the town from the west, and further down the main road, you would find Zonkos and Honeydukes. A few shops that didn't usually appeal to students were scattered in-between. Harry vaguely remembered a bookstore, a robe boutique and an apothecary. Some residential homes were settled more to the east, and ramshackle apartments (usually home to recent graduates of Hogwarts), were settled in the eastern alleys behind the stores. The alleys were also home to a few of the shops not usually recommended to witches and wizards; hags, vampires, and other creatures were known to frequent these spots. Stores there could sell a variety of hard-to-find items: bottles of rare blood types, the occasional dragon egg, and robes for all difficult body types. (March Hares' Wares: Too tall? Too lean? An extra arm in-between? Hurry to the March Hare. Giant sizes available upon request.)
All and all, it was a harmless little magical village; at least, it should be. Harry watched the scene playing out before him with an old sickness in the pit of his stomach. A building he believed to be the apothecary, if the green and purple smoke was any indication, blazed unattended. Another small fire, likely someone's home, also filled the air with thick black smoke. From the small house Harry watched as a green skull and snake rose upward, adding a sickly color to the bright afternoon. Harry's grip on his wand tightened as he watched the symbol glow despite the daylight—he hated Voldemort's idiotic final touch. Really? Really? Did the megalomaniac have to leave a calling card? Kind of cliché, wasn't it? Oh well, why not go with what works, eh?
But that old cold power quickly pulled his gaze away from the dark mark; even the massive blast from the apothecary's blaze didn't distract him for long. His eyes slid past the sparks of destruction, their cold power always seemed to draw him away. He'd worry he was a little masochistic, if he had the time to worry about such things. He was already too late, he felt numb as he watched dementors coming from the east, a litter of bodies lying motionless in their wake.
He was far too late.
"Sacrifice?" James Potter fumbled with the word as if it were a foreign thing. That had to be a line, right? Barten was posing. They were students, this was Hogsmeade: things like this didn't happen on sunny afternoons. This sort of choice required nighttime, rain, and lightning. You didn't decide whether you left your friend to die on pleasant days.
Behind them, Lily cried out. "Professor?" she called weakly.
James glanced back to see Lily supporting the slumped body of the young girl. Merlin, he needed to learn her name. Lily was looking pale as well; she had lowered to her knees to try and keep the girl somewhat upright.
"Too late now," Barten said harshly. He wiped the sweat on his brow looking at James tiredly. "You're going to need to think of something happy and repeat after me."
Lily finally settled the girl on the ground, moving to stand in front of her.
"Good girl," Barten instructed. "Stand with Potter here."
For once, Lily didn't argue: she joined James in shielding Remus. She swallowed heavily; her hand tightened on her wand now that she stood defiantly before these creatures.
One of the dementors fell behind, standing over a figure that had slumped in the distance. For once they were two close to loose sight of what was happening. James's curiosity forced his attention. The man's arm twitched as if under some sort of fit while the creature stroked his face in what might seem tender. James stood numbly, finding it hard to breathe as the thing lowered its hooded face over the man.
The unknown man jerked again, his body spasming as the creature's skeletal hands clutched at the man's shoulder. James wished he had looked away, selfishly glad that he hadn't seen this happening before.
"Expecto Patronum!" a voice above him yelled. The Defense professor had his arm extended as a silvery bear emerged from his wand, bounding toward the creatures. The dementors moved back only inches—the bear couldn't drive them all away, the spell merely seemed to bite at the monsters' heels.
James raised his own wand. Barten had said to think of something happy? That seemed nothing short of impossible. Still, he dredged his mind, trying to find one happy moment in his life. They all seemed so fleeting and insubstantial at the moment. Finally, he grasped a hold of when he'd first learned of his animagus ability.
"Expecto Patnum!" he shouted. Nothing happened; the pronunciation had seemed a bit off.
"Patronum," Lily corrected tiredly.
"Think of something happy," he encouraged her. "Expecto Patronum!" he called again, forcing as much magic as he could through his wand. Some white mist emerged, but died just as soon as his lost concentration.
A strange shadow seemed to dart across the ground and James found himself dreading that perhaps dementors could fly. He didn't want to look up just in case he was right. Barten didn't seem as pessimistic; his gaze shifted from the dementors for a moment but he only frowned and returned his focus back to trying to drive away the massive amount of dementors that had descended onto the village.
But it simply wasn't enough. James didn't know if that was the depressing power of these monsters speaking, or if it was the truth. Either way, it seemed impossible for one patronus to drive back such a large number: the bear would move to the left, and those on the right would inch closer. James felt his knees weakening and his vision began to swim.
"EXPECTO PATRONUM!" a new voice entered the scene. James looked up, blinking against the sun.
Riding in on a broom, his hair swept about by the wind, Harry Tempus arrived in Hogsmeade. His speed on a broom was impressive, but that wasn't what James was watching. Harry held the shaft of his broom with one hand; in the other, his wand was fully extended, a burst of silver light flying out before him.
Harry landed on the ground easily, slipping off the broom when it was still a few feet in the air. One arm held onto the handle as he fell, and he pulled the broom close to his side. His eyes, however, never left the silvery creature he had created. Charging ahead and facing the dementors with no fear, a large silver stag used its horns like a ram, goring into and scattering the dementors. The creature was impressive: at least 15 hands across with antlers that reached higher than most men were tall. This patronus also seemed more concentrated: it looked more like a tangible animal than the Defense professor's shimmering bear. James knew he was biased; how could he not admire such a great and noble form?
"Tempus," Barten grunted. "I thought you weren't supposed to visit the village today."
"What can I say?" Harry allowed with a shrug. "I was never one to follow the rules. And you've got some Death Eaters coming from the right." Harry jerked his shoulder in the direction he had seen them nearing. The dementors were being herded out the city; the two corporal patronuses doing what one alone couldn't do. Although James wondered if perhaps it was Tempus's creation that had them fleeing.
"The aurors should be on their way; this much spell damage and a pack of dementors can't escape their notice." Barten shook his head with impatience as he spoke. He seemed to have little faith in his place of previous employ.
"Always late," Harry agreed, dismissing them casually.
From behind them a few more citizens were emerging from the pub; they crossed the open street looking around with squinted eyes. James noticed as Barten's friend from earlier approached. His hands held something and he gave it to Barten unceremoniously.
Barten opened the silver wrapping and stuck the dark food in his mouth. He tossed some to Harry as well, who tore off the wrapping and bit into it with a slight grimace.
"Baking chocolate," he grouched. "Terrible thing to do to a sweet."
James and Lily got their own pieces; Harry was already kneeling next to Remus, opening the werewolf's mouth and letting a small bit rest on his tongue.
Chris, the man James recognized from earlier gave Harry a curious look. "Sorry; too bad we weren't at Honeydukes," the man joked lightly. Harry looked up and was surprised for a moment. The newcomer looked young, probably not out of Hogwarts long. Harry thought he looked strangely like his roommate Dean Thomas.
A few other people were milling about now that the dementors had gone, most coming from the residential area of the village. One older man approached those that had been kissed and he kicked the booted foot of one soulless shell. "Bad business," he muttered. "You know who is behind this. But coming out into the open like this. What's he playing at?"
Somewhere down the street, someone started screaming.
"Get back inside," Barten said harshly to his students. He paused for a moment when he looked at Harry, but seemed to decide to bunch them all together. Harry looked down at Remus who was just starting to come around.
"You get her, I'll take him," Harry answered. He nodded to Barten before the professor turned on his heels and darted toward the screams.
James picked up the little girl, this time managing a more heroic pose. Not that he had noticed. "Remus," James said with some relief. "You all right, mate?" The little girl was still dead weight in his arms, but Remus seemed to coming around.
Harry helped Remus to his feet. Remus took the arm reluctantly; still, it was obvious that he couldn't stand on his own power. Everyone still seemed a little shaky.
"I'm fine; were those dementors?" He spoke softly, a bookish, clinical tone wiping his friends' concern away.
"Yeah, ugly buggers," James agreed. They paused for a moment when a loud banging noise came from outside. They stood still, their ears straining for more.
"We should get inside," Lily advised, her tone a little more tense than usual. Her hair flicked in the wind as she looked around nervously.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. He looked toward the sound of the noise, deciding it would be better to make sure that his parents made it to safety before considering any additional acts of foolhardiness that were bound to kill him.
Remus's eyes opened some. "Harry, what are you doing here?"
Ah, they'd noticed; trust that Remus, even in a poor state, would be the first to notice. "Yep. So this is Hogsmeade, eh? Cozy little village," he commented dryly. He looked around, taking note of the still burning apothecary and the corpses that littered the street.
"How did you learn to cast a Patronus?" James asked, not curious at all about the young man's presence. (Who hadn't snuck into Hogsmeade a time or two?)
"He what!? A corporal one?" Remus asked.
They had reached the doorway of the Three Broomsticks, and Harry was wondering the best way to handle this question when, thankfully, another distraction emerged. The fight that must have been happening further down spilled into the yard before the Three Broomsticks. Rosmerta had opened the door and was waving them in frantically. Harry pushed Remus in, unfortunately knocking the werewolf off his feet. Rosmerta caught him about arms and pulled him out of the way when he others pushed in.
Harry darted to window, not sparing time on those already inside. Most of them were either looking out anxiously or huddling in corners. Behind him, James and Lily were reuniting with their terrified friends who had managed to stay inside. Peter and Morgan seemed almost numb; they looked at James and Lily as if they hadn't really expected to see them again.
But outside, the real fight was going on. Barten and a few other adult wizards had joined forces to try and stop the destruction the Death Eaters were causing. Harry spotted a dark-haired witch who he thought might have been Marlene McKinnon; she at least resembled the woman who had been in Moody's photograph. Hagrid had said she was a great witch, and the woman out there was certainly holding her own, relying on some advanced charm work that seemed to swirl around like a cloud.
Barten was holding true to his previous expectations. Harry was starting to doubt the man's magical prowess: he seemed eager to resort to Muggle-fighting at most opportunities. Also, his Patronus, while corporal, hadn't been much to brag about. He was likely only an average wizard. Still, Harry winced as Barten's fists made contact with one Death Eater's masked face: the man could pack a punch. The mask had shattered, along with the Death Eater's nerve—a well placed stunner followed up by a binding spell had the man contained before Barten moved on. Harry had to admit, he'd had worse Defense professors.
"Whew," James exclaimed. He'd left the others and joined Harry at the window, his eyes alight while watching the confrontation.
Harry ignored him, turning back to the scene playing out he spotted something that made him tense. A short, blonde woman was cowering beside a building, three shops down and across the street, a small child was wrapped in her robes. The pair had chosen to hide behind a small fence, one which had been already demolished by a blast from one of the Death Eaters. The child was sobbing, obviously terrified; her mother was trying to take them someplace safer, but everything had become chaotic. Indecision.Harry bit his lip. A dark brown spell struck the mother in the shoulder, and she joined the child in screaming.
Harry's hand caught the latch on the window, opening it before another moment's thought.
"Harry!" Lily exclaimed, tugging at his robes, but he was already swinging a leg over the window ledge and jumping down. His arm quickly slid from her grasp.
Moving through a battlefield wasn't something Harry had much experience at, but he'd dodged curses before: what it came down to was spatial awareness. He moved through the fighting adults, raising a shield and ducking when needed. He dropped to his knees and was once forced to drop to his knees and roll to avoid a stray burst of green light. His only real 'advantage' was that he wasn't drawing any direct attention and managed to reach the woman, kneeling next to her.
"Can you move?" he asked her. He was quite close, her frightened face only inches from his own. He angled his head a bit so that he could see behind him.
"My arm," the woman moaned. She bit her teeth shut tightly, obviously trying to ignore the pain.
"I'll carry her," Harry said, gesturing to the little girl whose sobs were drowned out among the spell casting. "We should get you inside." He glanced over at the Three Broomsticks, but dismissed it. He doubted the pair would be able to dodge through that maelstrom of curses and hexes.
The woman nodded, eying the scene hesitantly. "Amy, honey, this nice man is going to take us someplace safe." Harry marveled at the calm tone her voice managed to take while talking to the little girl. "It's okay, honey," she soothed.
Harry didn't know if it was okay. He tried to hide a grimace when he lifted the small girl. Her mother's robe was soaking up the blood from her shoulder wound. The fabric had torn some and Harry could see her skin beneath: the shade had changed to a sickly blackish green.
"Come on, Amy," he said, trying to put the girl at ease. "You ever play tag? Well, we're going to try and not become It."
Harry finally decided to carry the girl piggy-back. She wrapped her legs around his middle, and her arms around his shoulders, her little hands clutching his robes tightly. With a deep breath, Harry got up from the shattered remains of the fence and moved away from the battle, and towards the left. Right would only offer open land and the long road to Hogwarts: not enough cover. They needed a place they could hide until help arrived. He took the woman's arm in one hand, leaving his wand accessible in the other.
"Hold on tight, Amy," he instructed the little girl. He tugged the pair alongside a building, slamming the woman against the wall harder than he'd have liked to drag her out of the way of another spell. The robe shop was closest but it looked deserted. The door was locked when he managed to near it, but a quick alohomora spell had the handle unlatched.
He swung the door open and ducked out of the way of a stunning spell.
"Go away," someone said, a terrified tone to her voice.
"I've got some injured people here," he offered, hoping that whomever was hiding wouldn't curse them.
A brunette peeked up from behind a counter. She saw the little girl and the injured woman at his side and raised a hand to her mouth.
"Sorry dear." The woman rose to her feet. She was middle-aged and more than a bit heavy, her extra weight hidden well behind a fine pair of mauve and silver robes. "Oh, hurry, I didn't know what to do—I locked the door and..."
"Do you have a cellar? Back room?"
"Cellar? Yes, there is one back there; use it for storing—"
"Great," Harry interrupted. "I'd suggest you bunker down there until the aurors have things under control." Harry shuffled the woman further into her store, ignoring her confusion and sputtered arguments. It wasn't until that they were all three women were down in the cellar did she manage to speak up more.
"Now see here, boy: I won't be ordered about in my own shop. Just who do you think you are?" she hissed irately.
"Someone smarter than to think a simple locking charm is going to keep Death Eaters out," Harry answered. He slammed the cellar door shut, and turned back to the main room. He heard some angry noises coming from below, but it seemed the woman was invested in her own survival enough to stay put.
Harry crossed back out the main room. The shop was mostly unharmed: a stray curse had busted through one window and singed a hideous green velvet robe—certainly an act of mercy.
His eyes instantly sought out the fight: neither side seemed to be gaining any ground. The few citizens of Hogsmeade who had gone out to fight hadn't taken the matter easily. Once again Harry's eyes were drawn the witch he believed to be Marlene McKinnon: she certainly had a way with magic. Her spells were fast and looked complicated, a swirling tangle of different colored spells. Harry wondered how she managed to have her magic hang in the air around her like she did. Death Eaters seemed hesitant to get too close.
Barten's friend Chris was also a confidant fighter. He didn't seem to have Barten's penchant for Muggle violence, but his spells were very accurate. Once again, Harry found himself oddly reminded of his dormmate, Dean Thomas: the wizard had been a member of DA. His and Chris's fighting styles were. There was little flash, few spells cast, but each move was made to count. Harry watched dispassionately as the man struck a Death Eater with a powerful-looking burst of orange light. The robed figure collapsed bonelessly to the ground.
But it wasn't only the Death Eaters who were sustaining injury. A short man with red hair was brought down by a stunner, not far from him blonde witch was pushed aside and fell painfully onto her arm, across the street a thin man took a cutting curse to the shoulder and the people near him were sprayed with his blood.
A portkey must have activated. Suddenly, the street was fuller: a group of aurors had finally arrived. They wore their official dark blue robes, now creating a unifying presence to go against the Death Eaters' black.
The citizens out in the streets seemed to hearten renewing their efforts; Harry thought he heard the cheers of some people hidden among the town. It seemed that whatever your politics, everyone was relieved to see aurors arriving.
Harry's gaze focused on the Three Broomsticks: in one window he thought he saw his father's smiling face. It was too difficult to tell through the glare, but it seemed like a James-thing to do. Harry looked back at the cellar; they should be safe. Perhaps he should consider making his way back to the pub.
Indeed, things were looking up: within the first few minutes, the group of aurors were jumping into action. Their port-key had settled them in the middle of street, spaced tightly together. In only a moment they has spilt into two groups, one moving east, the other west.
Each group had two levels. The first row had strong shield charms. They ploughed down the street, their boots moving at a steady march. Behind them, another row of aurors used the cover to fire spells at Death Eaters.
As the groups marched in opposite directions down the street, they absorbed and aided any civilians caught in the battle as well as helping those that had been injured. They were cleaning the street in a very deliberate and methodical manner. The black robed Death Eaters were being pushed out, unable to combat these numbers.
Harry felt an odd sense of nervousness. Was it just him, or were there more civilians out there now? What were they doing out there? He'd been out there ducking for cover only moments ago and he hadn't noticed that many people on the street. It didn't make sense. True, the aurors were gaining headway, but it didn't make sense to come out when the battle was only half-won.
A green light flashed, lurid and blinding.
And then another.
And then another.
The green glare was suddenly drowning the street: it seemed like his eyes were tinged with the color. The light played across the room cruelly. Harry blinked away, feeling an emptiness rise in his chest. It was the same shade of green that had haunted his nightmares as a child.
Outside in the yard, somewhere between ten and twenty wizards had dropped dead, seemingly struck down by normal residents of Hogsmeade. These wizards hadn't been dressed in the garb of Death Eaters: their faces were unmasked. They stood between the two squads of aurors, striking them down from inside their formation.
Harry pursed his lips, hating that he couldn't dreg up much emotion to be horrified. Instead, his worried mind began to wonder what else Voldemort was planning.
The patrons still inside the Three Broomsticks were handling the sight with less hardened eyes.
James had gone numb; he stared blankly at the scene without understanding what he was seeing. Lily, who had been back a little further, acting as a support to Morgan, hadn't seen what had happened, only witnessed the green light reflecting around the room, but she found herself unable to recognize the situation either. Morgan had buried her head into Lily's shoulder. Remus's mouth hung open in shock and Peter sat down on the floor heavily. Around them, other reactions were swelling. A few individuals screamed or yelled out in alarm; some people didn't understand what was happening but the confusion only fueled their panic more. However, after this bust of noise everyone in the pub sank into a uneasy silence.
The fear that such an event caused was easy to see. Terrified muttering began to reach James's ears after the silence had worn away.
"Hobbsin, that's Philmore Hobbsin—he was a schoolmate of mine. Never would have thought him joining up with the likes of them." A middle-aged man pointed out one of the killers with a trembling hand.
"Betty Crowdil," another said, more softly than the one previous. "She works for the Ministry..."
Fear and shock grew as more of the 'plainclothes' Death Eaters were recognized. The people out there were neighbors, friends, co-workers—they were people who you met everyday. Somehow this seemed more terrifying than those figures in black robes and masks: those were monsters, but these...these were all too human.
"Are they losing?" James found himself asking weakly. It wasn't a possibility he had questioned until just now. He found himself feeling helpless and out of control. Another auror fell to the ground, his throat a red ruin, his hand twitching in the dirt.
While the people in the pub had reacted to brutal and merciless killings, those actually on the battlefield hadn't had time to pause for breath. Barten tackled one of the unmasked Death Eaters to the ground, binding him with surprisingly little effort. The other citizens were doing their part and the remaining members of the auror team seemed to have turned off whatever compassion they had: each blow brought blood and broke bone.
Another explosion rocked the ground, this time startling even the Death Eaters who must have started the blaze. The rush of magically-charged air knocked the fighters off their feet. In the pub, the windows shattered, strewing glass about the room and slicing into those who had been near enough. The battle hadn't paused in the slightest. Barten, always the able one, had used the distraction to knock two Death Eaters into unconsciousness. Binding them, he snapped their wands before most people had managed to regain their footing.
The apothecary, however, was now burning wildly. The last explosion had shot out of the roof, sending flaming debris into the surrounding areas, landing onto the nearby buildings and quickly catching the fresh timber alight. Whatever was burning and causing these violent eruptions must be highly flammable.
Harry cast a quick spell on floor and particularly the area near the cellar, it would make certain that even if the shop did catch alight, the people down below should be safe. These attackers weren't after money: they wanted mass loss of life. Harry needed to get back to the Three Broomsticks. James and Lily and the others—he needed to be certain that they were safe. He wasn't just trusting that time will out.
Harry slipped outside, shutting the door quietly. His best option would be to remain out of sight as much as possible; perhaps he could move further up the street and cross over to the other side once he was out of range. The Death Eaters weren't his only rivals at the moment: the appearance of attackers dressed as ordinary residents had obviously affected those defending the town. Aurors and the citizens of Hogsmeade were striking at anything that moved, likely even resulting in some friendly fire accidents. Harry wasn't paying close enough attention to tell for certain, but he wouldn't have been surprised.
Harry ducked out of the way of a glowing orange hex; it arched over his shoulder as he spun towards the ground. He tossed himself behind an overturned trash bin that had somehow ended up in the street. His green eyes looked over, spotting the caster dressed in auror robes.
Yep, good idea to be careful. He kneeled for a moment, trying to find his chance to move again. He rested his hand on the ground, pulling away when his fingers brushed something soft. His hands had rested against someone's robes, an older wizard dressed in mottled green. He was bound tightly, ropes wrapping around him from shoulder to knee.
Harry looked at him absently for a second, staying out of sight of any Death Eaters or aurors. The man didn't seem like much of a Death Eater, he thought. He had kind eyes, hidden behind chubby, Muggle-looking spectacles. And those eyes seemed to stare ahead mindlessly, almost as if he had been turned off. He lay in the dirt not putting up any sort of effort to move or untie himself. Rather odd really. His feet were still loose, he hadn't been knocked unconscious, and yet he lay there rather peacefully. If he hadn't blinked Harry might have thought he was dead. What was it about those eyes that was bothering him...he felt like he'd seen that sort of mindlessness before.
A short lull gave him the chance to get to his feet and move into one of the ally openings. Another spell struck the wooden shutter right where he had been, the dark energy burning into the material like some sort of acid. Harry shoo his head resignedly: he had feeling it would take some time to get back. He leaned against the wall and stared absently down the alley. Maybe he could work his way back behind the buildings...that idea was quickly extinguished when he saw a brick wall: this path was little more than a space to store trash.
It was also storing someone else and Harry's eyes narrowed.
"James!" Harry could only offer surprise. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
James Potter was crouched near the end of the small alleyway, his back pressed against the building across from Harry while much of his body was hidden behind a crate that had once held something called 'Mable's Elixir'.
"Harry," James offered with a grin.
"What are you doing here?" Harry found himself asking again. He crossed towards James, suddenly feeling like the parent of a disobedient child..
"You know," James offered, "doing what you're doing. Did you get to the girl and her mum okay? I wanted to help, you know, after..." James trailed off uncomfortably; Harry knew what he was referring to. Someone had once told him that people deal with terror in different ways. Most people did the sane thing: crawl into the fetal position and pray that it all ends soon.
He had to ask. "Don't you think that was a little stupid?"
James frowned. "Then why are you doing it?"
Harry could have answered. "Well, Dad, perhaps it's your ruddy genes that have me act this way." Blaming genetics was comforting sometimes, but as he didn't have an answer James would understand, he took to staring out toward the opening between the two buildings. Occasionally a body would flash by, or a glowing spell would cut the scene like a burning arrow. Maybe it was him, but the noise seemed to be growing more distant, the flashes of people less recent. Soon, only echoes of the confrontation were nearby.
Harry crossed to the opening of the alley, keeping James behind him. He listened closely, thinking perhaps he could risk sticking his head out for a look.
Another body suddenly darted into the shadows, charging into Harry with a force that wasn't quite enough to knock him down, but it was close. He dodged a punch as the figure swung its fists madly.
"Sirius, mate," James cheered.
Harry lowered his wand. Indeed, somehow the other Marauder had managed to stumble upon them.
Sirius grinned. His cheek was sporting a red mark that would likely blossom into a good bruise, and his shoulder bore a small patch of blood; otherwise, he looked fine.
"Finally! I've been looking for you. Popped into the Broomsticks and Remus said you'd headed out—wasn't pleased about it either."
"Where have you been?" James asked. He slung an arm around his friend, falling into a hug despite himself. They weren't really the type to hug, but that scene out there was making him realize some things. Like how precious little things like having a best mate can be.
Sirius returned the gesture, patting James and biting his lip. "Glad you're alright, mate," he said a little briskly.
They broke apart coughing and not looking at each other. "I was, er," Sirius began. "Well, Haley dragged me to Madame Puddifoots's, which was a rougher ordeal than what it looks like you've been through," he said with a cringe.
"Has it quieted down out there?" Harry asked, breaking into the conversation.
Sirius shrugged. "They've moved further down the street; think they might be trying to get away from the apothecary. Hell of a blaze, that."
"Let's get back to the Three Broomsticks then," Harry suggested. "It's only a few shops down: with the battle out the way, we should be able to get back easily."
"Awe no, let's go and lend them a hand," James argued.
Harry glared at him before ducking back into the sunlight. "You're not an auror yet, Potter," he said, feeling rather uncomfortable addressing James as such.
"They weren't all aurors out there," James pressed on. "Who do you reckon they were? Did more than the aurors." James had become somewhat pensive, falling into step beside Harry thoughtfully.
Harry found himself wondering why Sirius wasn't arguing as well. He and James both seemed eager for any excitement. He looked back to see the pure-blood wizard standing frozen only a few feet out from where they had been hiding.
"Sirius?" he questioned softly. A chill went down his spine when he turned to face Sirius.
It was there in his eyes: a distracted, powerless expression. He knew it looked familiar: the man with the glasses, bound and unmoving had looked the same. And Sirius, from his lessons—Harry knew why Sirius would look like this now.
Black's wand raised stiffly; he was in there somewhere, struggling for control. Harry moved toward him cautiously. But Sirius's wand wasn't pointed in his direction.
"Sirius?" James questioned. His hazel eyes showed no apprehension, no sense of concern or fear.
A blast of green light jumped from the Marauder's wand. It tore through the empty air chased by a scream.
A/N: Again a big hand to MeShelly. Not only did she have to edit this once, but twice. I rewrote half of this chapter at one point in all my revisions, and she endured through it all. As some likely noted, this chapter took longer to update than those previous. Frankly, I think it was important enough to have the delay. It is also my longest update ranking it at 30 pages. And, as I said, this is the second reincarnation of this chapter. As MeShelly, who had to endure the first would tell you (or maybe not as she is very nice), this version is much improved and you likely wouldn't have wanted to read the first as it was. (Crap my readers, utter unpublishable crap). As the next chapter is critical as well, I won't promise an update in a week, but I will be working on it steadily to try and bring you the next installment soon.
And of course, all errors are mine. Because I'm stubborn.