A Muggle in a Magical Fight
Harry Potter hadn't even been given enough time to change out of his England game kit and into a fresh set of warm-ups before being ushered into a room full of reporters. Along with national team manager, Rufus Griffin, and captain, Gwenog Jones, he now sat behind a table on a slightly raised dais sipping a glass of water. Looking over the top of his glass he stared at the man who was asking what is perhaps the silliest, most over used, question asked of all teams who have lost a championship match. "I assume you are, most understandably, disappointed but do you think you'll one day look back on this as a satisfying experience?"
Glancing at his manager, whose expression was clearly sending the message, "stick to the standard answers," Harry ignored him in favor of his captain, who simply shrugged her shoulders as if saying, "Say what you think."
Harry took another sip of water before placing the glass back on the table and answering. "Yes I am disappointed and no I don't think I'll ever look back on this as a satisfying experience." As quills quickly scribbled he continued, "Look, I'm not taking anything away from the Chileans. They flew a hell of a match. It's just that we spent two years qualifying for this bloody tournament and had to play three extremely difficult matches in five days to win our group. An achievement which merely earned us the right to play three more matches in five more days in our semi-final group. Three games, I might point out, that were capped off by an almost five hour marathon before we could dispatch Victor and the Bulgarians to advance to the finals in what should have been..." he managed to catch himself before saying aloud that England/Bulgaria should have been the final, "... well let's just say that's a great deal to go through only to fall forty points short. Especially when I should have captured the fu..." he once more caught himself in time, "...bloody snitch thirty minutes earlier."
"Why do you think you should have captured it thirty minutes earlier?" Another reporter asked?
"Weren't you watching the bloody game?!" Harry snapped. "The damn thing was in my hand and I flinched at a bludger which Gwenog had safely deflected away from me!"
"But it scarcely missed your head by inches," the reporter responded.
Harry picked his water back up and slouched in his chair murmuring, "At this level that's not an acceptable excuse."
Feeling disappointed in herself, not just for almost failing to protect Harry but also for failing to knock Chilean seeker, Xiomara Aiello, from her broom, Gwenog Jones patted Harry on the knee and leaned forward to take up the conversation. "Harry is always too hard on himself. I've already told him that we wouldn't have made it out of the group without him. Bottom line is the whole squad made mistakes today and at this level the match often comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes. Chile simple flew better than we did and they deserve the title." Stealing a glance at Harry she added, "And now it's time to head back to England and prepare for league play, where I look forward to trying to knock Harry off his broom instead of keeping him on it."
Several in the room chuckled at this, including Harry who always enjoyed a verbal sparring match with Gwenog, whom he had come to think of as not just a talented rival but also a friend. With her comment being just the tonic need to take his mind off the match, he sat up straight, patted her on the shoulder, smiled and declared, "Good luck with that."
Standing, Rufus declared, "I believe that will wrap things up for now." Adding while escorting his players from the room, "The whole squad will be available for interviews in the players lounge once they've had the chance to change."
Entering the wizard's changing room Harry flopped into the chair in front of his locker and ran a hand through his hair. Looking at the ceiling he blew out his breath, making a puttering sound with his lips, while letting his mind wonder back over his third year of professional quidditch. By all accounts it had been highly successful. He had managed to avoid any new, serious, injuries and with World Cup qualifying completed before the Christmas holidays the second half of the season was relatively easy. Of course there had been a handful of international friendlies, but they weren't played at anything near the level of a fully contested match. Consequently, with their seeker well rested and healthy week after week, the Cannon's returned to the top of the table. For the third year running they also advanced to the finals of the B and I cup, dispatching the Caerphilly Catapults to complete the double and bring two trophies home to Chudley. Now it was time, as Gwenog had noted, to return home and prepare for the upcoming season. Actually, prepare for the upcoming season was a bit of misnomer. It was really more a case of trying to recover from the World Cup while getting ready for the opener against Kenmare in just one weeks time. With a sigh Harry pulled off his boots and stood to remove his robes. Walking to the shower he shook his head while noting, to himself, that the upcoming year would also bring the return of the European Cup. Stepping under the warm water he couldn't help wondering if becoming an auror wouldn't have been the easier career choice.
In just under an hour's time Harry was dressed in his traveling robes and stepped from the changing room into the player's lounge. He was chatting with Quidditch Illustrated reporter Elliot Burkholder when they were joined by Ginny. In the Potter household Elliot held the twin distinctions of not only being the first reporter to treat Harry as just another player, but also asking Ginny a question about her career instead of Harry's. That, combined with an easy going personality, meant that Harry and Ginny both enjoyed talking with him and granted him much closer access than any of his colleagues. The trio was still chatting when Rufus Griffin announced that it was time for the team to depart and everyone started filing from the room.
Harry glanced at his watch and was surprised to see that it had already been more than six hours since the match had begun, or at least since the teams had ceremonially flown out for the prematch festivities. Leaning towards Ginny he asked, "Did you notice Ron, Hermione or Dudley after the match? I double checked and all three of their names were on the approved list for post match admittance."
Ginny shook her head no, "I didn't. Maybe something came up and they had to leave right after, or couldn't make it."
"Perhaps," Harry agreed, "And with Luna still in the Cook Islands, Dudley wouldn't have been able to travel without Ron or Hermione. I just hope they're all alright."
"I'm sure they are," Ginny replied while giving Harry's hand a reassuring squeeze that betrayed her own concerns. Glancing at her watch she added, "It will only be about four-thirty Sunday morning when we get home. Maybe they'll meet us there."
"Sure they will," Harry smirked as he helped Ginny into the magical coach that would transport them back to England and took his seat next to her.
With a crash as loud as directly overhead thunder the coach appeared at the training grounds of England's national quidditch team. Harry and Ginny were retrieving their personal bags and wishing their teammates goodbye when Percy and Audrey joined them.
A smile decorated Ginny's face as she moved to greet her brother and his wife, "Percy! Audrey! We didn't actually think anyone..." The sullen look on their faces froze her in her tracks and forced her voice to become barely more than a whisper, "What's happened?"
Lingering twilight cast shadowy illumination across the countryside, betraying the fact that the sun had already set. In the near darkness Draco Malfoy and several others quietly fanned out to surround a small cottage. Soon even this last vintage of light would vanish and the group would have half an hour of darkness to carry out their task. After that the rising full moon would once again cast a soft glow over the scene. Fumbling with the coin in his pocket, Draco swore under his breath. For more than three years he and Potter had used the bloody thing to arrange meetings but he had never bothered to really study it closely. Now, without taking the galleon from his trousers, he was attempting to send a message to every member of Dumbledore's Army. A message that was restricted to twenty characters in length. Hoping he had it right and the others would understand it, Draco pushed his thumb into the center of the coin and took up his position.
Neville Longbottom sat the desk in his office at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry reviewing his syllabus for first year herbology. He found the task tedious, certainly not as enjoyable as his ongoing research, but classes would be starting in just over a week's time and it was a job that had to be completed. Suddenly he felt a warmness against his thigh as the D.A. coin in his pocket started to vibrate. Taking it out, he glanced at the message, stood, stepped across the grate of the fireplace and was gone with a green flash.
Ron Wesley answered the knock on the door of his and Hermione's flat. Ushering Dudley Dursley in he shouted towards the bedroom, "Come on Hermione, Dudley's here. If we don't get a move on we're going to be late to the match."
"For goodness sake Ronald," Hermione responded exiting the bedroom and waving hello to Dudley. "We have over an hour and the portkey is right there on the table ready to go."
"Yes, I know," Ron almost pouted in reply. "But it's the world cup finals and all the way in the Northwest Territories. Plus, don't forget, once we get there we need to buy souvenirs and food before we find our seats."
Suddenly Ron's and Dudley's hand shot to their pockets and Hermione began fishing through her hand bag. All three of them stared at the message, "tonks ctg send help."
"Bloody hell," Ron murmured, "This was sent from Malfoy's coin." He shot a longing glance at the portkey sitting on the table before continuing, "We need to check on this."
Hermione shook her head in agreement. "Yes we do, but we need to be cautious. I know we all told Harry that if he trusts Draco then so do we," she paused for a moment before finishing with, "But when it comes right down to it, well, the bottom line is this is Malfoy we're talking about. How much do we really trust him? It might be best if we apparated to some place more distant, say the edge of Ottery St. Catchpole, and approach the cottage more quietly on foot."
"I tend to agree with you, but if he really needs help we don't have the time," Ron replied while removing his wand. Responding to the expression Hermione shoot his way he added, "Fine, we'll apparate to the little stone bridge about a quarter mile west of the cottage then. You know the one?"
Hermione positioned her own wand at the ready. "Yes."
"I'm coming too," Dudley injected. Before either Ron or Hermione could protest he pulled the eye of Horus from under his shirt. "I may not be an original member of Dumbledore's Army, but I can take care of myself in a fight and you might need this." When both Hermione and Ron remained unconvinced he added, "It's not coming without me."
Ron and Hermione shared a glance and in that one look both understood the other to be thinking it was a bad idea but neither willing to deny Dudley had a valid point. Extending his arm, Ron grudgingly responded, "Fair enough mate. Take my arm and keep your head down if the spells start flying."
As total darkness settled over the grounds of Tonks cottage Theodore Nott placed his hand on Draco's shoulder, "It's time Malfoy. Are you ready?"
Draco nodded yes, stood to his full height and started walking towards the cottage hoping that help would arrive soon. The plan, which he had just learned in detail only a few minutes earlier, called for him to simply knock on the door, incapacitate his aunt Andromeda, in whatever way he felt worked best, and grab Teddy who would then be used as a bait to lure Harry Potter into a trap. To Draco's mind there were two problems with this plan. One, he wasn't even sure if his aunt would open the door for him. and two, he didn't trust who ever was running the New Knights of Walpurgis any more than most of the members seemed to trust him. Thus he was certain that the individual behind this plan had no intention of allowing Teddy to survive. Now halfway to the cottage the sound of protective wards being cast by the others caused him freeze on the spot. To Draco's mind, what had seemed a grim situation became hopeless. Even if he had sent the message correctly and Dumbledore's Army arrived, they would have to dismantle the wards before they could help him.
Inside the cottage the fireplace glowed green and Neville stepped into the kitchen. Removing his wand he quickly searched the ground floor before calling up the stairs, "Mrs. Tonks it's Neville Longbottom. We've met before; I'm a friend of Harry and Ginny."
Andromeda Tonks stuck her head out of an upstairs room. "I remember you Neville, but why are you here? I was just putting Teddy to bed."
"No time to go into details," Neville answered as he started up the stairs. Hurrying past a confused and concerned Andromeda he picked up Teddy and started back down the stairs, explaining in a calm but tense voice, "You and Teddy may be in danger and need to leave straight away." Stopping at the fireplace he handed Teddy back to Andromeda and declared, "Floo to my office at Hogwarts, find Professor McGonagall and tell her what's happening." With the pair safely on their way Neville sealed the flue and put out the lights. When the sound of spells being cast reached his ears, he chanced a glance out the window and saw a lone, silvery haired, figure making his way towards the cottage.
Hermione, Ron and Dudley appeared out of thin air on a small stone bridge over what was currently a dry creek bed. They immediately froze with two wands pointed straight at their faces. "Sorry about that, thought it best to make sure," Zacharias Smith apologized as he and Hanna Abbot dropped their wands.
"Understood," Ron agreed before additional sounds of disapparition caused them all to spin with wands at the ready.
"Hope we're not too late," Ernie MacMillian announced as he Padma Patil and Anthony Goldstein rushed to join the others. "We went looking for Neville before leaving Hogwarts. He used the floo network and sent Mrs. Tonks back to the school. Lavender is showing her to the Headmistresses office and will be along shortly."
Ron slapped a hand against his forehead, "The floo, why didn't I think of that?" Turning to Hermione he continued, "Take Ernie, Padma and Anthony to the Burrow. Tell mum what's happening and ask her to notify the order, then floo to the cottage. If Neville's holding it on his own he could use another wand or two."
Placing a hand on Hermione's shoulder, to stop her from leaving, Padma countered, "It won't do any good. I tried already and it's been sealed against incoming traffic."
Ron nodded his head, "Makes sense, I'd have done it too. Wouldn't want to give the other side a chance to use it against me, even it meant blocking off help as well." Once again turning his attention to Hermione he altered his original instructions. "Once you give the word to mum rejoin us outside the cottage."
Given the circumstances Hermione didn't like the idea of leaving Ron's side, even if only for the briefest of moments. However, before she could voice her objections the group on the bridge was joined by George and a noticeable pregnant Angelina, who had come to investigate the sound of others apparating. "We'll go," George volunteered. "Given her current condition I'm not crazy about Angie being here. Maybe mum will be able to talk some sense into her." Before they left he added, "Lee, Seamus, Dean and some others are already there, and there are some type of protective charms in place. We could see Malfoy walking towards the cottage but couldn't hear anything or approach it ourselves."
"Thanks, useful to know," Ron replied as George and Angelina departed and the group on the bridge started running towards the cottage.
Draco reached the door of Tonks cottage and raised his hand to knock. On the last half of his walk he'd seen some of the DA arriving. Including Seamus Finnigan who'd actually disapparated on a spot inside the wards and had been shot back out like a human cannon ball. With the knowledge that help was on hand, Draco was now trying to divine a way to stall until the shield could be dismantled. Seeing no way forward, other than refusing to go along with the plan, he lowered his hand, turned his back to the door and shouted, "No! I won't do anything that places an innocent child in danger!"
Inside the cottage Neville, who been peaking out the window, stood up straight with his back against the wall. He hadn't spent a moment doubting that Draco's call for help was sincere, but that still hadn't prepared him for the declaration he'd just heard. Deciding he'd open the door and offer Draco what shelter the structure could offer he froze on the spot as cries of "Coward," and "Blood traitor." rose from the perimeter of the grounds.
"A Coward and blood traitor am I?" Draco shouted back. "Was it cowardly to spend the last three years as a spy for Potter and Dumbledore's Army? Is it cowardly to stand here now, alone and facing all of you? Am I a blood traitor for wanting to protect my aunt and my second cousin? The blood that flows through their veins is the same blood that flows through mine. I'd be a blood traitor not to defend them! Every single one of you is a bloody stupid bigot if you can't see that!"
Suddenly the door to the cottage opened and Neville stepped out to join Draco. "You don't stand alone Draco. You take the left, I'll take the right and we'll both take the front. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Draco answered, "And Longb... err... Neville, just in case I don't get the chance later, thank you."
Before Neville could tell Draco he was welcome the first jinx was fired at them and they both threw up a shield.
"Bloody hell!," Ron exclaimed as he arrived at the cottage. Neville and Draco were standing shoulder to shoulder, each half turned, trying to cover three directions and fighting a purely defensive battle against eight advancing attackers. The door to the cottage was open, inviting a retreat to relative safety, but each time the pair tried moving towards it one of their adversaries managed to force them back.
Ron held his hand out towards Dudley. "Dudley, quickly give me the eye of Horace." Dudley pulled the amulet form under his shirt and placed it in Ron's hand. Ron made a quick studied the aqua marine dome which was the physical manifestation of the protective wards. Pointing a finger at a spot several hundred yards to his right he declared, "There, that spot right their. It looks like a small crack in the wards. Do you see it?"
"Yes," Dudley answered. "Is that the weak spot?"
Ron dropped the eye of Horace, "It is." Starting to run towards the sport he shouted to the others in an authoritative voice that caught some by surprise but gained all of their attention, "Follow us!" Reaching the approximate location of the crack he once again held out his hand and Dudley once more complied by placing the enchanted charm in it. "Listen up," Ron shouted, "We don't have the time to dismantle the wards. We're going to have to break through them with good old brute strength. I'm going to fire a Deprimo at what I believe to be the weakest spot. Once the target is marked I want all of you use the same spell on the same spot. Dudley will help keep you on target." With the attack on the protective wards underway Ron cast a patronus to send a message to his auror partner, Blain Ashlock, "NKW attack underway on the grounds of Andromeda Tonks' cottage near Ottery St Catchpole. Eight attackers confirmed with more suspected, send a complete flying squad. Non-Ministry friendlies are involved. Check with me upon arrival." With the message on its way, Ron searched out Hermione, "I'll be covering your back, as soon as the wards fall cast anti-apparition charms so no one can escape." Turning to Lee Jordan he added, "Grab somebody else and do the same thing on the other side of the grounds."
"On it mate," Lee answered. Spotting George, minus Angelina, he shouted, "You're with me one ear," and the pair took off at a run.
"A little more up and to the left," Dudley instructed Justin Finch-Fletchley, "Perfect, perfect, bang on with that one." Moving on he continued to make his way along the firing line, shouting words of encouragement and pausing from time to time to adjust the aim of those whose fire had drifted off target. Suddenly a sound similar to distant thunder rolled through the night sky. "Yes," Dudley exclaimed! "That's it! A web of cracks has spread across the whole dome!"
Ron ran to Dudley's side with his hand outstretched. Despite the surge of emotion running through him he managed to keep his voice calm as he requested, "Give me the eye." Dudley placed the pendant in Ron's hand while keeping the chain around his neck. Ron studied the wards for a moment before dropping the amulet and shouting to the others. "We've almost broken through! Everyone grab a partner and spread out so we have the cottage surrounded, then keep blasting away!"
"Blasting away at what," Alicia Spinnet asked? "We don't have a charm to let us see the wards and how will we know when they've fallen?"
"At this point straight ahead will do," Ron answered, "And don't worry you'll be able to tell when they've fallen." Raising his voice, Ron once again addressed the group as a whole, "Everyone stay vigilant. It's a safe bet there are more than just the eight of them we can see."
As the others fanned out Dudley, unsure what he would do when the wards fell, stood fast watching their physical manifestation start to crumble. He was soon joined by a witch with sandy blond hair which held just a hint of a natural curl. Though they'd never been formally introduced, Dudley had seen her before and had the distinct impression that Hermione didn't exactly care for her.
The newcomer took the lead with introductions, "Lavender Brown. You're Harry's cousin, right? Looks like you could use somebody to cover your back."
"Dudley Dursley," Dudley answered with a nod yes, more than slightly unsettled by the wild look in Lavender's eyes. Still he couldn't deny that as the only muggle in a magical fight, it would be nice to have a wand by his side. A thought he shared with his new partner as he accepted her assistance. Suddenly a sound very much like far off shattering glass, followed by a rush of air, announced the complete collapse of the protective wards.
With a shout of, "Let's go!" Dudley sprinted forward. Crossing the grounds with a quickness that would have surprised many he dodged a spell while another bounced of a shield cast by Lavender. The pair altered their course towards the source of the attack and, as Lavender veered off to challenge the caster of the second spell, Dudley thundered through a shrub like a charging rhino to find himself face to face with a startled wizard. Before the man could react he was robbed of his breath by the anvil like impact of Dudley's right hand against his solar plexus. A sickening crunch announced that the air would not easily return to his lungs as Dudley's left hand found his ribs. A monstrous right hand to the jaw briefly return Dudley's victim to a upright position before he sank, unconscious, to the ground.
Picking up his fallen adversary's wand Dudley turned to find Lavender still locked in combat with her own foe. After a brief internal debate he shrugged his shoulders and mumbled, "Me and Harry are family, might as well try." Pointing the wand at the wizard he uttered, "Shoot something!" Not surprised by his lack of results he searched his mind for an incantation that he'd heard others use, finally settling on stupefy. When the results were again negative he admitted to himself that he hadn't really believed he would have any success and pocketed the wand while setting off to help Lavender.
Before Dudley could take two steps Lavender succeeded in firing an expelliarmus past her opponent's defenses. Ignoring her foe's flying wand, Lavender charged forward and landed her foot squarely in his groin. A pain induced groan escaping his lips, the wizard's hands flew downwards as he doubled over at the waist, only to have his nose introduced to Lavender's rapidly up-thrusted knee. Sinking to his knees, Lavender's subdued antagonist blinked at her once before falling to the ground, a moaning shadow of his former self.
With a low rumbling snarl Lavender spun at the sound of Dudley's approach, her wand pointed straight at his chest. Startled, Dudley threw his hands in the air and took a step back. With a shake of her head, Lavender relaxed her stance, muttering in a low, almost embarrassed voice, "Sorry about that. Ever since Greyback bit me I can sometimes get a little carried away during the full moon."
"Fenrir Greyback! The werewolf!" Dudley exclaimed, taking two more steps back.
"Relax," Lavender responded. "He wasn't transformed when he bit me. I won't change into a werewolf. It's just that, with the right triggers that is, I might experience sudden personality changes once every twenty eight nights."
Dudley smirked, hesitated for a moment, then announced, "Well hell, all women go through that. Come on; let's find another victim to whale on."
Before Lavender could respond a series of loud pops announced the arrival of Blain Ashlock and a Department of Magical Law Enforcement flying squad. With their numbers now in the clear minority several members of the NKW tried to apparate, a few managing to make their escape. However most found their path blocked by the charms Hermione and Lee Jordan had put in place and were forced to alter their plans. Turning tail they attempted fleeing on foot, pursuers close on their heels.
Gregory Goyle was not among those opting to retreat. Instead he charged towards the cottage yelling, "Death to all mudbloods and blood traitors! Fende ignis incaendo!"
"No!" Ron shouted, charging towards Goyle and the cursed flames of fiendfyre spewing forth from his wand. Without hesitation Ron raised his wand and shouted, "Fende ignis contentio!"
"Don't!" Hermione shouted as several raised their wands to assist Ron. "The use of any other magic could interfere with the containment he's placing around it." With tears beginning to form in her eyes she added, at barley more than a whisper, "Now that he's started, Ron has to stand alone."
Continually fueled by new energy from Goyle's wand the flames began to grow and transform, rolling and bubbling in an undulating mass of wanton destruction seeking a victim, until at last they took on the shape of a fully winged dragon. While the flames were no longer advancing, they continued to gain strength and strike at the wards Ron was struggling to maintain. Already his eyes stung from the sweat pouring down his face and his hands felt like they were immersed in nearly boiling water.
Suddenly a wolf like howl broke the night and two dark shapes flashed through Ron's periphery. Dudley and Lavender, having decided that if magic couldn't help Ron, perhaps physical confrontation could, dove at Goyle and drove him to the ground. Not willing to give up, he held fast to his wand until Dudley's heel dug into the back of his hand, forcing him to let go.
With the fire no longer being strengthened Ron fought on with renewed confidence. Dropping to one knee and ignoring the pain as the heat caused the skin on his hands and arms to blister. Slowly but surely the dragon began to shrink and transform until it was no more than a ball the size of large marble. However the heat radiating from the tiny sphere was still as intense as the roaring dragon. Feeling faint, Ron tried to rise and finish off the miniature inferno, only to fall back to his knees, almost loosing control of the flames which sparked and hissed in response to their near release.
As the minutes passed Ron moved ever closer to complete exhaustion, until he had no understanding of anything apart from his own struggle. He was unaware of Hermione standing with her back to him, her head buried in George's chest, unable to bear the anxiety of watching. Despite the fact that it happened directly in front of him, he didn't notice Dudley and Lavender dragging a subdued Goyle away. Even his pain was now a thing on the periphery of his consciousness. Ron no longer felt the burning on his hands and arms which had become scared to an oozing, scaly, black mass. He did not recognize the fact that the vary clothes he was wearing were beginning to smolder, or that his face, blotchy and red, burned beyond the worst sunburn anyone had ever experienced, was starting to blister. He remained oblivious as Blain Ashlock cautiously approached, cupped his hands around the burning spear and clapped them together while saying, "Interitum totalis."
With the fire dispatched to the mysterious destination of all vanquished spells, Ron dropped his wand before collapsing; face first, into the brittle scorched grass. His last observations before drifting off to a place beyond that occupied by normal slumber were faintly hearing Blain say, "Well done partner, lets get you some help," and vaguely being aware of Hermione sobbing his name as she sank to his side.