A/N: Here is the beginning of the third book in the Vow series: Vows, Duty and now Honour. Enjoy.
The laughing, cheering teens tumbled into the tiny-appearing tent, the ginger-heads linking arms and dancing jigs around the centre pole as their father beamed good-naturedly at them and headed for the ancient pot-bellied stove in the corner to start some water heating for tea. Using the cast iron hook, he opened the door to the black beast to feed it some of the sticks of wood that lay nearby, causing the flames to flare up merrily, joining in the festive atmosphere. A battered kettle was soon singing to itself, whistling away as the three non-redheads soon came in as well, followed by a tall, imposing black haired man who eased his way past the celebrating youths to join Mr Weasley at the stove.
"Tea, Severus?" the father asked as he set up a couple of saucers and cups.
"Thank you, Arthur," Severus Snape acknowledged as he watched the rest of the group cavort around, singing the praises of the Irish National players and expounding – on the part of Ron Weasley – upon the extraordinary talent of Victor Krum, the seeker for the losing Bulgarian team. For, against all odds, the Bulgarian Seeker had caught the elusive snitch, after a brutal game, but had still lost the match to the Irish team. The twins were especially gleeful, having made a bet with those same stipulations and winning a pile of gold galleons as a result from a reluctant ministry employee.
Harry, Draco and Hermione were also joining in the festivities, having been invited by the Weasleys to attend the World Cup Quidditch final match when Arthur had obtained several tickets from his friend at the Ministry, Ludo Bagman. Severus had agreed, but had decided to attend as well to keep an eye on his family.
It had been a relatively quiet summer for the Snapes at the manor. The boys had settled in quickly, spending most days outside flying, swimming in the lake on the property or inside, working on homework, brewing or practising their martial arts. Draco had even gotten a few chances to Floo to his mother's fidelius-charmed manor to visit her and his baby sister, bringing back several pictures of the little girl for her godfather and his family.
There had been one point, about a week prior, where Harry had awoken after an especially brutal nightmare complaining about his scar hurting. This worried Severus as the last time it had hurt was when Quirrell had been in the castle and had been possessed by Voldemort. To make matters worse, the mark on his own left arm, remaining from when he had been a Death Eater in Voldemort's ranks, had started to darken once more. He'd had a long talk with Harry afterwards, going over the details as they seemed to be something other than an ordinary dream, but neither of them could gain anything except a further foreboding from the nebulous scenes. Severus had asked that Harry keep a separate dream journal from his regular journal, and Harry agreed – immediately writing down this dream as its first entry.
So, with a sense of apprehension at letting his sons attend such a huge event – rife with so many opportunities for nefarious deeds to be performed– Severus had agreed to let them join their friends at the Cup, but only if he came along.
So far, the day had been standard fare for this type of gathering. They had arrived via Portkey with another family, the Diggorys and, after paying the fee for their tent, had been directed to an area full of other Ministry employees and their families. The tent was already pitched and ready for them to occupy and the children had happily gone off in small groups to gather water and wood. Severus and Arthur had inspected the ancient tent, discretely shoring up some old spells so that the wizarding space enchantments didn't collapse in the middle of the night.
Then Severus had cast perimeter spells and wardings to discourage anyone with ill intent from coming near the encampment. It wasn't foolproof, but it would keep the casual trouble-maker away.
The children had returned, a bit later than he had expected, with wondrous tales of all the different encampments they had seen from around the world, their pockets already full of souvenirs. Hermione predictably had her nose in a programme, reading up on both teams. He'd had to pluck the book out of her hands in order to get her to join Ginny, Draco and Harry at pulling out the ingredients for their lunch.
The afternoon had seen the arrival of the older Weasley males – Bill, Charlie and Percy – and visits from several of Arthur's colleagues as they waited for the call to the arena. Severus had never been impressed with Ludo Bagman, even when the man had played for the Wimbourne Wasps, and he was even less impressed with the man now; obviously too many Bludgers to his head during his lacklustre career. He'd nearly had to send a Silencio at him when he nearly revealed some sensitive information concerning the upcoming school-year. None of the students were to know that little tidbit until the Welcoming Feast. But Bagman had shut up when Arthur had discretely coughed in the middle of his blustering, and he had taken the hint – changing the subject and making that ridiculous bet with the twins.
The appearance of Barty Crouch Senior had caused Severus to become nearly as still as a lamppost as he calmly stood nearby and listened to the self-righteous bureaucrat swoop down on Bagman and whisk him away, barely sparing a glance for the potions professor as the third-eldest Weasley nearly slobbered over his boss in his willingness to do anything the man asked. Severus noted how the other brothers watched Percy with derision on their faces. There was trouble brewing there, for certain.
The match had almost been anti-climatic, although the teens had enjoyed it. He and Arthur had to restrain the boys when the Veelas had begun dancing, and he nearly laughed when their true nature had been revealed much later in the game, scaring Harry, Draco and Ron. Ron had been in hero worship mode when the teams had arrived in their box to accept thanks from the Minister, gaga over Victor Krum. The only sour episode the entire day had been on their way to the viewing box when they had crossed paths with Lucius, a simpering woman on his arm. No words had been spoken, only glares exchanged between the ex-friends, and Harry had shielded Draco as best he could, rushing his brother up the steps and away from the School Governor.
Severus accepted the cup of tea that Arthur offered him before the balding man began to rein in his charges, shooing them off to the bedchambers. Grumbled protests were heard, but the teens obeyed, the two oldest boys staying behind with Severus.
He nodded politely to them as they pulled up a pair of camp stools and accepted the cups of tea he floated over to them.
"Thanks, Severus," Bill said, blowing lightly over his cup to cool the brew.
"How are things at Gringotts?" Severus asked. Bill was only a few years younger than Severus and had been a fifth year when Severus had begun teaching. He considered the curse-breaker a contemporary.
"Profitable," Bill replied with a roguish grin. "Egypt will never give up all her secrets - there are too many - so there will always be work. We found a sixth century tomb recently that had some truly nasty curses on it. Do you know what we found when we finally broke them all down?"
"What?" Severus played along.
"A mummified Kneazle. Granted, the Hieroglyphics stated the feline was a Temple Kneazle – but still, all that for a cat. I mean some of those curses were ones we only come across on Pharaoh Tombs or those of their immediate family – not Temple guardians." He shook his head as he sipped at his now-cooler brew. "But I think Charlie here has the more dangerous job." He looked over at his younger brother who was sporting several new scars on his forearms since the last time they had seen each other. Severus obligingly glanced over at the second Weasley.
"Ah, yes; the Dragon Tamer," Severus announced coolly, although the smile playing at the corners of his mouth belied his true admiration for the young man. "Actually, I have to thank you, Charles, for your assistance the last few years." The younger man nodded to the master as Severus explained. "He's been sending me dragon scales and blood on occasion for my potions experiments."
"It's the least I could do, Severus. Without yours and Hagrid's help, I wouldn't be at the Romanian Reserve – I'd be stuck out in Wales freezing me bum off half the year," the stocky man proclaimed with a loud laugh. "The dragons aren't missing the scales and blood – stuff is shed all the time. All of us tamers are gathering it and sending it off to our favourite potioneers." He grinned over at his old professor, while unconsciously rubbing his hand over the short red stubble on top of his head.
Severus snorted quietly as Bill chortled at Snape's discomfiture. They looked up as Arthur freshened up his cup at the burner and joined them in the circle.
"All bedded down, Dad?" Bill asked.
"For the most part. I think they are still jostling in front of the mirror, but the girls are already asleep and I think the boys should be soon." He leaned back in his chair, grinning at Charlie in thanks when he charmed the chair to add curved rails at the bottom so it could be rocked. "Merlin, what a day. And I can still hear the Irish supporters kicking up their heels!" He chuckled quietly as he sipped at his tea, letting the gentle motion of his seat soothe him. The other men grew quiet as they listened to the sounds of revelry echoing around the camp.
Bill cleared his throat as he looked over at his father. "Dad, what's up with Percy? He's been acting like a right git. Is it just Charlie and me coming home for the weekend or is something else up?"
Arthur hummed to himself for a moment as he gently rocked the chair, thinking. He finally gazed up at his eldest. "No, it's not just you two showing back up – he's been this way for awhile," he stated in a low voice so that it wouldn't carry into the other rooms. "Worse, since he started working for Mr Crouch. Frankly, Bill, he seems embarrassed by me. He never greets me at work, always puffing his chest out and finding something else to do when he sees me in the corridors. He feels so important working for Barty... Really, there are days I wonder why he wasn't sorted into your house, Severus. It certainly wouldn't have surprised me if he had."
Severus acknowledged this with a small nod while Bill frowned.
"Percy is embarrassed by you? Why?"
"He feels my work isn't important or ambitious enough. He discovered I've turned down several promotions to better paid positions and doesn't understand why." He snorted to himself. "Apparently, holding onto my own personal honour is not good enough – especially if it doesn't pay well."
Charlie began to turn purple in rage. "Why that little..." but he was stopped by his father placing a placating hand on his arm.
"Don't, Son. This is my own cross to bear with Percy. He has never felt as if he fit in, and to have my job slapped in his face every day at work... well, it is something that I have to deal with – not you. Leave it be. He'll come around eventually, understand that family is more important. It just may take awhile. Eh, Severus?" he asked the other man with a kindly smile.
Severus just raised an eyebrow in Arthur's direction as an answer and the other three began laughing. The Potions master gave them all a smirk. "I will grant you that the last two years have opened my eyes in that direction. Although, there are days..." He let the sentence hang deliberately and Arthur laughed harder, giving Severus a heart-felt clap on the shoulder in camaraderie.
"I know what you mean!"
"Hmm," Charlie noted as the sounds outside got louder. "They seem to be getting closer. Think I'll go take a look and make sure the repelling charms will keep 'em from overrunning the camp accidentally – never know where a drunk will tumble."
"I'll join you," his older brother offered and they banished their teacups before stepping beyond the tent flap. Almost immediately they were back inside, their faces reflecting fear.
"Dad, you better get out here!" Charlie said in a harsh whisper. "Those aren't Irish supporters; I think they're something else!"
Severus and Arthur both looked at each other in alarm before bolting from their chairs and barging past the younger men in their haste to verify the observation, a black wand dropping effortlessly into Severus' hand as he passed through the charmed entrance.
They looked on in horror as a crowd of black-cloaked revellers, white and silver masks covering their faces, marched down the wide dirt pathway between the myriad of now-burning tents, lit wands leading the way as they paraded through, a grotesque sight being juggled above their heads. Highlighted in the dancing orange light and drifting smoke, the Muggle family that owned the campground were being tossed and turned every which way in the air, not just the mother and father but the children as well, their terrified faces in stark contrast against the black night sky. One of the pigtailed girls was desperately holding onto a stuffed plush rabbit, but lost hold of it during one of the twists the crowd made her body perform. She screamed, reaching out grasping hands toward the toy as it was trampled into the dust of the road by the jeering crowd below her.
Her scream was what awoke the men out of their incredulous stares, goading them into action. Bill stayed outside, keeping an eye on the crowd as it surged down the road towards their area, catching fire to more tents as it went, as the other three rushed into the tent to waken the children and get them out of harms way.
"Head for the forest," Arthur shouted as the teens tumbled out of the tent, shrugging into jackets or pulling on jumpers and rubbing sleep from their eyes. "Stay together! Boys," he said directly to the twins, "you are responsible for your sister. Harry, Draco, stay with Hermione and Ron. Now, run! We'll meet you there."
The children thankfully complied, aiming in the direction of the nearby dense thicket of trees as the older men pulled out their wands and went to join the rest of the ministry employees in saving the Muggles and breaking up the masked revellers.
Chaos was erupting everywhere in the night as the revellers shot fire-ball spells into the tents, setting them on fire and lighting the night up in hungry, menacing flames. The quartet of fourth years soon lost sight of the twins and Ginny in the maddening crowd that swirled, screaming, through the night. They kept close together, trying to hold onto hands and fistfuls of jumpers as they slowly made their way toward the tree-line.
Draco had taken one look towards the scene in the roadway, blanched and grabbed Harry's hand – practically dragging his brother along. Harry had grabbed Hermione's hand in turn – before she could get swept away - and she had collared Ron, nearly choking him as she pulled him along behind her before he managed to take her hand firmly in his, releasing the strangle-hold.
Hermione let out a little squeak of relief when they reached the trees, stopping everyone so that they could catch their breath and take stock of where they were.
"Did anyone see where the twins went?" Ron asked nervously.
Hermione nodded and pointed up the line of trees to their right. "I saw them hustling Ginny off a little more to the east. Lost sight of them a few minutes ago, but I think they're safe."
Draco glanced nervously at the burning campground, coughing as the acrid smoke came drifting towards them. "Let's get further in, please? I'm almost sure Lucius is out there and I'd rather get as far away as possible," he emphasised.
The other three agreed and they began to work their way deeper into the dark forest. They passed groups of people talking and worrying, even passing some students who were speaking French. Hermione turned her nose up at them, having had a run-in with the girls earlier and their snobby attitudes. They even passed a house-elf who looked extremely worried, mumbling to herself and wringing her hands in her dirty pillowcase. Hermione wanted to check on her, but the boys dragged her away.
Eventually they found a small open glade, surrounded by tall bushes and even taller trees; the canopy of leaves blocking all but a few tiny bits of starlight that could be seen as the smoke streamers from the burning campground still creeped along the ground and overhead.
"I think we're safe here," stated Harry as he looked around the little area. "We should be able to hear an all-clear at this point. Do you think Dad would want us to use the Portkeys?" he asked his brother. But Draco shook his head.
"He would've told us. Let's just stay put until we hear otherwise." But he fingered the emerald in his ear as he kept a sharp lookout for more of his sire's associates.
"Who were those people?" Hermione queried a moment later.
"Death Eaters," came the response from Ron and Draco simultaneously. They looked at each other in astonishment that they had actually both known an answer. Hermione huffed at them to get their attention, but Harry supplied the explanation.
"Voldemort's supporters; Dad told me about them. Apparently they felt safe enough to come out of hiding again. You think Lucius was out there?" he asked Draco. The blonde nodded his head, nervously looking around.
"It would be something he would've thought funny." He looked over at his brother. "Harry, you think your scar hurting a few weeks ago and this is a coincidence?"
"No... Remember I said the dream mentioned the World Cup. I think that's why Dad came along. He wasn't originally going to join us and then he changed his mind the morning after the dream. I think that means I somehow saw or heard what Voldemort was planning. Don't know how though." He thought back to that night.
He had been dreaming of a man going into an old house, climbing the dirty, dusty stairs to a chamber where firelight flickered from under the door. A huge snake had passed him on her way to the open door, and her passage knocked it open further revealing Wormtail – Peter Pettigrew – talking to someone he couldn't see, someone in a tall, wing-backed, tattered upholstered chair. The snake had hissed at the chair and Harry had understood what she had said, revealing the old man on the stairs. And the old man had died, killed by the same green-lit spell that Harry saw whenever he thought back to the night his parents died. But before that, the men had been talking – talking about something occurring at the World Cup, and how someone was loyal to Voldemort inside Hogwarts.
Waking up screaming, Harry had found Severus sitting on the edge of his bed, concern etched in his face and a bloody flannel in his hand. Harry's scar had been bleeding while he'd been thrashing and screaming in his bed, the noise alerting Severus who'd come running. Draco had heard as well and was standing in the doorway when Harry had collapsed, weeping, into his father's arms and it had taken several minutes before he'd been able to tell his family the contents of the dream. A few calming draughts later, Draco had insisted on spending the remainder of the night in his brother's chamber and Harry had been grateful to have the warm back against his own as he finally fell asleep. The next morning Severus announced at breakfast that he would be accompanying them to the Cup.
The children fell quiet, peering out into the night as the noise from the campgrounds began to dissipate, left with the smell of burning tarp, crying from frightened children and periodic calls from people seeking out their missing companions.
A rustle behind them, coming from the bushes, caused Harry to whip around. He could see no one there and was about to call out 'Who's there?' when a voice cried out "Morsmordre!"
A beam of light shot into the sky above the canopy of trees, lighting the night in an unearthly green glow. Harry could just see between the tree limbs the outline of a skull, mouth open, and a coiling snake coming out of the opening, as if being vomited by the deaths-head.
Before he could say anything to the others, the sound of multiple Apparitions peppered the night, like a Muggle machine gun. Draco and Harry both yelled "Down!" throwing themselves on their companions, forcing all four to the leaf-strewn ground as spells ricocheted across the clearing where once they'd stood.
"Stop!" the teens heard someone bellowing, the command so forceful that the spells stopped immediately. Harry peeked above his arms to see Mr Weasley and his father storming into the clearing, wands at the ready, facing the group who had Apparated into the clearing. He and the others stayed put, however, not trusting the unknown wizards and witches.
"Those are our children!" Mr Weasley growled.
"They were caught at the scene of the crime!" a familiar voice accused. Harry frowned, looking up to see Percy standing next to his boss, Mr Crouch. It had been Percy who had spoken. Arthur slowly turned to face the young man, fire smouldering in his eyes. Harry had never seen Mr Weasley's temper before, and he wished he wasn't now. He would never want that look turned on him.
"Percy," he began slow and deliberate, clearly reining in his anger and speaking to the ex-head boy as if he was a five-year old. "You know your brother and his friends were in the tent when this mess all began. You've been with us all afternoon!" Arthur explained, exasperated at his middle son. Percy had the good grace to turn red in embarrassment. Arthur then turned to Crouch. "Barty, these are teenagers! I told them to come into the forest and await us here while we helped the Auror's disperse the revellers. Be reasonable, man!"
As Mr Weasley attempted to calm down the bristling ministry employees, Severus walked over to the teens, still prostrate on the ground, assisting them in standing back up.
"Are you all right?" he enquired, whispering. All four nodded, brushing off the dried leaves that stuck to their clothes.
"Dad, what is that thing?" Harry whispered back, motioning with his eyes skyward.
"The Dark Mark. You've seen my tattoo – it's the same symbol; the Dark Lord's calling card, as it were. During the first war it would be left over the houses where someone had died. Muggles can't see it, only magical folk can detect it. It was used to induce terror. Someone near here conjured it."
Hermione gasped. "We heard them!"
Mr Crouch swept Arthur aside as he barrelled down on the teens. "What did you say, missy?" His little toothbrush moustache bristled as he pierced Hermione with his penetrating blue eyes.
"We heard someone yelling a word... Morsmordre... from the bushes over there." She pointed to a tall clump of bushes behind the group. Barty directed a few of his team with a flick of his head, and everyone watched as the men searched in and amongst the bushes.
"We've got something here, Mr Crouch," one of the men called out. He pushed his way back through the bushes dragging a small figure behind him. In the light of the numerous lumos' lighting up the glen, everyone could clearly see a cowering, crying, house-elf; the same elf the children had passed earlier.
Crouch stormed over to her, yanking her out of her captor's hold. "Winky! I told you to stay in the tent!" he yelled, causing the little elf to cringe and cry harder.
"I's tried, Master Barty, but the loud noises were coming closer and closer... I's afraid!" She pawed at her master, dropping to her knees in placation. Crouch sneered down at her, releasing her arm sharply.
"Nevertheless, I told you to stay there! You disobeyed me, Winky!"
"Master, please..." she pleaded, tears overflowing her large, bulbous eyes.
He looked up at the Auror who had found her. "Was there anyone else back there?"
"No sir, just her. But she had this on her." He brought forth a wand, causing all the adults to gasp in horror. Barty turned back around slowly, fury on his face.
"A wand, Winky? Where did you get this wand?"
"I's found it, Master – on the ground, I's did," she cried.
Severus came closer to take a look, feeling as if the wand was familiar. It was, and he turned to pin his son with a glare.
"Harry, where's your wand?" Crouch and Percy, along with most of Auror's, turned to stare at the famous teen.
"My wand?" the boy replied a bit gormlessly, feeling around his jean's pockets for the length of slender wood that was an extension of his being. Not finding it, he looked up panic-stricken to face his father.
"It's not here! I must've dropped it in all the confusion."
"Well, somehow it ended up in these bushes next to this elf. Care to explain?" He crossed his arms across his chest and he could tell that his stern demeanour was frightening the children, but at this point he didn't care. He had been more frightened watching the children ducking from the stunning spells. And now Harry – his son! – had lost his wand, only for it to be found in the hands of a suspicious house-elf.
"Dad, this is as far as I got – I never went over to those bushes; I swear! I don't know how it got over there - maybe someone picked it up after I lost it?" he ventured.
"You think?" Severus taunted, clearly up to his ears in the night's doings. Harry flinched, but then he squared his shoulders, ready to take whatever came at him for this idiocy.
"Do a priori on it," someone suggested. Severus shot a glare in their direction before sending another at Harry when he asked "A what?"
"A Priori Incantatem is a spell, Harry, that shows what spells have been recently performed by a wand. Ghosts of those spells will show up at the end of the wand," Arthur explained helpfully. Severus nodded a thank you in the father's direction, reaching out a hand to the Auror for the Holly wand. A touch of his black wand to the end of Harry's and he sighed heavily when a ghostly vision of the snake-in-the-skull came floating out the end of Harry's wand.
"Dad..." Harry pleaded. "I don't even know what that spell was until five minutes ago!"
"I know, Harry," said Severus calmly. He turned back to the Ministry Officials. "Obviously one of the revellers found my son's wand and took advantage of it, Bartemius. He could still be here, hiding," he pointed out.
Crouch looked panicked at this suggestion and barged back into the undergrowth himself. They could hear him thrashing around, but he soon came back out empty handed. "No one back there, they've probably already Apparated out. Winky, I'm severely disappointed in you!" he said, turning back to the miserable elf. "You disobeyed me and shirked the duties I assigned you, then took this wizard's wand – when you are forbidden by the law to touch a wand; this means clothes!" he threatened.
The elf burst out in a fresh new cascade of tears, swinging her head to and fro in denial as Hermione gasped in outrage and Arthur tried to reason with the incensed official.
"Be reasonable, Barty – she was frightened for her life."
"Nevertheless, Arthur, she knew what I expected of her and she failed in those tasks. I have no choice. Go home and pack your things, Winky – I'll be there in a few moments." Wailing in her grief, the house-elf snapped her fingers, disappearing in a loud pop.
It was quite obvious to everyone else that whoever had conjured the Dark Mark in the sky had long gone after discarding Harry's wand. The auror's returned to the encampment and Crouch marched back into the undergrowth, muttering under his breath. Percy disapparated after mumbling about all the paperwork this was going to generate and he'd better get back to the Ministry to get it started, shooting Harry and Draco a black look before he went.
Severus and Arthur herded their teens back to the campground, meeting up with the twins and Ginny and then with Charlie and Bill at their scorched tent. Quickly packing their belongings, the Snapes said their good-byes before Severus Apparated the boys back to the manor just as the sun was starting to peek over the horizon.
A/N: So, I need some help. In the next chappie, Severus has a coffee mug. I need a really good saying for said mug. Along the lines of Slytherins do it..., or Potioneers..., or My dad... The more suggestive innuendo the better. The best one will get their saying immortalised in that chapter. Give it your best shot, people.