Neville took a gulp of butterbeer and sank back in the chair that he had commandeered an hour before. The Potter alliance tent continued to buzz with chatter and laughter as everyone celebrated the Irish win. The teams themselves had left ages before as had the Ministers who were expected back at the stadium for the official Ministry party. Some of the adults had departed for other places – Simeon and Anna had gone home; the Tonks' had headed to other friends. Many were taking turns to rotate a presence at the Ministry party except for Sirius.
Sirius had refused to move further than a half a tent from Harry and Neville could understand why after the events earlier that week. He hadn't strayed too far from Harry himself once they'd reunited in the box.
Zabini shifted beside him. Neville had made a concerted effort with the Slytherin remembering his comment at the party. Zabini had proven to have a sly sense of humour and a wicked eye for observation. Some of the comments he'd made as they people watched had had Neville and the others in hysterics.
Neville followed Zabini's gaze to where Harry was conversing with Nott and Hermione, along with Jeremy and Michael. It appeared that Jeremy knew Nott quite well and the group seemed animated, discussing something that had Hermione's hands flying in debate and Harry's head cocked to the side with interest.
He frowned. Malfoy had left with his father earlier to the Ministry party; he had gone protesting, claiming he preferred to stay with friends his own age but Lucius Malfoy had been insistent. He wasn't sure why Nott and Zabini had been allowed to stay since the Malfoys were hosting them but as Narcissa remained in the tent, he guessed protocol was satisfied. Neville pursed his lips. He and Ron had both noticed the Slytherins manoeuvring during the discussion of the Quidditch match. Both Nott and Malfoy had clearly decided to build a closer relationship with Harry – presumably not for Harry's benefit but their own.
Protectiveness welled up in Neville.
Harry was far too trusting and forgiving. Neville knew he himself had a problem with wanting to please people – especially his Gran – but his gratitude that some people wanted to be his friend was tempered by his Gran's lessons on the wizarding world and their various alliances. In fact Harry was the only person he believed had no ulterior motive in befriending him beyond wanting a friend himself, and that pleased him enormously.
He certainly knew Nott and Malfoy however would never approach a Longbottom or a Potter without ulterior motive. Harry though hadn't been raised to think of the possible alliance motivations first. Sirius was browbeating it into Harry but there were times during their politics lessons when he would have to question Harry at length before Harry would see how a discussion at a dinner with an ally wasn't just idle chatter but a testing of Harry's agenda.
Neville understood to some degree Harry shying away from viewing every interaction with suspicion, questioning every comment and monitoring himself to the nth degree. It was the core Slytherin behaviours that as Gryffindors they were meant to abhor. But politically it was behaviours they needed as Lords and Heads of Houses. Sirius for all he disliked his family had been raised as a Slytherin and was embracing that in order to protect Harry. Neville understood Harry was going to have to be more Slytherin if he was going to swim in the snake infested waters of the wizarding political world. Neville even thought Harry understood that just…Harry didn't want to act like a Slytherin.
Well, that was OK, Neville mused. He would act like a Slytherin; it didn't bother him. In fact he'd rather enjoyed the politics they'd been immersed in during the Summer. Harry could be Harry and Neville would deal with the politics within their alliance.
Which meant that Neville was going to have to deal with Malfoy and Nott.
He wasn't cowed by the idea as he might have been a few months before, but he wasn't looking forward to it either.
"Theo isn't so bad." Zabini said softly.
Neville's head snapped to him in alarm.
"You've been glaring at him for over a minute." Zabini pointed out as his wand sketched a privacy bubble around them – the underage tracking charm wouldn't be able to tell since they were surrounded by adults. "It wasn't really that hard to work out."
Obviously being Slytherin wasn't just a question of attitude, Neville thought sheepishly. He was being far too Gryffindor in his behaviour and body language.
"You've realised Nott and Malfoy have understood the power Potter wields now and are repositioning themselves." Zabini supplied. He raised his bottle. "You're worried because Potter is politically naïve. Lord Black is trying to correct that but he cannot undo the years where Potter was kept unaware of his heritage and his position in a single Summer."
"I wouldn't call Harry naïve so much as wanting to think the best of people," Neville said firmly.
"How very Dumbledore-ish." Zabini's smile took away the sting of the job. "So you've appointed yourself his protector?"
Neville's chin went up. "We stand together." There was a warning note in his voice for Zabini not to question him on his loyalty to Harry.
Zabini nodded slowly. "Theo's politics are closer to Potter's agenda than his father's. The only area of major disagreement is equality for muggleborns – Theo would rather keep the political power with pureblood or at least old magical families. My guess is that when Theo becomes Lord Nott, he will seek an alliance of mutual aid and support not a détente, and he will seek it directly with Potter not with the House of Black."
"I see." Neville murmured.
And he did see. He saw why Nott had evidently cultivated relationships with Jeremy Branstone and Michael Corner, and why he looked relaxed talking to Harry. He didn't have to watch what he said because he agreed with Harry's views. That agreement would help him forge a bond with Harry – a closer one than Malfoy who remained entrenched in his father's political view despite the fact that they had to comply with the House of Black's primacy.
"What about you?" asked Neville.
"Our political agenda is close enough to Potter's for the differences not to matter." Zabini said with a shrug. "Mother was simply holding out on the alliance because she hoped to convince Lord Black of the advantages of a marriage including giving Potter a maternal figure." He snorted a little in derision.
"Your Mother has Veela blood." Neville commented hesitantly.
"Yeah, she constantly seeks her," Blaise lifted his hands and mimed quotation marks, "'true mate.' Obviously it's a load of bollocks because that kind of thing is the invention of romance writers, but that's why she's been married so much."
"An arrangement." Blaise changed position. "But she's not a murderer no matter what they say though." He claimed defensively. "Father died of a rare genetic heart condition. Donald, her next husband, didn't actually die, they divorced when they realised his resisting her allure wasn't because he was powerful but because he was gay; he's living in the States with a guy called Bob now. Don's pretty great really – still sends me birthday and Yule gifts. Gunther was just dull and drank a lot. I'm pretty sure he died of boredom even if the official report said liver failure."
Neville remained silent not sure what to say.
Blaise shook his head. "Anyway, mostly Mother's romances don't bother me. I lived with my Great-Aunt Josephine, my grandfather's sister, until Hogwarts as she had the regency. She died the Summer after our first year which is when my Mother took over. I inherited Great-Aunt Jo's house so I stay there mostly."
"I'm sorry about your Great-Aunt." Neville said softly, knowing the condolences were a poor substitute for a woman who Blaise spoke about with fondness and who obviously had been the parental figure in Blaise's life.
"Thanks." Blaise sighed heavily.
Neville decided to change the subject a little. "So are you a Veela?"
"No, only daughters of the blood can be called Veela." Blaise said with a laugh.
"Sorry, I don't know much about them." Neville explained with chagrin.
Blaise nodded. "They're like all magical creatures, secretive about their own ways. What I do know is that pure Veelas can reproduce asexually but most mate with wizards now. Sons are rare and generally have a resistance to the allure but no other Veela characteristics; daughters are considered Veela regardless of how many traits they actually retain." He took a sip of his butterbeer. "Mother wanted a daughter."
Neville swallowed the urge to say 'sorry' but what could he say? He knew something about being a disappointment for something outside of his control after all – before the Summer his Gran had practically mentioned in every sentence that Neville failed to match up to his father.
He opened his mouth to say something – anything but before he could a loud boom echoed outside the tent and the ground shook hard beneath their feet sending some of the glassware and bottles crashing to the ground.
Zabini dispelled the privacy bubble and they immediately made their way to Harry. Sirius had already reached him and gave a nod to Neville and Zabini.
"You don't think that's…" Harry began.
Sirius shook his head. "I'm not sure…"
A wolf patronus appeared – a message from Remus. "Sirius! There's been an explosion at the stadium and the stadium is on fire! The Aurors are trying to contain it but need help! Send as many able bodied men and women as you can!"
Sirius turned toward Harry and Harry immediately motioned for him to leave. "Go and help! We'll be fine!"
"Portkey out if there's any sign of trouble otherwise stay here!" Sirius ordered. "Bill…"
"I'll remain with him." Bill confirmed.
"Listen up! The stadium is on fire! Anyone who wishes to help, come with me!" Sirius shouted, already moving towards the tent opening.
Most of the adults hurried after Sirius with only Wallace Granger and a few of the women were left behind with Bill. There was a rising sense of hysteria in the tent as everyone started talking over each other.
His Gran set off her wand to make a small bang. "Dear Merlin! Get a hold of yourselves!"
"But what do we do?" Celia Inglebee clutched Lydia – who was crying for some inexplicable reason – and looked at Harry.
Everyone looked at Harry.
Harry shot a nervous look at Neville's Gran who nodded at him encouragingly.
"We don't really know what's happening except that there's a fire." Harry began, and his voice which had started out unsteady gained more confidence with every word. "I suggest everyone gathers in the centre of the tent, young children in the middle, anyone capable of defending themselves placed around them. And…and anyone with a portkey should identify themselves and agree who they'll take if we need to leave urgently."
"Good plan, Harry." Narcissa said.
"Right, you heard Harry," Neville said authoritatively, knowing Harry needed support which they had vowed to give him, "Heirs start organising seating in the centre of the tent and a play area for the youngsters. Portkey people to Harry!"
He gave Harry a confident look and went to start rearranging the tent. Susan and Hannah immediately moved to help him as did Jeremy and Michael. Hermione dragged Ron into the centre to move some chairs and smiled at Neville. Neville felt a frisson of pride that they'd all followed him
He glanced back at Harry, quietly directing those with portkeys to strategic points with Bill's assistance, and felt a surge of confidence; of satisfaction in his choice to stand beside Harry. He just hoped the fire at the stadium had nothing to do with Harry's death threats…
"What is going on here?" Amelia shouted over the panicking crowd in the stadium's reception room.
Remus managed to wriggle close enough to her position to answer without yelling. "The portkeys aren't working."
Amelia sighed heavily. "Where the hell is Crouch or Bagman?"
"I haven't seen Bagman at all." Remus said. "Crouch left as soon as the match was over. He said he was feeling sick."
"So basically the two people in charge of this mess are AWOL?" Amelia rubbed her head.
Cornelius popped up beside them suddenly. "Amelia! Thank goodness you're here! Something's wonky with our portkeys and the stadium is on fire!"
"Yes," Amelia said dryly, "I had worked that out for myself, Cornelius." She whistled loudly and everyone stopped chattering and turned to look at her. "Auror Dawlish," she motioned at the man standing to her left, "escort everyone out of the emergency exit and to the portkey site outside of the encampment."
Cornelius beamed at her. "An excellent suggestion! Lead on, Dawlish!"
Dawlish nodded at his partner, a wiry looking woman who looked like she was sucking a sour plum, and the two of them began herding the VIPs efficiently. It wasn't a surprise to Remus that Cornelius was at Dawlish's elbow as the Auror led the way out.
Bogdan nudged Remus. "Vou are staying?"
"I should," Remus said apologetically, "to help with the fire."
"Tomas will stay with you." Bogdan indicated one of his guards and Remus immediately knew it was Tomas was the werewolf that Bogdan had spoken about earlier.
"Thank you." Remus said.
"You will always be welcome in Bulgaria, Remus." Bogdan stated with a smile. He gave a nod of farewell and let his security force usher him out.
"Pleasure to meet you, Lupin." Kate said with a grin as the Irish Minister followed the Bulgarian's example and left.
Remus turned back to Amelia. "What's happening? Where do you need us?"
"Rufus has set up a command tent," Amelia said, "Sirius and most of the other volunteers have been pressed into fire duty on the North stand."
"I figured." Remus said as they moved out of the way of the flowing crush of people. "Sirius has the training for it at least."
"I think Rufus wants to give him his badge back," Amelia joked, "he's got him leading that group – thankfully because the Auror contingent is struggling to hold the East stand."
Remus nodded. "Tomas and I will join with Sirius then."
"Actually, Remus…" Amelia sighed as she stepped out of the way of a running child, "if the portkeys aren't working then that's another problem we need to solve."
"It's probably an anti-transportation ward." Remus suggested. "I doubt apparition will be possible either."
"Can you track down the source?" Amelia asked.
Remus felt torn. He wanted to help Sirius, or failing that to return to Harry's side because he sensed Sirius wouldn't be happy about leaving Harry even if he'd left him with others that he trusted. But if his skills were needed… "I'm fair."
"I can help." Tomas said. "I am trained Auror."
"Excellent." Amelia said. "Well, if you two can try to find the source of the ward and destroy it; that would be great."
Remus exchanged a look with Tomas and nodded.
They fell into step with the stragglers from the Ministry party and within minutes were outside of the stadium.
Remus cast a look back at the building; at the rising plume of smoke and the flicker of yellow flames licking at the far side of the walls. He shivered.
Tomas started casting the ward detection spell and pointed towards the far side of the camp. "Over there."
Remus conjured a patronus. "Sirius, I've gone to track down an anti-transportation ward. Good luck with the fire." He sent it off and caught up with Tomas. He just hoped Harry would be alright.
Amelia coughed and swiped a hand over her face, pushing her hair back out of her vision. Bloody smoke, she thought tiredly. She directed a set of people away from the stadium and made her way to the Auror Command tent.
Rufus looked up as she entered and gave a small nod.
"Report!" She ordered, coughing again.
Rufus pointed at the blueprints of the stadium. "We've established that the main fire is here at the kitchen, and as you know it's already spread to the East stand above and the North stand. It looks like the magical cooking oil ignited…it's not quite Fiendfyre thank Merlin but it's a bad enough magical fire."
Amelia nodded sharply.
"Shacklebolt reports that the East stand fire is only just being contained and Lord Black's report on the North stand isn't much better. Both have asked for the Magical Fire Unit." Rufus stabbed the blueprints at various points. "They'll be needed here and here to cut off the fire. At the moment everyone is using aguamenti charms but we need a proper Magical Fire Unit."
"I've sent a patronus to Bertie for him to send a Magical Catastrophe team but we've detected an anti-portkey and anti-apparition ward directly over the stadium and campsite so it could be a while before they get here. Lupin and a member of the Bulgarian security detail went to track down the source of the ward and break it." Amelia informed him briskly. "I've got Dawlish and a small contingent evacuating most of the Ministry and the Wizengamot out to the portkey point outside the muggle field."
Rufus grunted. "Explains why we've had complaints that nobody can apparate. I've got Cavendish and Hoskins set up to provide information and guidance; I've sent a few others out to inform the campers to stay where they are but if they wish to leave to do so in an orderly fashion. Keats and his team are on muggle duty. The fire will attract attention."
Amelia nodded again. It looked like all the bases had been covered – no more than she expected from her Head Auror.
"Director, if asked I would have said the fire was an accident but the wards indicate a malicious intent. Is there a chance this is to do with the tip we received about certain activity? A diversion maybe?" Rufus asked.
"Good question," Amelia conceded tiredly, "we should check in with the Rat Squad."
Rufus took out a communication mirror and tapped it. "Wood, report."
"Wood here, sir." Wood's face appeared in the mirror. "All our targets are in sight, sir. Fire was a surprise. They're in discussions. I think they may take advantage."
"Keep on top of them, Wood. They move; so do you – understand?" Rufus barked.
"Yes, sir." Wood confirmed.
"Out." Rufus tapped the mirror again and it went back to normal. "Unconnected then."
Amelia's eyes narrowed at his tone. "What?"
"You remember the fire we had in 'eighty-one in Kopbridge? Almost took out Ogden's?" Rufus asked gruffly.
"Yes, mostly for the fact that I had to listen to everyone bellyaching about the price of Firewhiskey for the next five years." Amelia said dryly.
Rufus huffed but nodded. "The LeStranges set it to draw out Alphonius Ogden so they could murder his wife and child. Classic misdirection."
Amelia's eyes widened. "Harry." She barely got his name out, her throat had closed up. "You think this has something to do with the death threat?"
"Black's left the boy's side for the first time today." Rufus pointed out with succinct blunt logic. "Twilight's upon us. Portkey and apparition are down. Perfect time for an attempt on…"
"Moor! Tyler! With me now!" Amelia shouted, spinning around and heading out of the tent at a clip.
She knew Rufus would send word to Sirius. Damn it. She'd seen Richard with Sirius but her sister-in-law and Susan were in the Potter alliance tent.
Why hadn't they considered it was a ploy earlier? She should have sent Black back to the tent or sent Remus there rather than after the source of the ward.
The communication mirror in her pocket buzzed as she hurried through the maze of tents and dodged people gawking at the smoke and flames at her back. She yanked it out of her pocket without losing stride.
Rufus's visage swam into focus. "Rat Squad have confirmed we have targets in costume on the move."
It never rained but it poured.
"You and the two men with you are the only free pair of hands I have and…" Rufus trailed off unhappily. "It's your decision, Amelia, you outrank me."
How was she supposed to make this decision? Did she rendezvous with the Rat Squad and bring in the Death Eaters they knew were going to commit a crime or did she head to the Potter alliance tent where she had family and loved ones to protect on the off-chance Rufus's gut instinct about an actual assassination attempt was on the money?
Amelia knew there was no choice. She couldn't choose a maybe over a definite. She changed direction.
"Understood. Tell Rat Squad we're on our way to support. Is Black on his way to the tent?"
"I sent a patronus to him but…the fire's gotten worse from the last update I had."
Which meant Sirius might delay leaving until it was safe to do so especially if Rufus hadn't conveyed any urgency in his message (and she knew Rufus probably hadn't – he'd probably simply informed Sirius that they'd surmised a possibility that the fire was a diversion).
She tapped the mirror off and conjured her own patronus. "Go to Harry Potter. Harry, I believe there is a potential imminent and real threat to your life. The Potter alliance should evacuate in an orderly fashion to the portkey site outside of the muggle camping grounds. Now."
She just hoped she'd made the right decision, Amelia thought as she tapped her mirror to ask Rat Squad for their latest coordinates.
And she prayed to Merlin her warning to Harry wasn't necessary.
The atmosphere inside the Potter alliance tent was strange, Harry mused as his eyes drifted over everything again.
Neville had constructed a square ring of chairs in the middle of the tent, two deep. The outer ring was filled with adults and Heirs capable of defensive magic. The inner ring was filled with younger children such as Connor Sapworthy – old enough for a wand but not to actually take part in a fight. The inside of the ring had babies and infants including their mothers, and Wallace and Miriam Granger who as muggles had no magic to assist if there was trouble. Everyone was within touching distance of someone with a portkey; everyone knew who they needed to go with.
Harry, Neville and Hermione had taken positions on the outer ring opposite the door with Augusta and Narcissa beside them. Bill stood on door duty along with Minerva in front of them.
There was a spirit of camaraderie in the tent, an underlying thrill of excitement and drama that offset the worry, fear and anticipation on the surface. And there was worry and fear for loved ones – all the adult men except for Bill and Wallace had disappeared to fight the fire. They'd had one short patronus message from Sirius confirming that they were helping to contain the fire to the stadium and were all OK.
But Harry couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Maybe they should have all portkeyed out as soon as they'd been notified about the stadium fire, Harry mused. If he was a Death Eater he'd use the fire as a distraction even if they hadn't planned it that way – and they couldn't know for certain it wasn't a distraction.
"You alright, mate?" Ron asked, picking up on his unease.
"I just want to know what's happening." Harry admitted.
"We have to be patient, Harry." Hermione remonstrated with him gently. "I'm sure everybody in charge is very busy dealing with the fire. We were lucky to get an update from Sirius. They'll send word when they can."
Harry shrugged, unwilling to argue with her. He let the quiet background chatter distract him. Miriam and Wallace were discussing the muggle Prime Minister with Karen Abbott; Narcissa was exchanging hair colour charms of all things with Felicity Bones; Connor Sapworthy was playing exploding snap with his younger brother; Jeremy was talking with Nott about OWLs; Terry was chatting with Michael about the Quidditch match…
Apart from the fire, it had been a good day, Harry thought idly. The Quidditch match had been brilliant. Seeing the professionals in action had given Harry a good glimpse of the standard he would have to achieve to gain a place on a team. Sure the teams were national and the best of the best but even a lower league team would expect some of the same qualities. Harry knew he had raw talent but he hadn't considered how the Seeker could help the Chasers and the Beaters before rather than simply flying around and catch the Snitch. Some of the plays Ron had pointed out couldn't have worked without Lynch or Krum helping their teams. Maybe the Gryffindor team could try something similar when they were all back at Hogwarts.
A sound outside the tent disturbed his planning and he stood up, aware that Ron and Neville followed his example.
Bill moved to place himself between the visitor and the rest of the tent. Minerva stood off to the side, playing back-up.
The tell-tale flash of red robes as the man entered had Bill lowering his wand although he kept hold of it just in case.
"What can we do for you, Auror?" asked Bill shortly.
"Hollins, isn't it?" Minerva said from her position, as she got a good look at the Auror.
Harry frowned and shifted his weight uncertainly. Why had they sent an Auror? The chatter behind him faded into silence.
"I've got orders to take Lord Potter to the evacuation site." Hollins said tersely.
"Lord Potter has a portkey." Bill countered. "If we're to evacuate…"
"There're wards up." Hollins said.
Bill exchanged an alarmed look with Minerva. "If Harry goes, we should all evacuate."
"My orders are just for Lord Potter." Hollins argued.
"I don't particularly care, Auror Hollins." Minerva said sharply. "If Harry is leaving we all are."
A patronus entered – a small terrier who headed straight for Harry.
"Harry, I believe there is a potential imminent and real threat to your life. The Potter alliance should evacuate in an orderly fashion to the portkey site outside of the muggle camping grounds. Now." Amelia's voice echoed loudly in the tent.
Harry's eyes snapped to the Auror in front of him and he noticed Bill raised his wand. "Why would Amelia send a patronus if she'd already sent you?" He wondered out loud.
The Auror's features twisted sharply into a sneer and suddenly –
He moved, casting one spell towards Harry and another towards Bill.
Harry responded instinctively dropping to his haunches, his wand thrust out in front of him, "Protego!"
The shield snapped into place and the purple coloured curse splashed across it…
"Protego!" Bill yelled even as he dodged the grey spell, diving and rolling, rising to shoot off his own spell. "Harry, get a shield up around everyone!"
Harry immediately cast the duelling shield that protected audiences from stray curses that Professor Flitwick had taught him – it was the only one large enough that he could think of. The silvery dome wobbled a bit as it rose but eventually it snapped into place. It didn't allow anyone inside the shield to help the combatants on the other side, leaving Bill and Minerva exposed at the front of the tent.
Bill dodged another spell and Minerva hurriedly shielded herself against a curse.
He could hear a child wail and someone else sobbing…
Minerva was casting as Bill engaged the rogue Auror in a fierce duel – the spare chairs beside her became animated and ran for the intruder…
Hollins – or whoever he was – used one to shield himself against Bill's latest spell before he cast an incendio and the wooden chairs burst into flames. He sent them back towards Minerva who was caught off guard; she hastily put up a gush of water but the chairs impacted her with a smack and she was sent flying…
"NO!" Harry yelled as he watched Minerva crumple in a heap.
Hermione's hand on his shoulder prevented him from rushing forward. "You have to shield us, Harry!" She reminded him, her voice choked with tears.
Bill seemed to be gaining ground but he'd been hit a few times – cutting hexes that had his arm, leg and cheek bleeding…he cast a chain of spells…
The fake Auror dodged the first two in a strong show of acrobatics, deflected the third and shielded the fourth before he growled and sent back a chain of his own offensive spells…
Bill deflected the first…
He dived to the left to avoid the second…
He shielded the third but it crashed against the shield and sent him backwards…
He slipped and lost his balance…
The fourth impacted him and he dropped to the floor unconscious…
"BILL!" Ron moved to go to him and both Harry and Hermione grabbed him.
"You can't leave the shield!" Hermione shouted.
Harry's heart was pounding as the fake Auror got to his feet and smirked at him.
"You think you're so safe behind your shield?" The man taunted mockingly. "You can't save them all, Potter!" He raised his wand and pointed it at Neville. "Crucio!"
The shield wouldn't stop an Unforgiveable but Neville had nowhere to go!
Before Harry could react, Augusta conjured a slab of rock in front of her grandson. The rock shattered sending chips everywhere and one nicked Neville's forehead despite his hastily flinging his arms up in front of his face.
The Auror snarled and gestured towards Bill. "One Weasley down! Tick-tock, tick-tock." He wagged his finger. "Time's running out for the rest of them!" He laughed and ran out.
For a second, there was silence.
"Drop the bloody shield!" demanded Ron, heatedly.
Harry dropped the shield hastily.
Ron ran to his brother along with Alicia Doge.
Harry glanced across the tent but went to check on Minerva. Narcissa hurried over with him.
"She's breathing." Narcissa said with relief. "She's just knocked out."
Harry swallowed hard. He noticed Jeremy hovering and gestured at him. "Someone needs to go and find a real Auror."
"I'll go." Jeremy agreed instantly.
"I'll go with him," Susan offered, "Uncle Rufus will listen to me because of my Aunt."
Harry nodded and the pair left quickly.
"I'll take care of Minerva, Harry." Narcissa promised, shooing him away.
He went over to Ron who stood over his brother as Alicia's wand worked to save him. "How is he?"
"Bad. Alicia says…says it's really bad." Ron grabbed Harry's arm; his blue eyes wide with horror and fear. "Harry, that maniac said time was running out for the rest of my family! I have to go and check on them! Warn them!"
"Ron, we should wait for the Aurors! They'll check everyone's OK! We can't just run out…it's not safe." Hermione countered.
Harry knew Hermione was right. Following after their attacker to check on the Weasleys was probably what the guy wanted. But he was torn. He didn't want any more of the Weasleys to be hurt and didn't he owe it to Bill and Ron to make sure they were OK?
"Please, Harry!" Ron begged him.
Harry took a look around the tent; most people, surprisingly Nott and Zabini among them, were focused on comforting the younger children; Narcissa and Karen were taking care of Minerva; Alicia was healing Bill; Augusta was handling Neville's cut face…
"OK, Ron," Harry said, beginning to move towards the exit.
"Wait!" ordered Hermione desperately, grabbing hold of his and Ron's arms. "You can't just leave!"
"Either come with us or get out of the way!" Ron snapped. He tore out of her grip and ran out.
Harry gave her an apologetic look, slipped out of her hold, and followed after Ron.
The smell of smoke hit him as he ran out into the fresh air. He wrinkled his nose and charged after Ron, his best friend's signature hair allowing him to track him as they ran through the rows of tents to get to the Weasleys. They dodged around people leaving, people staring at the alight stadium which blazed like a beacon as the sun went down.
Ron stopped abruptly at the outer edge of the campsite and when Harry caught up with him, Ron tugged him towards the trees.
"We can cut through here!" Ron said.
"Ron…" panted Harry, wanting to protest but Ron was already off and running again.
Harry ran. His breaths sounded harshly in his ears; the trees seemed foreboding in the fading light. He raised his hands against the backslap of branches that flew into his face; he leaped over fallen logs and stumps, felt the brush of nettles and blackberry bushes grab at his jeans; felt the wind against his face.
Ron curved to the left and Harry followed him, wand in his hand and almost barrelled into Ron who'd come to a complete stop.
Harry was about to ask why the flash of a spell had him ducking and yanking Ron down and to the side. He peeped over the bush he'd flung them behind and stared in horror at the two figures in black, their faces obscured with white masks, dangling a muggle family in the air…
Sirius swore under his breath as another flame shot out of the stadium wall and sent debris flying towards the team of volunteers.
Bugger, bugger, bugger, thought Sirius madly. Why couldn't the damn fire go out? No matter how much water they threw at it, the fire continued to rage. They needed a Magical Fire Unit and Sirius was furious that there wasn't one on hand. How stupid was Bagman to authorise the building of a stadium without ensuring fire safety? The man was an idiot.
An idiot who would be fired if Sirius got his way.
"Send more water over the top!" Sirius ordered. He shook off his dismay that he was the only one of the volunteers who'd experienced a magical fire before and so had landed himself with being put in charge.
Rufus had pointed out that Sirius was the only one with the proper training – he had been a Hit Wizard and knew the protocols. The Aurors were busy trying to handle the main fire at the East stand and Sirius hadn't been able to refuse.
He should never have left the bloody tent, Sirius sighed as he directed Richard Bones and Carl Branstone to take a step back.
Another small explosion sounded to his left and Sirius yelled for everyone to shield. The stadium wall cracked ominously as the magical fire raced along it, sparking yellow and red flames that danced in Sirius's vision.
"Where the hell is that bloody Fire Unit?" asked Richard wearily. His face was damp with sweat and streaked with soot. Sirius knew he must look the same.
"There are anti-transport wards up." Sirius said shortly. Remus had gone to track down the source and disable them; Sirius missed Remus's stalwart presence beside him. "They should be here soon. Keep the water above the crack in the wall."
Rufus's last patronus had indicated that the stadium fire was probably a diversion for other activities. Sirius knew setting fires had been the LeStranges diversionary tactic during the war. Maybe the Death Eaters had decided to copy or imitate them as a sign of their anger at their former colleagues' deaths.
He hoped to Merlin that the fire hadn't been set by whoever was threatening Harry.
Another frisson of unease and wrongness snaked down his spine.
He wanted to leave.
He wanted to get back to the tent and check on his son. He wanted to have never have left in the first place.
Why had he left? Right, civic duty and the thought that Harry was safe in the tent.
Harry was safe in the tent. Bill was there. Minerva was there. Narcissa was a complete bitch when riled and she was sworn to protect Harry. Harry would be fine.
Harry was safe.
Maybe if he thought it another hundred times, he might start to believe it, Sirius mused irritably.
Richard gestured up at the wall. "It's all going to come down if they don't get here in the next ten…"
Pounding footsteps had them all turning to look behind them and Sirius felt a rush of relief at the sight of the Magical Fire Unit device carried by members of the Magical Catastrophe team at the DOM.
A large blond man approached him. "Lord Black? I'm Hector Flint. Thanks for your help. We're here to take over."
"All yours!" exclaimed Sirius happily. "We've tried to keep the fire drenched with water from above but…"
"Don't worry," Hector waved him away, "we've got this. You lot should head the infirmary tent and get checked out." He immediately turned to his team and started shouting orders.
Charming, Sirius thought momentarily amused but he was too happy for the curtness to bother him and in truth he'd rather Hector focus on the fire than the niceties of social interaction.
He took a couple of steps back, lowering his wand.
Richard grinned at him and gestured towards a green tent that had been erected a safe distance away; a make-shift infirmary. Sirius wanted to head straight back to the Potter alliance tent but he felt a responsibility to the men he had led to ensure they got examined for cuts, abrasions and smoke damage.
"Sirius!" Andromeda leaped at him as he entered and he accepted a quick hug as she ushered him and the rest of the volunteers through to an examination area. She and Ted had been visiting his partner at the healing clinic when the fire had broken out and they'd all made their way to the infirmary tent to volunteer their services.
Ted was conferring with another Healer over a young boy but he looked up and nodded at their arrival.
"The poor thing got trampled on by his older cousins when they cleared the tents closest to the East stand." Andromeda informed Sirius in a quiet voice. "I heard you were containing the North stand. Is Harry back at the tent?"
"Bill stayed back to guard him." Sirius confirmed. He plucked at his damp soot-marked shirt. "I'd like to get back there as soon as possible."
"Understandable." Andromeda said. "I'll get someone to come and see you. In the meantime, you can all drink some water and clean-up through there."
The porta-bathroom was a welcome sight. The band of volunteers made quick use of the facilities and the chance to wash the worst of the sweat and grime of the fire away. Sirius was the first out. He had made minimal use of the bathroom, simply wanting to get back to Harry.
Ted was waiting for him when he exited. He was pushed to sit on a bed. "Everyone owes you and the men who helped a huge thank you." He said as he began the diagnostic.
Sirius shrugged. "We wouldn't have been needed if Bagman had actually followed the fire regulations for a stadium."
Ted sighed. "You should see the state of the infirmary stores! It's like he hoped nobody would have anything worse than a paper cut!"
Sirius nodded, impatient.
"You're fine," Ted said, "some smoke inhalation so here."
He handed him a potion which Sirius drank down with a grimace. The vague tightness in his chest and the slight rawness at the back of his throat disappeared and Sirius found he could breathe easier.
"Thanks." Sirius jumped off the bed, eager to get back to Harry. He hadn't taken a step when Jeremy burst through the tent opening and into the examination area, followed by a worried looking Susan Bones.
"Lord Black!" Jeremy sketched a bow and waved frantically towards the exit. "Thank Merlin we've found you! There's been an attack!"
Sirius's heart leaped into his throat. "Harry?"
"He's OK but Bill Weasley and Professor McGonagall are hurt." Susan confirmed, breathlessly.
"Are you alright, Susan?" Richard hurried to her, pulling her into a hug.
"I'm fine; Harry protected us all with a shield." Susan said clearly awed.
Ted was already packing up a bag, calling to other Healers to come with him to an emergency, and he shooed Sirius away. "Go!" he said. "We'll be right behind you!"
"I'll alert Rufus and get some Aurors out!" Richard confirmed.
Sirius didn't need any further encouragement. He raced out of the entrance and within a few strides had changed into Padfoot; his animagus form could make better time. The Grim also had the advantage of sending people stumbling out of his path shrieking in fear, leaving the way clear.
He raced through the rows to get to the Potter alliance tent, skidding around corners and almost tripping up one Irish supporter who came out of his tent at the wrong time.
He entered the Potter alliance tent at a run and changed back at the scene of mild chaos; most of the children had been gathered into the centre of a ring of chairs and were being comforted; Bill Weasley was on the floor to the side, Alicia healing him with help from a couple of others but she looked tired and pale. Minerva sat on a chair to the other side of the room, with Augusta and the Grangers tending to her. He couldn't see Harry and his panic began to rise.
"Sirius!" Minerva greeted him with relief, although she continued to hold a compress to her head. "Thank Merlin!"
"Where's Harry?" asked Sirius immediately.
Augusta and Minerva exchanged an anxious look, silently conferring.
"Someone pretending to be an Auror entered the tent and tried to insist on evacuating only Harry," Minerva began, hurrying her words out, "we refused to let him, of course, and he attacked. Harry shielded everyone but myself and Bill who were engaged with the imposter. Unfortunately I was taken out quickly…"
Sirius gestured for them to get to the point.
"Bill was good but whoever it was that attacked was better." Augusta said, picking up the account. "Once Bill was down, the bastard tried for Neville before saying that the rest of the Weasleys were running out of time before departing."
"Ronald was very upset and insisted on leaving to check on his family," Miriam joined in smoothly, "he requested Harry's presence and Harry followed him out of the tent despite Hermione's advice for them both to remain."
Harry was out of the tent and alone without protection.
With Death Eaters around the place looking for a vulnerable target! And the guy who'd attacked them loose!
Sirius was going to kill him.
Well, firstly, he was going to hug the dickens out of him and then he was going to kill him.
"Hermione followed after the pair of them." Wallace added with a huff.
"And Neville went with her!" Augusta's expression gave away that she was torn between horror and pride.
"They're on their way to the Weasleys' tent?" checked Sirius, trying to keep calm as his worry escalated again.
The women nodded although Minerva winced as she did.
Sirius turned around and before he'd reached the exit, he'd changed back to Padfoot and was running. He almost barrelled into Ted and two more Healers on their way in but paid them no attention.
He had to get to Harry.
Remus pushed a branch out of the way and directed Tomas to the left as he tried to ignore the sounds of the campsite behind them. The thick black smoke was hanging like a cloud over the area; the fire creating an artificial light as the sun went down and night fell.
He couldn't help worrying about Harry. Was he OK in the tent? Had he evacuated?
He couldn't help worrying about Sirius. Was he OK dealing with the fire? Had he managed to get back to Harry?
"You are concerned for your pack." Tomas said breaking the silence.
"I am," replied Remus without thinking, "I should never have left them."
"Then you admit they are your pack?" Tomas said with surprise.
Remus considered the question and shrugged. "I've never denied it."
"Yet you eschew the packs on the Continent." Tomas commented.
His words brought Remus to a suspicious halt. "Excuse me?"
Tomas turned to look at him. His dark hair had streaks of silver and his swarthy face was covered in minor scars from the lycanthropy. He shrugged apologetically. "We are a close bunch and that a werewolf was allowed to attend Hogwarts is something of a story in our society. Many of us have wished to meet you yet all of us know the only time you sought our company was to spy."
"It's not something I'm particularly proud of in hindsight," Remus said with sincere regret, "I spied because it was asked of me and I owed Albus Dumbledore a debt."
"And not because you wished revenge on your sire."
"My only sire was Marcus Lupin. Greyback was nothing more than the monster who bit me." Remus answered sharply.
"If you consider your sire a monster, it is not surprising you consider the rest of us as such." Tomas said. "And yourself."
"We are monsters under a full moon and in the control of the wolf." Remus retorted. "But Greyback would be a monster even if he wasn't a werewolf."
"That perhaps we can agree upon." Tomas said.
"Then perhaps we should continue with our mission." Remus said tartly.
"We are close." Tomas said as he cast the detection spell again.
"Yes." Remus nodded.
"Perhaps we should disillusion ourselves in case someone is protecting the source." Tomas suggested.
Remus nodded again. It was a good suggestion. A couple of spells later and their footsteps were obscured too allowing them to move stealthily through the undergrowth.
Tomas sniffed the air suddenly and reached out towards where he must have assumed Remus was walking. He cast a privacy bubble. "I smell something ahead. Vermin."
Remus scented the air…and growled. "Wormtail."
"Wait!" Tomas said.
But Remus was already moving, slowly and steadily he crept forward. It wasn't long before he could see the rat. It was guarding a rock, rune marks covering its rough surface.
The rat froze suddenly; its ears twitching. It suddenly shifted and a wizard stood there in its stead.
It was all Remus could do not to move; to give into the urge to jump at Peter and try to strangle him with his bare hands. He raised his wand carefully. One spell…one spell to take revenge for all Peter had perpetrated on them; the deaths of James and Lily; the loss of a happy childhood for Harry; the years that Sirius had spent in Azkaban…
Peter wrinkled his nose. "I know you're there, Moony, I can smell you…you and another wolf." His eyes darted about the forest. "It's too late. He's already gone for Harry and he'll get him."
Who had gone for Harry?! Remus froze, horrified. Had Voldemort gone for Harry? The urge to run back to the camp and see for himself was almost too much.
No, he thought furiously, that's what Peter wants, to chase me away and leave him alone.
"You and Sirius can't save him," Peter continued snidely, "the Dark Lord wants him and he does what the Dark Lord wants. Save yourself!"
Like Peter had done. Because that was all Peter wanted; to survive.
Coward, thought Remus. He sent a silent stunning spell towards his former friend but as the red light arced across the space between them Peter squeaked and immediately shrank back into the rat, scurrying away into the undergrowth.
"Buggeration!" Remus swore.
"I will go after him!" Tomas said. "You deal with the ward stone!"
Remus nodded absently and made for the rock that Peter had abandoned. He cast a number of charms on it before he deemed it destroy without further ado, obliterating it into small pieces.
He reversed the disillusion spell to reveal himself as Tomas ran back towards him. "The rat?"
Tomas shook his head. "He apparated as soon as he heard the rock explode. I tried to stun him but he got away."
Bugger. At least, the anti-transportation ward was down for everyone, Remus mused as he turned and started to run for the campsite, Tomas at his heels. He only hoped it was enough to save Harry.
Where the hell were the Aurors, Harry thought frantically as he stared at the tableau of the Death Eaters torturing the muggles.
Dealing with the fire, a voice in his head responded firmly. Harry's jaw set and he sprang out of the bush and levelled his wand.
"Harry…" Ron gasped but immediately got to his feet, pointing his own wand at the pair.
"Put them down!" Harry shouted.
The Death Eaters turned towards them and Harry pushed Ron out of the way of a curse as another screamed towards him. He shielded quickly and dived to the side, casting a wide-spread cushioning charm on the ground as the muggles were released, screaming.
One Death Eater advanced on him, threateningly…
"Stupefy!" Harry yelled. A burst of red shot out of his wand, travelling across the clearing with speed and impacting the surprised Death Eater who hadn't even moved out of the way.
"You brat!" The other Death Eater hollered. "Reducto!"
Harry threw himself backwards and the spell hit a tree. It groaned and swayed. Harry rolled out of the way.
Ron got to his feet and tried to stun the Death Eater but had to quickly dodge another reducto curse himself.
A red beam suddenly came out of nowhere and the Death Eater went down.
Harry gave a relieved sigh as he recognised Wood from the Rat Squad and Oliver's cousin run into the clearing with Chambers.
"Chambers, bind the pair of them!" He made his way over to Harry and helped him to his feet. "What are you doing out here, Harry?"
"Someone attacked the Potter alliance tent! They threatened the Weasleys – we're on our way to check on them!" Harry said. "Can you contact someone and let them know?"
"Harry, you should stay here with me and Chambers!" Wood said. "The rest of the Squad are dealing with the others but I can call Bones and…"
"No time!" Ron barked. "Come on, Harry!" He was off running again.
Harry gave Wood an apologetic shrug but he was already moving after Ron, following him out of the trees and stumbling into a bright yellow tent that had been on the same row as the Weasleys. He searched immediately for the purple and pink colours and his heart froze at the sight of smoke…
"Merlin! It's on fire!" Ron exclaimed fearfully.
"Come on!" Harry grabbed his arm and helped Ron push through the gaggle of people who were crowded around the Weasleys smoking tent but not actually doing anything.
Harry finally got them through to the front with a judicious use of elbows. Just across on the other side of the crowd Hermione and Neville stumbled to the front just as Ron and Harry did.
"You followed us?" Harry asked surprised as Neville bent double trying to catch his breath.
"As if I'd let you and Ron run off into trouble without me." Hermione retorted. "Oh God, it's on fire! Does anyone know if they're in there?"
"I heard voices about ten minutes ago." An old woman confirmed behind Hermione. Others clamoured to add their agreement.
"Then what are you DOING?" Ron shouted. "MY FAMILY ARE IN THERE AND YOU'RE ALL STANDING AROUND LIKE NUMPTIES!" He made a dive towards the tent and bounced off a ward. He was thrown back and skidded across the dusty grass.
"That young man is why we've sent for the Aurors!" The old woman berated him.
"A lock down ward! It was used in the last war, Harry, and prevented the people inside from escaping and the people outside from helping!" Hermione said breathlessly. "Harry, you could overpower it with a reducto!"
"Don't you think we've tried!" A dark haired man snapped in an Irish accent.
Harry raised his wand. "Everyone stand back!" He warned as he pointed it at the Weasleys' tent. "REDUCTO!"
He made no effort to dial his power back and the stream of light half-blinded those at the front of the crowd; Hermione and Neville knew to cover their eyes.
The spell crashed into the ward and for a second the bright green colour of it was visible before it evaporated.
Ron hurled himself toward the tent. "DAD!"
Hermione caught hold of Harry as he went to follow, her wand casting around his head. A perfectly formed Bubble Head charm appeared and he nodded his thanks to her before entering the tent. The visibility was awful.
Thick grey smoke hovered over the space and Harry was grateful for the Bubble Head as he found Ron already incapacitated, coughing into his arm.
Neville appeared beside him with another Bubble Head around him and pointed at something moving in the corner.
"ARTHUR!" Harry called out. He raced over with Ron, trailing behind him.
Arthur was lying unconscious on the floor, glasses askew. He was curled up around Ginny who was conscious and crying into a damp tea towel which was wrapped around her face.
"Ron, get your Dad out! Neville, help him!" Harry ordered, knowing it would take the two of them to carry Arthur; both were taller and had more muscle mass than he did otherwise he would have been tempted to have asked Neville to rescue Ginny. He stooped and picked her up awkwardly. She held onto him tightly as he carried her out of the tent and into the open air.
He set her down, gently on the grass. "Ginny, who else is in the tent?"
"Charlie!" Ginny croaked out. "He was going to try to see if we could get through the back of the tent!"
Harry checked that Arthur was received healing and gently extracted himself from Ginny's grip to go back into the tent.
Hermione was looking after Ron who had collapsed coughing, his eyes streaming.
It was Neville who fell into step beside Harry as they made their way back through the dense fog of smoke. They headed into the back bedrooms and found Charlie passed out in the second one. It looked like he'd been thrown backwards because of the ward and hit his head; there was a bloody wound.
Neville grasped his legs and Harry took his shoulders. He wished Charlie wasn't quite so burly as they lugged his body through the tent. By the time they'd gotten outside, Harry's arms ached with the strain. They placed him down on the ground less than gently but it was that or drop him. The Bubble Head charm collapsed and Harry was assaulted once again with the stench of smoke.
The twins' voices sounded in unison as they pushed their way to the front of the crowd. Fred and George stumbled towards their family, their freckled faces pale.
"Some tosspot decided to try and kill us!" Ron snapped before being overcome with a wave of coughing.
Harry stepped back as people came forward from the crowd to heal Charlie. Fred and George gathered around Ginny as Ron hovered by his still unconscious father. He glanced toward the treeline and saw a flash of red through the dark silhouettes.
The fake Auror!
Anger stole his breath.
His mind filled with one thought: to catch the bastard!
Harry ran into the trees after the guy. He was filled with rage, his heart almost bursting with it.
How could someone try and hurt the Weasleys?!
Try to torture Neville?!
He crashed through a bush and almost got hit with a stream of yellow light. Harry flung himself to the ground, rolled and came up swinging.
He snapped off a reducto towards the red robed figure who laughed and dodged it – a tree shattered into splinters on the other side.
"Good but not good enough!" A purple curse shot towards him…
Harry dived forward again – and lost his glasses.
"Confrigo!" The guy yelled.
Harry bolted out of the way as the blasting curse hit the ground where he had just been sending up a shower of dirt and grass that obscured his view even more.
A second later he was hit with a cutting hex, his upper left arm slicing open and bleeding freely.
He sent a banishing charm toward the blur of red he could see and was pleased when the figure got tossed backwards.
He used the moment to get to his feet and try to get his bearings but a sudden stream of spells shot in his direction and he found himself back on the defensive, shielding desperately against a barrage of offensive curses.
"You want to play! Let's play!"
Harry dodged another spell as his shield broke apart.
"Hey! Stupefy!" Neville shouted. His spell went way wide of the target but did what Neville had wanted – it diverted attention from Harry.
"A Longbottom to play with!" The man taunted with a laugh. "How wonderful!"
A spell shot over in Neville's direction and Harry scrambled to his feet as Neville tried to evade and fell.
"There's no Grandmother to help you now!" The blur shouted. "Crucio!"
The light sped across the clearing and Harry knew he would never reach Neville in time to save him…
"Familius magicus protectus!" Harry called out furiously, raising his ring hand in Neville's direction – hoping beyond hope that the family magic could stop the Unforgiveable.
Magic rushed through Harry and it was like getting caught in a flood of warmth and power and rage…
A stream of gold shot out of his hand, arched through the air becoming the Longbottom bear…
It roared loud enough that Harry fell back on his bottom, shocked as the bear collided with the Crucio and swallowed it!
The bear landed and roared again…rearing up on its hinds paws, almost as tall as the trees.
The guy snarled a word Harry couldn't make out and disappeared. Portkey, Harry thought absently; there must have been a portkey.
Neville got to his feet and Harry staggered to his. The bear lowered itself to the ground and ambled back to them. Harry nodded an acknowledgement at the large gold beast which bumped its head into Harry as though asking for petting, stunned that it had responded to his call.
It gave a grunt, nudged Neville and disappeared.
Neville slapped Harry's shoulder and Harry winced as it jarred his injured arm.
"Gran's going to be furious," Neville said, conversationally, "that completely beat her rock thing hands down."
Harry stared in shock at Neville for a moment before be burst into giggles, within seconds the two of them were laughing slightly hysterically. Harry swiped at his eyes as the laughter started to shift to relieved tears.
"Accio glasses!" Harry caught the gold-frames as they zipped to him. He really needed to find a way to keep them on his face. "We should head back." He said putting them on, worried about the Weasleys.
A black Grim suddenly burst through the undergrowth and transformed into Sirius.
It wasn't even a conscious decision.
Harry launched himself into Sirius's arms. Sirius caught him, hauling him into a tight hug. Harry didn't notice as Remus arrived a moment later to sling an arm around Neville.
Harry clung onto Sirius, burying his face in Sirius's damp and smoke-scented shirt.
Everything was going to be OK.