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The Battle of the Pitch by theelderwand
Chapter 6 : The Battle of the Pitch
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 18


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“You’re not Death,” Harry spat.  “You’re an hallucination.”  The words had hardly left his mouth when his left arm went limp.

AM I, NOW?

“The Hallows aren’t Death’s tools.”  Harry felt his right arm begin to go numb.

THAT’S WHAT YOU TOLD RON TWO YEARS AGO AT CALAIS.  I HEARD YOU.  IT DEFINITELY GOT MY ATTENTION.  PERHAPS THIS WILL GET YOURS.

There was a faint shimmer.  Harry saw a ghostly form clad in a black cloak, a sharpened scythe and the vague outline of skeletal features.  Then it was gone.  

“Sweet Merlin.”

I’VE COME TO COLLECT YOU IN PERSON, HARRY.  YOU’VE CHEATED ME TOO MANY TIMES.  YOU WON’T CHEAT ME AGAIN.

“I’ve never feared you,” Harry rasped.  “But, I’ve got reasons to stay.  Just like at King’s Cross.”
 
THIS ISN’T KING’S CROSS.
 
As the certainty began to grip him, the Tale of the Three Brothers flashed through Harry’s mind.  The Cloak! Ignotus Peverll used it to hide from Death!  Frantically, Harry tried to force his rapidly numbing fingers to pull the Invisibility Cloak from one of the pockets in his armor.  He nearly had it free when he lost his balance and crashed to the ground from the stone wall.  Then, the last feeling fled from his right arm.

FIGURED IT OUT TOO LATE, HARRY.

“I’m sorry, Gin…We’ve run out…”

********

“…of time.  For Merlin’s sake, Harry.  We’re gonna miss the Portkey!”  Ron shouted across their table at the Auror’s Office.

“I’m coming, already!”  The Harpies didn’t play Appleby last season, so Harry and Ron hadn’t been there before.  They’d travel by Portkey this time and then be able to Apparate there in the future.  “Should’ve just gotten a picture of the bloody Pitch,” Harry muttered.

“Why in the name of Merlin’s rubber stamp did you have to come in to sign this tripe on a Saturday?”  Ron spat as he glared at his partner.

“I wanted to see these reports,” Harry said, defensively.

“You’re getting worse than Hermione.  And I’m not thrilled being separated from her.  So, let’s go!”

“She’s surrounded by your whole family at Appleby, mate.  So’s Ginny.  The squads are in place.  Not as good as Aurors, but no need for a team with us there.  And…I’m finished.”  Harry set down his quill with a satisfied flick.

“A miracle.”  Ron rolled his eyes as he made for the door.

Harry came around the table; then he hesitated.  “Still…Maybe I should pull one of the teams in for security…”

Ron turned to his best mate.  “No need.  They’re only a Patronus away.  Like you said, we’ll be there.  That is, if we ever leave the bloody Ministry!”

“All right, all right.  Don’t go spare.  Let’s go.”

The two Aurors, dressed in shorts and Harpies’ jerseys – part of Ron’s deal with Ginny was that he wouldn’t wear his Chudley Cannons jersey to her matches- made their way through the relatively empty Ministry to the Atrium.  

“Besides, I wanna get something to eat before the match starts,” Ron added.

“No surprise, there.”  Harry smiled.

Ron shot a sideways glance at his partner.  “They’ve got Souvlaki.”

That got Harry’s attention.  “Greek Food Day?”

“Yes,” the tall redhead said with a sly grin.

“Why didn’t you say so before?” Harry demanded.

“Because you were being a git.  Now, are you hungry or not?”

“Ever since I moved in with the Dursley’s.”

They disappeared in a whoosh of green flame and reappeared instantly at the Burrow.

Ron looked around the sitting room.  “Portkey, Portkey, where’s the bloody Portkey?  They said they were leaving it…”

“Here, mate!”  Harry grabbed a Muggle coffee tin off an end table, holding it out to Ron.  “Ready?”

Ron nodded and checked his watch.  “Three, two, one.”

They both felt a strong pull behind their navels.  In a flash they were falling, gently toward Appleby.  Their landing was soft.  

“That was a lot better than the trip to the World Cup,” Ron said.

“Yeah.”  World Cup…Harry tried to banish the dark thoughts that night conjured as they made their way through the crowds toward the entrance.  All the while, the duo tried to ignore the stares and pointing that had become commonplace anytime they went out in public.  The only thing that had changed about Harry’s fame in the past two years was that he now shared the spotlight with Hermione, Ron and Ginny. “What’s the Harpies’ publicist’s name again?”

Ron frowned.  “The git that’s supposed to take us to the box?  Rupert something…”

Harry could never remember the man’s name.  “Gingerbread?  He’s supposed to meet us here.”  The duo had stopped just outside the main gate.

“Gingerly,” a pinched voice snorted from behind them.

With reflexes honed to a razor’s edge, Harry and Ron both wheeled on the diminutive publicist, wands out.

“Easy, gentleman!” Gingerly squeaked in a panic.  Slowly, Ron and Harry lowered their wands.

“Don’t.  Do.  That. Again.” Ron’s tone was arctic.

Harry took a breath.  “Sorry, Gingerly.  Uh, our seats?”

Clearly shaken, the publicist could only manage a meek, “This way.”  Without uttering another word, he led them through the gates into the stands.  

The Arrows’ Pitch wasn’t nearly as large as the monstrous stadium that hosted the World Cup, six years earlier, but it was impressive.  It was at least twice the size of the Pitch at Hogwarts, with only one tower for the announcer and scorekeepers.  In many ways, Harry thought it resembled a Muggle football stadium, except the seating was steeper and the lowest seats were thirty feet above the central circle.

Rupert gave them their ticket stubs.  “You’re in Box 32.  Bottom of the South Ramp.”

“Thanks, Gingerly,” Harry said.

The publicist nodded with a tight-lipped smile as he turned on his heel and left.

Ever vigilant, Harry immediately scanned all four exits.  He was glad to see that there were two red-robed Troopers from the DMLE squads at each one.  Harry made eye contact with one of the them and nodded; the Trooper nodded back.  Good.  Want them on their toes, Harry thought, as he waved the man over.

“Jansen, isn’t it?” Harry asked.

“Yessir,” the Trooper responded.  Aurors, no matter their seniority, always outranked other DMLE operatives.  Although it helped fuel the rivalry between the branches, Harry was grateful for that hierarchy today.

“Two Troopers per exit?”  the de facto Head Auror asked.

“As per your orders, sir,” Jansen replied.

Ron gestured toward the other Trooper standing out of earshot, “Who’s your partner?  Looks familiar.”

Harry was gobsmacked. “It’s Zacharias Smith.”  

“Merlin’s yellow…”

Harry silenced Ron with a firm look before Smith came close enough to hear.  “Zack,” Harry said with a cold nod.

Smith stopped in front of the two Aurors, standing ramrod straight he responded with a grudging, “Sir.”

Ron looked Smith up and down before meeting his eyes with an icy glare.  “My family’s here today.”

“Yessir.”

“I assume you’ll be…staying this time?  At your post, that is,” Ron nearly spat the words out.  Smith had been one of the few members of Dumbledore’s Army who were of age, but didn’t stay to fight at the Battle of Hogwarts.  That wasn’t the kind of behavior that either Ron or Harry would soon forget.

“Those are our orders,” Smith replied, with a sneer.

Harry had been about to call Ron off, but Smith’s answer, and his lack of the appended “sir,” made Harry think twice.  “That wasn’t what he asked you, Trooper.”

Zack hesitated only a split second.  “Yessir.”

Harry eyed Ron, who nodded slightly.  Then the towering redhead turned back to Smith. “Good.  Back to your post.”  With a look to Harry they made their way toward their box seats.

“Once a git, always a git!” Ron hissed to Harry.  “We need more Aurors, mate.”

Harry sighed.  “I know, brother.”

“Harry, dear!”  Molly’s voice rang out.  “Ronnie!  Over here!”  The Weasley Matriarch, seated with Hermione on her left and Audrey Pince on her right, waved to the two Aurors, who smiled and waved back as they made their way to her.

Then Ron’s eyes fell on Audrey.  Ron whispered to Harry, “Percy had her in the pond?”  He was clearly impressed.

“Amazing, isn’t it?  But I’d rather not have to explain to your mum what Gin and I were doing there, so…” Harry shot Ron a pleading look.

“What were you doing there with my sister?” Ron tried to keep a stern look, but it didn’t hold.  Still, for a minute, Harry was worried the over-protective Ron had come back with a vengeance.

“Ponce,” Harry hissed.

“Git,” Ron whispered back.

“Molly!”  Harry shouted as he closed the distance to his surrogate mother, who enveloped both he and Ron in a huge hug.

Arthur clapped the boys on the back. “We were worried you’d miss the first Quaffle.” 

“Not a chance.  Ron knew it was Greek Food Day.”  Harry laughed.

Ron went straight to Hermione, who gave him a chaste kiss on the lips.  She could tell her boyfriend was expecting more as she muttered, “Later, you randy devil.”  She shot him an impish smile.

Molly cleared her throat. “Harry, Ron?  This is Audrey Pince.  Percy’s girlfriend.  She’s just wonderful!”

Audrey blushed.  “Mrs. Weasley, you’re too kind.  Nice to meet you Ron, Harry.”  She couldn’t help but smirk at the raven-haired wizard, who smiled back, with a slight blush of his own.  “Thank you, Harry, for these wonderful seats.”

“My pleasure.”

Greetings exchanged, Ron cast an eye at Percy.  “And here we thought Perce was too wet behind the ears to meet a nice witch.”

Harry and Hermione both elbowed him in the ribs.  Audrey tried to hide a smile as she firmly squeezed Percy’s hand, keeping him from speaking before thinking. Molly cocked an eyebrow at the trio just as Harry changed the subject. “Bill!” he pumped the oldest Weasley sibling’s hand and gave Fleur a hug.  “Victoire settled in with Andromeda?”

“Yes, and you’ve been a bad influence on Teddy.  All he was chattering about was when you took him flying at Percy’s birthday party.” Bill laughed.

“I’ve created another Seeker.” Harry smiled.

“Worse yet.  Now he wants to give Victoire flying lessons,” Bill added.

“And zhe is anxious to start.  Zhe gets zat from me, love,” Fleur said.  “Ze DeLacour’s are expert flyers.”

Harry laughed.  “Sorry about that, Bill.  But it will make the family Quidditch matches more interesting when they get a little older.”

Bill smiled. “I’ll find an appropriate penance for you, mate.”  Then the eldest Weasley sibling shook his head as he looked out over the Pitch.  “Shame Charlie couldn’t get back from Romania.  He would’ve loved this.”

“Where’s George and Angelina?” Ron asked.

“Same place you’re about to go, son.” Arthur reached in his pocket for some Galleons.  “Concession stands.  But they seem to have disappeared.”  Arthur thought it best not to speculate on where his son and his fiancée had gotten off to.  “Bring me three Souvlaki and…Anyone else?”

Everyone in the box rapidly added their orders.

Harry piped in.  “I’ll go too and help him carry the feast.  Arthur, the Butterbeers are on me.  Tea, Molly?”

She nodded.  “Thank you, Harry dear.”

Harry shook his head.  “How did you feed this army all those years?”  

Molly laughed.  “Magic.”

That spurred a round of chuckles just as an old friend came zooming up to the box on his Nimbus 2000 and stopped to hover near the Weasley clan.  “Well this looks like a section that should be rooting loudly for Gryffindor’s former Keeper!”

“Oliver!” Harry shouted as he reached up to shake Oliver Wood’s hand.  “Great to see you.  Under other circumstances, we’d be solidly in your corner.  But things being what they are…”

“So love and family trump loyalty to former housemates?” Oliver laughed.  “I’d expect no less.” 

A wry grin split Bill’s face.  “Tell you what, Oliver.  I sincerely hope you don’t take a bludger to the head today.  Short of that, no love.” 

Oliver smiled as he clapped his old housemate on the back.

“William!” Molly scolded, then she turned back to the Appleby Keeper.  “Oliver dear, I’ll be cheering for you every time it isn’t Ginny’s shot you’re trying to stop.”

Oliver chortled.  “Thanks, Mrs. Weasley.”  Then he turned back to Harry.  His smile seemed to fade. “Just want you to know, if there’s anything I can do to help…” he trailed off, unable to complete the thought.

Harry nodded grimly.  Oliver had been with Colin Creevey when he died at Hogwarts.  It was well known that Wood took the young wizard’s death very hard.  Although Oliver could never bring himself to tell the tale, from what little Neville saw and later told Harry, Greyback and Rowle were to blame.  “I appreciate that.  Don’t worry.  We’ll get them.”

Then Oliver turned to Ron.  “Heard about what happened in the Archives.  No guilt. Rowle got what was coming to him.”  The two former Gryffindor Keepers exchanged somber nods.  Then, slowly, the smile returned to Oliver’s face.  “Enjoy the match.  Great seeing all of you.  Come see me in the winner’s circle after.”  With a wave, he zipped off to the goal posts.

Harry let out a sigh as he watched his old team captain fly across the Pitch.  Then he turned to Arthur.  “Anything else I should bring back from the concession stands?” 

But Arthur had gotten distracted.  The family in the box next to them were Muggleborns who’d brought their Muggle parents.  They were discussing the similarities between Muggle football and Quidditch.  They had Arthur enthralled.

Molly tutted, “He’s been like that ever since we got here.”  Then she turned to her husband. “Arthur!”

His head snapped around. “Yes, dear?”

“Harry asked if you wanted anything else.”

“Oh!  Sorry, Harry.  Fascinating discussion.  I’d forgotten there were so many Muggleborns in Appleby.”

Ron caught only part of what his father was saying.  Wood’s choice of broom had spurred a heated debate between he and Bill over the merits of the Firebolt versus the Nimbus 2000, but something about what Arthur said nagged at him; he turned to the Weasley Patriarch.  “What’s that, Dad?”

“Muggleborns.  Many of them took refuge here during the war.  Most of them ended up staying.  So many, in fact, that apparently there was a very strong Muggle influence on the design of this new Pitch.”

Now Harry knew why it so reminded him of a Muggle stadium.  Ron was about to ask another question of his father when Hermione launched into lecture mode before anyone could stop her.

“It’s a little known fact, but Muggle stadiums and Quidditch Pitches share common architectural roots with the first theatres built in Ancient Greece.  Actually, it was the Ancient Greek Wizard and Architect Kallikrates who’s thought to have built the first…”

Molly interrupted before anyone else could.  “Speaking of Greeks.  Souvlaki, Ronnie?  You do remember Souvlaki?  The match is about to start.”

“Right.  Sorry, Mum.  Harry? We ready?”

“Yeah.  We’ll be right back.”

Ron brushed Hermione’s cheek with a kiss as he and Harry turned to set off for the concession stands.

“Hurry back, love.” Hermione shot Ron a smile.

Ron smiled back as he and Harry left their box, just as Molly said, “Now, Hermione dear, before I interrupted, you were saying something about Kamikazes?”

Hermione stifled her smile.  “Kallikrates,” She respectfully corrected.  “Kamikazes:  that was something I’ve had Ron reading about in Muggle military history.”

“Thought I’d heard that somewhere before.” Molly laughed.

The conversation faded from hearing as Harry and Ron wended their way through the crowds.  Just then, the announcer began to introduce the teams.  

“…and now, in her final season, Harpy Team Captain and lead beater, Gwenog Jones!”

“Bugger, we’re gonna miss the first Quaffle,” Harry said.  But he got no response from Ron.

They queued up at the nearest concession stand; the line was horribly long. 

“This’ll take forever,” Harry muttered. “But I don’t see George or Angelina.  Do you?”  Harry asked as he tried to peer over the crowd surrounding them.

“…in her second season, leading the team in scoring, Ginny Weasley!”

Ron kept looking around, distractedly.  He hadn’t paid any attention to Harry’s question.

“…and, for your Appleby Arrows, all-star Keeper, Oliver Wood!”

As the minutes slipped by and they slowly advanced in the queue, Harry followed the announcer’s deadpan commentary on the current team standings for the playoffs.  “Well, he’s no Luna.  That’s for sure,” Harry joked, shooting a smile at Ron.

Again, Ron was silent.

“Something on your mind, mate?”  Harry asked.

“…And there’s the first Quaffle; we’re underway here at Appleby!  Parton to Weasley, Weasley back to Parton.  Parton dodges a bludger.  That was close!  Parton to Kent.  She fires a shot!  Ohhhh! Wood bats the Quaffle away…”

Ron shook his head.  “Not right.  Something’s not right.”

“What is it?”  Harry’s smile faded.

“…No sign of the snitch, yet…”

“Something Dad said.  Muggleborns…”

Harry realized that while he thought Ron was searching the crowd for George and Angelina, his best mate had actually been looking at all the people wearing Muggle clothes.  Having been raised by Muggles, Harry hadn’t really noticed that very few of those in the crowds surrounding them were wearing robes.  That’s when it hit him that the snippets of conversation he caught sounded less like Diagon Alley and more like Piccadilly Circus.

“Too many Muggleborns here, mate.” Ron’s tone betrayed his growing worry.

“…and Jones blasts a bludger at Sotheby. Ohhh! That had to hurt…”

Harry felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.   “You said the Death Eaters would want crowds, higher casualties…”  

Ron was slowly nodding.  “Muggleborns and Halfbloods…and us.  Oh, Merlin, Harry!”

Before either of them could say another word, they heard a thunderous explosion over the Pitch and the announcer scream out in pain.

Harry’s Patronus left his wand even before the two Aurors began to run back to the stands.  It carried a message to Seamus:  Death Eater attack at the Appleby Match! BRING EVERYONE!

Wand out, Ron tried to turn on the spot and Apparate back to their box, but he was violently thrown to the ground by the force of the spell’s failure.  Harry nearly tripped over him.

“Easy, mate!” Harry helped a shaken Ron to his feet.  “I felt them go up just as we headed back:  Anti-Dissaparation Wards.  Anti-Apparation Wards, too.  No one’s getting in or out; we’re on our own until we eliminate the warder. C’mon!”

“Greyback’s here, Harry.  I know it! I’ve got to get back to her!”  Ron was frantic.   He was sweating in torrents; the adrenaline coursing through his veins made his hands shake as images of Malfoy Manor flew through his mind.

Harry grabbed his best mate’s shoulder, trying to steady him.  “Just…c’mon!!”  It was all Harry could do to stem his own panic.  Gods, Ginny, please be all right!

Then, subtly, he heard her in his mind:

I’m fine, love.  But, they’re everywhere.  Hurry!

Ginny!! How…

No time for that.  Half the Quidditch players were blown out of the sky as soon as the Death Eaters Apparated; they’re killing people in the stands!

Harry heard more explosions and screams.  The crowds had begun to bolt.  It was pure pandemonium as everyone began to run to the exits.  

Harry and Ron sped through the crowds that threatened to drown them; he tried to send a message to Ginny:  Get to Oliver!  Rally what’s left of the teams!  You’ve got your wands?  Stay airborne.  You’re safer there.  Ron’s nearly gone spare.  Is Hermione…

She’s fine.  Keep your mind on the fight, love.

“Ron!” Harry shouted to his best mate.  “Hermione’s fine.  Focus!”

Ron’s head snapped around; his eyes displayed the near-madness that was consuming him.  “How’d you…”

“Ginny told me.  I’ll explain later!”  With all that had happened in the past few days, he and Gin hadn’t had a chance to tell their friends about this latest development with their link.

Just then, the crowd began to surge in the opposite direction.  There were screams and shouts near the exit.  

“What the bloody hell…” Ron peered over the crowd and was aghast at what he saw.

Jansen lay dead in the exit way.  Standing over his body was a grimly sneering Zacharias Smith.  He was firing hexes off at the crowd, keeping them from escaping.  Traitor! The word blazed through Ron’s tortured mind.

Smith’s treachery had caused the masses to shift; a hole opened, briefly, in the crowd.  The way back to the Weasley’s box was open.

“Get to Hermione and your family!  I’ll handle Smith!”  Harry shouted.

In a fury, Ron dashed through the opening to the entrance ramp toward their box; anyone unlucky enough to get in his way was cast aside.  He’d become a redheaded battering ram.

Harry turned on the traitorous Trooper.  “Smith!!”

Even before Zack could bring his wand to bear on Harry, he was lifted off his feet by the Auror’s massive stunning spell.  Shame to keep the bastard alive.  But I want answers.  He bound him with an Incarcerous and levitated him into a closet, sealing the door.

Then Harry spun, frantically trying to find Ron through the utter chaos that surrounded him.  But, it was no use; with the exit open once again, the path Ron had taken to the stands had been choked with panicked Magi stampeding to the gate, trampling the unlucky underfoot.  Harry knew he had to get some order to the exodus or this attack would turn into a true disaster.  And he’d never have any chance of trying to swim up stream toward the entrance to the Weasley’s box seats if the crowd didn’t stop acting like a frantic mob.

He hefted his wand.  A thunderous explosion erupted from the tip.  That, and his fame, finally got the panicked crowd’s attention.  “EVERYONE! SLOW DOWN!”  

Almost instantly, the herd mentality of the surging masses was broken.  They began to orderly funnel toward the now-opened exit.  “CARRY THE INJURED!  WALK FAST, BUT DON’T RUN!”  A sonorous charm helped Harry’s voice carry over the cacophony.

Merlin! They’ve got to clear out.  Ginny…

Here, love.  But, I’m busy.  Keep your mind on the fight, Harry.  Can’t afford to worry about me.

Then Harry felt a surge of panic from his girlfriend.  She’s dodging killing curses in mid-air! It was all Harry could do to keep his own fear and worry from overloading the bond.  Focus, dammit, he cursed to himself.  If she feels what you’re feeling, she’s done for!

Harry tried to steady his breathing.  “CLEAR A PATH!”  Now that the crowd was more pliant, they were taking direction.  A hole opened and Harry darted through it to the ramp that lead back to the Weasleys.  And then he saw…

Death Eaters were everywhere, at least thirty.  Every exit was covered by Troopers that had switched sides, like Zack.  The only working exit was the one Harry had just cleared. 

In the stands was total anarchy.  Only the Weasleys kept any semblance of order, shepherding people to the exit and returning fire with the horde of Death Eaters that was on the Pitch, in the stands and in the boxes.  Overhead, the Dark Mark, not seen in years, screeched its savage cry as Slytherin’s serpent danced out of the skull’s gaping maw.

In the air only three brooms were still flying; the other team members were strewn on the center circle.  Ginny was leading what was left of the flying Magi: Gwenog Jones and Oliver Wood. They covered her flanks as she focused Reducto curses at the red-robed Troopers blocking the exits or swooped in to break up the formations of Death Eaters who tried to blind side the valiantly fighting Weasley clan.  

Harry’s heart skipped a beat as a killing curse sailed, unfettered, through Gwen’s shield.  Ginny just barely dodged it as she struggled to right her broom.  Then Expulso hexes began to slam into Ginny’s Protego.  Once, then twice, she nearly lost her Firebolt, only to dive and right herself once again.  He allowed himself a sigh of relief as he saw she’d dodged the worst of it; then she countered, pummeling a Death Eater with a massive Expulso hex.  Harry knew the flying Magi were causing such trouble for the Death Eaters, the dark wizards would soon be focusing all their fury on his girlfriend.

Satisfied that, for the time being, Ginny was safe he tried to focus on the task in front of him.  He shot off hex and curse, trying to fight his way through the stands toward the turf.  He could hear the massive fight going on there, although he couldn’t see it yet.

A killing curse sailed by Harry’s head as he dodged out of the way.  “Reducto!” he countered, hurling the Dark Wizard who’d attacked him into the air.  Finally, he could see the fight on the center circle.  He was instantly filled with cold, hard fear.

How Ron and Hermione reached the turf and fought their way through the panicked crowds and Death Eaters to get to the foot of the tower was anyone’s guess.  But now, their progress had been halted.   Hermione was standing over Ron, who lay unconscious at her feet.  Directly across from her was a horribly grinning Greyback, flanked by two veteran Death Eaters: Vandeleur and Smythe.  Harry’s stomach lurched as he realized he would never get to her in time.

“Nowhere to run and the blood-traitor can’t save you now,” the werewolf hissed as he loosed a thunderous Reducto at Hermione.

Tears of rage leaking from her eyes, Hermione’s shield was up in a flash.  It flickered under the onslaught.  Then two more Reductos from Vandeleur and Smythe slammed into her Protego. Hermione’s knees buckled with the impacts, but she kept her feet.  

Harry watched desperately as he sped down the stairs to the turf, casting curses at any Death Eaters that made the mistake of crossing his path.  I’m still too far away!  Please…Harry loosed two Expulsos in rapid succession from the top of the stands hoping one of them might connect with the Death Eaters closing on the brown-haired witch and his injured best mate.  The first shot went wide, the second was off its mark, but was close enough to toss Vandeleur flat.  

Smythe hefted his wand as Harry looked on, helplessly.  Then a bludger nearly flattened the dark wizard.  Overhead, a savagely grinning Gwenog Jones hefted her bat.  Thank you!  Harry continued to sprint down the stairs to the turf.  But he wasn’t going to reach her before…

EXPULSO!!”  Hermione shrilled.  So loud was her savage curse that Harry heard it over the din of the battle.  Bellatrix’s wand, which had been bent to peaceful ends for the last two years, once more spat death.

Greyback staggered under the blow, desperately trying to keep his Protego between him and a gruesome end.  Steadily, his wand began to shake and with a deafening crash his shield gave way.  

The scream that uttered from his lips was silenced in an instant.  Fenrir Greyback, werewolf, sadist, terrorizer of children and source of nightmares second only to the Dark Lord himself, had finally, at long last, met his fate.  In a flash of searing flame, only ashes were left where the most feared Death Eater once stood.

Hermione didn’t spend time celebrating her nemesis’ death.  Her only thoughts were of the broken red-haired Auror that now lay before her.  She cradled Ron’s head in her lap, just as George and Angelina leaped from the stands, landing near her and fending off the tumult of hexes that exploded around her, buying her time to tend to Ron.  In seconds, Harry joined them; a cushioning charm softened his landing.  Frantically, he spun about, making sure they wouldn’t be blindsided.

“Where have you two been!”  Harry demanded of George and Angelina as he shielded and cast a Reducto at a clump of Death Eaters.

“Don’t ask,” George replied, as he blasted a Death Eater into the stands.  “Ron ok?”

“Gods, I hope so.”  Harry chanced a look at Hermione and the broken Auror she was tending.

Hermione’s tears began to drench Ron’s cheek.  “Love?” she sobbed.  “Don’t leave me!”

“…not…going anywhere…stop nagging.”  Slowly, he began to stir, though he was too badly hurt to speak above a whisper.

She laughed through her tears, the relief washing over her.  “Danger Ponce, that’s you!  Why did you do it?” she scolded.

“…had to block that curse.  Would’ve blindsided you….gods, it hurts!”  He winced from the effort of talking.

Harry took advantage of a brief lull in the fighting to kneel by her side. “What happened?” he asked, worriedly.

“Death Eaters in the tower,” Hermione answered as she moved her wand over her boyfriend and choked back her tears.  “I figured that’s where the warder was.  We were trying to get to them when we got caught in a Reducto crossfire.”  With a final flourish of her wand, she cast a spell to dull Ron’s pain.  His wounds weren’t life threatening, but they were too severe for her too heal.  “I blocked one; he blocked the other.  Then the redheaded ponce jumped in front of the third!”  She tried to sound stern, but her watery smile betrayed her true feelings.

“I’m fine…hungry.”

Hermione shook her head.  “He’ll be okay.”  

Harry wasn’t sure if she was speaking to him or to herself.  But, judging from Ron’s demeanor, it seemed his best mate would pull through.  He looked from one to the other, unsure what to do as George and Angelina continued to shield for them.  Then he heard Ginny in his mind, again:  You have to focus, Harry.  

He took a calming breath.  “Hermione, I’ve got to get back in the fight.  Send off a Patronus to St. Mungo’s.  We’re gonna need healers once we get the wards down.  And you, brother?”  Harry forced himself to smile at his partner.  “Try not to do anything else…heroic.  Ok?”

Ron nodded weakly.

Tears soaking her cheeks, Hermione shouted, “Expecto Patronum!”  But it wasn’t an otter that leapt from her wand; it was a female terrier.  In a flash, it was gone, off to seek help for the countless victims.

Ron spluttered, “…nice…dog…”

Hermione’s retort was swept away by the sounds of battle.  Harry again took in the scene, trying to gauge his next move as he rejoined George and Angelina who continued to shield for Ron and Hermione.  

The stands had finally started to clear.  The airborne Magi had turned the tide by blasting the traitors out of nearly all the exits, which allowed the crowds to finally get free of the horrendous crossfire the Death Eaters had set up.

Behind him in the stands, Harry saw Molly Weasley, fighting side by side with Fleur and Audrey.  The trio of witches was laying waste to Death Eaters with a vengeance that only Weasley women could muster.  Their heroic example helped steel a few of the spectators, who did their best to join in the fight against the Death Eaters.  Even so, they were still horribly outnumbered.  But Bill was with them; the master warder cast protective charms and shields like a maestro, protecting them and ensuring the fury of their wands found their targets without distraction.  At least for the time being.

Percy and Arthur were trying to fight their way to the last blocked exit.  Arthur was bloodied and tiring, but he remained a force to be reckoned with.  Percy’s wand work was nearly flawless, shielding and riposting for his father.  But they too were outnumbered.  Luckily, it seemed the most dangerous of the Death Eaters hadn’t fallen into their path. Yet.

Bless the Weasleys!  Harry’s elation was short lived as a tidal wave of emotion crashed into him from Ginny.  Harry looked up to see her flying frantically away from yet more killing curses.  The barrage had finally succeeded in making the airborne trio separate.  Up to now, Ginny and Wood’s previous fighting experience and Gwen’s skill with a broom, made them nearly unassailable.  But, the jets of lethal green magic coming from the announcer’s box in the tower and the surrounding stands finally broke up their formation, leaving them vulnerable.  Judging from the volume of fire Wood, Jones and especially Ginny were taking, it seemed the Death Eaters had resolved to neutralize the aerial threat once and for all.  

Ginny!

Harry, love.  I’m fine.  I can see two Death Eaters in the tower, Yaxley and another git! 

Her calm words didn’t match her emotions.  She was tiring and the killing curses kept getting closer.  It now took all her effort to dodge the barrage of curses she was taking from the tower and from the ground – counter attacking wasn’t an option for her.

Hang on, Gin! One of them must be the warder. I’ve got to find a way up there!  Though he tried to block it, he was sure Ginny could feel the fear that was pouring off him in waves

Harry, you can do this. 

“Angelina! George!  We’ve got to get the warder.  He must be in the tower.” Again Harry was nearly overcome with the surges he was getting from Ginny.  The killing curses filled the air around her.  

George hefted his wand toward the tower.  “Let’s just blast the bloody thing from here!”

Angelina grabbed his arm. “Can’t.  The announcer and the scorekeepers are up there with the git.”

“Bollocks!”  George cursed.

Harry frantically searched the Pitch for a usable broom.  Dammit!  None of those near enough to summon seemed air-worthy.  And he knew that darting around the Pitch looking for an intact Firebolt would only get him killed.  With a deep breath, Harry steeled himself for what he had to do.  “Can you levitate me up there?” he asked George and Angelina, with a wave of his arm toward the announcer’s box atop the tower.

Neither said a word.  With a flourish of their wands Harry felt himself shoot through the air, levitated at break-neck speed.  It was far from gentle.  At the top of the arc, he could see Yaxley and D’Arque at the corner of the box; the unconscious announcer and scorekeepers lay on the floor.  Harry was ten feet above the tower when he felt the levitation spells cease. He came down hard, using D’Arque to break his fall.

“Potter!”  Yaxley hissed.

Harry didn’t have time to catch his footing as the killing curse sailed passed him.  He did the only thing he could as he stumbled out of the curse’s path.  He grabbed D’Arque to steady himself.  D’Arque staggered and violently tossed Harry aside.  But that was a mistake.  The dark wizard’s momentum carried him into Yaxley just as Harry leveled a massive Expulso toward the two Death Eaters at point blank range

The lead Death Eater frantically pulled D’Arque into the path of Harry’s thunderous curse and, with a thud, the Death Eater fell to the floor, eyes wide.  Almost instantly, Harry could hear the cracks of Apparation all around him.  D’Arque was the warder!

“Bad move, Yaxley!”  Harry spat as he loosed a non-verbal Bombarda from his wand.

The lead Death Eater barely had time to shield it.  He was knocked backwards into the railing, nearly sharing D’Arque’s fate.  He pulled himself up and skidded to his right, loosing a Reducto at Harry.  He caught it deftly on his shield, reposting with another Bombarda that nearly blasted Yaxley out of the tower.  Righting himself, the dark wizard looked out to see his forces being pummeled by the teams of Aurors that were Apparating in force.

“Another time, Potter.”  With a pop he turned on the spot and vanished.

Harry tried to catch his breath as he looked out over the Pitch.  He could see Death Eaters DisApparating in waves as Seamus and the Auror teams swarmed the stands.  Then the Healers began to arrive in numbers.  Everywhere, the dead and wounded littered the landscape.  Tomorrow, The Prophet would be screaming recriminations, calling for Kingsley’s resignation as well as his own, no doubt. But Harry couldn’t hold his focus any longer; he couldn’t bring himself to think of the dead, the wounded, of politics or of war.  His only thoughts were of one person now.  He scanned the Pitch desperately until he found her, standing on the center circle near her brother just as he was Portkeyed to St. Mungo’s with Hermione.

Harry turned on the spot and landed in the crowds.  He’d lost sight of her when he appeared.  Through the smoke and carnage, he could hear cries, sobs, and sighs of relief.  But the crowds kept blocking his view.  Then he caught a glimpse of a Quidditch uniform, a shock of bright red-plaited hair.

There she is!

He couldn’t bring himself to speak as he pulled her into a bone-crushing hug.  His strong-willed Ginny, his reason for living was alive and in his arms, her cheeks damp with tears and sweat.

Ginny, I’ve never been this frightened in my life.  If anything had happened to you…

Me?  We’re changing your name to Reckless Git!  No one gets levitated like that.  What the hell were you thinking?

 “I was thinking that I had to stop those killing curses,” Harry finally said aloud in a shaking voice. “You’re ok?”

“I’m fine, love.”

“You’re not hurt?”

“No, Harry. I’m fine.” She could feel the panic coming off of him in waves.  During the fighting he tried to suppress it.  Now that it was over, Ginny felt as if a dam had burst inside her boyfriend, the flow of emotion was so strong.  She pulled him closer and sent all her strength to him through their bond.  

“Gods, Gin, you’re sure you’re all right?” He was shaking.

She smiled as she blinked away her tears.  “Remember what I said?  We’re always quicker, stronger, smarter...”

 ********

 “…and braver, Harry.  We always have been, always will be.”

 “…ginny…”  His voice was barely a whisper.

 “Yes, love.  I’m here and you’re going to be fine.”  She kept one hand on his ice-cold forehead as her wand made flourishes over his wounded torso.  “Don’t talk.”  She tried to keep the worry out of her voice.  Gods, he’s lost so much blood!

 “…cloak…gotta put on the cloak…hide from Death…he’s here…”

 He’s delirious.  “No one’s here but me, love.”

 “…the baby…you shouldn’t have come…”

“I wasn’t about to leave James’ father out here alone.  I can still mount a broom, even if I can’t Apparate.”  She tried to suppress her tears as she tended to her love.  “Hold still.  Hermione taught me the counter curse.  It’ll hurt only hurt for a second.”

“…hermione?”

“Yes, love.  We’ve all been looking for you for hours.”  Ginny flourished her wand again before she paused to make the final incantations.  “I knew what happened the minute that vile Crematius Curse hit you.  I just couldn’t find you.  Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry it took me so long!”  She spoke the last incantation as a gentle light sprang from her wand, closing the wound and restoring some of the color to Harry’s ashen face.

He asked weakly, “How did you find me?” 

Ginny fought back the tears as she cradled him.  “I heard you, love.” With another flourish of her wand, her Doe-Patronus leapt from its tip, carrying a message to Ron and Hermione, telling them where she’d found Harry, at long last.   “I heard you say: ‘I’m sorry, Gin.’  Then I got a flash – the image of this place.”  Gently, she caressed his cheek, trying to soothe him.  “I’ll always hear you. Always.  Not even Death could ever keep us apart.”

Fin.

AN:  First and foremost I need to thank my lovely wife for her patience, love and support throughout the writing process.  Too many nights (and days) she was a “Harry Potter Widow” while I was writing this.

A very special thanks is owed to my AMAZING beta and adopted little sis, 1917farmgirl.  Her help has been invaluable.  In fact, this entire story began during a chat session we had several months ago.  So, this tale wouldn’t even be here if not for her.

I owe a huge inspirational nod, as always, to justanothermuggle, siledubhghlase and AvadaKedavra1.  Thanks guys!

Everyone should go check out these four authors’ superb stories; they’re in my favorites.

Also, I must again thank Arithmancywiz for making sure I stay ToS compliant.  Gotta hang on to my TA status at all costs.

And I cannot forget my reviewers.  You guys are ACES.  Thanks to Edward Ollivander (absolutely loved “And The Greatest of These…”  Everyone needs to read that tale.), Mrs HJ Potter (sorry for all the cliffhangers!), lauraf68 (“Ginny, Are You Ready?” is awesome!), ronhermione4evr (as always I’m sorry I made you cry with “Clocks”!), lilgnome3 (I owe you a cliffhanger apology too!), You Know Who (those darn cell phones!),  JuliannaOphelia, katebabelovesharrypotter, Emily, magicseeker, Undrtone, Niyenel, romione4ever17, Kenna, Happy, Nicole, ShePotter, HPSwimmer, nitenel, jkelly, and, last but NEVER least, Aurorofthelight, who's the only person to leave me a review in Italian and who’s reviews always put a smile on my face.  

And thanks to two special  reviewers: TheDirigiblePlum, who’s been with me almost since the very beginning and whose writing is AMAZINGLY FUNNY (check her out in my favorites) and Pacific Wizard, whose exceedingly thoughtful reviews always leave me gobsmacked and speechless.

I really appreciate all the kind words, encouragement and “OH NO!” comments you’ve left over the course of this tale, folks.  It’s really hard to write without an audience.  Thank you all so much.

Of course a huge thanks to JKR for letting us all play with her toys.

What else?  Ah, if you’re curious as to how Colin Creevey met his end and what role Oliver Wood played, that story has already been written.  Go check out Chapter 30 of the HPFF Collaboration, entitled: “The Gift.”  It’s in my favorites.

If this is the only one of my stories you’ve ever read, you’ll be happy to know that this tale is part of a much larger universe of stories that are all completed and posted.  These stories all lead into my novel, “Children’s Crusade.”  A chronology is included below.


What’s next?  Another break.  I’ve written the equivalent of a novel this summer between “Pitch,” “Plans” and “Proposal” (hmmm, must have a thing for the letter “P”) so I’m going to exit the stage for a while.  With any luck, I’ll be back, with more stories from the Crusadiverse.

So, until the next time…

Eldy

An updated timeline is included below:

1998 – July – “Hermione’s Wand” – one shot - posted


1999- August – “Journey of a Thousand Miles” – one shot - posted as Chapter 1 of "The Staffer's Choice Awards," a Prefect's Collaboration.  It's in my favorites.

2000 – August – “The Battle of the Pitch” (main story line) – short story – posted

2000 – November – “The Adventures of Reckless Git and Danger Ponce” – short story – posted

2002 – Spring – "Best Laid Plans," -one shot; and “The Proposal” – short story – both posted.

2002 – Early Summer – “The Tipping Point” – short story - posted.

2002 – Summer – “Children’s Crusade”- novel – sequel to “Stop All The Clocks” – posted

2003 – December – “The Gift”- one shot - posted as Chapter 30 of "The Final Battle," site-wide collaboration.  It's in my favorites.

2004 – May – “The Battle of the Pitch” (introductory story line) – posted



 
 


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