So, I'm really sick of looking at this chapter. I'm not sure if it's just because I've looked at it for so long or if it is shame because I haven't finished editing chapter 8-9-10 yet, or if it really just sort of sucks, but here you go!
I really hope you all like it!
"Alright!" Xanxus roared sharply, his voice cutting through the excited murmurings with ease, "Settle the fuck down and listen the fuck up!"
The room instantly grew silent, save for the sounds of breathing and the muted sounds of feet shuffling.
Harry was more than a little amused- he could feel that Blaise was too.
He knew they'd be changing soon, but to have twenty some-odd school kids in their casual clothes standing across from Xanxus and his finest- plus a disguised Sirius and Regulus- who were already kitted out in their winter Varia gear was definitely making an impression on his classmates.
From the way the Varia members held themselves, to the patches on their jackets, to the knee-length boots that were laced expertly- the men before them exuded an air of importance and professionalism.
Well, Harry was pretty sure that Vivá was female, but as the Varia didn't officially accept female members, the uniform was made to help their not-female members look even more not-female.
The point was, let it not be said that Xanxus didn't know how to make a lasting impression.
"We're currently in the Staging Area that has been designated as 'Alpha' for this mission." Xanxus continued smoothly. "I am Xanxus, but you will address me as Boss."
Xanxus made a gesture and Squalo stepped forward slightly, "VOI! Commander Superbi Squalo, brats! For this mission you will refer to me as Captain Squalo."
That was Lussuria's cue and the man, (who had recently come up with a new and exciting multi-colored hairstyle), bounced forwards, "Hello, lovelies~! I am Captain Lussuria! You may call me Captain Luss!"
After Lussuria had fallen back in, Mammon, (who- along with Skull- were wearing illusions that gave off the appearance of being adults), glided forward. "I am Captain Esper Mammon. You will refer to me as Esper or be fined."
"I'm Captain Teschio!" Skull announced cheerfully. "You can just call me Teschio!"
(That's right, Harry remembered suddenly, Skull decided not to use his Arcobaleno name, as he doesn't want to be tied to the Varia. Mammon bet that he'd be stubborn about that.)
"I am Lieutenant Vivacità. You may address me as Lieutenant Vivá." A tall, blonde person with incredibly blue eyes stepped forward from behind Lussuria.
"Lieutenant Trance. Please refer to me as the same." A cloaked person of average height, whose long, straight red hair seemed to blur their facial features said, after stepping forward from behind Mammon.
"And I am Lieutenant Diluvio." That was a definite masculine-sounding voice, and the man seemed to be enjoying the confusion on the students' faces. "You will refer to me as Lieutenant Vio. Also, in case you were wondering, you may refer to all of us as male, with all the pronouns and such that that would imply, regardless of your personal thoughts on our gender."
"VOI! We don't need a shitty woman's rights speech!" Squalo snapped out irritably when he saw a couple of the girls open their mouths.
"I literally do not give a damn about your gender identity or your sexuality, for that matter." Xanxus stated flatly. "However, it makes my life simpler when the people who look at my organization from the outside think that all my employees are male. So, they're all male. End of story."
"They are all paid equally." Mammon pointed out helpfully.
"And on that note, I am Salvare. Only the Officers have ranks. I'm a grunt." Another person had stepped up from behind Squalo and was bouncing on their toes as they greeted the students. Tall and dark-haired, the only things that had been altered were some adjustments to his facial features and more blue added to his eyes.
(That's Sirius. Harry thought with fond grin. His codename means 'save, rescue, deliver, or to be spared'.)
"I am Vindicta." The final person said, sliding around Salvare and tipping their head forwards slightly, before grabbing the other and dragging them back behind Squalo and the Officers. Like Sirius, Regulus hadn't been altered much as he was already dead by magical standards, so no one should be looking for him. "Commander Superbi, it's done."
"VOI! Your shitty Traces have been removed. They were on each of you individually, not your wands." Squalo enlightened them irritably. "The uniforms that you will be provided will distort your magical signatures to the point of unrecognizability, so you may now use your wands. Everyone will be taught to clear their wands when the night is over. Kitty, it's your job to make sure we don't miss any of your shitty minion scum. The gear has also been modified so that those of us who do not possess 'magic' won't suddenly feel the urge to run off and complete an urgent errand or something. We've tested this stuff extensively and it is as good as we can make it."
"Oooh~! You all will get to wear the uniforms I designed you!" Lussuria butted in cheerfully. "The Portkey-things have been modified to need a touch of Flame and a password- it's with your gear, memorize and burn the slips of paper, dearies!- when we're done for the night the gear will go with us, just in case anything nasty managed to grab a hold of it, but Artemis will be getting a questionnaire that I expect you all to fill out and return to me!"
"Now, the people we're going after are rich trash, so we're only assaulting their major stronghold tonight. As in their Main Estates- or the ones they most frequently use to the best of our knowledge." Squalo explained. "We're taking anything that we possibly can, to cut the legs out from under these scum. Be alert for little niches that might contain illicit Vault keys or hidden book stashes and the like. Our goal is to undermine them as thoroughly as possible."
"As you brats know." Xanxus continued commandingly. "We're dividing into three Assault Teams for this mission, and we also have a Support Team or Base Team. Base Team will be responsible for emptying the Vaults of any keys that we find and being on standby for any injuries between targets or in case of emergency, they will be stationed here. They will be led by Lieutenant Vio, but Lieutenant Vivá is the Chief Medical Officer and- Artemis, introduce your fucking people! Real names and then codenames along with their Flame, since the brats haven't had them very long and there's so many of you little cretins."
Harry mentally scowled at his mentor, but knew better than to give the man lip on the eve of a mission. "Luna Lovegood- codenamed Pandora, Rain." He pointed to Luna and made eye contact with Lieutenant Vivá to make sure that he was following before continuing. "Astoria or Tori Greengrass- codenamed Dagaz, Rain. Justin Finch-Fletchly- codenamed Norden, Waterfall or Rain."
"Pandora, Dagaz, Norden. All Rains, even if one is an Earth-type. Easy enough." Lieutenant Vio replied simply.
"We're getting to our target locations through a combination of modified Portkeys, Flame Tech, and GPS triangulation." The Esper told them abruptly. "Team Boss will be left in the navigational hands of Theo Nott. Team Shark will be left in the hands of Blaise Zabini, and Team Midget will be left in my capable hands."
"Alright, get them outfitted and briefed, Vio." Xanxus ordered quickly- not wanting to get into a discussion about the lengthy and complex process that had gone into planning this logistics nightmare. Planning for the simultaneous assault on properties that were entirely hidden from the naked eye and generally unknown was fun, but annoying since he was mostly using brats as troops, and soon the room was missing eight people. "Now, Team Midget-"
Mammon griped under his breath and Skull harrumphed, but Xanxus ignored them with practiced ease.
"-is focusing on those who might not be rich, but most likely have tons of black mail, illicit information, and shit that we can use to our advantage. Team Midget is being led by Esper and Teschio, and your main targets are the Malfoys, the Umbridges, the Averys, and Rita Skeeter. Artemis."
"Neville Longbottom- codenamed Lupin, Earth or Sky, if you prefer." Harry replied promptly, once again pointing to the appropriate people. "Lee Jordan- codenamed Kusini, Swamp or Storm. Terrence 'Ten' Higgs- codenamed Nehoh, Waterfall or Rain. Su 'Lin' Li- codenamed Xī Miàn, Glacier or Cloud. Wayne Hopkins- codenamed Est, Forrest or Sun. Adrian 'Ryan' Pucey- codenamed Sud, Mountain or Lightning."
"Lupin is Earth. Kusini is Swamp. Nehoh is Waterfall. Xī Miàn is Glacier. Est is Forrest. Sud is Lightning." Mammon summarized neatly. "We put so many Earth-users on one team to test a few theories of ours. Come, time is money and our Staging Area is the one that was designated 'Gamma'."
Xanxus nodded briskly, and soon the room had lost another eight people.
"VOI! Team Shark is the team that will be led by Lussuria and I!" Squalo bellowed. "Our primary target will be the Carrows, the Yaxleys, and the Rowles. We are expecting there to be resistance, as the majority of the prisoners will be taken from these places, so you scum better be prepared to fight!"
"We're also robbing them blind, just like all the other teams." Lussuria interposed brightly. "However, our team has the highest projected rate for injured, so be sure that you pay attention, hm?"
Xanxus very much looked like he wanted to roll his eyes, in Harry's humble opinion. "Artemis." The man said instead.
"Blaise Zabini- codenamed Janus, Cloud." Harry said by way of reply, pointing towards Blaise. "Cedric Diggory- codenamed Seraphim, Rain. Lavender 'Vala' Brown- codenamed Thea, Sun. Pavarti 'Avia' Patil- codenamed Mitra, Sun. Anthony 'Tony' Goldstein- codenamed Periphery, Desert or Mist. Michael 'Mick' Corner- codenamed Islenska, Mountain or Lightning."
"Oooh!" Lussuria nearly squealed with delight. "Artemis did such a good job with your codenames!"
Squalo cut Lussuria off before the man could really get started. "We got it. Our Staging area is the one designated as 'Epsilon', so let's go get you scum suited up."
Xanxus waved an impatient hand, and they departed, leaving the members of Team Boss behind.
"You trash are mine." Xanxus stated darkly, red eyes gleaming in the artificial light.
Harry didn't even need prompting this time. "Harry Potter- codenamed Artemis, Sky. Daphne Greengrass- codenamed Styx, Storm. Theodore 'Theo' Nott- codenamed Laguz, Mist. Padma Patil- codenamed Aha, also a Mist. Frederick 'Fred' Weasley- codenamed Hagalaz, Storm. George Weasley- codenamed Fabian, Lightning."
"We're using the Staging Area that was designated as 'Beta', let's go trash."
Base Team- Staging Area Alpha
"Alright!" Lieutenant Vio said once the door had closed behind them. "The thing about being the Support Team is that it isn't a glamourous job, but it's damn important."
"Indeed." Trance agreed smoothly. "The Assault Teams might be the ones going in and subduing the targets, but we're the ones that will make sure that they are secured properly, and that the items that are retrieved are stowed properly as well. We are also going to be responsible for essentially robbing a bank, multiple times."
"We'll also be providing medical treatment and be used as replacements if any members of the Assault Teams are badly wounded or killed." Vio said bluntly, ignoring the flinches the students sent his way. "We don't sugar-coat, kiddies. People never go quietly, and magicals are just that- people. There is a chance your friends could die, so take my advice and remember to never part from a friend you love in anger, because it could be the last you ever see them."
"True enough, Lieutenant." Trance said smoothly. "For now, take the pack that has your name on it and change into your uniform."
Suddenly, this whole situation seemed a lot more real to the Hogwarts students.
When the students had left for the small changing area that had been set up, being led by the disguised Black brothers, (it was actually the Infirmary), Trance turned to Vio. "Think that got through?"
The Rain Lieutenant shrugged, "At least one of their friends will be a bloody mess by the end of the night. I'm sure that will."
Vivá grimaced. "Boss is being pretty hard on them."
"Yeah, but apparently something big is going down and they need to be ready for it." Vio replied mildly. "That's why Captain Squalo's team was structured the way that it was- to force those who would normally be support to fight. There are those who are ill-suited for combat or too young- like Norden or Dagaz. Pandora is a vicious little thing, under all that zen, so Boss wasn't worried about her. Thea and Mitra, though, he wanted to make sure that they could hack it when push came to shove."
"Yeah, but still…." The Sun Lieutenant trailed off unhappily.
"They'll be fine. Boss has invested far too much into the little Sky to lose him to Dissonance now." Trance interjected in annoyance.
The conversation was interrupted by the return of the kids and the Black brothers.
"Alright!" Vio called, "Time to get started! First rule of being the Support Team- always double check! Make sure that the enemy hasn't subverted you from the start! We'll show you how to do a proper sweep. Trance?"
Team Midget- Staging Area Gamma
"You were assigned to this team due to your ability to sense disturbances with the natural order of things." Mammon told his fully geared team. "Through observation I have discovered that Earth-users tend to realize that there are magical traps or subtly hidden areas better than a Sky-user. Inversely, a Sky-user seems to be more sensitive to actual spells and stronger wards, enabling them to dodge or counter attack or counter the wards' effect."
"So, you're hoping we'll find little niche's that would otherwise go overlooked?" Lee surmised out loud.
"Yup!" Skull said cheerfully. "Now memorize these layouts as best you can! We managed to get some Intel on the floorplan!"
Team Shark- Staging Area Epsilon
"VOI! Settle the fuck down scum!" Squalo thundered after his team had gotten changed into their Varia-provided gear.
"Calm down, Squ-squ!" Lussuria clucked disapprovingly at the Strategy Captain. "You'll get them all upset."
Squalo's eyebrow twitched. "I want to get them riled up, you damn ookama! We're heading into battle!"
Blaise was entirely amused by Squalo's unique brand of prepping for a mission, though he was more than a little aggravated that he'd been separated from Adi for this mission.
"Alright, scum." Squalo said after breaking off from his quasi-squabble with Lussuria. "Here's the deal: We're the Heavy Assault Team on this mission. We're the ones who are expecting the most resistance and are anticipating the most injuries."
"It's why Seraph will be on House Elf duty, even though Squalo is a Rain as well. We need our fearless leader to be able to focus on the skirmishes!" Lussuria added. "It's also why we have so many Sun-users." Lussuria leveled a serious stare at Thea and Mitra. "Make no mistake ladies~! I expect you to be beautiful and deadly."
"VOI! Now let's make sure your weapons are in proper working order and that you scum can operate your back-ups!" Squalo commanded sharply. "It's almost go time!"
Team Boss- Staging Area Beta
"Our targets are supposedly uninhabited estates. However, the people that used to live there were bat-shit crazy and fond of torture –for-pleasure, so there could potentially be people inside." Xanxus explained to his team after they had geared themselves. "We have two Skies, two Storms, two mists, and a Lightning for a reason, trash."
"You're expecting actual combat." Harry said with a sinking sensation in his stomach.
Xanxus nodded, "I don't think that these shitty estates are as empty as they say they are, and I want all of you brats to keep your fucking eyes open. These fuckers were fucked in the head and there's no telling the kind of shitty magical enchantments that could be lying around. Hold together, stay calm, and follow my orders. Understood?"
The Varia Boss was pleased by the grim nods.
Good, the brats were taking this seriously. They just might last the night with that sort of attitude.
"This is Boss." Xanxus' deep voice resounded clearly through the modified earpieces of everyone involved with the Hol Missions. "Operation Looking Glass is now live."
The Team's GPS-Modified-Portkey deposited them in a marsh about a half mile south of the Carrows Main Estate.
"Alright, from here on in I don't want any unnecessary chatter on the com lines, understood?" Squalo's deep voice was firm as Lussuria finished doing a final check to make sure everyone was accounted for.
"Yes, sir!" His team responded.
Squalo smiled grimly and he nodded towards Periphery, who began to weave the illusion that would cover them while they trekked up to the edge of the Wards.
Ten minutes of cautious creeping later, Squalo checked his handheld device before he held up his fist, causing the team to halt.
Lussuria stepped forward with Janus and Lussuria used his Flames to Activate the small capsule of Storm Flames that had been made with Ward-breaking in mind. The Flames obediently chewed a hole in the Wards and Janus was quick to use his Propagation to enlarge and perpetuate it. "Thirty seconds." Janus whispered.
Squalo quickly motioned the rest of the team through, with Janus smoothly rolling inside the Wards as he stopped feeding his Flames into the hole.
The Team waited with baited breath for nearly five minutes, keeping a close eye on the now-visible house and the yard to see if their infiltration had been detected. After five minutes of nothing unusual happening, Squalo motioned for them to proceed, except now Seraph was feeding Rain Flames into the ground in case a House Elf popped up unexpectedly.
The Carrows weren't rich in the same manner as the Malfoys, but they were a very old Pureblood House. So, even though they didn't have much money now they still had a large house with plenty of grounds. This meant that it took nearly ten minutes for the team to make their way to the house from their entry point, despite the pace Squalo set.
(The Hogwarts students were suddenly grateful for all the exercise Harry had been putting them through.)
Finally they made it to a side-door and Squalo called a halt. "Remember, incapacitate and Portkey everyone inside. If you fail to incapacitate them, still tag them with a Portkey and Base Team will handle them." Squalo's grey eyes raked over them mercilessly, "Even if there are children. No one escapes us tonight. Understood?"
The Hogwarts students took a moment to re-center themselves, but nodded in agreement.
Squalo grinned, shark-like and lethal, "Let's show these scum that their trashy bloodlines don't mean shit."
The Team's GPS-Modified-Portkey dropped them off in Wiltshire, about a half mile from the south-east corner of the Malfoy Estate.
Mammon covered everyone with an illusion and Teschio quickly took stock of their team one final time.
"From here on in there will be no mistakes." Mammon told them bluntly. "Kusini and Lupin can both use their Flames to burn through enchantments, the rest of you will be focusing on subduing our opponent, robbing our esteemed targets, and using your Flames to feel for hidden niches. Understood?"
The team replied affirmatively.
Mammon's lips curved into a smile, "Good. Kusini and Lupin you'll be making a hole in the Wards and Teschio will be holding it open while we move across."
The Malfoy grounds were expansive and they were on a tight schedule. So once they were inside the Wards Teschio supported mammon so that the mist Arcobaleno could levitate them all across the grounds to save time.
A half hour later they were slipping inside the brightly lit Manor, with one final admonishment from Teschio ringing in their ears. "No matter what, the team comes first. That means even if there are kids in this place, they get taken too! No witnesses!"
Xanxus' team had activated their GPS-Modified-Portkey as soon as he'd called that the Operation was live.
They landed in a field not far from where they believed the Main LeStrange Estate, (in Britain), was located. Xanxus gave his team an once-over and nodded. "Remember that these estates are supposed to be empty, but that doesn't mean that they are. Our team doesn't have a Rain, but we do have the Rain Flame Tablets, so make sure that you fucking use them."
His team nodded in acknowledgement.
"Good. Now, let's breech these shitty Wards."
Xanxus' Wrath Flames meant that it took about thirty seconds to get past the Wards, and between the Varia Boss and Artemis, they marched straight towards the dilapidated but large Manor, despite the number of nasty spells and curses that littered the grounds.
Granted, they were rather literally blazing a trail, but their Mist was quick to cover their tracks as they made their way across the grounds.
They were inside the Manor less than thirty minutes after they had started, and quickly set about ransacking the place.
They did have to neutralize six House Elves, but the poor creatures were so starved and damaged they didn't put up much of a fight.
Artemis was incredibly thankful for having so many Storms, though, as the LeStrange home was just as booby trapped as they feared it would be. The Varia uniforms they were wearing also absorbed several nasty curses, and Styx's special gloves disintegrated when she was poking around the desk in the office.
Team Shark- Staging Area Alpha, post Carrows
Barely a half hour into Operation Looking Glass saw the Base Team receiving their first rounds of loot.
The Portkeys for their prisoners were made in such a way that they deposited them into the Rain Flame infused holding area where Lieutenant Trance and Lieutenant Vio were waiting to secure them.
Their other ill-gotten gains were deposited into another holding area, where the three Rains who had been assigned to Base Team would check of any Vault Keys and empty the charmed bags so that they could be reused. Lieutenant Vivá was assisting them as he didn't have any wounded to take care of just yet.
About an hour after the Operation started, they had a stack of Vault Keys which Salvare and Vindicta then took and disappeared off to Gringotts.
At the two hour mark, the first team returned.
"VOI! We've got wounded!" Commander Superbi shouted as they appeared, bringing Lieutenant Vivá's attention to them.
"What happened?" the Lieutenant asked briskly as he started to triage the team.
"Bastard popped up behind us and got a couple lucky shots off before we put him down." Lussuria replied, his gaze fixed on the patient he was currently tending. "Seraphim and Islenska covered us and we managed to burn out the curse, but they still need healing before we can proceed."
Vivá's hands were already efficiently moving over his new patient. "We should move them to the Infirmary."
As the two Officers moved their patients, Squalo called Mitra and Thea over to him. "You two realize that your hesitation is why they're wounded right now, correct?" The Varia Commander questioned the two upset girls sternly.
They nodded and burst out crying.
"Enough." Squalo cut through their noise efficiently. "You can either feel sorry for them and yourselves or you can do better at this next location. If you let this rule you, then this is as far as you'll go and I'll end you myself. The kitty has no need for Suns who won't fight when the situation calls for it. Take a few minutes to think about it and compose yourselves." The Varia Commander told them firmly but not unkindly as he started to walk away, "Because this is the last chance I'll give you."
The two girls turned to look at Periphery and Janus. "We-"
"Don't apologize, it weakens your position." Periphery told them shortly. "Do better- don't hesitate next time. You're not dead which means you can learn from this."
The two girls marshalled themselves and forced their tears back. "We will." They pledged.
Janus gave them a smirk. "We're counting on you, then."
Team Boss- LeStrange Main House
"The fuck is wrong with these people?!" Artemis yelped in alarm as he dodged yet another nasty trap.
"They're vainglorious scum who are high off their own power." Xanxus' voice replied through the headset. "Keep your fucking eyes open."
"Copy." Artemis sighed, gratefully accepting the hand that Styx reached out to help him. "We're going awfully slow." He worried quietly.
"Don't worry about that." Xanxus told them. "It just means that we're being thorough in this case. We've already taken out six of those servant-trashes and had to return to Alpha twice to swap out our bags, just keep your fucking heads on straight brats!"
Team Midget- Residence of Rita Skeeter
It was only Mammon's Esper abilities that saved the mission from disaster.
The Varia Mist quickly constructed a cage around a harmless-looking beetle and ordered Teschio to transport it back to the Staging Area.
The Earth Flame Users found no less than sixteen little hidey-holes with blackmail material and records for over a hundred people at first glance. The woman had had an expanded area behind her toilet, two expanded areas in her underthings drawer, and a nearly-unnoticeable cache hidden deep within her mattress.
Mammon barely glanced at the information as they quickly appropriated it, but what little he'd seen told him that this information would please Boss greatly.
Before they left Mammon had Kusini use his Swamp Flames. "Swamps- bog, if you prefer- swallow thing up and cause structures to rapidly decay. We've had you doing Sky Flame exercises because the Earth Flames abilities are so unknown to us, but I want you to try to reach out and cause this entire residence to rapidly decay." Mammon instructed the teen. The Mist Arcobaleno turned to face the others. "We will fall back to where the Portkey dropped us off and wait."
Kusini nodded at the others and motioned for them to leave. "If this works I don't want anyone to get caught in this place after it goes all mushy."
Once everyone was safely away, Kusini reached for his Flames. It had always felt a little strange- the exercises that Harry had taught them, anyways. It's always felt weird to draw my Flame out into the open. He mused as he closed his eyes and centered himself, trying to sense the world around him instead of see it. Like it was meant to hide within me instead. He could feel the entire residence humming around him, a beacon to his senses as he mentally mapped out what he wanted to destroy.
When he felt confident in his mental 'picture' of the area around him he carefully exerted his Will, commanding his Flames to latch on to the organic matter and decay it, almost like what the Storms were taught to do but a little differently.
His Flames eagerly obeyed and it was only Mammon's quick actions that kept him from sinking into the ruins, as all around him the organic matter rapidly withered and died.
"Hm." Mammon mused as he wove an illusion over the residence and set it to fail long after daybreak. "We might need to rethink the Earth Flame user's exercises if you are able to get such an enormous response from internalizing you Flame instead of externalizing it."
Teschio had return by that point and also humming lightly with a thoughtful look on his face. "That might be why when they externalize they get such a weak response and yet when combined with an externalized Sky Flame they resonate."
"Indeed." Mammon shook off his ponderings and reached into his cloak for the next destination's Portkey. "We need to keep moving. Come here."
Team Shark- Yaxley Residence
This time, when someone came up behind her, Mitra didn't hesitate and Thea performed the follow-through.
They were rather sickly afterwards, but they kept moving forward.
Squalo gave them each curt nods of approval as they tagged their new prisoners, (one of them dead), with Portkeys and sent them back to the Prisoner's Holding Area.
Team Boss- LeStrange Main House, Secret Underground Tunnel
"Boss? Are you seeing this?" Artemis asked shakily.
Islenska had found a small crack in the Wards as they were doing one last sweep of the property, and it had led them to this Underground Tunnel.
What they'd found, though…
"Bag it." Xanxus ordered grimly. "At the very least it will get this shit out of their hands and prevent something like this from happening again."
The Team obeyed, sick to their stomachs.
Gringotts Bank- Pandora, Salvare, and Vindicta
They had made over a dozen trips down to the Vaults already, visiting more than one Vault per trip.
It was nearly morning and they'd have to stop soon, but the 'Legal Robbery' Team were doing their best to empty out as many of the Vaults as possible. They were focusing on the ones that were below the five hundred number, as Blood Replacement Keys could be made for those.
As they exited Gringotts and ducked into a nearby, nondescript alley way Salvare softly called for Dobby, who cheerfully popped in and handed them new Vault keys, brief notes about where the Vault Keys came from, and new bags. After accepting the new Vault keys and bags, they handed over the full bags to the enthusiastic House Elf who smiled widely at them before disappearing with a quiet pop.
As they made their way back towards the Bank, Vindicta glanced at the sky and frowned.
They were running out of time.
Staging Area Alpha, Seven AM
"Alright, everyone in the decontamination showers." Xanxus ordered to the assembled teens, the Varia members, (plus Sirius, Regulus, and Skull), were sorting and securing the nights' haul in preparation for the trip to Italy. Once Xanxus had decided that they weren't going after any more targets, he had had the Teams strip down and be seen by Lussuria or Vivá. Once they were cleared and their bandages sealed with some Mist Flames- to keep them from getting wet- they had all gathered into the original staging room. Of course, they were wearing papery-thin gowns, but they really didn't cover much.
The dawn was kissing at the horizon and Xanxus didn't want to take any unnecessary risks, even though they hadn't quite gotten everything done that they had originally planned. "We had some injuries, and some of you are going to be hurting from them for the next few weeks." He said severely, running a critical red gaze over the tired teens. "Let that pain sink in and be a lesson. Hesitation gets you and everyone around you killed. Not every blow has to be a killing one, but it must be decisive. Having said that, your decisive blows had better put the damn enemy down, because if your lack of resolve puts an enemy at your comrade's back, then their death is on your conscience. Understood?"
"Yes, sir!" Was the response he received, though rather subdued as the teens were sore, tired, and had various injuries.
Xanxus nodded sharply. "Good. Now get into the showers. Artemis you need to ensure that all the wands are cleared before you report in and we use those shitty Turners to send you back that fucking school."
"Yes, sir!" Artemis replied. "Alright, let's have the members of Team Shark go first, as you guys have to be seen by Lussuria again before we're done…." Harry's voice faded out as he herded the group towards the showers and changing area.
"What do you think, Boss?" Squalo asked as he came to stand beside the Varia Boss.
"It wasn't bad, for them being green fucking brats." Xanxus replied, signaling for Squalo to follow, which the Rain did, and headed towards the area where the prisoners were being kept sedated. "Those two girls must have shaped up at some point?"
"Yeah." Squalo replied, assisting Xanxus in helping check the bindings on some of the prisoners they'd deemed higher-risks. The Base Team Varia members had already done so, but Xanxus was always uneasy with prisoners until they were either at Varia HQ in the T&I area or dead. "They hesitated at the first target location, but at the second one they both performed a target elimination." Squalo's brows furrowed as he thought about the two. "They're support. Don't get me wrong, Boss, they'll stand up and fight if they have to, but they're never going to be Quality in the field."
Xanxus hummed noncommittally. "The Shitty Brat has roughly twenty-five people under his command and I expect less than half of them will be Quality."
Squalo raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Don't give me that look, shark trash." Xanxus rolled his eyes at his SIC as they made their way out of the prisoner holding are and into one of the rooms that had been designated for their 'appropriated' items. "We've got the battle with that Volde-trash coming, which is why I wanted them to run these missions, but once that piece of shit is taken out things should settle down for the brat- theoretically." The Varia Boss threw himself into a chair and poured some wine.
"However I want the brat out of that place. Let it fall apart on its own. Their fucking government is a sinking ship, and eventually something will give, and when that happens the brat will be ready." The red-eyed man level a serious stare onto Squalo. "But until then the brat can be building his own life in Italy. The Vongola is going to go to Iemitsu's brat, shark. All the old man's sons are dead, and blood that traces back to Primo beats out my mother's connection to Secondo in his mind."
Squalo's lips tightened in anger, but he nodded his understanding.
Xanxus grunted. "The Shitty Brat's Famiglia can be neutral. My plan is position them in such a way that they take the place of those pink-haired whores." Xanxus' lips peeled back in a snarl. "I've never liked those bitches, never liked the control they have or their way of doing things. They're supposedly universally neutral, but I've never bought that shit."
"I take it you plan to accident them?"
"Exactly." Xanxus said in a darkly pleased tone of voice. "Those bitches disappear and the Varia manipulate things to make the CEDEF fucking think that it was their idea to nominate the brat's Famiglia as the new neutral negotiators."
"Holy fuck." Squalo breathed out shakily, accepting the glass that Xanxus offered him and gulping down a generous mouthful of the sweet alcohol before he handed it back to the other man. "They would completely redistribute the balances of power. The Cervello are supposedly neutral, but the situations can be heavily manipulated. A new neutral Famiglia that has Varia training taking their place…." Squalo trailed off as he thought about how such a thing would impact not only the Vongola, but the Mafia in Italy and the surrounding areas as a whole.
"That's why not all the brats have to be full Quality, they just have to lose their fucking rose-colored glasses."
Squalo's brilliant mind was still trying to piece together the full impact of what Xanxus was planning. The Cervello were well-known as neutral mediators, and most Famiglia with Flame users had at least one or two of the pink-haired women assigned to them. This meant that the Cervello had a wide range of information available to them and why the thought of them rebelling was so terrifying. No one knew who they were or where they came from, but there seemed to be no shortage of the women, and that lack of information about their origins had always rankled at Squalo's senses.
But to put the Shitty Brat's people in that position?
"They'll be running Varia missions for a while under their codenames, of course." Xanxus continued after taking a leisurely sip of his wine. "But that's why we have the codenames, so no one will connect those freelance Varia operatives to the brat's Famiglia. This will allow us to cull threats and position ourselves so that when Iemitsu's brat takes over as the Vongola Decimo the Varia will have options, depending on what type of Boss the brat decides to be. But the most important part is that the options will come from people who are loyal to the Shitty Brat, who is loyal to me."
The next week after the Hol Missions saw the wider group breaking down into smaller cells. While they were all still together, still united, they naturally gravitated towards certain members while they dealt with the aftermath of making their first kills, having narrowly avoided death via nasty curses or jinxes, or even having to deal with the knowledge that they had sent children back to the holding areas as prisoners.
Team Boss also had to deal with the depravity they had witnessed at the LeStrange Estate, but they tried to keep what they had witnessed from the others.
Harry, and to a lesser extent Neville, were still the central points of the group that kept them all grounded, but the growing pains they experienced allowed new, firmer friendships to be established between the other members of the group.
Since the Earth Flame users wanted to experiment, Harry had showed them the Chamber of Secrets and offered it up for their use.
Knowing what Lee had been able to do to Rita's house, they were leery of allowing the Earth Flame users to experiment in the Room, as it was on the top floor of the school and they were not completely confident that the Room's enchantments could entirely neutralize any of the Earth Flame users' new talents.
It took some doing, but between all of them with some assistance from a very happy-to-have-visitors Myrtle they were able to layer illusions over the hallway to discourage people from using Myrtle's favorite haunt to relieve themselves. Harry had shown Fred and Daphne how to trick the sink into opening and everyone had greatly enjoyed the slide once it had been cleaned and the landing properly prepared.
Harry had gathered up the shed Basilisk skin and stuffed it into some bags that Xanxus had handed off to him at Harry's request. The cave-in was a bit tricky, but with so many of them it was easy for them to make a temporary passage, they could actually shore it up and make it permanent later. What had surprised Harry was how the Slytherin and Ravenclaws had reacted to the Basilisk once he'd opened the door to the inner chamber.
"You killed that thing?" Tony Goldstein yelped, his eyes wide with surprise. "When you were twelve?!"
The rest of the group had similar reactions.
Harry shrugged. "If it hadn't been for Fawkes I would have died, so it wasn't a clean victor-ow! Bloody hell, Luna! That hurt!"
"That!" The petite blond witch informed him in a vexed tone. "Was for not telling me that you had a sixty-plus foot mound of potential potion ingredients and pure profit rotting away under the girls' loo!"
"I didn't think it was that important." Harry grumbled, rubbing the stinging spot on his chest from where the little witch had whapped him. He hadn't had any idea that Luna was that vicious!
Luna sniffed derisively, even as Ryan Pucey made a strangled noise of incomprehension that was somehow heard through all the muttering going on around them. "You didn't think it was that important!" Luna returned, her expression annoyed. "Do you have any idea how valuable such a specimen is? Could be? That it could have possibly had an entire network of tunnels spanning the entire school that we could use to avoid detection!?"
Harry canted his head to the side and suddenly felt like an idiot. "Huh. No." He looked at Luna and smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry?"
Luna huffed and threw her hands up in defeat before she snatched the bags Harry was holding and shooed him off. "Off with you!" She sang cheerfully. "Let us do the securing of this place and the prettying up."
"Whatever so say, dearest." Harry told her, more amused than annoyed. "But please go in pairs and you might want to have a rooster's crow handy in case there are any other surprises." He turned to head back up, but stopped just short of the door to the inner chamber. "Oh, and do try to not bring the ceiling down on your heads."
He'd ducked out of the room and taken off running before the others could retaliate.
Given how long it had taken the Daily Prophet to print anything on the break-in at the Ministry, Harry was rather surprised to see, less than three days after the Hol Missions, that the newspaper had headlines regarding the disaster that had 'mysteriously' destroyed the home of Rita Skeeter, as well as side-articles that referred to some of the other estates that had been hit. There was a surprising lack of information about the higher-profile targets such as the Malfoys, but Harry assumed that Xanxus or Squalo had a hand in that.
'I wonder how they are going to spin things?' The dark-haired teen thought curiously as he idly flipped through the newspaper in the Room of Requirement. ' I mean, I know we have access to a ridiculous amount of wealth and knowledge now, not to mention better strategies for future operations.' Harry paused for a moment and settled back a little further into his chair. 'You know, I can't decide if that's a good thing or not.'
The door opened and Neville walked the Room of Requirement, carelessly dropping his bag to the floor before throwing himself on the sofa with a groan of misery.
He'd been alone before Neville had shown up, everyone else off doing their own thing, so he was intrigued by Neville's rather uncharacteristic dramatic entrance. Harry quirked an intrigued eyebrow. "Rough day?" He asked mildly.
"Cram it, prat." Came the muffled response from the prone Longbottom.
"That wonderful, eh?" Harry snickered at the groan he was gifted with in response.
"The new exercises." Neville told him, moving his head slightly so he could grace Harry with a one-eyed glare. "Are both amazing and terrible. Amazing because I finally feel like I'm using my Flame correctly and am learning a ton about the possibilities. Terrible because it feels as if I am starting all over again and am stretching metaphoric muscles that I've never stretched before."
"Ah. So that's why you came up here." Harry replied, deeply amused.
Neville's one-eyed glare grew a bit more irritated. "It's like a constant party down there." He groaned tiredly. "Not that it's a bad thing, but there are explosions and Mist 'pranks' and constant questions and, just- chaos."
"Poor you." Harry told the other in an entirely insincere voice. "But better you than me." He finished brightly.
"Some of them are your people you know." Neville shot back with an exasperated huff. "Like a certain pair of Twins I could mention."
"You have all the Rains-" Harry pointed out with a smirk. "-bribe them to put people to sleep."
"And subject myself to Rain-humor?" Neville scoffed, but a grin was tugging at his lips. "Never."
"Getting worse are they?"
Neville groaned again. "Yes. I think I'd take smacking-Luna over deadpan-snarky-Luna."
"Ah, well." Harry said with a bright smile, and Neville glared at him pre-emptively. "You're just the sort of grounded guy-"
Neville tossed a pillow at Harry, using his newly-discovered trick for affecting the gravity- at least that what the other's told him, it was still sort of new- of an object to make the pillow much heavier and to fly fast than it should have been able to.
That it knocked the laughing, smirking idiot's chair over and left him nursing his nose was just a bonus.
"You were saying?" Neville asked innocently.
Harry scowled at his snickering friend as he flicked his wand into his hand and fixed his chair with a few precise movements and a muttered incantation. "I'm surprised that the papers are already reporting on our Hol adventures. Your Gran have anything to say about them?"
"Not really." Neville informed him as he resettled himself. "The Ministry is keeping the greatest details quiet, and I doubt that anyone knows about the unoccupied estates just yet. Has Boss relayed anything?"
"Not yet. Mammon mentioned something about Magical Contracts being signed and Mist Traps being lain, but they are waiting from the Second Task to see if the wizards will get their act together and investigate Sirius' situation or if we need to handle that with our- and I'm quoting Teschio here- 'minions'."
Neville let out a bark of laughter. "Minions." He snickered. "I like it!"
Harry made his way down to breakfast shortly after the commencement of the new term, yawning widely and nodding briefly at the other members of the 'group' if he happened to make eye contact with them.
We need to think of a name. Harry thought as he piled his plate with things that Lussuria would approve of him eating. Actually. He amended as he nodded to the newly-arrived Neville and chewed on his toast thoughtfully. We should probably have a name for Neville's Earth Flame group and another for my Sky Flame group.
"Hey, Nev." Harry said after he'd swallowed his mouthful.
"Hmm?" Neville mumbled as he tried to drink his morning tea instead of drowning in it.
"When you think of the Earth what's the first type of thing that comes to mind?"
Neville blinked a few times as he tried to force his sluggish thoughts to cooperate. "Well- steadiness? Grounding, maybe?"
Harry hummed a little and ate a few more bites of his breakfast as he thought about things. "I think we need to name our respective groups." He said after a long moment. "I think it'll give us a better sense of overall cohesion, even though most of our friends are starting to break off into smaller groups of two or three to experiment or explore things."
"I agree." Neville agreed cheerfully, far more awake after downing a full cup of tea. "We're also diverging a bit from the known. I'll bring it up to my people; you bring it up to yours?"
"Sounds good." Harry agreed, dropping the conversation as the Gryffindor table began to fill as the hour moved closer to seven. "You figured out your strategy for the Second Task yet?"
"Nearly." Neville said lightly, his grin razor sharp.
Harry laughed and shrugged on the strap of his satchel as he rose, ready to leave. "Well, make it entertaining, alright?"
"Oh, no doubt about that my friend. No doubt."
The only truly noteworthy thing that occurred between the beginning of term and the Easter Hols was the Second Task. From a spectator standpoint it was truly boring, as they mostly stared at the placid surface of the Black Lake for an hour after watching the Champions throw themselves into the frigid waters of the aforementioned Lake.
It had started so smoothly for the competitors. Both Cedric and Neville cheerfully cheating unrepentantly with their Flames after Luna informed them that there were no magic monitors according to her diagnostic scans.
The 'prisoners' that the two had to rescue from the Lake were family members- Cedric's mother and Neville's Gran- and the boys had retrieved their respective kin nearly effortlessly.
Of course, that was about the same time they realized that the little blonde girl was not resting peacefully as she should have been. Neville and Cedric had floated closer, only to be fended off by the fierce looking mermen with sharp, pointy tridents.
Truthfully Neville and Cedric were unimpressed.
Time passed and Krum came and retrieved Hermione Granger, but the little blonde's condition only grew worse despite seemingly still being under the influence of the spell that the others hostages had also been put under.
Then she had gone unnaturally limp and the two young men had simply reacted.
Cedric took hold of Neville's Gran and waved his wand at the same time he let out a controlled burst of Rain Flames. Meanwhile Neville reached for his Flames at the same moment he lifted his hand and pulled, tearing the girl free of the bindings that had held her and towards him. In the next moment Neville tugged Cedric to him, wrapped them all in a loose cocoon of his Flames, and then pushed; propelling all five of them to the top of the Lake nearly instantly.
Fortunately, there had been plenty of theoretic discussion about the potential uses for the Earth-styled users, so he kept ahold of his Flames for a few moments before allowing the cocoon he had made slowly unravel. Not to say that he or Cedric were idle, however, as they were aware that the merfolk were slightly less than pleased with them at the moment. Cedric drew his wand and cast an overpowered Auguamenti to propel them forwards while Neville visualized the shore and did his best to pull them towards it. There were a few moments when Neville thought he might pass out- manipulating gravity or the gravitational pull of something was much more difficult than the theory made it out to be!- but eventually the party arrived safely at the shore and were best upon by a highly distraught Fleur Delacour.
"Gabrielle!" Fleur wailed in distress as she tugged her sister to her and tried to calm the girl's shaking. "Gabrielle! I'm so sorry Gabby! Wake up, yes? Wake up for your big sister!"
Harry and the others had made it down to the dock by that point, so they witnessed the smaller blonde being forcefully pried from Fleur's arms by Madame Pomfrey. Harry hadn't even needed to look at Cedric before his Guardian understood what was being asked of him. Cedric turned his Flames inward- much like the Earth set had been learning to do- but instead of accidentally Tranquilizing himself to death; he visualized his Flames bleeding through his skin as an ultra-fine spray.
Slowly the gentle haze of Rain Flames started to filter through their area of the crowd and Fleur downgraded from 'hysterical' to 'passionately anxious'.
There had been reassurances offered, from the Ministry and the schools, which had assured everyone that little Gabrielle had not been in any 'genuine peril', but-
Harry still wondered if the girl would have actually died, had Neville and Cedric not acted.
Would the Headmasters have allowed such a thing? He'd like to think not, but the group had done a fair bit of research- the Varia members at Number 12 had as well- and with the way the Goblet was enchanted, little Gabrielle might well have been in actual, life-threatening danger in order for the Task to satisfy the Goblet's magical requirements.
"One thing is for certain." Mammon grimly informed Harry late one night through the communication mirrors. "We underestimated the value of magical contracts. Thankfully, we erred on the side of caution, but now Boss is even more determined to understand how so many corrupt government employees still manage to have their souls intact, let alone their magic."
Harry, for once by himself, took to wandering around Hogsmeade Easter weekend. The weather was damp and dreary and Harry's intuition was being antsy, but Harry chalked it up to his general state of being, as his intuition had been acting up fairly regularly since the previous Fall. He pulled in heavy breaths of chilled air as he wandered rather aimlessly, trying to figure out just what, exactly, was bothering him. What was causing the very air he was breathing to seem so weighted and filthy.
Well, truthfully, he knew what it was- Harry was tired of the magical world, tired of Hogwarts.
Not just tired, but weary. Drained. Exhausted. Depressed. And homesick- so terribly, keenly homesick for the Varia and the ability to unashamedly be himself. To be expected to be himself; to be expected to think for himself.
Free of the weight of expectation for him to perform like a trained little dog whenever something went awry- whether it was someone being picked on in the hallway or rumors about a new Dark Lord rising.
Within what seemed to be every single person he met, save for his closest friends, there always seemed to be an unwritten, but patent expectation that Harry would spearhead the 'fight against the darkness'. That he was a 'good guy'- a crusader or defender.
That Harry would fight the 'new Dark Lord' that was rumored to be rising, the rumors having sprung up sometime in the past month or so, after the Ministry kicked up a major fuss about some 'missing Ministry artifacts'. Mostly in an attempt to distract the public and regain their chokehold on the flow of information- hence the playing on the public's fears of a new Voldemort-type figure possibly being on the rise.
Harry was well aware of the fact that the 'Dark Lord' they were looking for was Xanxus and the Varia, though he certainly snickered over the thought of the Ministry stooges being able to do anything to the Varia.
Let alone Xanxus, of all fucking people.
But it still gnawed at him, the quiet expectations that he could see in the eyes of others.
("You'll save us again, won't you Harry?")
Harry loved his friends, loved his Family, but he wasn't a fucking saint- he had no desire to die or sacrifice himself for some nebulous, half-formed cause that did not concern him or his in the least.
Harry shoved his hands in his pockets and took a few deep, controlled breaths as he pushed back against the burning at the back of his eyes. He was stronger than this, he could handle a few more months. Besides, Xanxus was already moving to discredit the wizarding world's general sense of self-entitlement, anyways.
The changes from the Varia-controlled magicals- most of whom had been 'acquired' over the Christmas Hols- were slowly beginning to take shape.
The DMLE had announced that there had been several major donations to their budget and within the year the Auror force was projected to have nearly tripled, as they now had the funds to not only keep the current Aurors equipped but to increase their trainee pool.
Snape was currently nearly foaming at the mouth as no less than a hundred former Hogwarts students were being tutored in Potions on the Auror Department's Knut in order to acquire their Potions prerequisite. It was raising all sorts of unwanted questions about Snape, Hogwarts, and why those two things were even remotely related, let alone in the same sentence in any other context than, "Severus Snape is a Hogwarts alumni.".
The Daily Prophet had undergone some serious internal reconstruction and was currently in the middle of running a series of stories that de-mystified the current politicians. Not a single one was being left untouched- not even the 'good guys'- as some hardcore investigative journalism exposed skeletons, shady dealings, and all manner of other juicy tidbits. Slipped in between the moments of humble pie and Fudge crow eating were articles detailing the actions of both sides of First Blood War, encouraging the populace to open their damn eyes and look around for themselves.
Squalo called it 'a calculated, systematic approach to deprogramming the masses', but Xanxus just called it 'printing actual fucking news'.
On the personal front Harry had gotten less clingy with his Guardians. Oh, he still wanted them around and enjoyed spending time with them, but he was fairly at ease with the understanding that they were his friends. No need to constantly reaffirm that he was not simply having a massive daydream while on the verge of death or as a result of being locked inside his cupboard while deprived of any significant sustenance.
It was a slow process, but the threads of Flame that connected him to his Guardians, and then to their attached Flame users, kept him warm and balanced in a way he'd never known to be possible before Xanxus had barged his way into his life.
Oh there were still days when he wanted to koala-cling to his friends and wrap them up in metric ton of cotton to keep them from getting hurt. Days when he woke up from a dead sleep with his heart racing wildly, fearing that the past few years had been the result of feverish dreams, and that he was still that lonely, overlooked little boy that had been locked underneath the oppressive thumb of his relatives.
But those days were becoming less and less as more time passed. Training his friends and training with his friends also helped soothe his insecurities, and the more time they all sent together as a group, the more empowered he felt. The more in control of his own destiny he felt.
Harry had just rounded a corner near the Shrieking Shack, intent to head over to the picnic most of his company were attending on an enchanted little patch of ground when he suddenly yelped in alarm, his foot slipping in a sloshy patch of half-melted snow, as he felt Mammon's time-space technique grab ahold of him and pull.
A few moments later he was blinking the spots away from his vision, absently noting- mostly through his newly discovered 'Flame sense'- that Xanxus and several other Varia personnel were nearby as well, though Xanxus was the only Varia officer present.
"Shitty Brat." Xanxus grunted in greeting as he tossed a bundle of clothes at Harry's head. "Suit up."
Harry immediately began to wriggle out of his day clothes and pull on the Varia uniform, but he just had to ask. "What's going on?"
Xanxus' grin was all white, shiny teeth. "These Dementor-trashes have got to go." He said with a growl.
Harry managed to get the long-sleeved undershirt on and took a brief moment to gawk at the fact that they were on a raft shortly off the coast of Azkaban in broad daylight before he shrugged and went to pull on his knee-high boots. "Ok?"
"These useless fucking things sided with that Volde-fucker in the last war and the idiots in charge still let them be prison guards." Xanxus continued, scorn fairly oozing from the dryly delivered words. "We're going to ensure they don't have the chance to get any ideas this time around."
"The graveyard area where we suspect Riddle will be attempting to make his return to a fully functional body is being prepped as we speak." Vivá informed Harry cheerfully from over Xanxus' shoulder. "But Boss wanted us to take care of some lose ends just in case some lower-level trash got any ideas."
"Sounds like the Boss we all know and love." Harry responded with a grin, ducking under Xanxus' half-hearted swipe nimbly before he pulled on his Varia jacket, thankful for the warmth than began to breathe life back into his chilled limbs.
"Fucking bratty little shit." Xanxus grumbled in mostly-good humor before he straightened and nodded towards one of the cloaked Mists. "Let's do this, Vivá, Shroud."
Whatever Harry had been about to say was quickly abandoned as he watched the two Varia work their magic. "Activated illusions?" He asked somewhat incredulously. "How?"
Xanxus grinned at him- sharp and feral. "Oh, Shitty Brat, you and your minions have so much to learn."
Harry's answering grin made Vivá giggle.
After Harry's afternoon excursion to Azkaban, Xanxus handed down a new training regimen for Harry "and your fucking minions" to follow.
It wouldn't be until Harry looked back on that semester that he realized how isolated he and his cohort had become. Even in class they tended to group together, and while they were perfectly friendly- for the most part- with the exchange students and their fellow Hogwarts students, Harry and Neville were largely insulated, buffered by the others.
It wasn't that they were trying to be separate and act like elite jerks, it just sort of happened. After the training and the Hol missions and knowing the source of all the upheaval with the Ministry and the Prophet's reporting- well, they just felt so much older than their peers. Aged in a way that made them stick out unexpectedly when around their Housemates and visitors. It was just easier- much more natural- to speak in the language of inside jokes and training fails than it was to whine about the two-foot essay set forth by McGonagall or Snape's latest rant about dunderheads.
Things still annoyed them, of course but somehow Snape's vitriol missed the mark when one had stood their ground in front of Xanxus. Snide remarks on handed-back homework became gut-busting jokes when you were aiming for Quality.
Everything else just seemed…unnecessary. Distracting and annoying at best.
Though, to be fair, their group's socialites had been given proverbial grenades in comparison to their classmates' slingshots.
Vala wore her crown as the Hogwarts Rumor Mill Queen with no small amount of pride.
"Let them come for you again, Adi darling." She had all but purred once her whisper campaign had truly gotten underway. "and I'll be more than happy to remind them how Quality handles petty vindictiveness."
Harry wasn't sure to be flattered or scared or both.
Lussuria, meanwhile, had been in raptures. "That's. My. Girls!" He had squealed into the mirror with a blood-edged smirk. "You show those trashes just who they are messing with! No quarter! They want to play the rumor game?" Lussuria's grin went full-out malicious, lethal in a way that you'd never see coming until three moments after the poison had passed your lips. "Then show them how it's played."
The night of the Third Task was unseasonably chilly, despite it being June.
The stands that had been hastily erected by the overgrown Quidditch Pitch were creaky and more than a little wobbly, but they held well enough. Harry's group of students were cloistered together, their energy buzzing especially brightly as they listened to Ludo Bagman- the man in the overgrown wasp suit- warble on and on about the Task and the Champions and whatever else he felt like babbling about.
Just before the Task began, Harry, Blaise, Theo, and the twins skived off- presumably to go ensure that they had all the 'supplies' they needed for the after party. Just out of sight from the stands, however, Theo covered them all in Mist Flames and Blaise distributed the three Time Turners that Mammon had given them.
"Two and a half turns, right?" George mumbled as he looped the chain around his twin's neck and glanced over at Theo.
"Right." Theo confirmed, wrapping the thing golden chain of his Time Turner around his neck while Blaise and Harry did the same. "I'm two and a quarter turns so I can set up the distractions and everything."
They all turned to look at Harry, who took a few, deep breaths before he nodded firmly. "Go."
A moment later they wavered out of existence and a heartbeat after that the wavered back into phase.
But those that returned were far removed than those who left.
Harry would never not be amused at doing high-rick missions in broad fucking daylight.
It was fairly simple for Theo to cover them until they reached the Hogwarts Ward Line and then the Varia-improved Portkeys did the rest.
"Alright, trash." Xanxus growled once they had all suited up. Xanxus, himself, was in his usual leather pants and dress shirt with the Varia jacket ensemble, while the other Officers present were also in their preferred battle gear- Varia uniform combinations.
Harry was thankful that this series of uniforms were a bit more utilitarian than last season's series. Lussuria's 1972-glam-throwback phase had been hilarious to everyone who hadn't had to endure the Sun Officer's sequin melodrama. Granted, most of it was to annoy the CEDEF members who had been snooping around, but it had still been rather exhausting and slightly embarrassing to endure.
This season's series was all about comfort and maneuverability, thankfully.
"This is the most sensitive operation you've taken part of to date." Xanxus continued on the heels of his call for attention. "As you all are aware the trash that fancies himself a Dark shitty Lord is a Sky. A Sky who ripped out his individual Flames and stored them inside prized objects to escape death." Xanxus' words were full of revulsion, and Lussuria shuddered dramatically. "Thanks to hard fucking work and some blind, dumb luck we're destroyed a shitty Cup, a fucking Diary, an older-than-fuck Locket, a pretty princess Tiara- Diadem, whatever, Lussuria- and a Ring that had a fucking weird Stone in it." Xanxus paused for a moment before shrugging and adding. "And I'm pretty sure there was a sliver in the shitty brat's head, but he took care of that back in his First Year."
Harry studious ignored his Guardians' searching looks, including Regulus' rather scandalized expression- the Sun Guardian having slunk over to stand with them while Xanxus had been speaking.
"So, tonight." Xanxus continued strongly, arms crossed over his chest and his gaze fierce. "We're going to interrupt the bastard's resurrection party and end him once and for all." Xanxus paused for a moment, seeming to weigh his words before he continued. "We're going to let him do his thing- they've got a cauldron and shit all ready to go- but half of his ingredients are Mist-made replacements." Xanxus smirked viciously. "So we will be in control of the situation, whether he knows it or not."
"Voi." Squalo muttered, with less than half of his normal enthusiasm as he took over the narrative. "We're letting him 'regain' his form so that he can summon his shitty little followers and gloat." Squalo's eyes were firm as he locked gazes with each of them. "We did a fair amount of work in cutting his legs out from under him during the Hol Missions, but there are some followers who were left out or were unaccounted for."
"Like my Grandfather." Theo said somewhat woodenly.
"Like you grandfather, brat." Squalo agreed, his stare steady as he looked at Theo. "If he answers the trash's Call, he's going to die."
"Fair enough." Theo agreed dispassionately. "I won't be able to help you kill him, though. Family Magic."
"Oh, we'll be just fine." Squalo purred dangerously a sword-sharp grin on his face as he leered at Theo. "No problems there."
Harry absently wondered when Squalo's bloodthirstiness became comforting instead of terrifying.
"Now, we know that the undercover-teacher-trash has modified the Goblet-thing so the winner of the Tournament will be portkeyed here." Skull chirped cheerfully from his newly-claimed spot on Harry's shoulders.
Harry wondered when Skull had gotten his own Varia uniform and why the tiny Cloud was here. Then again-ah.
Harry grinned at his own Cloud as Skull gleefully continued. "-expect Rainy and Earthy to get there first."
"-if they don't you all will be in for hell this summer." Xanxus warned ominously, glaring at the teens menacingly.
Harry, especially, gulped in dread as beads of sweat formed and trickled down the back of his collar.
"-and then we'll spring the trap and- pow! No more Dark Lord wannabe!" Skull finished grandly, flexing his muscles in weird poses and making most of the others laugh or smirk. "And then Artemis can take his stupid tests and we can all go home!"
Harry felt a burst of affection for the tiny Cloud. For as silly as he liked to be- and Skull and Sirius' prank wars were Varia legends after the Prank War of April- Skull had a natural grasp of showmanship and an almost uncanny knack for encouraging or reassuring people.
'This is my Family.' Harry thought rather goofily as he felt the bonds in his chest thrum with reassurance, Xanxus gravely, deep voice washing over him pleasantly as the plan was outlined one final time before the mission went live. 'This is what I'm fighting for.'
Truthfully, it was a bit strange to sit on the sidelines and just watch the trap unfold.
As planned, Neville and Cedric portkeyed in together. Well, not that the 'together' part was planned, but that had not been entirely out of the realm of possibilities. There had been a moment of panic when Voldemort- in ugly baby form, thankfully Mammon had shown them a Mist replica so they wouldn't be completely taken by surprise- had ordered Wormtail to "Kill the spare.", but Mammon had switched out the real Cedric for a Mist Copy just in time.
Harry had still nearly broke from his cover, only Xanxus' firm grip- and the hissed admonishment to "-check your Bonds!"- had allowed him to re-center himself and realize what had happened.
Shortly thereafter Neville had been tied to a gravestone, either Mammon or Theo helpfully Misting a replica of Neville's wand into existence for Wormtail to 'confiscate'.
Harry still wouldn't recommend sitting still in the shadows of a graveyard on a chilly, damp night in England as a vacation activity, but aside from Neville's groans of pain when Wormtail used a wicked-looking knife to steal some blood for the rebirth ritual, it had not been unbearably uncomfortable.
Thank everything good and holy that the Varia jackets were well insulated, though. Otherwise Harry might have lost feeling in his extremities.
They were all positioned in pairs- Harry and Xanxus, Squalo and Blaise, Theo and Mammon, Luss and Regulus, Sirius and George, Skull and Fred- at staggered intervals around the ritual site, hidden by some hybrid Flame-Magi Tech devices that Verde had just cleared for field work.
As in, two days ago, according to Squalo.
When Voldemort emerged from the cauldron, Harry nearly laughed.
Apparently those Mist substitutions had made him into a serpentine Ken-doll with a smushed up face. The eyes were far, far too large, the nose was just a setoff slits in the middle of the face, and the mouth was entirely lipless, just a wavy set of lines that flapped around when Voldemort went to speak.
It was hilarious looking, despite the grandly billowing steam and the creepy nighttime graveyard backdrop.
Voldemort went on to give some sort of grand speech- most of it Harry didn't listen to, entirely too focused on not laughing- before he asked the whimpering Wormtail for his arm.
When Voldemort ignored the bleeding stump- Wormtail had cut off half of his own arm for the ritual- and demanded that Wormtail present his Dark Mark, even Xanxus snorted softly, nearly sending Harry into hysterics.
Then, a few minutes later, cloaked figures began to arrive and Harry's mirth curdled.
Xanxus made them wait a few more minutes into Voldemort's monologue, but eventually he gave the signal.
And they all rushed forward, Harry's daggers slipping out in place of his wand- they were supposed to use Flames and brute force instead of magic.
Then, of course, it all went to hell.
By hell, Harry meant the column of fire that erupted just in front of Neville that turned out to be Fawkes and the Headmaster.
Mammon easily caged Fawkes, but the Headmaster was surprisingly spry for an old man and immediately began engaged Voldemort while simultaneously freeing Neville and avoiding Mammon's traps.
"Get to the Cup!" The Headmaster ordered Neville as he began to exchange spells with Voldemort. "It will take you back to Hogwarts, info- what is going on here?!"
"Shitty Brat!" Xanxus roared from somewhere beside him, and Harry didn't even stop to think.
"On it, Boss!" He ducked under a jet of sickly violet colored light and stepped into his masked opponent's personal space, the tip of his dagger flaying open the artery in the neck as he ducked under the man's arm and around his side. It took a few moments of dancing behind the man, as his frantic movements made it difficult to use him as a shield, but that was all it took for Harry's Storm Flames to eat through the man's enchanted cloak. Once there was an opening, Harry slammed his eight-inch blade into the left side of the man's back adding a pinch of Storm for good measure. The man screamed and fell forward, but Harry's blade slid out easily and he was able to dodge one of the man's compatriot's spells.
As used to the motions as he was, having the full weight of a body at the end of his weapon was still an entirely unpleasant sensation. The knowledge that he was taking the life of someone's son or daughter was only balanced by the training he had received.
Xanxus and Squalo were both Catholics- as all good Italians were, according to Squalo- and Harry had sort of adopted the same way of thinking, even though he'd grown up Anglican, as the Dursleys were members of the Church of England. He'd talked it over with Xanxus some, but Harry still wasn't entirely resolved on the moral dilemma. He was looking forward to being able to talk to the Mafia Priests about his occupation and finding his own path, though. According to Xanxus, finding his ow path was part of growing u and becoming his own man.
It still didn't mean he'd ever forget how awful it felt to have a body fall off his blade, one soul lighter.
Then there was no more time to think, as slimy feeling jets of light flew past and ricocheted off of stone and the ground and left deep, oozing, malignant debris in their wake, making dodging even more tricky as he tried to avoid both the attackers and the treacherous spots of ground their spells left behind.
Over to the side, Xanxus had entered the fray, his Wrath Flames lighting up the night as he barged right in between Voldemort and Dumbledore.
Harry lost sight of them for a bit as he had his own opponents to deal with, but eventually the teams had downed all the small fry and converged on the Boss fight.
In true Xanxus fashion, Voldemort was on fucking fire. Literally, as a human-ish torch, his oversized snake writhing around his legs in agony as it, too, was consumed by Wrath Flames.
Meanwhile, Dumbledore was on the ground, one leg bent at an odd angle, white hair fanned out in the mud like some sort of neglected snow angel, his beard whipping about in the unnatural breeze created by Xanxus' Flames, as he stared up at the overcast night sky in what Harry assumed was shock.
Albus felt the chill of the earth seeping into his very bones, as if death itself had come to methodically claw out his insides. The elderly man barely managed to turn his head to the side as he heard the approaching footsteps.
Watery blue met blazing red, and for a moment Albus' heart stuttered.
But it wasn't the insane scarlet of his wayward child, but the steady garnet of the teenage 'Boss'. The booted feet stopped just short of him and the young man crossed his arms across his chest, his forehead creased in deep thought. Albus could hear the other teen- the loud one- bellowing orders somewhere in the background, but his gaze was riveted on the young man that Harry had listened to.
Had killed for.
The leather-clad teen sighed heavily and nudged Albus' side with the toe of his boot, his weapons tucked away at his side for the moment. "You're a shitty old man, trash." The teen drawled dryly, something tired and wise flittering through his heavy gaze. "But you're not entirely fucking delusional, so that's something."
Albus was rather amused, despite himself. It took a few tries, but his tongue eventually complied with his desires and he managed to croak out, "Is that so?"
The red gaze sharpened and the feathers in the teen's hair swished gently as the young man squatted down beside Albus' prone form. "There's a fucking galaxy-wide difference between atonement and appeasement." The tone was void of accusation, but Albus heard it all the same. "Just like the absence of open war does not automatically mean that there is peace."
Albus opened his mouth to speak, but the teen ploughed forward, overriding anything Albus had been going to say.
"I don't fucking know if I should blame you or the cowards who fucking made you." The teen scrubbed a hand through his hair and frowned heavily. "I've studied your fucking past, trash. You've got enough fucking survivor's guilt to float an army and yet you were still fought. Were made a fucking general even. I can respect your commitment to the fight, old man, but that's about it." The teen scowled down at Albus. "But I can't respect your legacy."
"No, listen, trash." The teen growled forcefully, that strange fire warming the air between them warningly. "You are the Headmaster of the only fucking school on this whole fucking island. That is power, old man. The power to shape and change- and you fucking squandered it." The teen shook his head, causing dark hair and feathers to obscure Albus' view of the young man's face for a moment before the teen's blistering glare was once again clearly visible. "So the question remains- are you attempting atonement or appeasement. Because the former will extend your life and the latter will end it."
Sudden comprehension dawned as random little incidents from the past few months suddenly made sense. "It was you. You're the ones who have been orchestrating all the upheaval in the Ministry."
The smirk on the teen's face was darkly satisfied, and Albus couldn't even bring himself to feel anything but amused. "That's right. So, trash, do you want to play by my rules and actually atone for all your bullshit or do you want to be graduated to fully dead?"
Being given a choice gave Albus pause. This-
This was not what he expected.
The teen snorted derisively and rolled gracefully to his feet. "Shitty brat! Get your ass over here!"
A few moments later Harry- face dirtied, several scrapes sluggishly oozing blood, and clothes ripped in several places- came into view. But Albus noted the alertness in Harry's gaze, the assessment of the situation as Harry casually took in the teen's posture and Albus' own position.
"What's up, Boss?" Harry asked the teen with a slight grin as he swiped at a couple of the deeper cuts.
"I'm debating whether or not your Headmaster should be graduated to fully dead or not, brat." The teen's voice was wry, but the way his hand moved to his holstered weapons made the statement anything but funny.
Harry hummed lightly and barely spared Albus a glance. "So, why do you need me?"
The elder teen swiped at Harry's head half-heartedly- which Harry laughingly dodged- before the tone turned serious once again. "It's your choice, brat. He's the one who left you with those scum fuckers, and it's his shitty agenda that allowed so many of these Death Eater trashes to flourish."
Albus privately thought that that statement was a rather uncharitable and thus made a moue of protest.
"No, you old fucking fart, fucking listen." The older teen snapped heatedly, his tone suddenly full of command and unyielding accusation. "It was you who allowed those fuckers to put you on a pedestal and make you their figurehead. It was you who was so afraid of delegating power that you decided to hold three full time positions. It was you that allowed yourself to spread yourself so thin that you became entirely ineffective in all of your official capacities." The teen's eyes glowed with restrained power and the pressure in the air turned nearly unbearable. "A Boss- a leader- must know his own limits in order to best serve his people. It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you, but at the same fucking time, just because someone doesn't agree with every fucking thing that comes out of your mouth doesn't mean that they are your fucking enemy."
Silence. Absolute silence. Even the background noise of the cleanup crew had petered out to nothingness.
Albus sighed mournfully and accepted the harsh truth in the teen's words, after more than a few moments' worth of internally running through his usual litany of excuses, explanations, and justifications.
Damn, but it scalded something fierce to be schooled by a young man not even a fraction of his considerable age.
Albus drew in a few ragged, broken breaths, the chilled air seeming to mock him as his eyes burned in humiliation.
What had he done?
A hand fisted in the front of his blood-splattered robes and suddenly the teen's ruby gaze was only inches away from his own. "You don't get to wallow in self-pity." The teen snarled lowly, the words seeming to be bit out from between clenched teeth. "Either own your mistakes and choose atonement or continue the pity party and I'll send you to meet your fucking ancestors in disgrace. But you don't get to sit here and wallow, old man. Not on my fucking watch."
"Harry." Albus wheezed hoarsely, closing his eyes and trying to marshal his emotions. "Harry should decide. It was him that I-"
Xanxus turned to the Shitty Brat and quirked an eyebrow. "Well?"
Harry, to his credit, merely hummed softly. "He's not a bad man, Boss…..but, he's not a good one either."
The old man on the ground shuddered and moaned plaintively.
"And?" Xanxus prompted, more than done with this bullshit but fully aware that this was the brat's fight.
Even assassins knew that offing an opponent wasn't always the right answer, but that was not a lesson that could not be taught. It had to be actively learned.
And, as usual, the Shitty Brat rose to meet the challenge Xanxus had presented to him.
"Power makes him weak- because he fears it." Harry slowly reasoned out loud. "So knock him down to a position he isn't afraid of- that he won't and can't use as a pedestal." The brat shrugged and scratched at one of the cuts on his forearm. "Honestly, make him a teacher, maybe a Head of House. Without an agenda or a war to fight he'd probably be a brilliant teacher and Gryffindor's favorite grandpa." Harry ran a hand through his hair and crossed his arms defensively- tells Xanxus was going to have to beat out of him, and fucking soon. "Make him sign a contract and then make clean up his own mess, Boss. Just killing him isn't going to solve the problem, but letting him go without censure or oversight isn't going to help anything either."
Xanxus grunted in agreement- he was so damn proud of his brat at the moment it was all he could do- and looked down at the defeated old bastard. "Well?" He drawled easily, unstrapping one of his X-Guns from their holster and holding it at his side. "What's it going to be old man?"
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