You should probably read the end of last chapter to refresh your memory. It's been some time since I last posted.
Harry awoke to the familiar feeling of his own bed. The same blankets, the same magically-clean sheets, the same pillows- wait a minute.
The wizard's eyes opened in an instant. He jerked upright, and instantly felt his hangover. Luckily, (or unluckily for his gut,) he'd found a way to distill firewhiskey strong enough to bypass his resistance to alcohol. It had almost been a necessity, as he'd had nothing better to do for years while his shipyards spooled their production to ever-higher levels, or he waited endlessly for reports from his operatives. The tingling burn in his gut was familiar, at least.
The warm female body in his bed certainly was not.
Roused by his rapid movement, the smooth expanse of female skin groaned, and stretched sluggishly. Jane Shepard's unruly curls emerged from the mound of blankets, worried eyes instantly aware of her location.
"Fuck." she surmised, voice scratchy.
"I don't think we did anything." Harry said, allowing himself to fall back onto the bed. "We're both mostly clothed."
"Wonderful." Shepard's sarcasm was almost a physical force. Her head disappeared, as she buried herself more deeply amidst the cushions.
"Accio hangover-cure." Harry muttered. A pair of glowing green vials of liquid flew into the room. Groaning, he sat up again, and pulled the cap from one vial with his teeth. Wordlessly, he offered the other to Shepard, whose hand had risen from the unfathomable depths of cushion at the words, 'Hangover-cure'. She sat up, chugged the liquid, and slumped back under the covers.
Wordlessly, both Harry and Jane went back to sleep.
"...Harry?" Jane opened her eyes, after an indeterminate amount of time.
"Ungh." Something shifted, under the blankets.
"Are you awake?" Shepard murmured.
"Now I am." the wizard croaked. "What do you need?"
"We need to talk about… this." Jane said. "Where do we stand with each other?"
Harry sat up. "I don't understand-"
"You are the only reason I'm still alive." Shepard reminded him. "Don't you dare tell me that everything is just the same as it was on Elysium, before the Blitz. This… thing between us-" she gesticulated, with one hand over her heart, "- has changed, and I want to know what it's become."
"So do I." Harry said, low and quiet. "See, I've only ever felt this way towards one person before." He pushed some of the blankets away, suddenly feeling like he was about to combust.
Shepard quieted, eyes shining like stars. Something quivering and triumphant blazed in her chest. Her hands clenched in the sheets, pulling taut lines across the fabric before she consciously relaxed her hands. "Daphne?" she asked, voice carrying some unknowable tone.
"Yeah." Harry nodded. "There's this connection between you and me, and it's," he shook his head, eyes distant. "It's like nothing I've ever felt before. Even with Daphne." His voice rose to a more humorous tone. "Though it may be 'poor professional conduct,' I'd love to break some fraternization regulations with you."
Jane glanced at Harry's lips. "This is a stolen Cerberus ship. There aren't any fraternization regs in the first place." she smiled, giving the wizard a coy glance. The butterflies in his chest battered against his ribcage. Shepard gesturing at the bed, and then at the shirtless wizard lying barely a foot away. "Besides," she murmured, as she pushed herself in Harry's direction, "professionalism can go fuck itself."
They were kissing. Harry wasn't sure when that had started, or how long it had been going on. In fact, it seemed that his higher brain functions had deserted him at some point along the journey. And all he could focus on was-
-Her lips, blazing hot, pressing on his, and her tongue, rough and sweet, pushing against his as if fighting for dominance, and her hands, fingernails pressing almost painfully into the bare skin of his back-
And then it all stopped, as they pulled back, breathing heavily. "We're crazy." Harry muttered, eyes alight. "I'm a million times your age."
"You're immortal." Shepard whispered through the grin across her face. "You stopped aging at twenty-one-ish, biologically. The next million don't count."
"Damn." Harry cursed, playful. "I was really enjoying my senior citizen discount."
Harry and Jane shared a wide grin, as they moved to merge lips once more. But Jane couldn't get the smile off her face in order to pucker her lips, and Harry had to resort to pushing one arm out to correct his balance against the wall, so that he didn't fall directly to the floor.
Harry lay down on the bed, still chuckling, and held out his arms towards Shepard. She snuggled into his chest, as the pair waited for their gales of laughter to recede. And recede it did. Quiet crept into the room, but it was a comfortable quiet, filled with the distant hum of the ship's eezo core. The lovers lay in a companionable silence for what seemed like hours.
"I talked to Chakwas," Shepard began, reluctant to break the mood. "Apparently my skin cells have stopped dividing." Harry lay silent, on the other side of the bed. Jane continued. "Chakwas took a more detailed scan, and figured that my dead cells just fix themselves. On their own." Harry's eyes widened, almost imperceptibly. "Whatever you did to bring me back-" Left unspoken remained the words from the dead,- made me biologically immortal."
"What do you think?" Harry said, softly. "Blessing or curse?"
"Both-" she mumbled. Jane's pupils dilated, as her eyes met Harry's. "But I'll at least have good company." Harry pulled her into a calm embrace.
"Always." he murmured.
Their lips met, and then they were kissing once more-
until Shepard's omni-tool rang furiously from a desk on the other side of the room, startling both companions. It rang once, twice, three times before Jane smoothed out her snarled blankets, got out of the bed, and picked it up.
"Hey, Shepard!" Joker's voice blared from the speakers. "There's a big flashing box on my screens saying the Normandy's upgrades are complete. When do you want everyone ready to go?"
Jane looked back at Harry, pouting at her from amidst the disturbed pillows and blankets. "Let's get everyone back onboard the Normandy in an hour-" she paused. A grin spread across her face as her eyes met Harry's. "Make that two hours."
Harry and Jane- practically glowing- walked through the decontamination bay of the Normandy three hours later.
"Joker, set a course for the Omega-Four Relay." Shepard announced once she reached the CIC. "Let's get moving."
"Got it." the pilot said. There was a slight lurch, as the Normandy pulled away from the docking bay. "ETA, six hours. Use them wisely!" Joker said. The speakers were silent for a few seconds, before he piped up once more. "Just kidding. You'll probably all spend the time bashing your heads against pre-mission jitters like it's a bulkhead. And I'd bet money that our glorious leader has another speech written out." Shepard's expression twisted into a sheepish smile.
"You do!" Harry laughed. "You do have a speech, don't you?" Jane blushed.
"I might." she evaded.
"This isn't a fight I can win alone." Shepard began. "This isn't a fight we can win alone. This isn't a training mission. We're not just testing weapons with live ammunition. We'll be fighting for our lives against an enemy unlike anything we've ever fought before. This is serious, in the most profound way possible. We all know the basics- Colonies have been going missing. Thousands of humans- men, women, and children- have disappeared. The Collectors have been abducting them for the Reapers. I'm not expecting to find too many warm bodies." she let that hang for a moment, grim words filling the air. "If there are any survivors, they'll be our first priority. Above the station's destruction, even. We've got vast firepower on our side-" she made an ambiguous gesture in Harry's direction. "-but we can't convert city-leveling force into abductees." Jane bowed her head. "But if the worst comes to pass, I want every single one of you to know that it was an honor to serve with you. We're the best shot to eliminate the Collector threat. There are millions of lives riding on this. Let's make them count."
The Normandy vanished from the Omega system in a flash of blue as the Omega-Four relay spooled up, and launched the ship across the galaxy. Engines thrummed, just below any perceptible range. Outside the cockpit, the craft's eezo field danced like the aurora borealis, as it deflected radioactive particles and micro-asteroids. Hundreds of thousands of light-years away, the Normandy appeared in the midst of a debris field far more dense than any asteroid belt. The ship lurched, as Joker did some fancy maneuvering to avoid a few shattered hulks of spacecraft long dead.
"Those are shipwrecks!" Shepard said, voice carrying a worried tone. "EDI, what do we have on scanners?"
"We are in the accretion disc of a black hole. Scans are somewhat impeded by radiation from nearby wrecks and from some form of countermeasure from collector craft. There also seems to be a pulsing field of visible radiation around a station just under half a light-second away. I estimate that the object is two kilometers in diameter, and six in length."
"That's the Collector base." Harry said. "And it should have a dreadnought docked somewhere inside-"
"You are correct, Harry." EDI said. "I detect a ship leaving the Collector station, and powering up weapon systems. The craft carries particle cannons of the same caliber used against the original Normandy."
"Do we have a firing resolution?"
"Yes, and we've got some anti-ship drones on our tail!" Joker called out.
"Brace yourselves!" Shepard called out. A few crewmembers stared, confused, in her direction. "When Joker is taking evasive maneuvers, you fucking brace yourselves or you wind up on your asses!" The ship blasted forwards, knocking crewmembers to the floor. Inertial dampeners whined furiously to keep up with Joker's acceleration.
"Activating point defense-" EDI began.
"I've got it." Joker said, sounding irritated. Jane glanced around her bridge, almost laughing as she watched a pair of combat-analysts trying to stand back up.
"Hostile drones have been destroyed." EDI said, almost surprised. "Upgraded GARDIAN point-defense systems seem to provide incredible fighter-deterrent. Targeting the collector dreadnought." For a gut-wrenching second, the Normandy lurched, as it spun to face the collector ship. There was a rumbling sound belowdecks, and a beam of blue appeared on viewscreens all around, lancing towards the Collector dreadnought. Two more beams fired from a different point in space, with no visible ship firing them. Harry nodded when Jane shot him a questioning look.
"The Nyx will serve as reinforcements, in case additional orbital defenses show up."
The bridge crew watched all three beams strike the collector ship with a sense of finality. The hostile craft's shields flashed golden, and were burnt away. A second later, each beam blasted through the other side of the Collector Dreadnought. Lights across the ship's hull blinked out, as explosions tore through bulkheads and blast doors like bullets through tissue paper.
The bridge crew was silent, until Joker's voice played across their speakers. "Mother of God." the pilot whispered. "Harry, what the hell did you put on my ship?!"
"In addition to the three underslung warp bombs on each wing, nigh-on-infinite stealth heat-sinks, the enhanced reactor, and the new armor coating, I added a two-kilometer-long variable-yield magnetohydrodynamic cannon capable of breaching a Reaper's armor." the wizard said. "It fires a mix of molten iron, tungsten, and uranium, and delivers up to one-hundred-sixty kilotons of explosive death every five seconds." He smiled. "Joker, EDI- watch each other for growing god complexes."
"God complexes are the best kind of complexes, though." Joker murmured, dumbstruck. The ship lurched again, as he twisted the craft to avoid the oncoming shockwave, composed of a rapidly expanding cloud of vaporized armor and chitin. The ship weathered the shock with ease. Joker's professional edge reappeared, as if someone had flipped a switch. "We'll be reaching the Collector base in thirty seconds. Shuttle away in fifteen. Beginning pre-emptive bombardment of defense emplacements."
Jane and Harry's eyes locked from either end of the cramped shuttle, filled to the brim with the Normandy's away team. "Anyone see where the Auror team went?" a voice asked.
"They didn't make it to the shuttle in time. They can apparate over if they wish." Harry replied. A few moments later, the wizard caught Jane's attention and winked. She almost missed it, between everyone's last minute weapon-and-armor checks, barely noticing a new weight by her wrist. She looked down to see another tiny hold-out pistol- almost identical to the one that had destroyed a tank on Fehl Prime. She looked up. Harry winked again.
The shuttle shifted almost imperceptibly as it dropped from the Normandy's hold. Only when EDI twisted it sideways and hit the thrusters did the occupants feel any acceleration. Driven into the backs of their seats, the away team watched the Collector station grow closer on the shuttle's interior viewscreen. Larger and larger it seemed, as they closed the distance between them and the station. Then individual lights and fixtures could be made out on the viewscreen, as well as craters where debris had pitted and scraped the station's exterior. In a few areas, parts of the station were clearly quarantined and voiding atmosphere. Smoke as well as air vented from an airlock a few hundred meters up the hull.
"Station doesn't seem to be in good shape." Mordin said. "Visual examination reveals structural faults as well as signs of heavy fighting."
"How do you get that?" Kasumi asked. "I think the bulkhead's just been battered by the debris field for centuries."
"Not through examination of the bulkhead," Mordin shook his head, "But by examination of those." He pointed towards a few charred pieces of unknown material floating just outside one of the opened airlocks. "Omni-tool tells me that debris contains Collector tissue. I suspect they've been introduced to an exceedingly hot flame, or one of the strongest biotic warp attacks I've ever seen."
"We might have survivors, or even an active resistance," Harry sounded excited.
"Let's not get our hopes up." Miranda said. "We don't know how long those corpses have been floating there. For all we know, they're a thousand years old." The shuttle flew into a docking bay of some sort, and lost sight of the collector corpses.
"I detect active life-support here." EDI announced. "The collectors seem to use mass effect fields to contain a breathable atmosphere in some areas of the station, just like on the Citadel."
The shuttle touched down, and the craft's door slid open. The away team stepped out, guns ready. The floor seemed to be composed of some sort of chitinous material mixed with steel mesh. Dull lights in the floor and ceiling flickered. And-
"That's gunfire!" Shepard called out. She held up a fist, signalling for the group to stop. "Listen." she said. "It's far away, but that's an Avenger firing. Systems Alliance guns means survivors. The shots are coming from the far corridor," she pointed. "Double-time, people!" Shepard took off at a quick jog, quickly followed by the rest of the away team.
Draco never thought he'd learn about muggle guns. The topic just hadn't come up. Firearms had never been a concern, for him. It wasn't arrogance- they just weren't something he needed to worry about. Outside the occasional holiday vacation, he'd barely spent a single hour in the muggle world.
He never expected to actually shoot a muggle gun either, but clearly the universe had different ideas. He'd awakened from stasis only to find that the collectors had taken his wand, his portkeys, and his emergency beacon.
'Awakened from stasis' seemed such a tame way to put it. In truth, he'd crawled bleeding and drugged from his stasis pod when a stray bullet had shattered the hardened pane of glass keeping him contained, and passed through the fucking barbed collector-chitin needle dripping sedatives into his arm. The pain had been enough to bring him out of the drug-induced coma that the collectors kept all their future experiments under. If the bullet had been a centimeter to the right, he'd never have woken up until he'd have been on the operating table.
That still sent shivers down his spine.
Draco popped up again over his miserable excuse for cover, and unloaded his rifle into the nearest Collector drone. Unshielded, and without a biotic barrier, two shots sprayed viscous yellow blood into the air as the drone collapsed in a heap. The blood hissed as it ate away at the floor. The drone's wings twitched, in some alien display of rigor mortis. Draco ducked down again, and looked over his exhausted group of resistance-fighters. One was a doctor, one an ex-soldier, one a failed lawyer, one a criminal. Two squibs, fraternal twins, and Draco.
She was the leader of this little band of misfits, Draco knew. Without her, they'd have died days ago. And Draco still had no clue what she was. Human, obviously- that much was certain, but beyond that? He had no idea. He'd known precious little about biotics, like what she had, but even he knew that you couldn't hold biotic barriers for that long with that little effort. He and his comrades would have been taken by the seeker swarms ages ago, if not for those shields. Oh. And 'detonating' a singularity shouldn't cause structural damage on par with 16-inch american naval guns. A biotic warp should not be capable of eating through blast doors. A biotic throw shouldn't launch things made of flesh and bone through steel. And for god's sake, a biotic charge couldn't possibly be easier than walking the same distance! Urgh. Just like when he first learned to apparate.
Draco had even asked her how she'd become whatever she was. "If you mess with someone's head enough, you can turn a scared little kid into an all-powerful bitch." she'd said. When asked about her past -waiting for more collector attacks was boring as hell, so sue him- she'd been grim, except when talking about one topic.
"I met a man, once, in what I swear must've been the skeeviest dive bar in the galaxy. He stood out like a fucking krogan in a maternity ward- shiny everything, clean armor, dumb or suicidal enough to drink the shit behind the bar- and yet he never took his helmet off. Drank out of a straw. I sat down a few seats away, and he started talking. It's been years, but I still remember that he said, 'Take it from me- If you don't get your shit together and drop the victim complex, you'll never amount to anything more than a miserable excuse for a biotic hanging around shitty bars.' I think gunshots and biotic blasts were involved, after that. He got the better of me almost instantly, and let me go. Scared the shit out of me, at the time. About a month after I'd met him, I found myself actually thinking about what he said, and taking his advice. I wound up changing for the better, I think." Then, describing her change in a different conversation, she'd said, "I grew a pair -figuratively, get your mind out of the gutter- and got myself a half-decent set of morals. It was fucking profound."
It was all so quintessentially Jack.
They'd all changed, during the fighting. All but Draco. He'd taken to the chaos and the death like a duck to water. Sure, it brought back some… unpleasant… memories from the war, and from his time as a hit-wizard, but now that seemed like less of a worrisome statement about his psyche, and more of a gift from a higher power. The ease with which he'd started gunning down Collector drones and everything else even scared his fellow resistance-fighters, but he didn't care. And neither did Jack.
She hadn't been caring too much about anything for a few hours, ever since a Praetorian took off one of her arms just above the elbow. There was nothing left but a blackened stump. Cauterized, too- a mixed blessing. Muggle tech couldn't reattach prosthetics over flesh with no nerves, but at least she wouldn't bleed out. It wasn't like they were close enough to a med-center to reattach limbs anyway.
She'd soldier on, Draco knew, as he watched her sling another biotic warp one-handed into an oncoming scion. The thing practically vaporized itself under the power of Jack's biotics.
"ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL." Thundered a deep voice, reverberating and inhuman. Draco spun, rifle already spewing lances of supersonic death. Oh, how he hated those things- flight, strange dark-energy attacks, and heavy shielding were a vicious combination. The collector's shields, -even enhanced as they were- flickered under his stream of fire. Then the thing exploded. The possessed drone's bottom half crumpled to the floor with a sound more like a splat than a thud, while it's torso and everything above simply rained from the ceiling.
"We're friendlies!" called a voice Draco hadn't expected to hear ever again. "Hold fire, friendlies incoming!" He felt a rush of memories well up in the back of his mind.
It couldn't be.
A large group of heavily-armored combatants raced across the floor towards his position, downing Collectors with contemptuous ease. Approaching the barricades, they leapt across, and hunkered down.
"What's the situation?" Said a woman's voice, over the sound of gunfire. The sudden influx of her group's firepower had turned the tide, at least temporarily. It didn't take long to clear out the room. The omni-present buzzing of collector forces dulled as reinforcements headed for adjacent rooms to set up ambushes and reinforce other collector guard-forces. The woman -Jane Shepard, read a tag on her armor- began asking questions, and forming a battle plan. But Draco wasn't paying attention. He couldn't.
Not with Harry Potter -looking like he'd barely aged at all- in the same room.
"Damn, scarhead. I didn't think you were slytherin enough to fake your own death." Draco said. Potter's head whipped around, and a relieved smile crossed his face.
"Malfoy? Holy shit, what happened to your hair?" Potter did a double-take. "We found Lyra, by the way. She's safe." Harry said, stepping towards his old schoolyard rival.
"She's- Oh, Thank merlin." Draco's vision blurred. His knees felt weak, and an incomprehensible weight seemed to lift from his chest. Harry held out an arm. Draco took it, and the former enemies shook hands.
"Need a wand?" Harry said. He pulled a few wands and a holster from an expanded pocket, and fanned them out like a deck of cards. Draco took the holster, and ran his fingers over the wooden handles until he found a reasonably compatible match. In a rush of excited emotions, Draco felt the wand connect with him. Green and silver sparks flew through the air, drawing startled gasps from some onlookers.
"Please." Draco took the outstretched stick from Harry's hands.
"Haven't seen you in a long, long time. Hundred-seventy years, at least." Draco murmured, allowing Shepard to continue planning as he caught up with Harry.
"That was… what, my victory-day speech?" Harry furrowed his brow.
"No. I wasn't at the ten-year-anniversary celebration. Didn't think I'd be too welcome. The courts said dear old Lucius had a kill-count in the low triple-digits, after all." Draco said. "Last I saw you was sometime in the late nineteen-nineties. The arcanophage, I think."
"Nasty business." Harry nodded.
"You were the one getting all our research samples in the field from all those goddamn cultists. I was just an arithmancer trying to figure the damn thing out." Said Draco.
"Still nasty business." Both wizards nodded.
"I won't deny that."
"A civil conversation. Huh. I think you've mellowed out, in your old age."
"No, really. You dropped the emo death-eater attitude, stopped persecuting muggleborns and 'blood traitors,'" Harry made airquotes, "and had kids. Hell, Scorpius even married a Weasley!" Harry paused. "Oh. And all your hair fell out."
"Fuck you." Draco said, but he couldn't help the smile creeping across his face.
"You've even started using muggle profanity!" Harry seemed entirely too smug for his own good. "Gone natural, have you?" Draco felt his attitude lift, for the first time in days. He smiled, and shook his head. Only somebody as crazy as Harry Potter could raise a man's morale by insulting them.
"I'm glad you're here." he finally said, swallowing the last vestiges of age-old pride. "You always could pull a victory out of your ass. Tom, as well as most of the bastards you took down learned that the hard way. I'll just hold out hope that you can do the same thing here."
"Damn straight." Harry replied, in a rare moment of introspection.
"Do you have any wounded?" Harry spoke up.
A heavily tattooed woman replied, eying him curiously. "I'm missing an arm, but there's nothing you can do about that. A few others have gunshot wounds, but mostly all through-and-through shots. Nothing some medi-gel won't fix."
"Mind if I take a look at your arm?" the wizard replied. "I can probably restore full functionality, if you'll let me."
"Bullshit." Jack said, but held out her injured arm, somewhat reluctantly. Harry rummaged around in his bag for a moment, coming up with a few potion vials.
"Here. Drink." he proffered a few odd-looking bottles. Jack, more tired and in pain than curious, gulped them down. Her face twisted in an expression of disgust.
"Blech. What is this shit?" she said. Harry held up one more vial, this one glowing gold.
"Drink." Harry ordered. Jack swallowed the potion more slowly, this time, surprised that it actually tasted good.
A few moments passed. "What are those supposed to do?" she said, gesturing towards the empty vials strewn around her feet.
"Blood-replenisher, regeneration, muscle-knitting, nerve-regenerator, skele-gro, and Elixir of Life." he pointed at each bottle. "Look at your arm."
And right before her eyes, her wrist and fingers grew from the blackened stump of her arm. At least, what was the blackened stump of her arm. Now, it was bare flesh. Back to normal, minus the tattoos. Wisps of biotic energy formed around her new arm. Jack's gaze shot to the floor, trying to hide the tears forming in each eye. "Hey. Um… Thanks, mister." she said, voice suddenly hoarse.
"Happy to help." Harry said.
Jack could swear she'd heard his voice before.
"Alright. Listen up!" Shepard said, drawing the attention of all around her, as she passed out earpieces. Jack sat by her side, plowing through ration bars with her new hand. "I need you all to help me with this. You guys have been fighting in this base for days, at least. How much do you know about the station's layout?"
"Nearly nothing." spoke one of the squibs. He seemed to have taken the role of group spokesman. "Collectors have been trying to herd us in towards this one section of the station. We've been seeing a lot of strange things as we get closer, too. I keep saying-"
"It's not fucking magic!" the doctor cut in. "We-" Jane glared at the offending man. He quailed, and backed up a little too quickly.
"I'm not gonna tell you whether whatever you've seen is magic or not." Shepard said. "But whatever it is, it sounds interesting, and could be important. Do me a favor and explain the 'strange things' you've been seeing?"
"Odd lights, deep voices chanting. Stereotypical horror-movie stuff. But it's more than that. We've all been having nightmares, sometimes hallucinating. It's as if we're under the effects of some sort of drugs." Said the same spokesman.
Jane raised her omni-tool and scanned a few of the resistance-fighters. "I don't see anything wrong with you." she said.
"That's exactly what I'm worried about. The doc here has an advanced diagnosis program on his omni-tool, and he couldn't find anything either. So either the Collectors are flooding the area with aerosolized hallucinogens that are too complex for our omni-tools to detect…"
"...or everything you've seen is real." Jane finished the man's sentence, voice grim.
"Why don't we prepare for the worst, just in case?" Harry strode forwards. "What sort of hallucinations have you been having? All the same thing? Everybody seeing something different, Gimme something."
"I- Uh… Well Hestor- the doctor, that is," the man pointed towards the bespectacled human who'd had the outburst, a moment ago. "Was sure he'd seen ghosts. Thousands of them. We walked into some sort of auditorium a few hours ago, and he nearly passed out."
"I told you, I didn't see anything!" The doctor protested. Droplets of sweat formed on his brow, and his voice grew high, and reedy. His hands quivered wildly, before he balled them into fists. His eyes darted across the room.
He was lying, but he wasn't convincing anyone.
"Translucent figures, most of them humanoid, but… Strange. Different races, even." The squib continued, despite the doctor's protestations. "He said some of them seemed faded as if by age, almost crystal clear, sometimes. The clearest was some sort of bat-squid thing combined with the Geth Dreadnought that attacked the Citadel." The squib frowned. "Then he stopped talking, and froze up for a minute. After that, he wouldn't stop denying what he'd seen."
"I'm telling you-" Hestor cried out, face an ugly red. "I didn't…" He froze. "The darkness cannot be breached." His voice had dropped an octave, and was steady now. His hands were strangely still, no longer quivering. Unnatural silence spread like a plague.
Harry cast a diagnostic spell, and a glow surrounded the doctor. Information streamed into the wizard's mind. "Physically fit, but mentally…" the wizard murmured.
"The darkness cannot be breached." the man whispered.
Harry stalked forwards. A silvery cloak draped itself over his shoulders. When did he put on a cloak? Draco wondered. "Where's this 'auditorium?'" Harry asked, suddenly serious.
"The darkness cannot be breached." Hestor said again.
"That's not normal." The squib seemed taken aback by the doctor's change in behavior. "Back that way a few hundred feet," he answered Harry's question, pulling his attention away from the situation. "Big blue sphere in the middle, you can't miss it."
"Fucking leviathan, again." Harry cursed. "Well, I guess even dead gods still dream."
"You have breached the darkness. You will be destroyed." Hestor's voice thundered, overlayed this time by something greater than before. Distorted and deep, his voice echoed through the halls of the Collector base.
"What the fuck is that!" Garrus cried out.
"That's the dead god." Harry replied.
"Um, dead god?" Draco spoke up, looking uncomfortable with the conversation. "What 'dead god?'"
"A Leviathan. They're the second closest things to gods that I've actually met." Harry explained. "This is part of the ghost of one." Then, forestalling any questions, he added, "I should know, I killed the last three of them."
"Both of you aren't making any goddamn sense." Shepard's nerves were fraying. "Do you have a fix for this, or not?"
"Yeah. Give me a minute and he should be back to normal. I just need to remove the Leviathan's conduit to the mortal world. I'd rather not have a mind-magic pissing match right now." Harry replied. He took off at a jog towards the auditorium, leaving curious gazes and mumblings in his wake. He vanished from sight, as the corridor took a turn. The Elder Wand buzzed happily in his hand, while the Ressurection Stone materialized on his finger. The Cloak, draped across his shoulders, seemed to shimmer more and more brightly.
A few minutes later, and past a few Collector drones, Harry found the auditorium. Though 'auditorium' was a bit of a misnomer. It was massive. From one side to the other, it must have spanned the whole lower section of the collector base. Tiered steps and coliseum-seating covered the arena's floors, descending to an altar of some kind. There, in the center of the room, was the artifact the squib had described. A glowing blue sphere hovered above the altar, surrounded by collectors. Strange bursts of energy seemed to connect the artifact and some of the drones. Their movements seemed even more unsettling than normal, even bordering on unnatural.
Liberal application of the reductor curse solved all the drones' material problems.
Harry flew towards the sphere, landing not far from the altar itself. He stepped up to the artifact, wand in one hand, Resurrection Stone in the other. Almost absentmindedly, he turned the pebble over in his hand once, then twice, then three times. And with an almost inaudible whoosh! Ghosts began to appear.
Around him, covering every seat, on every step, sat ghosts of species long passed into the annals of history. Near the very top of the auditorium, Harry was almost sure he recognized a few species from the Reaper's memories he'd stolen when he'd first stepped through the Veil. Those closest to him, he could barely make out, but each creature became clearer and more distinct the further he looked. Age, it seemed, did indeed make ghosts fade into translucency. These must be representatives of every race ever indoctrinated by the Leviathans, and Harvested by the Reapers, Harry mused. And hovering above the altar, more a presence than a visible form, was a Leviathan.
"You have breached the darkness." it said.
"I could tell." Harry replied, scornful. "Now, figment- Why are you here?"
"I monitor the Cycles."
"You're dead." said the wizard. "Deceased, shuffled from the mortal coil. There's nothing left for you to do. Why are you here?"
"Penance." Harry rocked back on his heels in surprise. The Leviathan spoke again. "I engineered what you call the Reapers. I must atone."
"And 'atoning' includes taking over people's minds."
"The last conveyor of my will sits before you." the sphere upon the altar grew bright, shining an eerie pale blue. "The pawns who hold this station try to summon me from beyond the plane of the living. They will succeed, given time. I seek a servant to carry my conduit to safety."
"What if I shot your 'conduit?'" Harry said, raising a gun to point at the sphere. Something flashed before his eyes. For a second, he was somewhere else, an infinite plane of grey nothingness.
"OBEY." The leviathan said, voice a crash of thunder. A chill passed through him. But the noise didn't hurt his ears like Harry thought it would. His eardrums were still intact. The sanctity of his mind was still secure. The chill remained, for a moment.
Harry had felt something like that before, though. His thoughts raced back to Nearly Headless Nick's Deathday party, back in his second year. Ghosts gave you a chill whenever they pass through you. Apparently, so did their legilimency attacks.
The Leviathan was a ghost. Harry was the Master of Death. The wizard froze, for a few seconds, brain racing frantically. His fist closed around the resurrection stone, and the Elder Wand whispered in his ear.
"Get out of here." Harry said to the Leviathan, drawing on his magic. Energy rushed down his arms, and into the Hallows. "Go!" Harry's power sought to fulfill his wishes, flailing through the Resurrection stone. And to his amazement, something caught. He exerted his will, and the Leviathan's spirit shivered, shaking wildly like a flag in a gale, before fading into nothing. The sphere on the altar turned black, losing its lustre and shine.
Then, at the top rows of the auditorium, there was a burst of light. Slowly at first, then faster, like a sea of flashbulbs going off, the ghosts that surrounded the wizard vanished in flashes of spectral light.
Joyful whispers pierced the air, in alien tongues and cadences. Somehow, Harry knew that this was the sound of all the Leviathan's enthralled servants receiving their final reward. The susurrus rose in volume until the walls seemed to vibrate, before slowly dying down.
The arena was silent, until a breath of wind rushed through the room. So soft he almost thought he'd imagined it, Harry heard a small voice.
"Thank you." it said.
Harry bowed his head, and reducto-ed the sphere on the altar into dust.
When he returned to the group, he found most of them finishing off an oncoming wave of Collector Drones. The few not putting bullets downrange- a couple of the resistance fighters- were restraining the man who'd been indoctrinated by the Leviathan.
"...some giant creature!" The man yelled. He was hysterical. "And you!" he cried, as Harry approached. His eyes darted frantically, and great, fat tears rolled down his face. "It was practically civil with you! You pissed it off, and resisted it! What the hell are you!"
"Here. Drink." Harry thrust a calming draught into the man's hands, and brought them up to his lips, pouring the liquid down his throat. The hysterics abated moments later, though the man's chest still heaved with ragged breaths, and spots of color still reddened his cheeks.
The resistance fighters -as well as some of the Normandy away team- looked on with interested eyes. Hestor relaxed, allowing himself to lean against his cover. His breathing slowed, less harsh than it had been mere moments previously. Harry stood.
"Now's not the time." The wizard said, dismissing the hysteric man's words. "What's the plan, Shepard?" The auditorium's clear. But we've caught the attention of collector forces now. Probably best if we don't stay in one place."
"Everyone ready to move out?" Shepard said, voice carrying over the hushed din of reloading weapons and medi-gel infusions. A murmured general assent reached her ears, as the resistance group slowly stood, clutching their weapons close to them.
The platform the group stood on lurched. Only once they'd all caught their balance, did Jane realize that it wasn't just the platform that had shifted.
"Where are the captives?" Shepard said, voice urgent. Draco took charge of the resistance group, pulling out reserves of confidence he didn't know he had. He waved his borrowed wand, and a glowing silver ferret shot from the wand's tip. It squeaked, and rushed to the head of the group.
"Follow my Patronus." Draco announced. "It'll lead you to the rest of the captives, in case I fall behind." The ferret took off down a corridor. "This way, then." Draco said, breaking into a light jog. He picked up the pace, as the rest of the group rose to follow him. A few collector drones popped their heads from cover ahead- Draco, with his borrowed wand- cast a pair of reductor curses as he passed them, leaving nothing but liquified and oozing chitin dripping across the floor.
The distant sputter, then sucking roar of immense fusion-torches provided an ominous backdrop to their run. The whole station lurched sideways. A few members of the away team nearly lost their footing, before catching themselves. Harry checked his omni-tool. Steadying it enough to comprehend the information on the screen was a battle against the pounding of his feet on the chitinous floor. "I think the collectors might be trying to push the station closer to the black hole!" he said, alarmed. "But why?"
"You and I are valuable targets?" Jane said, speculating. "Is that enough of a reason?"
"I suppose." Harry acquiesced in between breaths. "But I don't feel like that's it."
"Nothing's ever easy." Jane muttered.
"There's something else here." Harry speculated. "Something we're overlooking. Our goal is to rescue the abductees- How does that conflict with whatever plan the Collectors have?"
"They definitely needed their captives alive." Jane said. "Else they wouldn't go to such lengths to capture us humans. Orbital bombardment would be a hell of a lot cheaper."
Harry paled. "Oh, bloody hell." He steps lengthened, as he picked up the pace. "The Leviathan said the Collectors were trying to pull it back to life, I assume to torture it for secrets, or other Reaper nastiness. Naturally, the Leviathan didn't want to be summoned. So the Collectors might be trying to do some sort of brute-force ritual to summon everything in an approximate extraplanar area."
"English, please?" Jane ground out.
"Uhm- most planes of existence are like parallel layers of glass." Harry explained in between heavy breaths. "Or a game of three-dimensional chess." He led the procession of rapidly-moving armored figures down another hallway, "Really close to each other, but never touching. Things from above leave shadows on the layers below, which manifest as paranormal activities or other occurrences. I don't have the textbook with me, so I've got to give you the cliffnotes. So the Leviathan would be in a plane metaphorically above ours- it's showing up as a ghost here because whatever layer it's supposed to be on is close enough for its shadow to show on the piece of glass below it. Or, depending on how you look at it, it's in transit to that plane, just closer to here than there-"
"There was a very good reason why I joined the Alliance military, rather than majoring in fucking string theory. Get to the point." Jane huffed, impatience staining her words.
"Human sacrifice." Harry breathed. "It's the only rational explanation."
"There's nothing rational about human sacrifice." Shepard said.
"No, really. It's an impressive -if morally repulsive- source of power." the wizard said. "I think they planned to use human souls to pull the Leviathan onto this plane. They're gonna make an incredibly unstable portal and hope for the best. And just deal with everything coming through that isn't the Leviathan."
"So other than this… Leviathan-thing, there might be more coming through the portal?" Liara, of all people, spoke up. "What sort of 'other stuff?' Could you explain why you're worried? I suppose I'm not understanding the situation to the fullest."
"Shut up and run!" Tali cursed, taking heavy breaths. "Let the magic bosh'tet explain."
"There's almost nothing friendly on other planes of existence," Harry said. "Our plane is simply violently alien -pardon the pun- to them, as their reality would be for us. Everything coming through is gonna be violent to the extreme. And if you remember my little metaphor of a bunch of parallel panes of glass, or three-dimensional chess, it wouldn't be too far off the mark to say that the collectors plan to pull the Leviathan here by shoving a railroad spike through all the panes of glass in the area approximately closest to the Leviathan, and pulling out a core sample."
"That sounds… dangerous?" Garrus sounded out-of-his-depth.
"It's violently suicidal." Harry said. " The Collectors will most likely keep the portal open til the Leviathan arrives, which will take much longer than they expect, since I destroyed their focus. Extraplanar GPS, if you will. That big blue ball in the auditorium was connected to the Leviathan, so it would be much easier to pull the leviathan through the planes using the sphere as a guide." His voice turned sheepish. "And I bet that they're not going to stop on account of the danger of keeping the portal open- it'll just access more places across the multiverse, meaning more dangerous nasty shit. They have guns, and don't care about the loss of human lives, so there's no downside for them."
"So things have gotten a bit more serious?" Jane summarized.
"That's a vast oversimplification, but yes."
"Then that's all I needed to know."
"Where are all the colonists?" Jane's voice echoed off the chamber's far walls, as the group took a quick breather. Members of the away team took quick sips from canteens, or scarfed down combat-rations. Draco devoured more than a few of the nutrient-packs- food was hard to find on the Collector base. He was still unfamiliar with the suit of armor Harry had pulled from an expanded storage pocket, but he was certainly grateful for the protection it offered.
"Being taken for the ritual, maybe?" Draco said, gazing uncomfortably at his new surroundings. "We haven't been seeing a defensive force totally equivalent to the attacking one I saw on Guevara."
This was definitely a change in scenery- The area they'd just entered stretched for literal miles, almost the length of the entire Collector base. Harry knew in the back of his mind that the Leviathan's auditorium had to be behind the closest end of the room. This chamber was an open cylindrical area encompassing the core of the station. Structurally, everything else was arrayed around the its exterior, slipped in between the chamber and the station's outermost bulkheads. A strange mist of fine yellow particles filled the air, leaving the far end of the chamber shrouded in a cloak of dust. Everything smelled old, like books whose paper had yellowed, aged, and cracked to the point where dog-earing a page would crack that corner off. But the scent was not only of age, but of decay. Every few hundred feet was another shell of a collector that appeared to have collapsed, whether from age, disease, or disrepair no one could tell. Each shell was light, as only the dead collector's chitinous carapace still remained. Its organs had long since rotted away or dried up, leaving shrunken, mummified orbs impaled by burnt-out cybernetics spearing through the inside of the shell. Some were more recently deceased, leaking foul-smelling fluids onto the floor.
Along the sides of the cylindrical chamber, odd honeycomb structures were anchored into the walls, supported by thick tubes of grey-black metal. Strange glowing lights ran the length of each tube, which flickered as the tubes seemed to expand and contract over time. The hexagonal shapes in the sides of some of the structures were filled and capped by smooth grey chitin, and guarded heavily by drones, husks, and the occasional praetorian.
Moving towards the end of the chamber, the group ran along the only pathway accessible to them. It was a series of platforms and walkways attached to the side of the chamber- midway up the cylinder's edges. Jane wondered why the collectors used gravity-generators rather than simple centrifugal force. Perhaps it impeded their flight, somehow? She wasn't sure.
"I woke up here." Draco said a few minutes later, pointing down a narrow hallway. "I escaped out the other side, and met up with Jack-" he gestured vaguely in her direction- "and the rest of the resistance group. But this whole area was covered in stasis pods filled with colonists- where could they have gone?"
The group kept a brisk pace, heading towards the other end of the chamber. As they got closer and closer to the other end, hundreds of blinking orange lights gradually faded out of the yellow mists. "Now those have to be stasis pods," Draco mused. "But not nearly enough of them. There were thousands upon thousands of them when I woke up."
"Let's keep going. The collectors haven't caught up yet, but they'll be able to overwhelm us with sheer numbers unless we find a chokepoint." Jane knew best, always keeping herself in tune with the swing of combat, always ready to adjust her strategy down to the smallest detail. That was why she was so valuable. Being one of the strongest biotics in the galaxy certainly helped, but she'd have been in the N7 program even without her biotics on sheer weapon-skill and guts. "We'll just have to hope for decent cover around the summoning area." she finally murmured.
Then, at the very furthest part of the room, something gleamed. A wave of black magic shuddered through the air with a malignant laugh. There was a sparkle, then the gleaming pinprick of light grew, glowing in the yellowed mist like a searchlight through a pea-soup fog. A high-pitched crackle of furious energy swept through the room.
There was a scream, sharp and strident. It was cut off, reduced to an almost inaudible gurgle. Something roared.
"Bloody fucking hell." Harry swore, coming to a halt. "They've fucking done it. Opened the portal."
Someone gasped."We're too late."