The flight on the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter had not been especially pleasant for Harry. Even with the headphones he was wearing, the loud sounds of the engines made it difficult for him to think. And it was bumpy as they passed through a low-lying storm.
Next to him in the cabin, Lt. Bristol just smiled and stayed close, trying to comfort him. Though he appreciated the effort, he was still feeling rather uncomfortable with the older (and very attractive) woman. Finally, the pilot stated "We're here!"
Harry looked out one of the cabin portholes and gaped. They were over the English Channel, as the sun just began to rise, and though he knew they'd been going a ways (as they'd had to refuel a few times during the seven-hour trip), he didn't think they'd have gone all the way to the Channel itself.
And far below, steamed a massive aircraft carrier. He'd read about them in one of the books Dudley had kept in the spare bedroom.
"Wow," he murmured. Though he'd seen Hogwarts, and the Quidditch World Cup Stadium, and had been awestruck with both, they seemed to pale with the sheer size of the Muggle warship they were steadily getting closer to. Colleen grinned.
"Like her? She's the Ronald Reagan- the most advanced warship on Earth. Well, non-magic one, anyway." Colleen sighed. "I still keep wondering about keeping most of the command and control assets at sea-We've lost plenty here too."
"Huh? What do you mean? How much?" Harry asked, blinking. Colleen grimaced.
"The HMS Ark Royal, and her task force, were destroyed by a dragon attack. The USS Enterprise, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln battlegroups were all lost too, in Voldemort's initial assault, by every nasty, giant creature you could think of." She frowned. "It's bizarre. From what we know, he first came to power criticizing your Ministry of Magic and playing the fences politically. And then, he just went off on a racist gang war." She looked critically at him. "Harry, we have no idea how he got so many forces all at once. Or, why he decided to mount a major military campaign against the non-magic folks, when before, he's never had any interest in it. Oh, yeah, and the fact that he's getting wizards and witches by the hundreds to join him. What gives?"
Harry thought hard.
"Well… It's possible he's appealed to the wizarding community's distrust of Muggles. Er, non-magic folk," Harry amended at Colleen's confused look. "Though I'm not sure how he could do it on such a large scale…"
Colleen shrugged. "Well… Hopefully, when we meet with General Braxtan, he'll be able to fill in a lot of the holes we have, with your knowledge, and some intelligence from some other wizards we've taken into custody." Harry flashed her a suspicious look.
"Relax, Harry: We aren't torturing anyone here, or holding them against their will. We're allowing them their wands, just like you, after all. And after we mentioned we were getting you out of the slammer, a number were very interested in helping us out."
"Who?" Harry asked, interested. "Ron? The Weasleys?"
"Ron's still in RAF custody, though we're working on it," Colleen sighed. "We were able to get you out because you had some legal standing in the non-magic… Muggle world." She looked at him in concern.
"I spoke with your legal guardians, the Dursleys… They were joking about asking that you be executed by firing squad, right?"
Harry's bland look gave Colleen a chill.
The spacious quarters on the Reagan for the general seemed rather Spartan in their décor, Harry noted. But he soon found he didn't care about that when he saw who was in the room. He gaped.
"Ah… Harry Potter… Or do you prefer Mr. Potter?" The powerfully-built man with graying blond hair and full beard, in a US Army uniform asked, his eyes surveying the teenager with a warm, though somewhat cautious, look. Harry did not take his eyes off the thin, blonde woman with aristocratic features, who was sitting on a couch in the quarters and serenely drinking tea.
"Hello, Mr. Potter," Narcissa Malfoy spoke demurely, her cool gaze studying him. Harry was suddenly very glad he had his wand in his holster at his wrist. Colleen, sensing his tension, put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He stiffened instinctively, before relaxing, though not entirely.
"Mrs. Malfoy," he returned coolly, carefully watching her. General Braxtan raised a bushy eyebrow. The blonde witch smiled slightly.
"Actually, it's Black now," she explained. Harry blinked at her awkwardly, as Braxtan cleared his throat loudly.
"Ms. Black has become a very influential member of the magical community, Mr. Potter, in the wake of the war. She has personally overseen the evacuation and relocation of thousands of witches and wizards fleeing the mainland, with the inheritance she came into from her estate," the general explained. Harry raised an eyebrow.
"Yes. My inheritance was, until recently, in control of my husband. The details… Are not important. What is important is that I am offering my full support to the magical community, and the Allied Muggle Nations, in any way I can."
"For your own benefit," Harry growled. Narcissa's smile became a little colder.
"I feel it is in my own best interests to support the Muggles in this war, yes. But it is also advantageous to the large numbers of wizards and witches who want no part in this conflict."
"Ms. Black has been at the forefront of our efforts to convince the European powers that not all wizards are evil," Braxtan explained. "As you know, Voldemort sought to turn the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds against each other, to weaken both in preparation for his own, eventual take over." The general ignored the wince that appeared on the former Mrs. Malfoy's face at the mention of the Dark Lord.
"Actually, at the start, he merely intended to use the… Incidents that started the war as a means to seize control of the magical communities in most of Europe and Western Asia." Narcissa leaned back slightly in the sofa. "The Dark Lord planted information that the locations of the central wizarding governments in Europe were terrorist headquarters. When you destroyed them, the European wizarding populace panicked. The Dark Lord, using his forces, protected the wizarding communities, which made them all too happy to swear their allegiance to them in return for security. And through these new connections, he mounted his campaign against the Muggles." Narcissa grimaced.
"The use of basilisks and nundus in clearing out entire cities was always one of his favorite plans…"
"In any event, Miss Black's only requirement for providing us with this information was to meet with you, regarding your financial assets and intelligence you have regarding Voldemort, that we can use to ultimately defeat him and win this war," Braxtan cut in, giving a reproving look to both witch and wizard. Narcissa nodded. Harry grimaced.
"I will need to speak with Harry alone, if you please," Narcissa smoothly stated. Braxtan sighed, looked to Harry, who nodded, and walked out of the quarters. Colleen hesitated, before following and closing the hatch behind her. The Boy Who Lived and Ms. Black stared at each other for a few moments.
"You're looking well, Harry… Especially considering… All that has happened, recently," Narcissa began, her first move in this mental chess game less subtle than she'd like, but different times, and all that.
"As are you… Despite being on the run from the Death eaters," Harry returned, basilisk venom behind his words. Narcissa nodded.
"I know, you have no reason to trust me, Harry… Kreacher came to me and told me of your whereabouts the night… My cousin was slain. I didn't want to. I had no interest in seeing you dead and no interest in helping my thankless husband. But, as you are aware, there are ways to prevent the Ministry from knowing if you are casting an Unforgivable… Especially in the home of a dark wizard," Narcissa said flatly. She decided to play it straight, abandoning her early stealth and guile. Her motives were, for once, completely on the surface-Most of them, anyway, she reflected.
"He… He used the Imperius on you?"
"No… Like you, I have learned how to throw it off when pressed," Narcissa said softly. The dark look in her eyes, of concealed pain, drove the point home.
Narcissa ran a few fingers lightly through her hair, her eyes closed in a wince at the memory.
"Harry… Though the Ministry of Magic is, in essence, gone, I still retain several rights and privileges through Gringotts. For instance… The right to adopt you." She looked at Harry's guarded expression, and sighed.
"Draco was my husband's son more than mine, otherwise he wouldn't have become such a spiteful, arrogant idiot. Pure embarrassment for me, mind you. I was expected to nurse him and offer comfort to him when Lucius felt he needed it, and the rest of the time to blend in with the house elves," Narcissa spat with restrained bitterness. She looked up at Harry, and dropped the haughty air, looking vulnerable and somewhat lost. Harry kept himself guarded, but his heart began to go out to the expression of sorrow on her face.
"I… I have never been able to hold him. He was snatched out of my arms when he was born. I was only allowed to hold him when the press was about, to make it look good for Malfoy. And now, despite my efforts, my pleas… He has become a Deatheater, and he no longer wishes to see me." Narcissa looked down at the carpeted deck, her expression sad. Harry fidgeted slightly.
"So, Harry… No. I have no desire to stab you or anyone else in the back. I wish to stab my ungrateful husband and that master of his in the heart," she hissed. "And I need you to help me do it." She took a deep breath and let the cool, controlled mask sink back into place.
"So, what do you say, Harry? Do we have an arrangement?"
Harry took a deep breath, let it out, and looked Narcissa dead in the eyes.
"Yes… We do…"
Okay… Having trouble with the other parts, but mark my words, next chapter answers a lot. Until then, read and review!