HARRY POTTER AND THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC
CLAN THURAS APARTMENT
The wave of onrushing grey clad assassins battered against the redoubt of the barricade and now that it was once again fully manned by troops that were not exhausted from hours of constant battle, their efforts to kill the three clan leaders sheltering in the back room away from harm made little progress, or would have if the assassins had been the only weapon in the arsenal.
The cave troll, probably once part of the security arrangements in the Gringotts vault system, roared in anger, and it began to lumber its way through the mass of Goblins pressing to get to the barricade, flattening a dozen of his own allies in his eagerness to close with the defenders. The creature barely fit inside the entrance tunnel due to its height, and that meant that it couldn't lift its huge club over its head to deliver the killing blows that would spell the doom for any defender unlucky enough to be the subject of its anger. That didn't mean the troll wasn't a threat however, a kick or stomp would kill any Goblin, the height difference pretty much negated the benefit of the barricade, it only came up to the grey, scaly knees of the troll after all.
"Throwing weapons target the troll, stop it before it reaches the barricade!"
Gutripper put his own words into action and threw his dagger, aiming for the troll's head. A stream of weapons flew out from the defenders, axes, daggers and swords, most simply bounced off the trolls naturally armoured hide to clatter uselessly to the floor at the creature's feet, two or three of the projectiles actually buried themselves in the troll's chest, but they didn't seem to inconvenience the creature in the slightest, and they certainly didn't slow it.
Gutripper found he couldn't drag his eyes away from the creature as it made its approach to the barricade, the sight of it, towering over the occupants of the apartment was somehow mesmerising yet terrifying at the same time. He waited until the troll couldn't grow any larger in his vision then drew back his arm and with all his strength threw his sword at the massive creature.
The blade flashed end over end until it stuck the troll in the neck and embedded itself up to the hilt, the troll blinked in surprise as even its feeble brain began to receive signals that it was in pain, for a few seconds the troll repeatedly tried to tilt its head down to see the object sticking out of its neck, but every time it did so it struck the sword hilt with its own massive chin, causing itself more pain.
Then its eyes flickered down to the small parasite that had caused it the pain in the first place and anger once again stole across the dumb creatures face as it made the decision to crush the insect.
The troll began to move forward again and Gutripper felt a flicker of fear course through him, he stood defiantly before a fully mature cave troll without a single weapon, brave...without a doubt, worthy of a song...guaranteed, suicidal...almost certainly.
Gutripper was no coward, but neither was he quite so willing to consign his name to the history books as to engage a troll in hand to club combat, he reached behind his back with a clawed hand and snapped his fingers.
Without hesitation somebody pressed a weapon into his hand and Gutripper accepted it without so much as a backward glance, his eyes never left the approaching troll. The weapon that had been passed to him wasn't one of those looted from the corpses of either the dead Assassins or slain clan warriors, the first would have been of very dubious quality, and the second utterly disrespectful to the warrior in question. The weapon was ancient, dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years, and legend placed it in the hands of Thuras himself when the clan was formed. Up until a few minutes before it had resided in a hidden and locked alcove inside the inner chamber, a chamber that Gutripper had thought only he and his father had known the location of.
The axe was still in remarkably good condition considering how old it was reputed to be, not a blemish marked the double heads, and the edges of the twin blades gleamed, wicked sharp. Gutripper twirled the weapon in his hands to ensure he had the feel of the weapon, it was well balanced and as finely made as only a Goblin weapon could be.
With his attention still on the troll Gutripper waved the rest of the clan warriors back away from the barricade, the assassins also seemed to be maintaining their distance, watching the unequal struggle that was about to commence. He wished he could fall back from the barricade himself, it was the sensible thing to do, but unfortunately the sensible thing in this case wasn't the right thing.
The cave troll had to be the assassins last roll of the dice, a last chance to gain victory before their strength was spent, this was the moment that the whole night hinged upon, either he could cripple or kill the troll, or it would kill him, then demolish the barricade with contemptuous ease, allowing its Goblin brethren to finish the rest of the them off in quick fashion.
The troll blinked at the single small Goblin stood defiantly before it, looking from its tiny axe to the Troll's own massive club, and then the troll smiled, exposing rotted teeth and bleeding gums.
The club shot forward in a horizontal arc at Goblin chest height, the clubs far tip moving through the air so fast that it made a swishing sound. Gutripper dived forward, ignoring the pain that movement caused his various wounds. The club missed him by inches, the momentum of the club's swing caused the troll to nearly spin around, as it was by the time the troll managed to stop the swing and reverse the direction, Gutripper was already back on his feet and running forward towards the creatures knees.
Casting a minor speed boost upon himself, which required neither a wand nor a silly incantation, Gutripper raised the hereditary weapon and swung with all his might at one of the troll's knees. The axe managed to pierce the creature's hardened skin, but the blow felt like he was striking an anvil with a hammer, his arms and shoulders screamed in protest at the jarring force.
The troll hardly even noticed the wound, but swung the club in reflex at the annoying sting it had felt, the club smashed into the troll's kneecap, causing it to bellow in pain. Gutripper wasn't quite fast enough to escape completely and the club clipped him on the shoulder, opening a further wound and sending him spinning away like an out of control children's toy.
Shaking his head to clear the fog caused by the club's impact, and flexing his shoulder to try and restore some movement, Gutripper found it amusing that the troll had caused more of an injury to itself than he had so far. Climbing back to his feet, the Goblin raised the axe in a two handed grip level with his shoulder and charged back into combat.
The club swept around again, but Gutripper was becoming used to the troll's speed and movements now, he easily dodged the erratic swing and arrived in front on the troll in sufficient time to take an opportunistic swipe at the hand holding the club as it swept over his head. The troll bellowed more in anger than pain as two fingers from its left hand were cleaved right off.
The troll, eyes mad with uncontrollable anger, raised the club to head height and made to strike vertically straight downwards in a blow that would crush the Goblin from existence. Gutripper stood perfectly still, watching as the club began to rise, knowing that for the moment at least he was safe.
The club struck the ceiling and became wedged on a wooden roof beam, the troll, not having even the basic rudiments of problem solving tried to drag the club free of its resting place. The troll's strength was equal to the task and a four hundred year old piece of timber was torn free from the ceiling to fall, smashing into the trolls head.
It was just the distraction the Gutripper had been waiting for; the troll had bent his knees and looked up at the ceiling with confusion all over its face as it tried to understand if it was being attacked from a new direction. The end of the club came to rest upon the floor, the stem still held in the troll's disfigured hand.
The Goblin used the last of his available boosts and dramatically increased his speed, running diagonally across the troll's front, aiming straight for its grounded weapon. He leaped as high as he could, smashing his knees on the hardened wood of the club, Gutripper scrambled for purchase, struggling to find grip on the wood.
The troll turned his attention back to the Goblin and seemed surprised to see Gutripper, not on the other side of the room, but climbing the end of his club, the feeble minded, massive creature, not understanding the danger he was exposing himself too, lifted the club to gain a better view of the tiny struggling creature.
Gutripper felt the club shift and move, and instead of trying to climb up the sloping wood, he now found himself lying on a horizontal bridge leading straight to the troll's head, he didn't hesitate, but launched himself down the length of the club, axe poised ready to strike.
Even the troll's tiny brain must have at some stage understood that allowing an axe welding Goblin easy access to its face and head was a recipe for disaster, because even as Gutripper reached the end of the club the troll threw the weapon across the room and away from him. But by that time it was too little too late, the Goblin had bunched his legs under him and leapt into midair with the axe swinging downwards from behind his head.
The blade of the axe smashed into the soft tissue of the goblins nose, splitting the nose virtually in half, the underlying bone exploded, sending slivers of bone in all directions, including upwards into the skull. Had the troll been a Goblin or even a human, that sort of damage normally resulted in a virtually instant death, but the Troll, being made of sterner, yet stupider stuff took a step back in surprise and tried to brush the annoyance off its face.
Gutripper yanked at the axe and felt it come loose from the ruined face in a spray of gore and bone and the Goblin started slipping down the Troll's face. Realising what a long way to the floor it was he reached out for something to slow his descent, and his hand closed on something familiar and comforting.
The hilt of the sword still protruded from the troll's throat where his throw had planted it, and now Gutripper hung one handed from the hilt of his own sword, in his other hand, hanging down by his side was the bloody axe of Thuras.
Gutripper was not given the time to consider what he should do from that moment on, as moving in what seemed almost slow motion the massive hand moved into his field of view, and smacked him with thunderous force clear of the troll. The Goblin warrior cart wheeled through the air and willed himself to relax and go limp moments before striking the apartments wall and sliding to the floor.
The Goblin screamed aloud as several ribs splintered under the impact, collapsing a lung and causing massive internal bleeding, he may even have passed out from the pain momentarily, but when he was aware of what was happening around him once more, the thing that struck him most was the silence, the entire apartment was silent, as if even the walls themselves were holding their breath.
Rolling slowly over onto his side, Gutripper hissed against the pain and regarded the massive creature he had been fighting to the death only moments before. The troll was on its knees holding both of its hands to its throat, and from behind those hands spilled an enormous amount of blood that flowed down the troll's chest and had began to pool around its knees. That much blood could only have been caused by a mortal wound, and Gutripper found himself gazing down at the bloody sword that he still held. His sword must have pierced the troll's jugular but because it had been left in place had prevented the worst of the bleeding, once removed, there was nothing stopping the troll from bleeding to death right in front of him.
As if to underscore Gutripper's logic the troll slowly leaned to one side and crashed to the floor, the blood flow had stopped to a trickle then stopped completely. Gutripper smiled, his mouth full of teeth, despite the incredible pain, he had overcome his enemy, it was up to others now to finish the night's work, for he could do no more. As he closed his eyes and slowly let himself drift into the blackness a sound carried to his ears.
Goblin voices rose, shouting his name, and more voices than could be explained away by his remaining warriors or servants. Confusion reigned for a moment before his tired body gave into the result of all the demands placed upon it and unconsciousness claimed him.
THE BURROW HOSPITAL
Harry sat on the hospital bed and allowed Emily Shacklebolt to run her wand over his body with a diagnostic spell, obviously something was concerning her because she was running the same spell for the third time, all the time muttering things like 'odd, most odd' under her breath.
"Ok, so what have you found? What's wrong with me now?"
Emily Shacklebolt shook her head, her unbound black hair framing her pale face, and emphasizing how tired she looked.
"That's just it Harry, I can't actually find anything new wrong with you at all, nothing. Now admittedly my experience of you is fairly limited, but going on the past excursions I know about, how likely is it that you go all through that and other than a bump on the head not get a scratch?"
Harry opened his mouth to speak, then simply closed it again, there wasn't really much he could say to the fact that the trauma healer was complaining that he hadn't gotten hurt, given that he normally got so injured that he could keep an entire ward full of staff busy.
In fact Harry was very touched by the way that, despite her obvious exhaustion, Healer Emily Shacklebolt had insisted on treating any of his injuries when he returned. According to Shacklebolt, Auror Shacklebolt that was, his wife had been very clear in her instructions of what would happen to him should Harry escape her treatment on his return.
"Well then, if there is nothing wrong with me, then maybe you would consider it a personal favour to me that you immediately log off shift, return to your accommodation suite and spend some time with your husband and daughter, before getting at least twelve hours uninterrupted sleep."
Harry's voice had started evenly and somewhere along the line he had slipped into his command tone, it wasn't something he consciously did, it just came naturally, but Emily Shacklebolt felt her eyes widen as for the first time she personally really understood the power of personality Harry possessed. She already knew he was powerful beyond belief magically for his age, and she suspected that his power was still growing, but she had just witnessed how effortlessly the teenager had stopped being a patient and started being a leader.
Harry jumped off the bed and pulled the old jumper back over his head, oblivious to the effect his words had had on the healer, his main reason for coming to the hospital had been to spend some time with those that were there because of him, in Hannah Abbott's case because of orders of his got her hurt, and in Fleur's and Cho's cases because his orders had gotten them rescued.
Emily Shacklebolt just smiled and nodded in acceptance of his request and Harry smiled back in return before bobbing his head.
"In which case I shall bid you goodnight, I will be turning in myself as soon as I have seen a few people."
Harry left the treatment room and crossed to the healer's station, which was presently unmanned, the duty healer was probably off on rounds, he reached behind the desk and pulled out the patient roster just to confirm in his mind where everyone was then set off to the first visitor.
Despite her injuries, and the fact she should have been sleeping, Hannah Abbot opened her eyes and smiled weakly when she saw Harry slip quietly into the room, she waved her hand at the unoccupied chair by the bedside and then winched at the spike of pain that effort brought.
"Hannah how are you doing? Can I get you anything?"
Harry fussed with Hannah's blanket before settling into the seat, whenever someone was hurt because of him he still hadn't managed to shake the feelings of personal guilt.
"They tell me I'll live...barely." Harry grinned as despite her injuries Hannah proved there was nothing wrong with her sense of humour. "You just missed my father, he only left a few minutes ago."
Hannah had lost her mother that year in a Death Eater attack, and Harry couldn't imagine how her father felt seeing the last member of his family in a hospital bed, but he could imagine who he blamed for putting her there.
"He doesn't blame you...for anything."
"Is my face that easy to read?"
"It is when you know what to look for Harry." Hannah smiled at the frowning teen. "I knew it depended on how badly you yourself had gotten hurt, but I was fairly sure you would come."
Hannah's voice was soft, and now slightly dreamy, Harry assumed that was down to whatever medication she was on.
"How did you know?" Harry was genuinely puzzled, up until he had left the soldiers he hadn't known he was going to the hospital himself.
Hannah smiled. "Because that's who you are Harry, you are a thoroughly...nice...guy." Hannah's eyes closed as she spoke and her head slumped back onto the pillow and Harry realised she was asleep as the drugs in her system caught up with her.
Standing quietly, Harry slipped from the room. He was surprised that he was a predictable as everyone seemed to think he was, while allowing his friends to predict his actions wasn't a bad thing, Voldemort knowing what he was going to do next didn't bear thinking about.
Fleur's room was slightly busier than Hannah's had been. Apart from the blond bombshell laid in the bed, and her very attentive red headed partner, who seemed to only have eyes for each other, the bombshell's father and younger sister completed the line up.
"Harry!" Gabrielle threw herself at him and hugged him tightly, Harry returned the hug for as long as was appropriate, he still thought that the eleven year French girl had a major crush on him because of his actions during the Tri-wizard tournament.
Next thing he knew, Henri Delacour had also thrown his arms around Harry, he briefly wondered if this was becoming some sort of officially recognised Burrow form of greeting, there would be spontaneous hugs breaking out all over the place. Harry was surprised to find that Delacour senior had gone a little moist around the eyes during the embrace.
"Harry, I don't know how to thank you, you have given me my daughter back. Even given my rank and position I cannot guarantee that any promise for French Ministry support I make here will be honoured, but I can assure that any request for aid you make will be given my full support for what it's worth. But that isn't enough, whatever you require of me, you just have to ask."
Harry grinned, there was a very pressing problem that required a purely French solution, but he had been unsure how to broach the issue with the senior French law enforcement officer without coming over ungrateful.
The problem had been brought to his attention during his recent meeting with Thomas Bell.
"Harry, can I have a quick moment?"
Harry turned in the doorway, and grinned at the tall soldier, he had just finished a lengthy explanation of some of the forms of magic the soldiers could encounter, including small demonstrations of charms, transfiguration, conjuration and even been forced to stun, and...much later...revive Wilky to demonstrate combat magic.
"Sure what do you need?"
Thomas took a quick look over his shoulder but none of his soldiers were close enough to hear him, they were still too busy examining the large table Harry had conjured in the middle of the room.
"In order to be at our most effective when we go into battle, we are going to need all of our technology to be working at peak efficiency, without radios and some of our more exotic toys we will be fighting with one of our hands tied behind our backs. I don't know how they did it, but the French Aurors use technology in magical areas, we need whatever it is that they have, as it stands at the moment I cannot even be sure that the helicopters will even restart should we need them!"
Harry understood immediately, magic and electricity were so incompatible that normally wherever magic existed, electricity couldn't. It was why nothing with batteries worked inside Hogwarts, and why Arthur kept all his muggle appliances outside in a shed, there was too much magic inside the house itself.
The French indeed seemed to have overcome the problem, the French Ministry Tactical Strike Team used radios and other pieces of technology in magical environments seemingly without penalty, Harry even knew that the French sniper teams had silencing enchantments placed upon their weapons.
"I cannot promise anything, but I will speak to Henri Delacour, but I doubt even he will just give us the information we need considering it probably cost the French a pretty penny to develop it, leave it with me, Thomas."
Harry carefully explained his problem to Delacour and watched a pained expression come over the Auror's face.
"I want to help you Harry, really I do. I can see the advantages muggle technology will bring much better than most, the strike teams in the French Ministry have been using such items for years, but you are right, I do not have the authority to just give away the enchantments as much as I might want to...not even to you."
"I understand that Henri, I wouldn't want to place you in that position, I think I have a solution to our problems, I have to hammer out a few details with those that control my accounts and certain business interests." Harry smiled cryptically, he had the skeleton of an idea growing inside him that would solve the problem and make a lot of people's lives a lot easier. "Leave it with me, I'll get back to you with a proposal as soon as I can."
Harry grinned and waved at Fleur, although still pale and terribly thin, her return smile at least contained its usual warmth, her bruises would heal and over time so would her mind, that process was helped along by having someone like Bill Weasley around to help her through it.
Satisfied, he moved back out into the main hospital, he had wanted to visit Cho, but the healers had said she was still not up to visitors other than members of her family.
Yawning massively, Harry suddenly realised just how tired he was, the next few days promised to be quite exciting and he decided a decent amount of sleep was going to be a godsend. With a sigh, he decided to head for the suite of rooms in the accommodation rather than look for his friends, there was a lot he needed to tell them, including the fact that he had in his possession another Horcrux, but with Ginny still mad at him he really didn't need the aggro.
OPERATIONS CENTRE, STIRLING LINES, HEREFORD
All British military camps, whichever of the three services they belonged to, had some form of manned presence around the clock. However very few camps could lay claim to the fact that they were actually operational around the clock, Stirling Lines, and the underground command centre informally known as 'the Kremlin' was one of those exceptions. Controlling teams of soldiers spread across the world in all manner of time zones required that there always be a staff on duty.
Captain Reynolds was the duty Operations Officer and had a small staff of watch keepers manning the workstations, other than these and a world map the rest of the room was in darkness. It had been a quiet shift, just a few teams had checked in using satellite communications, and one team had used a public phone box, but considering how strange it would have been to set up a small satellite dish in the middle of a square in Moscow it was understandable.
The explosion that had nearly destroyed the old KGB headquarters had been reported as an accident, a gas explosion, but of course no one in any of the intelligence agencies believed a word of it. The British Secret Intelligence Service had requested help from the SAS in order to discreetly investigate the scene. The Regiment had a team in the country already conducting Anti-terrorist training with certain elements of the Moscow police, who after a series of botched hostage rescues had decided that they would take as much advice as they could get.
The team were not sneaking about, they were at the scene of the explosion with the full consent and backing of the Moscow City Police, the KGB understandably were extremely unhappy with the situation, but the Soviet Intelligence juggernaut had lost much of its influence and power in recent years.
Reynolds recalled the conversation he had had with the team leader.
"So what do you think?" There was a slight pause in the conversation because of the distance and a clicking sound on the line as whoever from the KGB was listening in started recording the conversation.
"Well whatever it was that happened here, it wasn't a gas explosion, there were at least three different initial sites of destruction. The area had been sanitised long before we got here so we couldn't detect a trace of the explosive used, or tell whatever purpose the room was originally used for."
"What about the locals, are they giving you any trouble?"
"The local Cops are surprisingly professional, but they are working with a limited budget and getting pressure from above to stick to the party line, they know it wasn't a gas explosion, but that's the story and they are being forced to stick to it. The forensic team only spent about five minutes in the room before the gas explosion story was released."
Reynolds sighed, some things never changed, the higher up the chain of command the less people actually wanted the truth, gas explosions were very convenient tools to covering up the truth.
"What about spooks?"
"We still have our official minder, and we know of at least four others on shifts watching us, but as yet they haven't interfered, and as long as we don't step out of bounds I don't think they will. It would be nice if they would actually tell us if what was stored in that room is as dangerous as we think it is, but little chance of that."
"Amen to that, alright, stay safe and stay in touch, Firebreak out."
There had long been a rumour that the KGB had assembled a wealth of information and knowledge about a host of Western countries that during the cold war could have been regarded as a threat, and the former KGB headquarters was the prime suspect for the location of that information.
It was pure luck that the British actually had a military presence in the country at the time, British Intelligence in this instance had promised to share any information they gathered with the other NATO countries, since it effected them all equally. Reynolds wasn't a spy, he was a soldier, but he had a really bad feeling that wouldn't go away, that if the information had been in the building, then large parts of it hadn't been there during the 'gas explosion', he wondered how long it would be until that Russian information came back to bite them in the arse.
He didn't have to wait long.
"Sir, I think you need to see this."
One of the watch keepers had approached him and held out a single piece of paper that one of the printers had just spit out, from the look on the watch keeper's face, it wasn't good news. Reynolds took the sheet and ran his eyes down it quickly.
To: 22 SAS Regt, 23 SAS (V) Regt, SBS Regt, SO19
From: Director UK Special Forces
This is a flash notice to all Operations Centres.
A substantial number of Canisters containing VX gas have been seized from secure bunkers located at Porton Down. The party or parties involved used technology or technologies unknown to penetrate security and to escape.
Security personnel on site sustained heavy casualties to suspected high technology weaponry, none of which was recovered.
All military camps are to adapt highest Bikini security stance, any ongoing operations are to be made aware of possible contaminating material in circulation. Mass civilian evacuation of potential target areas will be coordinated by civilian authorities with military assistance.
"Crap!" Reynolds stated with deep conviction. "Ok, raise the alert state of all sub units, recall everyone on leave effective immediately, have the duty squadron stand to and await instructions, have them draw NBC suits."
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare suits were protective garments, worn over regular uniforms and lined with charcoal, when worn with issue respirators they were designed to protect soldiers from any airborne or liquid threat. It was a precaution that nobody in their right mind ever dreamed would be required, nobody had ever tested the effectiveness of the protection afforded by NBC suits against VX gas, for one thing they could never find a volunteer to stand there in a suit and be exposed to the stuff.
"I sincerely hope that 'technologies unknown' doesn't mean what I think in means..."
Reynolds was speaking to himself, he had been security cleared for Task Force Thor and what Thomas Bell and his detachment were really doing, and he had been given a quick insight into magic from the newly promoted officer, and from what he had been told, Magic could well be at the bottom of this new development.
"Wake the CO and inform him of our change in security state, and raise Op Thor and pass this message along to them, this might be right up their street."
Reynolds was careful not to let just how worried he was by this new development show on his face, but with all the pieces of information he now had, even he could but the picture together, it didn't need an intelligence analyst to know things were about to get a whole lot worse.
First, there was a bunch of hostile Russian, or Russian trained, Special Forces Soldiers loose somewhere in the south of England, doing god knew what for god knew who.
Second, this suspected source of information on western targets that had been destroyed by fire in Moscow, which the Russian authorities knew more about than they were saying.
Third, the recent attacks in London and on other targets, instigated by men in black cloaks who had the ability to come and go at will undetected.
Fourth, this theft of just about the most dangerous chemical substance on the planet from the research establishment at Porton Down, the security surrounding the existence of the stockpile of chemicals wasn't just rock solid, it was air tight, so how had anyone penetrated that security to even know where the stuff was kept, let alone actually steal it! And what about 'high technology weapons' and 'technologies unknown'.
Reynolds was no fortune teller, in fact he had only recently learned that real fortune tellers existed, they were called seers, but to him all the pieces seemed to fall snugly into place, years of experience of trying to make complete pictures from spotty pieces of intelligence now served him well.
The Dark Wizards that Thomas Bell had gone off to fight, fearing the British Army involvement would tip the balance of power, had hired themselves some hardcore Russian muscle, the muscle had stolen sensitive information on targets in Britain from a secret KGB intelligence library before destroying it to cover up the theft. Using the stolen information the Dark Wizards, probably with Russian assistance, had then raided Porton Down and stolen the VX gas canisters.
But where would they use the gas, and against who? Would this Voldemort fellow use the dangerous compound to attack an utterly unprepared magical target? Reynolds personally suspected not, his Russians must have told him how dangerous the chemical was, and that when used on a civilian population the death rate would be nearly 100%, Voldemort couldn't rule a magical world that consisted of corpses.
So that left the normal world, and that's where the problems started, there were simply too many targets and too many people to cover to be effective, unless they found themselves a miracle, then all they could do was wait until after the attack and move in to pick up the pieces.
And miracles had been in very short supply lately.
STOCKWELL HOMELESS SHELTER, LONDON
Voldemort studied the circular metal canister intently, his red eyes narrowed as he tried to take in all the details. It was a dull green in colour, approximately six feet in length and two feet across, about a third of the way along the canister's length was a hatch that sat flush with the metal surface, on the hatch were a series of yellow stickers exclaiming that the substance inside was a Chemical hazard level 4, whatever that meant.
He approached the canister with caution, laid the palm of his hand upon the metal surface and ran his hand the entire length of the canister, it was slightly cold to the touch and completely inert. He didn't know what he had been expecting, but it was more than this.
"To think that something so harmless looking can be capable of death and destruction on such a vast scale, I am almost impressed by the muggles ingenuity...almost, your men know how to use this substance to its full potential?"
Voldemort looked up at the individual stood the other side of the canister, Gregor Ivanovich may have only been a squib, but he was proving to be one of the finest investments that Voldemort had ever made. He stood out among the majority of the rank and file Death Eaters by his sheer competency, there was something about him that screamed confidence and talent. The man also had a first class brain, he thought out every move he wanted to make in advance, never made snap decisions, and had the personal courage to correct Voldemort or add suggestions or additions to any task presented to him.
Ivanovich and his men were not just experts in the field of muggle combat, they also brought with them a wealth of experience and knowledge about how the muggle world worked, and where the exploitable weak points were, they even had information on how the muggle armed forces were structured and it had been Ivanovich that had informed Voldemort that it was unlikely the muggles helping Potter numbered more than his company of nearly seventy men. The Russian mentioned something about an Air Service and a Sabre Squadron that made no sense to the dark wizard.
"It depends on the target you want us to attack, but yes we can deliver the weapon in such a way that will guarantee as large potential body count as possible. If for example you want a large area, such a city, the gas would have to be released at several hundred feet, and a single canister should be enough to kill maybe one hundred thousand..."
Voldemort grinned as he listened to the man's explanation, to have the power to kill so many muggles in one foul swoop, it was beyond his wildest dreams, and he had twenty of these marvellous canisters at his disposal, and this was only the start, this was not even the most powerful of muggle weapons.
When Voldemort had been told of what a nuclear warhead was capable he knew that he had to posses such power, but weapons such as those were not just left lying about for the foolhardy to pick up, it would require careful planning, but as the Russians had proved, with the right mix of knowledge and ability anything was possible.
The creation of his shambling army was going well, but the process was depleting Voldemort's magical energy at a prestigious rate, luckily his magically constructed body was able to regenerate magical energy at a rate that his flesh and blood body had never been capable of. He was ahead of schedule numbers wise, but he was running out of components, he had dispatched Fenrir Greyback in order to restock what he required and was sure that when the time came he would be ready.
His plan required a coordinated attack at two different locations, the first to draw in as many of those that defied him as possible, so he had picked a target of such significance that it couldn't possibly be ignored. But the secondary attack was the real target, the one that would take him that much closer to his goal.
"What are your next plans?" Voldemort addressed the Russian soldier.
"We intend to spread panic throughout the population and confusion through the armed forces, our target list is comprehensive and cannot possibly be predicted ahead of time, we will launch the first attacks later today, and continue until tomorrow night, when your main attacks start we will then switch our attention as we planned to your targets."
Voldemort nodded his understanding, completely sure that this man was worth every single galleon he had paid for his services.
GRINGOTTS HOLDING CELLS
Ragnok sat alone in his cell and stared at the dark wall. He didn't know exactly how long it would be before he would have company, but he knew it was coming. There was no way Rocksplitter was going to leave his greatest opponent alive, while down in the depths of the city he was doing his best to destroy every clan that had or could stand in his way. Someone was going to come and end his life before the morning, of that he was sure.
He had given his son every possible chance to survive, he had distanced himself at birth, hoping it would give Gutripper the time to grow and develop into the leader Ragnok hoped he would become. He was the future of the Goblin Nation, he had the best of both of his parents, his father's strength of purpose and leadership skills, and his mothers compassion and ideals.
Ragnok missed his wife terribly, if there was one thing he could have changed it was the fact that she had chosen those particular days to visit her family at the tribal enclave in Nottingham, the day when Voldemort's Death Eaters had destroyed it utterly.
As the leader of the Goblin Nation, Ragnok had been very careful in the preparations he had been making, thanks to the Blood vault parchment he had known that Voldemort wasn't dead, just temporarily banished, he had also known that telling Minister Fudge was pointless in the extreme .He had known the day would come when the dark wizard would rise again, he had slowly, oh so slowly, increased the size of the force that his own clan could field, while encouraging other clans to do the same.
Ragnok had been so busy watching the growing external threat he had not seen what was happening closer to home, his preparations hadn't gone unnoticed by the wider Goblin community, and his spending had lost him support from the frugal and short sighted Council. His own short-sightedness had doomed the Goblins to fight a bloody and costly civil war that would only weaken whatever could have been mustered to throw at Voldemort.
It was if someone had turned on the light, of course it would help Voldemort...because that was exactly how he had planned it, this was exactly how the dark wizard worked, using political means to split and distract an adversary, and then he would strike when he was ready and assured victory. Voldemort had used the same tactics on the human Ministry, he had done the same to the Werewolves in the last war, and now he had split the Goblins.
But at the present moment there was little Ragnok could do with the information that Rocksplitter had been helped by Voldemort, being accused of treason didn't exactly give him many willing ears, and he still had to last through the night to his trial by combat.
From outside the cell came the sound of the rattle of keys, as whoever the assassin tasked with killing him was tried to insert the correct key into the lock. Ragnok gathered his legs under him, and got prepared to throw himself at whoever came through the door.
When the door creaked open Ragnok relaxed, there was only one Goblin he knew that could be wearing weapons and armour and still look like they would do more harm to themselves than others.
"Griphook, what are you doing here?"
"Don't you recognise a jailbreak when you see one Director!"
Ragnok smiled with affection at his youngest protégé, when offered the chance of escape before he hadn't taken it because he had thought his problem a purely Goblin affair, but now he knew different, now he had to stop a civil war before it started and unite the Goblin Nation like it never had been before, or there might very well not be a Goblin Nation for very much longer.
"Very well Griphook, let us indeed break this jail."
Harry awoke spluttering and flailing about as the bucket load of ice cold water hit him full in the face. Calling his glasses to his hand he slipped them on to his dripping wet face, and looked up into the stern face of a young oriental man, Harry vaguely remembered seeing him among Bell's soldiers from the previous evening. The man was dressed all in black, from the tips of his boots to the jacket with the rolled up hood.
"What the fu..."
"Good morning princess, I have some clothes and shoes for you to get changed into. Get outside, you have five minutes." The man held out a bundle towards him, which Harry took with some bemusement, he then looked up at the soldier still not understanding what was happening. "Why are you still in bed Potter, MOVE IT, MOVE IT, MOVE IT!"
Harry was surprised to find he had bounced from under the covers and out of the bed before he had made a conscious decision, the soldier's barking voice had engaged his brain at some atomic level and it had responded without any input from him.
"NOW GET DRESSED AND GET OUTSIDE!"
Harry felt a surge of anger, what gave this man the right to treat him like Snape always had, but cold logic quickly stepped in before Harry was able to turn the soldier into a steaming puddle on the floor, whatever he was doing, there must be some logical reason for it. The soldier finally satisfied he had the teenager's attention, turned smartly and left the room.
Looking through the bundle of clothes he had been handed, Harry found a pair of black shorts and white trainers, there was also a t-shirt in Gryffindor red with gold trim on the sleeves. Dressing quickly he crossed to the apartment's door and entered the corridor.
Harry found himself joining a stream of groggy and occasionally damp people making their way outside, all the while receiving some less than welcome vocal encouragement from other soldiers dressed in black. Leaving the block, Harry was shocked to discover that it was still dark outside, and he shivered as the morning chill finally penetrated his sleep befuddled brain.
"What's the time?"
"It's four in the bloody morning."
A very disgruntled Terry Boot answered as he went passed, it was only then that Harry noticed that everyone around him was wearing t-shirts whose colour matched that of their house at Hogwarts. Doing a brief head count, It seemed to Harry that every member of the D.A. was present along with the Auror cadets that had reached the Burrow. The Weasley family were also well represented with only Molly and Arthur being absent, he smiled at Ginny but received only a brief nod in reply. Remus and Tonks were also stood there in t-shirts.
"You know what the oh stands for..."
"...Oh my god it's early!"
Harry groaned as the twins proved that early starts didn't seem to affect their energy levels at all.
A flash of blond hair drew his attention to the only person stood in Slytherin green...except to Harry's surprise, Draco wasn't the only one in green. Standing beside Draco and trying to ignore the hostile looks and muttering that her unexpected presence caused, Daphne Greengrass didn't even raise her head as Harry approached. He had to touch her arm for her to look up and meet his eyes.
There was the look of despair, fear and probably most surprisingly of hope, that Harry had seen the first time that he had met the 'new' Draco during his rescue of Helen and Ginny. It was the look of someone that knew they had done terrible wrongs, and knew that perhaps, just perhaps they still had the time to do something about it to put things right.
Albus Dumbledore had believed in redemption, it was one of the reasons he had been so willing to allow Severus Snape to take a teaching position at Hogwarts, along with the fact it had allowed him to keep an eye on 'his' spy. It was also why, despite being given so many opportunities to be rid of them, Dumbledore had never expelled the Slytherin children of known Death Eaters. Now Harry could see that maybe Dumbledore hadn't been completely wrong in his world view, because Daphne and Draco were both living proof that redemption wasn't just a word.
Daphne stammered and finally gave up, staring back at the ground again, Harry glanced at Draco and raised a questioning eyebrow, Draco had a strange look on his face, which Harry chose to read as Sympathy directed at Daphne, and just gave a single nod of his head. It was slightly strange how Harry had come to rely on Draco, and even stranger how the two of them had become so in sync that they didn't even need words half the time anymore.
"Daphne..." Harry spoke softly, what he had to say was only for Daphne's ears, and perhaps Draco's as well since he had heard a version of it himself already. "Everything that has gone before, Hogwarts, all of it, none of that matters, all that really matters is what we do from here on...you're here now, that tells me everything I need to know about the kind of person you are."
Daphne looked up finally and although she still looked very unsure of herself she gave him a small smile, Draco put his hand on her shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. Harry was aware of the hostility that emanated from all those around him, and knew if he felt it, Daphne must have felt it as well.
"Don't worry about this lot..." Harry nodded over his shoulder at the silently watching and definitely hostile crowd. "None of them even spoke to Draco for the first week he was here, but they adjusted for him, they will adjust for you."
Harry stuck out his hand towards Daphne, and tentatively she took it and they shook, just as once Harry had shook Draco's hand in an offer of friendship.
"ALRIGHT YOU HORRIBLE CROWD LISTEN UP!"
Harry span as somebody began bellowing behind him, the subdued chatter from the crowd stilled instantly, Wilky was stood at parade rest in front of a mass of his black clothed fellows, he looked as stern as Harry had ever seen him. Beside him was a table with a number of black weapons piled upon it alongside a number of shoe boxes.
"For those of you who don't know me, my name is Sgt Wilks, and I have been placed in charge of turning you into something better than the shower of shite you currently are...lucky, lucky me." There was a titter of laughter from the back of the crowd, from two identical mouths, Wilky smiled, although there was little or no humour in that predatory smile. "Oh, you think that is funny do you? We'll see how funny you are feeling after we have run you until you puke. Drop your wands into the boxes on the table or keep them if you have holsters, but you won't need them this morning."
There was slow swell of people moving to the table, dropping their wands into the boxes, all the while Wilky stood there glowering at everyone in a most intimidating manner, eventually his patience seemed to run out and he raised his voice again.
"Get into three ranks facing me, for those of you that can't count, that's one behind the other twice! Straighten those lines! Eyes front and no talking unless you happen to be me!"
The resulting mess was utter chaos as wizards seemed to rush in all directions, trying to the best of their ability to obey the instructions that were being shouted at them, it took some of the soldiers actually placing people into the ranks before some semblance of calm was finally restored.
"You people are really starting to try my patience!" Wilky was walking up and down in front of the first rank, his voice pitched so that he wasn't quite shouting, but still everyone could hear it. "What we are going to embark upon this morning and every morning from here on in, is called physical exercise, and by the look of most of you it is a term that is foreign to you! You might well be the most powerful wizard since Merlin himself, but if you are too busy breathing out your arse to cast a spell the other guy wins, so we are going to run, and then we are going to run some more, eventually, some point before hell freezes over some of you might actually be worth something...although I doubt it!"
A collective shudder of horror ran down the ranks of witches and wizards, other than Quidditch, Hogwarts didn't really emphasise physical activity, and it was true to say that most of the teenagers were carrying a little more weight than they probably should.
"Enough chit chat, turn to your left...your other left Mr Creevey, by the front, Quick March...that means walk quickly...you lot are going to be the death of me I swear!"
Wilky appeared at the front of the column with the oriental soldier that had so rudely awoken Harry, both were now carrying black weapons slung over their shoulders, as Harry looked around he saw that everyone of the soldiers was dressed the same, and they were all carrying weapons, and somehow he doubted they were just for show.
Harry was stood with Draco and Daphne and hadn't fallen in with the others, not because of any wish to be excluded from the exercise, but because of his injuries he thought he wasn't well enough, in truth everything still ached. He was smiling at Colin Creevey's directional mistake when he became aware of someone else stood beside him.
Thomas Bell was watching the group of wizards and smiling as they stumbled after the soldiers, he looked down a Harry and nodded his direction of the column.
"You know one of the first things I was taught when I joined the Army?"
Still smiling Harry replied.
"THAT UNLESS YOU'RE IN THE OLYMPICS, RUNNING IS NOT A DAMN SPECTATOR SPORT!" Thomas placed a hand on Harry's and Draco's shoulders and pushed them in the direction of the walking witches and wizards. "POTTER, MALFOY, GREENGRASS, PULL YOUR THUMBS OUT OF YOUR COLLECTIVE ARSES AND GET MOVING, NOW!"
Harry stumbled forward from the push and hurried after the column, he joined on the back just as Wilky, at the front, gave new instructions.
"Break into Double Time...that means you run you numptys!"
After that Harry had little reserve energy or breath to pay much attention to his surroundings.
DALTON BARRACKS, ABINGDON, OXFORDSHIRE
The sun was just starting to appear above the far horizon as the five vehicles pulled away from the guardroom of Dalton Barracks. Considering the fact that the Barracks and former airfield was home to two massive Royal Logistics Corps Regiments, and each had dozens of fuel tankers and trucks of all sizes, it wasn't much of a surprise that the five vehicles were a long way from the largest convoy that had departed from that gate, it wasn't even the largest convoy of the day, nor were the five vehicles doing anything particularly important or noteworthy, just the normal routine collection of the supplies that kept the Army functioning. The only unusual thing was that the soldiers, due to the security level, were armed, the L85A1 Rifles of each soldier were clipped into the doors of each vehicle
However for 23 year old Private Neil Richards the day was shaping up to be something very special indeed, a lot of that was to do with the soldier currently sat in his passenger seat. 20 year old Private Kelly Hobson was wasted in the Army, or at least that was the opinion of the male members of her platoon, who had agreed that if she decided to she could easily have been a fashion model. Kelly Hobson was not the first female that had decided to become a driver in the British Army, but at least according to her colleagues she was by far the most beautiful.
Neil Richards had fancied her from the moment that Kelly Hobson had arrived from the moment she had arrived in the Squadron fresh from her heavy goods vehicle course, it wasn't the fact she was probably the most beautiful thing he had ever seen on god's green earth, it was way she seemed to calmly glide above the general bullshit that came from being a woman in a male dominated world, that and the fact she was better at her job then nearly every male in the Squadron, him included.
As far as Neil Richards was concerned, if he had to carry out such a boring detail as driving at such a ridiculously early hour, then at least he might as well have something pretty to look at, besides the rumour mill had been supplying the titbit that Kelly had recently broken up with her boyfriend, and maybe if he played his cards right Richards could find himself in the position of providing much needed comfort and consolation.
Richards frowned, listening to himself sounded like he was some kind of stalker, he genuinely liked the female soldier, but ever since she had been posted into the Squadron he hadn't been able to get near her to actually speak to her, every other eligible male within the camp seemed to float around her like flies around shit, now here he was, four hours, with just the two of them alone in a vehicle cab.
"Stop watching me and try watching the road instead."
Richards felt his face turn bright red, his supposed covert glances at his co-driver had obviously not been as covert as he had thought. But Kelly had a point, the other four trucks were 4tonne Leyland DAFs and were all standard right hand drives, where as his vehicle was an 8tonne Bedford and apart from being the largest vehicle, was also the only one that was a left hand drive continental version, of which he alone was qualified to drive, and which was the reason why he alone of the drivers had a co-driver. Being alone, on the wrong side of the cab at a junction or a round-a-bout could be a life changing experience.
Kelly sat leaning forward in her seat, leaning her elbows on her knees and resting her head on her hands, her face was slightly red, especially around the eyes, and it was with some surprise that Richards realised she had been crying.
"I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to upset you Kelly."
Turning her head, she regarded him with those amazing brown eyes that Richards could have stared into forever, and reached up to brush a lock of raven hair that had escaped her bun out of her eyes.
"Just once it would be nice if one of you arseholes treated me like a normal human being rather than staring at me like I was a slab of meat, if one of you talks to me they are normally holding a conversation with my chest."
"Well we can't help it, it is a really nice chest."
Richards took a sudden intake of breath and winced, he wasn't sure what had been going through his mind when he actually said those words, rather than just think them, but what was going to follow was not going to be pleasant.
"Thank you." Kelly's voice was soft, not quite the explosion he had been expecting. Her soft response completely threw Richards, and his tongue seemed to fill his throat and block his fell thought out and meaningful response.
"Er, what I meant was..."
"Quit while you're ahead, idiot."
Despite her words, she was smiling while still looking forwards, it was the sudden switch of her expression from that smile to a frown that crossed her face that alerted Richards to what was ahead. Switching his attention back to the road, he noticed that the convoy was approaching road works. The A34, which he had just turned onto, was normally a dual carriageway, but now had a lane blocked off by cones, council workmen in fluorescent jackets were busy moving equipment about the blocked off lane.
Slowing and dropping down through the gears, Richards watched the lead vehicle come to a stop behind some kind of small truck with 'highway maintenance' signs on it, slowing to a stop several feet behind the lead truck, Richards kept the vehicle balanced on the clutch rather than apply the handbrake, because the larger vehicle was slower to pull off from a complete stop than it's convoy mates.
Richards saw one of the workmen approach the cab of the lead truck, and he saw the man pulling some object from inside a bag, a quite familiar object. His brain supplied the information that the object he was looking at was an AK 47 assault rifle, but by the time his mouth had started to form a warning shout all hell broke loose.
Unseen, a fake workman had approached each of the truck cabs and in nearly all the cases managed to fire an entire magazine from their assault rifles at the unprepared driver. In four of the five trucks the result of the attack was the nearly instantaneous death of the Army driver, as the thin metal of the truck's drivers doors failed to even slow, let alone stop 7.62mm full metal jacketed rounds.
In the fifth truck however things didn't go exactly as planned, for one thing the truck was larger, the cab of the 8 Tone Bedford was several feet higher off the ground than that of the four DAF's, for another the fact that the Bedford was a left hand drive meant that the attackers rounds rather than strike the driver, struck the similarly unprepared passenger.
The difference in height between the two different types of truck meant that the majority of the rounds, fired at a higher angle, missed their intended target, striking either the bodywork of the truck, or punching out through the cab's roof.
Three rounds struck the unlucky young woman on her right thigh, one shattered her femur, another round passed through her thigh and became lodged in the roof, the third round deflected upwards off of her bone and its momentum already failing, struck her under the chin and exited through her cheek. A fourth 7.62mm round struck the woman's rifle held securely in its door clips and its deflected path struck the woman on her side under her right arm, the round passed through a lung, before exiting the woman's back, missing her spine by half an inch.
Richards foot had slipped off the clutch in shock at the overlapping sounds of gunfire, before he had chance to realise what was happening, the large Bedford truck began to roll forward as his brain tried to make sense of what had just happened, he had never seen combat, never been exposed to enemy fire, never had to act to save his life or the life of another, and the traumatic experience momentarily froze him in place.
It was the moans of pain from his co-driver that dragged the soldier back to reality.
Kelly sat slumped in her seat, hung upright by only her seat belt, although Richards couldn't see the extent her wounds, the side of her face was bleeding heavily as was her throat, and the front of her uniform shirt were already sodden with blood. But before he could act the passenger door was thrown open, opened from the outside.
Some deep buried survival instinct kicked in and Richards reacted far faster than he thought himself capable, he reached down and snatched his own rifle from its clips on his door, thankful that for once he hadn't fitted his sling, because slings had the tendency to get caught on every single possible thing they could. He didn't even aim, raising the rifle one handed and pointing it in the general direction of the head that suddenly appeared above the legs of his wounded passenger. Flicking off the safety, he pulled the trigger twice and watched in satisfaction as the man fell backwards out of sight.
Throwing the weapon down, Richards thrust the truck into gear, ignoring the grinding sound that the protesting gearbox made and floored the accelerator. There was a flash of green light and the passenger door slammed shut from a massive impact that rocked the cab from side to side, it was if a giant hand had gripped the truck and shaken it, for a moment the wheels on the passenger side may even have left the ground.
The empty truck finally responded to his foot on the accelerator, moving from less than walking pace to a running pace in seconds, steering out from behind the stationary truck in front of him, he flatten several of the cones blocking the other carriageway before he was clear and accelerating.
He felt rather than heard the rounds striking the rear and sides of the truck as he pulled away, but as long as the engine remained undamaged he was in with a chance of escaping the ambush he had found himself in.
It was only when he was several minutes down the road, when the adrenaline began to wear off, that Richards found himself shaking so hard he could barely hold the steering wheel, and his breath came in sudden quick gasps. It was only then, when the pain was no longer hidden by the adrenaline that he realised that he hadn't escaped completely unscathed.
At some point in the ambush a round had grazed his forearm, punching two neat holes in his uniform shirt, but his own injury paled in comparison to those of his co-driver.
"Kelly, talk to me Kelly." Richards alternated his attention between the road and his injured crew member, at first he thought she was unconscious or dead, but when he spoke she raised her head a little and made an indistinct, wet bubbling sound that horrified him. "Hold on Kelly, just hold on."
Finding a turn off into some woods he span the steering wheel, taking the corner far too fast and nearly over turning the vehicle in the process, he slowed and engaged the four wheel drive and left the road, sliding the large truck between the trees in some mad slalom until he felt safe enough to stop.
As soon as the hand brake was applied he threw himself across the truck, dragging a first aid kit from behind his seat as he went. He had no way of communicating with anyone, his truck radio sparked and fizzed from the two neat bullet holes in the front of it, and he had no idea how far he had to go before he found medical help. He had to at least stabilise Kelly here before moving on.
As quickly as possible Richards assessed and treated his co-drivers wounds, the throat wound although bleeding heavily wasn't life threatening, it seemed to have missed everything vital on its path. The leg wounds although causing the most pain, also were not life threatening.
Throughout the entire time he was treating her, Richards had kept up a reassuring monologue of verbal rubbish, telling her about his family, how he felt about her, anything and everything he could think of, even if she couldn't hear him it helped steady his nerves. Using the blade on a pouch on her belt he cut her uniform shirt and the squadron t-shirt away from under her right arm and back, exposing a small nearly perfectly circular hole in her side and a much larger ragged exit wound in her back, the flesh around the holes had gone a distinctly unhealthy purple colour, especially in comparison to her very pale skin.
It was the first time he had ever seen a genuine bullet wound in person, he had watched the first aid videos and done the dry training, but for just a moment it all got too much and Richards felt the pile rise in the back of his throat. But then Kelly made another hideous sounding moan, reminding him he had to be strong now for someone else, if he lost it there was a high probability that she would die.
He noticed that wet frothy bubbles were appearing around her mouth when she breathed, which if he remembered correctly indicated a punctured lung, but at least she was still breathing.
Using nearly the entire first aid kit, he patched and bandaged his co-drivers wounds, stopping any further blood from leaking out, the internal injuries were beyond his skill, and beyond the scope of the first aid kit, to deal with, for those he needed a properly equipped hospital. Mercifully Kelly lost consciousness before he had to lay her down on her uninjured side. He had unloaded her rifle and used it as a makeshift splint, using two rifle slings to hold the injured leg to the uninjured, he placed the unused magazine in his thigh pocket, which with his doubled his available rounds.
Having cut Kelly's shirt, t-shirt and trousers into tatters in the course of treating her, he removed his shirt and placed it over her in an effort to keep her warm. At no point did it even cross his mind that she was virtually naked in front of him, her life hung in the balance and time was everything, he slipped back behind the wheel and for first time took a good look at his cab. There were holes in the roof and starred impacts on the wind screen blocking visibility from the passenger seat. Both seats were covered in blood, his and Kelly's and the whole cab smelly of burnt cordite.
Turning the key in the ignition, at first nothing happened, trying to keep his panic under control, Richards placed the vehicle into neutral and turned the key again, with a sigh of relief he heard the engine catch, and then he was rolling. The nearest hospital was the John Radcliffe in Oxford, and if anyone or anything got in his way, by god he would either run them down or shot them full of holes.
THURAS CLAN APARTMENT
Ragnok stared at the corpse of the cave troll in utter amazement, the creature was big enough that it dominated the outer room, he couldn't believe that a single Goblin had managed to slay the creature, it might not have been a giant from the tales of old, but in those tales it had taken dozens of Goblins to bring a giant down. That the single Goblin had been his own son had brought a lump to the old clan leader's throat.
"You should have seen him my lord, it was like something out of the old tales, despite the wounds he had taken defending the apartment he just threw himself at the troll without any hesitation."
Rotgut had reported to his clan leader as soon as he had arrived at the Apartment with only the slight protection afforded by the escort of Griphook. The very fact that they had made it this far caused the spymaster to revise his opinion of the Gringotts clerk, he had navigated uncharted tunnels and avoided the armed forces of several clans without incident.
Rotgut bowed his head, now for the worst of news he had to give to his clan leader, the piece he hadn't been looking forward to passing on.
"He is in a comma my lord, the shamans think that given enough time that he might make a full recovery, but to move him far would be to court disaster."
Ragnok looked off into the distance as he processed the information, his son had protected the alliance, saving three other clan leaders in the process, but he was the nominated champion in the trial by combat that would determine whether Ragnok himself would survive the day. Without his leadership it was doubtful the alliance would archive anything before they were swept aside.
"I am too close to this to think clearly, I need options, what is to be done?"
"My lord I'm not sure what to advise. You can ask for a postponement of the trial by combat, but Rocksplitter is under no obligation to grant it, plus even if he did, that gives him more time to strike at us here since we cannot move your son. By ancient law once a champion has been chosen, another cannot stand in his place accept for the accused, and I don't wish to cast doubt on my lord's skill with a blade but we can be assured that whoever Rocksplitter has chosen will be his best. You could run, but I know you would never leave your son, if you do not attend the trial your life will also be forfeit."
"So I die here with my son, die in the trial by combat followed swiftly by my son, or run away and allow my son to die and spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder for an assassin's blade...some choice you present me with spymaster!" Ragnok chuckled grimly at the situation he found himself in.
"I'm sorry my lord, whatever happens Rocksplitter will die by my hand, this I swear to you."
Ragnok clutched the arm of his spymaster and his friend in gratitude for his unwavering support.
"If only we weren't so short of time I might be able to come up with something, but we have five hours until the trial is supposed to start, I don't know what to do my lord."
Ragnok stiffen in surprise. Time, they needed more time, or more accurately they needed to make better use of the time they had. To triumph in the face of adversity they needed an object whose use was strictly controlled by the human ministry, it was commonly held belief that every single example of this item had been held in the department of mysteries and had been destroyed in the battle between Harry Potter, his school friends and the Death Eaters.
Commonly held belief was wrong.
Ragnok looked up from the ledger he had been examining as the door to his office opened and a tall white haired wizard was shown in.
"Thank you Griphook, that will be all."
The small Goblin clerk nodded once and shut the door behind him as he left, leaving the Headmaster of Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry alone with the director of Gringotts Wizarding bank.
"You asked to see me Headmaster, whatever it is please be brief my time is precious." If the words had any effect on the elderly wizard none were discernible, his blue eyes still twinkled above his half moon glasses, and the very subtle enchantment that encouraged people to trust him could be felt prickling at the corner of Ragnok's mind. It didn't have any effect on Goblins who were mostly immune to human enchantments, but Ragnok found it amusing that this supposed leader of the light required such a spell.
"Thank you for your time Director, and I shall be brief, your time may be precious, but my time is short." Dumbledore raised his shrunk and withered hand, it looked almost skeletal now, the curse was spreading, of that Ragnok had no doubt, Dumbledore's days were numbered. "I have written a revised copy of my will, and due to some of the more...controversial contents I wondered if you would do me the honour of witnessing it."
Ragnok felt his eyebrows rise in surprise, he and Dumbledore were not enemies, however they only occasionally found themselves to be the most casual of allies, as Dumbledore's interests lay in the future of the Wizarding world which often was not in the best interests of the Goblin Nation, most often they didn't have any common ground at all.
That Dumbledore would come to him of all people to witness a will said a great deal about his current level of trust in the Ministry of Magic.
"I see, well pass it over then and let me read through it."
Dumbledore handed the thick parchment across the desk to the Goblin, Ragnok took the document and using a lifetime of experience of cutting through the chaff he skipped to the vital parts of the will.
Hermione Jane Granger is left the ownership of my personal time turner, an item that is already in her very responsible possession, may she continue to right many wrongs with it.
Harry James Potter on his age of majority shall be left with Guardianship of the sword of Godric Gryffindor, I cannot grant him ownership of the blade as it is not mine to give, however given its...attributes I'm sure it will be of use. I also grant Harry access to the entire library of Hogwarts including the restricted section upon him reaching his age of majority, in the hope he finds something that will aid him in his appointed task.
Alastor Moody shall receive my pensive, foe glass and any other items of a defensive nature he deems worthy of his time, constant vigilance Alastor. I also request Alastor help train Harry James Potter for the coming conflict.
Kingsley Fredrick Shacklebolt shall receive my dragon scale armour I wore against Grindlewald, its style is dated, but its protection is unrivalled. I also request Shacklebolt aid Harry Potter in any way he can.
Minerva McGonagall shall receive my undying affection and respect for her many years of unwavering support, she is to be given financial control of the Hogwarts trust to use to fund the schooling of those without the means to do so themselves as she sees fit.
Aberforth Dumbledore shall receive the contents of the Dumbledore family vault along with a copy of my portrait, so our arguments may still continue.
The will went on for several pages, Dumbledore had amassed a considerable number of assets during his life, and most of the rest of it was not at all controversial.
"A time turner out of Ministry control, I've never heard of such a thing." Ragnok spoke softly, his eyes studying Dumbledore as if for the first time.
"And now you see why I didn't ask Cornelius or another senior Ministry official to witness this document, it would create too many problematical topics of conversation that I don't have the time to address. I assure you that everything listed in my will is mine to dispose of aside from the sword."
Ragnok simply nodded in understanding, he knew better than most that the sword only truly belonged to Gryffindors heir, and could only be used by that line or the appointed champion of that bloodline. Long ago clan Thuras had created the blade as the counter balance for a mistake that had been made in respect to another of the founders.
"Very well, I shall do as you request." Ragnok swept up a blood quill and signed the parchment, watching as his blood transferred to the document. "I would wish you a long life Headmaster, but I think we both know that is not to be, instead I shall wish all those that stand against you know the architect of their destruction."
"That will be Harry Potter, thank you for your valuable time Director."
Ragnok frowned, he had never been put in the position before where he needed to ask a wizard for help, and he didn't like it in the slightest. Too many of his ancestors had paid too high a price for Goblin independence for him to be happy surrendering even such a small piece of it, but this was bigger that than his own hurt feelings, it was bigger than his son, this was the future of the Goblin Nation.
"Rotgut, I need you to find out if the intended portal was ever installed at the Burrow, I know it was on the to-do-list, but like so many things it might never have been done."
The spymaster frowned.
"My lord even if it was installed, there are no Goblins remaining at the Burrow, all of them were recalled as a precaution."
"All but one, there is still one Goblin at the Burrow, and whether he knows it or not he has just become the most important Goblin on the planet."
INTENSIVE CARE WARD, JOHN RADCLIFFE HOSPITAL, OXFORD
The door opened slowly and the man entered the private room, already inside was two occupants, one, the female patient in the bed, was barely visible under the mass of tubes and attachments that led from the bed to rack mounted equipment that quietly wheezed or beeped in the background.
The second occupant was sat in a chair at the bedside of the first, still dressed in the blood splattered camouflaged trousers and t-shirt he had arrived in. Moments before a large green and black weapon had rested across the soldiers knees, but the instant the door had opened the weapon had snapped up to the man's shoulder and was now pointing directly at the rooms newest occupant.
"Who the hell are you? I was told that the police would keep anyone other than medical personnel out of here, and you are no Doctor."
"No Private Roberts I'm not a doctor, and if the policeman outside the door knew I was in here he would probably beat me with his baton until I was a twitching mess on the floor, they all seem very protective of the two of you. Luckily for me said policeman is suffering from an acute lack of concentration, and never noticed as I walked right past him. My name is Croaker...and I may be the only one who can tell you who attacked you earlier this morning."
They ran at a constant pace around the perimeter of the wards, the pace was designed to be testing but not to actually kill anyone, and somehow, just at the point that it became too much for one of the runners and they were about to drop out the column stopped and another activity was substituted.
They had done press ups, sit ups and chin ups, they had laid on the ground with their just their legs in the air, feet held at a height of six inches from the ground until their legs burned, they had held heavy bags at chest height and lifted them over their heads.
In between each exercise the running continued, it seemed to go on for hours, and yet as soon as someone struggled another halt was called and another exercise began. It was with some relief that the group finally arrived in a large clearing and they were told they could stop and catch their breath.
To Harry his body felt worse than it did after waking up when getting injured, every part, every muscle group, burned from overuse. Nothing had prepared him for the intensity of the exercise, and from all the muttered curses from those around him, he was not alone in his suffering.
Remus and Tonks appeared to not even be breathing hard, everyone else was in slightly differing states of general collapse, except perhaps for Neville, Harry was surprised that despite Breathing hard Neville was still able to converse with one of the soldiers.
Harry found that Ginny had come to stand beside him, she was bent over clutching her ankles in an attempt to stretch off her legs, and in the process giving him an unobstructed view of her wonderfully shaped posterior.
"Me too, give it a few hours and I think that I'll be so stiff it will be hard to move." As soon as the words had left his mouth Harry knew he'd made a mistake.
"Don't make promises you can't keep Potter." Ginny's voice was soft and playful, and how he had missed that recently, despite his cheeks turning a shade of crimson he knew that things had finally turned a corner and were settling down again. Well, if you can't beat them...join them.
"I have no idea what you are talking about young lady, various parts of my body are always stiff when you're around." Harry spoke pompously earning a huge smile from Ginny.
Wilky walked in front of the assembled group and he smiled as they let out a communal groan at his appearance.
"That hurt didn't it, good, because it was supposed to. That feeling of exhaustion you have now, the feeling that you cannot go any further, that is your body telling your brain that it's all over, however your brain is in charge, and you can fight through the exhaustion and the pain, and keep going. Some of you will know what I'm talking about, when the only thing keeping you on your feet is willpower and sheer stubbornness."
Wilky managed not to be looking at Harry when he said that, but that didn't stop others in his peer group from peering over their shoulders at him. Ginny slipped her hand and into his and gave him a reassuring squeeze.
"The more physical activity you do, the further you will be able to go before you feel the exhaustion kick in. This morning was mainly to judge what raw material we were working with, many serving soldiers would have struggled with the pace we set. From here on there will be less loud shouting and more quiet instruction, however..." Wilky looked directly at Fred and George. "I firmly reserve the right to shout at any individuals that try my patience. Right, as I'm sure you are all feeling the effects of our little session, now I'm going to show you the stretches that you need to carry out after heavy exercise. They will not only stop you all stiffening up..." Harry and Ginny barely suppressed their laughter as Wilky spoke from in front of the group. "...but will stop you from injuring yourselves, split yourselves into pairs, some stretches will require partners."
Harry turned his back on Ginny and made a big show of looking around for someone to partner with, and despite a few candidates he turned back to Ginny, let his shoulders fall in an overly dramatic fashion and sighed loudly.
"I suppose you had better be my partner then."
"What makes you think I'd even want to be partners with you!" Ginny was scowling, although her eyes told him she was playing along.
"Because I'm adorable..." Harry held up a hand and began to count the points off on his fingers. "According to teen witch weekly I'm Britain's most eligible bachelor, I'm awesome at Quidditch, and I have all my own teeth."
"That's all well and good, but I'm talking about stretching...?"
Morale seemed to have taken a climb now that the running was over, Wilky took them through a series of stretches that lasted nearly fifteen minutes, but by the end Harry actually felt as if he could at least walk without limping.
"Ok, everybody take a seat." When everybody had eased themselves to the floor and were giving him their undivided attention, Wilky continued. "Most, if not all of you have already seen combat, the fact you are still here speaks volumes about your skill with a wand, being muggles there is little we can do to improve that, we will leave your magical instruction in the hands of those more qualified, however what happens should you lose your wand."
Wilky reached behind him and pulled the large black machine gun around from where it had hung on its sling down his back and displayed it to those assembled in front of him, Harry had no doubt the weapon was loaded.
"This is the M4 assault rifle, this is my primary weapon just as your wand is yours, and it holds a 30 round magazine, of which I normally carry ten..." Wilky let the rifle fall down on its sling until the weapon was hung at his side, faster than Harry could follow, the soldier drew the smaller weapon from the holster on his thigh. "Should I lose my primary weapon, or I have it break or jam, I have a back up, this is the Sig Sauer 226, it holds 15 rounds in the magazine, for the pistol I carry four mags."
Wilky placed the pistol back into its holster with the same speed with which he had drawn it, his hand flashed down again and when it came up it held a large knife with a blackened blade.
"Because, just like your Auror's we soldiers are very paranoid I even carry a back up for my back up, now I'm not encouraging you to all go out and get knifes, I just want you to bear in mind what would happen should you lose your wand. I know that your Ministry discourages people from owning two wands, but seeing as how you may be fighting for your lives, breaking a law or two is something to be worried about at another time."
A hand rose hesitantly from the mass of seated witches and wizards, Wilky saw the raised hand and crossed to it.
"Yes...what's your name?"
"Laura Madley." The teenager replied hesitantly, she probably shouldn't even have been out of her hospital bed, and if her injuries hadn't been tended by Fawkes then she wouldn't have been. Delores Umbridge had damn near killed her, a point blank Reducto to the chest had caused huge damage.
"Well then Laura Madley, ask your question." Wilky's tone had softened considerably, maybe because of the girl's obvious young age or maybe because someone had told him of her recent injuries.
"Sir, I don't understand why a knife would be useful, you have your weapons, we have wands, where does a knife fit in."
Wilky smiled. Harry had the impression that the soldier had been hoping that someone would ask that question or something similar.
"Wands and firearms have something in common Laura Madley, they are all used in the hand..." Wilky casually flipped the knife into the air and caught it by the blade, then he turned and his arm flashed up and out and the knife span across the clearing and buried itself several inches into a large tree. "...but if you disable the hand, you disable the wand."
Wilky walked across the clearing and recovered his knife, as he walked back towards the group he was tapping the blade on the palm of his hand.
"Of course once you disable the hand and the wand you may have to disable the rest of the wizard, and that is something we can teach you, how you can use your own bodies as weapons..." Another Soldier, the oriental man that had woken Harry strode out until he was stood in front of assembled wizards and witches. "This is man is Chen, I have known him for five years now and I still have no idea if he has a first name, he is that good with his hands and feet that he trains us in unarmed combat, he is a black belt in more forms of martial arts than I can spell and he is going to try and impart some of that knowledge to you, listen to him, do what he says, and don't disrespect him...or you will regret it."
"Stand up, spread out and find some space." The soldier named Chen spoke softly but in a tone that was used to being obeyed, he waited until everyone was stood in plenty of space. "Unarmed Combat is all about focus and intent, similar I am told to magic, your intent is to disable your opponent and that's it, it doesn't have to be fancy, it doesn't have to be complicated, but it needs to be final and decisive."
Chen adopted a stance with his feet at shoulder width and with his knees slightly bent.
"The first thing we shall work upon is stance, keeping a low centre of gravity makes you more stable and therefore makes it harder for someone to knock you down..."
The explosion ripped through the wing of the scheduled flight mere moments after it had lifted off from Stansted Airport, the small commercial aircraft staggered in the air as the pilot struggled for control, but with the surfaces that generate lift so severely damaged and with no height to play with the pilot was doomed to fail.
The aircraft stalled, and side slipped until one wingtip brushed the ground, sending the fuselage cart wheeling engulfed in a huge fireball, the flaming wreckage when it came to rest resembled nothing more than twisted metal, of the 132 occupants there was very little to mark their passing.
The Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Lincolnshire on the United Kingdom's Eastern coast was the third largest in the country, and capable of processing over 200,000 barrels of crude oil a day. It could turn crude oil into 35 different products including aviation fuel.
As many as four huge super tankers could lie up against the offshore anchorages and pump the crude oil directly into the vast underground storage tanks until it was called forward to be processed. At that moment there was only one tanker offloading its cargo, although another three were expected within the next couple of hours.
The explosion that tore the huge vessel apart came without warning, one moment the super tanker was there, the next, an immense fireball rose skyward and bits of hull began to rain down as far away as five miles. Only the ponderous bow of the vessel was visible as it slowly sank beneath the water.
The pumping station, on automatic, continued to pump from the stricken vessel for three seconds after its destruction, sucking burning crude oil deeper into the complex and closer to the massive underground storage tanks.
The control centre of the refinery was manned by well trained staff that drilled for all possible disasters, after only an instants hesitation they snapped into action,. Closing safety valves, redirecting the flow of crude oil through the miles of pipes within the refinery, and contacting the emergency services to deal with the unlikely event that there were survivors from the tanker.
The situation might have remained manageable had not a second explosion destroyed the control centre only thirty seconds after the initial blast, the second explosion, although many times smaller than the first was well targeted, it killed the refinery staff whose job it was to respond to just such an incident, and destroyed the complex circuitry that controlled the flow of crude oil throughout the complex.
When the series of explosions finally reached the underground tanks the oil refinery literally ceased to exist in less than a second, the explosion was so massive that an orbiting satellite belonging to the United States Air Force detected it as a possible nuclear event and the personnel of NORAD spent a nervous few minutes trying to confirm if they had just witnessed the opening salvo of a nuclear war.
The Royal Liver building in Liverpool was in some respects the heart and soul of the city, and certainly one of the city's most recognisable landmarks. After it was finished in the year 1911, the 300 foot tall building had remained the tallest structure in the country for over fifty years.
It had of course been overtaken by many modern skyscrapers, but the building still possessed a character that had endeared it to the people of Liverpool.
The two massive charges that detonated in the basements underneath the clock towers at either end of the building were separated by less than five seconds. Each charge was more than enough in theory to collapse the towers, but for once the saying 'they don't build them like they used to' was utterly true, the Royal Liver building had been the first in the country to be built using Reinforced concrete, and there were military command bunkers that were less solidly built.
The basements at either end of the building acted as funnels, containing the blast and channelling the destructive force upwards, the twin blasts obliterated offices and all the people who were diligent enough to be working at that time of the morning, before smashing the towers into rubble, the building however didn't collapse and the damage was a fraction of what it could have been.
Nobody noticed the young man that approached the coach while it was sat parked in the services at South Mimms on the M25 Motorway, nobody saw him open the luggage hold of the coach and place two large sport bags inside, nobody saw him close the hold door and stroll away.
The coach, hired to take passengers on a day trip to France on their annual 'booze cruise' to buy cheaper duty free alcohol and tobacco, went on its way without incident. In fact the only slight drama was when the coach reached the Folkestone terminal of the Channel Tunnel where the train that the coach had been booked onto developed a fault. Rather than face an unknown delay, the party decided to transfer their tickets to the next ferry sailing from Dover.
The Pride of Calais was the current flagship of the P&O ferry line, at 26,400 tonnes she and her sister ship Pride of Dover were the largest roll on-roll off ferries operating from any of Britain's ports. She had only been in service a year, but despite this there were already plans for the next generation of 'super' ferry on the drawing board, which had a tonnage of twice those in service but that was something for the future.
By the time the crew managed to get all the cars, trucks and coaches loaded, got all the passengers from the vehicle decks up to what they called the accommodation decks and started the massive engines in the bowels of the ship, the train, if it had been running to schedule would already have been a third of the way into its journey under the channel.
Slowly accelerating the massive ferry cleared the dock and moved towards the two arms of the large enclosed breakwater that made up Dover harbour and once clear turned on a course that would take the ship into the busiest shipping lane in the world and on a direct heading to Calais.
At the exact moment that the scheduled train would have reached the half-way point of the Channel Tunnel, the two large sports bags placed in the luggage hold of the coach, itself parked on the bottom vehicle deck of the ferry, exploded with intense fury.
To the bridge crew, it was if a gigantic hand had smashed into the side of the ferry and pushed it sideways through the water several feet, to those below decks and nearer the vehicle decks the experience was many times worse, the sound of the explosion and the force of the blast threw nearly all those standing to the floor and emptied the shelves of the onboard duty free store.
Apart from one unlucky crewman who had stopped for a sneaky cigarette in just the wrong place no-one was killed by the initial blast, the bottom car deck was virtually abandoned mid cruise, and sealed by thick doors and the large open space was wide enough to dissipate the worst of the blast. The blast buckled the hull plating, but with only a handful of leaks the hull initially held. The device had not been designed to defeat the hull of a ship, it was designed to use overpressure to collapse a tunnel.
And then the secondary explosions from the fuel tanks of the other vehicles parked close together started, it became an expanding wave of destruction, a chain reaction that was out of control, the already weakened hull plating blew outwards in a twenty foot arc and the water rushed in.
The Captain, an officer of nearly forty years experience of channel crossings, had run to the wing of the bridge the instant he heard the first explosion and had a bird's eye view down the side of the hull when it blew outwards. He could feel the secondary explosions through the balls of feet, and knew with certainty that his ship was dying.
She had already started to slow as the hole in the hull induced drag and had started a list towards the large hole in the hull, he could picture the water rushing into the vast cavernous space of the vehicle deck and if that filled he knew his ship would sink.
"Mr Yates, broadcast a Mayday, tell the coastguard that we have experienced an explosion on board and are taking on water..." The Captain walked back onto the bridge and continued to rattle off instructions. "Sound the alarm to gather the passengers to the evacuation points, but no one abandons ship until I say so, and tell the crew to keep control for god sake there are a lot of children down there that will get injured if there is a panic."
He was amazed by how calm he sounded. Reaching the map table he immediately began rummaging through the detailed inshore maps, places that no one in their right mind would take a vessel as large as a ferry. Finding the right map he dragged it to his station and beckoned the navigator over to him.
"Here, I want to go here, how long?"
The navigator looked at his Captain as if he had lost his mind, the location he indicated was in front of them and placed the ferry virtually on the beach...on the beach! The Navigator smiled as he finally understood what his Captain wanted, turning back into Dover, although possibly quicker time wise, also carried the risk that sink in the middle of the harbour blocking it for maybe months, it also would force them to expose the damaged side of the hull to rough seas as the ship turned, turning towards the beach protected the damaged hull and there was no chance of sinking if the ferry was deliberately ran aground.
"Five minutes at current speed sir."
"Increase speed to max, it's a race now, we have to get there before the list angle kills us. Have the crew check the security of the water tight doors to the car decks, looking on the bright side, at least the water will put out the fires."
The ferry once she started taking on water would continue to list towards her damaged side, and then all the vehicles on the car deck would begin sliding down the deck towards the damaged side only increasing the angle of list because of the extra weight. Eventually the ferry would no longer have the buoyancy to remain upright and would roll onto her side.
The plan was to reach shallower water and ground the underside of the vessel on a sand bar or the bottom before that happened. Now that the plan to save the ship was underway, the Captain concerned himself for the probably scared half to death passengers, he reached up and keyed the mike.
"Ladies and Gentlemen this your Captain, we have experienced an explosion below decks, however the fire is contained and while the damage is severe it is not yet critical, there is no need to abandon ship at this moment. Please remain calm, and listen to and obey any instructions given to you by my crew, when I have more information for you I will pass it on."
When, seven tension filled minutes later, the ferry finally slid to a halt on the Dover sands, within sight of the beach, it became miraculously clear that the loss of life was tiny, one crewmember killed by the explosion itself, three passengers died from smoke inhalation and one died after suffering from a heart attack. One pregnant lady's waters broke in the midst of the crisis and she gave birth to healthy twins. The passengers and crew were quickly evacuated off the ship in case of further explosions, however the ferry just sat there, tilted over at a slight angle, thick acrid smoke billowing from the exposed hole.
Wendel regarded himself in the mirror in his quarters, his wound had been covered in a healing paste that would prevent infection, but the white smelly substance made him appear like a character from a muggle musical called 'Phantom of the Opera'.
His quarters were much quieter than normal, without the hundred warriors of his company in attendance the underground central chamber, built under the new operations centre, was silent, without the normal chatter of the many voices.
Goblin company compounds were always built along similar lines, and if possible underground, because of the safety it provided, and the fact that any wizards stupid enough to take a fight into a Goblin tunnel system deserved whatever became of them.
There was a large central chamber for recreation and weapon practice and sprouting off the chamber was the quarters for individual Goblin warriors, to serve in the Goblin armed forces guaranteed individuals privacy that not all Goblin citizens enjoyed. But now the complex was eerily quiet.
Wendel had been offered the use of a suite of rooms in the newly constructed accommodation blocks built to house the humans, but the Goblin took one look at the large and ridiculously plush bed and turned his back, going back to his own quarters.
There was a sudden sound breaking the silence, Wendel cocked his head so that his remaining ear could try and identify the sound, it sounded like stone moving on stone mixed with a strange humming sound, and it was coming from the central chamber. Wendel suddenly realised what the sound was...the portal, it had remained dormant since its initial test runs immediately after its installation.
The portal system was the Goblin long range transportation system. Goblins had an instantaneous teleportation magic similar in its effects as apparation, it was however more limited than what Wizards could archive, only Goblin warriors and highly ranked Clan leaders were trained in it, you couldn't take another with you like a wizard could or both would die horribly, and it was extremely tiring to go further than short distances.
The portals however were a network of devices that when linked allowed near instantaneous travel between two points, they were hideously expensive and hard to manufacture, and Wendel had wondered when he had first seen the installed device how much it had cost, he suspected the price was higher than the cost of everything that the Goblins had already done to the burrow since their arrival, millions of Galleons.
Wendel moved out into the central chamber just as the device activated, he stood open mouthed as he identified the only person that came through. Dropping to one knee and bowing his head before the elected head of the Goblin Nation and the leader of his clan.
Ragnok stopped for a moment and surveyed the chamber, it took Wendel a moment to remember that the Goblin leader had not seen the Goblin compound since it had been constructed after his visit.
"Rise Wendel, I am pressed for time and I have need for your services."
Wendel rose and approached the highest ranking Goblin in the country, he had come alone into an unknown situation, no body guards, no escort and no advisers, whatever was happening was unprecedented.
"As always my lord I am at your service."
Ragnok nodded and smiled at the disfigured warrior, he held out a parchment sealed with wax embossed with his personal seal.
"I need you to find the human female known as Hermione Granger, I need you to escort her to wherever she has to go, collect the item she gives you and return here, discuss this with no one, and let nothing stand in your way, do you understand?"
Wendel nodded his head and then he shook it, he didn't understand at all, but then he didn't have to understand in order to obey his instructions.
"Yes my lord, I shall do as you say."
The Military Policeman on duty at the main gate of RAF Wittering narrowed his eyes and stepped away from the small brick guard house, as the four matt green trucks turned off of the North bound carriageway of the A1 and slowed as they approached the barrier. They passed the full size Harrier aircraft that stood as a gate guardian and signified everything about RAF Wittering.
Trucks were not an unusual sight as they were the exact type driven by all of the Armed Forces, however these four particular trucks carried Army insignia, and that made them stand out a little. The lead truck slowed to a halt and the driver wound down his window, as expected the soldier was dressed in camouflage uniform, nearly identical to what the Military Policeman wore. Keeping his hand on the butt of his holstered pistol, the gate guard approached the truck.
"May I see some identification."
It wasn't quite a demand, but spoken with enough force to leave the soldier with no doubt who was in charge during this particular conversation, at least for the moment.
"Imperio!" The RAF Military Policeman never saw the wand appear over the drivers shoulder. "You will open the gate and let us through as if we have shown you the proper identification."
The RAF man stepped back and pressed the button that raised the automatic barrier and waved the trucks through, he wore a stupid grin on his face and his eyes were glazed over. The first three trucks moved past him, the fourth pulled up alongside him and again the driver's side window wound down.
Seconds after the last truck had disappeared inside the camp the RAF guard shook his head and looked around in bemusement, he scowled as he saw the barrier in the upright position and reached over to press the barriers down button, castigating himself for the lapse of security, because he certainly didn't remember opening it.
The four trucks were careful not to do anything that would draw attention to themselves, sticking rigidly to the speed limit and obeying every traffic sign. Surprisingly their destination was well sign posted and within minutes the four trucks were parked up on the Vehicle park up with the engines switched off, alongside dozens of other green vehicles, where they immediately blended into their background.
No 1 Squadron was as the number suggested the oldest established unit on the Royal Air Force strength and had served in every single major conflict with British involvement since the Royal Air Force was formed. The Squadron motto, In Omnibus Princeps, "First in all Things" was certainly true because in 1969 the squadron became the first operational unit in the world to be equipped with the newly built Hawker Siddeley Harrier.
Although the original Harrier design had been updated many times since its launch it still remained in service with No 1 Squadron along with several others, they had been based at RAF Wittering for so long the base had become known as the home of the Harrier. Indeed it was the trusty Harrier that stood as a gate guardian at the main gate.
The men in the stolen trucks worked in pairs, one Russian mercenary and a disillusioned Death Eater, the four pairs split up, each having a specific target that needed attention. One pair moved to the aircraft dispersal office, one pair went to the head Armourer, the third pair went to the Squadron operations office and the last pair found the Squadron crew room where the off duty pilots hung out.
Using a combination of carefully applied magic and falsified documents the pairs each did their part of a greater plan, they created a completely fictitious night mission for the following night, for a flight of four Harriers that would see them using a newly opened (and completely non-existent) bombing range. The live weapons for the four aircraft had been assigned to the mission for weeks, or so the falsified paperwork stated, and so the head Armourer now believed.
Even the four pilots had their memories modified so that they remembered receiving the briefing from a high ranking officer, rather than the Russian mercenary they actually met. The Squadron Operations officer thought he had been given the mission assignment by the station commander. Even the flight plan had been planted, taking the four Harriers on a dogleg course to the south coast.
When each of the four pairs had completed their assignment they met back at the trucks and put the second stage of the mission into place, each truck was driven to what had been determined to be a vital part of the base.
The first was parked below the Air Traffic Control tower, the second was parked outside the station commander's office, and the third placed as near as possible to the armoured bunker that contained the majority of the bases aircraft munitions, the fourth truck was parked near one of the accommodation blocks.
The magician in each pair levitated several large crates from the interior of each truck, positioned them carefully, the mercenary then bent over each crate and removed several items. The Wizard then disillusioned each pile of crates, adding notice-me-not charms before both men boarded the trucks and retraced their routes back to the main gate and back onto the main A1.
Ragnok was as surprised as he had been at any time in his life when he saw his clan warrior return...with Hermione Granger in tow, while he hadn't specifically told Wendel to ban her presence, he thought he had made his intentions perfectly clear, it was bad enough that he had been forced to rely on a wizard for help without flaunting that failure in front of him.
"Miss Granger, this is an unexpected meeting, I thought I asked Wendel for your permission to borrow a magical item from you, your presence really isn't at all necessary."
Ragnok glared silently at Wendel, and the warrior bowed his head in shame at his lord's displeasure. Clan warriors of other clans lived or died at the words of their Clan lords, Thuras was a little different in how its leadership dealt with the rest of the clan, and there was little chance that Ragnok would demand Wendel's life, but there was still a chance.
"Lord Ragnok, while I would like to know how you are even aware that I have possession of a banned magical device, the fact that you wish to use it worries me more. A time turner is not something to be used lightly, it is open to abuse and in the wrong hands can cause unthinkable harm. My presence here is not an option, if you want my time turner, then you get me along with it, if only for the fact that I am the most experienced person in the country in its use. No one, not even Ministry employees, have used a time turner as often as I have."
Ragnok looked at her as she stood in front of him, her hands on her hips, determination blazing forth. Despite her bluntness she had remained polite to a fault, and Ragnok knew that she was of the same opinion as Harry Potter about the advantages that would come from bringing the Goblin nation closer to the human magical world.
In truth he had never used a time turner, they were a human invention and he had never felt the burning need to use one, part of him was glad that Hermione Granger would be there to explain its use to him, another part of him was balking at surrendering even this much of the hard won Goblin independence to a human.
The fact that his son's life was hanging in the balance was what finally tipped him in favour of accepting her offer of help despite the fact he was about to set several very dangerous precedents.
"Very well Miss Granger, but you must understand that the Goblin Nation stands teetering on the brink of a civil war, I cannot guarantee your safety if you come with us. My aim is to act swiftly to prevent a war from starting, and for that I need the time turner, I will explain further on the way."
While Ragnok was talking, Wendel had turned and started punching the sequence that would tie the Burrow portal to the one of the three that lay beneath Gringotts, there was a five symbol code that was unique to each portal allowing any portal to connect to any other, there were inbuilt safeguards so that a portal could not connect to one already in use.
The Portal consisted of an inner and an outer ring, the outer ring began to spin around the inner ring and would continue to do so while the portal was in use. There was a flash of red that indicated that a positive connection had been made, and then rather than see the other side of the room through the previously empty ring, the scene was replaced by the image of what could be seen through the destination portal, although the image appeared to underwater or blurred by smoke.
Hermione stopped suddenly and stared at the large stone ring, the outer part of which was spinning, her eyes widened in shock as if she recognised the portal, which was impossible, because as far as Ragnok was aware no human had ever set eyes on one before.
"What you are seeing is a Goblin transit portal, it allows instantaneous..."
"Instantaneous travel between here and any other portal, by way of that control console, where you enter a multi digit code that allows connection to the destination portal." Hermione Granger finished for him with a slight smile on her face.
Ragnok open his mouth several times, but no sound came out, the Goblin Portal system was a closely guarded secret, placing one below the burrow had been a risk that at the time had seemed reasonable as no human should have ever entered the compound, but now...
"You should know my lord that there is a muggle movie by the name 'Stargate' in which the American military use a device very similar to this portal to travel instantaneously to an interstellar destination, the film was so popular that they have started filming a weekly television series on the same subject." Hermione pointed at the Portal, its outer ring still spinning. "This is a Stargate!"
Ragnok turned to regard the portal trying to see it was some muggle would, it would perhaps seem to be some form of alien technology if you knew nothing about magic, but how would any muggle possibly have come into contact with a Portal, Hermione Granger was the first human to have ever seen one.
"I do not know how to explain this, but it is the subject for another day, for now I need your help to stop a war that will doom my race and destroy the alliance I have forged with the House of Potter."
Without a further word Ragnok strode towards what appeared to be a sheet of water and stepped through, Hermione followed him but paused before crossing the threshold, she reached out with her finger and touched the surface of the Portal.
"You can actually see the ripples in the event horizon..."
She may have continued talking without interruption but Wendel sighed, shook his head and shoved hard sending Hermione stumbling through the portal.
LONDON UNSPEAKABLES SAFE HOUSE
Croaker sat at the kitchen table listening to the radio, it had been charmed so that could pick up both Wizarding broadcasts and those of the muggles. Not that it mattered which one was chosen, neither community had much in the way of good news to report recently, the death toll had risen significantly during the last day and showed little sign of slowing.
Even Croaker, mocked in the past by his Ministry colleagues for his doom and gloom warnings of upcoming disaster, had been stunned by the speed with which things had gone downhill. The Ministry had all but ceased to be a functioning entity, a sliver of normality clung to the building, despite the fact most of the employees had gone into hiding or been imprisoned. The Aurors were all gone, a spent force, those remaining free were either in hiding or had started to regroup at the burrow.
Croaker looked down at a piece of parchment that sat on the table in front of him, he had never in his worst nightmares thought it would actually come to this, it was the worst case scenario that faced him, and in his capacity as an unspeakable his duty was to recover as much magical research from his department and flee overseas. That research documented over two hundred years of work by British wizards and was utterly irreplaceable; however with the future of the country at stake he had forsaken his oath as an unspeakable in favour of a deeper and more binding oath, one that had bound his bloodline for over a hundred years.
Croaker was a patient man, the slightly bemused eccentric was really just a character that he wore like a cloak, and it made people relax in his presence and made nearly everyone underestimate him. He had been carefully playing a very uneven game of chess with Voldemort for the best part of twenty years. The sides were hideously uneven, and the only saving grace for him or his chosen pieces had been the fact that Voldemort had never realised he was even playing.
But the great game was approaching its finale, all those carefully positioned pieces would soon have to be used or they would be swept away by events. Croaker had been recruiting forces for years, muggles and magical both, being careful to never expose his existence to a wider world. All he needed to do to activate his network of sleepers was to touch his wand to the parchment and state the required words. But despite the desperate need he had trouble bringing himself to actually do it, all his work, all those years came down to this moment, and he was struggling.
Croaker laughed at his own hesitation, nothing could be gained from delaying further, touching his wand tip to the parchment, Croaker spoke the phrase that would either help put out the raging fires burning in the world, or send them soaring higher than anyone could possibly control.
"In the name of the crown."
The parchment glowed brightly for a moment and then crumbled into dust.
Commander Owen Jackson stood, his hands clasped behind his ramrod straight back, upon the bridge of Her Majesties Ship Iron Duke and tried not to let the emotion he felt show on his face. He was a Captain of a Royal Navy Warship, and as such was infallible in mind and judgement before god.
But inwardly he raged.
The news from the mainland was like a never-ending torrent of despair, the loss of life from the destruction of the refinery alone could reach five hundred. The authorities were blaming the attacks on some obscure terrorist group that few would have heard from, but Jackson knew who was to blame, just as he knew that he was equally powerless to do anything to stop it. A Naval Captain had a lot of power at his command, but what he couldn't do was affect anything happening on land further inshore than the reach of his main gun.
He no longer even had an aviation detachment at his disposal to deploy his marine detachment ashore, he was stuck manning this pointless blockade of the southern coast ports, in an attempt to stop something he was certain had already happened. Enemy troops had already landed, alright so it wasn't an invasion force, but it was a large enough force to cause the chaos currently raging across the United Kingdom.
When the Parchment started vibrating in breast pocket he nearly let out a yell, he had promised Croaker that he would carry it on him at all times, it was supposed to alert him when the time had come that he would be 'activated'. If this was the time then things had indeed become desperate.
Reaching up to his pocket he tried to casually remove the parchment and open it. When it had been given to him it had been completely blank, now it had several paragraphs of small, yet neat handwriting on it, as if it had always been there.
Cmdr Jackson, it is with some considerable regret that I must inform you that the events I discussed with you have come to pass. The Ministry of Magic is in the hands of the enemy and the Dark Wizard known as Voldemort now acts openly against both your world and mine.
It is only a matter of time before Voldemort takes steps to control aspects of the muggle military, please ensure you take all necessary precautions to protect yourself and your command.
You promised your assistance to help protect the crown, if this promise holds true then I need you to do the following, go to the safe in your quarters and open the parchment placed there and then discuss the contents with those already within your trust to decide the best way of carrying out the instructions within the parchment.
Jackson blinked in astonishment, the safe in his quarters was a closely guarded secret, its existence, although steeped in long held crew myth, was known to only two others currently aboard, and its combination known only to him. How had Croaker, who as far as he knew had never even seen the ship, let alone been aboard, placed anything in his personal safe?
"Lieutenant Collins, you have the bridge, please inform Cmdr Charles, the chief of the boat, Colour Sergeant Wills and Lieutenant Bean to meet me in my cabin."
The junior officer, who had only recently qualified as a watch officer, allowing him to be left unsupervised as the senior officer on the bridge, nodded his affirmation, perhaps remembering how much Jackson disliked the formal naval responses on his bridge. Jackson was the Warship's Captain, everyone knew he was the Captain, he didn't need them bowing and scraping every time he gave an instruction.
Jackson quickly made his way to his cabin, finding three of the four he had requested already waiting for him upon his arrival. His steward had already made a pot of coffee and readied a plate of pastries, the ship's grapevine having already informed him of his Captain's approach and the fact he would be having visitors.
"Colour Wills is occupied."
Lieutenant Bean the taciturn Royal Marine officer spoke before Jackson could ask, however being 'occupied' was not normally enough to excuse a request to attend the Captain. Jackson raised a questioning eyebrow and cocked his head at the Royal Marine.
"Marine Davis was found with a rusty rifle on parade, Colour Wills is...educating the young man in the error of his ways."
Jackson chuckled and led the way into his cabin, he decided he didn't want to know what punishment that Colour Wills was handing out, the Marine detachment had by tradition always administered its own discipline, serious crime not-withstanding.
Waving his guests to the seats in his cabin, Jackson moved straight to the safe, it was hidden behind a painting of the battle of Trafalgar, and quickly entered the correct combination into the digital lock.
Inside the safe was his personal weapon, a Glock 9mm automatic, that he hoped he would never have to use, along with copies of his current orders from the Admiralty. Also in the safe were the instructions on what he should do with his ship in the unlikely advent of a nuclear strike on the United Kingdom that managed to decapitate the naval command structure. Every Royal Naval vessel had similar orders, and although he had never opened them, Jackson suspected it would instruct him to place the vessel under American or NATO command.
But, just as Croaker had stated, there sat atop of all the other documents was a tightly rolled parchment, Jackson paused for a moment and just regarded this new addition, pondering how this feat had been managed, the parchment had not been there two days before when he had last had the safe open.
Reaching inside, Jackson picked up the parchment, feeling a slight tingle play over his hand when he touched it. Somehow without being told he knew that if anyone other than him had recovered the parchment, it would have been blank. Opening the roll he quickly read the instructions written within before passing the document over to his executive officer.
"Well people, it seems we have a change of mission."
Commander William Carter blinked awake, and instinctively reached over his head for the handset of the intercom that was emitting a quiet beeping sound, as a light sleeper he had no need for the blaring klaxons others in his position seemed to need.
"Skipper, its Weps, we think we have her."
"I'll be right there, have a coffee waiting."
Carter looked at the clock on the bulkhead opposite and noticed with some degree of exasperation that he had been asleep for only about fifty minutes, he hadn't bothered to undress knowing that he wouldn't get to sleep for long. The ability to power nap was an essential part of his career which wasn't taught on the Navy Perisher submarine command course.
Sitting up with a groan, being careful not to strike his head on the bookcase that was built so that it overhung the bunk, Carter swung his legs over the edge of the bed and placed them on the floor. Standing, he stretched knowing that if he really tried he could nearly touch all four walls of his cramped quarters from the centre of the room. Along the forward wall was a desk, and above it a shelf upon which were a few family photos and a scale model of his boat.
Her Majesties Submarine Triumph was the seventh and last vessel of the Trafalgar class of nuclear powered attack submarines, at 250 feet long and 4,700 tons displacement, she was far from the largest submarine in the world, nor was she the fastest, but she was undisputedly the quietest attack submarine.
The main reason for this was the design philosophy she had been built with, the American nuclear attack boats such as the much larger Los Angeles class were built for primarily for speed in order to keep pace and protect America's prized carrier battle groups, Russian attack boats such as the Akula and Sierra were built to dive to incredible depths and carry an immense amount of fire power.
Triumph and her sister ships were built for stealth, everything in her design had been engineered to lower her acoustic profile. Every item of electrical and mechanical equipment was mounted on shock absorbers to reduce sound and vibration, her hull was coated in tiles of a rubber like substance designed to defeat the sonar of other submarines or detection devices, even her propulsion system was unique, she didn't use a propeller like nearly every other submarine, she was fitted with a pumpjet propulsor which resembled a massive lamp shade fitted to the vessels stern, working like a ducted fan, pushing water to the rear to propel the vessel silently through the water. So successful was the design that the American navy were considering it for their newest class of attack subs named Seawolf that were still in the design phase.
All in all Triumph was a marvel of modern engineering, she was able to stay submerged indefinitely, the only limit to her endurance was the amount of supplies she could carry for her vital human component consisting of twelve officers and ninety seven enlisted men. She was the bogeyman under the bed, the hunter in the deep, silent as a ghost, and armed to the teeth.
Opening the thin door Carter stepped out into the passageway, and turned immediately to his right, the passageway was narrow, so narrow in fact that two men would have to turn sideways on in order to pass each other, and that was only if both men were on the thin side. Luckily he didn't have far to travel, as the Captain of the submarine, his quarters were less than twenty paces from the control room.
At the end of the passageway, through a complicated hatchway was the aforementioned control room, it was a fairly large area, one of the largest on the boat, it didn't feel particularly large however such was the amount of equipment packed inside, as with everything else onboard space was always at a premium. Unlike the surface Navy, where the bridge was separate from the CIC, onboard a submarine there was no distinction, a submarine officer had no need most of the time to be able to see where he was going, hence the control room contained everything needed to steer, command and fight the boat.
Just inside the hatchway were two large plotting tables, one currently displayed the boat's position on a standard navigational chart constantly updated by the boat's onboard Internal Navigation System and backed up by the occasional Global Positioning System fixes obtained by raising a mast to the surface, the other was displaying the track of the boat's course over the last few days. To an untrained eye it looked entirely random, a series of slow and cumbersome curves almost as if nobody could make up their mind where they should be headed.
Carter passed the plotting tables with barely a glance, very little had changed on either display in the last fifty minutes. Forward of the plotting tables was the area known as track alley, six positions set up to allow fire control technicians to track and engage multiple targets simultaneously, only two of the positions were occupied at that moment since the boat was not at battle stations, both men nodded respectfully to Carter as he passed.
The two side by side periscopes, which were mounted upon a slightly raised platform, in the retracted positions resembled some sort of technically advanced supporting columns, for while they didn't quite rest upon the deck of the control room, you would have to be laying on the floor to see that for yourself. One was the search scope and the other used for attacking a surface target.
Carter reached the command chair, but rather than sit in it he leant against the back of the seat, while he studied the repeater screens of the boat's vital systems. There was a screen displaying sonar information, as well as the status of his weapons systems as well as a board that displayed engineering information including nuclear reactor status.
Satisfied that every department was working at an optimal level Carter turned to his left and entered the sonar room. If the control room was the submarine's brain, then the sonar room was the eyes and ears, there was no point being the quietest submarine in the world if you did not have the equipment to detect another submarine attempting to hide from you.
Triumph had many technically advanced systems at her disposal to aid her in the hunt her prey, they fell into two categories, active and passive.
Active sonar required the submarine to emit a series of acoustic pulses that relied on the signal bouncing back off the target to provide distance and bearing information, the down side being that active sonar could be detected by a listening submarine much further away than it reached and was like having a huge neon sign over your head in a dark room, anyone in the area would immediately know exactly where you where
Passive was nearly always the preferred option, no submarine, no matter how carefully manufactured was completely silent, there was sound generated by many systems onboard, and the you could never rule out human error, just the sound of slamming a door, or dropping a pot in the galley could carry many miles underwater. Even the oceans and seas could betray you, a sudden unanticipated temperature change in the water surrounding a submarine could cause the hull to contract or expand just as when changing depth, which was easily identifiable to a listening sonar operator.
Of course Triumph herself was virtually silent, but even she with all her technology and precise engineering could make noise, and in the early years of sonar, operators had on several occasions detected the sounds emitted by their own boats and thought it was an enemy, which could be downright embarrassing if a torpedo was launched.
In an effort resolve this problem engineers had come up with a unique solution, to remove the sound of the host boat they needed to place the hydrophones as far from the boat's sound as possible, the only practical way to do this was for the submarine to drag the sensor platform behind it by a cable. And so the towed sonar array was born, and every attack submarine in the world now included a towed array of some description.
At that moment stretched out behind the submarine was 2,500 feet of cable at the end of which was a string of hydrophones that was a further 240 feet long, every sound in the ocean for miles around was being collected, analysed and scrutinised by both the software of the integrated computer system and human ears. Most sounds could be instantly discarded, whale song or other biological sounds, any sound from surface craft, the sounds of the background ocean. Once these were all put aside, whatever was left was given special attention by the human operators, because it was just possible one of those unidentified sounds was the submarine or submarines they were hunting.
With the growing tensions between the Russian Federation and the West, specifically Great Britain, the Admiralty had taken the precaution of deploying several of its attack submarines into the area around the Norwegian and Barents Seas to monitor the movements of any Russian submarines, and in particular the movements of the huge Ballistic missile armed submarines of the Russian Northern Banner fleet.
Only a few days before they had received a satellite communication confirming that two of the massive Typhoon class submarines had sailed from their home port on the Kola Peninsula heading for deep water. HMS Triumph and her sister boat HMS Turbulent had divided up the large search area between the two of them and began the painstaking task of slowly sweeping the ocean for sound.
Even with the towed array and all the other systems it was still a task that required patience and skill, the ability to read the ocean and the terrain was essential. The Russian boats were capable of diving deeper than the attack submarine, their massive hulls built to withstand the intense pressure, it was entirely possible that the Russian skippers had heard the British boats and had gone deep to try and wait them out.
The four sonar operators, sat at their computer terminals, didn't look up as Carter entered their domain, they had large head phones on their heads and were straining to pick up that one tell tale sound from the background noise. The consoles depicted the sounds as lines on a screen, anything out of the ordinary was a jagged line, allowing the operator to select the correct sound and listen to it himself.
Behind them was stood the Boat's Weapons Engineering Officer, called by the crew as 'Weps', because they allowed him to engage targets with his precious cargo of destruction, the sonar operators came under his jurisdiction.
The required cup of coffee was pressed into Carter's hands and he took a long sip and sighed in satisfaction before turning back to business.
"Alright what have we got?"
The weapons officer pointed at one of the operators sat in front of him, a young man on his first sea cruise with the submarine service.
"Barnes picked up something about ten minutes ago, the computer missed it because it's so faint, but it's there, and definitely mechanical in nature, possibly a reactor signature, I ordered a slight course change to better position the towed array, we are just trying to get a rough distance and bearing on the contact."
Just detecting an out of place sound was only the start of the task, then by using a process of triangulation they had to tie down the distance and direction to the target, which was why the towed array cable needed to be so long, the further away from the submarine, the better the fix on any suspected target, and then there was the added difficulty that if what they had heard was a submarine, it was highly unlikely she was sitting still, by the time they got a fix it would already be old information, then the real fun would begin as guesswork and hunches about where the target was heading came into play.
"Sir I can confirm a submerged contact, 15 to 20 degrees off our nose to port, range is hard to tell but I would guess perhaps 30,000 yards. The distance is too great to get an accurate course or speed, she is showing us her arse though, I am unable to get positive identification of class, however I can tell you she has multiple screws so she isn't one of ours."
None of the NATO boats currently in service had more than one propeller, and in Triumph's case she didn't even have one, but several of the Russian boats had two propellers to move the massive hull through the water.
Carter grinned a predators smile, he had found one of his opponents, but were the two Russian submarines travelling together, working as a team? Western ballistic missile boats never worked together, they occasionally travelled with an attack boat as escort, and two attack boats could search an expanse of water much more efficiently than one. It was more likely the Russian boats had separated and at this very moment Turbulent was closing in on a Russian boat of her very own.
"Good work Barnes, stay on Ivan's tail, I want a blade count as soon as possible, after that I want to know his hull number, I am going to start manoeuvring for a firing solution."
Russian Typhoons had two propellers with seven blades each, each blade made a distinctive sound as it cut through the water, although the lower the speed the lower the acoustic level, they needed a firm blade count to know for sure that they were trailing the correct submarine.
Carter slapped the sonar operator on the soldier and the young man looked over his shoulder and grinned up at his Captain before returning his focus to the job at hand. Carter turned and strode from the sonar room, returning to the control room, he once more regarded the repeater screens, assuring himself that his boat was functioning perfectly.
He was just about to issue the instructions that would sweep the submarine, and the cable being towed in its wake into another gentle curve, getting a finer angle on what he was sure was the target submarine, when he stopped, the orders unsaid.
The reason for the hesitation was that something had happened that he had not expected, a piece of parchment that he had carried in his pocket for fifteen years as the result of a promise had, just as he had been told it would so long ago, had started vibrating.
A/N: No 1 Sqn Royal Air Force left RAF Wittering on 28th July 2000, moving to RAF Cottesmore. Due to defence cuts the entire Harrier force was taken out of service 15 December 2010 and No 1 Squadron disbanded on 28th Jan 2011. The Squadron has a proud history and a large number of battle honours, and maybe one day they will take to the skies again.
Now I don't want to get all political, but I literally owe my life to two former members of this Squadron and the amazing V/STOL Harriers they flew.
On the 14 Nov 2008, four men lay trapped in an Afghanistan ditch, cut off from the rest of their patrol and pinned by heavy machine gun fire and a constant barrage of rocket propelled grenades. Two of the men were already wounded making any extraction attempt difficult if not impossible. The compound from where the enemy fire was coming from was less than 300metres distant.
The calm, steady voice on the radio of the RAF pilot was the best thing I have ever heard, he explained that due to weather and cloud conditions that he couldn't identify the correct compound from height and that he was coming down for a closer look and that we should keep our heads down because things were going to get loud, the way he said it was if it was the simplest thing in the world.
The first Harrier crossed our position at a height of fifty feet, the second aircraft was even lower and I swore that I could count the rivets on its underside. The aircraft did two more passes before the pilots were happy where we were and where the Taliban were, bear in mind pilot standing orders were to only make one pass over the target before weapon release.
'one pass, haul arse' but these pilots made three passes each, every time taking fire from the ground. Each aircraft released one 500lb bomb, both landed directly inside the target compound allowing us to extract safely. I might never know their names but I have no doubt at all I owe those two men my life.
All Submarine information is based upon the marvellous Tom Clancy books 'Submarine' and 'The hunt for Red October' both published by Harper Collins. Everything right is down to Tom Clancy, everything wrong is down to me.