Chapter 4: Hogwarts
"SCUM! DEGENRATES! MUDBLOODS AND – "
The portrait of Sirius's mum was screaming at us again.
"SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!" Sirius roared as he stomped down the hall for the third time tonight and covered the painting with a furious wave of his wand. The hallway fell silent as the curtains snapped shut over the portrait. "God, I hate this place," he grumbled to himself.
"Sorry, Sirius." Ariana looked appropriately apologetic as she picked up the ugly umbrella stand she had knocked over while coming in from sentry duty. She slipped her arm through his as they joined us in the kitchen. "You aren't mad, are you?"
Half irritated and half amused, he cracked a smile as they took a seat at the table. "Don't worry about it."
I shook my head and turned back to my conversation with Jeff. Over the last two months, every single one of us had taken a crack at destroying the portrait with no success. The damn thing had survived everything from the rigorous application of a jimmy bar to full on contact with a cutting torch. In the end, we admitted defeat and did our best to ignore it, some days with more success than others.
Besides, Sirius' mum was one of the house's more benign idiosyncrasies. During our first week inside, we had our hands full sweeping the place for active threats. The house was full of them, including a music box that threatened to put us all in comas and a set of purple robes that attempted to choke the life out of Jeff when he tried removing them from the wardrobe. We had done our best to isolate and toss the more dangerous items, but it was still very much a work in progress.
But I couldn't complain. While the house wasn't exactly ideal for my sanity, 12 Grimmauld Place was one of the few safe houses the White Hats had left in the UK and our HUMINT asset had requested localized direct action teams be placed on standby for "a time sensitive operation that could potentially end this fucking war." His words.
The asset, a double agent planted in the upper echelons of Oscar's military structure, had relayed some interesting news to Phoenix command three months ago: a highly ranked member of Oscar's Death Eater division (codenamed "Sauron") would be visiting the asset's facility in the very near future. Although the date of the visitation had not been confirmed, the asset (codenamed "Metatron") made a judgement call and recommended the mobilisation of Task Force Phoenix to prepare for an assassination attempt.
Vague as the intel was, Dumbledore considered the asset above reproach and persuaded Kingsley to dispatch several Fire Teams to the area. Operating in "cells" consisting of two Fire Teams and a guide familiar with the local terrain, we would be dispersed across London and its surrounding boroughs to wait for Metatron's go order. Sierra One and Sierra Two were paired up with Sirius Black, aka Padfoot, for the duration of this operation.
Eight Fire Teams were dropped into the British Isles over the course of a week. Thirteen days after Dumbledore received Metatron's report, a single HC-130 transport flew over the English Channel and we entered British airspace at 11,000 metres, performing a HALO insertion into the outskirts of London, the heart of Oscar-occupied territory. Landing just outside the city, we regrouped and ghosted our way into London using a combination of flying carpets and Invisibility Cloaks. Dodging at least a dozen aerial patrols while avoiding the general Oscar populace, we finally made our way to 12 Grimmauld Place.
12 Grimmauld Place. Yes, it had fallen into a nearly inhospitable state of disrepair. Yes, it seemed like everything inside was trying to kill us.
It was possibly the most secure safe house we had in the British Isles.
Formerly owned by Sirius' paranoid wreck of a father, 12 Grimmauld Place was a tangled nest of defensive spells and magical security measures. Sirius actually had to disable a majority of his father's protective charms just to allow the non-magicals in our cell to see the damn place. The remaining enchantments had been more than enough to keep us hidden from Oscar for the past three months. Three months spent waiting for Metatron's go order. Three months spent cooped up inside.
We did what we could to pass the time.
"Nice find," Jeff said, examining the locket.
"Ten euros says you can't open it."
He gave me a suspicious look. "No bet. Who sealed it for you?"
I blew a lock of blonde hair out of my face and took the locket back from Jeff. "Spoilsport. No, I found it like that. Been trying to prise it open all afternoon."
Hermione held out a hand. "Here, let me take a look at it."
"I don't know – "
A silver ball of light interrupted me, flashing through the ceiling and coming to a rest on the table. The outline of a doe materialized from its swirling depths and spoke three words.
"He is here."
There was a moment of stillness as the Patronus dissipated before everyone leapt to their pre-assigned roles. Sirius and Ariana left to recall Sierra Two from sentry duty while Hermione went upstairs to fetch our transportation specialists. I jammed the locket into my pocket as Jeff and I scrambled into the dining room to prep our hardware. It was my responsibility to inspect the body armour while Jeff checked our firearms.
I examined each ballistic vest thoroughly, my fingertips sliding over smooth black leather. The vests had started out innocently enough, as standard issue MBAVs. Then Arthur got his hands on them. The end product was a lightweight and flexible armour system that consisted of giant-skin leather backed by magically enhanced ceramic trauma plates and Kevlar. Giant skin takes care of minor combat spells, trauma plates and Kevlar take care of the physical stuff. Pretty comprehensive coverage.
As I checked the armour, Jeff laid out our firearms and ammunition in neat rows on the dining room table. The table was rather empty for a night op; we were leaving most of our stuff behind, like night vision devices and infrared laser sights. Unfortunately, we couldn't bring any of our circuit-based equipment with us on this mission; according to Metatron's intel, there was some sort of interference field around Sauron's current location, a field that actively disabled any electronics within its area of effect. While we were able to magically jury-rig some mission-critical devices to work within the interference field (like our comms, courtesy of Arthur), there was no time to adapt all of our equipment.
While the lack of personal electronics was worrisome, the lack of air support was worse. Obviously, our helicopters, fighters and bombers couldn't give us close support within the field. On top of that, our munitions, from fragmentation grenades to guided missiles, are built around electrical detonators. Without the detonators, our explosives were next to useless. Strafing runs, while possible, were likely out of the question: if the mission went according to plan, we would be spending a majority of the op indoors.
Just as I finished checking the modified MBAVS, the front door flew open and Sierra Two entered, followed by Ariana and Sirius. As the others sorted through the equipment, I strapped on my body armour, picked my suppressed HK416 off the table, and caught the mags Jeff tossed my way. I slapped a magazine into the assault rifle, chambered a round, and stashed the rest of the mags in the right hip pouch on my combat webbing. I slung the HK416 over my shoulder and grabbed a suppressed M1911, brass checking the sidearm before sliding it into my tactical thigh rig. I was slipping the final piece of my load out over my left forearm (a matte black compression sleeve mounted with a clear strip of ballistic material stretching from wrist to elbow) when I heard Ariana say, "Jesus, what's that for?"
Jeff carefully loaded a 32-shell drum magazine into his enormous AA-12 automatic shotgun and shot her a smile full of teeth. "For close encounters."
Hermione returned as we finished gearing up. Time elapsed: fifteen minutes.
She came back with two diminutive forms, one young and sprightly, one old and decrepit. Each was no more than a metre tall, with spindly arms and legs. These two creatures were the key to our plan of attack. While Metatron was able to discreetly remove many of the charms protecting his compound, there were several enchantments he could not dispel without compromising his status as a double. The anti-teleportation field blanketing the compound was one of those spells. To circumvent the field and ensure a stealthy insertion into hostile territory, Hermione had come up with an elegant solution: house elves.
"Everyone link up," Sirius called out.
I took Jeff's hand and stepped up to the younger house elf, the one called Dobby. His knobbly hand closed over mine as Jeff linked up with Ariana. Hermione closed our circle, taking Dobby's free hand. Beside us, Sirius and Sierra Two formed their own teleportation circle with the old house elf… Creature, or whatever his name is.
"Apparate in three, two, one…"
There was an awful pop and everything went dark for a terrifying moment. A crushing sensation seized my ribcage, pushing my heart up into my throat. Just as the strain threatened to overwhelm my senses, the pressure abated and I was released from the teleportation spell's constrictive grip. I collapsed to the leaf-strewn ground, gasping for breath.
Gone were the dreary walls of 12 Grimmauld Place, replaced by endless rows of trees that loomed up around us. A fine mist settled hugged the earth, seeping into the moist loam.
"Alpha, we're in."
"Juliet ready to go."
"Marauder, standing by."
"Sierra on station," Hermione transmitted as Jeff hauled me to my feet.
A few seconds went by before Nucleus, command base's radio operator, responded. "All units go dark and proceed to target location."
A new voice, Metatron's, crackled over the comm. "Watch your approach. Patrols on duty."
Hermione keyed her throat mic. "Understood. Cloaking."
I drew my Invisibility Cloak tightly around my shoulders as the rest of the cell disappeared from view. We headed east, running silently through the dense undergrowth.
As we approached a small clearing covered with spider silk, I heard someone behind me draw in a sharp breath. "Hermione?" Ariana whispered, her voice tinged with uncertainty. "Is this…?"
A horrible sense of recognition slipped into Hermione's words. "Oh, God, this is the Forbidden Forest."
What the hell?
Hermione stopped in her tracks and ripped her Cloak's hood off in one furious motion. "Goddammit, Metatron, you did not say he was at Hogwarts!"
I could almost hear his sneer when Metatron responded. "Need to know, Sierra. And you didn't need to know."
The rest of the cell ground to a halt as I pulled off my own hood. "Hogwarts? What the hell is Hogwarts?"
"A school," Hermione said without looking at me.
Jesus Christ. A school. Which meant…
Sirius shared my train of thought. "There are children in there! That's fucking need to know! We can't just – "
A delicate cough interrupted Sirius's outburst, and Cho, one of Sierra Two's White Hats, uncloaked. "Look, we don't have time for this. This may be our best chance to kill him –"
"Finally," Metatron said, sounding slightly vindicated. "A voice of reason."
Cho pressed on. " – so send the house elves in. They'll have the students evacuated by the time we get there."
I could feel Metatron bristle across the comm. "Absolutely not," he snarled. "If he even gets wind of – "
Cho cut him off. "You misunderstand. We're not asking for your permission." She turned to Dobby, kneeling to look the little elf in the eye. "Dobby? I know it's dangerous but we need you to get the children out. Can you coordinate with the other elves and evacuate the castle?"
"Of course," Dobby said without a trace of hesitation. "Dobby won't let you down."
Sirius turned to the other elf. "Creature, go with Dobby and help him best you can."
"If that is what Master wants." Creature gave Sirius one look of utter loathing before Dobby grabbed one of his withered hands and both disappeared with an odd pop.
"Sierra, Metatron, this is Marauder One Actual. We'll secure an exit vector for the students and elves."
"Copy that, Marauder. Thanks." Hermione pulled the hood back over her head. "Come on, we still have an HVT to eliminate."
We ran silently for several terse minutes, dodging patches of dried leaves and branches, before the forest began to thin and –
"Hold," I whispered. "Structure at the tree line."
The rest of the cell dropped instantly, motionless under their Invisibility Cloaks. Moving as quietly and slowly as possible, I slid behind a particularly dense cluster of trees. As Jeff crept to my position, I made sure that my Invisibility Cloak remained tightly wrapped around my rifle and scanned the small wooden cabin through the mounted Trijicon ACOG TA01NSN scope.
My crosshair wandered across two Oscars, both dressed in black. The one on the left, a huge fellow sporting an utterly ridiculous goatee, tossed a pack of cigarettes to the one on the right, another beefy fellow with equally ridiculous sideburns. "Two sentries outside of the structure."
"Sierra One November, you are weapons free. Make it quiet."
"Roger that, Nucleus." I turned slightly and whispered in Jeff's general direction. "Sideburn's mine."
Jeff clicked his mic once in acknowledgement and we split up, stalking silently towards the two sentries. Goatee continued on his patrol route, looping around the other side of the structure and out of view. Sideburns headed into the forest as he slapped the carton lightly against his palm and extricated a cigarette with his teeth. He stopped walking for a second and muttered something around the cig. The tip of his wand burst into flame and he leaned forward slightly, cupping a hand around the cigarette to light up.
The pause allowed me to creep within two metres of his position. I lifted the suppressed M1911 with my right hand, my left hand hovering just over the ejection port. Carefully lining up my sights, I allowed him a couple quick puffs before squeezing the trigger.
Now, despite the adjective used, "silenced" firearms are still quite loud. Discharging a standard issue suppressed M1911 still results in a muffled bang, not unlike the report of a loud staple gun. Fortunately for me, my sidearm was not standard issue; the M1911 had been charmed to silence the gunshot entirely. The only sound the pistol made when I squeezed the trigger was a metallic rasp as the slide kicked back. I caught the shell casing with my left hand as it ejected, the heat from the brass soaking through my glove.
The hollowpoint ploughed through his left temple and continued through his right. As he began to collapse, I darted forward and caught the corpse, careful to avoid the messy exit wound. I gently lowered the body to the ground, smooth and silent. "Sentry neutralized."
A few moments passed before Jeff announced, "Oscar down."
"Copy that, moving to structure."
Leaving the body, I moved as quickly and quietly as possible to the structure, pressing my back against the wall beneath the east window. Making sure I had full coverage from my Invisibility Cloak, I popped my head up and hazarded a peek through the glass. A particularly fat Oscar sat at the kitchen table situated just in front of the window, his back facing me. Looking beyond him, I spotted another Oscar across the room, poking away at a giant kettle nestled in the fireplace. The two were obviously on break, taking the opportunity to refuel and re-hydrate. Ariana and Jeff ghosted to the structure's front door, covering the aperture as I whispered, "Two Oscars inside."
Jeff clicked his mic once in acknowledgement.
I keyed my comm. "I've got the fat one."
"Breaching in three, two, one." There was a muffled thump as Ariana shattered the door, breaking it down into thousands of perfect cubes.
As soon as I heard the door disintegrate, I put three suppressed shots through the window, drilling the fat Oscar with two quick shots in the back followed by a measured shot to the back of his head.
Jeff burst in silently through the cascade of blocks and performed his own Failure Drill on the second Oscar, a double tap to his target's centre of mass followed with a carefully aimed shot to the head.
A quick sweep of the structure yielded no additional targets. "Structure clear."
Hermione and the others, having swept the surrounding area while we were clearing the hut, joined us in the cabin. "Sector is clear. Metatron, we need a quiet way in."
"That is a great idea, getting into the castle undetected. No doubt an effective strategy if the Dark Lord is somehow struck blind and doesn't notice that the school is devoid of goddamn students." Having gotten that out of his system, he continued, "There's a Vanishing Cabinet inside of the hut. Its counterpart is in a secure location under my watch; that should get you into the castle without activating any detection enchantments. Feel free to use it once you're finished jeopardizing the mission."
Sirius looked like he was going to say something he would regret, so I cut smoothly into the conversation. "Copy that," was my incredibly diplomatic reply.
Fortunately, Marauder saved me from Sirius's glare. "Nucleus, all students have been evacuated from the castle, and the elves are now teleporting them off school grounds. We'll oversee the Apparition process and keep an exit vector open."
"Keep us posted, Marauder. Alpha, Juliet, Sierra, you are cleared to enter the castle."
"Sierra, this is Alpha One Actual. Get going, we'll be right behind you."
"See you on the other side, Alpha. Cloaks off, boys and girls, we're Oscar Mike."
While the Invisibility Cloaks were incredibly useful for infiltration purposes, once we were inside the castle, they would hurt us more than they would help. In the castle's maze of hallways, it was impossible for the three strike teams to keep track of each other; friendly fire was a very real possibility. By removing the cloaks, we were hoping to remove the possibility of blue-on-blue incidents. While this would detract somewhat from our stealthiness, it was a trade-off we were willing to make.
Sirius tapped the cabin's sole cabinet with his wand and muttered, "Harmonia Nectere Passus."
The cabinet's door swung open on its own accord and Sirius bowed with a wry twirl of his hand. "After you."
I rolled my eyes and took a deep breath, drawing my sidearm and stepping into the cabinet's inky depths. There was an odd hum and a shift in temperature as I crept forward, one hand in front of me, searching in wide arcs. My fingertips encountered resistance, a wooden surface. I was through.
See, Vanishing Cabinets come in pairs. They act somewhat like wormholes; objects placed in one will be transported into the other. The cabinet in the hut connected to one inside Hogwarts castle, creating an undetectable passageway we could use to slip into the school.
I cracked open the door slightly and peered through the slit into the room beyond. It looked like some sort of storage area, infested with heaps of rubbish and broken furniture. Amid the detritus sat a thin man with a large hooked nose and greasy hair, his wand tapping impatiently against his leg. I slipped out of the Cabinet, sidearm up and trained at the Oscar. "Identify."
A silvery doe emerged from his wand, the same doe we had seen at 12 Grimmauld Place. I gave him a single nod and put a finger to my throat mic. "Contact established with Metatron. We're clear."
"Copy that, we're coming in."
Jeff was the first one through, the giant AA-12 cradled in his arms. Hermione and Ariana were right behind him. The four members of Sierra Two were the next ones to cross the threshold, stepping awkwardly out of the Cabinet.
While Sierra One hailed from the UK, our counterparts in Sierra Two hailed from Hong Kong. Sierra Two's ranking officer was Knight, a former Auror (a member of the White Hat's counter-terror team) affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Magic. As an Auror, he brought to the table considerable combat skills, as well as some expertise in tracking targets and utilizing non-lethal takedowns.
The second member through was Jester, a lean Chinese man whose callsign originated from the Glasgow smile cut into his right cheek. An ex-Delta Alpha Operator, he had been involved in various hotspots around the world before the war broke out and was rated with pretty much any weapon that holds an edge.
Next came Fox, Sierra Two's pyromaniac and resident explosives expert. A former Death Eater, the blonde had defected in the early stages of the war after her colleagues unknowingly detained, tortured, and executed her younger brother, who had been falsely accused of collaborating with non-magicals. She and Jester used to be adversaries, and they had a complicated history together that the rest of us liked to speculate about.
The last and newest member of Sierra Two was Cho. She had been brought on board to replace Duchess, who had been killed during Sierra Two's assault on Sovereign One. While it was risky, adding an unknown factor to the unit, she was the best replacement we could come up with on such short notice; we didn't exactly have a large pool of qualified candidates to choose from. According to Harry, she did a brief stint with the Delta Alphas before she was captured and incarcerated. It would have to do.
Sirius was the last one to step out of the Cabinet. He stopped short when he saw Metatron and a frown soured his handsome face. The air pressure in the room tripled as the two men glowered at each other. Sirius was the first to break the uncomfortable silence. "Snape," he growled.
"Sirius," Metatron growled back.
God, get a room already. "Sierra is in." I turned to the others. "Let's move; Sauron's not going to kill himself for us, you know."
The two men wasted a couple more seconds in their juvenile alpha male stare-down for dominance. "The other teams are on their way," Sirius said through clenched teeth.
Metatron nodded stiffly and waved a hand in dismissal. I found the room's sole door and cracked it open, checking for hostiles before slipping through into the corridor beyond. The rest of our cell followed; Metatron would stay behind to secure the Cabinet for the others. As the last person, Sirius, stepped out into the corridor, the door shut on its own accord and vanished without a trace. Huh.
We systematically swept the Cabinet floor for hostiles as the other cells made their way into the castle. Juliet was the first to arrive, followed by Alpha. By the time we secured the floor, Juliet and Alpha were gathered in the corridor, keeping watch as Metatron sealed the Cabinet room one last time. One of Alpha's White Hats, the one with glasses and untidy black hair, whispered, "Cover your sectors. Good luck."
With that, we split off from the other cells, moving to cover the dungeons. Minutes crawled by as we crept through the corridors, silently searching each room we passed. Empty classrooms and blank blackboards greeted us, the castle hauntingly silent and still.
I had just gained access to the dungeons, exiting the access stairwell, when Juliet One Actual's voice shattered the silence. "Contact, contact, Sauron, Great H – "
A dozen hooded figures materialized in the hallway in front of me.
I had enough time to channel Ackbar and blurt out "It's a trap" before the Oscar unit unleashed a torrent of fire in our direction.
Sirius's response proved to be a bit more useful: he threw up a force field, stopping the approaching inferno cold through pure force of will. "Torrance," he growled through clenched teeth. "Activate your – "
I missed the rest of Sirius's sentence because Jeff chose that moment to unleash his automatic shotgun on the Oscar unit, saturating the enclosed corridor with supersonic lead. The nearest Oscar, the one with the front row seat to the gun show, saw what was coming and threw up a shield.
The Goblin wrought 12 gauge slugs blew through the shield like it wasn't there, tearing the wizard behind it in half. The slugs were made from Goblin steel, each individual round hand-carved with an intricate series of runes and hand-dipped in Acromantula venom, essentially turning each shell into a dual stage bullet. The runes caused each round to discharge its payload of venom upon impact, obliterating Oscar's shield and allowing the bullet's explosive core to pass through unimpeded.
Oh yes, the toys were definitely the best perk of working with Task Force Phoenix; my assault rifle was loaded with similarly modified rounds.
Thirty-two miniature explosions rocked the hallway, tearing indiscriminately through stone, wood, flesh, and bone. Jeff casually popped the drum mag as the dust settled over twelve disassembled corpses, replacing it with a standard eight round mag.
" – Never mind," Sirius finished lamely.
It took me a few moments to shake off the adrenaline rush before I noticed Nucleus's voice buzzing in my ear. " – Actual, report in, now."
"Juliet One Actual, respond."
Another terse second ticked by before Alpha One Actual's voice, calm and collected, cut through the white noise. "Contact, contact, we have engaged enemy forces. Could use some help. Entrance Courtyard."
"Copy that," Hermione said. "We're on the way."
We had just turned around and taken two steps back up the staircase when we got jumped by another Oscar patrol. They formed a waist-high barricade of stone across the top of the stairs and commenced bombarding us with spells.
"Snape," Sirius growled as he swatted aside an incoming spell. "It has to be Snape. How else did they know we're coming? I'm going to gut that traitorous little fu – "
"Not now!" Hermione cut Sirius off as power surged through her wand and blew a hole in Oscar's little wall.
Sierra Two and Sirius seized the opportunity and flashed though the gap, moving so fast that I blinked and missed it. One second there were a dozen Oscar standing at the top of the stairs, depressingly whole and hearty. The next, there were a dozen leaking bodies strewn across the stairs, each corpse bearing disturbingly precise and surgical lacerations. Sierra Two, along with Sirius, was long gone.
"Let's go, let's go!"
We followed Sierra Two, or rather, the trail of corpses Sierra Two left behind, at a more cautious pace. Since Sierra Two was comprised entirely of White Hats, they were able to punch a hole through enemy lines at magically enhanced speeds to help Alpha Team. It was up to us to mop up whatever hostile forces they missed; while Hermione and Ariana could do the magic super speed thing, Jeff and I couldn't. The two White Hats stayed with us as we made our way through the corridors, keeping our heads on a swivel and checking our corners. Fire teams stick together, no matter what. While picking up Sierra Two's leftovers wasn't exactly glamorous work, I have to say, it was somewhat refreshing to have another unit clear a path for us.
We had just entered the Great Hall when Jeff lifted his AA-12. "Contact, by the statues."
A single Oscar stepped casually out from a cluster of sculptures occupying the centre of the room. He glanced at me with uncaring scarlet eyes and flicked his wand in my direction with long, spider-like hands before I could get my assault rifle into position.
As the Killing Curse leapt from his wand and homed relentlessly in on my position, my left forearm flashed up, parallel to the ground. I dropped my HK416 and ran a finger along the clear strip of ballistic material mounted along the compression sleeve and said, "Activate."
The spell built into the collapsible tactical shield (known as a CTACS) activated, the plastic strip expanding into a block of ballistic material that covered me from head to knees. Like our body armour, the CTACS was a product of Arthur's magical enhancement services, enchanted to be lightweight yet resilient, theoretically able to deflect both armour-piercing rounds and industrial strength combat spells.
Jeff's automatic shotgun was already cycling through rounds when the Killing Curse smashed into my shield like a runaway lorry. My left arm went numb as the impact shattered the CTACS, the force of the spell lifting me off my feet.
But I survived. Still on my back, I keyed my throat mike and wheezed, "All units, contact. Sauron. Great Hall."
Three explosions rocked the Great Hall as Sauron shifted the gravitational pull along the slugs' flight path, pulling Jeff's shells straight into the floor. Jeff bit out a muffled curse as the enhanced gravity field overtook his position, crushing him to the stone tiles.
As Jeff went down, Hermione and Ariana went airborne and swarmed Sauron's position, unleashing spells as quickly as they could feasibly pronounce the incantations.
And Sauron, his wand a blur, swatted every single one of the White Hat's spells out of the sky.
I pushed myself up and pulled the Fairbairn-Sykes knife from the sheath on the small of my back. Time to see how he does up close and personal.
Sauron blazed through an array of combat spells, unleashing a torrent of colour at my friends. A single strobe of red caught Ariana in the chest, blasting her into the nearest wall.
I approached the Oscar from behind, careful to stay out of his field of vision.
Sauron blocked another three spells from Hermione. As he returned fire and nailed Hermione mid-flight with a flash of purple, I slid smoothly under a statue's outstretched arm and –
His hand snaked out as I struck, catching my wrist and twisting. There was a burst of pain and I lost my grip on the knife, the blade clattering to the floor. With a growl, Sauron spun me in a half circle and pinned me against him, crushing my back into his chest. His right hand locked around my neck and squeezed, cutting off my airflow. I tried to worm my way out, but the man's grip was constant and immovable. Without the proper leverage, there wasn't much that I could do.
Leverage. I needed leverage. What could I use for –
There were eight of them. Four of them were holding assault rifles.
It was Juliet.
The arm around my neck flexed, tightening.
My fingers scrabbled uselessly against the appendage.
Sauron's wand brushed against my cheek. Traced lazy lines up and down my face. Moist breathes on my neck. A quiet voice slithered into my ear. "Any last words?"
Closest statue. In front of me. Just within reach.
"Yeah," I choked out. "Abracadabra, bitch."
And I planted both feet against the statue before me and kicked back with all my strength. I got lucky. Sauron's breath exploded from his lungs as he slammed into the statue behind us, the impact loosening the arm clamped across my neck. It gave me just enough leverage to drive the back of my head into Sauron's nonexistent nose. He let go of me completely, instinctively clutching his face. Greedily gulping down fresh oxygen, I dropped away from Sauron and twisted slightly, pulling the M1911 from my holster. I brought the barrel in line with his chest as I landed on my back.
Before I could squeeze the trigger, he said something, something that sounded like mix between a hiss and a growl.
The floor beneath me collapsed as a huge… something erupted from the stone tiles. I dropped about four metres into the cavity, bouncing off something soft and scaly before hitting the sinkhole's rocky floor. As far as landings go, it wasn't too bad; a few scrapes and bruises, nothing broken. As I willed my battered body to respond, the something launched itself into the room above me, disappearing into the Great Hall in a blur of green scales.
"Basilisk! Eyes down!" I heard Hermione scream.
There are two things to worry about when dealing with a Basilisk. The first threat is pretty obvious: being bitten by a poisonous snake is bad. Being bitten by one that's twenty metres long is worse. The second threat was slightly less obvious; you don't usually see "eyes" listed as cause of death. Direct visual contact with the Basilisk's eyes results in a complete marble makeover, the same makeover the poor bastards in Juliet got to experience first hand.
Basilisks. The damn things were impossible to fight.
"Stay put, I'm going to get Tori."
"No! Jeff, get back here!"
"Watch your six – shit!"
My team needed me. Dust choked the air around me as I pushed myself to my feet, invading my mouth and nostrils. I dissolved in a series of coughs, threatening to hack up a lung.
Alpha One Actual's voice cut through comm. "Sierra One, friendlies approaching from the west. Hold your fire."
There was an almighty crash and the air above me turned into a light show of hexes and curses. The chatter of several assault rifles joined the bass roar of Jeff's AA-12. Reinforcements had arrived.
Time to get back into the fight.
Wheezing slightly, I holstered my sidearm and approached the crater's craggy wall. Sinking my fingers into the crevices created by the Basilisk's explosive exit, I scaled the four-metre drop and –
A body narrowly missed me as I ascended, its skull cracking sharply against the sinkhole's lip before falling past me.
It wasn't one of ours. Oscar had brought reinforcements.
I had barely cleared the crater when a stern voice behind me said, "Torrance, down!"
I dropped and a spell sizzled through the space I had occupied. A severe-looking White Hat in emerald robes deftly deflected the spell and fired her own back at the sender. The spell hit the Oscar squarely in the chest. His eyes widened and he clawed at his chest, sand spilling from his lips and nostrils. Knowing McGonagall, she'd probably transformed the air in his lungs into sand. Transfiguration, the White Hats called it. The Oscar collapsed and twitched a few times before going completely still.
I got to my feet. "Thanks. Have you seen J – on your six!"
Two Oscars barrelled towards McGonagall's unprotected back. The man, a squat and lumpy fellow, conjured a dozen broadswords out of thin air and sent them hurtling toward McGonagall. At the same time, the second Oscar, a stocky little woman, targeted McGonagall from above, a swarm of snakes arcing down on the White Hat's position.
McGonagall only had enough time to get off one spell. She elected to go after the swords. With a quick snap of her wand, the blades warped, the edges moulding into aggressive slopes and curves. Feathers and skin sprouted from the semi-organic masses, metal giving way to cells.
The resulting flight of eagles peeled away from McGonagall, deviating from their original flight path to intercept the incoming snakes. With ear-splitting shrieks, they hit the serpents, talons and beaks tearing through scales and flesh, thinning the herd.
But the birds couldn't stop them all. A couple leaked through the avian screen, gravity drawing them inexorably closer to McGonagall. She swung around, her wand rising. Too late. The snakes' mouths yawned open as they got within striking distance, fangs extended.
Their wedge-shaped heads exploded before they made contact with McGonagall, the .45 calibre rounds from my M1911 completely obliterating bone, fang, and brain tissue. The White Hat neatly swatted the remains aside just as the female Oscar reached her. She came in fast, a blue aura engulfing her wand. With a roar, she unleashed a shotgun blast of ice crystals point blank at McGonagall's chest.
Moments before the ice made contact, McGonagall's image blurred slightly, the weathered lines on her face melting away. An elegant and beautiful young lady replaced the McGonagall I knew, age giving way to youth and, apparently, enhanced reflexes; she twisted away from the incoming projectiles, catching the blast in her right arm rather than her chest. While this probably saved her life, the impact shattered McGonagall's arm and smashed the wand out of her hand. The female Oscar accelerated into a streak of black and caught the airborne wand as she swept by the White Hat. The male Oscar, sensing an opening, took aim with wand in his right hand and screamed "Avada – "
McGonagall blurred across the fifteen metres that separated her from the Oscar before he could finish his incantation. Flowing around him, she seized the wrist of his wand hand with a crushing grip and kicked his feet out from under him. As his feet left the floor and he went fully horizontal midair, her broken forearm stitched itself back together and sprouted striped fur. Her hand expanded and filled out, remoulding into a fleshy shape resembling a giant cat's paw. Claws sprouted from the tips of the paw, ten centimetres long and razor sharp. With a roar, she plunged all four claws into his chest and, keeping her grip on his right wrist, knelt as she accelerated the back of his right shoulder into her knee. With his entire weight concentrated at a single point, the shoulder tore apart with a wet pop as McGonagall drove his right wrist and chest into the stone floor. She scooped up the wand as it fell from his nerveless fingers.
"Amycus!" the female Oscar cried as McGonagall pushed the body aside. The Oscar fixed McGonagall with a murderous gaze. "That was my brother, you bitch."
McGonagall, without taking her eyes off the Oscar, said to me, "Go. Go find your team."
"What about you?"
"I'm going to get my wand back."
I nodded once and turned away just as McGonagall swept her captured wand forward and transformed the Oscar's robes into curtains of molten glass. Turning an eye toward the pitched battle around me, I realized I was on the western edge of a ragged dead zone located between friendly and Oscar forces. A rough series of stone walls crisscrossed the Great Hall on our side, improvised barriers raised by our White Hats. Our mixed force of nineteen White Hats/operators engaged the advancing Oscar horde, spells and tracers burning through the air.
With so much movement, how was I supposed to…
The AA-12 roared once somewhere to the east.
Right. Find the automatic shotgun, find Jeff.
First things first, a plan. I could pick my way across the battlefield until I regrouped with Sierra One, playing hide and seek with Oscar forces along the way. Stay behind barricades, pop up occasionally to get my bearings, maybe neutralize a few unsuspecting hostiles.
Okay, so it probably wasn't the best plan given the circumstances, but it was the fastest way I could think of to rendezvous with Sierra One. I pressed my side against the nearest stone wall and made my way east. I had barely gone twenty steps when the wall behind me shattered, an Oscar crashing through the rock. I turned in one smooth motion and plugged him twice in the chest. As he fell, I added another round to his head. Satisfied that he was dead I turned and –
Ran into huge figure in black. Heart thundering, I tried to bring my sidearm to bear –
The figure seized my arms and crushed me against him, pinning my arms. "Tori, it's me."
I stopped struggling and relaxed into his chest, relief flooding my system. He was alright. A few moments passed before Ariana coughed delicately.
Right. War zone. Jeff released his hold and said, "Got a present for you." He tossed me the HK416 I had dropped earlier.
I caught the assault rifle and brass checked the weapon. One in the chamber, twenty-nine in the mag. Perfect. "I think I love you."
He smirked. "Then don't lose it this time."
Properly armed, I popped out from behind cover and loosed a quick burst at the approaching hostiles, adding to the storm of goblin-wrought bullets and spells slicing into Oscar's ranks. It wasn't enough. As I watched, Sauron stormed up the middle, smashed through the first barricade, and lit up Alpha One's position at close range. The two Delta operators attached to Alpha One never stood a chance; before they could react, Sauron unleashed two Killing Curses, taking down both Yanks. That left Alpha One's two White Hats to engage Sauron alone. Oscar forces poured through the gap Sauron created, pushing us back. The Great Hall rippled as we gave ground. Windows, doors, any structural weaknesses vanished, melting into solid slabs of rock. Ariana attempted to breach the newly fortified walls, launching a dozen different spells. The resulting explosions barely left a scratch on the stone surface.
We were trapped. Outnumbered. Outgunned. Outmanoeuvred.
Sensing (accurately) that we were buggered, Sauron hissed something. The Oscar horde pulled back slightly, disengaging.
The Basilisk erupted in our midst, arching over our heads.
Impossible to fight. With Oscar hemming us in, the Basilisk was a death sentence.
Carefully keeping my eyes fixed on the Basilisk's body, I opened fire, scoring hits across the creature's scaled coils. Pinpricks. My bullets didn't even slow the Basilisk down. It struck, sinking its fangs into one of the JTF2 blokes attached to Alpha. He convulsed and – fuck, don't look into its eyes!
"Watch your left flank – "
"Track it, track it – "
"What the hell? Spells aren't working – "
"Oh God, oh God, oh God – "
"Shit, Carbon's down, I repeat Carbon's down."
Jesus, that thing was killing us.
"Sierra Two, on me. Knives and chains. Prepare to blind and restrain the Basilisk."
"No, Knight, wait, what are you – "
Knight broke cover and stepped forward, pointing his wand at the Basilisk's eyes. As his skin hardened and turned an ashy grey, Knight whispered something and a flash of light leapt from his wand just before he turned completely to stone. The Basilisk roared as black flames wreathed its face, smoke obscuring its eyes.
"Goddammit." Fox pulled a pair of balanced knives from the sheathes strapped to her forearms, taking one in each hand. Keeping her palms flat, she simultaneously released both with a flick of her wrists. The blades twisted and spun, swinging out wide before changing trajectory and homing in on the Basilisk's head. Straightening out as they made their final approach, the two blades sliced through the smoke and found their mark, burying themselves in the Basilisk's eye sockets.
As the Basilisk roared in pain, hundreds of barbed daggers emerged from Cho's wand, each trailing a thin chain that intertwined with her fingers. The wave of metal swept over the Basilisk, the daggers anchoring themselves along its upper face and jaw. A red glow spread over both Cho's arms, and she wrenched the chains downward, pile driving the Basilisk into the ground.
As the Basilisk's head slammed into the stone floor, Jeff calmly walked up to the creature, jammed his AA-12 into an eye socket and inserted an explosive round directly into its brain. The Basilisk's skull contained the blast, the hydrostatic shock and resulting shockwave turning the organic structure contained within to mush. The Basilisk went through a few moments of post-mortem twitching before going still.
A stunned silence descended upon the enemy formation, giving us time to reload and assess our losses. Juliet cell was gone; the only survivor was their guide, a mousy man named Peter. Alpha cell was down to fifty percent strength; Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Neville were all that remained of the initial eight-man team. McGonagall, Alpha's guide, had survived as well, having retaken her wand in a furious custody battle with the stocky female Oscar. Sierra cell was fortunate and had survived relatively unscathed; aside from Knight, everyone else was still more or less in one piece. Fourteen against two hundred. This was not going to end well.
Sauron broke the silence with a roar, his voice burning with fury and disbelief. Spurred into action by Sauron's voice, the Oscar horde descended on us, an unending wave of naked aggression and promised violence.
This was it. Harry nodded to each of us. "It's been an honour."
Ron gave his both his wands an experimental flick. "Oh, shut up."
Neville pulled a longsword out of the scabbard strapped to his back. "Let's get to work."
And we jumped the barricade and charged the incoming tide of enemy forces. We were not going to go gently into the good night. If we were going to die, we were going to take as many of the fuckers with us as we could. Maybe one of us would good lucky and break through. Maybe one of us could reach Sauron. Maybe one of us would get lucky and kill him before we were overwhelmed.
We hit the wall of Oscar, firing into the crowd, trying to create space, trying to blast a way through. Cutting down dozens of Oscars, we were ten metres away from Sauron's position when enemy forces finally consolidated their ranks and closed around us, hemming us in, sapping our forward momentum. There wasn't anything we could do. There were too many of them. Having contained our advance, Oscar forces surged forward and –
"This is Marauder One Actual. Friendlies coming in from above."
Four figures smashed through the Great Hall's ceiling at terminal velocity, impacting among Oscar's ranks. I caught a glimpse of broken bodies strewn across the floor before the eight White Hats of Marauder One lit up the Oscars around them. As the Oscars orientated toward the new threat, we struck and everything descended into chaos.
I was in the process of double tapping a particularly nasty Oscar in the back when Kingsley's voice boomed unexpectedly in my ear. "Task Force Phoenix inbound in three… two… one…"
Between Marauder's dynamic entry and the arrival of Task Force Phoenix, the Great Hall emptied rather quickly. A rather anti-climatic end to our rendition of the charge of the light brigade, I know. By the time the dust settled, Sauron was gone and fifty Oscar fatalities littered the Great Hall. The cacophony of battle drifted in through the holes in the roof as Marauder One sealed the room, giving us a few moments to take a breather and patch up minor injuries.
"Is everyone alright?" asked one of the Marauders, a beautiful woman with bright green eyes.
"Yeah, we're alright, Mom," Harry said. He sighed. "I'm never going to hear the end of this am I? It'll always be 'Harry, remember that one time we had to step in and save you from Voldemort?'"
Another one of the Marauders, a tall thin man who wore glasses, reached out and mussed Harry's hair. "No, no you're not."
Harry's mother swatted the thin man's arm. "James, stop it. Go help Sirius put up the protective enchantments."
"Yes, Lily, on my way." He gave her a peck on the cheek and left to assist Sirius.
"How did the shield work out?" Arthur Weasley asked me.
I grinned. "Worked just like you said it would. Blocked a Killing Curse. Damn near broke my arm though."
He winced. "Ah, sorry about that. Didn't think about shock absorption. I'll have to work on that."
Molly Weasley gently pushed past Arthur. "Move aside, dear." She looked over my collection of cuts and bruises, shook her head in disapproval, and began running her wand over my injuries. "How did a nice Muggle girl like you end up in this mess?"
I closed my eyes and cracked a smile as her wand whisked away the pain and stiffness accumulated in my joints and muscles. " 'Join the army' they said. 'See the world' they said. Thought I'd be driving lorries in a supply convoy or something. Never imagined I'd end up in Special Forces."
A sadness touched Molly's eyes when she found the scars winding up my legs. With visible effort, she forced herself to move on and finish patching me up. Wiping her hands briskly on her robe, she stood. "There, good as new." And she moved on to Neville.
Molly worked fast; it didn't take long for her to render us combat effective once more. Ariana glanced at Harry. "What now?"
Harry took off his glasses and wiped grime off the lenses with the corner of his sleeve. "Voldemort's still out there. Let's go hunting."
With that, Sirius and James dropped their protective enchantments and we exited the Great Hall, heading toward the screams and explosions echoing outside the castle. Cutting through the entrance hall, I pushed open the main doors and –
Emerged into full-blown battle. Hundreds of Task Force Phoenix operators had engaged a larger force composed of Oscars, giants, and trolls. Sauron's Death Eater division. The battle had devolved into an unending series of small unit skirmishes; friendly and enemy forces were hopelessly mixed together, with most of the action centred around sixty large-scale duels.
We split into individual fire teams to cover more ground. Sierra Two went airborne to provide overwatch. Peter, Sirius, and Marauder One went west, circling around the outer edges of the battle. McGonagall, Harry, Ron, Neville and Ginny went east. Herimone, Ariana, Jeff and I headed right into the thick of things. Cloaked, we ghosted among the combatants, keeping an eye out for Sauron and taking out targets of opportunity.
"Incoming hippogriffs, dozen of them," Cho transmitted.
A rough voice responded. "Hold yer fire, Buckbeak's jus' making' a delivery."
Twelve hippogriffs dropped out of the night sky, diving toward a large group of Oscar clustered around an absolutely massive White Hat. Twice the height of an average man, Hagrid was a half-giant, a wizard with all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses. I assumed his mother was the giantess in the relationship (due to certain… physical limitations, I don't believe there's a way for a giant and a witch to naturally conceive). Can't imagine the sex being any good, but hey, whatever works for them.
The Hippogriffs released their cargo at an altitude of fifty metres, dropping an enormous crate the size of a London Bus. Something tore the crate apart from the inside and two shapes emerged from the cloud of splinters. A spider the size of a Volkswagen and a colossal three-headed dog crashed into the Oscar crowd and began tearing apart whatever they could sink their teeth into.
One of the Death Eaters, a bloke with a thin black moustache, somehow produced an executioner's axe from thin air. When the Hippogriffs pulled out of their dive, the Oscar leapt twenty metres into the air, latched onto one of the eagle/horse hybrids, and buried his axe into the creature's flank. The Hippogriff screamed in pain and fell, ploughing into the ground at high speed and gouging out a shallow trough in the dirt and grass. Although the Death Eater lost his axe on impact, he somehow managed to maintain his hold on the Hippogriff and set upon the wounded creature with unrestrained brutality. Laughing, the Oscar sang a single word over and over: "Crucio." The Hippogriff writhed and cried out, red energy crackling over its body.
"BUCKBEAK!" Hagrid roared. Without a moment's hesitation, he broke into a run and smashed straight through the Oscar force between him and the Hippogriff, physically throwing enemy wizards out of the way with his bare hands. He tanked at least a dozen spells, the magic sliding uselessly off his skin. When Hagrid got within effective range, the crossbow came off his back. Trampling the Oscar before him, Hagrid aimed and fired the weapon.
The one metre bolt slammed into Buckbeak's tormenter, ripping through the small of his back and out of his stomach. He gurgled, pulling uselessly at the wooden rod buried in his abdomen when Hagrid loomed up behind him. Hagrid palmed the Death Eater's head with one massive hand and gripped the Oscar's shoulders with the other. With a roar of fury, Hagrid ripped the Oscar apart and tossed aside both pieces of the body. Behind him, the Acromantula and the three-headed dog rampaged happily through the remaining Oscar. It looked like he had things under control.
"Luna, be advised, three giants moving in on your left flank."
"Thanks, Cho, I see them. I'm afraid I have been seriously injured and am currently incapacitated. If you have time, could you send someone to deal with the giants?" Luna said this as if she were asking the wait staff for the daily special, her dreamy voice drifting over the comm.
"We have them. ICU Thirteen inbound."
I popped an Oscar in the back of his head and turned, scanning the battlefield. Where was… there. Three giants lumbered toward a prone figure surrounded by five Oscar bodies. Luna tried pushing herself to her feet, rising about ten centimetres before collapsing. The closest giant raised his mace, preparing to swing –
A body wrapped in blue flames slammed through the giant's chest and cratered the ground behind him. A woman with auburn hair emerged from the crater and threw a spell over her shoulder, disintegrating the giant's corpse in a cloud of ashes. A winged figure hit the second giant, vertically bisecting the creature. As the third giant gaped at the demise of his two compatriots, a blonde woman landed lightly on his shoulder and stuck a packet of C-4 to his neck, right on his carotid artery. She leapt away and detonated the C-4 with an explosive spell, littering the battlefield with organic matter.
Threat eliminated, the man's black wings retracted into his back and a sickly grey glow gathered in his right hand. Tendrils of that sickly grey light snaked out and touched the dead Oscar, causing the corpses to twitch and shudder before crawling awkwardly to their feet. Ah. A necromancer. The two women of ICU Thirteen and the zombies covered the man as he began patching Luna up.
"Lavender's down, Lavender's down. There are multiple trolls closing in on her location."
"Who's the closest unit?" Royal asked.
"Uh, uh, uh… Remus is the closest – "
"A… little…busy…here…" Remus growled into the comm.
Hermione was the first to spot the injured White Hat. "Cho, this is Hermione. We're a minute out."
Jester's voice joined our conversation. "Sierra One, we'll run interference with the trolls and keep them off Lavender. You find their handler."
And we sprinted toward Lavender and the trolls, darting around enemy combatants and stepping over bodies. One of the trolls reached Lavender, wrapping one massive hand around her neck and lifting her unconscious form into the air. He bared his teeth, preparing to devour her face.
Something glinted in the moonlight and the troll's arm separated from his body. Lavender and the severed appendage dropped quietly to the ground. The troll goggled at the stump before two throwing knives grew out of his orbital sockets. A scream emerged from its throat just before its head separated from his neck.
Jester and Fox had arrived.
As a fresh wave of trolls attempted to reach Lavender (apparently in an attempt to devour the White Hat), Jester and Fox shed their Invisibility Cloaks.
"KILL THEM!" an Oscar roared, cowering safely behind his wall of slavering carnivorous monsters.
Ah, there you are.
"Got him, engaging."
As Jeff and I thinned the troll's numbers with concentrated fire, Hermione shifted into wisps of white smoke and took to the air, raining spells down on the Oscar. He smiled contemptuously in the general direction of the White Hat, easily turning her spells aside.
He never saw Ariana, who had tunnelled under the trolls and emerged behind him. The shadows around her roiled, bladed tendrils emerging from the depths of the tunnel. They set upon the dark wizard and dragged him under, his screams ending abruptly as the earth swallowed him. All that remained of the Oscar was his purple turban, which the tendrils had somehow missed. Ariana briskly brushed the dirt from her cloak. "Well, that was fun."
"Sierra, Marauder, this is Alpha. Engaging Voldemort. Look for red sparks."
"Go, we'll mop up here," Jester said.
"Roger that. Join us if you have time."
And we took off, following the shower of red sparks.
"Harry, you've got another Oscar approaching your position… shit, it's Bellatrix."
"Goddammit. Copy that, Cho. Ron, sorry mate, I need you and Ginny to keep her off of us. Neville and I will take care of Voldemort. Hermione, where are you?"
"On our way!"
We edged our way around a particularly nasty clash between Bill and an Oscar with pointed teeth before we saw them. Alpha had engaged Sauron and his female companion, whom I recognized as the Queen of Hearts from the most-wanted playing cards issued by Task Force Phoenix.
The four White Hats in Alpha were some of the best operators we had in Task Force Phoenix. And they were losing to Sauron and Bellatrix. Neville was already down, unconscious or worse. Harry stood between his fallen friend and Sauron, desperately trying to keep Oscar from landing the finishing blow. Behind him, Bellatrix's wand slashed through the air, ensnaring Ron and Ginny in a sea of barbed wire.
As soon as I got within my weapon's effective range, I aimed down the sights of my assault rifle –
Without even looking at us, Sauron snapped his wand in our direction and a blanket of red light dropped over Hermione, Ariana, Jeff, and me. My body locked up, my muscles refusing to obey my commands. My HK16 and Jeff's AA-12 shattered as Sauron lifted our frozen bodies ten metres off the ground.
"Deal with you later," he hissed.
Sauron drew his wand back and scored a hit on Harry, etching a jagged gash across Harry's forehead. "So you're the one? Disappointing."
He hit Harry with another spell, and Harry went down, coughing up a mouthful of blood.
Ron, seeing his friend's predicament, ripped free of the barbed wire and aimed his wand at Voldemort's back. Before he could get the spell off, Bellatrix produced a silver knife and rammed it through his wrist.
Beside me, a muffled scream of anger emerged from Hermione's throat. She struggled uselessly against Sauron's spell, her muscles straining against invisible bonds.
"And so it ends." Sauron drew his wand back. "Avada – "
James appeared out of nowhere and introduced Sauron's face to his right hook. As Sauron staggered back, Lily and Peter blinked into view next to Harry. Lily immediately took charge, ordering Peter to get Neville to safety while she took care of Harry. An odd expression crossed Peter's face and he hesitated, as if he didn't want to leave. Then he took Neville's limp arms and began dragging the downed White Hat away from the fight.
Meanwhile, James was making a fight of it with Sauron, blocking most spells and sidestepping the rest. Somehow, James managed to slip in a few curses and suddenly he was on the offensive, directing a symphony of destructive magic toward Sauron, his movements casually devastating. James gave as good as he got, forcing Sauron to shore up his defences to the detriment of his offensive spellwork. The White Hat laughed. "Is this all you've got, Voldemort?"
Curse after curse smashed into Sauron's shield and eroded Sauron's defensive array bit by bit until a single Killing Curse leaked through. Sauron shifted at the last second and the curse burned through the space his head had occupied, missing him by millimetres. Fury swept across the Oscar's face and he growled, "Peter, would you kindly kill this blood traitor?"
And Peter Pettigrew, Juliet cell's guide, dropped Neville and planted a Killing Curse in James' back.
Sauron watched James fall before turning toward Lily. "Stand aside."
She held her ground, standing squarely between Sauron and her wounded son. "No."
"This is my last warning – "
Lily gave him one look of pure defiance and snarled, "Go fuck yourself."
And she darted forward, her wand blazing.
Sauron's face darkened. "So be it."
And, before Lily could get her spell off, he struck.
As Lily crumpled, my comm erupted in static.
It took me a few moments to realize it was a voice.
It took me a few moments to realize it was a wordless scream.
It took me a few moments to realize it was the sound of a heart breaking.
It took me a few moments to realize the voice belonged to Metatron.
And Metatron's blurred shape broke the sound barrier as he smashed into Sauron.
"Peter. So it was you," Sirius growled. And he followed Metatron with his own supersonic strike on Peter. There was no magic involved; Sirius simply wrapped both his arms around Peter as he passed. The sudden acceleration caused Peter's neck to whiplash and break with a wet snap.
Beside me, Hermione roared and shattered Sauron's spell through pure force of will. She landed badly; breaking the spell had taken its toll and her legs collapsed under her as soon as she hit the ground.
Bellatrix blocked Ginny's curse and disarmed her before flicking a hand in Harry's direction. A silver knife, its blade stained with blood, cut through the air. Bellatrix had seen Hermione escape and had decided to finish what Sauron started before the White Hat could interfere. The knife was moving too fast; it wasn't humanly possible to stop it before it reached Harry.
Not humanly possible.
Dobby warped in between the knife and Harry, the blade catching him in the chest.
Harry caught the elf's little body as he fell, cradling Dobby to his chest. He blinked tears out of his eyes as Dobby gasped, "I... was brave...wasn't... I?"
Harry gave him a watery smile. "Yes, yes you were."
And with one final shudder, Dobby went still.
Laughter bubbled to Bellatrix's lips and she snapped her fingers. Dobby's body disintegrated and the knife's point oriented toward Harry's chest. "And now, Potter, time to – "
Ginny physically tackled Bellatrix before the Oscar could finish her sentence. The knife dropped unceremoniously to the ground, the blade embedding in the earth. With a howl of anger, Bellatrix turned her wand on Ginny and created separation. As Ginny stumbled back, the knife ripped free and rocketed at her unprotected abdomen.
The knife was millimetres away from Ginny's flesh when a hand caught the blade barehanded. And Molly Weasley, channelling her inner Ellen Ripley, roared, "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!"
Molly returned the knife to sender, sinking the blade into Bellatrix's shoulder. Bellatrix re-evaluated the new threat and brought her full attention to bear on Molly. The two women spiralled up and away from the battlefield, locked in mortal combat.
"Uh, I almost died, too," Ron said to no one in particular as Hermione pulled him to his feet.
Shaking her head, Hermione turned her attention to the spell holding Ariana, Jeff, and me hostage.
Metres away, Sauron faced off against Metatron and Sirius. Utilizing wolf pack tactics, Metatron and Sirius had managed to keep Sauron off balance. Metatron darted in at Sauron's flank. As Sauron turned toward Metatron and raised his shield, Sirius attacked from behind, forcing Sauron to disengage Metatron and engage the new threat. As Sauron turned toward Sirius, Metatron swept in on Sauron's flank again and –
A massive snake leapt from Sauron's robes and sank its fangs into Metatron's shoulder, pumping venom into his bloodstream. Metatron staggered back and dropped his wand.
Sauron's wand slashed through the air and the snake teleported behind Sirius, delivering the same poisonous strike. The snake slithered back into Sauron's robes as Sirius fell, the venom overwhelming his system.
"Sirius!" With no plans and no backup, Harry rushed Sauron, unleashing any and every curse he could think of. Blocking the incoming storm of magic, Sauron patiently waited until Harry was a metre away before casually knocking the White Hat off his feet. Harry lost his wand on impact, the slim piece of wood bouncing away, lost in the battlefield. The Oscar's right hand stretched toward Harry. "Nagini, dinner."
A familiar wedge-shaped head slithered out of Sauron's sleeve, wrapping around the Oscar's arm. The snake oriented toward Harry, rearing back to –
Neville's thrown longsword tumbled end over end and the blade cleaved smoothly through the snake's flesh, cleanly decapitating the reptile. Neville himself collapsed, having used the last of his energy to save Harry.
Hermione finally broke through Sauron's spell, breaking Ariana, Jeff and me out of our magical cage. I landed in a crouch, absorbing the impact with my knees.
Sauron roared and his wand darted forward –
Jeff's Chiappa Rhino 50DS revolver roared the same time my M1911 did, forcing Sauron's wand to change direction to block the incoming rounds.
And Harry's hands shot up, wrapping around Sauron's neck. Wisps of smoke curled from Harry's fingers, and it took me a moment to realize that it wasn't Harry that was burning. It was Sauron. Harry's hands shifted slightly, revealing cracked and blistered skin. Sauron roared with pain and, in one desperate movement, planted the tip of his wand in Harry's chest. "AVADA KEDAV – "
Harry's hand surged forward, and latched onto Sauron's wrist. Sauron's arm spasmed, giving Harry the leverage he needed to wrench the wand off target. The wand's tip swung around and –
" – RA."
The blast of green caught Sauron under the chin, throwing him up and away from Harry. He smashed into the ground with bone-crushing force, coming to a halt at my feet.
At the same time, Bellatrix's mangled body fell out of the sky.
A relative sort of silence fell over our immediate vicinity as Oscars and White Hats alike turned to gape at the two crumpled forms.
I immediately emptied my M1911 into Sauron's body, putting two in his head and the remaining rounds into his chest. Just to be sure. And I made the transmission everyone was waiting for: "Sauron EKIA."
The ground roiled, the earth rolling beneath my feet. A grey hand broke through the dirt, reaching for the sky. Then two. Then four.
Shit. A fail-safe, probably. Sauron must have set the Rreanimated to trigger in event of his death. Thousands of them were clawing their way out of shallow graves, clutching at our ankles.
"All units, disengage and pull back." Remus paused for a second. "Head for the willow, I repeat, head for the willow."
"Hold on a sec," Ron said. He lifted his wand and threw an image up over the castle. The Union Jack. "Okay, let's go."
Task Force Phoenix extricated itself from Oscar forces swiftly and efficiently, picking up the wounded and retreating in an orderly fashion toward a particularly fierce looking tree. Ginny and Ron assisted Harry while Ariana and Hermione hauled Neville to his feet, both groups pulling back toward Remus and his willow.
"Immobulus," As soon as the tree stopped moving, Remus began directing us toward the base of the willow's trunk. "Come on, come on!"
As the sole intact fire team, Sierra One played rear guard to Task Force Phoenix as they funnelled into the secret passageway beneath the willow. Supporting Neville between them, Hermione and Ariana burned the grass behind us in arcs, throwing up a wall of fire to hold off the horde of Reanimated. Jeff and I were responsible for the leakers, the ones that managed to slip through the White Hat's defensive screen. Through the constant application of incendiary bullets and magic, we were able to hold the Reanimated at bay. Barely. Unable to reach us, some of the Reanimated turned on the remaining Oscar. Screams echoed across the grounds.
"Take Neville and go! We'll cover you!" Jeff and I laid down supressing fire through the dying flames as Hermione and Ariana dove into the tunnel with Neville.
Jeff tapped me on my shoulder as soon as they were through, and I backed into the secret passageway, my sidearm still trained on the Reanimated as Hermione's fire burned out. The tree above us began moving on its own accord as I turned and sprinted down the corridor. There was an odd splintering sound and footsteps echoed around me. They were in the tunnel.
I emerged into a dilapidated old house and screamed, "GO, GO! THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND ME!"
"Anti-Disapparition Field still up!" someone said over the comm.
Remus swore. "Tonks, how long?"
"Goddammit, we're working on it! Now stop distracting me and let me work!"
"Yes, dear. Sorry, dear. Won't happen again, dear. Alright, listen up, change of plans! Head to Rally Point Omega, it's outside of the field! Go!"
As the rest of Phoenix exited and began retreating toward the exfil zone, I turned and took up a defensive position just outside the passageway, my M1911 blazing. Jeff immediately joined me, setting up shop on the other side of the doorframe. "What are you doing?" I demanded. "Get out of here!"
He picked off a Reanimated with a clean shot to its right orbital socket. "What? Did you say something?"
I felt an odd sense of sense of relief flooded through me. If this was it, I couldn't imagine better company.
I looked at him. "Any regrets?"
Jeff glanced sadly at his revolver. "Wish I had my boomstick."
And the main body of the Reanimated force came roaring into the tunnel.
Between the two of us, we filled the corridor with an absolutely ridiculous amount of fire, slowing the Reanimated's advance with a wall of incendiary rounds. But there was just too many of them. The crush of bodies pushed steadily forward, crawling inch by painful inch closer to our position.
"Sierra One, this is Silhouette Two-One, loitering thirty klicks from your position. We've got a full load of AGM-86s standing by."
"Royal, is Phoenix clear?" I screamed, burning down a Reanimated who had gotten within arm's reach.
"Sierra, no joy. We're moving the wounded as fast as we can."
There was no way we could keep this up. We had to seal off the tunnel. Jeff and I looked at each other. We were exhausted, with no explosives and running low on ammunition. So we did the only thing we could.
"Royal, are all friendly forces clear of Hogsmeade?" I asked.
"Say again, Sierra?"
"Are all friendly forces clear of Hogsmeade?"
"Yes, of course. Why – "
I didn't let Kingsley finish. "Two-One, this is Sierra One. Requesting air strike in Killbox Two Delta."
"Sierra, confirm air strike on village."
"Affirmative, Two-One. Take the whole fucking thing out."
Tonks started to say something before Silhouette Two-One drowned her out.
"Solid copy on that request. Ordnance away. Impact in ten."
Ten seconds. This was it. Jeff reached out for my hand.
I grabbed Jeff, our lips met, my eyes closed, and I was swept up in the intensity of the kiss, time slowing down. My ears popped slightly as the world took on a muted quality, as if I were listening to things through a cotton filter. My heart thundered and Jeff's arms slipped around my waist, pulling me closer. My arms snaked up around his neck and –
Silhouette Two-One, the B-52H loitering near our position, blanketed Hogsmeade with its payload of twenty AGM-86 ALCM cruise missiles.
Which is when I realized something was off. First, there was no telltale wash of heat, no fleeting moment pain. I must admit, not being dead was a pleasant surprise. Then I realized that the explosions were quite a bit softer than I was accustomed to. And then there was … was that applause?
I opened my eyes.
Jeff and I were standing on Serenity One-Seven's open loading ramp, the wind tearing at our clothes. Brilliant flashes lit up the horizon as the cruise missiles obliterated Hogsmeade. Hermione and Ariana took their hands off our shoulders and stepped back into the hold, revealing twenty or so Phoenix operators behind us. They joined in the applause pouring out of the cargo hold, accompanied by a few catcalls and wolf whistles. Jeff and I grinned at our audience and took a bow before joining our comrades inside the aircraft. The loading ramp whined closed behind us, England disappearing from view.
Turns out Tonks and her team had managed to take down the anti-teleportation spell just as Silhouette Two-One launched its payload of cruise missiles, giving Hermione and Ariana just enough time to teleport Jeff and me out of harm's way. Thank God for small miracles.
As Serenity One-Seven exited British airspace, Molly and the necromancer from ICU Thirteen began patching up our wounded while the rest of us began stowing our gear. Neville was the first to be processed by our medical professionals, followed by Harry and Ron. It looked like they were going to be okay.
We got back to Aalborg Air Base and took an official tally of our losses. Half of Task Force Phoenix was listed as killed or missing in action, including Sirius, Snape, James, Lily, and Knight. With another thirty percent were wounded, Phoenix was basically sidelined for the foreseeable future. In fact, while individual fire teams still carried out covert operations, Phoenix as a whole didn't see action for the rest of the war. With Tom Riddle (aka Sauron) dead, the Oscar military structure fractured into a series of power struggles between his top lieutenants. We gave them a few months to fight things out before moving in to pick up the pieces. Coalition forces steam rolled through France and jumped the Channel, taking the British Isles back from Oscar forces through a series of lightning strikes by rapid deployment forces. With the judicious application of armoured forces and air assets, we were able to mop up all remaining Oscar forces within the year. Resettlement of the British Isles began in earnest shortly thereafter. Task Force Phoenix was officially disbanded a few months after the war ended to focus on rebuilding, and we all went our separate ways.
It was five years before I returned to Hogwarts. A memorial, crafted by hand at Harry's request, had been erected on school grounds honouring those that lost their lives in the mission to assassinate Tom Riddle. Every surviving member of Task Force Phoenix showed up to the dedication ceremony. It was great, seeing where everyone ended up after the war.
Ariana Dumbledore found us first. She was currently serving as a crew chief on an old UH-60 Black Hawk flown by Captain Reynolds for the Red Cross. They were running the Aalborg-Alconbury route, ferrying material into the isles from the mainland. When asked if he missed flying the next best thing to the Millenium Falcon, he grinned and said, "War's long done. We're all just folk now. Of course I miss it."
Hermione Granger joined us moments later. She and Ron Weasley had gotten married and had the 2.5 kids to go with the white picket fence. Working with Harry and Ginny, they had established an interim law enforcement agency based out of London composed of former Phoenix members.
What about Jeff and me? Well, we were the ones responsible for the selection and the stealth/evasion training process for Auror candidates up in the Brecon Beacons. Harry needed quality candidates to fill out his police force and he had asked us to apply SAS training standards to the new recruits. First we take away their wands. Then we put them through five weeks of hell and another three weeks of SERE training. The evasion training's always my favourite; nothing feels more satisfying than that jerk of absolute terror when I tap an unsuspecting trainee on the back during one of our hide-and-go-seek exercises.
Yeah, I know, I didn't really answer the question. Ariana and the others constantly drop annoying little hints about Jeff and me, that we should settle down, tie the knot. And, to be perfectly honest, we probably will. But for the time being, we're taking things one day at a time. It just felt good to be back home again.