"Who else knows about this lunatic plan?"
Harry smirked as Mad-Eye ranted. The smirk was caused not by the crusty old Auror's rant, but rather by the marked indifference by everyone else in the room. Emmeline Vance continued to study the information sheets and map. Cedric Diggory yawned. Sirius scratched his balls. Remus leaned on a wall, his eyes half closed. Hermione frowned at the ranting wizard while Fleur and Bill traded a look that was the expression equivalent of a sigh. Charlie Weasley had his nose deep in a bestiary and didn't seem to hear any of it.
"Are you done yet, Alastor? The grown-ups would like to get down to business."
Four loud guffaws sounded in the room, one belonging to Harry as they all smiled or laughed at the comment from the regal Emmeline Vance. Grumbling, Alastor gave up. Harry decided to throw the old Auror a bone. Old Mad-Eye had spent the better part of a year in a trunk, after all. "To answer your question, Mad-Eye, Everyone here plus three others know of the plan. No one outside of Britain – in fact, no one outside of Lion's Pride and you three know anything."
Alastor's grumbles tapered off as he returned to studying the map. The group was silent until Emmeline observed, "The manitcore is rather disturbing."
"Yes, quite," Harry replied. "I imagine that's why they brought it here. Voldemort may be psychotic, but he's not stupid. He can read a map like anyone else, so he must see that Leeds is rather important to his efforts."
Charlie sighed as he sat back. All attention focused on him hoping he might have found an easy answer to the pesky manitcore problem. Unfortunately, he replied, "If the beast was female we might be able to use some male manitcore musk to lure it into a trap. With our luck, the beastie is male. They've no weaknesses and are nearly half again as large as a female."
"Wonderful," Sirius commented.
Harry watched all eyes turn back to him. "If the manitcore is a male, are you sure that your plan will work?" Emmeline asked.
Shrugging, Harry replied, "Sure? No. But with what Dad gave me and Charlie's expertise along with some help from Fleur I think we can get the job done."
"Do you know what you're doing?" Emmeline asked pointedly.
Hermione replied for him, "He knows enough and I've found a spell that will get him through. It's hardly perfect, but will do the job."
Moody opened his mouth to object but frowned instead. Harry's expression was far from open and he felt his ire rising as his patience waned. His leadership style wasn't didactic and dictatorial; however, Harry still felt that the discussion was over on this topic. "Moving on," he prompted.
Ignoring the back and forth about him, Cedric Diggory gestured to the map, "Fleur, you've the two options for insertion points. A combined drop into the rail yards and a split drop where my team will insert into these woods," he pointed to the north of the facility, "and the Pride will arrive into the rail yard." Looking up, he asked, "Which do you recommend?"
Harry watched Fleur rake her slim fingers through her hair. Exhaling so as to puff out her cheeks, the Frenchwoman replied, "I believe that we should split our forces." Holding up her hands to forestall the coming objections, she elaborated, "Charlie, Harry, Bill and I will insert here," she gestured to the railyard. "We shall deal with the beast while the rest of the Pride and Cedric's Team Four assault the objective. Should the four of us be able to continue after dispatching the beast, we shall attempt to join you. Otherwise, we shall move to the Pride's rendezvous point."
Impressed at her dispassionate description, Harry tried to match her objectivity. Nodding in agreement with her assessment, he caught Cedric's eye. When the Hufflepuff nodded his agreement, Harry could see that he didn't like leaving the threesome to their own devices. Smiling at his fellow TriWizard Champion, Harry told him, "You'll have enough on your dance card. Don't worry about us."
Shrugging, Cedric readdressed the map. Tracing a series of routes from their insertion point, he mumbled, "Five minutes…no, make it ten to the ward line." Glancing at Bill, he asked, "You'll be with Harry to drop the wards?" When Bill nodded, Cedric looked down again, "Drop the wards at exactly 02:30. After the wards go, fan out in teams of two…Pride goes here…we go here…windows…doors. Hit the house no later than 02:35."
"We need to capture some," Hermione interrupted. When Sirius scowled, she ignored him but continued, "We need to interrogate them. As you know, Auror Command Intelligence is about paid out for our next high profile target. We need data." Harry knew that the Ministry in Exile reaped a plethora of intelligence from the captured Bellatrix Lestrange, but they didn't have actionable intelligence about the Dark Lord. Voldemort couldn't be killed if he couldn't be found.
There was a pause, so Harry decided to address the unpleasant truth, "The Pride will be responsible for all prisoners."
As Cedric's eyebrows shot to his hairline, Mad-Eye replied, "Oh really?" while Emmeline watched coolly.
Betraying none of the nervousness he felt, Harry replied, "Yes, really." When neither Mad-Eye nor Emmeline backed down, Harry sighed. "Do I need to portkey Amelia over here to make this happen?" Glaring at Mad-Eye, Harry nodded, "You know our mission and that it's top priority. Should we elicit any information that your teams or Sheehan's teams further south can use, we'll pass it on. However," any friendly expression that may have been on his face before fell away, "we get first shot."
Scowling, Mad-Eye nodded. Harry sighed. He really didn't need to be fighting with people on his own side. Voldemort and his minions were more than enough opposition. Returning Mad-Eye's nod, Harry murmured, "Thank you." Glancing down at the map, he focused on Cedric. "Can Team Four hold up their end?"
The dark haired former Hufflepuff looked at the map. "I'm not casting aspersions on all your very excellent work, Fleur," he murmured, "But it's going to be much worse than we expect."
"Most likely," Fleur softly agreed.
Cedric straightened up. "I'll need Team Three," he told Alastor and Emmeline.
She raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "And you expect to be in overall command?"
He nodded toward Harry, "Of only Team Three and Team Four." His jaw set, he declared, "So, yes. I will be in overall command of the Auror forces."
Alastor and Emmeline traded a look before he temporized, "We'll talk later."
Now Harry frowned. Obviously, there was more going on here than was being said. Some political whatnot or the like. Remus spoke before Harry could jump in, "I'm afraid we'll need to resolve this tonight. If we're to coordinate the attack for the night after next, we need this done now."
Sirius added his two pence, "This better not be some political bullshit." Surveying the other team leadership, he griped, "I have far too much to do than to worry about someone's finer feelings."
Mad-Eye grunted. "Understood. Diggory here will be in overall command of our two teams."
Nodding in unspoken relief, Harry replied, "Well, then. Let's get down to it, shall we?"
James was furious. Crumpled in his hand was the dispatch from Dumbledore outlining the intelligence that Peter was coming for him. Peter was coming to kill him. Besides the ludicrousness of the situation, the fact that old Wormie had accepted the task from his Master brought back all the rage of the initial betrayal in '81. The young boy whom James had befriended so long ago was nowhere to be found.
"He's dead. Wormtail is dead."
Gritting his teeth as he closed his eyes, the fires of James' fury stoked and roared. Sparks dripped from his fingertips as Prongs' magic roiled and swirled looking for escape. Breathing deeply through his nose, he tried to calm down.
"James? Love, what's wrong?" Lily asked from the doorway to his study.
Without looking, he extended his hand bearing the note. Ten seconds later, Lily was panting in her anger while she muttered death threats and general obscenities. After a particularly colourful exclamation that included the words stain, midget, gonorrhoea, talking-pile-of-pig-shit and hermaphrodite, James burst into laughter.
His mirth bubbling up from deep inside, he bent over while wheezing his laughter.
"I fail to see the humour," his wife snapped. "This buggering arsehole is coming to kill you."
His laughter tapered off to a resigned sigh. "If I don't laugh I'll scream and I sound like a little girl when I scream." Shaking his head, he softly called, "Rauri, Winky."
The two elves appeared with a double pop-pop. Winky curtsied deeply as Rauri bowed. The elder elf asked, "You called, your Grace?"
James' amused expression slid away. "Peter Pettigrew is coming to kill me." His blunt statement caused Winky to stand up straight, her expression one of terrified surprise. He nodded to both elves who stared in shock. "You both know how Lord Blackmoor and myself are anamagi?" When Rauri nodded, James continued, "So, too, is Pettigrew. He can become a common rat." With a considering expression, he closed his eyes before drawing his wand. A flick and twist later, he transfigured a vase into a credible replica of Wormtail. "That is what he looks like. Should you find him, overpower him if you can. Otherwise, insure that her Grace and I are informed of his location. We shall deal with him."
He couldn't help the anger and betrayal that seeped into his voice and to be honest, he didn't care. Hatred was an appropriate description for how James felt about Peter.
"This vile betrayer shall not harm you or her Grace or Lord Robert!" Winky exclaimed fervently while Rauri nodded seriously.
Touched, James reached out to pat on the shoulder both of the faithful retainers and members of his family. "Thank you. I know you'll both do everything in your power to keep our family safe."
With a final nod, Rauri and Winky popped away.
Sighing one last time, James blindly reached for Lily. Of course, she was right where he needed her to be. Without asking, she curled into his embrace as he closed his eyes to hide – if just for a moment – from the omnipresent war.
"President Rodriguez, it's good to see you," Amelia greeted the head of the Spanish magical government. Hestia rose from her chair next to the bay window across from Amelia's desk as the British Minister for Magic introduced her. "I'm sure you've heard of my Deputy, the Countess of Blackmoor?"
Elsa Rodriguez was a tall woman with striking good looks. Her hair in an elaborate braid at her neck, she nodded elegantly to Hestia in greeting, "My Lady."
The three witches sat in the informal sitting area away from the massive desk that dominated the far side of the room. Bypassing any further formalities, Rodriguez began, "I've just left the German Ambassador. They, along with the French, are very upset at the actions of our Slavic and eastern European neighbours regarding their newfound fondness for each other.
Hestia was silent as she watched the two heads of state digest the statement. "They are going to propose that we – the western European nations – form a defensive alliance in response."
"Italy? Portugal?" Amelia queried.
"The Portuguese will not become involved; they value their neutrality far too much. The Italians are very concerned, though. The Adriatic is not so wide to give them the sense of security and safety that they desire."
Again a pause to consider. After a moment, Amelia caught Hestia's eye before nodding. Gathering her thoughts, she turned to see President Rodriguez watching her with an intent gaze. "I'm sure that you're aware that the Chinese are very interested in assisting us in regaining our country."
"Materially assisting?" the Spaniard asked.
"Yes. Troops, supplies and funds should they be needed." Broaching a topic that hadn't been discussed beyond Hestia, Amelia, James and Lily, the blonde Countess laid out a worldview altering conclusion. "Since the Chinese are involved, we fully expect the Americans to match our Sino-British cooperative."
Slowly, President Rodriguez closed her eyes before gently pinching the bridge of her nose. "I hope to God that your special action teams kill Voldemort soon."
Hestia's eyes widened in surprise and fear. "Excuse me?" she blurted before Amelia could respond.
Without opening her eyes, the President replied, "I do not know anything in particular, but I can only assume you have a series of teams working on killing the Dark Lord. You'd be fools not to make the attempt." Opening her eyes, she regarded the coolly evaluating Amelia Bones and narrow eyed Hestia Black, "And I do not believe that either of you are fools."
Hestia's heartbeat began to slow. Sirius' safety was an omnipresent concern and Rodriguez's offhand comment had scared her badly. Regaining her wits, she extrapolated the President's statement, "With the Americans and Chinese in the field, you fear that the Russian led alliance will escalate causing the Western European powers to react."
"Si." She lapsed into her native tongue as she considered. Blinking, the Spaniard regained her composure, "And that will lead to very unpleasant situations that we all would rather avoid."
"Yet, what other choice do we have but to ally ourselves in this defensive alliance?" Amelia asked rhetorically.
"What choice, indeed?" Hestia echoed hopelessly. She felt that they were all barely holding on to the raft that was hurtling through the rapids towards eternal damnation.
Very deliberately, Alex ladled Remus' Wolfsbane dosage into the gold goblet. The full moon was in four days, which was a driving element behind the timing of this large assault upon the Death Eater facility outside Leeds. The effects of the waxing moon would be mitigated for Remus because of his use of the Wolfsbane potion. Based on the Cotswold lycanthropic family's understanding, the more violent Yorkshire pack eschewed use of the potion. Their odd belief that usage of Wolfsbane made them 'less than a full wolf' also incapacitated them in the few days before the rising of the Moon. As such, Harry, Remus and the rest of the assault team were timing the attack to insure that they Weres from Yorkshire would be removed from the equation.
The blonde healer was doing her level best to focus on the task in front of her but it was difficult. Raising the fresh dosage sent from Spain and Lily's laboratory, she had to stop as her hand began to shake. Slowly, Alex returned the vial and goblet to the table as she breathed deeply in an attempt to regain control of her emotions.
"C'mon, girl," she chastised herself. Exhaling harshly, she narrowed her eyes as she glared at the goblet. Scooping it up along with the vial, she forced herself to perform the final mix of the ingredients. Just as the noxious concoction began to smoke and sput, Remus entered the tent.
Shoving aside her finer feelings, Alex greeted her love, "Good timing. Let it set for three minutes then you're on." She closed her eyes and savoured her lover's absentminded kiss to the top of her head along with his caress of her back as she set the smoking and sparking goblet on the table.
"Thanks," he murmured.
Not trusting her voice, she nodded in reply.
Remus noticed. "What's on your mind?" he casually asked while starting a counter for three minutes.
"I worry," she summarized as she looked away. Alex could've said much more. She could describe the nights where she lay awake next to her love while he slept. Those long nights where her impressive imagination conjured up every possible permutation and combination where he was injured, maimed or killed in their efforts to hunt down and destroy the Dark Lord. The waking nightmares of him returning to her insane, paralyzed, maimed beyond recognition, poisoned and, of course, where his corpse was brought back by one of the survivors.
On rare occasions, her imagination gave her a break to conjure up scenarios for Harry or Hermione. Sirius or Fleur. Susan…any of the on any given day.
His arms snaked about her, pulling her to his chest. Gently, he kissed her forehead while murmuring, "I love you." There wasn't much else to say. Both were committed to the struggle to free Britain. Both were all in and committed to support Harry in meeting his destiny with all the support that could be mustered. Both were smart enough to realize that one or both of them mightn't survive the war.
A soft ping brought her back to the present. After another kiss, Remus untangled from her to hoist the noxious potion that allowed him to keep his sanity despite his curse. Without pausing to consider, he downed it in one long gulping draw. Alex couldn't help but smile as he shivered while handing her the empty goblet. Under his breath, he groused, "Disgusting."
With a bit of regained equilibrium, she leaned into Remus. Wrapping her arms about his waist, they stood there enjoying each other's presence.
Still wrapped tightly in his embrace, she declared, "I love you. I understand all this. The risk. The pain and the killing. I want you to know now and forever that I love you."
The small tear that leaked out of the corner of her eye was of undetermined nature. Sadness? Joy? Love? Fear? All of the above, she'd later decide.
"When this is all over," Remus whispered into her hair. "Will you marry me?"
Alex smiled into his chest. So much had led to this point. So much pain. So much joy. All of it led to this simple declaration; this commitment to love, honour and cherish. All the days of her life. All the days of his life. Shoving aside the fearful thought However long they may be, she gave the only answer she could give.
Susan watched Fleur as the Veela sat on the bed in the bedroom she and Bill shared. Mechanically, her hands moved the brush through her long silver blonde hair. The redhead watched as it the other woman's eyes unfocused, as if seeing things far away and based on her expression, they were unpleasant memories.
Clearing her throat, Susan caught Fleur's attention. "Hey," she greeted her older friend.
"Bon nuite," the Frenchwoman replied. Placing the brush on the nightstand, Fleur asked, "What can I do for you?"
Sighing, Susan took the plunge. Sitting on the bed next to her friend, the redhead declared, "Would you cut my hair?"
Fleur's eyes flicked to Susan's long red tresses caught up in a thick queue down her back. Fingering the loose ends, she asked, "You want the ends trimmed?"
Her eyes hardening, Susan explained, "No. Cut it off. I want it stubble."
Fleur blinked, taken aback.
"This is war," Susan spat. Standing, she began to pace. "While I enjoy this," she tugged at her long hair, "It's a liability. Some arsehole could grab me by the queue and drag me about like a dog." Shaking her head in angry defiance, Susan's lip curled, "No. I'm a soldier. The mission comes first over vanity."
This was a longstanding issue for the Bones heiress. For too long had she been on the sidelines watching others fight or suffer. Now that she was in the mix – as it were – she was fully invested. The other day as she struggled to fix her hair, she'd shouted to her mirror, "Who gives a bloody fuck about my bloody hair!" There were far more important things and it was time for Susan to show it.
Pale blue eyes sparkled at her, "And did you tell Neville that you were going to do this?"
Nodding, Susan replied, "Yes. Neville loves me for who I am, not my hair."
Fleur nodded. "Good man."
Slipping out of her seriousness for a moment, the redhead replied, "I shagged him within an inch of his life for that."
Fleur laughed. With a considering expression, she conjured a plain chair to which she beckoned Susan. "I'll cut your hair if you do mine."
Surprised, Susan paused. "Bill?"
Fleur snorted. Shoving Susan onto the chair, she began undoing the queue, "My Guilliame will think it very sexy before he ravages me. I have no doubts about his love for me. Let us see what we can do with this…."
Bill and Fleur were in a loose embrace on the other side of the camp; their foreheads touching and eyes closed, Sirius could feel their communing and love. Her short spiky hair had been a surprise to Sirius. Longer than Susan's stubble, the silver-blonde hair was a longish flat top hairstyle that was very attractive. Hermione was sat on the bench of the picnic table, leaning back into Harry who sat above and behind her on the table. Her arms crossed over his so that they were embracing each other. Neville had his arm wrapped about Susan as she curled into his side. Remus and Alex were talking in low tones outside her healing tent.
Watching the lovers take the last moment to embrace made Sirius miss Hestia all the more. They spoke daily via the communication mirrors, but it wasn't the same. Sure, he missed the sex…really, really missed the sex…but it was more than that. He missed their casual interaction;, the intimate give and take between lovers. Despite her serious demeanour at the Ministry, Hestia had a wonderful sense of humour. She had to in order to survive being married to Sirius Black. At the same time, she was his anchor, his raison d'être.
Sighing, he looked away. It was 23.00 and in an hour they were to make the first jump to assault the Death Eater facility outside Leeds. It was, by far, the largest and most ambitious assault that they'd ever conducted. Even with the supporting Auror teams that the Diggory lad was commanding, the good guys would be significantly outnumbered by the bad guys. Looking back out over the quiet couples, he figured that it was normal for men and women to look to their mate in these last moments before either being visited by Death or visiting Death upon their fellow man.
At his side, Sirius watched Charlie rummaging about in his rucksack that he carried everywhere. He claimed that it contained nearly anything that a wrangler of XXXX and above creatures could ever need. Every so often, he'd hand a vial or object to William with quiet instructions about its use. William diligently copied the instructions on to a pad of paper. The teenager was shaping up to being a competent Healer's assistant, so Alex said.
Shoving aside his desire to call Hestia, he began to go over the plan in his mind. Leaning on a tree, he considered Harry's choice to lead the Lion's Pride. Since Harry was part of the team to destroy the Manticore, he'd chosen Remus to lead the Pride into the facility proper. When he'd announced this, it was evident that Harry and Remus' had discussed this beforehand. It was also evident that Harry was worried about Sirius' reaction to the selection. Sirius' immediate reaction was of relief. That told him everything. Sirius was many things, but cut out to be a leader of men and women was not in his wheelhouse. Nodding to The Boy-Who-Lived, Sirius'd hoped to let his godson know that he didn't harbour any jealousy of anger about Remus being selected over him.
After that, the plan was simple and straightforward. History told them that all the best plans were simple. It was basically Fleur's original plan with some minor tweaks by Hermione and Diggory. It was a good plan that should work.
"If Harry can kill that bloody Manticore," he murmured absently. Without looking up, Charlie nodded in agreement.
"If," Charlie echoed dubiously.
Clapping the redhead on the shoulder, Sirius encouraged, "if anyone can do it, it'll be Harry."
Charlie nodded, hopeful that Sirius spoke truth.
Sirius moved to the centre of the camp as everyone stirred. He hoped to hell that he was speaking truth.
"Percutimus in gladio."
Harry reeled as the spell took effect. Doubling over, he placed his hands on his knees for a moment until his equilibrium returned. Panting a bit, he nodded to Hermione that he was fit. Her anxious expression faded to a concerned frown as she returned his nod.
In the middle of the cluster of people, Remus unwound a rope. "Everyone grab hold."
Harry adjusted the weight across his back before grasping the portkey. Around him all the others were drawing their own weapons, faces set in serious apprehension. The coarseness of the rope in his hand seemed to magnify as his tension focused and ramped up to nerve shattering intensity. Swallowing back the scream that threatened to force itself out his chest, Harry took a steadying breath.
For Hermione, he thought to himself. Reminding himself of his pledge to her what seemed to be a lifetime ago, his words swam to the surface of his mind. Both a sword for him to wield and a shield against his fear, Harry held on to those words and ideals. "For you," he pledged. For her, he would scale the mountains and swim the seas. For her, he would walk through fire and battle the darkness. For her, he would face and kill the most powerful Dark Wizard that Britain had seen in a score of centuries.
For her. For love. For hope. For family. For her he would do all, dare all, risk all and in the end, would overcome all. Fear fled in the face of love. In the face of trust. Re-centred, Harry was ready.
He saw Remus' amber eyes search out his own. Harry took a last survey of the team. Each of them was watching him, giving their silent consent to go. He'd never felt as humble or proud as he did at that moment. Turning back to Remus, he told him, "Let's go."
Without preamble, Moony touched his wand to the rope as he incanted, "Activate."
No matter how many times he did it, the side slipping through space as a portkey tugged him along would always be disconcerting for Harry. Remembering to flex his knees in preparation for landing, Harry performed his first ever successful portkey arrival.
Immediately, the group began to split up. Bill and Fleur opened their bags to set up for the curse breaking effort. Remus pointed to the west, sending Neville and Hermione out as a two person security patrol while Sirius and Susan moved east.
Harry and Charlie waited alongside Remus. Harry hated waiting, but in this case, it was necessary. The curse breakers would be vulnerable while they worked, so he, along with Remus and Charlie were over watch for Bill and Fleur as they worked. There wasn't much time. The Auror teams were arriving on the north end of the wards and vulnerable until Bill and Fleur got the wards down. No military unit is safe while immobile.
Charlie finished adjusting the straps on the bracers and greaves he wore. The breastplate of charmed steel was under his tunic, but Harry'd seen it before Charlie donned it. Covered in protective runes, Charlie had boasted that his armour would protect him from a point blank Dragon fire blast.
But what about a Manticore attack?
As Charlie hefted his battle-axe, Harry watched in appreciation of the weapon. The second Weasley brother carefully slid his wand into the handle, finishing the vision of a barbarian warrior. Reaching over his shoulder, Harry drew his own weapon.
Before he left Spain, Harry had been gifted this weapon by his father. As he received the weapon of his ancestor, Lily had bestowed the all-important blessing of the mother. Hermione's spell had temporarily given him the ability to use this relic of his family as if he were an expert. No matter the fact that he was engaging this fearsome beast, his family stood at Harry's side. The gift of his father, blessing of his mother and the spell of his beloved. Together, this gave him a strength and confidence that no magic could ever match.
Charlie had warned them that the Manticore was nearly impervious to magic, but was vulnerable to magically enchanted weapons. Charlie's battle-axe was one such weapon. The other, was in Harry's hand; the Sword of Gryffindor.
Drawing the ancient broadsword, Harry couldn't help but smile at the irony. The last time he'd drawn this weapon in anger, he'd slain a Basilisk. This evening, he hoped to slay a Manticore. The large rubies pressed against his palm as he squeezed the handle; the pressure a reassuring sensation.
Tunnel vision began to set in on The Boy-Who-Lived. All he could see was the task in front of him. Intellectually he knew that Hermione was about to fling herself into harm's way. He knew that his friends and family would be in very real danger of dying this night. Right then, though, he could only see the picture of the Manticore from Charlie's book. He'd studied it for hours as he read and re-read the text; all the time looking for a plan, a weakness to exploit. There weren't many.
Off to the left, Bill began his chant, a second later joined by Fleur. Ten minutes, they'd told him. Ten minutes and the ward should be down. Ten minutes and he'd be grappling with a Manticore.
"Remember, the idea is to get one of the bastards. Malfoy would be best, but any of the high ranking scum would fit the bill. Oliver will be there the whole time, so stay close to him."
Alicia was arranging Katie's outfit as she fretted. To call it an 'outfit' was to be generous, though. Katie was dressed as a prostitute and was using her considerable wiles to allow her and Oliver to infiltrate the Death Eater compound. Unfortunately, they'd petered out in their efforts. So far, they'd lucked into most of their operations against the usurper government, but now, the well was beginning to run dry. Flint had been a wealth of low level information, but the group felt the need to hit at higher levels; hence their infiltration of the Death Eater facility at Leeds with the intention of kidnapping a senior Death Eater.
Flint had been very valuable on one point: Lucius Malfoy lived at the Death Eater encampment in Leeds. That was about as high level as any of their small group felt reaching toward. Apparently, some civic minded soul had taken the responsibility of depriving the pompous sod of his home. All the better for them.
The burning hatred that'd driven Alicia in her fight against the Dark Lord's forces had settled into a constant simmering malice that only found outlet when they had the next successful operation.
Katie reached out with her short nailed hands, gently grasping each of her lover's cheeks. Placing a soft kiss on Alicia's lips, Katie murmured, "It'll be fine. But if it isn't, and I don't come back…," Katie faded off as Alicia's heart plummeted.
"I love you," Alicia gasped through her emotion.
Her blonde haired paramour smiled in return, "And I love you.'
At the door, Oliver coughed, "It's time."
Hermione patrolled with Neville in their assigned sector. She was a thorough young woman who had extraordinary powers of concentration and a single mindedness that was intimidating. Right at that moment, though, her attention kept drifting to her fiancé.
Neville's tap on her shoulder brought the automatic nod and hand wave, but she was still thinking about Harry and his imminent confrontation with that bloody Manticore. Stilling, she took a deep breath in through her nose, …one…two…three she held the breath until she felt her heart settling so that she could focus on the task at hand. In her heart she let him go to his destiny. As God wills, she remembered her Grandmother admonishing her on more than one occasion. It seemed to fit this situation, as well.
The low murmur of voices caught her notice. Peering ahead, she raised her hand to catch Neville's attention. His hand squeezed her shoulder, indicating he, too, heard the noise. Glancing about, she saw that the undergrowth was less cumbersome off to the left. After a quick glance at her watch, she looked to Neville and through miming and hand signals, told him We'll move to the left for no more than five minutes. If we see anyone, we'll consider our course of action; otherwise we need to get back to the insertion point.
It was a lot of hand waving and motions.
Ducking under a low hanging branch, Hermione froze. Ahead were four Death Eaters in full regalia. She felt Neville freeze when he saw the foursome as the shortest barked a harsh laugh. They were standing about a fire pit, warming their hands. The fire was obviously magical in that it was purple and also explained why she'd not seen the light through the trees.
"Dunno why we gotta be out here at this bloody unholy hour," the fat one complained.
The short one cuffed his compatriot as he snarled, "'Cause Lestrange says so, that's why!"
"Dunno why he's such a bloody wanker lately. Malfoy, I understand. But Lestrange has been a complete bastard."
The tall reedy one snorted, "With Bellatrix gone these last months, you think he'd been happy?"
The short one countered, "Like that stops him. He's got a parade of doxies up to his rooms." The group broke into a series of laughs and guffaws before quieting.
The other fat one murmured, "Didn't you hear about that raid down south? Killed nearly everyone they did. My sister's cousin got out. Says The Boy-Who-Lived was there. Says that Potter was doing some nasty magic, he said."
"Your bloody sister is stupid as a bundimun and not nearly as fecking pretty. I doubt her troll of a brother would know the difference 'tween his Johnson and a doorknob."
The group devolved into riotous laughter mixed with insults and shouts. Narrowing her eyes, Hermione tuned out the scintillating conversation in front of her. The only interesting thing to note was that the Death Eaters were obviously afraid of Harry and the Lion's Pride.
They may be stupid, but they'll kill us sure as looking at us.
Her decision made, she didn't wait. With an elaborate whipping motion of her wand, Hermione began the curse. It was an area effect spell, so it took a bit more time to cast.
""Ere now…" one of the more observant fellows called out as her motion drew his attention.
Hermione murmured as she released the spell, her eyes narrowed and her attention sharpened on her prey.
As one, the four Death Eaters dropped to the grass. Eight hands reached to four necks as their faces purpled. Legs jerked. Hands grasped but no voice was raised, no shout was brought forth. Glancing about, Hermione tried to penetrate the darkness to see if anyone had heard the commotion.
One by one, they died. Within ten seconds from start to finish, the four Death Eaters passed to the Next Adventure because they were magically strangled to death by Hermione Granger as she'd transfigured their esophagi from flesh into a solid lump of lead.
Glancing over at them, she noted their death. A feeling of despair began to well up within her. It doesn't bother me at all, but she ruthlessly shoved it aside. I don't have time for this now.
Neville tapped her shoulder. When she turned to him, he tapped his wristwatch. Nodding, she turned to follow him back to the insertion point. By now, Bill and Fleur would be close to having the wards down.
Harry's eyes narrowed as he watched Bill. The eldest Weasley brother was taking the bulk of the cursebreaking on to himself so as to allow Fleur the ability to continue with the mission. As such, he was sweating heavily and beginning to sway as he chanted the countercurse for the wards.
Fleur's concerned glance didn't go unnoticed, either.
Neville and Hermione appeared from their patrol right on time. A few minutes later Susan and Sirius crept out of the underbrush. Sirius had a bloody streak on his face but otherwise all seemed fit. Returning his attention to the cursebreakers, Harry tried to focus on the matter at hand.
At his side, Charlie began to mutter, "Throat and leg joints…throat and leg joints." Those were the weakest points for a male Manticore. Weak was a relative term, though.
Just as Bill began to collapse, the wards flashed a bright yellow before failing completely.
Remus moved first, dropping a button on Bill's chest as he called out, "Activate!" A blink later, the exhausted cursebreaker disappeared back to the camp in Wales where Alex was waiting for him.
Glancing to Fleur, Harry asked, "You good to continue?" Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hermione casting the Communication charm to inform Cedric that the wards were down.
Fleur's nod was sufficient answer as she downed an energy potion. "Move," he commanded the team.
Harry led the way, the Sword of Gryffindor in his right hand. Charlie held his battle axe across his body as he took up position on Harry's left, while Fleur prowled opposite the dragon wrangler.
The spell that Hermione had found for Harry was elegant in its design. Normally, a witch or wizard could channel their inner energies into an expression of their will: a spell. This handy bit of magic that Hermione found in the Potter family Omni-book channelled Harry's inner energies into a skill: swordsmanship. He didn't know sword forms or the proper method of wielding a broadsword in combat with a magical creature. He could fight like hell, though.
"You have to rely on your instincts. That's when the magic of the spell works best. It provides you with the correct movement. Since you're so good at following your instincts in Quidditch, as well as, duelling, I figure this would be a good fit.
He'd practised a few times against a golem that Hermione had conjured and he'd been fairly successful. Granted, a golem would be moving at one tenth the speed of a Manticore with none of the malice or hate that the dark creature possessed, but it was a proof of concept more than anything.
The drawback, of course, was that Harry couldn't cast any magic while under the influence of this spell. It was a trade-off he was willing to make.
The assault team was following the threesome as they jogged at a quick pace up the trail from the railyard to the Death Eater grounds. The idea was that the threesome detailed to engage the Manticore would lead the way until contact. There was little doubt that the dark creature would find them. Auror Teams three and four were delaying their insertion by five minutes to insure that Harry, Charlie and Fleur would tangle with the beastie.
Once contact was made and the threesome engaged the Manitcore, Remus would lead the rest of the team to rendezvous with the Aurors to assault the headquarters elements. At least, that was the plan.
Harry's tunnel vision intensified. The only clear vision for him was the moonlit trail in front of him. The overhanging trees and bushes crowding either side were sliding in and out as he listened forward. The night sounds of crickets and wildlife was muted. The only sound was the wind in the trees.
"C'mon, c'mon,"he muttered to himself. Waiting wasn't his strong suit.
Turning a corner in the path abruptly brought them to a large clearing. On the far side was a large building which intelligence had identified as the Death Eater barracks for the headquarters.
Standing in the centre of the clearing was the Manticore: a lion's body, scorpion's tail and the head of a man. The hair on its head was long, matted with blood and obscured most if the facial features of the animal. When its bearded mouth opened to reveal razor sharp teeth in a grotesque facsimile of a smile, it snarled a challenge. It was evident by its expression and the spark of intelligence in its eye that the creature was thirsting for blood; looking for violence. Harry sank into the swirling eddies of his magic.
Instead of fear, the beast inspired anger and even rage in the dark haired wizard's breast. This animal was placed here by Voldemort as a guard for his people. It was to dispatch Harry and those he loved. No one threatened the beloved of The Boy-Who-Lived escaping unscathed. Harry felt his fury building as he glared at the now circling Manticore.
A small part of his mind heard Hermione's soft, "Love you," as the assault group continued to the barracks and headquarters buildings.
"Love you too," he replied automatically. Raising the sword to the en garde position, he snarled at the stalking beast. "Come on, you bastard. Let's see what you've got."
"Lookee here, mates. Fresh meat." The short Death Eater stood to paw at the blonde witch wearing a very short skirt and tight top.
Oliver had to swallow the revulsion, fear, anger and desire to do violence as Katie absently smiled while swatting away the offending Death Eater's hand. They'd used a password combination to enter the facility that they'd tortured from Marcus Flint. He was truly too stupid to resist an interrogation, but none of Oliver's little group was reticent in a spot of inflicting pain on the followers of Voldemort. None of them were confident in their potion brewing skills, so they resorted to cruder means. Glancing about at the goons, ghouls and grotesques gathered in the service of Lord Voldemort, Oliver felt that another spot of ultra-violence might go down nicely. Swallowing his ire, he admitted to himself that he'd be dead before casting his third spell.
They had a plan and an objective. Stick to the plan.
Shoving the Death Eater back into his chair, Oliver growled, "Back off, arsehole. She's not for you." He glanced at the ceiling to make his point before asking, "Where is he?" Absently, he wrapped his arm about Katie, pulling her out of the line of fire.
Oliver was fishing, but it paid dividends. "Malfoy or Lestrange?" the squat Death Eater asked.
With narrowed eyes the Death Eater asked, "What did you say your name was?"
"I didn't. Where are they?"
Now he was treading even more dangerous ground. If Oliver's bluff failed, he and Katie were dead. For a long moment, neither man moved until the Death Eater shrugged in acquiescence. "Second door on the right up the stairs. First floor." He smacked Katie's arse. "Hope you brought healing potions, luv. You'll need 'em when those two are done with you."
Katie appeared cowed and scared while Oliver tried to appear uncaring. Both knew that neither wizard would lay a hand on the blonde witch. She had two Disillusioned daggers along with her wand on her person. Oliver had two wands and a muggle pistol. Should either of the wizards refuse to cooperate or, worse yet, fight back…well…none of them would be leaving alive.
With his hand grabbing her arm, Oliver steered Katie to the stairs. A burly Death Eater nodded to Oliver as he stepped aside. Slowly, the former Quidditch keeper let out the breath he'd been holding. Their plan gambled on their assumption that Malfoy and or his ilk would routinely 'indulge' in 'sampling' the masses.
Not too much of a leap of faith, that.
Halfway up the stairs, he glanced back. Seeing no one following, he nodded to Katie. Both shifted their demeanour from subservient or scared to no nonsense. Drawing his wand, he Disillusioned Katie before doing the same for himself.
Her breathy, "Ready," was all the signal he needed. Finding the doorway that'd been indicated, Oliver and Katie moved into position.
Hermione followed Remus as he pounded down the path away from the Manticore infested clearing toward the Death Eater headquarters facility. Focusing on the matter at hand, she sent a mental caress to Harry, a reminder to both of them that she was for him as he was for her. Holding on to their love for each other, she narrowed all thought to the upcoming assault.
Behind her, she heard Neville and Susan's pounding feet. Padfoot was keeping pace with Remus at the head of their group. Right then, she felt very insecure in their numbers. Five against the world was how it felt, regardless of her brain telling her about the two Auror Teams attacking from the opposite direction. Rounding a bend in the path a four story building came into view, lights blazing out of the lower level windows. Slowing the humans of the group Disillusioned themselves. Padfoot slinked forward to reconnoitre; his black fur blending nicely into the shadows of the night.
It was an interminable minute of standing silent and still before Hermione heard Padfoot's soft, "Woof." Taking the 'all clear' sign, she moved toward the jump off point.
The group paused as the sounds of massed spellfire erupted from the far side of the building. Cedric's group was early.
"Come here, you ugly mother fucker."
The plan was for Harry to draw the attention of the Manticore thereby allowing Fleur and Charlie to flank the beast. Manticore's possess near human intelligence. Not only could they reason at a basic level, but they could hate. Hatred was what they did best.
The red eyed glare of the Manticore locked with Harry's scowl. The dark, matted hair of the evidently ravenous beast was a rank curtain, barely hiding the lidless malice of the magical nightmare.
"I'm gonna fuck you and your mother you ugly sonofabitch," Harry taunted again.
Furious, the leonine paws tore at the earth in front of the creature. Ducking its head this way and that, it was completely focused on Harry as it started to circle the young man, moving closer to Fleur. The overlarge scorpion stinger bobbed over the Manticore's back, dancing in the fury of the insane.
"I own you," Harry whispered knowing that his unnatural opponent would hear him.
The shrieking bellow from the Manitcore was terrifying. "Might have gone too far," Harry muttered to himself. Throwing caution to the wind, he met the creature's gaze. As the Manticore tore at the earth in its rage, Harry narrowed his eyes as his own low level rage surged to the fore. Through gritted teeth, he threw another barb, "I'm going to feast on your flesh." His hissing challenge was punctuated by a darting feint.
As the bright steel of the magical broadsword flashed in the moonlight, the Manticore leapt. But it didn't leap at Harry.
The Death Eater Command Centre for the Greater Yorkshire Region (or so it was called by Joseph Jugson), was formerly a high priced retreat and conference centre. Appealing to the landed wealthy, the facility was in the middle of the former estate of the Baron Milner of Leeds and had at one point been the manor house. Extensive remodelling brought the facilities up to modern standards. The nouveau riche loved the facility as it gave them the impression of the social acceptance that they so quietly craved.
The ground floor leveraged the pre-existing rooms (library, sitting rooms, etc…) and with only minor redecorating made the rooms more suitable for conferences of the mercantile nature. The first floor maintained the Master suite along with two other bedrooms. All the rest of the rooms had been converted to modern conference rooms equipped with teleconference capability and some even pioneering the new video teleconference capability being developed.
Roundhay House (or so it was called by the venture capital development team who repurposed the house) also boasted a significant outdoor capability that was, sadly, not thought through very well. The extensive landscaping and path laydown was underutilized because the Spanish designer forgot the central tenet of British outdoor activities: rain.
In the moment, all this was irrelevant to the assault teams with the exception of the landscaping. The remains of the Lion's Pride scarpered up the gravelled path to the house without opposition. Hermione grudgingly sent a mental thanks to the Aurors who seemed to be fully engaging the enemy on the far side of the facility. Her memory brought up the map of the outdoors estimating that the current engagement to be either in, or near, the French Gardens or the Statuary Garden. Both would provide concealing cover for the Aurors, hopefully reducing their casualties.
Following Sirius and Remus as they pounded up the pea gravel path, all thought fled. A flash ahead of her announced the first spellfire for the Pride. Without pausing in his stride, Sirius used the Piercing charm with lethal effect on a wayward Death Eater.
Both men moved to opposing sides of the path as the back door of the facility came into view. Without pausing, Hermione casually cast the Battering Ram curse on the back door. The old oak double doorway shattered nicely.
Oliver reached over to the centre of the door, giving it a sharp rap-rap. Meeting Katie's cold gaze, they held their breath. Without warning, the door opened; no light showing from within. Half-turning to the door, he caught Katie's eye. Wait, he whispered to her. Her silence sufficed for the moment.
"Who's there?" a raspy voice asked.
"Gotta tart fer ya," Oliver murmured in an attempt to hide his location.
A grunt inside the room preceded the door opening all the way. Oliver saw a momentary flash of white blond hair before he dove on the man. As the shocked Lucius Malfoy crumpled under the former Keeper for Gryffindor House, Oliver felt more than heard Katie slip into the room.
"Avada Kedavra!" the earlier raspy voice incanted harshly.
Rolling, Wood moved. The first few passes, he kept ahold of Malfoy using him as a shield, but the Death Eater's frantic kicking and flailing separated the two.
More spellfire erupted in the room before he heard a body slump to the floor. His heart thudding in his ears, he launched himself to his feet. With a snarl, Oliver drew his wand only to see that it was a superfluous action.
The now visible Katie Bell was binding the now unconscious forms of both Lucius Malfoy and another man who had dark hair. Oliver could only assume that it was one of the previously mentioned Lestrange brothers. He frowned when he saw her shaking her hand while grimacing.
"Alright?" he asked before transfiguring the unconscious Malfoy into a small rock. Scooping up the stone, he narrowed his eyes at Katie while she scooped up the Lestrange-rock.
"Lestrange's spell caught my hand. Hurts a bit."
Shoving aside his affection for his blonde haired friend, Oliver asked, "Can you keep on?" Her silent nod was good enough.
He returned her nod before muttering, "Right then. Disillusion then…." The loud crash followed by spellfire and screams from the ground floor derailed their envisioned smooth escape.
Harry was so completely focused on his opponent, that he lost track of where his compatriots where. The general plan was for Harry to face the beast head on, while Fleur and Charlie moved to encircle the monster. How successful they had been, he wasn't sure.
The Manticore was a creature of nightmare and terror. Its movements were unnatural. The guttural screams and grunts raised the spectre of the things that all humans fear in the dark. Battling with his desire to engage his opponent was a primal fear that was screaming in his skull to run as fast as humanly possible in the opposite direction from the hairy, fanged, stinger wielding bringer of death.
Just as he feinted toward the beast in hopes of luring it into his kill zone, it leapt.
Directly on top of Charlie.
The shrieking roar of the attacking Manticore mingled with Charlie's outraged cry. The redheaded dragon wrangler had been knocked flat by the attacking Manticore. His outraged shouts at the indignity of being bowled over inspired a giggle from Harry that was not reflective of the attitude that he wanted at the moment. Shaking off the hysterical reaction, he followed the plan.
Off to his left, the part Veela closed her eyes as she concentrated. Harry brought all the memories of Hermione that he treasured to the fore. When they met. Flying on Buckbeak. Their first kiss. Their first Christmas. Their first time making love. Waking from his magical coma to see her standing there. Holding her in the middle of the night on a Caribbean island as he pledged himself to her.
Fleur's allure nearly knocked him over with its intensity. Holding tightly to his love for Hermione so that he didn't become a drooling idiot, Harry glanced at Fleur. Her short hair was nearly glowing while her eyes were large and lustrous. Even without moving, her body language invited lust, sex and desire. It was their fallback plan. With no other means of distracting the Manticore, Charlie reasoned that Fleur's allure would - at least - distract the beast.
Shaking his head, Harry refocused on the opponent. The Manticore had drifted from overtop the downed Charlie – his magically reinforced armour had saved him from more than a few scratches. The maniacal lust for violence that had been on its face was replaced with confusion. Seeing an opening, Harry did what he did best.
Without a sound, he darted forward, his sword moving without conscious thought. His feet silently pushing through the tall grass, he rushed to the side of the creature. With his sword somewhat low, he had intended to sever a forelimb to incapacitate the Manticore before moving in for a final killing blow. The clearing of confusion from the beast's face, which was replaced with rage, changed his plans.
Swinging the sword as hard as he could, Harry severed the scorpion stinger from the tail with a loud crunch as the magically imbued steel cut through armoured hide.
Not pausing to celebrate as the Manticore shrieked in pain and rage, he leapt backwards. His efforts were aided by the swiping leonine forepaw of the Manticore as it tried to maul Harry. Again, his body moved of its own accord, bringing up his sword to a defensive position so as to take the brunt of the attack. The strength of the blow still knocked the Boy-Who-Lived arse over teakettle. His last conscious thought was to recognize Charlie's cry as the redhead joined the battle.
The assault force of the Pride boiled into the main entryway of Roundhay house, killing all in their way. With the milling, disordered crowd in front of him, the young Longbottom Lord assumed that there was confusion as to what was going on and what was to be done. Thanking the Deity for the advantage, he lashed out with a wide area Severing curse that bisected two opponents. In Neville's peripheral vision, he saw Sirius' teeth bared as he fired spell after spell on the Death Eaters who were flailing about; the blood covering half his face gave him a ghastly expression that made more than one Death Eater shrink back from the bloodlust of the Lord of the Blacks.
At his side, Susan was shrieking while she attacked. He knew of her history with the Death Eaters and her obsession with revenge. At this point, he was all in favour of her attitude should it fuel her to fight as a Valkyrie. Remus was all business as he dispatched opponents with seeming aplomb. He couldn't see Hermione, but heard the effects of massed spellfire so he assumed that she was over his right shoulder. He didn't give her another thought. Hermione was one of the best fighters they had.
It seemed that it was just a few moments later the Pride was surrounded by dead bodies. After a quick count to see that the five had killed twelve, he nodded. Surprise and coordination had done the trick. Remus was trying to heal the wound on Sirius' head, but based on the grey haired wizard's muttering, was unsuccessful. Hermione was healing Susan's shoulder, which, by the way she was holding her arm, had been dislocated.
Once the healing was complete, they moved on to business. "Sirius, you and Hermione clear the first floor. That's where the leadership should be. Remember: capture if you can. Neville, you and Susan move to the first floor landing as covering fire. I'll be at the foot of the stairs looking for rear guard action," Remus ordered.
Without thought, the Pride moved to the stairs. Neville was third in line behind Sirius and Hermione. Looking up the stairs, he saw movement before reflexively shouting, "Down!"
Hermione didn't move. A large sweep of her wand sent a wide pulse of red magic up the stairs, catching Sirius as it proceeded. She caught her adopted father as he fell moments before a double thud-thud sounded from the first floor.
Neville exhaled loudly as his friend wakened Sirius. "Handy, that," he joked. The rest of the Pride smiled tightly.
"Neville, you and Susan upstairs first. Hold at the landing. Sirius and Hermione, leapfrog them to the first floor. Let's find out who are friends up there are," Remus ordered. Neville was calmed by the confident, competent orders of their temporary leader. He didn't inspire Neville to insanely brave acts like Harry did, but Remus was a more than acceptable substitute.
Twelve steps later, Neville pressed himself to the wall opposite his lover as Sirius and Hermione sprinted up the stairs. Their expressions of focused ferocity combined with flowing hair were intimidating – and they were on the same team.
At the top of the stairs, the pair stopped with a puzzled hesitation. After a long moment, Hermione called, "All clear. There're friendlies up here."
Charlie Weasley devoted his life to the care and study of magical creatures. Somewhat a romantic, he saw the focused nobility in the massive dragon. He saw the humanity on the alien looking merpeople. He didn't see, however, any redeeming qualities in the Basilisk, the Cockatrice and the Manticore.
At this moment, he most especially disliked the Manticore as a species. The Manitcore that was trying to chew on his bloody leg was in particularly loathsome.
After Harry had amputated the scorpion-like stinger from the tail of the beast, he'd been knocked silly. Seeing an opportunity, Charlie had rushed the beast, hoping for a killing blow to its neck.
"Stupid, bloody Gryffindor," Charlie muttered as he finally wrenched his leg free of the jaws of the Manitcore. Grimacing as the Manticore chomped on Charlie's detached greave, the redhead limped backward, his leg fractured in the attack. He scowled as the Manticore busied itself trying to devour his greave. He'd spent hours enchanting that bit of steel and the resistance to the Manticore's jaws seemed to infuriate the beast. Not only had he lost a favourite piece of armour, but it was currently aggravating a beast he most especially didn't want to aggravate.
Shifting the vambrace on his left arm as he hefted his axe, Charlie nearly didn't see his almost-sister-in-law's approach. Fleur's attack was unexpected, but nonetheless welcome. Over the top of the distracted dark creature, he saw her appear, but she didn't look anything like the woman he'd known for over a year and whom his brother was desperately in love.
Her hair was still short, but her face had a feral look to it that was disturbing. Even more disturbing was her hands that'd distended into raptor like feet with wickedly sharp talons protruding from the ends. She gave him a glance and for a moment, he saw the kind, compassionate woman he'd known in the predator's face. Leaping on the back of the Manitcore, she slashed at the back of its neck twice before the beast reacted.
Furious at the temerity of the attack, the Manitcore savagely turned on its attacker. With a twisting leap, it pinned the partially transformed Veela to the ground. As saliva dripped on the writhing woman who was desperately trying to escape her attacker, Charlie leapt forward. His axe held high, shouted his inarticulate war cry.
Unfortunately, the axe bounced off the hard skull of the Manticore like so much rubber. In the rebound, it also went flying off into the darkness.
One again, the Manticore was distracted from its prey. Turning on Charlie it snarled.
Between Charlie, Fleur and the Manticore, though, they'd forgotten something.
As Charlie saw his death approaching, he fearfully cast about for a weapon of some kind. His axe (with the wand in the haft) was a good ten feet away. It might as well be on the moon. A few small sticks were lying about but, otherwise, Charlie was amazingly unarmed and alone.
As he began to consign his soul to the hereafter, something quite amazing happened. His brain was working faster than it'd ever done. Perhaps it was a defence mechanism, but he processed his vision instantly, but none of it made sense.
The Manticore was arrested in its advance for no seeming reason.
In his peripheral vision, Charlie could see Fleur just starting to rise, so she wasn't the cause.
Suddenly, the tip of sword sprouted from the mouth of the stunned Manticore.
.After a shuddering spasm, it fell to the ground with a loud thump revealing a panting Harry, his sword held in both hands after his long delayed remise, blood covering the blade.
Now, it all made sense.
"Alright there?" Harry asked nonchalantly.
Snorting, Charlie flopped flat on his back his armour clanking. "Absolutely fabulous here, ducks."
Hermione pounded down the path to the rendezvous point, two transfigured Death Eater leaders in her pocket. Convincing Oliver and Katie to surrender their captives hadn't been easy, and they'd not had a lot of time to spare. Annoyed at Remus' logical explanations and arguments for why the Pride needed the captives, she'd interrupted the lycan while scowling at Oliver.
"We're taking them," she growled while loosing the hold on her magic.
As waves of wild magic assaulted all around them, she saw the former Gryffindor keeper wilt as he whimpered, "Sure, take them."
Nodding curtly, she made a succinct wand movement to first transfigure Lucius Malfoy and then Rudolphus Lestrange into rubber balls. She found it poetic that they both shared the same fate as the lovely Bellatrix.
"We're leaving. Come with us and we'll get you out. On your own, you'll be dead," she observed dispassionately. She was feeling an overwhelming urge and need to be gone from Roundhay House.
Oliver and Katie didn't reply verbally, but followed Hermione and Sirius down the stairs, past Neville and Susan. Hermione briefly told Remus, "We've the prisoners we needed. These two will egress with us. Let's rendezvous."
Hermione couldn't put it into words, but now that the immediate danger had passed her over, she was terrified for Harry. The urge to be with him was strong; to protect him when he couldn't protect himself due to the enchantment that gave him his sword fighting ability. Nothing else really mattered at that moment. All that mattered, her reason for existing in that moment was to return to Harry.
She ran faster.
The pounding behind her was accompanied by gasps, but at her right side was Sirius. His long loping strides matched her rapid footsteps. He didn't look at her, but matched her pace and intensity. A heartbeat later, Neville appeared on her left side; his expression matching her own. Her two self-appointed guardians flanked her every move. Apparently, Susan and Remus were shepherding the less fit Oliver and Katie.
They left the path just as they entered the meadow where she'd left them to face the Manticore. Where she'd left Harry. Her eyes saw for along minute what she didn't quite understand. The large corpse in the centre of the grass finally resolved itself as the dead Manticore causing Hermione to smile widely. If it was dead, then Harry had won. There was no other option. Looking left and right, she saw both Sirius and Neville smiling at the dead beast.
"Come on, let's go," she urged in a more friendly tone. Her pace less of a sprint but still moving quickly, she and the two men rapidly pounded through the woods to the rendezvous point. Rounding the bend, she saw the most magnificent sight she'd seen in years.
Harry was in the middle of the path, his sword in hand and waiting for her. His recognition of her and the other two melted to a happy grin as he sheathed his weapon before holding out his arms to her. He knew what she wanted as she launched herself through the air to him. His strong arms wrapped her up as her long legs wrapped about his waist.
She heard Remus and the others arrive, but ignored them. Harry was present, real and alive and that was all that mattered. Inhaling deeply, she thought she might get drunk from his scent. She giggled when she felt him breathe deeply of her scent as his arms tightened around her.
"I love you," he murmured.
"Love you, too," she replied. Rubbing her hand on his back and up into his hair, she added, "So very much."
1. I own nothing. Thanks to all who reviewed the first twenty eight chapters of Last Casualties. Story status, as always, can be found on my Author's page on . I update the status on Mondays. Most of the time.
2. The recommendation for this chapter is Still I Rise by Lisbeth Lou Who. An outstanding story of a Gryffindor Harry and Ravenclaw Hermione who fall in love during fourth year. Check it out and review. Also, if you're a German reader, Thorrus has begun to translate Partners into his native language. I'm very honoured that Thorrus considers my little story to worth the effort. Thanks!
3. NATO was formed in 1949 while the Warsaw Pact was formed in 1955, which I've always found to be an interesting little factoid. Not necessarily the dates, but the order in which they were formed. It's not the first opposing treaty groups to stare at each other across the central European plains. The Allies and the Axis were preceded by the Triple Entente and the Central Powers in recent history. If you don't know what any of those alliances were or why they were important, I believe I'll weep for the state of your education system.
4. Just a big thank you to all the folks who read my stories. Since I posted chapter 28 of Last Casualties, three of my stories have surpassed a million hits: Partners, The End and the Beginning and The Last Casualties. Many thanks from a humble scribbler.
5. Yes, there is a Baron Milner of Leeds, and he is 'of Roundhay' (a large suburb of Leeds to the northeast). Currently, the 3rd Baron is sitting with no heir to the Barony. My Roundhay House is modelled after the real life 'The Mansion' in Roundhay.
6. I'm usually one for dialogue and showing the interactions between characters to illustrate the scene. In a battle like we had here, dialogue is not happening, so you got more exposition than I think I've ever done in a chapter. Instead of dialogue, though, I tried to replace the interactions between characters with the mindscape and thought processes of the characters. Hope it worked and didn't get too boring. It was fun writing.
Chapter complete 7/15/14