The suburban street was quiet, the standard morning routine of its inhabitants broken only by slight curiosity towards the white van that was parked across from the house belonging to those teenagers who were always having parties at unholy hours. In time, children left for school, parents for work, and the street was left deserted.
The sliding door on the van opened abruptly, a tall, heavy built man in a dark suit striding from it. He stopped in the middle of the street, bracing the automatic rifle he carried against his shoulder. Grasping the secondary trigger, he squeezed it gently, launching a grenade at the front door of the target house. The blast destroyed the door, its frame, and part of the wall it had stood in, leaving a hole in the front of the house. Several slivers of wood and glass clattered to the bitumen, having come to a halt mid air as they flew towards the armed man, who ignored them as he stood his ground.
A girl who couldn't be more than fifteen burst from the house, lips drawn back in a snarl. The armed man fired a burst that hit her centre mass, sending her to the ground as her features began to slough off, revealing a greasy, bat like creature with wrinkled, misshapen skin. A window on the second story of the house shattered as a hail of bullets tore through it to rain down on the man in the street. Unconcerned, he waited patiently, and a single round went through their skull; he watched as the corpse fell through the window and rolled across the lower level roof, tumbling to the ground. The gunman looked down at the handful of squashed bullets lying on the ground before him. They would have hurt.
The street was quiet again, as it would have been for any outside observers all along. Another figure, an equally imposing woman, stepped from the van with a similar rifle in her hands.
"Your wizard does good work," she appraised as she knelt, uncaring of keeping her tailored grey suit clean as she inspected something on the road.
"He knows his craft," the man acknowledged as he rested his rifle on his arm, the pair apparently taking a break from their assault on the house.
It was at that point that the upper level blew out in a fiery explosion, setting off a nearby car alarm.
"He could learn some subtlety, though," the man sighed.
"Subtlety is not something I would expect from him," the woman replied as she produced a knife from her belt, digging the object of her attention from the road.
"That hurts, guys. It really does," a new voice announced in a mournful tone from behind the pair. Having not sensed his approach, they tensed briefly, before recognising the voice.
"You were supposed to burn it down, not blow it up, Potter," the man frowned.
"Hey," Harry protested. "It's burning."
"Hendricks is right. You blew it up," the woman told him.
"That'll be enough from you, Miss Gard," Harry wagged his finger sternly, which she ignored completely.
"You've chosen an interesting medium for your runes," Gard observed, cautiously holding up an object she had pried from the bitumen. It was a small chunk of quartz, inscribed with strange writing.
Harry shrugged. "I could've used something like malachite, but it didn't need to be good, just good enough."
Gard made a non-committal sound, handing the stone to Harry carefully. She tensed when he threw and caught it absently, giving a careless wave of his wand to summon another three stones from the ground and into his hand, dropping them into his pocket.
"What?" Harry asked, noting her concern. "It's not like they're going to explode or anything."
Two SUV's burst through the flimsy wooden garage door, peeling down the street. Hendricks brought his weapon to bear immediately, opening fire with a tight cluster of shots and taking out the rear left tyre of one of the vehicles. It careened from side to side briefly, before its driver brought it back under control and continued to pick up speed.
Harry reached out and grasped the second SUV with his magic, shaping it to his desire. Its occupants were greatly shocked when their vehicle morphed into an enormous squid, tentacles grasping them tightly. One passenger tore free immediately, screeching as it shed its flesh mask, only to be put down by another accurate shot from Gard. Between the squid and the gunfire, the escapees of that car were dealt with quickly.
"You were supposed to clear the house," Gard said, glancing at Harry.
The magician scowled. "I did. Thoroughly."
"Not thoroughly enough," Hendricks suggested, heading for the van. "We need to finish the job."
"You chase them down," Harry directed, turning to the burning house. "I'll take care of whoever sent them out as a distraction."
Hendricks nodded as he took the drivers seat, Gard standing in the open area behind him. She closed the sliding door as they accelerated away, leaving Harry to advance towards the house. There had been naught but corpses left before he blew out he upper story, and the escapees had to have come from somewhere, which meant a hidden room, possibly warded. A charm to reveal human presence within the burning building revealed it to be empty-save for a block of nothing standing in the middle of the house.
Raising his wand above his head, Harry brought it down with a harsh gesture, channelling the annoyance he felt through his magic. The burning roof shattered inwards, flaming beams and hot metal spreading the fire to the so far unaffected parts of the building. His manner greatly exaggerated, the magician flicked his wand to and fro, like a conductor guiding an orchestra of flame. The focus of his ire was reduced to rubble, save for one section, in short order; the neighbouring houses were left untouched.
Striding across the street, Harry approached the single wall of the house that had refused to fall under his attentions. Despite appearing to be a simple hallway drywall, the only damage it has sustained was a slight blistering of its paint. A quick gesture and the heat of the flames were but a cool sensation against his skin, allowing him to approach the wall amidst the still burning house. He paused some metres away from it and raised his hand towards it, as if judging something. The wall gave off a similar feeling to Dresden's house, only nastier and more pronounced. Extending his senses, Harry could feel what had to be wards extending below ground—he had found a panic room.
It was time to knock on the door, and Harry did so with a wave of concussive force. The wall shuddered, but remained standing. The magician paced around the undamaged structure, taking in every detail. The heat of the burning house continued to show in small blisters in the paint work, but otherwise had no effect.
The wards around the panic room pulsed suddenly, and Harry Apparated away instinctively. He reappeared across the street, just in time to see a beam of energy lance out and pierce the ground he had been standing on. The fire eating away at the rubble was snuffed out, wooden beams shrivelled and aged and metal struts rusted away in an instant. Apparating back into the apparent range of the deadly ward, Harry waited in tense expectation for another attack. Several long moments dragged by without response, and Harry remained on guard. After what seemed to be an interminably long wait, the wards pulsed again, and the magician Apparated to the other side of the warded wall. A second lance of energy surged towards his new location immediately, and he smiled, even as he Apparated back across the street once more. The wards around the panic room settled once more, and Harry reached into his pocket to retrieve the rune engraved quartz stones he had stowed there earlier. Spinning on his heel, he set about testing his newfound suspicion.
Working quickly, Harry crouched before the panic room wall and set about planting the first two pieces of quartz. Sealing them into the rubble with a tap of his wand, he Apparated to the other side of the wall and began to place the second pair, taking care to keep them exactly the same distance apart as the first pair. Satisfied they were in place, he waited for the panic room wards to activate, wand hovering inches above the runic stones. The wards pulsed, and Harry reacted.
As a bolt of energy lashed towards him, Harry fed his magic into the runic stones, activating the connection between the four of them. Death was half a second away when he felt his own ward spring into being, and he Apparated back to the other side of the street, before turning to survey his handiwork.
The ward around the panic room was flickering intermittently as it fought against his own, weaker ward, and Harry took his chance.
Exploiting the split second gap in the wavering wards, Harry Apparated inside the protected wall. Fighting the disorientation brought on by the blind jump, he fell awkwardly, the dark stairs he found himself upon proving treacherous. He tumbled down the stairs, coming to a painful stop against a door. Blinking dazedly, he staggered to his feet, one hand braced against the stairway wall. The door the magician collided with suddenly opened inward, a snarling vampire standing on the other side, draws dripping with its addictive saliva. It lunged for its distracted prey, only to be met with an instinctive blasting curse. The spell clipped it on the shoulder, sending it tumbling arse over tit into the room beyond.
Regaining his focus in the wake of the attack, Harry stalked into the panic room, intent on finishing the vampire. It seemed to glower at him as he neared, but made no attempt to defend itself. Stepping through the threshold, Harry discovered why, as he was blindsided by a second vampire; the creature had been lurking to the side of the entrance. He was struck heavily across the ribs and lifted from his feet, wand tumbling from his fingers as he flew through the air. His flight was brought to a premature end by a stout brick wall and he wheezed breathlessly as he slumped to the ground. He had time to blink once before the first vampire was upon him again, claws raised high for a stroke that would take his head off.
Muscle shifted, skin rippled and bones thickened as sixty kilograms of fragile human became one and a half tonne of angry polar bear. The vampire's victorious expression morphed into one of surprise and fright as the sitting bear leaned forward to seize its head and a chunk of its torso in its powerful jaws, clamping down with a brutal crunch. The prey burst like an overfull balloon, blood soaking the white fur of its killer.
Coming forward off its haunches, the massive bear took a step towards the vampire that had thrown it across the room. Its prey froze in place, fear and uncertainty radiating from its posture. As easily as slipping off a coat, Harry his shed his animal form mid stride and summoned his wand to his outstretched hand, twirling it between his fingers as if to reassure himself of its presence.
"Now," the magician began, an ill boding smile on his face. "Let's have a little chat, shall we?"
The vampire spat at Harry from across the room, and the magician slapped the wad of potent saliva off course with a sweep of his wand. His smile dropped.
"On second thoughts, I can't think of anything I'd care to hear you say," Harry told his foe detachedly.
He gestured, and a blur of light shot across the room, too fast to avoid. It hit the vampire in the midsection, and for a moment, nothing happened. Then the creature began to shift uncomfortably, before it screamed horrifically, steam beginning to rise from its skin as the stolen blood in its veins began to boil. The vampire fell to the ground, writhing in agony as it bled from every pore and orifice. Black, wrinkled skin sloughed off as its frantic movement slowed, and then it was still.
His enemies dead, Harry looked about the room. It was plain, bare of any adornments on its brick walls save a simple wooden shelf that was mounted on the wall opposite the stairway entry. Perched on the shelf was a deceptively ordinary clay pot. Its potential value was hinted at only by the runic circle of vaguely Arabic characters that ringed it on the wooden shelf, glowing a soft blue.
Curiosity roused, Harry reached for the pot, his hand about to pass over the glowing circle, when he paused. The use of circles, any circles, in the magic of this universe was one of the basic pieces of wizardry that Dresden had talked with him about; usually he just threw a pamphlet containing the pertinent information in his general direction.
The magician cast a stunning spell at the pot experimentally. As it neared, the soft glow of the inscriptions that formed the circle seemed to ripple. The spell hit the circle—and disappeared, the slightly brighter glow of the runes the only indication as to what had happened.
Rubbing his chin, Harry deliberated for a brief moment. With a gesture, he severed the head of a dead vampire and summoned it to himself. Winding his arm back and bringing his leg up like he had seen Muggle athletes do in the American sport 'baseball' (a sport nearly as strange and complicated as Quodpot, in his opinion) Harry let fly with the vampire's head. The throw was off target, but would still have crossed over the circle—if it hadn't been flung back towards the magician with double the force. Harry Apparated a foot to the side, avoiding what could have been a serious injury as he was splattered with pieces of vampire. As it was, he merely scowled as he flicked his wand and vanished the gore. Vampire brain stains could be a bitch to get out of clothing.
He scowled at the mysterious clay pot. Now he really wanted it. Chewing his lip thoughtfully, the magician considered what manner of magic he could weave to secure his prize. He wasn't about to let a fancy circle keep him from what he wanted.
Considering numerous possibilities and discarding them almost as quickly, Harry stood in thought for several long moments. He was broken from his musings as his nose twitched, a familiar smell making itself known to him.
His scowl deepened. The ward must have been more effective than he assumed, disrupting whatever protections the panic room had long enough for the flames to slip through and take hold. So much for their magical protections.
Harry brightened as a workable solution came to him. Working quickly, he cut the wooden shelf from the wall, leaving the protective circle in place as he levitated the pot and shelf before himself. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same...
It was the work of a moment to charm the pot to hover at his side, freeing his wand for other uses. Unwilling to Apparate with the mystery pot and protective circle in tow, Harry turned to make his way up the stairs and out of the panic room, a blast of icy wind preceding him.
He smiled cheerfully, pleased with the work of the morning—he had killed some vampires, gotten to burn down a house and get his hands on something shiny from an enemy. It had been a good morning.
X x X
"Gods," Suzie groused, throwing herself down into a padded leather chair. "What a morning."
Around the table she had slumped down at, her boss and his favoured employees regarded her with various states of amusement.
"You have had a rough morning, Miss Blue?" came the innocent inquiry, from Marcone of all people.
Suzie's eyes flashed as she sat up to glare at her boss. "Yes. Yes I have," she said testily.
"I had not thought your work in the office to be so stressful," Marcone remarked off-handedly. "Is the décor not providing a calm work environment? I can have it remodelled, if you'd like," the mob boss finished, sounding seriously concerned.
Suzie smothered a noise that sounded suspiciously like an aggravated scream.
"Forget about the bloody décor," Marcone's top information woman ground out. "YOUR employees are the ones who need a good 'remodelling' – starting with my boot up their arse," she threatened, glaring at Hendricks as the man who was more than twice her size fought down his amused chuckles. "Shut it, boyo," Suzie demanded of the big man, jabbing a finger in his direction.
Harry snorted, and Suzie rounded on him.
"And you! Just because I made sure the police would have other things to worry about, it doesn't mean you can ride a gorram rhino past peak hour traffic screaming, 'On Tantor!'" she ranted.
As the other occupants of the office room turned raised eyebrows on him, Harry shrugged defensively. "What? It's a classic!"
Suzie subsided into a kind of half hearted, fuming silence. Despite the work he had caused for her, she couldn't deny finding his antics amusing.
"Tantor's revival aside," Marcone began, dragging the meeting back on track, "the business of the morning was a success?"
"Red Court and thralls eliminated to a man," Hendricks confirmed. "Base of operations left as a warning. Harry blew it up rather enthusiastically."
"Burned it down," Harry muttered rebelliously. Hendricks ignored him, while Gard, silent so far, rolled her eyes.
"Any police attention that might have wandered to the suburban brothel and the chase of the Red Court who fled it was diverted until after the fact," Suzie picked up. "Our only media presence for the day will appear on the five o'clock news as a curiosity piece about the deranged man who rode a rhinoceros along a highway."
"Good," Marcone nodded, pleased. "Appropriate bonuses will be deposited into your accounts and yes Miss Gard, we will come to an alternate arrangement in your case."
Suzie made an appreciative noise, while Hendricks nodded and Gard remained silent. Harry sent a curious look between Marcone and Gard, but made no comment.
"Mr Potter," the mob boss moved on crisply," You may leave for Russia whenever you will. Do you require transport?'
"I can manage," Harry shook his head. "When do you need me back by?"
Marcone gave an uncharacteristic half shrug. "When you have completed whatever task calls you. I daresay we will manage well enough in your absence."
"If you say so," Harry answered, mock dubiously. "Was that all for now?"
Marcone nodded, hands clasped on the table before him.
"Excellent! Must be off then, exotic places to go, creatures of soul and horror to slay, be back in time for tea," the Magician declared, almost leaping from his chair. He began to saunter from the room, pausing at the door and looking over his shoulder. "I'll bring you all back a souvenir," he winked, before disappearing with a loud crack.
X x X
"The incantation is 'Expecto Patronum'," Remus explained as they sat in his office. He regarded the three students before him with an even stare. "The words alone, however, will not be enough. You will need to draw forth an overwhelmingly positive memory or feeling and project it into your spell for any hope of success."
"So, think happy thoughts?" Ron asked, his tone not entirely serious. Hermione reached behind Harry to poke the redhead in the ribs.
"Were it so easy," Remus answered with a roll of his eyes. "This charm is well beyond NEWT level—impressive as your grades are, I do not expect you to master this spell in the immediate future."
"If it will help fight off the Dementors, we'll master it," Harry told him determinedly.
Remus smiled slightly at the declaration from his friends' son, before sobering. "I will warn you now," he began, "the Patronus is not a weapon to be used against the Dementors. A fully corporeal Patronus may stop a small group in their tracks, while a mist will struggle to slow even one. You understand this, yes?"
Harry, Ron and Hermione nodded as one, resolute in their desire to learn the spell.
"How does the Ministry control the Dementors if you can only use the Patronus for defence?" Ron asked suddenly, his brow furrowed.
Remus paused, stepping away from the trunk he had been approaching. "The Patronus is not the only method for dealing with Dementors, only the best manner of defence."
"Every single text referencing Dementors in the library specifically stated that the Patronus was the only spell known to affect them," Hermione stated with a frown of her own.
"A skilled witch or wizard can transfigure a prison to contain them," the professor told them.
"Professor McGonagall or the Headmaster could, but they're a bit beyond skilled," Harry argued. The textbooks they had found had talked about the Patronus charm like a weapon to wield against the Dementors, and the knowledge that it was only a shield, an imperfect one at that, frustrated him. "When Magic Isn't Enough said that Dementors are one of the creatures that can leech magic from a spell."
Remus paused, spinning his wand on his palm as he considered something. "Have any of you read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?" he asked, apparently off on a tangent. "The edition in the Restricted Section I mean, not the one made publicly available for Care of Magical Creatures."
Harry and Ron shook their heads, but Hermione nodded.
"Dementors are included in that particular edition, with a rating of XXXX. You recall what this entails?" Remus asked.
"Incredibly dangerous, requires specialist knowledge but a skilled wizard may handle it," Hermione recited.
"One would think that with no way to contain or control a Dementor, they would be given the highest rating," Remus mused, seemingly to himself.
Ron stared intently at their Professor for a long moment. "One would think," he agreed slowly.
Harry and Hermione twigged to the byplay almost immediately.
"Could the Patronus charm be enough to qualify Dementors as XXXX?" Hermione reasoned, well used to playing the level headed one when the boys began to get away from themselves with their theories and plans.
"Speaking purely as your Professor and using Dementors and the Patronus charm as an example, I would say no, a charm of similar usefulness would not be enough to lower a beast from XXXXX to XXXX," Remus said after a long moment of consideration.
"So for Dementors to be a XXXX beast there is a spell out there that can control or kill them," Ron said.
"That would appear to be sound logic," Remus agreed. "But I doubt it would be something as simple as just a spell."
"A ritual, perhaps," Hermione guessed, her eyes sharp.
"Perhaps," Remus smiled.
"You would need friends in very high places to be told about something like that," Harry said, before suddenly shooting Remus a sharp stare. "Or be an Unspeakable."
"I'd like to think that if I were skilled enough to be such a mysterious figure my wardrobe would be rather more filled out," Remus chuckled self deprecatingly under the considering gazes of the three children. "But we have reached the end of the realm of theoretical discussion, and if we were to continue we would not have time to practice regardless. Now, I have procured a boggart..."
Remus smiled inwardly as he began his lesson. Albus had not been exaggerating when he had described the thirst for knowledge held by James' son and the boy's friends. He would lead them carefully, a memory here, a vague reference there. Having the three extraordinary young minds before him working on ways to fight minor daemons could lead to great things.
X x X
Russia was fucking cold.
It might look like the country was made up of swathes of green, but that illusion of springtime was a goddam lie.
Harry Potter, wizard out of space and time, surveyed his surroundings with a wary eye. Around him, the city buzzed and hummed with far more activity than he would have expected at such a temperature. Then again, for all his travelling he had somehow never made it to Russia, so perhaps this was considered a warm day for the locals.
He drew his cloak tightly about himself as he walked through the city, drawing some measure of comfort from the traditional wizarding wear. People from all walks of life bustled to and fro around him; dockworkers rubbed shoulders with men in suits as they all made their way to whatever destination called them. For the moment, Harry was content to simply observe the city he had found himself in as he waited for the Wardens to find him.
After nearly an hour of wandering, however, Harry began to grow impatient. In hindsight, it had been foolish to expect the Wardens to know where he would be, but after the Gatekeeper's casual knowledge of things he could not have known, he had half expected it.
He strolled casually into a side alley, half hidden by the grey lorry parked before it, force of habit compelling the magician to check for bystanders. The alley clear, he produced his wand from inside his cloak and raised is skyward.
Residents of Archangel looked up in wonder as they were treated to a spectacular show of light and colour; starbursts lighting up the drab grey sky in a way no traditional firework could hope to. The short display ended with a fiery purple dragon roaring up into the clouds, before detonating in a blast that briefly tinged the sky for miles around.
Harry flicked his want at a nearby dumpster, watching it morph into a bulky, well cushioned armchair. He settled into it to wait, absently casting a charm to warm the air about himself. Keeping his attention on the transfiguration to see how long he could maintain its form would provide ample distraction in the meantime. Hopefully the local magical element wouldn't take too long.
It was fifteen minutes later that the first Warden arrived. He was a short, stocky man, and Harry recognised him from the fight against the warlock that had kidnapped Suzie's sister, May. The Warden had blocked some of his spells with a wall of earth. He was joined by a second Warden, a woman Harry also recognised, at the entrance to the alley.
The magician grimaced inwardly. If those two were here, odds were the rest of that particular squad were too. Including the crazy woman who had nearly choked him out with a piece of string.
"Warlock," a cool voice greeted from thin air directly to his side. "I didn't take you for one interested in frivolities."
Harry did an admirable job of hiding how close he had come to jumping out of his skin as the air rippled and the crazy woman herself appeared. At the other end of the alley, two more Wardens appeared in a similar manner.
"All the best wizards have a sideline in fireworks," Harry replied breezily, rising from his armchair and allowing it to revert to its natural form with mental relief. "I had to entertain myself somehow. You're all late."
"A wizard is never late," the Russian woman answered, seemingly on automatic. She cut herself off with a self recriminating scowl before she could continue, flicking frizzy brown hair from her eyes.
"Mmhmm," Harry hummed knowingly. "You know, last time we met, I never got your name."
"Hmm," the Warden leader pondered, putting on a thoughtful expression. "That would probably be the way you told us all to...what was it again, Stevan?" she asked one of her comrades.
One of the men holding position at the back of the alley answered shortly in what Harry assumed to be Russian.
"That is right!" she said, snapping her fingers. "You told us to 'fuck right off' after you slit the throat of the warlock who killed our friend."
"You're welcome?" the magician offered with a shrug. Despite his apparent lack of worry, he was watching the Wardens cautiously.
"We were not thanking you, cur," the pale woman snapped, all pretense of pleasantness crumbling away in a sudden display of anger. "Had you not been there to interfere, Natasha would still be alive. We will work with your to take out Red Court forces, but only because Gatekeeper and Soothsayer have told us to. Don't for a second think one of us will take a dagger for you."
Harry smiled at her. It was not a nice smile. "No fear. I don't expect you'd have it in you anyway. But I'll do my best to babysit you."
The senior Warden's eyes flashed at his implication. "I am Svetlana Pietrovich. My squad does not need babysitter," she spat the word like it was a curse. "We are here to watch you, Warlock."
"Nanny," Harry condemned, almost hissing, like it was a terrible insult.
Svetlana opened her mouth, an angry retort on her tongue, when the stocky Warden who had appeared first coughed lightly, drawing her attention. Her lips thinned.
"But it is time we moved forward," Svetlana told him, calming herself. "Our goal is a forest to the south. Follow," she commanded, already walking away from the alley. The two Wardens at the front of the alley were moving ahead of her, and Harry ambled along in their wake. The other two wizards took up position at Harry's back, but the magician gave no sign of being discomforted by their presence or the way their hands rested at their blades as they stared at his back.
Things were off to a fantastic start.
X x X
"That's your plan?" Harry asked skeptically. "I mean, I like the plan, don't get me wrong. Rushing in spells blazing sounds like great fun and I do it all the time, but that's because I'm me and I'm awesome."
The Warden squad and harry were seated around a rickety wooden table in a small flat several blocks away from the alley where they had met. Sprawled across the table was a large, rough sketch of a village surrounded on all sides by deep forest. Several folders were holding down the corners of the sketch; they were filled with reports written in Russian. For some strange reason, the sketch smelled strongly of chocolate—almost as if it had been drawn with it.
"Surprise is our greatest advantage here," Svetlana pointed out calmly. She had apparently put aside her dislike for Harry the instant the briefing had begun. "Were we to build wards or otherwise take action before the attack we would be facing nearly thirty demons anxious for blood and focused on battle. As it is, we will hit them when they are frustrated and likely squabbling between themselves after days of confinement."
"If you think you're up for it," Harry shrugged. He could have—would have—handled this himself if it weren't for the Gatekeeper's insistence he work with the Wardens.
"I do think so," Svetlana told him shortly. "Before we leave, introductions," she said abruptly to her squad, followed by a short phrase in Russian.
There was a moment of silence around the table before the Wardens began to speak up.
"Stevan," a powerfully built man of average height with blond hair started.
"Yuki," the only other woman said with a nod. Her bronzed skin stood out in contrast to her light blue eyes, and her bare scalp reflected the flickering light cast by an ancient fluorescent light.
"Erik," said the short, stocky man who had blocked Harry's spells with earth manipulation during the confrontation with the warlock.
"G'day," the last Warden greeted more amicably. "I'm Bruce," the obviously Australian man said. His skin was tanned and weathered, face half hidden by a salt and pepper beard, and he looked to be about forty.
Harry waved at them all with a smile, giving no indication he cared to introduce himself in turn.
"The Way will be clear in five minutes. Last minute checks now. Potter, a word," Svetlana directed, finding comfort in the routine of squad leader from pre mission jitters.
Harry followed Svetlana to the small kitchenette of the flat while the other Wardens busied themselves with their various instruments.
"Why are you here?" the Warden asked him bluntly, crossing her arms.
"The scenery," Harry answered promptly. "I'd never been to Russia before."
Svetlana's expression blanked as she stared at him. "Our goal is to exterminate twenty seven demons summoned by the Red Court," she told him slowly. "Twenty seven demons against one under strength squad of Wardens and a Warlock. If your flippancy continues to endanger my comrades, I will tear out your intestines and strangle you with them."
Harry's smile faded as he contemplated the woman before him. She posed little threat to him, but he couldn't help but take note of her threats on a more subconscious level. With her slightly frizzy brown hair and the righteous indignation simmering in her eyes, she reminded him greatly of another young woman he had once known. "I'm here to kill demons. If I had the choice, I would wipe them out alone, but the Gatekeeper insisted that I work with the Wardens lest they label me a Warlock. Don't do anything stupid, don't get in my way, and I'll guarantee you and your squad will get home alive."
Svetlana nodded slowly, grudgingly accepting. She opened her mouth to speak further, only to fall silent as Harry raised a single finger.
"Warden...don't ever threaten me again," the dark haired man warned, his usual irreverence falling away completely to display a hint of what he truly was. Svetlana regarded him coolly, apparently unimpressed, before giving a short nod and leaving the kitchenette, heading back to her squad and Harry followed, the hint of a carefree smile fixed back on his face.
"So, where are we going?" Harry asked, rubbing his hands together, finding enjoyment in the way Svetlana's lips thinned.
"It is not on any maps," Yuki answered quietly, painting something with a small brush. She was incredibly soft spoken, and Harry found himself leaning in to hear her. "It was a self sufficient village with a population of eighty one people before the Red Court butchered them for the summoning ritual." She put the brush she held away carefully, and Harry got a better look at what she had been using it for; it was a vicious dagger with serrated spikes angling backwards along its thin blade, and on its sharp edges a bright green gloss glowed venomously.
"That's pretty specific," Harry noted. "Got a man on the inside?"
"Sorta," Bruce spoke up. "When the Red Court summoned the demons for whatever nefarious purpose, they also bound them to the village so they didn't go wandering about and get themselves noticed before they were needed. The bastards didn't take too kindly to that bit of mischief, and they've been taking out their anger on the local Little Folk," he explained, fastening a feathered bracelet around his wrist. "We got in contact with them, gave them chocolate and promised to kill the demons in return for their help scouting the place."
"Little Folk are a type of Fae, aren't they?" Harry asked, reclaiming a seat at the table. Stevan snorted and the magician's gaze flicked to the blond man for a long moment, before he smiled lightly.
"Wyldfae, in this case," Bruce agreed. "They won't get closer to the demons than they have to though, so we can't rely on them to help us when we strike. Claim there's something wrong about them, besides the whole demon thing."
"Like they would be use much anyways," Erik grumbled with a heavy accent, adjusting the strap holding his sword sheath.
"One day, a small Wyldfae will do something spectacular," Bruce predicted, wagging his finger at Erick, "and I will be there to tell you 'I told you so'."
"You pick lower dog every time," Erik shrugged. "It makes betting no fun against you."
"Way is clear in under one minute," Svetlana interrupted, drawing their attention. "We have fifty three seconds to cover one hundred twenty metres on rough ground, and we will come out at the southern edge of the village," she continued, more to Harry than her squad. "Don't take stupid risks, watch each others' backs, and we will all go back to Arkhangelsk tower where we can rub our success in the face of the Brute Squad," she finished, this time definitely only talking to her squad. The Senior Warden met the gaze of each of her squad before saying something softly in Russian, and each Warden bowed their heads for a brief moment. She jerked her head at Harry and withdrew her curved wooden focus from within her cloak. A moment of concentration, a strong word and a quick gesture, and a portal opened up in what had been the door to a bedroom.
Svetlana stepped through without hesitation, her squad following immediately. Harry rolled his neck, drew his wand, and followed.
The world on the other side of the portal was volcanic, and thick smoke hung heavy in the air. An oppressive heat weighted down on everything, and the only source of light came from an immense waterfall of lava that rose above the smoke some distance away.
The Wardens were already drawing ahead and Harry broke out into a swift jog to catch up, mindful of Svetlana's comments about time constraints. He stepped sure-footedly across the rough volcanic rock despite his cumbersome robe and drew even with the more heavily armed Wardens quickly. There was no conversation, everyone mindful of the battle waiting for them at the end of the run.
As they approached the final stretch, the relatively even ground became a moderate incline, and Harry found himself breathing hard. Two thin spires of rock about head height seemed to be their destination; it was confirmed when Bruce put on a sudden burst of speed, his long loping strides eating up the distance. He knelt by the spires with a hand on each, preparing a gate back to the mortal world, and it was then that the temperature suddenly sky rocketed, an immense roar echoing across the plains. The smoke clouds above them began to glow orange, bringing more light to the dark, rocky fields.
Harry slowed slightly, turning to look at the source of the change. What he saw made him stumble, missing a step and nearly kissing hard stone.
A calamitous cyclone of fire and rock approached, a tsunami of lava driven before it. The magician very nearly grew wings as he flew over the last few metres to the spires, instinctive fear lending him speed.
"Whose fucking bright idea was it to come this way?" Harry demanded of the Warden he found himself waiting next to, the squad waiting tensely as Bruce worked.
"Svetlana's," Erik grunted in response.
"For the love of Beltane, why?!"
"It is only approach the vampires lack watch," the stocky Warden explained, having to shout to be heard. "They know what roams here!"
"Roams? What the hell is that thing?" Harry shouted.
"Guard pet. This is Summer land!"
"That's a pet?" Harry hollered in disbelief. "How the hell do you kill it?"
"Ha!" Erik barked out a laugh. "You can't! You run away, or die!"
A portal finally snapped open between the spires and Bruce stumbled back, holding the other Wardens up for precious seconds as the towering wall of immolation swarmed ever closer. The magician could begin to make out forms seething and twisting within the firestorm as they swarmed ever forwards, their shrieks and howls indistinguishable from the roar of the cyclone.
"Bullshit!" Harry roared back, suddenly burning with the desire to fight and kill in response to the base fear the calamity inspired. He strode for the portal even as Yuki helped Bruce to his feet, steadying him. Blessed coolness was on his skin and snow crunched beneath his boot as he took his first steps into the demon infested village, but his wand was simmering with all the heat of the realm he had just left behind. It snapped forth like a divine judgement, eager to be let loose.
A many limbed demon that had been casually gnawing at a human bone until the sudden appearance of the portal was caught mid leap and hurled back towards a stone hut. The hellish creature exploded in a gory shower before it could crush the hut; the many pieces of flesh and bone boiled away the snow where they landed.
"Everything dies!" the magician declared, already seeking his next target.
As the remnants of the demon's corpse melted into ectoplasm, its fellows became aware of the humans' presence. An unholy cacophany of howls, screeches and chittering erupted in pitches and tones no mortal creature could ever hope to produce. Abruptly, they fell silent, leaving the hunting cries to echo eerily for several moments before they were drowned out by an all encompassing silence.
"One down, twenty six to go," Yuki remarked, her soft voice unnaturally loud in the silence of the village.
Erik slammed his staff into the ground and stamped his foot. The ground beneath them shuddered and the Scandinavian smiled, pleased with himself. "Twenty five."
A winged beast with three heads and a wickedly spiked tail dropped from the sky, aiming to crush Bruce even as its tail lashed out at Stevan. The Australian made no move to dodge, simply staring at the demon as it crushed him—or so it seemed, as the illusion shattered and the demon found itself with a clawful of nothing.
Stevan, meanwhile, had parried the tail with his sword, and capitalised on the enemy's moment of confusion to dark in close and bury the tip of his blade into its chest. He focused, his sword glowed, and the demon exploded into a fine mist. The blond man sheathed his sword and turned a competitive smirk on Harry.
The magician sniffed disdainfully. "Hmph. My sword was sparklier."
"Mine is sharper," Steven retorted, even as he looked about the village street warily.
"That's enough about your swords, boys," Svetlana interrupted them calmly, winding a thread of something around a finger. "You can measure them later."
"Only if you and Yuki do the measuring," Harry answered, waggling his eyebrows outrageously at the female Wardens. Despite his innuendo, his wand was still out and his stance tense.
With deliberate slowness, Yuki turned her expresionless face on the magician, pinning him with a deadpan stare. Then, without otherwise making the slightest change in expression, she winked.
Erik was speaking rapidly to Svetlana in Russian, the squad leader listening intently. When he finished his report, she motioned for everyone's attention. They gathered closer, each of them watching their surroundings warily. Bruce withdrew a leather pouch from his cloak, and drew a handful of its contents, throwing them up into the air. A number of small, glossy feathers fluttered to the ground, and Harry was treated to the strange sight of an image of himself stepping out of his body to stand several metres away alongside images of the Wardens in a similar formation to their originals.
"The demons have gone to ground," Svetlana relayed, "save one pacing in the village courtyard."
"Wants to be found," Erik muttered.
"Trap," Harry coughed suddenly. "Trap," he coughed again.
"You must be a genius," Stevan remarked with a roll of his eyes.
Harry very gravely gave him the finger. "Let's just torch the place already," he suggested with a shrug.
"Your plan is flawed," Yuki said with a shake of her head. "The demons are bound to the village for the moment. Burning the village will destroy the wards responsible."
"The demons will doubtless be laying in wait," Svetlana considered. "Veiled, we could destroy many unnoticed."
"And when they notice their buddies disappearing?" Harry asked. When he bothered to make them, he preferred a few layers to his plans.
Svetlana frowned in thought. "Bruce can maintain a group illusion to spring the trap while you keeping us veiled," she decided.
The Australian grimaced, but nodded. "Might be stretching it a bit."
"We've still got twenty odd-"
"Twenty four," Erik corrected.
"-twenty four demons to deal with," Harry continued without pause. "Sooner or later we'll be in a straight fight with no advantage. Besides me, of course," he said with blatantly false modesty.
"You have a better idea then?" Svetlana asked, eyebrow raised.
"Why yes, thank you for asking!" Harry exclaimed, rubbing his hands together with a pleased grin.
His new comrades were not terribly assured.
X x X
"Nothing can go wrong with this plan," Harry declared confidently to himself as he made his way through the quiet village streets. The cold was more apparent than ever after the short jaunt over the fire plains; in the absence of human presence in the village, fragile sheets of ice had even begun to form on the stonework of the cottages.
The cold grew the closer Harry got to the centre of the village, seeping through his robes to bite into his skin. Harry shivered, aware that the illusionary Warden squad around him would fail to react to the dropping temperature. Reaching the final approach to the courtyard, he paused, casting a wary eye about. He stepped out into the courtyard proper, and the frozen earth erupted around him. A shower of rock and ice disrupted the false Wardens, and dark shapes moved towards him with malicious intent.
The magician let loose with one of his favourite spells, and a bright whip of flame flared into existence. His wand raised high, the whip coiled about him like a gymnasts ribbon, cutting deeply into the gut of the first demon to leap at him. At least two other demons were forced back to avoid Harry's attack, paying no mind to their dismembered fellow. The air sizzled and cracked, and the ape-like demon Harry had wounded was shortened by a head.
A second demon skittered around him, holding his attention. Its body was bristling with arachnid-like legs, a human face nestled at the middle of its torso. Harry cracked his whip towards it in a feint, and the spider demon flipped itself over and kept on skittering around him, a second face staring up at him from the beast's 'belly'. The magician flicked his whip behind himself in preparation, and heard the sound of crunching snow. He turned to see it, keeping the twisted spider in view. A minotaur, plucked straight from Greek legend, was keeping pace with the spider demon as it attempted to sneak up behind him, a bronze battle axe held effortlessly in one hand.
Gambit failed, the minotaur gave up all pretense of stealth and charged the magician with a bellow. It parried the whip of flame deftly with its axe, reaching for him with its free arm. From the other side, the spider creature shot forward, only to be met by a blast of concussive force after Harry cut the spell maintaining the fire whip. It flew messily through the air, and Harry turned to face the minotaur fully as it brought its axe down from not a metre away.
The bronze axe cut into thick, muscled flesh, blood welling up to mar pristine white fur. Harry growled at the demon, paying little mind to the blade that had given him a cut that was barely worse than a kitchen knife accident was to a human. A blunt claw came up to belt the minotaur across the jaw, tearing chunks of flesh away and sending it reeling. It recovered impossibly fast, already bringing the axe down for another blow.
The polar bear's neck shot out, stretching beyond what one might expect, and grasped the arm holding the offending weapon between its jaws. He clamped down hard and jerked his head, like a dog worrying at a bone, and a wet squelch echoed around the village. The demon howled in pain as it staggered back, missing an arm. Rage filled eyes glared at the great white bear as it spat the limb from its bloodied maw, regarding the minotaur with what could only be called a smirk.
The spider demon returned to the fight, landing on Harry's back with a screech, two voices blending together. Sharp claws on the end of its many legs stabbed into the bear, puncturing its hide and drawing blood but doing little real damage. Harry reared back on his hind legs, seeking to dislodge the spider creature and the minotaur rushed forward, remaining hand poised like a blade as it sought the gut of the great beast.
Harry crashed down, intent on crushing the charging minotaur under his great weight. It barely had time to slow as it realised its peril, and then more than a tonne of angry polar bear landed squarely upon it. It burst into mess of strange paste, and Harry turned his attention to the irritant on his back. Alone, it did not last long.
Shaking its ruff out, the polar bear licked the wound dealt by the bronze axe, before shedding its form. Harry muttered a quick and dirty healing spell to stop what bleeding there was, eyeing the apparently empty village centre as he did. There had been a single demon pacing in the courtyard, according to Erik, and Harry's gut told him in was still here. He liked to listen to his gut; it rarely led him wrong and had good taste in steak.
Shuffling footsteps caught his ear, and he turned to face them. From between two ramshackle houses, a humanoid figure emerged, moving without hurry. Harry swallowed as he caught sight of it, and a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature crawled down his spine.
Skeletal, overly long limbs supported it as it made its way to the middle of the courtyard, misshapen hands dragging through the snow despite the length of its legs. Its hide was pinched and drawn, stretched flat against its bones. The excess skin gathered at its shoulders and hung there like a cloak; it seemed to ripple with a life of its own. On its brow sat the object of Harry's horror: a lightning bolt scar. Black filth leaked from it, trailing down past closed eyes and a gaping, toothless mouth to drip slowly onto the white snow.
As if sensing Harry's gaze, the creature stopped and turned to face him. It opened its eyes, and the abyss stared out.
Harry staggered and fell to one knee under an assault of emotions. Despair, lust, joy, helplessness, curiosity, anticipation, hatred—the magician rode them all and more at the demon's will, a riotous roller coaster of emotion. Painfully aroused one moment and nearly sobbing in misery the next, Harry felt wrath bubbling up inside himself, and he latched onto it, making the feeling his own. He glared at the demon with the crude lightning bolt etched into its skull and spat a word:
His wand, abandoned on the ground beside him, came to life. A polar bear the size of a minibus erupted from its tip with a colossal roar, exemplifying the magician's wrath.
The demon leapt into the sky, its loose hide flaring behind itself as it flew over the charging mass of flame. The bear turned of its own volition, rising into the air to give chase to its prey. It roared again, fiery birds of prey issuing from its mouth to seek and demon.
Released from the demon's assault, Harry retched and dry heaved, wiping sweat from his forehead. From within his robe, he withdrew a handful of small, semi-precious stones, arranging them around himself in a rough square. He retrieved his wand, ignoring the heat emanating from it, and touched its tip to the stones. As he touched the last, they began to vibrate slightly, each in sync with the other. He turned his gaze to the skeletal demon that was still evading the fiendfyre he had rashly unleashed. The polar bear was still the centre of the conflagration, but it had been joined by a griffin and a stingray half its size. As the magician watched, the bear made another charge, easily dodged by the demon—right into the path of the griffin. It managed to twist out of the way, but was unable to dodge a third time, as the stingray's tail lashed it across the back; a might blow that struck it from the sky and sent it plummeting towards the earth.
Harry turned his focus on the almost sentient flames, feeling them burning at the back of his mind. The fiendfyre began to chase after the demon, and Harry raised his wand skyward.
A great force began to exert itself on the fyre; it was as if gravity had decided to wake up and pay attention to the fiery creatures. They fought the pull, their desire to consume that which they were created to devour threatening to break the tenuous hold Harry had on them. He could feel their defiance burning at the back of his mind, and the fyre roared, sensing their impending victory.
But this was a battle of wills, and willpower was never something Harry had lacked. He brought it to bear, dousing the mental thread of the spell under its sheer force. His wand cooled dramatically as he re exerted the pull on the fyre, watching it shrink as it drew ever closer.
It was a curious piece of spell work, Fiendfyre. In the hands of an amateur, it could rage unchecked for days, devouring its surroundings until it reached the limits of its caster's ability to maintain, the subtle mental connection between flame and caster going unnoticed in these cases. To the uneducated, this fyre was often mistaken as more powerful, but it carried with it a danger—the moment that delicate mental balance was broken, the fyre would seek out its caster and consume them. Harry had seen this type of fyre numerous times during the war, and it had only been due to fast responses and skilled spell work—from people on both sides of the conflict—that had prevented vast conflagrations of uncontrolled fiendfyre from ravaging the countryside.
No one wanted to be responsible for turning a country to glass, after all.
In the hands of an experienced spell caster, Fiendfyre was considerably more dangerous to their enemies. Its limited sentience allowed it to pursue and consume with ease—for as long as its caster maintained control. Few first time casters ever stopped to consider what came after it had consumed their enemies, either, and their ignorance almost always led to their undoing, for it was fiendfyre's nature to consume, and what better target than the one shackling it?
It was Dumbledore who had instructed Harry in the use of the cursed flame, the old wizard passing on his own method of dispelling the fyre, perhaps not easily, but without having to worry about the fyre seeking to consume you. It was somewhat self defeating to dispel the fyre before it had consumed the target it had been set upon, but in this instance, that had never been the intent in the first place. It wouldn't do to burn one's own soul fragment from existence, after all.
The fyre was no larger than a carriage now, having lost all defined form as it fought to get free of the well pulling it into Harry's wand. The mass of flames finally came into contact with its tip and were sucked into the instrument in an instant, snuffed out like a mere candle.
Harry rose to his feet and watched the demon stir with calculating eyes. He had met beings that wielded emotions as weapons like that once before, and he had exterminated them all. It was time to reclaim the first piece of his soul—he was curious to find out just how a daemon had come to arrive in this new world.
The wounded demon began to recover, shifting quickly as it realised that the ravenous fire beast unleashed upon it had vanished. It caught sight of its human prey standing before it without care and snarled. Its very presence caused it pain, and its thoughts, such as they were, seemed to strive against themselves in opposite directions.
The fell creature launched another torrent of emotion at the magician, seeking to liquefy his brain through sheer overload. Harry made no move to avoid the twisted magic as it roared towards him, and then it impacted—not with the magician, but with the glimmering wall of purple hued light that had sprung up from the stones he had set on the ground.
The demon paused, gaunt skull tilting in confusion as its attack was foiled. The shield in front of its prey faded away and it prepared another assault, committing itself fully.
Harry watched as the demon he faced opened its mouth impossibly wide to reveal a dark void, a whirl of negative energies forming inside it. A terrible suspicion formed in his mind, and the demon let loose.
A riotous aura of sheer emotion battered the area around the demon, and Harry vaguely felt the effects even through his protections. The demon began to rise off the ground, its flesh cloak rippling in its wake, and Harry decided enough was enough. He closed his eyes and thought of-.
An enormous silver figure burst from Harry's wand to canter around him, its hoofbeats reverberating through the earth.
A calming, hopeful aura surrounded the regal stag, the tip of its antlers more than thrice Harry's own height. It dipped its head in deference to him before turning to face the demon, rearing back in challenge.
The demon hissed and snarled, drawing its own aura back to condense it around itself, and in that instant Harry struck. A blasting curse took the demon high in the shoulder, destroying the joint and leaving the limb hanging by a few frayed and bloodied tendons.
Seeing the demon clutch at its mangled shoulder, harry directed his Patronous forward. The great stag charged, antlers lowered before it to impale the demon—only to pass through it without effect, save for further lessening of the foul creature's aura.
The beast hissed and spat, and Harry recalled his Patronous to his side. It stood over him protectively, bathing him in its aura, the aura that had once sent hundreds of lesser daemons fleeing. Without fear, harry stepped out of the protection offered by his enchanted gems and advanced on the demon—no, daemon, for that is what the foul creature surely was.
Great minds through the ages had sought to solve the puzzle of the Dementors' creation, some to find a way to kill them, other to find a way to make them better. None had succeeded, but now Harry thought he might have stumbled across the horrifying truth.
Souls, living, breathing souls bound to a creature of the Outside and driven mad by their new nature. Mere demons, summoned from the NeverNever native to this realm could never support a soul in such a twisted fashion. Only a denizen of the Outside, the void sea that lapped against all realms everywhere, could take a force so pure and warp it so terribl-
Harry howled in anguish as uninterrupted knowledge slammed into his mind, bypassing all defences. Thoughts of the void and the Outside coursed into his mind unbidden, woven in by an unseen hand. He latched onto the thread sinking into his mind and followed it—straight back to the daemon.
The daemon was spasming uncontrollably in greater pain than Harry himself. Blood dripped freely from its nose, eyes and ears, and its remaining hand carved vicious tracks across its chest.
The magician moved to sever the thread connecting the daemon's 'mind' to his, but hesitated. The thread was a one way street from the daemon's to him, and yet the knowledge and vague memories he was absorbing were intimately familiar, like a half remembered dream. Could this be a side effect of such close proximity to one of his lost soul fragments?
Gripping his wand tightly, Harry decided to find out. With a gesture, a simple steel blade was conjured from nothing. Like the wolves he had conjured to distract the loup-garou, it was magically flimsy, unreliable, even more so than his transfigurations, but here it would serve his purpose. Slowly, he stepped closer to the daemon, even as new thoughts and concepts on the nature of the void came to him. His soul fragment was attempted to return to him, and Harry was only too happy to oblige.
Harry stopped next to the daemon as it lay insensate on the ground, thrashing and moaning weakly, another victim of deep mental contact with himself. Without ceremony, the magician raised the blade, hilt pointing to the sky, and plunged it down, straight through the twisted, blackened copy of his scar on the beasts' forehead.
One last, piercing howl issued from the fell creature along with one last burst of emotion, a wave of despair. Black bile burst from its mouth in a foul torrent and harry fell, losing his consciousness as the daemon lost its life.
"...Potter. Potter. Wake up, Potter!"
Harry opened his eyes, unseeing. He blinked and the world began to come into focus, grey sky obstructed by a brunette with frizzy hair looking down on him.
"Hermione?" he asked thickly, squinting. There were spots in his vision, making it hard to focus on anything in front of himself.
"Potter!" Hermione snapped. She rapped her staff on the ground near his shoulder, runic markings along its length catching his eye.
The magician found himself enthralled by the wisps of cold smoke rising from the runes carved onto the staff. His left eye refused to focus and a headache was brewing, his eyes out of sync.
A torrent of water fell onto him, and Harry sat upright with a gasp. Wild eyed, he looked around taking in the grey cloaked figures standing around him in a loose circle, their posture defensive. At Hermione's back, a stocky man with short brown hair looked over his shoulder at him. Their eyes met and Harry snarled, a sudden rage blanketing his pains.
"Dolohov," the magician hissed. In an instant, he shed his human form and reared up in all his ursine glory. He brought his forepaws down behind Hermione, putting as much of his bulk between his friend the the Death Eater as he could. Flecks of blood and spittle splattered across Dolohov as Harry roared, and he turned his shoulder to take whatever spell the dark wizard would lead with. He drew his other claw back, ready to turn the greasy man into a red stain in the slush.
Dolohov leapt back, away from the enormous polar bear menacing him and brought his—staff?-to bear, but made no move to attack or produce his wand. Sensing hesitation, Harry lunged and struck, only to find himself paralysed, completely unable to move and even locked in his form.
From beneath his bulk, Hermione stepped out from the crouch she had fallen into when he had fallen across her. In one hand was a knot of strings, in the midst of which were a clump of white hairs.
"Potter, get a hold of yourself," Hermione ordered. "I will put you down if I have to."
Harry felt a flash of true anger, followed by confusion. He had found himself in conflict with his friends before, but never had they seriously-
Hermione and Dolohov.
Svetlana and Erik.
Clarity descended upon him like a summer squall, peeling back the new layer of his mind that had overlaid the faces of his past onto the present. Harry marshalled his formidable mental defences, an iron curtain falling over the chaos. Feeling the lack of strain against her strings, Svetlana loosed the knot holding him in place. The polar bear lowered his paw and flowed back into human form, index and middle fingers pressed tightly to the corners of his eyes.
"Potter," Svetlana said again, sounding cautious. "What was that?"
"Nothing to worry about," Harry replied with an overly cheerful grin, broad and patently false. "My mind was somewhere else. I'm quite alright now."
"You didn't recognise us and tried to kill one of my squad," Svetlana told him slowly, threads still held loosely.
"He looked shifty," Harry said flippantly. "And all you Eastern European types look the same, anyway."
"Potter!" the frustrated squad leader ground out. "You are a danger to my people and I have no guarantee you won't lose it and attack us again."
The blatant accusation that he might fly off the handle and attack his allies at any time touched an old nerve. "Regardless of what you might think, I am not here to sabotage your squad," he snapped. "You would do well to accept my aid and keep a civil tongue inside your head," the magician finished in a more level tone, before blinking. That didn't sound like him at all. "Or next time I'll let you handle the Outsider-spawn," he added, more in line with his usual manner.
As one, the Wardens turned to stare at the daemon corpse laying in the slush where Harry had killed it, the blade he used to do so having long since faded away.
"An Outsider," Stevan said skeptically.
"Outsider-spawn," Harry corrected.
"And you killed it."
Very deliberately, Harry looked from Stevan to the daemon corpse and back.
"How?" the blond Warden demanded.
"I stabbed it in the face," Harry answered airily.
"With what?" Stevan said, frustration creeping into his tone.
"My sword." The unspoken 'duh' was nearly overwhelming.
Stevan stared at the magician flatly, a slight twitch near his eye. "You're sure it wasn't just a demon summoned in its true body?" he asked.
"He isn't lying," Bruce spoke up. "I can't veil it."
Yuki gave him a faintly appraising look, and Stevan almost looked impressed.
"Whatever it was, it is dead and the village is clear," Svetlana said, looking faintly satisfied, like she had figured out a particularly irritating puzzle. "You've done what you came here for, Potter?"
Harry looked at the daemon corpse for a long moment. "Yeah, I believe I have," he said.
Svetlana nodded. "Then out business together here is done. Bruce, open a Way back to-"
A Way snapped open in the doorway of a nearby stone cottage, Bruce looking as surprised at its appearance as the rest of them.
"Well then," Harry said. "Where do you suppose this goes?"
"Wherever the Red Court wanted to unleash these demons," Svetlana said grimly.
Harry began to grin, a creeping, gleeful smile that spoke of mischief and anticipation. He stepped towards the portal and extended an arm towards the Wardens.