(Author's Note) I'd like to both thank and apologize to you all. I thank you for your overwhelming votes of confidence and requests to continue this story. It was my vanity and ego that drove me to make that ultimatum in the previous chapter. Though, honestly, getting a few more reviews than 2-5 on occasion would be nice. But I promise you, now that you've reminded me of several important things that I'd forgotten about, I will continue to write and post this story until its completion. I hope you can bear with it until then for I can make no other promises, especially of when it'll be finished.
And so, without further ado…
By: Tellemicus Sundance
Chapter 1: Two Years Later
November 26, 1998
Housesteads Roman Fort, Northumberland, England (Yellow Zone)
Thursday, early morning
The sky was overcast with clouds, which seemed to deepen the cold in the near-winter air. It was a cold that was even further accented by a strong wind that was blowing over the land and steep curving hills. The overgrown grasses and field of wheat were waving lazily in the winds, giving the illusion of the waves of the sea. Jutting up through this waving sea of grassland was a thick but relatively low stone wall of ancient design and construction, one of the few remaining icons and legacies of the old Roman Empire, Hadrian's Wall. In the centuries since, it had either been torn down in sections to allow roads and traffic or it simply succumbed to the forces of nature and crumbled. But in recent times, it had suddenly received a drastic revival.
The wall had been completely rebuilt in less than two months. No one was allowed over it without express permission from one of the sentries that regularly walked and guarded it. Like in times past, the wall had been rebuilt to keep the savages and uncultured peoples from crossing over in the civilized world, but with one significant difference. It was made to keep the people of England out of Scotland, not the other way around.
For the first year or so after the Great Disaster that had unleashed dragons upon the world and brought humanity to its knees, people had been fleeing the major towns and cities, trying to stay one step ahead of the man-eating monsters. Many had inevitably drifted north, where it had been rumored that there were comparatively fewer dragons. Yet not so many of those people had actually made it into Scotland, having run into an immoveable object called Hadrian's Wall, once again erected and powerful. Leaving them trapped in the dangerous, slum-like lands of England, now commonly referred to as the 'Yellow Zone' to the people of Scotland.
Of course, if the people had actually known what was happening beyond the wall in the so-called 'Green Zone', they might've been more inclined to take their chances with the dragons.
Three such individuals who did know, however, were walking along the length of the wall. One was an elderly man with shaggy gray hair and mustache. He was dressed in a ragged and worn brown jacket that had definitely seen better days. His slacks were just as threadbare with scattered tears and holes around the knees. He was riding leisurely upon a bay horse. Dragging along behind him was a pair of red-haired young men, their hands tightly to a pair of ropes that the old man had wrapped snugly around his saddle.
The pair of redheads had to hurriedly climb to their feet lest the horse start dragging them. Not that it would've mattered to their clothes. They were quite filthy with various stains and tears. Their dragon leather jackets, though more resilient than most types of leather, had been worn so thin that they hardly provided any protection against the cold winds. Their faces and red hair were just as dirty, unkempt, and unshaven as the old man's, along with several scar imprints lining their cheeks and temples. Even so, there was no mistaking the fact that the pair was identical twins.
Laughing darkly at his captives, the old man glanced back at the young men as he gave a particularly strong yank, pulling them forward and sending them stumbling to the ground. "Watch your step there, boys. Those last few are a doozy!"
This was the scene that greeted the various Muggle guards and their two magical superiors as they entered the east gate of the rebuilt Roman Fort. The Fort was the first of its kind, a staging ground for future operations of the Wizards as they prepared to start making their move southwards to conquer what was left of England. Despite its military importance to the overall plan, it was still too early in the Ministry of Magic's campaign to invest much time and effort in it, especially considering the fact that they were still in the process of seizing total control in Scotland. The Muggles were trained, psychopathic killers who'd been freed from various prisons and jails. In return for their freedom, they'd sworn fidelity to King Arminger of Edinburgh and were among many who'd been sent to aid the Wizards in their various endeavors since Minister Weasley had formed an 'alliance' with Arminger.
"Hey, hey, hey!" the old man called out in a loud voice to attract as much of the fort's garrison's attention as possible. "Come one, come all! For the pride of my life! The Weasley Twins! The Twins! Thieves, terrorists, wizards of the worst type!"
"Laying it on a bit thick, eh?" George grumbled quietly to Fred, bringing his hands back down to his waist once the old man had finally come to a halt and dismounted his horse.
"Just smile and wave, brother," Fred answered softly, flexing his own arms to loosen his joints before lowering them as well.
Gathering around the trio was the majority of the Fort's garrison, twenty Muggles and two Wizards. One of the Muggles came forward, carrying a wanted poster that had the Twin's pictures on it. The picture was slightly out of date, lacking their facial hair and scars. But it didn't take much imagination to see that the two bound men were the same ones in the picture.
"These two are wizards," one of the Wizards, an old Auror by the looks of his wrinkled crimson robes. "How could you have possibly captured two of the most notorious thieves in all of Great Britain, Muggle scum?"
Yanking the wanted poster from the soldier, the old man bluntly drawled out. "Trade secret, Mage(1). Where's my bounty?"
"These men are now under the custody of Aurors Curtis O'Donnell and Marcus Stonewall," the other wizard said, this one much younger, probably a recruit fresh from Auror Academy. "We will take them the rest of the way. You can claim your bounty in Edinburgh."
"Sure, when Mermaids start walking," the bounty hunter growled out, not at all intimidated by the glares that the two Aurors were giving him. The old man knew that if he tried such a thing, he would only be paid half the bounty because he didn't have his captives present and with only the two Aurors' word that he had indeed caught them. Assuming, of course, they'd actually let a filthy Muggle take credit for it.
Moving forward to catch a glimpse of the poster, Fred asked, "How much are we worth?"
The old man quickly and roughly shoved him back with his elbow, before smirking and looking back to answer the question anyway. "All figured at about…one hundred gold coins."
The Twins looked at each other with open and honest disbelief.
"One hundred Galleons, that's it?" George asked, completely unable to comprehend such a concept. "After all the Manors, shops, and warehouses we've robbed—"
"A lousy one hundred Galleons apiece is all we're worth?!" Fred finished, just as flabbergasted and feeling quite a bit insulted.
"That's one hundred gold coins," the man corrected lazily, glancing back at them nonchalantly. "for the both of you."
"What?!" the brothers demanded simultaneously, their surprise skyrocketing at the kernel of information. "We're worth so much more! Don't take it, old man!"
"We're wasting time," Marcus pointed out as he began reaching for his holstered wand.
But he no sooner touched his wand than a pair of twin red beams of light flew through the air, followed by two unconscious bodies suddenly hitting the ground. The fact that the Stunners had come from not the Aurors but the two prisoners instantly had the other twenty soldiers reaching for their own weapons, mostly swords, knives, and the occasional battle-ax. But suddenly finding themselves staring at the twin ends of two wands had the same effect of looking into the barrel of a machine gun, quickly freezing the men in their tracks as they knew full well what pain and terror could be unleashed from those small bits of magical wood.
"I thought you were tied up," one of them couldn't help but to utter in confusion.
Sending the soldiers identical smirks, the Twins just seemed to revel under the looks of disbelief on the soldiers' faces. "That's because you're stupid."
With a cry, the old man suddenly smashed a glass vile to the ground in the midst of the gathered men. From the shattered glass emerged a thick cloud of red smoke that filled the area within seconds. Though the strong, cold winds were quick to blow the smoke away, it wasn't fast enough to keep it from taking effect and knocking all the men unconscious by the time it had dispersed. The only reason that the three visitors weren't also unconscious was thanks to the quick use of the Bubblehead Charm, which popped once the smoke was safely blown away.
Turning to their partner-in-crime, Fred grinned at the old man, "You really should've been an actress, Fleur! That was one amazing performance!"
Glancing over at the redhead, the old man just smiled sweetly at the compliment.
The dark clouds that covered the skies further south had progressed all the way to a thick, cold rainstorm. Strong winds were adding to the strength of the rain, allowing it to reach under umbrellas and whip people in the faces despite the hats and hoods they wore for protection. It was a storm that no one wanted to be out in if they had the choice.
Which was why it was as close to perfect cover to go 'grocery shopping' as any could hope for.
This was the unspoken rule of the resistance. Never go anyway alone, in broad daylight, or unarmed. Always stick to the shadows, stay off the streets by all means, and never ever approach anyone wearing a black cloak with silver trimming along the sleeves and hood or the armored soldiers who usually accompanied them.
The once proud city of Glasgow had fallen under new and ruthlessly strict management in the months following the Great Disaster. First, survivors of the initial crisis in London had fled north, always trying to outrun the spreading dragons and trying to find food and shelter. Glasgow had been somewhat lucky as far the shortages of food and power went. It was located on the River Clyde which gradually opened up to sea, meaning the people had easy access to fishing and naval transport. Plus, they were surrounded by miles of countryside and farmers who'd been willing to trade their crops in exchange for protection from the starving southern mobs. Had things stayed that way, Glasgow might've recovered in a comparatively short time.
But then towards the end of the summer that same year, some warlord in Edinburgh had sent an entire division's worth of troops and invaded. The warlord, King Arminger, wanted access to their boatyards, railroads, farms, and factories. His newly-trained soldiers of psychotic, freed killers had been bad enough. But what truly tipped the balance in favor of the invaders were the 'Special Forces' that accompanied them, people in black cloaks using little sticks capable of impossible feats of logic-defying magic. Word spread quickly, as did the fear and uncertainty. And though the city was quickly overrun and seized, there were still small groups of resistance hidden the many burnt, destroyed, and abandoned buildings. One such group was the small family who were moving through the sewers as quietly as they could.
The father, Neil Firstborn, was in the lead, using his left arm to simultaneously cover his nose from the sewage stench while holding the torch in his hand to light the way. In his right hand was one of the few remaining pistols that they still had some ammunition for. He was dressed in knee-high rubber boots that protected his normal shoes from the sewage, jeans and a somewhat heavy jacket that were little more than rags at this point. On his back was his youngest daughter's empty schoolbag, which would hopefully be loaded with food by the time this journey was over.
Behind Neil came his eldest child and only son, Isaac. Much like his father, Isaac was carrying his own torch, empty backpack, and small crossbow with several quivers of darts on his hips. Isaac was doing his best to keep away from the filth covered walls that were currently being drenched by rainwater that was pouring in from the streets above.
"How much farther?" Isaac asked in a quiet voice, the eagerness to leave the sewers was all too obvious in his voice.
"Another ten meters," Neil answered, having finally spotted the desired ladder to climb out of the sewer.
"Good, I can't take much more of this crap," Isaac grumbled, though he meant more sneaking around than he did the filth and stink. Neil noticed this, glancing back at his son with a disapproving look, but said nothing as they continued to trudge through the sewers.
Reaching the manhole cover, the two of them killed their torches as Neil started climbing. They knew the drill for what to do if things went sour so well that they offered one another nothing more than pats on the shoulders of good luck/goodbye. Carefully hoisting the heavy metal lid up, Neil peeked through the small opening as water began gushing inside the new entry point of the drenched street. Seeing nothing dangerous that caught his eye, he carefully lifted the lid and slid it off to the side.
As he was climbing out, Isaac moved to start his own ascent. But he was quickly stopped and jumped aside as his father let out a cry of pain and surprise, falling lopsidedly to the side. Thanks to the splashing of all the incoming water, Isaac's frantic jump aside into the sewage went unnoticed.
"And what do we have here?" a loud, snide sounding voice demanded, impossibly being heard over all the din of the water.
'Mages!' Isaac thought in panic. No sooner had he turned to run than a great serpent of pure flame was shot through the manhole and quickly began to expand in the limited space available. Isaac waded as fast as he could in the deep sewage, but the demonic flames were relentless and quickly overtook him. With a cry of agony, Isaac was quickly burnt alive before collapsing into the sewage water where, even if he managed to survive the flames, he'd die most assuredly.
"ISAAC!" Neil shouted in despair as he watched the glow of the fires slowly die away as they moved deeper into the sewers. He quickly lost sight of the flames as the mage who'd launched them turned him over so he couldn't see the manhole opening. "DAMN ALL YOU MAGES TO HELL!" That was all he managed to scream out before being magically silenced.
"Was that really necessary, sir?" a young man's voice asked.
Glancing at it, Neil was treated the sight a young man with shockingly white-blonde and sharp facial features looking towards an older man with slight annoyance and confusion. The young mage, scarcely older than his own son, was dressed proudly in the telltale black and silver cloak of a mage. If that wasn't proof enough, the magic stick he was holding towards Neil (likely the source of the magic that had paralyzed his body) made it even more obvious.
"Yes, Malfoy," the older and more heartless man answered as he turned away from his handiwork to gaze down at their captive with a sickly sneer on his broad, strong face. "We must crush all rats who try to scurry about and hide from us. If we don't, they'll eventually come back to make problems for us later. Besides, we only needed one to interrogate anyway."
Though the young blonde didn't answer, it was clear even to Neil that he still didn't entirely approve of the unnecessary murder. Seeing this, the older man's sneer just deepened slightly as he said, "Don't worry, you'll learn to enjoy this. Black Watch does all kinds of dirty jobs, young Draco." Turning to Neil, the man pointed his magic stick forward and said, "Imperio!"
As he was suddenly filled with a truly blissful happiness that wiped away even the overwhelming grief of his beloved son's abrupt death, Neil heard a distant voice telling him to tell it all he knew about the remaining resistance in Glasgow and where they were hiding. And he told them…everything. The last thing he saw was a blinding flash of green light as his body was kicked into the manhole to rot with his son.
London, England (Black Zone)
The once great city of England was little more than hollowed out, charred ruins of buildings, vehicles, and sun-bleached skeletons. Fires burned in random places, sending up a near-constant blanket of smoke and smog, staining the buildings with its odor and ashes. Wandering the streets at their barest whims, bumping into stray buildings and adding to the damage, were many hundreds of Hebridean Black dragons. Was it any wonder why the inhabitants of Great Britain called London by several new names, like Hell on Earth, Area 666, the Dragons' Lair, and (most popular of all) the Black Zone?
No human lived in the city or its suburbs anymore, not for almost a year now. Nor had anyone been able to live within a thirty mile radius of the Black Zone, it was suicide to even approach the former city. The dragons had thoroughly and completely taken over and transformed it into their new nesting grounds. The abandoned buildings served magnificently as sheltered and hidden nests for their eggs and hatchlings.
Yet that didn't stop one adventurous and motivated soul from braving its ruins. He had a slight advantage over the thousands of Muggle survivors who'd repeated tried to enter the city over the past few months. That being that he could hide himself and his scent so thoroughly that finding him would be no easy feat. He was an old, powerful, and highly-skilled being of magic.
With the Elder Wand held at the ready, Dumbledore kept half his attention focused on his surroundings. The other half was on the ruins in front of him. The old Black home, Grimmauld Place, had been long destroyed like the rest of London. Its contents burned and left to the whims of nature and the dragons. He had only been back here once since the Great Disaster, that was to find and bring the young boy hiding within to safety before the dragons arrived. But he never found the boy.
The boy had disappeared and not even the Tracing Charm that Dumbledore had applied to his glasses could locate him. Though worried that he couldn't find Harry, Dumbledore found that he wasn't too concerned about his life being in danger. After all, the boy was destined to battle with Tom Riddle as well as possessing a piece of the Dark Lord's soul within himself. Whether he would live or die was yet to be seen, but until that happened, Albus was sure that the boy would and likely could survive even the most impossible situations. The prophecy guaranteed that, at least. But it wouldn't hurt to give the Light a bit more of an advantage.
This was why Albus was here in the feared Black Zone, alone. He was searching for the one last Horcrux that he could still destroy without directly confronting Voldemort. It had taken these past two years, researching into Tom's past and his mind frame, and searching the likely locations for where he'd have hidden his soul fragments.
The previous Horcrux had been a truly dangerous one; hidden in a cave, on an island surrounded by Inferi, and protected by a potion to weaken the drinker. And even after they'd bypassed all the protections, the Inferi still attacked. Alastor Moody had volunteered his services to Dumbledore on that journey and it had turned out to be his last. Though he managed to get the weakened Dumbledore and the Horcrux locket safely away, he had been too grievously wounded during the fight with the Inferi, dying shortly after they stumbled into the Order's hideout. His sacrifice was a truly commendable one worthy of being remembered for ages to come, but it had ultimately turned out to be for naught. The locket they'd recovered had been a fake.
Still, using the clues it had provided and some time to contemplate as he recovered, Albus had realized that he'd only known of one person in Voldemort's previous campaign who'd gone by the initials of R.A.B. It could've only been Regulus Black, Sirius' brother.
Carefully picking his steps as he crossed over the threshold, Dumbledore looked about the building. The inside was just burnt and putrid smelling as the rest of London. Ironically, the place on the staircase where the painting of Sirius' mother had been permanently hung was still relatively in one piece. Though the portrait itself had been incinerated in fires long past, the blackened portrait frame was still securely bound to the wall, incidentally holding it in place and together.
Just as his eyes were starting to slide past, he noticed something peculiar at the foot of the portrait. Moving forward to inspect it, Albus found himself staring at the bleached skeleton of what could've only been the Black family's old House-elf Kreacher. It seemed that the old, vile creature hadn't been willing to flee the house when it was being attacked, too loyal to its past occupants.
"I hope you found your peace, little one," Dumbledore quietly uttered to the skeleton in respect for its passing.
But as he was staring it, he noticed something. There, clenched in its bony fingers, seemed to be a rusty and charred chain of some sort. Curious, he gently and carefully reached forward and pried the bones apart to extract the chain. Pulling the chain up, he noticed something slide off the broken end of it and drop unceremoniously to the ground.
Picking it up, Albus couldn't help but blink in surprise. It was the Horcrux! He honestly hadn't expected to find it so quickly and easily. Especially after the disaster the previous mission had been in comparison! Eyeing the jewelry piece carefully, a smile of relief broke across his old face as a small sigh escaped his lips. The locket was long broken, missing a sizable piece of the bottom half and it's once pristine surface was blackened, likely by dragon fire since normal or other magical flames were nowhere near powerful enough.
"Just two more now," Albus said, returning the broken locket and chain to Kreacher's grasp. If his guess was right, all that remained were Tom's snake familiar, Nagini, and of course Harry. "And then Tom himself."
It wasn't until he noticed a dark shadow moving across the ground around him that Albus noticed something he'd forgotten about. Looking up unsteadily, his fears were confirmed as he caught sight of the massive form of a Black dragon looking down upon him from over the destroyed door frame. There was a look of clear and obvious hunger in its eyes as it stared at him.
Any wizard's first response to such a situation would've been to teleport to safety with Apparation. But, even in its present state of destruction, the old Grimmauld Place's numerous ancient wards and charms still held their power and influence, meaning that Albus was trapped within its confines with a hungry dragon bearing down on him.
"Oh crap," Albus' muttered complaint summed up his situation perfectly.
That day, a very old and powerful wizard met his unfortunate end.
(Author's Note) I must say that if nobody can guess what inspired the Twin's scene, I'll be VERY surprised! The scene with Draco and the Muggles was inspired by the pilot episode of 'Falling Skies'. Tell me, did I do this chapter any justice? Is it a good, bad, or horribly boring opening for the story?
1: The term that the magical folk prefer to be called is of course 'Wizards/Witches' but the Muggles have adopted the slang of referring to them as 'Mages'. And the fact that wizards truly despise being called that name only reinforces the Muggles' use of it. It's a type of subtle resistance against their magical oppressors.