"I think he's coming 'round."

"Someone get him some water."

"What'd he say? More?"

Colin moaned again, licking his lips slowly as he brought his hand up to shield his eyes from the light that was too much, even beneath the closed lids. "Thor," he corrected sluggishly, "Norse God of Thunder. Marvel Comics. Fucker beating my -" he cut off, almost vomiting, but managed to swallow it back as he rolled to his knees. " - head in with a very large hammer."

"You ok, LC?" He recognized Art's voice, the tone of genuine concern, but it was the use of his unofficial rank, even in its abbreviated form, that yanked him back to the reality of their situation.

Colin forced himself to sit up, forced his eyes open even if the room swam and roiled before resolving into...a really mostly useless blur. Bad enough that there'd been no time to get his contacts in when they called for evacuation, but it seemed pretty dark, too. He took the glass of water from whoever had pressed it into his hand, sipping carefully as he tried to steady his voice into something like authority. "I'm fine. Status report?"

"We're in Greengage's." It was Jenny. "You took three, maybe four Stunners protesting the evac, Lieutenant Commander, we thought you'd be down a lot longer. The other young sixers are here, except the Slytherins. Snakes're all locked in different rooms of the Three Broomsticks by year. The fifths are in the greenhouse out back, the fourths in Honeydukes, the thirds and down in the Hogs Head with Susan, Filch, and Madame Pomfrey. Everyone's locked in good, and there's a Caterwauling Charm on the whole village."

"Shit." He took another swallow of water, accepting Art's arm to help him to his feet again and steady him as he got his equilibrium back. At least three Stunners. Made sense why he felt like so much hell, but holy mother of Tolkien did that make McG a badass. He was like, a quarter her age and fit as anything. It was like...didn't matter what it was like. He needed to think. Regroup. Art, Janice, Jenny, Salome, Gertie, Naomi and Oison with him here. Everyone else on lockdown and separated. "Status on the castle? Have they engaged? Death Eaters?"

"The streets were full of them just before midnight," Janice said quietly, "And a couple went by on brooms about half an hour ago saying that the defense was being crushed and it should be over in a few minutes…but we haven't seen any since. I think they hit them with everything at once."

"Mongolian horde tactics." Colin made a face. "Crude, but makes good sense, I guess."

"Yeah," Gertie agreed, and though he couldn't make out the expression on the girl's face, the movement was still discernible as she shook her head. "You don't have to rely on obedience t'fancy orders, and when you're just tryin' to overwhelm a few defenders..."

"Too few!" He could hear Salome spit on the rough-hewn wooden floor as she moved closer, near enough now that he could see her dark eyes blazing in anger as she gestured towards the front windows. "They need us up there, Colin! I've been watching the - you can't see much, but either the Weasley Twins have set off enough fireworks for a lifetime of Guy Fawkes days, or they're fighting like demons! Inshah'Allah, we've got to find a way to help them!"

"Fire?" Naomi offered, the tip of her wand flickering into a tiny flame like a cigarette lighter, though the blue-white tinge suggested a far more ferocious temperature. "Light this town up at their rear, make them divide their forces to fight it?"

"No," Jenny shot the idea down before Colin could even open his mouth to tell her how stupid it was. "Voldemort would just let it burn, and there's too many civilians."

"Well, we can't just -" Whatever it would have been, Naomi's rejoinder was cut off by a sudden sound that turned every head towards the hill as if they could see through the walls of their makeshift prison. It had seemed like distant thunder, but there was something horribly ominous that sent them in one scrambling mass to the windows, breath fogging the glass in gasps of horror, noses pressed flat and eyes wide.

Colin strained to see, but there was nothing except a dark haze beyond, and he slammed his hands against the window in frustration, not even caring as the right smashed the pane, embedding a bright shard deep in the unfeeling palm as the glimmer of magic kept the barrier intact. Another sound, this one a roar, a crash unmistakable in its impact even from all this distance. Jenny screamed, wheeled away from the window. "What is it?!" Colin demanded, "Someone tell me!"

"The tower." Oisin's voice was shaking, he sounded near tears. "Ravenclaw tower, she's gone."

"She's what?!"

"Gone. Down. Just -" His hands moved vaguely, miming a collapse. "Tore off the castle and...like smashed cake stead 'o stone."

"That's it!" Colin had pulled the glass from his palm, and he threw it aside, testing the spell that had replaced the windowpane with his wand before casting the tool down on the floor with a defiant look at his confused friends. "I'm giving you all one chance!"

Gertie's bafflement was palpable even through the shock as she continued to stare out at their mutilated home. "One chance to what, Sir?"

"Stun me again. I'm unarmed." He threw his hands wide, turning in a slow circle to give them the easiest possible shot. "Take me down now, take me out for the rest of the night, disable me, kill me."

"Why would we -"

"Because if you don't, Art, you're with me. You're going to help me break out of here, you're going to help me get as many of the other DA freed as you can, and we're going to help our comrades before it's too late. Which is insane, suicidal, and spitting in the face of everyone who's tried to save our precious little young lives from the big bad uglies up there, but it's what I've trained for, what I've sacrificed for, and so help me, it's what I'm going to do in the count of ten unless one of you stops me. One. Two -"

"You'll have to take me out too." Salome put her wand on the floor next to his, joining him in the same open-armed pose, head held high. "I will not see this done without me."

"Three. Four -"

A third wand in the pile, Naomi with them. "Count me in."

"Five. Six. Seven -"

"I hope you're ready with a lot of Stunners, then," Art took a deep breath, kneeling to set his wand with the others, but Jenny's hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, all of you. There's no need for Gryffindor drama. Are we DA or not?" She picked up the wands, returning them to their owners with an air of annoyance that was underlined by her height as she quite literally looked down on them. "They've underestimated us in locking us in. There are spells on all the windows and doors, but the walls -"

She was cut off by a teeth-rattling blast that shook dust from the beams and threw splinters like wasps into the air, rumbling into the hysterical, blaring shriek of the Caterwauling Charm. The wall was simply gone, Gertie's wild-haired silhouette unmistakable in the gaping hole. "Whatcha waitin' for, ya cunts?"

Girl had a point. Colin broke into a sprint, ignoring the lagging soreness and dizziness from the Stunners as he shouted his orders. "Jenny, Art, Salome, Naomi, grab the fives, meet me at the Hogshead, we'll spring the fours and go back to the school the way they brought us out so we don't have to fight through if they've got reserves up the hill!"

There was no stopping the alarm, and no bothering to try. In a way, it made Colin all the more confident as his little band ran down the cobbled streets towards the sweet shop, knowing that it would have surely brought Death Eaters down on them now if there were any to be had. Of course, that there weren't simply meant they were all at the castle, all trying to kill his friends, and that revved the heat of his blood higher with every howling pulse.

The intention had been to repeat the technique that got them out, but they were a little too enthusiastic, and the entire front display window and door caved along with the section of wall they'd been aiming at, filling the air with the sickly stench of burnt sugar and the manic squeaks of a dozen cases of crushed ice mice. Wally Bell was the first one out, grabbing him almost off his feet in a hug of pure gratitude. "We're gonna - never mind you can't hear me anyway…just come…c'mon, they're getting killed up there, we're - Hogs Head!"

It wasn't one of his more eloquent speeches, but it got the job done, and they were already out the door anyway. Out the door and when had the others joined? He'd missed it, but there they were, all of them, and there was a reckless pride in having his DA, his army at his back. A few Death Eaters had remained after all - or perhaps retreated wounded, he didn't know - but they were nothing against the damned near fifty trained young soldiers stoked to the heights of helpless anger.

They were almost off the main street when another figure came hurtling out of the shadows of the alley near the Three Broomsticks, arms upraised. "DON'T SHOOT!" It was a girl's voice, and he almost tripped as he skidded to a halt, his wand matching two dozen others as the figure dropped the black hood to reveal white-blonde hair and a green satin nightdress. "Colin -" Her hands were on top of her head as she took one more step forward, her eyes wild and hunted in the pale, high-cheekboned face of Astoria Greengrass. "Colin, please…"

"I'm sorry, Tori," he snapped, "there's no time, and we're not staying. They're getting murdered up there and -"

"I know." Someone broke a window in the upper floor of the Broomsticks, and she looked back, taut as a cornered animal. The blast of a spell followed almost instantly, missing her by inches, and Colin was proud of his troops as a single barked order from Rowan laid down a covering fire that drove the sniper back immediately.

Up on the hill, a giant bellowed, and Colin made his decision, grabbing Astoria by the arm and hauling her with them as they resumed their flight towards the Hogs Head. "You've got two blocks to explain!"

She was panting, whether from the sudden exertion of the sprint, the near-miss, or any of the other dozen kinds of terror layered over her face and her huge, ice-blue eyes, but there was a steel undercurrent to the thinness of her tone like the tang of a knife. "Draco, Colin. He's up there. He was…the Dark Lord ordered him to stay in case Potter was there, but I know him. He's not a killer. Even self defense. He won't…he won't do it…and…if someone…someone doesn't get him out…he's as good as dead."

The rumors about the night of Dumbledore's death rushed through his memory, and he bit his lip, snatching her wand away as he glanced back over his shoulder. "Field Lieutenants to the side entrances. Get Macmillan, contain Pomfrey and Filch, secure the location. I'll bring up the rear."

The soldiers parted around him, and he hung back, clutching Astoria tighter to prevent her from escaping into their midst or making any move to alert an accomplice. As he did so, he felt her wince, and he glanced down, sickened to see that his artificial hand had dug deep into the flesh of her forearm, the thumb actually punching through skin to drip her blood to the street in a fat, heavy rain of scarlet. She hadn't fought, hadn't complained, and her eyes met his in a fierce, silent retort. This is how much he means to me. I let you do this because you're my only hope.

He let go, keeping his eyes locked on hers. "I'm sorry. I can't feel it. I didn't -"

"I don't give a shit, Creevey." She'd already torn a strip from the hem of her nightdress, bandaging the bleeding wound with a disconcerting thoughtlessness. "I'm going up there with you."

His eyes narrowed, remembering Renny's courage as proof that the color of her robes meant little, but unwilling to simply accept someone into their midst who was so tied to one of their most persistent enemies. "You'll fight with us."

"I will not." She thrust her own arm at him, turning the unmarred white skin to the yellow streetlight. "Not having one myself doesn't mean I don't love people who do!"

"Then you stay." Colin started to bend her wand, ready to snap it in two and Stun her, but she fell to her knees, her plea a scream.

"NO! Please! I won't fight. Not you. Not them. Not anyone. I just want to find Draco and get him somewhere safe until all this is over! I swear on anything you want me to, not a shot at anyone unless it can't be helped and then only in self-defense!"

There was no time. He could hear Rowan's shout telling him the Hogs Head was secure, and this is what leadership meant. Making the hard calls and making them fast. "Follow me."

He did not look back, hearing her get to her feet and knowing she was right behind him as he entered the tavern, sweeping the clustered DA until he spotted the dark, extravagant head of curls he was looking for. "Vane!" Astoria's wand spiraled through the air, caught perfectly. "You've got Greengrass. She's not a prisoner, she's looking for someone trapped up there. You're her escort. She so much as looks funny at any of us, kill her. Otherwise, help her best you can. Rowan?"



"Everything's secure, sir. Pomfrey and Filch are tied up behind the bar, we've got the kids tied to…well, whatever we could work out, mostly each other down in the wine cellar. They're safe."


"Couldn't find her, Sir." The news worried him, but he shook it off. She wasn't supposed to be here after all, she'd probably already gone on to wherever Ernie lived. Best that way. This was going to get ugly. He pushed his way through the tightly packed room, pausing only to quickly ruffle Dennis' head with a kiss on the forehead and a probably unleader-like grin at his younger brother before climbing up on the bar.

"Ok, guys, this is it." He took a deep breath, grateful that he couldn't see faces too clearly. It gave it just enough unreality that he didn't have to think, he could just feel, run on training and instinct and the wonderful terrible adrenaline that was flooding him with an almost drunken certainty that this was, for all it would be hell, probably the rightest thing he'd ever been or done. That in this moment, he was doing what he'd been born to do, even if he'd never known it before now. It was time.

"Throughout history, endless blood has been spilled in the name of damned near every cause. They do it for land, for love, for money, for freedom or Queen and country or God or just because they like to kill. Armies rise and fall and bash each other to pieces in the narrow passes of Sparta or the star fields of a galaxy far far away, and for thousands of years, young people are expected to be the victims of these struggles. We're taken for slaves or orphaned or told that our futures have been burned or even occasionally 'made' to fight and that's such a tragedy."

He'd begun to pace, his footsteps echoing hollow on the wooden planking, but now he stopped, slamming his fist into his torn and bloodless palm. "Not tonight! Tonight, we decide our future, and if we die, it's not as victims, it's as heroes, and whatever reasons I might have given you before when we were all just playing war games, it doesn't matter now. We're fighting to save our friends, because they're up there dying for us."

Colin gestured fiercely out the window, then his voice, which had been building to almost a shout, dropped suddenly to something so intimate it was more a confession as he shrugged, holding out his hands openly. "There will be no glory. You may lose everything. I have already. You will see things that no one should, of any age. You'll probably die. But you'll go to whatever next thing you believe in with your heads high, with the blood righteous on your hands, and you will be able to face your God saying that you died for love, for friendship, for right and the hope that good will triumph and for every youth who has ever been forced to swallow someone else's damnation of their future."

There was a breathless silence that seemed like the whole world was waiting, and he glanced back, looking down at the two adults bound and gagged in the well behind his makeshift stage. "For the record, I think I've made our intentions plain. Now's the part where I technically ask permission and then completely ignore it when you say no."

The looks directed up at him, unsurprisingly, could have curdled adamantium. Colin shrugged. "Right then. Stupify!" His wand flared, the two figures jerked, and now his wand was in the air, the sparks blazing silver-bright into the center of the ceiling and already joined by fifty others in a blinding, deafening promise of hell to come. "DUMBLEDORE'S ARMY!"