The Snow Queen day 3 part 1-Murphy's Law
A/N: I'm sorry, but there was simply no way that I could fit the whole of day three into one chapter. I gave it a go and, well, it's a bit... Big. I cut down as much as I dared, but it's still one of the longest chapters I've ever written. It's a fun read, mind, so enjoy. The rest will come along soon-ish.
Oh, and this is where the story lives up to its rating. Violent murder, mention of suicide and other brutal, soul-crushing things abound. Well, now that I've spruiked the story, on with ye!
This is Day Three. A little girl is lost in the dark. A young woman who found happiness in a brutal, violent world sleeps as her injuries heal. Men, slaves to someone who had become less than a man in death, moved with violence in mind and wands in hand. And a young woman finds herself despairing as the youngest of those she'd promised freedom to is found missing.
This is Day Three, where a hero is unveiled, plots unravel and the future is revealed in all its blood-thirsty glory.
And, in the midst of the chaos, one thing becomes clear; all roads lead to the Tomb of Albion and the secrets buried within.
This is Day Three, where the illusion of hope comes crashing down.
Ask almost anyone about these names and all you'll get is a blank stare. Ask Hermione, however, and the reaction you'll get is quite different.
She is twelve and has just survived the troll when Marcus Flint approaches her with an offer. He is impressed, he says, by the fact that she survived the troll. Hermione's still the bossy little bookworm with no friends by that stage and this boy has authority.
A lot of authority.
Authority he is willing to exert on her behalf if she agrees to help him in his duties.
She has spent two months in Hogwarts by that stage. She has no friends, no family, shares no connections or relations with anyone she goes to school with.
A lone little girl, lost in a castle in the Scottish highlands.
Of course she says yes.
It's only keeping an eye on her fellow firsties, after all.
It's Christmas day and she is rounding up stragglers for the day's festivities when the stairs jerk violently around. Little Sally, slap bang in the middle of the moving staircase, loses her balance and falls into the abyss, screaming.
Hermione, caught completely off guard, can do nothing but stare.
It's two hours later when Hermione manages to get to the bottom of the staircase. The castle is a lot larger than Hogwarts: A History implied.
Perks's corpse is everywhere. There are bits of her painting the walls.
Hermione's shoes stick to the dried blood as she walks towards the pile of sodden rags that used to be a student.
Gingerly, she reaches out and picks the body up.
Even with the substantial amount of Perks covering the impact site, the rest of her is plenty heavy, making it an exhausting climb back up.
Flint claims credit for finding Perks, of course. Flint gets obliviated while she's watching from the shadows.
He has lost Hermione as a future ally and doesn't even remember why.
Hermione has lost any respect she has for authority in the magical world and she remembers exactly why.
The 'grief counsellor' in front of her tries to wheedle any information Hermione has about Sally-Anne out of her. He is the same man that obliviated Flint a week ago.
Hermione has very vivid memories of Sally-Anne Perks's time at Hogwarts after witnessing the accident. Glimpses of the girl in the library. In class. In the Great Hall. Sitting in the quidditch stands.
Sally was a loner, like her. Sally didn't talk much, like she'd taken to doing. Sally had no friends to mourn her passing, in the end. And if she did, well, it wasn't like they would ever remember her.
Hermione decided that she would remember Sally, gore and all, for as long as she could.
So she sticks to the story she'd concocted for just such an occasion.
Sally-Anne Perks? Never heard of her.
Keeping the puzzled smile on her face was the second hardest thing she's ever done in her young life.
Not punching the man in the face for making those around her forget came close, though.
She discovers the mirror of Erised when patrolling with Flint's fellow prefect, Dole? Mole? She never bothered finding out.
The idiot kept blathering on about how this mirror showed the future because obviously he was going to be the emperor of all magic by the time he was twenty and marry a gorgeous witch.
Hermione remained silent. I show not your face, but your heart's desire. How annoyingly easy a riddle. Didn't he get it? How could he not get it?
She hates the mirror with a blinding, rage-fuelled passion. Because staring back at her is a small and very much alive Sally-Anne Perks, thanking her. The implications are clear to her.
She is silent, not daring to say anything. The tears still come though.
The mirror disappears some time in February. Hermione goes looking for it.
She didn't care how valuable an artefact the damn thing was. It was simply too dangerous (since it tore her heart out before showing it to her, it could do it to others, she reasoned) to keep in the school, therefore it had to go.
Months later, she walks through the flames with a determined look on her face. She didn't care about the philosopher's stone. She didn't care about thieves, Dark Lords or any other such nonsense.
She just knew that the thief was there, the mirror was there and both of them posed a threat to her and her fellow students.
Neville's attempts at potions make for fine explosives.
She wakes up in the infirmary. The headmaster berates her, then praises her. She doesn't listen.
The memory of Sally-Anne Perks waving goodbye at her from the mirror just before the potion erupted in a flash of light and heat takes all of her vaunted powers of concentration away.
Her actions are quickly forgotten by everyone except Flint and the other prefects. Hermione wonders if the students were obliviated or if they simply didn't care enough to notice.
She is thirteen and working the graveyard shift with the prefects. On the sly, of course. Apparently, she's their 'Missus Norris'. She doesn't find this funny.
The professors never bother to look and the prefects wouldn't mention her when they did. Wouldn't do for the faculty to find out just how their prefects keep catching people out after dark, right?
Enemies of the heir, beware.
Suddenly, she has worries that don't revolve around a stoned cat.
One student petrified and more on the horizon. It's all she can do to ride herd on the firsties while Percy and the others take care of those who know the score.
Hogwarts is full of scared people. The older students have some idea of how bad petrifaction is and know enough about magic to be very wary indeed. The staff have encountered worse, but cannot handle all the students and themselves at the same time.
The firsties have no clue. They stumble around, blissfully unaware of the danger they were in.
And it's not just the Gryffindors, but the Ravenclaws and the Hufflepuffs too. The Slytherins, by virtue of who they bunk with, apparently know already. She never hears a peep out of them.
Hermione would be grateful, but for the fact that she's still stuck with thirty-odd kids too inexperienced with magic to really be scared. So every time one of them wanders off, the prefects send her out to play a game of go fetch.
Hermione is thirteen years old. She is tired of magical school. She is scared of what is out there, coming for her.
But above all else, the prospect of carrying another corpse up the stairs because she was too slow and froze when she could have saved them flat out terrifies her.
So she sticks around. Endures. Protects as best she can.
Because she cannot turn away.
The duelling club is a waste of time. It also marks the end of Hermione's confidence in the ability of defence teachers in general.
The discovery of Justin Finch-Fletchley's petrified form alongside nearly headless Nick's straight afterwards doesn't do much for her mood either.
Neville approaches her, offering help.
She shakes her head, not even bothering to offer a response.
What can petrify a ghost? The answer is slightly ambiguous.
Hermione decides to ask each teacher that exact question.
None of them have one answer she can follow up on. They have several different answers, each depending on a huge number of contingencies.
This pisses her off for some reason.
She needs someone to vent to. Hagrid's the safe choice. He likes kids and doesn't mind listening to the occasional rant coming from the Gryffindors either.
So she goes to see him-and comes away with some valuable information.
Asking what petrifies ghosts is one thing, but asking about something that petrifies ghosts and scares the crap out of tropical acromantulae? That's a completely different question.
It's a basilisk.
She rushes to find a teacher, any teacher to pass this knowledge on to.
Of course, she doesn't rush blindly. She's not stupid.
She extends the mirror beyond the corner and sees-
She's months behind everyone else.
She enters her room to find Ginny Weasley crying in a corner.
She asks what the matter was.
It was the wrong question to ask.
Hermione begs off any further duties for the year, which makes the prefects grumble. She points to the shivering bundle of misery valiantly having a go at a glass of water and they back off. It's only for a month, after all.
The tale took quite a while, but Hermione draws her own conclusions.
This girl was brainwashed and mind-raped into obedience. Her very soul was used as fuel for Voldemort's attempted re-incarnation. She blames herself for everything despite whatever anyone tells her.
Hermione does her best, but she's only thirteen.
It's early summer and Hermione gets a letter from the Weasleys.
Ginny's funeral was to take place on August the first.
Hermione is asked to offer a few words in remembrance.
It is as she's staring down at the small coffin that three years of observation crystallise into a terrifying realisation.
Nobody gave a shit.
The family was in tears, mourning and crying together. Friends were gathered, offering their condolences.
But Hermione was the only non-family member who wasn't a direct friend of anyone's to attend. There were the Weasleys, some of their friends and her. No reporters, no police investigators, no grief counsellors, nobody.
A girl was dead because of actions taken by a malevolent spirit that'd almost killed a large number of students. She was possessed and forced to do things that had scarred her so deeply, she attempted suicide.
The attempt succeeded.
If such a thing had taken place in the muggle world, the whole thing would have made front page news. The funeral would have been awash with people that'd never even heard the name Weasley before turning on the TV a week ago, all mourning the loss of the girl.
Here? Nothing. Nobody cared.
She felt a cold shiver of dread run up & down her spine.
Sally-Anne Perks's family was obliviated. Hermione wasn't surprised by that at all.
She was, however, surprised that the obliviators had missed Sally's younger sister, Polly.
Polly, who was puzzled by her parents' memory loss and anxiously awaiting her big sister's return. Polly, who was called the crazy girl at school because she insisted that she had a big sister nobody could remember.
Polly, who was starting to grow bitter at the world around her because she was the only one that remembered.
Little Polly, who had an acceptance letter to Hogwarts hidden in her desk drawer.
Hermione sat little Polly down and told her what happened.
Hermione walks onto the train and is introduced to Lilith Moon, her counterpart in Slytherin. The girl looks as bad as she does.
Lilith was in this because it made life easier for her. Hermione didn't particularly care to find out what the blonde muggleborn Slytherin qualified as hard.
Hermione goes looking for Polly Perks. She doesn't find the girl.
Inwardly, she breathes a sigh of relief. Whatever else, at least Hermione saved Sally-Anne's sister.
It was the least she could do.
She's sitting in the carriage on the way to Hogwarts when she starts to remember things. Perks's body at the bottom of the staircase. Ginny's coffin hitting the floor of the grave with a plop. Justin's petrified form. Running after a small Hufflepuff girl, who'd been playing hide & seek with her friends only to get lost deep in the bowels of Hogwarts Castle, following the girl's screams of terror down flight after flight of endless stairs.
She noted the state her three companions were in. She dragged all three to the floor in the middle of the carriage and then plopped herself on top of them, hoping to shield them from whatever was causing this.
The teachers found her passed out, her body covering three second-years from the dementors that'd gathered outside the carriage.
Dementors, they are called. Other monsters, she notices, have started making their home in the lower levels.
Her job just got that much harder.
Lilith goes missing. Hermione goes looking for her. She finds the girl at the foot of the entrance to the now-infamous Chamber of Secrets, mauled beyond recognition.
She picks up the body and takes her to the steps of the infirmary.
And with that, she inherits her counterpart's charges. Harry Birthday, miss Granger.
Her first time in the Slytherin dungeons teaches her two things. First, a mudblood is never welcome there. Two, she needed to find some good weaponry quickly. Having students almost get eaten by things lurking in the walls was bad enough. It was worse when you realised that said things could get into the Slytherin dorms fairly easily.
She doesn't get to sleep much, time turner or no time turner.
The patronus charm came fairly easily to her. She had plenty of childhood memories to fall back on. Her classes were proceeding quickly. She was doing well.
She finds that time travel was/is/will be fantastic.
Her little glowing otter does little but annoy the horde of dementors attacking the quidditch match. She quickly tries the other, more dangerous spells she's been researching in her spare time.
It's not enough. She blacks out.
Rose Zeller is Kissed.
Hermione redoubles her efforts in finding a weapon to use against the monsters. She hadn't been fast enough. She hadn't done enough research. She needed to step up her game.
Because, as far as she was concerned, she was it.
Handling fifty-odd firsties was a hard task, but she managed. Due to the public nature of the attack, they couldn't hush up the Zeller girl's death.
Aurors come to the school. About the only thing they do is make her life harder.
Hermione's knowledge of secret passageways turns out to be worth its weight in gold.
The Weasley twins were fans of hers, for some reason. Beyond getting some help from them and asking for small favours here & there though, she didn't really interact with them much.
But now she approached them for help.
They turn her down.
Magical weaponry is considered anathema in the wizarding world. They also warn her away from asking for help in that area from anyone else.
Apparently, magical weapons had a terrible history to them. They tended to do more harm than good.
Well too fucking bad.
The wizarding world could tell her what she could and couldn't do when it took care of its kids.
Until then, they could fuck a duck for all she cared.
There are a number of books on enchantments in the library. She picks up the lot. A week later, they're all back on their shelves in the restricted section.
Time travel is/was awesome.
She builds her first prototype weapon in secret. She tests it out in the grassy area behind Hogwarts.
The detonation almost kills her.
Her second prototype weapon fares better. She doubted that she wanted to find out what had happened to the watermelon she'd been aiming at, however. Destabilising the fabric of reality like that was bound to be unhealthy.
Block transfer equations zoom through her mind as she replicates her time turner in runic format. She may need it some day. Emergency time travel, though, was tricky. It would take years to get right. She did not have that much time. She still tried.
She may not have that much time, but her future self might.
Funny, what time travel does to your brain.
Her third prototype did what it was supposed to-channel a spell without the use of a wand.
She had succeeded. Now, to refine the system...
The dementors attempted to invade the pitch again. Hermione set off the patronus bombs.
The monsters' screams of pain were music to her ears.
The rest of the year is a blur of dodging Aurors, frantic search & rescue tasks, scared children, things she has to hunt down & kill and maybe-probably forbidden research that could land her in Azkaban.
Where the Dementors lived.
It's an interesting time all around.
Hermione is fifteen and so very, very tired come the Christmas holidays.
She winces at the thought. Umbridge was just arrested a few days ago. She hasn't had a wink of sleep since. There were too many children to watch over, too many prefects making demands, too much effort required to remain in the shadows.
It was too much. Three years of this. She'd lost count of how many times she'd saved firsties from harm, dreamt about the times where she had just been that bit too late to prevent harm coming to them and had nightmares about all the times she remembered failing.
She absently wondered what she was doing. Was this worth it? Really? If she was the only one left that cared, what could she do?
She didn't have friends. Neville and some of the others would ask her questions and the like occasionally, but everyone except the occasional person she'd saved would actually sit down and talk to her. And even then, she didn't have the time to waste. She had children to keep an eye on, research to do, homework, everything except time to do it all in.
Three years on and she was exactly where she'd started. Alone. The younger kids looked up to her and the prefects occasionally offered a well done after a successful rescue, but that was it. To her peers, she was a weird book-loving loner who would disappear at the oddest of times. To the staff and some of the older students, she was a non-entity you could call upon to answer whatever question you had.
This was her image with the rest of the students. Very few knew any better and those few kept their mouths shut.
And now Umbridge had been ousted. Hermione was responsible for it. She was seen as something of a hero now.
Which meant that she could no longer do what she needed to do to keep up-to-date.
No more nightly patrols, discreet interrogations or alone-time with traumatised children whose shock & fear at finding out about the magical world's dirty little secrets was dismissed as 'homesickness'.
Because people were watching.
And if the wrong people found out about her activities, then Dolores's lawyers would be able to get Umbridge free on technicalities, turn around and get Hermione summarily jailed for her actions.
She had been there when they'd done it to Hagrid. What was stopping them from doing it to her?
Anonymity. That was it. And she'd blown that sky-high, hadn't she?
She watched silently as the litter of firsties entered the Great Hall. Some were crying. Some looked shaken and pale as ghosts.
Two were missing.
She bolted for the stairs, cursing herself for not being there when she needed to be.
She gets to the bottom of the staircase and is staring at a scene from straight out of her past.
Because a little girl was struggling under the weight of a bundle of rags, taking the steps one by one and crying as she went.
The sobs sounded thick and heavy in the gloom. Even the echoes sounded the same as the ones in her nightmares.
The girl looked up at her, blue eyes peeking out from under a curtain of dark-ish hair. She looked down again and resumed her walk.
"Hello." Hermione said, slowly approaching the distressed girl. "My name's Hermione Granger. What's your name?"
"Orla. Orla Quirke." The girl admitted.
"Orla. That's a nice name." She whispered soothingly. "And who is this?"
"Dennis Creevey. He-he slipped and... and..." Orla said saidly. "He's a friend, you know."
"I know." Hermione stated, remembering Colin's brother. She doubted he would take his brother's death well. She doubted he'd even remember it, come sundown. But Quirke... her, Hermione could help. "He looks heavy though. Do you want some help carrying him?"
Orla looks up at her quizzically. "Okay." She accedes, lifting the remains of her friend up to Hermione. "Please be gentle with him." She whispers.
"I will be." Hermione promises, cradling the bundle.
Orla watches as the Slytherin prefect takes credit for retrieving Creevy's corpse. She's about to storm out and hex the bastard when a hand snakes around her mouth and pulls her back. "Wait." Hermione whispers, having recognised the man the Slytherin was boasting to-Pius Thicknesse, she'd found out. "Watch."
Pius looks suitably impressed before whipping out his wand and obliviating the prefect. He passes a steely-eyed glint across the patch of shadow where Orla and Hermione were hiding, daring the gloom to disperse and reveal the interlopers. Hermione just grabs Orla's shoulder and squeezes it in support.
Hermione has a talk with the prefects. She gets them to leave Orla alone, to come to her instead. Orla... doesn't like this.
Hermione has found another that cares. Another who was going to tread her path.
And Orla was likely to die if she did what Hermione'd done. So Hermione came up with a compromise-the young Miss Quirke could do what she wanted, but she was to call on Hermione whenever trouble reared its ugly head.
Orla was a lot like her, except for one thing-Orla had friends. Friends that were willing to help.
Privately, Hermione wondered how long those friends would stick around when the going got tough.
The next few years are nerve-wracking, but bearable. Weapons, armour, shielding, gadgets, all offensive, defensive and everything in-between, are developed and built to spec in the Room of Requirement.
She wasn't alone anymore. It was her and Orla/Orla's gang.
Orla's friends call themselves the valkyries. They valiantly defended the rest of the school, wearing odd costumes and generally doing the right thing whenever possible. Odd clothing and notice-me-not charms shield their identities from all except themselves. At least, the valkyries hope so.
Hermione just watches from the background and gives them the tools to fight the battles she knew the group was fighting, smiling as Orla recovered from Dennis's death and started to laugh again.
The small pang of jealousy at seeing the young Miss Quirke's eyes when she's comforted by her friends and family never really fades. Hermione's never really had friends. It tears at her sometimes.
The memories fade as she withdraws from Hogwarts' day-to-day problems, focusing on detecting the threats coming from afar and building the means by which she could survive them.
She spends a year preparing for a shoe that never drops.
She boards the train at the age of sixteen for the summer between her fifth and sixth year, hoping beyond hope that maybe, just maybe, it was all over for her.
Hermione Granger is seventeen. She has spent the past three years putting her considerable mind towards building an array of magical items capable of keeping their user alive in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. She has also spent a very long time building magical systems capable of detecting where young children have run off to.
And now she is in the kitchens beneath a set of dungeons. A young girl, a girl Hermione'd promised she would take care of until her sister arrived, was missing. In a magical tomb full of monsters.
Orla and her friends were in Hogwarts, enjoying an eventful time keeping the darkness away from Hogwarts's guests. Cho may be alright with the idea, but Hannah definitely wouldn't be. Captain Andrews? Hermione had no idea.
Still, she had to ask. The facts were the facts. The shoe has dropped.
Granger the Search & Rescue girl was coming out of 'retirement'.
"Hey." She said, re-entering the kitchens. "I need your attention, please." She asked with forced calm.
"Yes Hermione?" Captain Andrews asked.
"Gabrielle Delacour has gone missing." Hermione stated.
"WHAT?" Cho exclaimed, panicking. "Oh Merlin no!" Cho cursed, remembering other times when kids had 'gone missing' in magical strongholds on her watch.
Hannah just grunted, not caring overly much right then.
"It's alright!" Hermione shouted over the din. "I've got the tools needed to find and retrieve her, so there is no issue here." She lied, acting aloof even as her mind counted all the ways in which the small girl could already be dead. "I just need something from you."
"And that would be?" Cho asked, intrigued at the idea of going on a rescue mission.
"Head back up with Auror Andrews." Hermione replied.
"What?" Captain Andrews asked. "Miss Granger, there's a little girl down here! There is no way that I'll-"
"Yes you will!" Hermione snapped, her hair bristling in the dim light. "You have a mission and a duty of care to fulfill towards your charges sir! And that mission is to protect the hostages, is it not?"
"Yes, it is." Andrews stated. "Hence why you're not going down there alone."
"Captain, let me put it this way-I am not leaving this place without Gabrielle, period. This is a problem, because Rose Snow is going to come waltzing through the front door of this place and she'll be extremely pissed that I'm not there to say hi to her. Which means that you, Captain, may well end up having to explain the situation to Miss Snow before she tries to kill anyone & everyone that gets in her way." Hermione stated.
Andrews nodded. Hermione smiled, happy that that'd gone so well. The Captain's wand whipped up. "Stupefy!"
Hermione didn't bother blocking the spell. The shielding wards activated, stopping the red beam of light dead as Hermione's own wand whipped out. "Incarcerous." She snapped out, the heavy lengths of rope wrapping around and squeezing the Auror painfully until he fell to the ground. "As I said before, Captain, I am not leaving this place until I've got Gabrielle back." She stated coldly. "Cho, Hannah, go." She ordered. "Take him with you up to the ground floor and wait for me, okay?" The two witches nodded. "Good luck." She offered.
Cho grabbed hold of the bound Auror and started dragging him out of the kitchen. "Good luck to you too Hermione."
Hannah just stared at her with a wary expression until the Auror's feet cleared the room. "It was you, wasn't it?"
"Huh?" Hermione asked, nonplussed. "What are you on about?"
"Remember a boy called Paisley Abbot? Skinny, got sorted two years ago-"
"-Had a run-in with some Acromantulae in greenhouse 13? Yeah, I do. What about it?" She asked, distractedly pulling her bag into her lap and rummaging through the front pocket.
Hannah gasped. "It is you." She breathed.
"What?" Hermione snapped. "What are you on about?"
"There's rumours of someone protecting the younger kids that've been making the rounds over the last few years. They say that someone chased the dementors away with a school of glittering otters, would always find the lost and the helpless, would save you from the darkest of nights, swear you to secrecy and then just... disappear." Hannah whispered staring at Hermione. "The One-who-cares, the Angel Of The Dark. It's you, isn't it?"
The bag crashed to the ground.
"Get out." Hermione hissed, hair frizzing and eyes bulging in fury. "Get the fuck out right now."
"Are you deaf? I said GET OUT, YOU BITCH!" She shouted, hurling a rage-fuelled hex at Hannah. The girl shrieked, ducked and ran for the door. "Colloportus!" Hermione shouted, the kitchen door slamming shut with a clang.
Hermione picked up her bag and rubbed the tears away. How dare they? They stand on the sidelines for five years, then cheer her name after any need for actual help and support was over? How dare they?
She started to unpack with a furious intensity, stifling the sobs she felt swell up.
She wouldn't get distracted. She would not fail.
Gabrielle Delacour would live.
She had to survive.
Her armour was rudimentary. Elbow pads, knee pads, chest piece, limb guards and helmet. Metal sheets glued together and covered by a thick layer of sewed-on cloth, each sheet having had a set of runic wards scratched into them while the glue acted as a power transfer as well as a binding agent. The cloth cover allowed Hermione to wear the armour underneath rather than over her clothes which, while it did make some things awkward (like forgetting to switch off the lightning defence ward before hugging someone), it also ensured that the enchantments on the armor didn't interfere with those on, say, her coat.
Now some would say that wearing two sets of protective shielding (the coat and the armour) could qualify as overkill. Those people are the sort to fall silent when they witness the offensive measures Hermione was carrying in her backpack.
It should come as no surprise that Hermione was a science fiction fan. Her weapons reflected this. She called her main weapon a line gun. All it did was shoot metal ball bearings at things. The catch, though, was simple-the weapon used magic to load the balls with a vanishing cabinet-style loading system-feed the balls into a pouch anywhere on your person and the ball would appear in the line gun's chamber when needed. The line gun's fire power was adjustable too. You could launch a ball at any speed you desired, from 10 kilometres per hour all the way up to and including .5c. And the ball bearings could be enchanted, 'loading' a spell onto them that would disperse on impact.
It could hit targets up to about five miles away, integrated a target overlay on Hermione's enchanted specs if she needed one and, given that there were no moving parts whatsoever in the line gun, there was no danger of anything jamming either.
It helped that the line gun was about the size of a large pistol too, easy to draw, easy to fire thanks to the inertial dampening charms and, above all, easy to use in close quarters.
In truth, apart from her wand, that is the only handheld weapon she possessed. The others were somewhat... esoteric.
There was the black hole bomb, a contraption the size of a hand-grenade that would generate a black hole small enough to destroy anything within a five metre radius of the device whilst inflicting minimal damage on everything else.
There was the knife missile, a drone designed to perform reconnaissance in tight spots and engage enemies with multi-layered accio, wingardium leviosa, arresto momentum, propero momentum, candida moratur and depulso spells. Ideal for moving obstacles out of the way, finding lost little children and tearing anything smaller than a dragon to shreds. And if that wasn't enough, the missile could also attack targets by launching itself at them and burrowing through to the other side with ease thanks to the Radiant Cutter beam. She'd poured a lot of herself into that project. A lot had stuck too. She had three of them and they all acted... differently in some way. They also tended to squabble when deployed together. She selected one for the time being.
Then there were the Doom-spheres, small dull-coloured balls that floated around until Hermione hit a target with a paintball spell. Once hit, the target would be swarmed by the balls, who would then stick to the target's skin and proceed to try a mass of different attacks until they found one that worked. If every combination failed to bring down the target, the spheres would self-destruct.
Nothing like Rose's collection, but more than enough for a Hermione on the run, which was the intent with which she'd packed the bag in the first place. Minimal weaponry, maximum number of tools needed to make a clean get-away. That had been the idea.
Gone were the days where all she had was a wand to fall back on. And thank Merlin for that.
Her get-up allowed her to do a number of interesting things. She could jump off a skyscraper and the momentum redirection wards in the armour would dissipate the impact, allowing her to land on her feet without dying. They also stored the energy in her coat, both recharging the capacitors within the coat's lining and keeping her safe at the same time.
It also went the other way; with enough energy stored up, she could jump a skyscraper. Or, with the gloves on, punch a hole through a safe vault.
But these were extreme emergency measures. They took a lot of power and were incredibly dangerous to use on a casual basis. What if it backfired while you were simply trying to jump traffic and get to work on time? What if the enchantments on the coat failed and you only realised this when someone shot you in the back? What if the enchantments turned on their users? It had happened before.
Hence why she hadn't dared use them yesterday-the risk of collateral damage was immense and she wasn't familiar enough with the others to guarantee that the others wouldn't have gotten killed in horrible and interesting ways.
But Gabrielle was missing now. And that changed everything.
Hermione observed herself in the mirror. Her chest plate was visible with the jumpsuit on, its angles producing strange bulges in some places. With the coat on, however, that problem subsided. Sure, it was awkward as hell wearing what amounted to cloth-covered metal plating as underwear, but it worked. Comfortably, Thank Merlin she'd decided to design, test and build the armour herself rather than rely on the magical craftsmen. She looked like hell, but had little time to deal with that problem. Later, maybe.
She ran her hand along the shaft of the silver oval. Lights danced across its metal skin. The ovoid shuddered before lifting off the ground.
"Peep?" It asked.
"Peep!" the knife missile exclaimed joyfully, hugging Granger with its accio fields.
"Yes, it's mommy." Hermione chuckled. "One of my friends decided to go play hide & seek and got lost. Can you go look after her until I get there?"
"Peep?" It asked with a questioning lilt.
Hermione nodded. "Yes, she's in trouble."
"Peep!" The missile exclaimed, bobbing up and down.
"Her name's Gabrielle Delacour. She's French."
The sound of an accordion playing pervaded the air.
"Peep." It acknowledged with a determined tone. "Peep peep?" It asked.
"Yes, afterwards you can go play with Auntie Rose." She conceded, groaning.
"Peep!" The knife missile said, flying for the door. Small shields sprang into existence around the missile, their outlines shimmering in the gloom. A small red beam of light hid the door's hinges, cutting through them like they weren't even there.
The door fell outwards with a clang. "Peep! Peep!" The knife missile exclaimed before disappearing in a speedy blur.
"Good luck to you too." Hermione stated wryly. "Seems like we'll both need it."
The double boom of something breaking the sound barrier reaches her ears.
"Or maybe not."
The church is silent when Rose jerks awake. She paws around, retrieving her glasses and putting them on. Her wounds are healed. Her uniform is a clear loss, though. She sighs, shrugging the clothes off and digging around her backpack. She retrieves a new set and a canteen full of coffee one of the Slytherin kids'd enchanted to keep in stasis. She gives the receptacle a shake. No tell-tale sloshing. Groggily, she retrieves Ollivander's wand. Wouldn't do to use Blue for stuff she already knew now, would it?
"Finite-ouch!" She exclaimed, dropping the suddenly extremely hot canteen to her bedding and clutching her hand. "Fuck, that hurt." She muttered.
After putting on her clothes and some gloves, she opens her canteen and guzzles the liquid with greed. Ah, that was the stuff. Fresh coffee. She'd never even heard of something like that being possible in the field without a fire, lots of cover and at least two sentries on hand. God bless magic sometimes.
Sighing contentedly, Rose packed away her rags and the now-empty canteen before rummaging around her pack again. "Shotgun." She stated, the hefty weight of the weapon settling into her hand.
She looked down at it. She decided against it, stashing it back into the bag. She needed something with a bit more range.
"SMG." She intoned, pulling the gun out of the backpack. "Magazines-five." She ordered, picking the mags out one by one.
"Pistol. Magazines-four." She ordered, pulling the contents out.
She looked around the church as she stashed the weapons into their correct receptacles, shouldering the SMG's strap and loading a magazine into it. The battle had done a lot of damage to the inside of the building. Rubble littered the ground. Blood and bodies were everywhere. Insects were starting to buzz around. And it was freezing cold out here.
Rose switched her night vision on, carefully picking her way across from the altar to the entranceway.
She leapt through a broken window and vanished into the night.
A dozen brooms sped over the Forbidden Forest, heading straight for an archway sitting on top of a crag.
The archway flared as the brooms approached. A window into another world was opened. The riders sped through the portal.
The archway flared once more. The portal closed. The riders were through.
"Bloody hell, you've heavy." Hannah panted out as she made her way up the stairs, her wand trembling in her hand.
"Mrrphrr!" Andrews said, his badly chosen words thankfully muffled by the rope in his mouth.
"Quit whining." Cho said, panting herself. "That goes for the both of you."
"Just saying." Hannah grumbled.
"Well, just because you're right doesn't make this any easier." Cho stated. "Look, we can release the leviosa on the next flight up and switch over to the levicorpus, okay? That way, the weight transfer won't affect us."
"Alright." Hannah huffed, making her way up the stairs, fireflies dancing around in the dark.
Gabrielle crawled through the narrow space, her heart beating like a drum in the darkness.
She had done as Hermione had instructed, but the location she'd chosen turned out to be... sub-optimal.
As in, the giant insect with scythe-like arms hunting her now had been using it as a den at the time.
Gabrielle cursed herself vehemently even as she searched for a way out-there! She crawled over to the small blot of light on the floor. She looked up and saw rough-hewn stone walls on the other side of a circular opening.
Gabrielle forced her body into the tight space, using the stones as hand-helds as she gradually pushed herself farther and farther upwards.
Her head cleared the opening and the girl gave a reflexive gasp. That space had been tight.
She wriggled her shoulders free and used her hands to push herself out completely, sighing in relief as her legs emerged from the hole.
This must have been a shower room, she thought to herself. The marks of rust on the ceiling and tiled surfaces gleaming in the dark seemed to corroborate this idea. She sat down and took a breather. Gabrielle really wished she had her wand handy, and not for the first time since soeurette had taken her to England. Bloody barbarian beef eaters.
There was a clank, followed by a metallic grinding sound. Gabrielle paid little attention to it. She was tired. She hadn't gotten much sleep since Hogwarts. She needed a rest.
The young Veela stiffened. She remembered that sound.
She started, standing up and heading for the hole she'd crawled out of. A pair of eyes overlaying a sharp-looking beak peeked out if it. Click-click, it went, the sharp mandibles inside the beak snapping together as the maw opened.
She eeped, turning and running for the exit.
Another insect stood there, its arms raised and ready to strike. Click-click.
A bright flash of red light blinded her momentarily. A visceral shriek came from the creature, followed by crunching and grinding sounds the source of which Gabrielle wasn't too eager to find out about.
A massive gust of wind blew her head around, her eyes slowly recovering from the flare she'd seen. Just as she could finally make out shapes and figures, she saw something that gave her pause.
A silver object shaped like a rugby ball was hovering in the middle of the shower room, colourful lights dancing on its surface. The remains of the insect Gabrielle'd been running from was suspended in mid-air, slowly shrinking in size as she watched. Suddenly, the insect imploded with a crack, compressing into a tight ball that gushed out unidentifiable fluids.
The little Veela stood there, not believing what she was seeing.
The ball dropped down the hole, impacting the ground with a plop. The silver rugby ball turned towards her and started to advance.
Gabrielle held her hands in front of her face, scared of the floating silver demon thing.
"Peep?" it asked, concerned.
Funny, Gabrielle thought as she lowered her hands. She'd understood that.
Green on green landscape. Freezing temperatures. Firestorm at her back. Treacherous terrain filled with danger.
It had been too long since she'd been out in the field on her own, Rose thought as she slowly made her way across the overgrown field. Last time was that little dust-up on the southern border, when a troupe of raiders got lazy and spread their base camp out aboveground.
The only difference between then and now was the conspicuous lack of spider sentries.
She ran for the cover at the base of the path, her breath laboured under the breather mask. Blurry outlines of magical signatures resolved themselves in the distance, their bearers running from the fire that was slowly but surely engulfing the forest.
She looked up at the crag in front of her, her glasses marking out the magical signatures it found and tagging them as potentially hostile.
Rose gulped air in, her prone body not moving an inch as dark shapes passed overhead. Zooming in on the threats, she clutched the SMG's grip.
Harpies. A whole flock of them.
Rose brought out Blue's wand, ceding a portion of control over to the crazy bitch. "Silencio" She stated, her voice reverberating oddly as she tapped the gun. The SMG settled in her hands, feeling different somehow.
Rose raised the gun and fired at a rock on the far side of the trail. No sound came from the gun itself, but the flash of powder and the ping of richocheting fire still could potentially give away her position.
Rose snorted. She'd just have to trust that the map was right and run for it.
She lifted herself off the ground, SMG pointed right at the path. The green of her night vision enchantments illuminated the area nicely. She moved forward cautiously, scanning the ground for any tell-tale signs of booby traps.
Her boots thumped over the loose gravel as she picked up speed, gun pointed unerringly at the other end of the path. Magical signatures popped up at an increasing rate. Her glasses marked them, little arrows popping up whenever she turned to look away. Useful, that.
She rounded the bend and got a look at the top of the crag. An archway stood, its marble pillars towering over everything else. At the base of it, Rose saw pods with tentacles dangling out of them, seemingly inert on the ground. A mist rose from the openings at the top.
She wasn't fooled. She didn't need Blue to confirm that these were Bad News. Rose stopped and grabbed a side-pocket on her pack, pulling out the dragon-slaying grenade launcher and a box of grenades with funky runes engraved on them in quick succession. Shouldering her SMG, she loaded a grenade into the M79 and stuck the launcher into the pack's strap before bringing the sub-gun to bear.
A figure darted down the path towards her. Rose fired a burst at it. The figure disappeared. What-
Something shoved her from behind. She fell to the ground, turning quickly and firing as she went. The thing's head disintegrated.
Riding the adrenalin high, Rose picked herself up and hurried towards her goal.
Tentacles snaked out from behind an outcropping, the appendages tensing and throwing a thing right into her path. Rose cursed, firing at the thing before it could land and ruin her day. It curled in on itself before exploding into smoke, covering Rose in some kind of dusty pollen.
I suggest you don't breathe that stuff in Rosie. Blue stated. It's nasty.
"No shit." Rose growled. "I knew that this would come in handy." She said, tapping her breathing mask.
Yep! Need my help?
"Nah, got a plan." Rose said, letting off a burst at a pair of tentacles peeking out from over the ledge. She hit her target and was rewarded with a shriek from whatever that creature had been.
Okay. And FYI, they're plant pods. Don't get caught by the vines. That would be a very bad thing.
"Thanks." Rose stated dryly, firing at a pod blocking her way. The thing curled in upon itself, unleashing the pollen stuff with a forlorn-sounding phweet.
Rose stepped onto the top of the crag and grabbed hold of her grenade launcher. She crouched onto the ground, aimed straight at the largest pod she could find and let fly. Thwoomp!
Night turned to day as the clearing was bathed in fire. Rose felt the searing heat pass over and die. She made a run for the archway, which was starting to glow. She switched off her night vision enchantments, cursing at the loss of night vision. Upon reaching the archway, she felt something inside her jerk-
The tracker activated on the knife missile, a small icon on the side of the glasses springing to life.
Hermione gave a sigh of relief as she made her way through the darkness, line gun in hand. Gabrielle was safe for now. She had directions she could follow. Things were looking up.
The bowels of the castle she found herself in were interesting. There was a wide variety of different rocks making up the walls down here. Bands of metal appeared and disappeared in the gaps between layers of mortar, indicating that the stone was little more than wallpaper for the real structure holding this place up.
The rocks looked old. The metal looked pristine. Interesting mix.
The floor, though, was giving her gip. Unlike the walls, the floor itself seemed to be pure stone-and not very good quality stone at that. Bits of it had fallen down onto the lower levels, littering her path with debris and holes.
Safely moving along was slow work. Putting her foot on a section of flooring she wasn't a hundred percent sure she could trust, only to hear the floor groan-well, the less said about that, the better.
Still, she was making progress. The night vision enchantments worked a treat and, with no companions impeding her progress, she'd already crossed as much ground as she'd had the previous day.
But there was one fly in the ointment. The knife missile had run a basic mapping of the lower levels. The magics of the tiny device hadn't reached either end of the structure. Hermione'd designed the enchantments with a target of one square mile of space to map out in mind.
Conclusion? The underground portion of the castle was huge. A lot bigger than what she'd seen so far indicated.
The portion she was in was still merely the 'tip of the iceberg', as it were. About two floors down, the narrow staircase widened considerably and started to twist around what she thought of as a pit, a seemingly bottomless shaft that ran all the way down. Branching out were corridors full of rooms that, if she was looking at the map right, was likely to go on for miles in either direction. From that staircase, she could access every level she wanted to, which was great.
Because Gabrielle had managed to make her way roughly half-way down the mapped area, which was not so great.
Because that left Hermione with roughly five-six hundred feet of staircase to descend.
Hermione hated staircases. Bad memories.
She finally reached the stairs the knife missile had highlighted on her glasses. Dimly, she noted that the walls on the staircase had completely abandoned any form of stone covering.
It was a long way down...
In a tent, not far from where Hermione was taking her first steps down into a very strange world indeed, a woman noticed something odd on her feed.
"What are they doing there?" Amelia Bones asked as she watched the mirrors in place around the tent.
"Excuse me ma'am?" Rufus Scrimgeour asked as he watched the young Miss Granger's battle with trepidation. What were those weapons she was using?
"Focus Roofie." Tonks said in amusement. "The boss asked what 'they' were doing 'there'."
"That's commander Roofie to you Nymphadora." Scrimgeour sneered. "And call me Roofie to my face again and I'll have you go undercover as a muggle whore on the edge of Knockturn Alley. Are we clear?"
"Yes Sir." Nymphadora said, chastised. "Sorry Sir."
"Rufus, I asked you a question!" Bones snapped. "Reprimand your subordinates in your own time please."
"Sorry ma'am, but I am afraid that I am in the same boat as young Nymphadora over there and find myself having to ask who 'they' are and where 'there' is." Scrimgeour stated.
"Watch this." Bones said, indicating a stretch of forest near the portal. Rufus leaned in closer, studying the clearing adjacent to the path. Amelia was right. The picture was... off... somehow. He looked closer. Suddenly, a patch of shadow detached itself from the treeline and moved into the centre of the circle-and stopped moving there. Bootprints could clearly be seen in the tall grass. "See that?" Bones asked, indicating other patches moving around.
"Invisibility cloaks." He stated, absently noting the shadows moving around and... hang on. Only one group in all of Wizarding Britain could afford to use that many invisibility cloaks in a single op. He should know-he headed part of that organisation. "Aurors?" He asked, surprised. "They're not supposed to leave the mausoleum."
"Ours didn't." Tonks confirmed. "They've been put on high alert and told to hold position inside the castle." The young metamorph swallowed. "Madame Bones, do you think Miss Snow will-"
"Yes." Scrimgeour stated with assurance. "I saw the look in her eyes when she killed that monody. If something pisses her off, she will kill it."
"Plus, she promised to get her hostage out. So far, anything that's tried to stop her has been killed and it hasn't even slowed her down." Bones shook her head. "I dread to think of what she'd do to a bunch of Aurors."
"I trust my boys madam." Scrimgeour pointed out. "They know not to give her the excuse."
"It's not them I'm worried about Rufus." Bones conceded. "It's those people out there. The way they are positioned, I'm pretty sure our contestants will come across them soon enough."
"So what do we do?" Tonks asked, mentally reviewing the options they had available. Long-range apparition was likely out of the question. Portkeys didn't really work here without special modifications. If she took a broom, she likely wouldn't arrive in time. But communication-oh. "Say, do you think they have badges if they're aurors?"
"Yes." Rufus answered, getting where the junior Auror was going. "Communications-capable badges issued for field work. I'd forgotten about that."
"Very well then." Bones whispered. "Order them to come in. I want an explanation as to why they are out there and it better be a good one."
"Aye Aye ma'am." Scrimgeour agreed.
Rose entered the woods, a familiar tinge of excitement overcoming her. She had no idea where it was coming from. She went back to scanning the trees for danger.
"Unknown Auror, come in." A voice stated, the tinny sound echoing across the clearing. Nott cursed as he fumbled around in his invisibility cloak, desperately trying to find the badge in the tangled space. "Unknown Auror, this is operations command. You are ordered to respond. Come in." The voice snapped.
Finally, Aloysius retrieved his badge and put his thumb on the stylised M. "Operations command, this is major Nott." Aloysius answered. "Be advised, I am currently in-field and cannot guarantee the ability to remain in communication with you for long, over."
"Major Nott, my name is Amelia Bones. You know, your boss's boss." The voice stated acidly. "You will remain in communications with me until I say otherwise, over."
Aloysius unconsciously straightened. "Madam Bones. Nice to hear from you again."
"I wish I could say the same Major. Now why exactly are you disobeying a direct order from me, Major?" Bones asked with a curious lilt to her voice.
"Orders from the top Madam." Aloysius stated. "Strictly need to know."
"I am the top Major." Amelia snapped out, her angry hiss emphasised by the poor sound quality the communications enchantments gave off. "Care to try again?"
"Sorry Madam, but I cannot. These orders came from the Minister of Magic's office and were signed by both him and that Unspeakable liaison of his." Aloysius stated. "I had to take a vow not to divulge its contents to persons either living or dead, standard penalty clauses and all."
"Fudge and Croaker?" Bones asked absently. "What was the file number on those orders? Do you remember?"
"One-Eight-Five Omega Theta Rondo Madam." Nott stated. "I know that it's not enough, but I am sorry. Refusal was not an option." Not with both the minister and his master's shade asking for virtually the same thing, at least.
"Tonks, get me the file marked 185OTRO. Now!" Bones said over the badge before it disconnected.
Aloysius sighed, noticing the slight shift in shadows dancing around the glade. Suddenly, one of the shadows disappeared, leaving a man dressed in Auror robes standing there. "All clear?" Henrick Goyle asked.
Nott nodded. "Clear. Bones is on the trail."
"Good." Goyle stated. "At least we're safe from prosecution over this." He said, affecting a worried voice. It was fake, of course. The mirror network may not have been switched to their area yet, but that didn't mean that nobody was listening in.
"I wouldn't say that." Nott warned. "Fudge and Umbridge will try to cover their asses and we make the perfect scapegoats. Bones will keep us safe, hopefully."
Goyle snorted. "Right. And the cheese fairy will start doing home delivery runs."
"Shut it." Nott stated. "We've got a schedule to keep. Everything alright?"
"Lads are in place." Goyle reported. "Just waiting for the kids to show up."
"Remember the target Goyle. Let the others go, but that one dies here, you understand?" Goyle asked.
Goyle snorted. "Right. Well I'll be off to lead that assault of yours on the lone little girlie coming our way then, shall I?"
Nott gave him the finger. Goyle chuckled and put his invisibility cloak back on.
Rose perked up as the smell of leather polish wafted across the forest. Huh. Weird. Had the mask malfunctioned or something? Nope, just me. Blue said inside her head. Right.
She left the path, sticking to the shadows cast by the trees around her, listening for any indication of there being anything else out of order. It didn't take long before she noticed where the discrepancy was coming from.
The entire forest was alive with the buzz of birdsong.
There were dozens, possibly even hundreds, of different species shouting, singing and screeching around her. The noise wasn't really deafening. In fact, she wouldn't have noticed unless she'd been specifically looking for it. But it was there.
And it was unnatural. Birds don't hang around when humans pop up. They either fall silent, fly away or come closer to investigate the strange creature invading their territory. The dumber ones attacked. Once.
And yet, here was the evidence that things were not so. She checked the canopy for avian profiles, her glasses zooming in on oddly shaped shadows, sudden movement, anything that indicated where the voices were coming from.
She found none. Not a dicky bird.
Rose smiled. She had wondered whether these kidnappers had the guts to try and fight the group head on. Seems she'd gotten her answer.
She unslung her backpack and tossed it on the ground. Her jacket was hung up on the tree. Off came the mask, the helmet, the uniform, the undershirt, the body glove and the tank top. She tossed them in the bag, then started rummaging around. She came out with a can of camouflage paint, a pair of camouflage shorts, a shoulder swordsheath, an olive drab tank top and a matching hat. In went the SMG, the pistol and the ammo clips. Out came a collapsable staff, a tomahawk, the bone sword, a belt full of throwing knives, a bow and a quiver full of arrows.
On went the new clothes. She secured her two wand holsters on her ankles, tucking the tips of the holsters into the boots. The belt threaded through the shorts' loops with ease. The knives went in quickly, smallest closest to the belt buckle, biggest on the back. The bone sword and the tomahawk went into the sheaths of the shoulder holster. The quiver slotted into one of the belt loops while the beltcord was run along the space between shorts & top, keeping the quiver in place for easy retrieval. The staff's carrying strap went over one shoulder, the bow over the other. Finally, she opened the can of paint, eyeing the three colours and evaluating how to best break up her profile. She dipped into the can three fingers at a time and started applying the make-up. It tickled her skin.
She retrieved a mirror and a coil of thin metal rope-wire from her backpack. The coil was stuck in her front pocket, the lump disappearing as the spatial alteration magics started up. Soon, the coil was the size of a pebble. She looked herself in the mirror, occasionally applying an extra dab of paint here & there, aiming for the maximum possible coverage of her skin. She retrieved a small kit full of emergency supplies (wound closing potions, gauze, needles, everything Hermione could think of) and stuck it in her other front pocket. It shrunk to the size of a lighter. Speaking of lighters-Rose stuck her hand in the bag, coming up with a packet of cigarettes and a thin metallic cylinder.
She took a cigarette out of the packet, stuck it in her mouth and stuck the cylinder right underneath the tip. She thumbed the button. A tongue of flame shot out, lighting up the cigarette and almost doing the same with the canopy overhead. Rose smirked, puffing on the smoking stick. Ask a wizard for a lighter and he'll give you a miniature flamethrower. Only, thanks to Miss Blue, said flamethrower wasn't likely to stay miniature for long.
A ten metre long tongue of white-hot flame that would last for as long as you held down the button, no magical concentration required. And these idiots use it to light fireplaces. Fuck yeah.
She put a hand against the backpack and said "Shrink". The pack shuddered and folded up upon itself, collapsing from a decent-sized field-standard backpack into the shape of a wallet. She pulled out a small chain with a quickdraw clamp attached to it and attached it to a belt loop. The wallet-pack went into her shorts' back pocket.
Then, she started her warmup exercises. First to come free was the tomahawk, swinging around in short, sharp arcs as she got used to the weapon's weight and heft. Then came the bone sword, stabs and lightning-quick blocking moves flashing through the air. Then came the knives. Rose re-positioned the quiver cord a bit to make grabbing and throwing a knife as quick a move as possible. The knives thudded into the tree with a thumpthumpthump as the girl drew and threw them as fast as possible. The largest one she grabbed was not thrown. Instead, she did rapid-fire cut & thrust exercises with it. This was her weapon of second last resort, a hunting knife light & balanced enough to use as a throwing weapon. Magically enhanced, it could cut through steel plate armour with ease. Not a knife to use lightly-and she wouldn't.
Then it was the turn of the bow. Arrows whizzed through the air, impacting the tree with no sound and cutting deep into the wood. The bow itself wasn't much to look at, being made of wood rather than the metal-polymer hybrids she'd learned with, but jeeze the magical enhancements gave it a punch! She put her bow down gently and unclipped the staff from her back. She pulled it into her right hand and thumbed the switch.
Rose looked at the weapon in awe. One side of the staff tapered off to a thin, sharp edge that glowed with heat. The other ended in a pommel covered in frost, electricity and shards of ice orbiting it. It felt light as a feather in her hands. Hot damn, that wasn't what she had expected when the room had presented the staff to her.
Rose smirked. Oh, she was going to have a lot of fun with this.
Rose tidied herself up a bit, retrieved the various weapons lying around her, strapped them all back into position and set out to hunt for the enemies she knew were close by.
The Auror shifted slightly as he walked down the path back to the glade. The invisibility cloak felt heavy on his shoulders. It was a hot morning, cloud cover and humidity conspiring to create an oppressive atmosphere within the expanse of cloth keeping him from being seen. He was dripping sweat already and it wasn't even mid-morning yet. He winced as he felt a pebble move around inside his boots, stinging as the little piece of grit embedded itself in his sole.
Gravel crunched underfoot. Twigs snapped as he plodded his way down the path. The Auror didn't care. He'd been sent as a lookout for when the group of contestants arrived, instructed to apparate back to his assigned position as soon as they came in visual range. Half an hour of waiting and nothing to show for it. It didn't make sense to him-shouldn't they be there by now? It had been a little over two hours since the group had passed the portal and nobody had seen a thing of any of the four. He was starting to wonder, seriously wonder about this assignment. Being pulled off the day shift for this? Alright, fine. Being pulled off the day shift because a certain major who would remain unnamed hadn't bothered with setting up wards? What the hell? Why, if he was in charge-
The Auror grunted in pain. He'd been shot with an arrow. The bastard was deeply embedded in his left leg. He was bleeding profusely and-wait, was that a wire attached to the base of the shaft?
The Auror screamed as the arrow was pulled back. He fell to the ground, the invisibility cloak he was wearing tangling the man up as the arrow's spear tip started to hit against the wound it'd made going through.
He finally managed to throw the cloak off his top half, struggling to grab his wand and cut down the bastard that'd done this to him. He groaned as the spear tip re-entered his leg wound, spikes of pain shooting up as the serrated bits dug further and further into torn muscle on its way back out.
He brought up his rudimentary occlumency shields, pushing the pain away and searching for the culprit. The wire was nigh invisible even in broad daylight, only occasionally throwing off a glint as the wire pulled itself tighter and tighter, causing the arrow to bend inside his leg.
Panicking, the Auror brought up his wand and pointed it at the wire. "Diffindo!" He shouted, the spell materialising in a red band of light as it flew towards the thin string of metal. The ground erupted as the spell parted the dirt, a thin wedge of dark soil revealed to the sunlight. He felt another tug. The wire hadn't been cut.
"Bloody hell!" The Auror cursed, throwing a silent incendio at the wire. Leaves and debris started to burn, but the wire remained untouched. He could feel the serrated edge of the arrow digging around, tearing up blood vessels as the pressure on the shaft increased. Wait, the shaft...
"Diffindo!" The Auror yelled in panicked desperation, his wand pointing at the bit of the shaft protruding from his invisibility cloak. Good news? The shaft gave way, leaving the bit with the wire attached to it to rocket off into the underbrush. Bad news? The diffindo hit the part of his leg obscured by the invisibility cloak. He felt the magic hit his leg, blood spilling everywhere as the violently red band of magic cut through his shin bone, his calf muscle and his achilles tendon before being stopped by the soles of his boots.
"AARGH!" The Auror screamed, desperately trying to hold his bisected leg together. "Help!" He screamed. "Someone! Anyone! Help me!"
"Godger!" A figure shouted back. "I'm coming lad!"
Godger groaned and grunted as he felt himself going faint from blood loss, his wand lying forgotten in the dirt. "Make it quick Sigmus. I need medical attention soonish."
Sigmus took off his invisibility cloak and grabbed a bag with a red cross featured on it. He sprinted up the path and stopped short as the extent of Godger's injuries revealed themselves. "Bloody hell man, what did you shoot yourself in the foot for?"
"To get the arrow out of course, heh heh." Godger stated, giggling as shock started to impede his higher brain functions.
"Right." Sigmus sighed, taking in the injuries. "Hold still old chap, I'll-"
Sigmus collapsed on top of his ailing comrade. "Siggy?" Godger asked in a fearful whisper. "Siggy mate, you okay?"
Siggy did not answer him. Which didn't surprise Godger really, now that he thought about it. Having an arrow pierce your ear was likely to impede your hearing.
"Siggy mate, get up." The man started to whine, tears leaking from his face. "C'mon Siggy, wake up mate! Please!" Godger pleaded, struggling to remain coherent.
Sigmus's body jerked once, twice. Then the corpse started to trash around, limbs flailing as the remaining motor functions shut down. Godger screamed in pain as Sigmus's hand hit his leg wound, the man's wand misfiring as it dug in. All the bones in his leg shattered. The shaft shattered as well, sending splinters rocketing up & down the pulped limb. Blood started to gush rather than just leak. Something had struck his main artery.
Godger died seconds later, wimpering and sobbing that he didn't want to go. Not like that.
Nott blinked as he saw two dots on his wristwatch turn black. The other ten were still green-alive and unharmed. His dot was blue, indicating that he was nervous and slightly scared. Two men. Something had killed two of his men and he hadn't heard a thing.
He tapped his badge. "Attention all units-Aurors Godger and Sigmus are down. I repeat, Aurors Godger and Sigmus are down. All units, report-"
"-To your posts immediately and await further instructions." The badge said as Rose twirled it around in her palm. A comms device, eh?
She looked down at the fat fucker snoring away on duty. What the hell did that guy think he was doing, napping on a fucking mission? These were the elite of the magical world she'd heard everyone talk about? The guys that overpowered Hermione? Rose almost snorted, but allowed the blissfully ignorant lump to do it for her.
These guys were about as good as peacekeepers and half as intelligent. If they wanted to stop or kill her, they definitely had their work cut out for them.
"Copy lads?" The voice asked over the badge.
Rose stared at the badge. Nine names so far, one unknown. She waited five seconds. Nothing. Another five. Still nothing.
"Bulstrode? Bulstrode, you there?"
"He's probably fallen asleep again."
"I told you sir, I fucking told you-"
"Shut up!" The voice that'd originally spoken snapped. "He's just gotten off night shift, of course he's going to grab some nap-time! Can one of you go find him and wake him up please?"
"Alright." Rose said into the badge, unsheathing her sword as she said it. "You're the boss, boss." She whispered into the badge before leaning into the face of the snoring wizard. "Hey FUCKFACE!" She shouted.
The Auror squeaked as he jerked awake, paling as he saw the woman with a chamaeleon skin tone standing over him with a sword in one hand and his badge in another. "What-" He exclaimed before a boot kicked him in the chin.
"Your boss says hi." Rose commented. "Wakey. Wakey." She hissed out. "Eggs n' bakey!"
She stabbed the sword downwards, catching the man in the guts. Bulstrode shrieked as he felt the cold steel hit his spinal column and his stomach acids travelling down the hole the bone & metal blade made on its way through.
"Listen to this." Rose stated at the badge before turning it towards the man screaming and squirming on the ground. "You hear that, boss? I woke him up for you! Ain't I nice?"
"Bulstrode! You fucking bitch-"
"Yeah yeah, you killed him, it's all so unfair, I'm going to skin you alive, yada yada." Rose said, rolling her eyes as she did so. "Listen fuckface, I don't give a shit about who you are. What I do care about, though, is that you're hiding out in the middle of a forest with the clear intent of taking out me and mine. That makes you my problem. Now normally I would offer you a chance to surrender here, but there's a hitch." Rose stated as she stabbed the whimpering man in the shoulder, eliciting more shrieks of pain. "You took my friend from me. She's a nice girl, you know, very nerdy like, and she has helped me an awful lot over the past months. I like her. And one of yours took her away. You are trying to stop me from getting her back. So listen carefully." She said, pointing the badge back at the screaming man. With her other hand, she twisted her grip on the sword, switching it over for finer control. She aimed carefully and, just as the man finished squirming onto his back again, brought the bone sword down on the Auror's exposed neck. Blood fountained as the screams gave way to hitched breath, the wheezing man's eyes losing the sparkle of life as Rose looked on. The wheezes and groans got weaker, the blood spurts smaller and smaller until the man's body stiffened and went limp.
Complete silence came from the badge. Rose turned the badge back to her face.
"Think about what you just heard." She warned the wizards. "You took my friend away. You're planning on executing her in four days' time. If I get to her first, she gets to live. Fine, you get that. What you don't really get, though, is that I'm not some jumped-up pussy thinking that this all fun and games. If I see you, I'll kill you. If I hear you, I'll kill you. If I smell you, I'll kill you. If you resist, I'll make your death as slow as this fat fuck's was. If you try and kill me, I will torture you until you beg for it. And if you do anything to my friend, my competition or their hostages, I am going to cut your limbs off and skin you alive, piece by fucking piece. You get me, mister boss man?"
"... I will enjoy killing you." The boss's voice said on the other end.
"Well, it's three nil to me so far." Rose chuckled. "Bring it on bitch. You're no match for me."
"Yeah we will." She said with a confident smirk before tossing the badge away.
There would be others.
"Track that badge!" Nott shouted out as Bulstrode's green dot faded to black. A few of the other dots turned a deep, blood red intermixed with blue. His squad was angry. Afraid. Oh bugger.
"Found it sir." Crabbe's voice said. "And Bulstrode too. Merlin, what a sight." The man sighed. "What the hell am I going to tell his wife?"
"That he died for the cause." Nott said absently, reviewing Goyle's deployment plan. Godger and Sigmus had been assigned as lookouts, meaning that they'd commanded top views from a hillside. Bulstrode, on the other hand, had been backup, shunted off to one side in preparation for the ambush. Him and Madrigal were supposed to cut off escape to the portal, blanketing the route with explosive curses should one of the group try to make a break for it. Madrigal was in a relatively exposed position, sitting on a hill overlooking the trail. The largest cover he had was tall grass. Godger, Sigmus and Bulstrode had been going through the thickest parts of the forest at the time. "Goyle?"
"Let's pull back down the trail." Nott ordered. "The ambush has clearly failed and we're down to eight men already. Get everyone out of the forest and into new positions. Fallback site Beta. Everyone else got that?" He asked.
A chorus of "yes sir"s answered him.
"And Goyle? Make sure that the lads can keep an ear out for each other. That means line of sight deployment only." Nott clarified.
"Ah, yes sir." Goyle acquiesced. "And the girl sir?"
"What of her?" Nott asked.
"I mean, won't she try and get away from us?"
Nott pondered what he knew about Rose Snow. "No, she won't." He answered. "She's gunning for us, now that she knows we're here. I say we oblige her."
"Eh?" Goyle asked.
"We wait for her to come to us." Nott clarified further. "She wants us dead Goyle. I say we kill her first."
"Ah, gotcha." Goyle stated.
"Right lads, move out!" Nott shouted.
The cracks of apparition echoed across the forest.
Rose pounded across the forest ground, weapons held in place by liberally applied sticking charms. Those cracks had sounded like gun shots. She ran like a woman possessed, hoping to catch out whoever had decided to fire those guns. If she moved quickly, she could catch them out before they could reposition themselves. If she didn't, she would have to wait until they fired again.
She arrived in the place she believed had contained the gunman before. There were bootprints and downtrodden grass leading in, but nothing coming out. She frowned, wondering, remembering and finally cursing herself. Had she forgotten that quickly? Really? Teleportation. The fuckers had teleported themselves out. She snorted. Cowards. Those had been fighting words. She looked up at the cloudy sky and smiled. Well, if they could do it, so could she.
She twirled upon herself, forcing her body through the pin-prick hole in existence at her body's centre, flinging her entire being at it with only her destination in mind. Her essence collapsed upon itself as it was sucked through the tiny vortex, spewing itself out and reforming itself into her her in a fraction of an eyeblink. Rose shuddered. Wow. She remembered feeling that last time, but she'd never imagined what it felt like in slow motion. By the gods, that had hurt.
And here she was again, falling. The old exhilaration of fighting the dragon came back, lighting her mind on fire with joy. She scanned the ground, looking for any sign of the enemy.
There, a flock of birds swirling around a patch of seemingly empty grasslands, about half a click away from the place where the trail left the forest. There, a high vantage point provided by a slab of rock rising up out of the grass, perfect sniper's spot. There, a ditch hidden by tall grasses and reeds right next to the trail, ideal for planting remotely triggered bombs. There, a slight gulley where a rivulet ran across the road, slowing down any walkers and painting a giant bull's eye on their profiles. There, the ruins of a farm about a tenth of a click away from the main road, barely visible behind the trees of what must have been a small orchard once upon a time. There, a dried up riverbed with the trail crossing over it on a rickety bridge. Shoot through the wooden slats, blow the support structure, loosen some of the slats from underneath, undermine the central vault holding the bridge up-dozens of ways in which an old bridge like this could be used to take out an enemy force with no forewarning.
Rose twirled on herself again, disappearing from the air with a crack and landing back where she'd started.
She could have just teleported outside of the ambush zone, but that would have meant letting the other contestants stumble into the trap and leave a sizeable force free to manoeuvre behind her. She couldn't do that. She needed the contestants alive and healthy enough to help her assault the tower her map identified as the day's main objective. She doubted they would remain in good nick if they hit upon a ten-man ambush.
Which is why she'd goaded them, basically.
They would be watching for her, waiting for the girl to make a move. They had those invisibility cloak thingies she'd been given, but theirs seemed sub-standard, with none of the capabilities either the demiguise or her cloak'd exhibited back at the castle school. Even standard magical detection spells seemed to pick them up. Rose sighed as she jogged through the underbrush. She could get over herself and finally break out her trusted bolt-action, but she really didn't want to.
She was hunting human beings.
Okay, so they were magical. Okay, so they were trained. But so was she. And she had better training, had a rough idea of where they were as well as the experience to take them out if needs be.
They were beneath her.
Just picking a hill overlooking the ambush sight and picking them off one by one was boring. They wouldn't even realise that those cracks weren't teleports until half of the enemy force was dead. They had no idea about bullet drop, specialist ammunition or even the fact that her bolt-action baby had a lethal range of about two and a half clicks. In other words, she could kill them all easy-like.
She just didn't want to.
She was trained for exactly this kind of situation-hostile environment, large groups of enemies trying to kill her, little to no outside support. She hadn't started with guns. She'd started with knives, wire and rocks. She could kill people with a pen, gouge out their eyes with spoons, tear arteries apart with a fork. She had only been allowed guns when the things she fought weren't exactly considered human anymore. But killing people? That was easy to her. No need for pistols, rifles, shotguns or the like when facing a human. Bullets were expensive, whetstones weren't. The mere idea of needing guns to kill people struck her as wrong, wasteful, inefficient. People died just fine if you knew how to go about it. And she knew how to go about it. She didn't need a gun or a wand where a battery and a coil of wire would do the trick. Hell, forget the battery. Just sharpen the wire and pull until you shear through the tendons in the neck.
Her muscles grew. Her hair shortened. Her figure grew lither, faster, more fluid. Her eyes glowed. Her pace increased from a jog, to a run, to a sprint. Trees started zipping past. Her teeth sharpened. Her limbs stretched. Her digits lengthened.
The camouflage paint etched itself into her skin like a full body tattoo, flowing to adapt to the change in lighting, shadows and colours around her.
Rose laughed as she leapt over a tree trunk. Time to show off some of her abilities.
Time to show these freaks how to fight a real battle.
The stretch of grasslands seemed endless from Hieronymus's standpoint. Running from the slopes of a set of mountains visible in the distance all the way to low-lying hills breaking his view of the horizon, the strands of yellow-green dominated virtually every surface not covered in forest or consisting of bare rock. The clouds overhead were a slim shade of grey, the purple sky overhead peeking through quite frequently alongside the orange-coloured sun. The shadows of distant clouds gave the illusion of change, though it was merely the lighting that did so. A faint breeze was enough to shatter the peace, the swish of the wind passing through the stems sounding like a deafening roar amidst the silence.
Auror Hieronymus gazed upon the fields in wonder, the peace of the location doing much to soothe the guilt the tattoo on his left forearm anchored in place. He could live here. Far away from the thoughtful looks, curious faces and scornful sneers of the ministry. Far away from graveyards, battle sites and raid locations he visited with a fervour bordering on the religious, praying for forgiveness to those he'd killed. Begging for it. Pleading for it. Only to be answered by a ringing silence.
Far away from the temptation to take out his wand and blast his guilt away, burning the looks off the faces of his peers, levelling the monuments to his shameful acts, rendering the evidence of his younger self's atrocities in service to his master to nothing more but dust.
It was hard to resist the temptation sometimes. To simply remove the evidence of what had been done, walk away still feeling guilty, but knowing that none would ever figure out why you felt like you did, carrying it to your final judgement where you could beg for forgiveness without being thought of as asking for selfish reasons such as your image, your history or your ambitions.
Forgiveness, plain and simple. That's all he wanted now. And burning the evidence of his deeds would make it easier too. But he didn't dare. Those were not just monuments to his acts, but to actions taken by those who should have led their society into a golden age, yet threw it all away in the name of quick & easy power. The silent houses of muggleborn. The graveyards full of his erstwhile comrades and their enemies. The screaming shells of cruciatus victims. The sealed remnants of wizarding areas, the foul magics employed there barring safe passage for anyone for all time. They were all vivid reminders of a promise the magical world had made to itself. Never Again.
His tattoo burned, reminding him of just how tenuous that promise was now. It would not be long now. The whole thing was on the verge of starting again. He'd warned his friends to get out of the country. He'd warned his former enemies to do the same. He'd warned colleagues, acquaintances, old flames, girlfriends, boyfriends, anyone he'd ever shared even a moment of respite from his nightmare with to get out while they still could.
Never Again would he be forced to kill loved ones. Never Again would he raise his wand to an ideal he'd not believed in in the first place. Never Again would he look someone in the eye as their life ebbed away in the wake of magics cast by him.
He looked around himself. Such a peaceful place, this was. Maybe he could remain behind after the task was over. Watch the doors leading outside, back to his reality, close. Spend the rest of his days here, in peace, far away from the ghosts strangling his soul.
Oh, if only.
The hiss of the wind reached his ears. He looked out over this place. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. He'd finally found his Eden. But he couldn't live here. He wouldn't be allowed to stay here. This place was closed to him, now and for all time. He sighed. He had nothing to live for. He had plenty to atone for.
This was a place he could die happy in. No more Auror work. No more Dark Lord. Nothing but redemption to look forward to.
Well, best get a head start then.
He pulled his invisibility cloak off. He tossed his wand onto the ground. And then he sat down, waiting for Snow to fall upon him.
Someone grabbed him from behind. "What are yer doing?" Angela Dorflsdottir asked. "Ye looking to get yerself killed lad?" She snapped, eyeing him in worry as she covered the two of them with her cloak.
Hieronymus looked down at the tattoo adorning the inside of her wrist then back up to her. "It's starting again." He stated.
Angela reared back as if slapped. "You felt it too?" She whispered fearfully. "The call? The pull?"
Hieronymus nodded. "Summer last year. I was visiting my family's grave when the tattoo started to burn again."
"I was in a muggle pub." Angela admitted. "Me beau wan'ed ter take me somewhere special like. I ended up spewin' all over 'im when the tattoo moved under me skin."
Hieronymus nodded at the explanation before looking over the grass fields, barely visible from under the cloak's weave. "I can't do it again. I won't."
"I-I don't want ter either." Angela admitted, fiddling with her wand. "I mean, I joined 'coz me little brother did an' he dinnae ever have the brains ter back up his dick, ya ken? Now that 'e's gone off 'n married a muggle in Mexico, I dinnae 'ave a reason ter go anymore."
Hieronymus frowned. "Do you have anything to go back to?"
"'part from this cruddy fucken job?" Dorflsdottir snorted. "Nay. Made peace with me parents, bribed everyone that needed bribin' when me brother ran off after the Fall n' took this offer 'coz it was either this or Az. There's nothin' there apart from a quick shag or two." She sighed. "Me life is ruined."
"Then do what I did." Hieronymus stated. "It's peaceful here. Everything's perfect. For me, this is the perfect day to say goodbye."
"Wha', like that whole next grea' adventure bollocks?" Angela snorted. "Fuck son, I dinna know tha' about yer."
"No, not an adventure. Just the perfect day to start paying for what I did."
Angela looked at his face. Looked out over the seemingly endless grasslands. And took off her invisibility cloak. "I cannae believe I'm doin' this." Angela muttered sadly. "I cannae even believe yer righ'."
"Maybe I am, maybe I am not." Hieronymus conceded. "I would prefer to live here, but..." he shrugged. "They wouldn't allow me to."
"'ho said yer had ter ask?" Angela asked, surprised. "Are yer a wizard or not? Yer tellin' me ye cannae hide fer three days? Yer 'ave an invisibility cloak, fer cryin' out loud! This is a 'ole new worl'!"
Hieronymus just looked at her. "What are you getting at?" He asked.
"Let's ditch the badges, pack the cloaks an' 'ead for the 'ills. Jus' you an' me. 'Coz neither a' us 'as earned ourselves a next grea' adventure yet, ye ken? We did bad things. Bu' this-it's a whole new world, waitin' just fer us. Whaddya say... partner?" She asked, extending her hand.
Hieronymus smiled. Angela wasn't hard on the eyes. And death would always welcome him with open arms-perhaps tomorrow? Or the next day? Or even in a years' time? "Sure." He said, grabbing her hand and willing his wand & cloak to himself once more. His and her badge dropped to the ground. "Let's go."
"Let's 'ead south. Never really been far south yet." She murmured happily.
"Sure thing." He answered.
The two figures disappeared with a crack.
"Major" Goyle's voice stated over the badge. "We've got two runners."
"Who?" Nott asked angrily. Deserters. Just what he needed.
"Dorflsdottir and Hieronymus." Henrick said. "I saw them leave."
"And you didn't stop them?" Nott snapped, his incredulity bleeding through despite the sharp undertone of anger.
"Sorry Major. By the time I realised what was going on, they were gone. Plus, I'm currently holding position within the cloud cover, so even if I had seen 'em get ready to go, there was simply no way fer me to reach the two on time." Goyle apologised.
Nott sighed. "Well, that's our left flank gone. Who's inside the old house?"
"Crabbe." Goyle answered after thinking about it. "Do you want me to redeploy Anthony and Madrigal sir?"
"No." Nott said with finality. "Alright, new orders. Henrick, when you see the girl, you are no longer to just report in and render assistance to whoever she engages on the ground. You are to report the sighting and attack her directly, got that?"
"Like with the Prewett twins sir?" Goyle asked. "Swoop, hex and disengage?"
"Something like that. Focus on blasting curses though. Avery's kedavra was a lucky shot back then, even if he says it was pure skill." Nott said after giving the issue some thought.
"Bombardas all around, then." Goyle clarified. "And the ground fighters?"
"Collateral damage. The issue is Snow. If getting her means hitting a comrade at the same time, then so be it." Nott ordered. "Leto can patch 'em up after the bitch is dead."
"Sure thing major." Goyle stated, acknowledging the new orders. "I'm descending to engagement range now."
"Good." Nott said. "Godspeed Henrick."
"Same to you Aloysius. You owe me a pint of weedmead for this." Goyle replied, chuckling.
"Survive to claim it and it's yours." Nott said, laughing.
The ancient, gnarled-looking tree groaned in the mid-morning haze. It had been getting warmer and warmer all day long. A faint breeze carried the stench of salt and fish guts with it. The countryside was lush and vibrant, gleaming with pastel greens and yellows that glowed even under the cloud cover. The grasslands were endless, landmarks clearly delineated and visible against the endless sea of green. Dark clouds heralded the rapid arrival of storms.
There was a coastline close by, under twenty kilometres away as the jabberjack flies. Sparse forest cover, large swathes of grasslands on a relatively flat surface running all the way from the nearby hills off inland that had stone outcroppings rising out of the ground in a semi-regular manner. Now the stones were interesting. It wasn't immediately obvious from the ground, but each one was roughly the same shape-a narrowing cone with a spherical rock topping it. They weren't the same size, but from the tree canopy you could see more of them in the distance. Each was roughly about five clicks away from the other. And when you activated the magic filter, it got even more interesting-a thin beam of something ran from one outcropping to the other, flickering on and off at impressive speeds. Maybe it was a communications network of some kind. Or a power grid like the ones back home or in the non-magical world. The thin beams of magic also hinted that there were a lot more of the outcroppings out of sight (or weathered down by time), as the beams went off into the far distance, curving slightly as they reached the horizon.
Pretty cool system, whatever it was meant to do. But that was not what she was here for.
The bark of the old tree she was sitting on remained cool in the steadily rising temperatures. The humidity was getting heavier, leaving her mouth with a coating of dew beads that tasted off and sweat pouring out of her camouflaged pores. The tang of ozone pervaded the air already, despite the damn storm it was pre-empting being at least two hours away. That sharp sensation coupled with the humidity washing out her orifices put her on edge, the electric pinpricks playing along the edge of her tongue distracting her as she hid underneath the canopy and watched the area, silent and still.
She'd spotted seven people so far. Three people unaccounted for. One of them was doubtlessly the boss. Maybe the others were the bodyguards? It was possible. Unlikely, but possible. Maybe he had them in reserve... Eh, not important either way.
One of the guys was flying around in circles on one of those broom things, keeping an eye out for movement on the ground. Waiting for her, probably.
Another was covering the right side of the forest from a derelict ruin of some kind, cloaked and waiting at what once had been a window sill.
Three of the enemy were hunkered down in the tall grass, either sitting or crouching low enough for only their cloaked heads to peek out over the vegetation.
Two of them moved along a trail behind the formation, clearly waiting to jump in at the earliest opportunity.
An angry red line separated the forest from the grasslands in her magical vision, extending to about two metres above the ground and snaking all around the forest's edge. A perimeter ward of some kind, one of the basic area defence systems in this world. She and Miss Blue had talked about them back at Hogwarts when she failed to teleport around after the first task. She didn't know that it was possible to cast them like this-clearly someone out there knew what they were doing. But what did that ward do? And how did they expect a height of two metres to actually stop her? She could vault that easily. Hell, she could just scissor-jump that and they wouldn't know about it until she was upon them.
She shifted slightly, her skin adjusting its patterns to suit her new position. A shadow passed above the canopy as the flyer made a pass overhead. Rose frowned. She couldn't count on the ward not doing whatever it was designed to do should she breach it. There were too many unknowns surrounding the magics involved for her to expect to just jump over it and be done with the whole thing. What if it reacted to proximity? What if whatever it was designed to do activated just as she was passing overhead? What if it acted in a similar way to a claymore mine, whereby the whole thing blew up in her face if she got too close?
What if the barrier turned into a spike, impaling her as she jumped it? That was not the way she planned on losing her virginity. Not that she was, strictly speaking, much of a virgin anymore, but having a spike of energy shoved up your ass was not an arousing prospect to say the least.
But the guy passing overhead on his broom was fine. And he was picking a fairly predictable route too, sticking to the trail about a click to her left whilst buzzing some of the clearings on the way through.
Rose nodded to herself. She needed that broom for her plan. And she had just the way to get it.
The Broom banked lazily as the wizard finished his fly-by circuit. Rose strung her bow and laid it against the side of the tree trunk. She took an arrow out and tested it-the heavy front tip unbalanced the arrow something fierce. Even with the capabilities of her bow, the best she could hope for was about fifty metres' accuracy before the descent angle became too steep and the whole thing plummeted to the ground. But if she did hit the flyer with it, this arrow would become her best friend.
Working quickly, she brought out her coil of wire-rope and started winding it around the branch she was sitting on. The rope tapered off in a tangle of stiff wires that could be bent into the desired shape. Rose tied the rope around a depression at the base of the arrow and then tangled the wires into a spaghetti mesh covering the whole thing. She tapped the rope with Blue's wand, thinking about how she wanted the whole thing to behave. The rope loosened up and started to float while the wires tightened around the arrow's shaft. There, now the coil wouldn't actually affect the arrow's flight path. Rose tested the arrow again before putting on an archer's glove.
She checked the flyer's whereabouts again. Still banking, moving to her right side before disappearing behind the cover of a nearby tree. Rose checked herself-no bright colours, skin still shifting around, glove on and rope tied down. She was good to go.
Suddenly, the broom shot straight up into the clouds. Rose stiffened, grabbing her bow and the arrow. She jumped across to the next tree over, paying close attention to make sure that the rope didn't tangle itself in anything on the way across, and crouched in the depression between the branch and the tree.
The top of the tree she'd been in vanished in a burst of purple light, the pressure wave of the detonation deafening her before she'd had time to register any sound. Wooden shrapnel scoured the area, covering her face in a slather of splinters. She winced at the feeling, holding onto the branch for dear life as her eardrums mended themselves. If she tried to stand up, the best she could hope for was a short fall onto the next rung down rather than the long one to the forest floor.
The branch with the cord attached gave way at last, crashing down to the ground below. Rose quickly put the arrow down, wincing at the snapsnapsnap as the branch worked its way further and further towards the leafy floor.
Finally, the crashing stopped. Rose peeked over the edge and groaned. She still had her arrow, which was good. She had about five metres' worth of rope left, which was less good.
She would have to get awfully close...
Goyle ran a critical eye over the tree he'd just demolished. It was hard to see anything through the pink & greyish-orange smoke, but the haze wouldn't cover for any movement down below. Branches, burning leaves and bits of wood showered the surrounding area, the largest chunks sailing clear over the canopy.
But no contestant.
Goyle snarled in frustration, turning himself out of the dive and holding his wand in an open palm. "Point me Rose Potter." He intoned before quickly grabbing the wand into an open fist. The wand rotated, pointing down towards the wrecked tree. Henrick frowned. Had he missed the body tumbling to the ground? No, he hadn't. Maybe she'd been blasted into another tree?
He sighed, gripping his wand hard and diving back towards the area the wand had pointed out. Slowing down, he looked for blood, viscera, any sign of the girl.
Nothing on the tree itself. He started going down slowly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bitch's corpse so that he and his mates could pack up, pick up the bodies and go home.
Goyle started, bringing his wand to bear at the tree directly opposite himself. Nothing. A shadow passed over his wand arm. He looked up, wand already moving.
And there was Rose Potter. She was airborne. She was completely covered in some kind of makeup. She looked nothing like the front page photos the Daily Prophet'd printed. And she had a bow & arrow trained on him, ready to release.
She let got of the string. The arrow shot forward. Goyle's wand came up.
The arrow went through the man's shoulder with a tearing sound. The arrowhead's spikes extended as soon as it cleared the body, the shaft following suit and embedding itself in the smouldering tree trunk opposite with a thunk.
The wand went off, bathing the area about thirty centimetres to the left side of Rose's face with rainbow-coloured flames. Still airborne, the girl shouted in pained shock as the shrapnel in her face vaporised into burning ash and blisters formed where her wounds had been.
No longer able to control her trajectory, she hit the trunk stomach first before starting to fall to the ground.
Her left arm, still holding the bow, hit a tree branch on the way down, breaking her arm with a wet snap. She tried to scream, but all that came out was vomit. Her right arm flailed around as she desperately tried to halt her fall, Finally grabbing hold of a sturdy branch just as the ground started going from a pressing consideration to an urgent problem. The bark broke under her grip, embedding itself in the palm of her hands. She could feel her finger joints shriek in protest at the action, eliciting a wet moan as she let go of the branch and used whatever wits she still had left to ace the landing.
She landed on both feet, instinctively rolling forward to dispel more energy. The move disagreed with her broken left arm, sending hot knives coursing up & down the abused limb. She came to a halt, tears of shock streaming down her face.
She brought out Blue's wand. Hey, she thought quietly.
Hey yourself. Blue answered. What's up? Enjoying the show here.
Second degree burns on my face, broken left arm and my right hand feels like it's just spent some quality time underneath an armoured tyre. She thought at her. I'm having trouble thinking. I need some help. She admitted grudgingly.
Wait, let me see-oh! Blue whistled to herself in her head. Wow, shocker. You missed the broken ribs too, honeybunch.
Broken ribs? She thought. But I don't feel-AH! She mewled in agony as her lower ribcage finally came back online. Fuck.
Don't worry huns, just remember. Blue stated.
Remember what, exactly? Rose asked angrily. I don't remember a fucking thing about magical fucking healing.
Oh right, wait- Blue said sheepishly. Rose was suddenly hit by a migraine that kept on growing in strength until settling for a dull throb. Okay, try it now.
Rose clutched the wand in her hand, running over the list of healing spells she could now use. "Right then, fracture in left arm, easy-Ossus Reparo." She incanted, hissing in pain as the break realigned and stuck itself back together. The hiss turned into a pained moan as a flash of searing heat erupted where the break had been.
Rose, vividly reminded of her other broken bones, pointed the wand at her gut. "Ossus Reparo!" She whispered in a pained voice, watching the sparkling light cascade from her wand and hit the area where the breaks were.
She fell to the ground and screamed as the ribs moved into position, her body contorting to realign the broken parts. She shrieked as the searing heat burned, the shriek turning into a weak cry as the heat of the bones welding themselves back together dried up her lungs. She spend a minute and a half coughing on the ground before getting up.
Mouth as dry as parchment, she conjured herself a mirrored surface, wincing as she saw the blistered mess her face now was. Second degree burns. Best spell for that? "Sanitatem caligine." She croaked out, trying hard not to move her jaw too much.
A whisp of smoke poured out of the tip of her wand, drifting over to her face and down her mouth. The blisters burst with sickening pops, the skin underneath regrowing at a phenomenal rate. The wounds healed over, disappearing without leaving a trace. Her skin was once again mostly unblemished. The vapour reached her aching lungs, coalescing and repairing the damage the heat burst had inflicted there. The pains and aches disappeared, leaving her skin and insides with the pleasant feeling of morning dew where the raw pain had once reigned supreme.
Rose breathed out, relieved that she wasn't as badly off as she'd thought she would be.
A pained moan came from the forest canopy. Rose looked up and smirked. The broom rider was suspended in mid-air, impaled to the rope by way of the shoulder. His left arm was useless dead weight, twitching and writhing spasmodically. His right hand was in front of the wound, keeping the man from sliding down the rope. The hand held both the rope and the man's wand in a death grip.
She looked around. There was her bow, lying close by. The quiver had fared better than she had, the magically reinforced container shielding the arrows from damage. More importantly, the rider's broom was lying on the ground about ten metres further up, completely intact.
Rose nodded to herself, picking up the bow and retrieving two arrows. The first was a spear-tip with serrated edges, designed to wreck the target's insides should they try and pull it out. The second was a sharp tipped arrow, basically a blunt-ended arrow with a spike in place of the standard bullet-shaped tip. She drove that one into the ground tip first.
Rose breathed in, breathed out. She nocked the spear-tip arrow, slid the shaft down the length of the bow, adjusted her grip so that the arrow was level and pulled the string back.
She raised the bow, aiming for the panting man suspended ten metres above her. "Hey, asshole!" She shouted.
The man looked down and stared at her with hazy, pain-filled eyes. "Bitch." He muttered, hyperventilating.
Rose smirked and released the arrow. The feathers at the end of the shaft caressed her hands as it flew past, the arrow speeding in a blur.
The man shrieked as the arrow lodged itself inside his gut.
Rose pulled the second arrow out of the ground, nocked the arrow, adjusted her grip and aimed at the thrashing man dangling on a rope.
She aimed carefully this time.
The arrow blurred like its brethren had. The spear tip hit the man in the forehead, effortlessly going through the front of the skull and out the other side.
The screams ceased. The body started twitching and jerking around, its death throes throwing the body lower and lower down the cord.
Rose climbed the tree she'd ambushed the rider from, coming to a halt once she reached the branch with the cord attached to it. She ran a finger across it. Pulled tight.
Her combat knife came out, cutting the rope off at the base with a quick swipe. It came loose with a twang, unspringing itself and snaking around as it flew. The body, no longer supported by the taut wire, finished twitching & jerking and fell to the ground, landing with a wet plop.
Rose descended carefully, checking to see that the wizard really, well & truly, was dead and not just playing along. Okay, so maybe the arrow was coated with a substantial amount of this guy's brain, but she hadn't gotten as far as she had by not making sure.
She dashed over to the corpse and ran her combat knife through the base of the man's neck. No blood flow. This guy was dead alright.
She sighed, turning the corpse over and starting to strip it of any clothing and useful-looking items.
It's not like he needed them.
It had been five minutes since Goyle's attack. Nott was not particularly worried. Henrick was known for being a bit of an idiot at times, but he had also survived the Dark Lord's downfall unscathed. You didn't manage such a feat unless you had something going for yourself and, with the virtue of actually having fought alongside the man, Nott knew that Goyle had whatever he had in spades. Goyle was a veteran. There was very little that the wizard hadn't faced in his lifetime and knew how to handle himself when faced with something unexpected.
So Nott wasn't worried. Merely... impatient.
Ah, there he was. The broom wobbled slightly before the red robe-clad figure hunkered down and regained control. Nott frowned. Had Goyle faced the girl? Probably. Maybe she'd done something to his broom before dying. The broom ascended slowly as it came towards him. The figure waved.
Nott stood stock still under his invisibility cloak. What was Goyle playing at?
Crabbe stuck a hand out from under his cloak, waving back.
The broom sped up, accelerating towards the house. Nott frowned before thumbing his badge. "Goyle, Goyle, come in Goyle."
One of the broom rider's arms let go of the shaft and pointed at the house's ruins. A blob of angry red energy sped forward, hitting the house with a massive BOOM.
"This isn't Goyle asshole." That voice. That hated voice. "Mister Goyle came down with a bad case of dead, unfortunately."
"You bitch." Nott snarled. "All units, that rider is hostile. I repeat, that rider is hostile. Take her down!"
A ball of blue fire hit the shattered remains of the house, wreathing the abused stone in hot flames. Screaming came from the wreckage.
Five spells shot off to intercept the broom. The figure sitting on top disappeared with a crack, apparating back to safety. Nott, not trusting the girl's disappearance in the least, shot off to check on Crabbe.
It got hotter and hotter as he approached the fires. Smoke drifted away lazily, carried by the air currents. There was the sickly-sweet smell of roasting flesh here, starting to spread with the smoke itself. Nott held his mouth and nose shut.
The winds shifted, bathing Aloysius in acrid, dense smoke. He started to cough, his mouth hacking and spluttering as an acrid taste coated his tongue. The screaming'd stopped. "Crabbe?" He wheezed. "Crabbe, you there?" He asked, moving out of the way of the smoke and continuing down the path. "Auror Crabbe!" He shouted with a pained throat. "I order you to answer! Auror? AUROR!"
He broke into a run, wand silently casting oxygen inhibitor and fireproofing charms on the surrounding area. The flames guttered and spat. Sparks drifted away, probably seeking to relocate deeper into the grass. Nott cast a flame-freezing charm on the area surrounding the blast, a thick coat of something unburnable springing into existence on the grass and ground around him.
Finally, he swished his wand sideways. The smoke dispelled, leaving him with a view of smouldering stone and ash-ah, there he was.
Nott hurried forward, hurriedly casting diagnostic spells at the man from underneath his invisibility cloak. The readings weren't good. Crabbe'd been right behind the wall when the bombarda hit, which'd knocked him out. The follow-up shot had been a compressed incendio, which'd hit the man square in the gut. Though it didn't carry any concussive force, which'd prevented Crabbe's insides from being turned into pulp, the fire from the spell had covered most of his body. The man barely had any skin left underneath those seared clothes of his. The invisibility cloak was now nothing more than patches of sparkling cloth embedded in the man's muscles.
"Oh Merlin." Nott said in horror, looking down at his fallen comrade. "Crabbe? Crabbe, can you hear me?"
A deep moan came from the mouth of the man, the movement tearing apart skin & muscle rendered brittle by the heat he'd suffered under. Two eyes, one the dull blue Nott had seen countless of times before, the other milky white and red, looked at him. "Major..." He croaked out in a harsh whisper.
"It'll be alright old boy." Nott stated. "We'll have Leto heal you and then we'll get you to St. Mungoes in a jiffy alright?"
"Major..." Crabbe whispered. "Major... Girl... Trap."
"What?" Nott asked.
Crabbe gulped, the Adam's apple parting skin as it did so. "Girl... here... trap..."
Nott started, standing up in surprise. "Shit!" He shouted, twirling to disapparate-
The rock came out of nowhere.
Nott slumped to the ground, unconscious.
A figure with skin that shifted to accomodate its surrounding environment, colours switching around to make it blend in with the grasses around them, slowly crawled out of the tall stems and over to Crabbe. "Hey." She greeted with a whisper and a vicious smile. "How did you know?"
"Obvious..." Crabbe whispered. "Did same... once..."
"Okay." She conceded, drawing a sharp knife from her back. Crabbe focused his remaining eye on the blade. It glinted in the sunlight. "Eye or throat?" She asked.
"Throat..." Crabbe wheezed. "Want to die... seeing sky..."
"Okay." Rose said, plunging the knife downward.
It plunged into Crabbe's bad eye. He still died seeing the sky.
Rose sighed and pulled the cloak thing off the commander. She wouldn't kill him, not just yet. She had some questions for him. She pointed her wand at the unconscious man's face. "Stupefy."
The bright red beam hit Nott in the face. She dragged him into the tall grass. Rose picked up his badge, twirled on herself and disappeared back to the forest with a crack.
"Major?" Madrigal asked into his badge. "Crabbe? Goyle?" He asked again, his hands shaking with adrenaline before he huffed. "Alright, roll call people! The CO's not answering his comm, so until he does I'm next in line for orders. Auror Madrigal, copying."
"Huh?" Madrigal said, dumbfounded. "What?"
"Hi guys!" The voice said perkily. "Name's Rose. I've got your commander with me. If you want to see him alive again, come and get me."
"Ye're damn right we will, yeh mudblood!" Angus snarled over the line. "Tell me where yer are so that I c'n kill yeh!"
"I'm in the forest, dumbass." Rose's voice snapped. "Where the fuck else would I be?" She asked.
Crack, crack, crack, crack resounded over the clearing as the last member of the team apparated out to save their commander. Madrigal sighed and withdrew his wand. "Point me Aloysius Nott." He stated, following the wobble of his wand precisely. He sprinted off in that direction. Hopefully, he could find their commander before it was too late.
Bernard and Leto wearily made their way up the hillock. The slope was alright, but something was off. Both men, huddled under their invisibility cloaks, kept a close eye out for any potential danger.
"Think she's here?" Bernard asked shakily. "I mean, there's got to be some kind of catch..."
"Relax lad!" Leto huffed. "We're Aurors! I think we can handle some measly teen, don't you?"
Bernard, carefully avoiding mentioning the fact that most of their team was now dead, gave a derisive "Hn".
"How close is that badge on your tracker?" Leto asked. "I've got 'bout a hundred feet to go, according to this."
"Yeah, hundred and ten." Bernard answered absent-mindedly, his attention focused on the forest rather than the empty spot where his companion was.
"Right." Leto said. "Let's split up-you go left, I go right. That way, we can catch her in a pincer movement."
"What?" Bernard asked incredulously. "We're tracking an incredibly dangerous witch here, Leto!"
"And?" Leto asked.
"And would you do that against, say, Bellatrix? Especially when you know that it's a trap of some kind?"
"Fuck off Bernie! This Snow girl may be good, but she ain't that good." Leto snorted. "Look, she's good, alright? I get it. But she's a teenager, for Merlin's sake! And she barely has, what, four, maybe five months of magical training under her belt?" He chuckled. "Relax, you'll be fine. I'll protect you from the evil bag of female hormones."
"Not from the other side of the flipping forest you won't." Bernard pointed out sullenly. Sometimes, it sucked to be the junior member of a team.
"Oh, shut up and get moving!" Leto snapped.
"Yessir!" Bernard said, the soft thump-crunch-thump of boots on leaves the only sign he was obeying the order.
Leto sighed, shaking his head at young Aurors and their idiosyncracies. Honestly, being scared of a teen. How stupid was th-
The mound of leaves under a nearby tree erupted. Leto started, turning towards the subdued noise and froze. The girl's skin was shifting. The girl wasn't wearing a top. Her breasts danced, caught up in the momentum of movement. Leto's gaze shifted to look at her face. Sharp, spiked teeth were parted in a rictus-like grin. Green eyes, alive with the lust for violence and blood, pinned his invisible form from behind glowing glasses. Her right hand was pointed at him while her left was pulled back.
There was a small axe in her cocked hand.
Leto's wand came up, pointing at the girl. The girl's free hand bunched itself into a fist. Leto felt his wand hand get wrapped in the invisibility cloak. The girl's fist was thrust to the side. Leto's hand was forced to follow. The invisibility cloak came off. "NO!" Leto shouted in fear.
The girl thrust her axe-hand forward and released the handle.
The axe head embedded itself in Leto's throat.
And Leto knew no more.
Bernard shuddered as a scream rent the air. He wondered what had happened. He really hoped that Angus and Tony were alright. They'd decided to go hunt down the bitch while he and Leto retrieved the commander. What Madrigal was up to, nobody knew. Anthony reckoned Madrigal'd always been a bit of a coward, even in what the others called the 'good ole days'.
Bernie'd been too young to fight. He hadn't been too young to mark, though, which is why he was here in the first place.
The others had looked down on him at first, getting him to do tea pots, fill out forms and the like. Then he'd been allowed to take on small jobs-find pickpockets, patrol the muggle world, all the little detailed tasks none of the others liked.
Now, after more than five years with the team, he still wasn't really one of the guys, but he'd made good progress.
Maybe, if he and Leto got the commander back, they would finally see him as more than just a joke. There was a reason the Dark Lord had marked him at the age of fourteen after all.
His tracker chimed. Twenty feet and closing. Fifteen feet. Ten feet. Five feet.
Bernie stopped. He was in front of a sickly-looking tree. He was alone. No sign of the commander, or Leto, or anyone else.
Bernard sighed. Figured this would happen to him. He checked his tracker again. Two feet. He looked down. Nothing. He looked up-there! A glint of something shiny caught his eye.
The commander's badge. Suspended from a branch.
Bernie stiffened, dropping into a combat stance he'd been practicing in his off time. "Homenium Revelio!" He shouted, watching as the nigh-invisible pulse of magic sped off into the darkness.
Relaxing, Bernard moved closer to the badge, inspecting it. Yep, it was Major Nott's alright. The scratches and nicks on the front of the monstrosity were the same he'd seen his commander wear every bloody day since taking this job.
He ran his wand over it, looking for any curses, jinxes, wards or the like the girl could've left behind. She may be a mudblood, but she was a canny mudblood.
Relaxing slightly, Bernie poked at the badge with his wand.
It bounced around on the edge of the wire, but didn't seem to want to attack him or kill him.
Bernie shrugged, extended his cloak-covered hand and tugged on the badge. It came loose with a ting.
There was a metal ring of some kind on the end of the wire. Bernie looked at it closely. Then Bernie looked at the tree itself.
A piece of something dropped out of a hollow in the tree. Bernard looked down at it.
The trunk split in two as the hand grenade hidden inside blew up. The top of Bernard's head was level with the grenade when it went off.
There wasn't much of Bernie left after that. The badge, on the other hand, was almost perfectly intact.
Angus and Anthony had dropped their invisibility cloaks. The whole point of this little exercise was to attract the chit's attention while Bernie and Leto got the major to safety. To do that, they needed to be seen. Therefore, no invisibility cloaks.
This, paradoxically, had made Rose's job of actually ambushing them harder. The two Aurors were on alert, constantly scanning their environment for any sign of anything wrong.
Rose spent five minutes trying to trail the two, looking for an opportunity to at least get one of them, then gave it up as a bad job.
Instead, she had picked up Leto's badge and invisibility cloak, knowing that the two, when they came upon the corpse of the guy dumb enough to pick up the previous badge, would converge upon their buddy's badge location.
They would come to her, thinking that their comrade had simply passed out under his invisibility cloak.
Two minutes have passed since the explosion. Leto's badge tracker showed that the two paranoid lumps had found the dead boy and were now heading towards her at top speed.
She couldn't see them. Trying to look at the world with the magical perception filters whilst hiding under an invisibility cloak was akin to looking at the sun through a magnifying glass. You didn't see shit and, soon enough, you were likely to go blind.
But she could still hear them.
Their boots gave off a soft crunchcrunchcrunch sound as the two approached. They were leery, pointing their wands everywhere and anywhere, firing off detector spells like they were cheap-ass fireworks. Thing was, the spells illuminated them as much as they illuminated her, leaving her with a very good view of what was happening. Slowly, ever so slowly, the two converged on her location. The sword in her lap seemed to hum in her bones. Absently, she wondered if magical swords had minds of their own too. Not that she hated AI or anything, but it would be good to wield some form of magical weapon that didn't automatically give you lip whenever you used them. The Bone Sword had been good so far, but it was an open question to her as to how long that state of affairs was likely to last.
"Leto?" Anthony asked, extending his hand towards her slumped form. "Leto mate, it's us. You okay?"
She didn't say anything. Come closer, she thought. Just a coupla millimetres, it's all I ask for.
The hand stopped just short of optimal grabbing range. "Hey Angus." Anthony said steadily. "You sure he's alive?"
"Let me check..." Angus stated, waving his wand around. Her body glowed, making her twitch involuntarily. She didn't like the feel of others' magic on her, she'd found. It was clammy. "Okay, give a sec for the results to pop up..." He stated, looking at the red numbers that started to pop up in front of him.
Anthony retreated back to his mate, checking the readouts in front of him. "'Kay, low blood pressure, reduced heart rate, no really bad wounds or anything, slight bruising on right hand-hang on." He said. Rose stirred, silently tugging her feet into a good attack position. "Says here that that lump there's female... Shit."
Rose jumped up, careful to keep the cloak on. She made it around the tree before two bolts of something blasted the ground she'd been standing on a second ago. She yanked the cloak off, sheathed the sword and jumped up onto the closest tree branch.
The two wizards rounded the trunk just as she was about to clear the third branch. "Shit, where is she?" The one called Angus asked. "Wuz sure she was 'ere a second ago."
"Maybe she apparated." Anthony suggested, shrugging.
"Nah, dinnae hear a thing." Angus stated absently, looking around himself. Rose tensed, drawing a throwing knife and lining up the shot.
"Well, what then?" Angus asked. " If she used that invisibility cloak of hers, she's probably long gone by now."
"Nah..." Angus said, pointing at the bundle on the ground. Rose pulled the knife back. Angus frowned, his head sweeping steadily upwards.
Rose threw the knife, her aim striking true.
The blade went through the bridge of Angus's nose, killing the man instantly. Anthony shouted in surprise before pointing his wand at where Angus had been looking.
Rose jumped to the ground, rolling just as the branch she'd been on shrivelled and exploded under the effects of a withering curse, showering the area with mouldy gunk.
"You." Anthony said in a vicious tone of voice. "I'm going to kill you."
Rose drew her Bone Sword once more. "Bring it." She said simply.
"Oppugno!" Anthony shouted, waving his wand around.
The ground beneath Rose's boots trembled and buckled. Vines and roots rose from the ground, whipping around and speeding towards her. The sword cut through the closest ones with swift, sharp slashes. More vines and roots came out as Anthony's concentration on the task seemed to deepen. Rose dodged as large branches started to fall from the sky.
She was bewildered. This... this was different to any situation she had come up with in her head. Still, if she killed the wizard, maybe it would be okay.
She dodged wildly, avoiding a tree that'd suddenly swayed its entire trunk around just to hit her, the large nuts growing on it whistling through the air like a cat o' nine tails.
She took several steps toward the wizard, dodged the dead tree trunk rocketing towards her from her blind spot, ducked under a string of vines coated in a clear liquid she probably wanted to avoid at all costs, cut her way through a string of roots turning into a wooden wall in front of her, sprinted over to the wizard before he could have any other clever ideas, side-stepped a blizzard of razor-sharp leaves, wildly dodged a rock that'd come racing towards her out of nowhere and slashed down with her sword.
Anthony screamed as the sword cut his wand hand off, losing control over the spell as he did so. Vines rocketed out of the ground from directly underneath him, impaling the wizard's groin.
Rose, still dodging like mad, did not have time to stare at the man as a hole opened in the ground underneath him and the vines dragged him, kicking and screaming, underground.
The attacks did not let up. More and more of the forest seemed to be converging on her. She needed to get out of here. She twirled in place and disappeared.
Madrigal turned around. "Hey! Identify yourself!" He shouted, bringing up his wand. A knife embedded itself in his wand arm. Madrigal grunted, ripping out the knife and dropping it to the ground.
Auror Madrigal gurgled as his lungs filled with blood. He looked down at the tip of the bone blade protruding from his torso. He gurgled again as the pain hit his senses.
The second blade went straight through Madrigal's hind-brain. Rose was merciful in that way, at least.
She was less merciful with the man Madrigal'd been covering, however.
"Wake up." A voice said, kicking him in the side.
Nott winced, opening his eyes and staring the girl in front of him. She was wearing a camouflage uniform, a fireleg and a sword dangling from her sides. Her helmet hid her hair from view, but framed her glasses and eyes nicely. "So you won." He said without preamble, eyeing the girl's blood-stained knife dangling from her right hand.
A pile of limbs sat in front of her. They were his. Odd, how he couldn't feel any pain.
"Your men are dead, to the last man." Rose confirmed. "At least, those I could track down. Two remain unaccounted for."
"Angela and Hieronymus." Nott answered. "They ran."
He laid there, gazing up at the sky. Movement meant death, he knew. He wanted to appreciate the last few seconds of his life.
Rose let the silence linger for a while, staring down at the man in front of him. None of the fire remained. None of the command or authority he'd displayed when giving orders. None of the charisma he must have had for his subordinates to break ranks and come looking for him.
She'd broken him and he knew it. Rose smiled.
Nott looked at the smile the girl was giving him. "What?" He asked coldly. "Expecting me to beg now, are you?"
"No. I've met plenty of people who've begged for their lives. They tend to be a bit more scared than you are." Rose explained. "No, and I wouldn't listen if you did. Rather, I've got a proposal for you."
Nott frowned. "Go on."
"Tell me who sent you and you'll die quickly." Rose stated. "You're wearing magical cop clothes, but that little tattoo of yours marks you out as a terrorist in this world. Which one are you?" She asked, wiggling his left arm around.
Nott sighed. "I made many mistakes when I was young, but we weren't terrorists." He explained. "We fought for our beliefs, our rights and our way of life."
Rose snorted. "I don't really give a fuck. I just want an answer. Who sent you?"
"I am here under orders from the Minister of Magic." Nott stated. "We were to neutralise you in order to keep you from winning the tournament."
"So he wants me dead? What's his stake in this?" Rose asked.
Nott shook his head. "I don't know. I was just given a blank cheque and told to stop you."
Rose nodded. "Fair enough." She sighed. "Next question. Answer this and you won't feel a thing."
Nott snorted. "It's my death. I want to feel as much as I still can. But go on."
"Did anyone else want me dead?" Rose asked.
"Yes." Nott stated. "Yes, a lot of people." He expounded.
"Because you're the girl who lived." Nott answered simply. "I don't know what the mudbloods told you, but that title has made you many enemies."
"Heh." Rose smirked. "They don't know shit about me and they want to kill me anyway? Heh. Heheh. Funny, how little changes sometimes."
"Huh?" Nott asked.
Rose smiled, revealing a startling array of pointy teeth. "You know, I don't really know your name, but I don't need it anyway. So here's some advice; when you die and find yourself in the afterlife, remember to tell the gatekeeper, guard or whatever the fuck you believe in the following words." She said, snaking her blade closer until it was just above Nott's left eye. "Rose Snow killed you. You'll find yourself with a lot of friends that way."
She thrust the blade down and pulled it out quickly.
Nott's limbless body jerked and spasmed in its death throes as Rose cleaned the blade, blood and vitreous fluid clinging to her clothes.
She had a name. She had a reason. Now, she needed to rescue her friend.
She thrust her hand out over the broom she'd left in the dirt. "Up!" She commanded.
Her hand closes on the broom's shaft.
Cedric's eyes open to the light and sound of daybreak.
He gasps as his eyes open.
The Sun may be rising, but it's not dawn casting its hearty glow upon him.
The firestorm has arrived.