Six in the morning always came quickly on the days of an operation. Regardless of how seasoned she became to crime fighting, Susan Darr always found the anticipation of combat far more distasteful than the act itself.
She couldn’t sleep; there was no sense in trying. The clock nearest to her side of the bed read twenty minutes to six. Its digital numbers cast a red glow, illuminating a path out to the living room. Finally admitting defeat,
Susan sat up and let her feet hang over the edge of the mattress. Behind her, Daniel slept a soundly as ever, breathing deep and slow. Dan never had any trouble resting before a big day, something Susan found both annoying and calming. Her mind raced too much for peaceful sleep, and she worried about what the next twelve hours might bring.
She grabbed her cloth robe and stood to slide it on over her pajamas. Her arms made their way over her head as she stretched and arched her back. Bare feet noiselessly advanced across the chilly hardwood floor as she opted to let Dan enjoy the last twenty minutes of his dreams without her incessant fidgeting.
Walking into the living room of their condo, she immediately felt the heat of the smoldering fireplace warm up her toes. Amber light flickered across the walls and across a lump snoring on her sofa. It was surely Derrick Krudwig, as he had snored since he was a boy. Susan looked around the room further and was not surprised to find the other couch vacant, the one that should sleep Derrick’s twin brother Matthew.
Matt was very much like Susan, which was fitting because he was assigned to her. Perhaps she passed on her nerves to him; then again perhaps his meditative ways just nurtured the deep thought. At this time of day Susan knew exactly where she would find Matt; outside. Making her way to the kitchen she prepared a mug of water, heating it to just below scalding with a quick snap of her fingers. The smell of strong coffee began to permeate from her mug as she held its heat between her two hands and moved towards the balcony overlooking the river.
The bite of Indianapolis’ December air never found her frame, as she walked outside into the night. As expected, Matt too was out, sitting in a reclining chair under a gigantic throw. His area heating charm made the balcony resemble someplace desert dry. Susan sat down across from him and without making eye contact kicked her bare feet up to the railing. Matt did not flinch at her arrival; instead he remained completely silent aside from the low, deep drags from his cigarette.
“I’m not surprised to find ‘you’ out here, kiddo.” Susan said after almost a full minute of silence. Her voice stayed low and soft in an attempt to not sound condescending.
“I don’t know how they sleep on a night like this,” Matt responded, exhaling smoke and flipping his cigarette over the railing. Without hesitation, he reached inside his robes and produced another one. He tapped his wand making the balcony glow in the red light cast from the ember of his cigarette.
Matt and Derrick were identical twins and Daniel’s first cousins. Nineteen years old, they were a few months into their third and final year of Auror training. Even though the two boys had spent almost every day of their lives together, there was nothing similar about them.
“Everyone prepares differently, Matty.”
“I can’t sleep through that snoring,” Matt smiled, making eye-contact with Susan. She could tell he was ready, by the stoic look on his face.
Susan sipped her coffee and stared off the balcony to the Indianapolis skyline. Matt continued to take slow puffs off his cigarette as he too dazed off into the distance. The eastern sky began to birth a soft orange glow. Sunrise was on its final approach.
Soon, everyone would be awake, but Matt was ready now. Susan could see this as plainly as she could see the skyline. Just ten hours earlier, she and Dan informed their two students of a change in operational policy. For this mission, the Krudwig boys would be taking their places as full team members, advancing beyond merely following their trainers around.
Matt and Derrick each had their own assignments, which would be executed without any supervision. Though the majority of the danger fell to Susan and Daniel, their jobs were not without risk.
“You really think we are ready, Cherry?” Matt asked softly, words meant for only his mentor.
“I think the better question is do you think you’re ready?” she replied.
“Hell, I thought I was ready before we started training.”
“True enough,” she laughed. “Dan and I talked it through; it’s been coming for some time. Besides, this isn’t much of an operation; we probably are just wasting our time.”
“Really,” Matt said with a sarcastic smirk. “If this is so routine then why can’t you sleep?”
“Okay, not completely routine.”
“Okay, well, I have a question. I mean, I understand the plan, which is great. I understand what to do if we get separated. I understand the codes, contingencies, and procedure; I got all that.” He sat forward and turned to face Susan. “What I don’t understand is this. If this joker is so smart, and so elusive, then why is—“
“He moving around alone?” Daniel said, walking up from behind them.
Matt looked to his right to see his cousin standing in the doorway with Derrick right behind him looking tired.
“Yeah, basically,” Matt answered Daniel’s question.
“Because Jon Alvitre is a paranoid, delusional and egotistical creature of habit,” Dan said as a matter-of-fact. “This intelligence is either right or it’s wrong. You guys are putting too much stock in it. Sometimes the information is good, other times it’s not. Most of the time it’s partially correct.”
“We do know this,” Susan jumped in. “All of the Department of Magic pressure on his organization is definitely getting to him. We have raided his businesses, arrested his people, seized his assets. The wizard is totally feeling our pressure. When he gets paranoid, he does everything himself. I know, I’ve been studying him all year. He thinks he’s making himself safer, but in reality he’s more exposed.”
Daniel and Derrick moved out onto the balcony and sat down by Susan. Matt picked up his pack of cigarettes and tossed them to his brother, who took one out. With a smile Susan stood up and walked back inside. All three men watched her, curiously.
“I’m gonna take a shower you nosey dorks,” she laughed as she left the room. “Before all the hot water is gone. I refuse to shower by wand in my own home. Quit looking at my ass, Dan, you had your chance.”
Dan smiled and moved in to take her seat.
“Listen, you two ‘are’ ready, do you doubt that?”
Both young men shook their heads.
“Do we need to go over the plan again?” Dan asked, looking directly at Matt.
“No,” he responded, making stern eye-contact.
“Then go get robed up,” Dan smiled while standing up. “I want everyone ready for one last briefing in twenty minutes. We have to be in position by sunrise.”
Matt kicked off his blanket and struggled to get to his feet while his brother Derrick scampered off towards the other washroom. Matt followed by letting loose a few strings of profanity directed at his brother.
Dan grabbed Susan’s cup of coffee and walked back inside. He paced around the living room for a minute before finding his way into the bathroom. With a clank, he slammed the lid to the toilet seat closed and sat down on the commode. Inside the shower, Susan smiled.
“Baby?” Dan whispered, barely audible over the rush of the hot water.
“We’re ready, Daniel,” she answered softly. “Your plan is awesome sauce.”
“With you shaking your ass as bait. How in the hell did I let you talk me into this?”
“This early in the morning, I doubt he will be looking at my ass.”
“You’re completely vulnerable. Please, let me come with you.”
Susan laughed and shut off the water. She reached through the curtain and grabbed her red towel. After a few moments of drying off, she stepped out of the shower, her hand behind her, clutching the damp towel wrapped around her torso.
“I have been sitting in this guy’s lap for almost a year. If he ever suspected, he would have done something long ago.” Susan knelt down in front of the toilet. Dan looked heartbroken and worried. “Baby, it will be okay. I promise.”
“If he even flinches, or acts like he suspects—“
“Then I’ll Transfigure his ass into something extremely painful, baby. Don’t you worry. We need him to get to Alvitre. As long as he wants the Suzie-booty, we have a chance. I’m not stupid; I know what’s going on.”
“I know,” Dan sighed in defeat.
“Get showered baby. Let’s hit this one more time with the twins and then get our butts on vacation. I need some time off.” Susan smiled and touched his cheek, rubbing his stubble with her thumb. “I will control my part, you get Alvirte, and let’s be done with this.”
Daniel stood and began taking off his night clothes. Susan didn’t speak another word while he showered. When he walked out into the bedroom, she was still fussing with her hair in the foggy mirror. Dan dressed, (no comma) as Susan finally came out of the bathroom. Her hair tied in a long plat behind her back and now jet black.
“Black makes me look like a cancer patient,” she sighed, obviously uncomfortable. Daniel knew better than to comment. Both Aurors dressed in moderate silence, exchanging only casual comments.
When Dan and Susan made their way out to the living room, they saw Matt and Derrick standing outside in full battle dress. Charcoal robes representing the Department of Magic, with yellow trim identifying them as junior Aurors. They stood around a circular glass table with several large parchments unrolled. Daniel pulled on his traveling cloak to cover his charcoal robes with red trim. Walking up to the table, Susan, dressed in jet black civilian robes, pulled her hood up over her head. Both twins turned to look at her.
“One last time,” she said, “I’m headed into the city to meet up with Rodderick Toya. That dirty old wizard is taking me to an unknown Apparition point to meet Alvitre. Intelligence shows us Alvitre jumps between two routine points. Dan will be at one, in Lafayette, the one we think he will be at. Derrick and Matty, as discussed, you will be in South Bend at the other.”
All three men nodded at her instructions.
“Contingencies: if nothing has happened by thirty minutes past sunrise, report your lack of activity by patronus to Daniel. Dan, if you have nothing, I suggest you jump to the twins and make sure they’re fine. These parchments are copies of the arrest directive. Ensure you present them or the arrest is not valid. Do you understand?”
“Cherry?” Matt asked. “What are our rules of engagement, being trainees.”
“You both took your oath to join the Academy,” Dan answered for her. “Everything applies, but remember, if by chance you do make the arrest, there is a good chance your actions will come under great scrutiny by Alvitre’s Defense Attorney. So make sure your shit is flawless and by the book.”
“Understood,” said Derrick.
“Cherry, it’s time, boss,” Matt said, pointing to his watch.
“Right, walk with me, Matty.”
Susan walked into the living room with her trainee as they stood by the fire. She looked up at him with a cold, serious face. “You are ready, do you understand me. Do not hold back, and if anything goes nuts, I want you to tear those wizards to bits, okay? This is not the time to get lost in your head. Concentrate on precision and accuracy, and remember—“
“Smooth is fast, yeah I got it.” He smiled at her.
Susan peered over Matt’s shoulder to see Daniel and Derrick having a similar private conversation.
“Okay, one last thing.” She whispered, just for her student. “This pervert Toya, he’s been all over the Suzie-Booty lately, so I need you to be close. I haven’t told Daniel because he’d flip if he knew what was really going on. If this guy finds out I’m D-O-M, he’s probably gonna start killing things. So be ready, okay, Matty? If you even sense Avada Kedavra, lock that wand up. It’s the only chance.”
Matt nodded as Susan grabbed a handful of Floo powder and stepped into the grate.
“See ya!” She smiled throwing the power at her feet. The green flames of the Floo Network engulfed the living room causing Matt to have to shield his eyes. After a few moments of blinking his eyes into focus, Daniel and Derrick walked up.
Susan stepped out of the grate in Toya’s home and felt something hard connect with her jaw. Knocked to the ground by an unseen sucker punch, she tried desperately to focus her spinning mind. Blood dripped from her mouth in gushes, and with her tongue she could feel several cracked teeth. It took only a fraction of a second for her fingers to reach up her sleeve and find her wand.
She turned and saw Toya standing over her, his right fist still balled up.
“Susan Darr, ha, if that’s even your real name,” Toya snarled at her, while pulling out his wand. “You have some explaining to do.” He stood over her, wearing long cream robes. His hair was dirty blonde and cut very, very short. He was perhaps forty and had a reputation for being paranoid and having terrible hygiene. This was the one time Susan didn’t smell him before she saw him.
Susan spit out a mouthful of blood but did not answer. She regained her balance but opted to remain on her hands and knees just a while longer.
“I had you followed you dumb bitch,” Toya continued. “You were seen with a boy, so I had him followed. Turns out he’s an Auror; what the hell are you talking to Auror’s for you little slut?”
“He’s a junior Auror actually,” she corrected, wiping more blood from her lips and flexing her jaw.
“Yeah well, while I was following him, I got a report that you met with another boy, the first boy’s twin. And, wait for it, he’s a damn Auror, too.”
“Barely, they’re both still in training.” Susan tried to keep her cool, hoping Toya would buy her story, but it was a thin story at best.
“So what is a little slut like you doing with two Aurors? Huh?” He screamed, and delivered a powerful kick to her midsection. Susan toppled onto her back as her wand slipped out of her grasp. She let out a few weak coughs before looking up and smiling at him with bloodied teeth.
“Are you finished?”she asked, both sarcastically and rhetorically. “What do you think I was doing with two nineteen-year-old brother Aurors. Twins. Soon to be law enforcement. What do you think a woman could possibly want from two young men? Are you really that dense?”
Toya looked at her confused.
“They're nineteen, what do you think I was doing? I just about have them doing my bidding. Both of them. Nineteen-year-olds know nothing about sex, so I screw them stupid and they tell me whatever I want to hear. They have no secrets with me; I know more about the DOM than any of your people. What’s even better is neither suspects I am also doing the other brother. It’s perfect.” Susan reached and secured her wand. “If that’s what you are kicking my ass over, my own private intelligence gathering techniques, then I am about to seriously throw you are beating.”
“You’re screwing them?” Toya asked, shocked.
“Uh, yeah,” she laughed sarcastically. “What’s the point of being a chick if I can’t use it to my advantage. I got those boys eating out of my hands. They will do anything as long as I promise to let them screw me again. Dude, you can’t be that stupid. This business is my livelihood; I will exploit any advantage I can find. So, go to hell you asshole. I don’t answer to you.”
“No, you don’t,” Toya snarled as Susan found her feet and stood up. “I will let the boss decide your fate. You have much to answer for.”
Toya moved faster than she expected, there was a flash of light, a bang, and then darkness.
Manning their post, Matt Krudwig and his brother Derrick stood in absolute silence hidden beneath disillusionment charms. It was nearly sunrise, and just two blocks away from the famed University of Notre Dame they waited in the crisp morning air, keeping four eyes on a predetermined point of road. At any moment, wizards or witches might Apparate in for a secret meeting.
This was the biggest problem with intelligence reports, and the bane of any decent investigator. Whether or not anyone showed up was purely up to chance, and the only way to be sure was to wait. A sound investigator would run down as many leads as possible, even if they proved fruitless.
Deep inside Matt’s gut, there was a mix of ninety-five percent nerves and five percent fear. Or perhaps it was ninety-five percent fear and five percent nerves. The confusion, made the situation that much more intense for the young Auror. A feeling he was sure his brother mirrored. The rookie in him made him certain they would see action this morning, even though Daniel was in Lafayette waiting for the same possible scenario.
A pop, off in the distance snapped Matt out of his own mind sending his senses into a state of hypersensitivity. He heard his brother react to the sound of someone Apparating, which confirmed he was not imagining things. Another pop, this time from his left, but still his eyes saw nothing except shadows.
A man walked out from an alley in between two ancient looking shops. With hands in the pockets of his long jacket or robe, he moved towards the point Derrick and Matt monitored. Matt fingered his wand, losing control of his anxiety as a second man appeared on the street.
This second man was far more conspicuous, walking and turning, almost like he was providing some sort of cover or protection for the first man. From Matt’s left side, Derrick broke the silence with a whisper.
“Drop that dog first,” he asserted, ordering the concentration of both their wands on this security person. “He’s surely a heavy hitter.”
“Yep,” Matt said with barely the sound of an exhale. “Take right, I got left.”
“Stay close,” his brother said softly. “My signal.”
As Matt crossed and then moved away from his brother, he allowed himself one brief moment to contemplate what was about to happen. It was he, and his brother, alone. No cousin Dan to save them, and no Cherry to protect them. All of their training no longer mattered. Regardless of their status, they were Aurors now.
The two wizards’ paths met. The first man’s hands never left his the pockets of his coat, while the other man still fidgeted looking protective and nervous. Matt held position against a brick wall behind a dumpster, (no comma) and ventured an educated guess that his brother crouched invisible behind a parked mini-van across the street.
Matt and Derrick had been in many duels, both in training and in support of Dan and Susan during classified operations. What happened next was pure instinct and rage. Matt’s brain was nearly removed from the equation as he fed off training alone.
Pre-dawn South Bend, Indiana, heard two almost simultaneous pops. First a tall man Matt knew to be Rodderick Toya appeared just ten feet away from the two unknown men. Daniel, having either mistimed his jump, or misunderstood the location Apparated directly between the three men. Before Dan or the twins could react, Matt watched as his cousin took three bright red stunners to the chest. His body flew down the street and that was the moment Matt noticed that Toya did not arrive alone. His heart sunk as he noticed an unconscious figure at Toya’s feet. It was Susan.
Whether the insanely fast reflexes of the criminal wizards attacking Dan, or the sight of his cousin flying through the air, one of those scenarios delayed Matt’s reaction. But only for a second. Matt raised his wand and let loose the most powerful stunner he had ever imagined. Though no diagnosed connection between his brother and him had ever been identified, Matt and Derrick were always on the same page. Under the weight of two silent orders of Stupefy, the fidgety mercenary wizard crumpled.
Two on two! Matt broke cover and reached for Toya, the closest wizard to him, as his twin locked wands with the other. That was the last time Matt thought about Derrick for a good stretch of time because whatever spells Toya cast at him, they slammed so hard into Matt’s Protego charm the young Auror realized he might have bitten off a bit much.
The darkness was ripped with flashes of red and purple as two duels began, with the two most powerful wizards Matt had ever known lying unconscious on the asphalt. Matt managed two offensive spells before retreating into a completely defensive posture, desperately trying to block the deadly accurate and powerful bolts of colored light zooming right at his head. His feet slid backwards in the ice and snow as his Protego took a beating.
Toya advanced on him, and Matt came to the understanding that he was about to lose, and lose badly. He hoped Derrick fared better, but what little information his peripheral vision could pick up told him his brother was in just as much trouble.
Toya moved behind Susan’s body, as if daring Matt to cast over his mentor, but the Auror did not hesitate. Matt’s spells were blocked with ease, but it was a small victory for the boy to be on the offensive again. Toya stepped over Susan’s body, which was his only mistake.
He froze, paralyzed, a look of pure discomfort on his face. Toya looked down at himself, seeing a hand grasped firmly in his groin between his legs. He doubled over in pain as a bloodied and swollen Susan pulled herself up by his manhood. Toya didn’t make a sound.
Susan acted quickly, considering her foot appeared broken, but there was no mistaking that Matt did hesitate. Using her hand clasped in Toya's groin, and grasping a handful of robes with the other, Susan pulled herself to her feet. Toya had no defense and was surely in too much pain to cast any spell.
Matt’s mentor stood erect, on one foot. She grabbed Toya by the shoulders and delivered not one but three crushing knees into the man’s chest. Susan’s bad leg or not, Matt knew he heard in Toya’s deep grunts that many bones were shattered.
Now doubled over facing her, Susan draped her right arm over the back of Toya’s neck. He still held his wand as she wrapped around his head in a reverse headlock. Kicking both legs up and dropping her entire weight on his neck, Toya’s forehead slammed into the asphalt with such force, Matt actually flinched. The force at which Susan’s back hit the ground was not pleasant.
Neither she, nor Toya moved again for several minutes.
The sight of Susan exhausted, bloodied and swollen did the trick. Matt honed his senses in and turned to his brother. Derrick, being thrown from the clutches of an unknown spell, slid across the ice on his back. Matt moved to the place where his brother stopped moving and reached out a hand to help his twin.
“Of course, I get Alvitre.” Derrick said sarcastically looking frazzled, yet determined.
“It’s just us,” Matt said with a grim finality as they both turned on their heals, facing their opponent. Alvitre, with wand raised, looked at them both with pure hatred in his eyes.
“Well,” Derrick laughed, reaching out his wand to tap his brother’s in a sort of magical high five. “Let’s make this count.”
Matt nodded, followed his brother’s lead, and turned, wand first, at Alvitre. With a snap and a flick the twins unleashed the apocalypse.
Daniel came to in a tidal wave of his own senses. He gasped, bulged his eyes and instinctively tried to sit up. Approximately seven separate hands restrained him. He felt cold and wet and was surely lying in water. Panic struck him as he desperately tried to figure out how he got in this situation.
The wizards over him identified themselves and DoM employees and healers. They explained where they were and how difficult it had been to revive him.
“Susan?” he begged and was told she was fine and being tended to. Dan rolled onto his side and squinted to see down the street. He saw another mass of people, huddled around someone sitting up but obviously slumped over. The coughing woman was wearing Susan’s clothes, and although banged up, she looked conscious. Her cries of pain actually brought him relief.
“Baby,” he grunted.
“I’m here!” Susan choked, yelling into the night.
Further down the road he spotted the twins, standing erect and talking to four men Daniel knew to be high ranking Aurors. Just to their right, resting on their knees were three wizards, all with their arms and hands bound behind their back. The wizard in the middle Daniel knew to be their charge, Jon Alvitre.
Daniel rolled onto his back with a sigh. Thank God!
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