Chapter 1 : PROLOGUE
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It never stopped burning.
Even in the daytime, the smoke was thick enough to blot out much of the sunlight. At night, the fire lit up the darkness and chased away the shadows. It was one perpetual state of flaming twilight, fed by the explosions and the strange concoctions which kept the trees from being entirely extinguished at any time.
The light was eerie in the way that it flickered and threw shadows, but the worst of it was the smoke. It was inescapable, a thick, choking, swirling mass most of the time, and the occasional fresh breeze was a blessing. Most of the wizards around wore Bubble-Head Charms when they were forced to leave the comfortable confines of their tents, and on the occasions that there wasn't time to do so, there was often a rash of new visits to the infirmary for blackened lungs and eyes.
He stood inside now, watching the haunting scene swaying before him through the window. It was difficult to tear one's eyes away once they started seeing, really seeing, the hungry destruction of the flames and the cold metal weapons that left craters in the ground, the empty buildings collapsing and crumbling into one another. The world outside was broken.
"Mr. Weasley? Mr. Weasley, you have a message."
He turned and saw a harassed-looking wizard standing on the other side of the desk, holding out a piece of parchment while simultaneously scanning a long memo a few inches from his nose. He waved the parchment impatiently without looking up, and Ron leaned back to pluck it out of his hands. Without a farewell, the wizard turned and hurried away. Ron glanced down at the parchment in his hands and then let his eyes scan the room, where people bustled back and forth busily, some waving wands at stacks of parchment or examining maps, others barking orders at their quills to be dictated. It was at times like this, when he looked up and examined the scope of the thing, the real gravity of it, that he felt overwhelmed. How had they gotten here? How had so many things fallen to pieces at once? He often reminded himself, over the years, to take everything one step, one day, one action at a time, and he reminded himself again now. Out here where everything burned, there wasn't much time to dwell on thoughts of past misdeed or mistakes.
He glanced down at the parchment once more and, with miraculous speed that even magic could not mimic, his heart lightened. It was a message from home. It was difficult enough being in this godforsaken place without all of the people he had left behind- his mum, who was still managing to make her way around the kitchen, his brothers, but especially his wife and children. They were his family, his future, his every hope and wish, so precious and perfect that at times he felt like he had always known them and been waiting for them to meet him. There just wasn't enough time, or enough manpower, to go home all the time, and when he could- once or twice a week, usually- it was never the same as having them all together, his whole family. Harry and Ginny could never come at the same time, and without them there was always a gap. What he wanted, more than anything, was to have his whole family together, away from smoke and fire and war. But he contented himself, for now, with examining his daughter's handwriting minutely, and then opening her message with loving care.
It's happened! Dora Delilah Lupin, born this morning, around eleven. Victoire and Teddy were heartbroken you couldn't be there, but they were so pleased Uncle Harry could make it. She's a beautiful little thing, with such sweet little blue eyes that so far have stayed that way. Victoire says it's just as well, no daughter of hers is going to want to change her looks anyway, and of course everyone agrees. Hope all is well, Mum is fine, she sends her love and she'll be writing you soon, and knowing her it will be a novel, so set some time aside to read it, won't you? Hugo says when you get back next you're showing him the Sloth Grip Roll and he doesn't want to hear any excuses.
We love and miss you!
†He read it over again, taking in every word with a smile. He missed them like a constant ache in his stomach which food or water could not satisfy. But soon enough this would be over and he could go back to them, back to his perfect family. They were the reason he was here, after all, the reason they were all fighting. The thought of anything happening to them was unbearable, enough to stiffen his resolve. He missed them, his precious, brilliant daughter, his bright son, and his beautiful, resilient, fearless wife, but he was here to keep them safe. And he would do that.
Whatever it took.
Auror Officials Confident of Progress on the War Front
"The situation is a difficult one," said head of the Department of Wartime Defense Monday evening, speaking from the Ministry on a brief visit from the base of defense overseas. "The terrain is unfamiliar, and this is a war the likes of which Wizarding kind has never fought before. However, I can say with confidence that progress is being made. The Muggles are losing ground at a steady rate and we have not sustained heavy casualties since July. The Aurors and Agents of Defense on the front are some of the bravest and finest men and women I have had the pleasure of commanding, and are fighting tirelessly against the attacks of the Muggle militaries who seem determined to destroy the power of our allies in Asia."
However, talks of progress may come too late to dispel rumors of† frightening new developments in the war, including the recent idea that Muggles may somehow have found a way to counteract or block magical attack. A related rumor claims that Aurors have begun training in the use of Muggle weaponry, including so-called "firearms", a precaution against the day when Magical efforts are no longer effective means of attack or defense. When asked about this frightening gossip, Harry J. Potter, leader of an Auror task force on the front and wizard famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Voldemort, refused to comment other than to say, "We are preparing for every possibility."
Rose Weasley stepped from the doorway of the Ministry of Magic building and immediately turned and began walking away from it, ignoring the several photographers and journalists nearby, who leapt up at the sight of her. The attention had calmed down slightly since the last big breakthrough in the war, but walking out of the Ministry of Magic, it was unavoidable. She had stopped there to visit her mother in her office and to pass along a short letter for her father through the next batch of Aurors waiting for a portkey to the station, and had spent well over an hour there, waiting for her mother to have a second to spare to talk.
"Rose, may we speak with you?" one of the reporters was keeping pace with her as she made her way down the street. She paused for a moment. She really didn't mind them so much when news was slow, it was when things picked up that they became a nuisance, keeping up constant streams of questions and following her for hours at a time. Her brother never ceased to be amused by the attention and enjoyed giving them nonsense answers, but she much preferred to be left alone. She had a tendency to get herself in trouble when she spoke without thinking.
"Alright," she agreed briefly, wanting to get this over with.
"Have you spoken to your father lately? Is there any news from the warfront?"
The reporter was hastily pulling out a quill and a notebook and he looked up at her expectantly, poised to write, while the photographer behind him began darting back and forth, capturing her face from different angles. Uncomfortable, she avoided watching him.
"I don't know anything that you don't know," she replied, distracted by the movement behind him.
"Were you visiting your mother at the Ministry?"
"Yes," she confirmed.
"Have you spoken to your uncle, Mr. Harry Potter? How are they finding conditions?"
"My uncle is fine, I saw him yesterday. Conditions are bleak, as always, but they're faring alright. I don't know very much about what's happening over there. If you'll excuse me?"
The reporter stepped back politely and she breathed a sigh of relief as she walked away. It made her monumentally uncomfortable to know that her words would be in a newspaper somewhere by tomorrow- tucked away in a column on the fifth page, more likely than not, and heavily edited, but still present. She was getting better at controlling her annoyance, but couldn't always suppress it entirely. She wanted nothing more than to return to her flat in peace and finish the long essay she was writing on Memory Modification Damage. Studying to be a Healer had seemed like a perfect option at the time: it was a good job, an interesting one, and more importantly, no one in her family was doing it. But now that she was in the middle of her training and studies, she found it to be mostly exhausting. Fascinating, yes, but more work than she could have imagined.
She Apparated home, not bothering to step into an Alley or a shop. Since the Muggles had left London, the population had grown more and more giddy about their new found freedom, and it was not uncommon to see displays of magic on the streets nowadays. Her mother worried, saying people should be more careful, that they never knew what might attract attention, but Rose couldn't help but feel like people needed something to be enthusiastic about, even if it was only Apparating whenever or wherever they wanted to. It was a small comfort, considering everything else that was going on.
She found herself thinking of the Muggles that had lived in her building as she opened the door to her flat. Where had they gone? What were they doing now? There were times when she felt guilty for the deception which had lead them away from their homes. She herself had been on of the last to participate, but eventually, she too had cracked and cast the Muggle Repelling Charms on her building, and watched as the confused families inside convinced themselves to pack up and leave the city. Did they really have the right to drive them away? But there were other times when she knew it had been for the best, for everyone's safety. Witches and wizards had to go somewhere, and they chose London. To make everyone safe again, London had to disappear.
Ministry Enacts Final Protective Measures for Citizens of London
The Minister of Magic today announced the final measure that would be put into place to protect the suddenly booming magical population of London. In recent times, the trend has been leaning more and more toward encouraging Muggles to leave the city, and growing numbers have taken matters into their own hands by casting Muggle Repelling Charms on dwellings and businesses in the city. And now, in an unprecedented display of protective action, the Ministry is stepping forward.
"It is only with great consideration and thought that we have formed a plan of action that will ensure the safety of our magical inhabitants in London," the Minister announced today from the steps of the Ministry of Magic. "We believe that not only will these new policies protect witches and wizards, but also our Muggle friends-" here the speech was drowned out by boos from the crowd. "Yes, I say friends. There will come a time when we are able to live together in peace once more. For now, however, it seems in the best interest of everyone to separate ourselves as much as possible from the sights of those who would wish us harm."
The minister went on to list a number of new steps the Ministry will be taking to prevent discovery and possible attack by Muggle armies. These include making the city of London Unplottable, casting Fidelius Charms on a number of government buildings, and re-enforcing the Muggle Repelling Charms on the borders of the city. A Warlock task force has been dedicated to these enchantments, and will begin work starting Monday next. This has prompted outcry from a number of Muggle Relations groups in the city, who call the measures "unjust" and "heartless". The Ministry, so far, has no responded to such claims, but continues to reiterate the notion that these measures will ensure the safety of both Magical and Muggle populations alike.
Since the declaration of war, there have been at least eighteen civilian deaths in London of both Magical and Muggle citizens.
"Professor," the young boy called, raising his hand as high as he could and simultaneously setting down his quill with the other hand.
The Professor raised his head, pushing his glasses up on his nose where they had been slipping down. He smiled at the young boy who sat in front of him, looking eager.
"Yes, Jonas, what is it?"
"Can you tell us about the war?"
The Professor was thoughtful and frowned slightly. He had been waiting for this, but most students seemed frightened by the prospect of bringing up the terrible conflict occurring far away from the castle. As the Muggle Studies Professor, he supposed it was natural that curious students should come to him for answers, but it was difficult to know where to begin. There were many aspects of the slow descent into chaos that were inexpressible- the fear, the uncertainty, the desperation, that eleven- and twelve-year-olds couldn't possibly be asked to understand. But he would try.
"Well, what do you want to know, Jonas? I'm afraid it's a bit of a broad subject."
"How did it start? Where did it come from? I've read in the papers, but I'm afraid I don't quite understand everything."
The aging Professor sat back, nodding. He hadn't always been a teacher, and it seemed in some ways he was still learning as much as his students were. When he had retired from the Ministry, he had found it too difficult to sit at home, twiddling his thumbs, and he had accepted the generous offer of a job gratefully. He had found himself surprised by how much he enjoyed it, sharing the knowledge with his students, watching them grow in interest as he had. It was not a terribly popular subject, now less than ever. That in itself was strange. It seemed to him that now more than ever it was important to study, to understand.
"Well," he began, rising slowly from his comfortable chair. He always liked to move when he spoke., though his joints were not as limber as they once had been. "I know you've taken History of Magic, Jonas. But I suppose this involves a bit of Muggle history as well. Let's see," he said, turning to the map on the wall behind them which showed the Muggle populations and cities. "You see, many years ago, there was a great war, a terrible war. Many countries and governments, magical and muggle alike, were involved, and many people died. No one was sure how to end the war, until some men in the United States, our allies, invented a weapon. It was a bit like magic, you see. I'm not sure exactly how it worked," the Professor admitted, wiping his glasses on the end of his sweater and replacing them on his nose. "But it was a weapon of terrible power. And with it, they were able to scare the other side into surrender."
The room was silent, it seemed none of the students even dared breathe too loudly. The Professor sighed, caught up in his tale. "You see, magic has been around for thousands of years. But Muggle technology changes. What one country has, another country wants, and that is how they keep on inventing. So it wasn't long before someone else figured out how to build this weapon, and then someone else, and soon a lot of countries had it, but everyone was afraid to use it in case someone else used it against them."
He paused here, letting the information sink in. It was strange to think of the foolishness that a brilliant invention could generate. But then, foolishness wasn't only a Muggle trait, but a human one. Mistakes had been made. Decisions had been reached hastily. In the end, was anyone at fault? He wondered how to continue. It took a moment for him to form his thoughts into coherency.
"What you must understand is that governments can have enemies and allies for different reasons. Sometimes economic, sometimes political, but everyone is always on a side. But I suppose that isn't so important. What is important is that the United States had an enemy with the same weapon, and something happened. Someone attacked first, some intelligence was mistaken- a lot of information on the politics of it was lost. Wizards have not always paid as much attention to Muggle affairs as they ought to, and we had no idea such weaponry could exist until it was too late. Suddenly there were terrible explosions, whole countries being evacuated, and every country in the world was preparing for war again."
He could see in his mind the papers, the horrific images spread across them, hear the Minister's voice on the wireless. The chaos. The confusion. The horrors they had not imagined.
"It started in North Korea and it would have spread. Every country in the world, every city, reduced to rubble. People panicked, governments panicked. The Chinese Administration saw what was happening in their own backyard and rushed to stop it, but they were just the first. Magical administrations around the world were in uproar and trying to meet, to plan together some kind of defense, but the secret was out, by then. In stopping the destruction that would have destroyed us all, wizards had revealed themselves, and the Muggles were terrified. It was done so quickly, no one had time to think about the consequences."
He was speaking more to himself, now, quietly, reflecting and remembering. He shook his head, cleared his throat, and brought them out of their reverie by raising his voice again to address the class.
"And that was the beginning. Muggle armies went on the offensive, Magical Ministries attacked back, and so it has been now for two years."
There was silence, and the Professor wondered if he had said too much. Then a girl in the back row raised a quiet hand.
"Professor Weasley," she said, her brow furrowed, "Why do the Muggles hate us?"
Arthur sighed, shaking his head sadly. "They don't. Martha," he said firmly. "They don't understand us and they are afraid. It is fear which drives hatred, above all. When people are afraid, they will do many things, sometimes bad things, to try and defend themselves from what they don't know. It is a disease, ignorance, and it affects wizards as well. In the end, no matter who wins a war or a battle, it is ignorance which will harm us, witch, wizard, Squib or Muggle alike."
The bell that marked the end of the class rang, but for a moment, no one moved.
"I'm going out!"
Scorpius Malfoy shut the door of the Manor with a sharp Snap! before continuing on his way down the gravel pathway, looking up at the brightness of the cold morning sun and scowling. He should have been more polite to his mother. But it was difficult, sometimes, not to resent his parents and their attention. He sometimes wondered whether they weren't just trying to make up for their own twisted childhoods by pouring themselves into extending his- but no, that was an unkind thought. His parents loved him, and he was an only child, therefore the focus of most of their attention. He sometimes wished he had a sibling to dilute the focus.
The problem was mainly that it was so difficult to argue or rage at his parents. His mother was the epitome of calm and serenity and fighting with her was pointless, inevitably, she would wear you down, like the ocean, with time, will dissolve stone. She was never harsh or unkind but always quietly, elegantly immovable. And his father made such a point of considering Scorpius's opinion, and of listening to his desires, that once he made a decision there was nothing left to be said. They were strict but fair, cool but attentive, expected only the best from him but were careful to include his desires in their expectations. But they were so damned protective, so determined that he remain safe.
They gave him their reasons, explained the dangers he could not imagine, the ones they had seen, younger than he at the time. His father rarely spoke of those days but answered questions willingly enough, if in a detached fashion. And they wouldn't forbid him; he was of age and could do as he pleased. If he wanted to become an Auror, he was welcome to, but it was so very clear that the idea frightened his elegant, beautiful mother and confused his respectful, thoughtful father and they were excellent, excellent at making him feel like a heartless ruffian for imagining it. The problem was that the idea of disappointing his parents was repulsive. They asked only that he work hard to excel at whatever he wished to do and he, competitive, ambitious, by nature, had always done so.
But he wanted to do better, wanted to do something that mattered. He wanted to make an impact in his own right, make a name for himself that was neither included in nor separate from his families prestige. That was what brought him into London that day, before he really knew he had made a decision. Once he was done at the recruitment office, he took to the streets, walking along with his hands in his pockets, deep in thought with a frown on his face. He glanced up when it began to rain.
Second Anniversary of Declaration of War
Today marks the second year to the day since the American Muggle government declared war on the Chinese Magical Administration, and this anniversary comes amidst a recent storm of new developments in the Ministry's battle to aid our allies in Asia. Recent reports have confirmed what were until now only frightening rumors: that Muggles have developed a defense against magic. Officials on the front in North Korea had little to comment on that matter except to say that the nature of this anti-magic device is unknown, but it is related to the weaponry which famously began the conflict between the Chinese Magical Administration and the American government, the so-called "nuclear bomb".
When asked about this new development, Auror Richard Finius described its effects in brief: "It's not like a shield. They can't block our attacks any more than they could before. But it does something to the magic, corrupts it somehow. Makes it hard to control."
How this new development will affect efforts by the Ministry to aid the Chinese Administration's defenses remains to be seen. Reports have been surfacing that suggest this has given new confidence to Muggle forces.
"They're not hiding anymore," said Finius. "Used to be they'd try and sneak up on us, dart in and out, avoid direct confrontation. Now it's looking more and more like open field warfare. They're engaging us in the open, getting used to dodging magic."
In light of this new development, the Ministry is stepping up recruitment efforts for defense forces overseas.
The pilot flew low over the land, his eyes scanning the ground below. He wasn't sure exactly what he was looking for, only the clues that he had been taught to spot from this bird's eye view. Of course, he heard rumors, things that floated down from command, and some things were obvious. Somewhere, the wizards were hiding. But he didn't see what the command was planning to do if they found them. Sure, the radiation thing had been a lucky break, and was allowing them to hold their own in Korea. But a whole population of wizards, hiding together? He had heard stories, things they could do with those wands.
Then again, all of their fighters were probably holding down out in the field, very far away. So what was he looking for on this dangerous assignment- a bunch of wand-toting children? The families and elderly left behind? Sure, they had powers he didn't understand, but the thought still made him squirm uncomfortably. It's just a mission, he reminded himself. You probably won't find anything anyway.
He was lucky to be here and not thrown across the waters to that godforsaken place in Asia where the real fighting was going on. Others complained, talked a lot about how much they wanted to be 'in the action'. He was just fine where he was. He got jobs done, served his country, and didn't have to worry about getting his ass blown out from under him. He had enlisted when he was eighteen and been flying ever since he got out of the academy. This was where he belonged, nothing but him and the voice in his ear and the wind under his wings. Leave the footwork for someone else.
He leaned back in his seat and let the air do the work, his hands guiding the plane through thermals and drafts, enjoying the quiet of the clean air and the clear day. But it was difficult to relax. He had a feeling he had forgotten something, something terribly important- but he simply couldn't remember what. He began to shift in his seat, wracking his brain for the important memo that eluded him. He felt it was crucial, something he needed to do urgently. But he couldn't just turn a goddamn plane around in midair. What was he supposed to do? If he defied orders he was a dead man. But still, that feeling of terrible urgency lingered, growing stronger every second. He had to ignore it.
He was beginning to reach the edge of flat-out panic, his heart pounding fast, when suddenly a beeping interrupted his thoughts. He glanced down, but couldn't focus on the sound. He had to get out of there.
To hell with orders. He swung a steep curve and began to climb, gaining speed, and oddly the retreat seemed to calm him, allow him time to think. When he did, he remembered the beeping, the dot on his radar screen. Impossible. But he had seen it.
He adjusted his headset with shaking hands, the feeling of panic lingering but fading fast.
"Command," he said into the microphone, struggling to keep his voice steady. "This is scout. I think I've found something here."
Hello all, and welcome to my very first NextGen and my first real Action/Adventure story! This chapter was really an introduction to the situation, and the story will really begin in the next, Chapter One. Stayed tuned, and I would love a review to let me know what you think!
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