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Their Finest Hour by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 2 : The Two Ministers
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 17


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Deep below the bustling streets of London, another busy scene was taking place, and at the center of it was Winston Churchill.  Britain’s new Prime Minister was beginning another day of work in his newly constructed underground command center, and once again he had woken up feeling the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders.  He was very pleased with how the construction of his new war rooms had turned out, but that seemed to be the only thing going well for him at the moment.  

       Churchill had been elected Prime Minister at a trying time for his people.  They were at war, and thus far the war had been a disaster.  In a naïve quest for peace, his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, had tried to appease the growing power of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, standing idly by as the Nazis expanded into Austria and Czechoslovakia.    That peace was shattered when the Nazis invaded Poland, and now, with all their allies defeated, the British people found themselves alone in a fight for survival.  As he had said all along, appeasement was like tossing meat to a crocodile, hoping to be eaten last.    

                Churchill strolled through the Map Room, which as always was a bustling hive of activity.  This room, considered by many to be the nerve center of the war effort, was manned around the clock by tireless staff members who were constantly sending and receiving updates from British forces all over the globe.  Churchill took a closer look at the large map that covered the entire wall, and surmised that the current situation was indeed grim.  Nazi armies had embarked on a series of lightning fast invasions across Europe, and hopelessly overwhelmed countries such as Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands had fallen like dominoes.  Now France too had fallen, agreeing to surrender after being overrun by the German army.  The Soviet Union had thus far honored its nonaggression pact with the Nazis, and Spain was determined to sit the war out.   The United States had been sending much needed supplies, but was still committed to a policy of remaining officially neutral.  As the map made clear, Britain was truly alone.  Churchill was frequently reminded that the only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.

                For the previous decade, Churchill had been the lone voice warning of the dangers posed by Hitler and the Nazis, and he was mostly ignored.  The last war, the “Great War,” was supposed to be the “war to end all wars.”  After the horrors of that catastrophic conflict, nobody wanted to contemplate the possibility of a second, even more destructive conflict against a more terrible foe.  Chamberlain’s appeasement was the logical culmination of a decade of willful ignorance.  Even King Edward VII and Wallis Sampson, the bride for whom he gave up his throne, had openly cavorted with prominent Nazis.  But now, there was a new King and a new Prime Minister, and together, George VI and Winston Churchill personified the tenacity and traditional stiff upper lip that the British people desperately needed now that the conflict was upon them. 

                Churchill had come into office promising the British people nothing more than “blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” and he had a dogged determination about him despite the glaring enormity of the challenges he faced.  Churchill walked past the conference room, where he would soon be holding his daily meeting of the War Cabinet.  Neville Chamberlain had agreed to remain in Churchill’s cabinet after resigning as Prime Minister.  It certainly made for some awkward moments, but at least he was a good sport about it.  Due to the increasing German air raids, Churchill’s staff insisted it was much safer to do his work down here than in the Prime Minister’s residence on Downing Street.  He sat down in his chair and looked longingly at the cot in the corner of his office.  Sleep was going to hard to come by for a Prime Minister at war.

 Churchill began to read through his daily briefings, and looked up when he heard a knock at the door.  “Good morning Alan,” he said, as General Alan Brooke entered the room.  General Brooke was a stern faced man whose moustache was a neatly pressed as his uniform.  The two men were frequently at odds, but had managed to form an effective working relationship. 

“Good morning Sir,” Brooke replied, “Happy to see me as always I presume?”

“Now Brookie, you know meeting with you is about as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist, but equally necessary,” said Churchill.

Brooke took a seat across from Churchill at his desk and proceeded to give his daily briefing on the status of the armed forces.  Predictably, the news was pretty much all bleak.  Much of the British Army had been trapped in Northern France after the German invasion.  Allen was able to lead a safe evacuation from Dunkirk, but most of their heavy equipment had been left behind.  Now, that disorganized army was preparing for the invasion of Britain that was seemingly inevitable.  Every night, German planes descended over London, dropping their bombs.  The Royal Air Force was making every possible effort to stop them, but its resources were few and thinly spread.  Further abroad, North Africa was now a principle theater of conflict, and reports had been constantly streaming in of British forces being overrun by the German Afrikakorps. 

 Churchill thanked Brooke for his time and looked back at his notes, as it was sinking in just how dire the situation was.  As he had aptly stated in his most recent radio address, the Battle of France was over, the Battle of Britain was about to begin. 

***

                A few short blocks away from the Prime Minister’s bunker, Albus Dumbledore, thinly disguised in muggle clothing, was formulating his plans as he made his way to the Ministry of Magic.  Being safely tucked away at Hogwarts, it was difficult for Dumbledore to understand the scale of the destruction wrought thus far by the war, but now he was getting his first good look at bombed out London.  In every direction he looked there was destruction; one side, a double-decker bus lay abandoned in a large crater, on the other; firefighters were hosing down the smoldering remains of what was once a community theater.  Every street corner seemed to have air raid sirens, and posted warnings reminding the citizenry to take shelter in the event of an attack.  Despite all the madness, Dumbledore couldn’t help but notice a strong sense of defiance in all those walking by.  Londoners made every attempt to go about their daily business, and from the firefighters to the volunteer air raid wardens, there was a growing feeling of unity and purpose amongst the populace.  Although the muggles had never heard of Grindelwald, and had no idea of the full extent of the danger they faced, he could still sense that they were ready to take on any foe.

                Dumbledore arrived at the familiar red phone booth that was of yet undamaged and dialed the proper code into the phone.  An instant later, he was transported underground into the large atrium of the Ministry of Magic.  Inside, the Ministry appeared to be just as much of a war zone as the rest of London.  Overworked witches and wizards were running in every possible direction, struggling to keep up with the multitude of demands on the wartime ministry.  The walls were bedecked with all manner of public service announcements; reminders of how to stay safe during the bombings and how to protect muggle neighbors as well.  Dumbledore walked by the statue of magical fellowship and into the main corridor where he was greeted by the new Minister of Magic, Horatio Hotspur. 

“Albus, it’s such a relief to have you onboard,” said Hotspur.  Prior to the war, Hotspur had been the head of the Auror office.  After going through several ineffectual Ministers in the build up to the war, it seemed that Hotspur was finally the strong wartime leader they needed.  Of course, Dumbledore had been offered the post and had graciously refused.  Hotspur was well aware of this, but he was secure enough to acknowledge Dumbledore’s superior knowledge and abilities, and he often sought him out for advice. 

“Yes, Horatio we have much to discuss,” replied Dumbledore as they walked down the corridor together.  Hotspur was followed by Elphias Doge, an old friend of Dumbledore’s from their days at Hogwarts who was now working as a senior aide to the Minister. 

                The trio walked onto an elevator and arrived one level below the Department of Mysteries, in Hotspur’s new wartime headquarters.  The Ministry’s wartime headquarters were every bit as busy as its muggle equivalent, and every witch or wizard who worked within its walls had been extensively vetted with questioning under Veritaserum and was kept under a close watch.  Dumbledore and Doge followed Hotspur into his office and took seats around his desk. 

“Well Albus, I’m sure you’re up to date on the current situation, and you certainly don’t need me to tell you just how bad it is,” said Hotspur.  Behind them, a wall sized enchanted map, not unlike the one in Churchill’s war room, displayed the latest known whereabouts of Grindelwald’s forces.  Hotspur continued, “Luckily Grindelwald hasn’t made it over here yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time.  We’ve already caught some of his spies within the ministry, the Aurors are busy tracking down the rest of them, not to mention putting up whatever defenses we can, simply put, we are spread thin and we need your help.”

Dumbledore nodded, “I have been preparing for this for quite some time.  Grindelwald’s defeat will not be easily obtained, but it is certainly achievable.”

“Well I suppose my first question is rather simple, but why is he doing this? What exactly does he want?”  asked Hotspur.

“I knew Grindelwald as a young man,” explained Dumbledore, “He often spoke of his desire for power, for wizards to lord over muggles, and it appears that he is seizing the opportunity provided by the muggle war to do just that in as many countries as possible, and at the same time, he has an obsession with obtaining certain magical artifacts.”

Hotspur asked, “Well he’s been awfully successful so far; how do you think he’s managing it?”

Dodge added, “Look at some of the wizards who have turned up dead, Peringnon in France, Carl Berg in Denmark, these are wizards would not be easily defeated.”

“I believe it is highly probable that Grindelwald is in possession of the Elder Wand,” said Dumbledore.

“The Elder Wand? The wand that cannot be defeated in a duel? Do we have any hope at all?” asked Hotspur.

Dumbledore paused, “The elder wand is indeed very powerful, but there are far more powerful forces in this world; Grindelwald has lost sight of this and we must not.”

“Yes of course, the power of love and all that,” said Hotspur, slightly exasperated, “So do you think Grindelwald is working with the Nazis?”

 “Hitler’s interest in the magical world is well known, it does seem to be a natural fit,” answered Dumbledore.

“Plus Hitler came to power around the same time Grindelwald overthrew the German Ministry, they’ve been invading the same countries at the same time, it really can’t be a coincidence,” added Doge. 

“Great, so a dark wizard with an unbeatable wand, joined forces with a muggle dictator, how are we ever going to stop this?” asked Hotspur.

“Grindelwald’s goal is to create an unstoppable army comprised of all manner of magical creatures; giants, trolls, but he has a particular fascination with inferi.  The army is growing bigger by the day, but if we could defeat it, he would be vulnerable,” said Dumbledore.

“Do you think he’s coming for Britain next?” said Hotspur

“His position is not yet strong enough to attempt that,” answered Dumbledore.

“Well where do you think he’s heading next then?” Hotspur wondered.

“Well the focus of the muggle war has shifted to Egypt, where our intelligence has detected high levels of magical activity as well.  I spent some time in Egypt many years ago, and there is untold magic contained in the ancient tombs,” said Doge.

“Judging by Grindelwald’s usual patterns, I would surmise that he is attempting to use ancient magic in Egypt to awaken an army of the dead,” surmised Dumbledore.  “If we could prevent this it would deal a serious blow to his efforts.”

“Are you volunteering your services?” asked Hotspur

“Well yes, I have always wanted to see Egypt,” said Dumbledore, “And I hope you wouldn’t mind lending me your assistant and his local knowledge of the region.”

“It would be an honor to help you in any way, Albus,” said Doge, as Hotspur nodded his assent. 

“And how to plan on navigating a muggle battlefield?”  Hotspur asked

“Well we may need assistance in that department, as Grindelwald will surely have the magical means of transportation monitored,” said Dumbledore.

“Right, but how would you go about arranging that, I mean I know that Grindelwald and Hitler are working together, but I for one, take the International Statute of Secrecy seriously,” said Hotspur.

Doge spoke up, “Well I know that we all stayed out of the First World War, however there is a precedent for cooperation, for instance in 1588 English witches conjured a massive storm to destroy the muggle Spanish Armada.”

“I believe wizards and muggles share a common humanity and facing the same danger together, and while I certainly understand why we must remain in secret, in this case, at least a minimal involvement with the British Army may be necessary,” said Dumbledore.

“Well,” said Hotspur, “As uncomfortable as this makes me, if the other side is working together, we probably should too, but in any case I think it's I time I consulted the Prime Minister. “

***

Grindelwald sat at the head of the table in a meeting room of the now defunct French Ministry of Magic.  Seated on his right was Colonel Hebert Gruber, who was currently serving as the liaison officer between Grindelwald and Hitler’s high command.  Despite Grindelwald’s disdain for muggles, it had been a very useful alliance so far.  After they had both seized power, Grindelwald reached out to Hitler through back channels, and after realizing that they were both on mad quests for power, and that their views were very much aligned, the two agreed to work together.  In fact, the Nazis even had a division of Hitler’s elite SS troops dedicated to tracking down magical artifacts and looking for supernatural means of winning the war; an aim that suited Grindelwald’s purposes perfectly.  Grindelwald waited as his closest assistants filed in. They were known as the Schwarze Stabe, or Black Wands, and usually wore black robes with orange arm bands bearing the insignia of the Deathly Hallows, a triangle inside a circle with a diagonal line through it. 

“Gentleman please be seated,” said Grindelwald, as they found places around a table.   “First of all, congratulations to all of you for our recent successes.” There was a smattering of applause.  “Now let’s get down to business, Dietrich, have you finished removing the artifacts from the Louvre?”

“Yes my Lord,” answered one of Grindelwald’s lackeys, “The treasure appears to be quite a haul, and it is on its way to Berlin for analysis as we speak.”

“Excellent,” said Grindelwald, “Yomoto, how are things on your front?”

“My lord, the Ministry in Tokyo is firmly on board with our aims, and we have begun launching attacks into China,” answered the Japanese wizard. 

“Schwartz, what have you recovered in Belgium?” asked Grindelwald.

“My lord, after much searching, I may finally know the location of the enchanted waffles of Antwerp,” replied the visibly nervous wizard, whose round face was sweating profusely. 

“My dear Schwartz, what on earth would I ever do with enchanted waffles?” There was nervous laughter around the room as Schwartz sputtered for a response.  “You see,” Grindelwald continued, “Those who serve me well will be given great responsibilities, those that don’t end up in Belgium.”  Raucous laughter erupted throughout the room, although Grindelwald realized they were probably laughing more out of loyalty and fear than because of anything particularly witty he had said.  Ordinarily, the cruciatus curse would straighten out disappointing subordinates, but he was feeling magnanimous given the current state of the war.

“Now gentlemen,” Grindelwald continued, “We move on to the next phase, constructing the ultimate army, an army that cannot be killed because they are already dead, Meisterburger, are you ready to leave for Egypt?”

“Yes my lord,” replied Manfred Meisterburger, a fierce wizard who had steadily risen to become Grindelwald’s second in command. 

“Colonel Gruber, are your troops prepared to assist him?” asked Grindelwald.

“Yes my lord,” replied Gruber, “I have units in place in Egypt and I will be joining them shortly.”

“I don’t think I need to remind you the importance of your mission,” said Grindelwald, “Good luck, and don’t fail me.”

***

Churchill reclined in his office, yearning for a simpler time when he could paint to take his mind off things.  Painting had always been his favorite escape, but he hardly had time for it anymore.  Now that he thought of it, the office was rather drab, and could definitely use some new pictures.   He was particularly bothered by a painting of a small ugly man that had somehow affixed itself to his wall.  Just as he was looking at it, the man in the painting seemed to come to life and say, “Stand by for the Minister of Magic.”  Churchill slumped down in his seat.  He had met the “other minister” once before, on his first night as Prime Minister.  At first he had assumed it was some sort of disgusting prank, but he was stunned to learn that there actually was a separate government for wizards within his country.  Before he knew it, Horatio Hotspur had stepped through his fireplace and was dusting himself off. 

“Winston, it’s so great to see you again,” said Hotspur.

“Wish I could say the same for you old boy,” replied Churchill. 

Hotspur motioned to the two other wizards who followed him, “This is Albus Dumbledore and Elphias Doge, so how is the war going on your end?”

“Oh the usual, death, destruction, little hope of success, wait what did you mean ‘on your end?’” said Churchill.

“Well we wizards are at war as well, and we believe that the Nazis are being actively aided by a dark wizard named Grindelwald,” said Hotspur.

“Well isn’t that reassuring, not only are we facing the Nazis, but an evil wizard as well, so tell me what is this Grindelwald up to?” said Churchill.

Dumbledore stepped in, “We have reason to believe he is planning to use ancient Egyptian magic to summon an army of the dead.”

“Well that’s just wonderful,” said Churchill.  He had already exhausted himself reassuring the British people that victory over the Nazis was possible, but he knew he could never tell them the true extent of the threat.

“I believe we can prevent him from doing so if we work together,” said Dumbledore. 

“Right, so we basically we have the German army and an evil wizard searching for some unknown magic somewhere in Egypt, and if they find it we all lose, but if we send a wizard into hostile territory, completely cut off, in the middle of a desert, he might just find this magic thing first and save the day?” said Churchill.

“That’s precisely right,” answered Hotspur. 

Churchill reached for his phone, “I don’t suppose you’ve met General Brooke, he’s a very disagreeable man; he has all the virtues I despise and none of the vices I admire, but he certainly has his uses.”  At Churchill’s summons, Brooke came walking through the door and was immediately taken aback.

“Sir, what is the meaning of these men in these…costumes?”

“These are wizards Alan,” said Churchill, as he brought the incredulous Brooke up to speed on the situation.  After a lengthy explanation he concluded, “So what these wizards need is a unit that can get them safely behind enemy lines, in and out, without detection, and I believe we have such a unit, do we not?”

Brooke answered, “This plan is absolutely preposterous, goes against everything I’ve ever been trained to do, and has little chance of success, but yes, we do have such a unit.”

“Well gentlemen,” said Churchill, “Let’s get to work.”

  


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