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Chapter 13 : D-Day
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“Sir, General Eisenhower is on the line.” an aide informed him.
Churchill eagerly took the phone; this was the call he had been waiting for. The past few days had seen conflicting weather reports, many of which cast great doubt on the invasion plans. Churchill had discussed the issues at length with President Roosevelt, but the decision to go ahead with the invasion rested ultimately with Eisenhower.
“General Eisenhower, I’ve been waiting all night to hear from you, so what’s the verdict?” Churchill anxiously asked into the phone.
“It’s now or never, Sir, this is the best chance we’ll ever have. I have given the order to go.” answered the General on the other end.
Churchill took a moment to let the realization that the invasion was actually happening set in before responding, “This is a massive undertaking, General, and I wish you the best of luck. May history prove that our cause was just and our actions were the right ones.”
With a strong wind rushing through his hair, Dumbledore clung tightly to his broom stick, closely following in the draft of the aircraft in front of him as they passed over the narrow expanse of the English Channel and the rocky beaches of Normandy. For the time being, the beaches remained calm and peaceful as the moonlight reflected off the ocean. But in a few short hours, those same beaches would become one of the bloodiest battlefields in history.
Dumbledore took a quick look over his shoulder to make sure that Minerva McGonagall was still following close behind him in a tight formation. Minerva was only a few months removed from her role as a chaser on the Gryffindor quidditch team, and flying had always seemed to come naturally to her. They followed closely behind the aircraft as the beaches soon gave way to rolling green fields and their objective grew nearer.
Inside the plane, the men waited in nervous anticipation, performing safety checks on their weapons and equipment to keep themselves occupied.
Finally, Roger announced over the intercom, “We are now approaching the drop zone,” as a small red light over the aircraft’s door suddenly changed to green.
Evans stood up and shouted over the background noise, “You heard him lads, it’s time to jump!”
Slowly and steadily, they all hooked in their harnesses and lined up by the door. They had been through Army parachute training in the months leading up to the invasion, but jumping into hostile territory added a new dimension to what was already a frightening enough task to begin with.
Evans assumed his position as jump master and took a quick look at the fields below that were far too dark to see in detail before barking the order, “Go!”
“I’ve always wanted to do this!” Reynolds said excitedly as he leaped out the door.
MacDonald hesitated on the edge, momentarily letting his nerves get the best of him as he looked down.
“It’s really not as high as you think,” said Bromhead nonchalantly, as he gave MacDonald a hearty slap on the back to help him find his way out.
“Talley Ho!” said Bromhead to Evans, before the dependable sergeant followed MacDonald out the door.
Evans paused; no matter how many times he did this it would always scare the living daylights out of him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before charging forward until he no longer felt anything underneath him.
“Give ‘em hell, Johnny!” Roger called out after him as he jumped.
For a few brief moments, Evans felt the sensation of freefalling as he rapidly plummeted. But then, he felt a strong tug upwards as his rip cord was pulled and the parachute opened up, the white fabric billowing as it filled up with air. He breathed a deep sigh of relief knowing that the parachute was in working order. He slowly glided towards the ground, gently tugging the strings so as not to land too close to a nearby cluster of trees. The ground appeared closer and closer until his feet struck the ground. He bent his knees as he tucked and rolled over before coming to an upright position; a text book perfect landing.
Evans quickly looked around and saw Bromhead and Reynolds unhooking themselves from their harnesses after making smooth landings of their own. He also saw Dumbledore and McGonagall slowly drifting to a landing as they hovered on their broom sticks.
Scanning the area, Evans soon became alarmed, “Where’s MacDonald?”
Bromhead sighed in frustration, wondering what type of trouble the young mischievous Scot may have gotten himself into as they began to fan out and form a search party.
Finally, they heard a familiar Scottish accent echoing through the night air, “Oi, I’m over here!”
Evans ran through the tall grass towards the source of the noise, and he came upon a small farm house with several animal pens attached. With great alarm, he noticed that the roof of the glass-encased chicken coup was completely shattered. He kicked open the door and stormed inside the chicken coup, where he made a startling discovery.
“Oh bloody hell!” he exclaimed, trying to suppress a fit of laughter, as the rest of the group came running up behind him. MacDonald had made a rough landing on the glass roof, which had shattered on impact. He was now laying on his back, unable to get up due to the weight of his pack, while several chickens were attempting to attack and drive out their mysterious imposter.
“Well are you going to help me up or are you all just having a laugh?” he asked in an annoyed tone.
Reynolds was laughing hysterically, unable to contain himself as he exclaimed, “That is such a good look for you mate, being covered in chicken poo; it fits your personality so perfectly.”
“Oh sod off you wanker,” MacDonald muttered under his breath as Evans and Bromhead grabbed a hold of either arm and lifted him up to stand on his feet. As he groaned mightily from the pain of his recent injuries while struggling to stand up, he couldn’t help but notice a very sympathetic glance sent his way by McGonagall.
With the first crisis sufficiently taken care of, the group walked outside, where Dumbledore was distributing large bags that resembled burlap sacks which were filled with a mysterious and dangerous object.
“These are erumpent horns, and they are highly explosive,” Dumbledore calmly explained, “Because we are destroying magically constructed buildings, I believed it wise to use magical explosives. They actually function very similarly to your dynamite or grenades, I believe. I must remind you again just how powerful they are; one or two of these should be more than sufficient to bring down any building.”
The men looked on in awe, very impressed with this new discovery, and extremely disappointed that they had never known about it before.
Dumbledore explained further, “We usually use magical spells to set them off, but in the experiments I have conducted, I have concluded that the simple lighted fuse that you are accustomed to would function perfectly well; although I must warn you to take every effort to reach a safe distance as far away as possible before setting them off, as they are extremely dangerous and powerful.”
All four soldiers grinned widely as they conjured visions of the pyrotechnics display of epic proportions that they were about to undertake.
Dumbledore distributed some crude hand-drawn maps as he informed them, “You can see the landing zones for the invasion clearly delineated on these maps, and I have also marked the relevant fortifications in each sector. I cannot stress to you how vital it is that these fortifications are disabled prior to the troop landings. Minerva and I have the fastest methods of transportation, so we will handle the farthest away forts on either side. When you have completed your tasks, please plan to rendezvous at this point. We are close enough to England that I should be able to apparate back, and use Side-Along Apparition for the rest of you. This should be a straightforward and uncomplicated task, and once again I must stress to you all just how dangerous these erumpent horns can be.”
His instructions concluded, Dumbledore slung a bag over his shoulder and lifted off on his broom, flying towards the outer limit of the sector they were clearing. McGonagall pushed her broom into the air and flew off rapidly, heading in the opposite direction as Dumbledore.
“Alright then, let’s split up and get this done as fast as we can,” said Evans, as he very cautiously cradled the bag of erumpent horns in his arms and ran towards the nearest target with MacDonald at his side.
Evans and MacDonald ran among the gardens and hedgerows, hastily dodging from one protective covering to the next. They could hear loud gunfire in the distance as American and British paratroopers had been landing all over the terrain. There were loud echoes as German anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the Allied planes overhead. A few miles away from their position, a unit of British paratroopers was engaged in a fierce battle with the local German garrison for control of a crucial bridge that was part of the main road over passing the river. Evans blocked these distractions out of his mind and forced himself to focus on the task at hand. He took another long look at Dumbledore’s map, straining his eyes to read in the evening light, and not daring to light up his torch for fear of giving away their position. According to the map, they were only a few hundred yards away now.
Evans and MacDonald slowly and cautiously made their way across a thickly overgrown field, when they suddenly came across a sinister looking building made of large black stones that was about the size of a standard barn. They quickly sprinted up to the side of the building and quietly pressed themselves against the side wall to take cover.
Making as little motion as possible, Evans slowly turned his neck so that he could poke his head around the corner and assess the situation. From what he could tell, there only seemed to be one guard; a young man in black, magical looking robes who seemed to be completely oblivious and maybe even slightly intoxicated. He carefully looked around and did not see any other signs of life on the premises. Evans looked back and gave a sly nod towards MacDonald, who understood the signal.
Slowly and meticulously placing one foot in front of the other so as not to make a sound, MacDonald made a stealthy approach behind the back of the still clueless and seemingly incompetent guard. Finally, the guard sensed a presence behind him and slowly turned around, but unluckily for him it was now too late. MacDonald jumped the guard from behind, clasping his hand over his mouth to prevent him from calling for help, as he choked him in a tight sleeper hold until he passed out.
Evans cautiously trudged inside the fort, unsure of just what enchantments it might be armed with. Pleasantly surprised at the lack of security, Evans gingerly removed two erumpent horns from his bag and strategically placed them in two corners of the building that seemed to be closest to the foundations. He then tied fuss to the ends of the horns, which he methodically strung out as far as he could while walking outside the fort. MacDonald dragged the unconscious guard away from the building before running to catch up to Evans.
They stood about a hundred yards from the fort, at the extreme limit of how far the fuse would reach.
“So do you think these things are as powerful as Dumbledore kept saying they are?” asked MacDonald with a sense of eager anticipation.
“Well, we’re about to find out,” Evans responded with a grin.
He reached into his pocket to retrieve a pack of matches. In his excitement, he bungled several lighting attempts and broke a few matches. Finally, with his supply running low, he succeeded in starting a flame, which he carefully lowered to light the fuse. Once the fuse was sufficiently burning, the two men took off in a full speed sprint and desperately dove for cover in a nearby ditch. From their protected position, they turned and looked back just in time to feel the earth shake underneath them and see fragments of black rock flying in every possible direction as bright orange flames shot high into the night sky. It was by far the biggest explosion they had ever witnessed.
Inside a spacious and well decorated office in an exclusive district of Paris, Franz Dietrich slowly pored over another day’s worth of painfully mundane paperwork. As honored as he had felt to be placed in charge of the Western theater by Grindelwald, he absolutely hated the administrative tasks that came with the job. Though skilled in many facets of his job, he was a fighter first and foremost, and he yearned to be on the battlefield.
He looked through the growing stack of reports that were piled high on his desk as he took into account some of the curious events that had occurred on his watch. First, there had been reports of an incident at a naval base in Norway; one of their crucial North Atlantic sea monsters had gone missing, and two German submarines had also been destroyed. Not long after that, he had been informed that there were massive fires and explosions witnessed in the wizarding village of Ste. Jean Charlemagne, which had become a much needed supply depot for Grindelwald’s forces. Dietrich had launched cursory investigations into these incidents, but was unable to determine any possible causes. It was possible that they may have just been catastrophic accidents, but it somehow it just seemed like too much of a coincidence, as if they were coordinated attacks by a well organized foe.
Dietrich had not reported these incidents to Grindelwald, and he had instead opted to attempt to cover them up. He feared the questions that would arise if he went to Grindelwald with incomplete information, and most of all he just feared Grindelwald’s wrath. He was going to make every attempt to ensure that things on the front stayed quiet enough that Grindelwald would not see any need to get involved. He was slowly beginning to realize that the higher he rose in Grindelwald’s power structure; there was greater and greater risk of one small mistake costing him his life.
The office door swung open as his colleague Sebastian Schwartz, a short round faced man with an eye for administrative details, entered the room.
“I brought some fresh baguettes,” Schwartz happily announced as he carried a large bag of bread into the room.
Dietrich acknowledged to himself that this was probably the main reason he had chosen the food loving Schwartz as his top assistant.
“Have you caught any more prisoners today?” Dietrich inquired.
“That’s a negative, Franz, and we have not found any more leads either.” Schwartz responded.
Dietrich grimaced, the fact that well over half the people on their list of undesirables to apprehend remained at large with their whereabouts unknown was yet another complication that he did not need right now.
Dietrich looked up with a start when a door made a loud crash after being slammed open by the burly strong arms of Hans Panzerlieder, who clearly did not have the brains to match.
“How much longer do we have to stay here?” Panzerleider grumbled, “It’s so boring with nothing to fight, can I at least go look for dragons in the countryside?”
“What we’re doing is called an occupation, Hans,” Schwartz explained in a condescending tone, “It’s not a glamorous job but it’s what we have to do. It’s sound military strategy; I suggest you should read up on your Clausewitz.”
“Schwartz, the only thing your fat arse has been occupying is the local bakeries.” Panzerlieder said dismissively.
“That’s really original, Hans, I think you’re the first person that’s ever made a joke like that,” Schwartz responded as he rolled his eyes.
Dietrich tuned them out as he adjusted the dial of the radio on his desk, curious to hear a nightly news report. He listened to the local Muggle news every night to attempt to glean information, but it had been quite some time since he had heard anything remotely interesting. However, what he heard on this night brought him to a stop. He bellowed at Panzerlieder and Schwartz to cease their bickering as he turned up the radio’s volume and listened carefully. According to the news, there were unconfirmed reports of Allied troops landing in Normandy. There was no further information available about their numbers or possible objectives.
Dietrich quickly rifled through his papers to find his log book. He furiously tore through the pages until he found the relevant page, which confirmed that several forts near Normandy had not checked in on time that night. Ordinarily this would not be cause for concern, as the wizards who manned the night watches on the forts were far from the cream of the crop and it was not unexpected for them to bungle their assignments. However, when combined with the possible Allied landings, not to mention the other mysterious recent events, it seemed as if far too many of things had aligned for this to be a coincidence. He leaped out of his chair and gripped his wand tightly as he ran to summon his colleagues.
“Grab your wands boys,” he barked at Schwartz and Panzerlieder, “We’re going to Normandy.”
As gunfire echoed in the distance, Evans and MacDonald expeditiously made their way back to the rendezvous point; covering each other with their rifles as they swiftly darted from one covered position to the next. They did not know just how much attention had been roused by their destruction of the fort, and they did not intend to stick around long enough to find out.
Evans scanned the area, straining his eyes to see in the dark night, and saw no obstructions between him and the row of hedges MacDonald behind which Macdonald had taken cover, which were a few hundred feet ahead and slightly to the left. He took one last look to his left and then his right, and then stood up and ran as fast as he could towards the hedges, finally diving and rolling to a stop near MacDonald’s position.
“Extra points for style on that roll, Sir,” MacDonald greeted him.
Evans squinted to take another look at the map; they did not have much further to go to reach the rendezvous point. He momentarily relaxed his level of alertness, and was greatly startled by the clicking sound of a rifle bolt as several shadowy figures arrived behind them.
“Put your hands up! Drop your weapons!” the man loudly barked as he pointed his rifle at Evans.
Evans and MacDonald kneeled and raised their hands in the air, silently cursing themselves for letting themselves get caught off guard in that manner. However, once Evan fully processed the information, he felt a deep sigh of relief realized that the voices behind him were thoroughly English.
“It’s alright, we’re on your side,” Evans calmly stated, his voice shaking ever so slightly as the man continued to point his rifle in their direction.
“Then answer me this, who won the Football League’s War Cup this year?” the skeptical man demanded in response.
“That’s ridiculous, mate, we’re clearly not German,” MacDonald spoke up.
“Just answer the question!” the man loudly and firmly insisted.
Evans thanked his lucky stars that he was being confronted by a fellow football fan as he answered the seemingly trick question. “It was a draw, Chelsea and Aston Villa shared the cup.”
“Alright, get up,” the man finally conceded. He offered a handshake, “Lieutenant Tim Pickering, Seventh Battalion, C Company, and this is what I’ve found of my men so far,” he added as he indicated the three men standing behind him.
Evan firmly shook his hand, “Lieutenant John Evans and Corporal Duncan MacDonald,” he paused before adding a slight fib, “Sixth Battalion, D Company.”
“Sixth Battalion?” Pickering asked with a quizzical expression, “You must have really missed your drop zone.”
“We certainly did,” said MacDonald with a grin.
“Well our unit’s scattered all over the place, and it seems like it’s the same for everybody. Nobody landed exactly where they were meant to,” Pickering informed them.
“Oh yes, fog of war and all that,” Evans understandingly acknowledged.
“Oh, and I’m sorry about pointing a rifle at you and everything, I just had to be certain we were on the same side, you never can be too sure, especially in the dark and everything.” Pickering conceded.
Evans searched his mind for a way to extract himself from the conversation when they were interrupted by a sudden burst of gun fire and forced to scramble for cover, hastily diving behind a nearby hedge row, with some of them losing their helmets in the process.
“Now those bastards are definitely not on our side!” Pickering shouted as he could hear German voices in the distance.
Slowly and cautiously, Evans peeked his head over the hedge row to assess the situation. There was a long stone wall about one hundred yards in front of them that cut through an open field, and a group of German soldiers of about equal size to their own group was taking cover behind it as they fired their weapons.
Pickering and his men quickly established covered positions behind the hedge row, and periodically popped up to exchange fire with the Germans behind the wall as the open field in between them soon became a very deadly crossfire with neither side really having an advantage.
The tense and dangerous standoff continued until finally, Evans had an idea. “Cover me!” he shouted, as he rose from his position and began to run across the field.
“Get back here! That’s mental!” Pickering shouted after him.
“It’s alright, he has a plan,” said MacDonald, who instantly knew exactly what Evans was thinking.
Pickering, MacDonald and the other troops wildly fired their weapons in the direction of the stone wall; desperately doing anything they could to draw attention away from Evans. As he darted as quickly as possible across the field, Evans hunched his back and hung his head low to present as small a target as possible. He erratically zigzagged, dodging several salvos of bullets, until he finally dove and flattened himself face first on the ground about twenty yards away from the wall. He dragged himself with his arms, staying as flat on the ground as possible, as he reached into his bag of erumpent horns. There was only one left, so he had to make it count.
He held the horn in his hand and rolled over to his back as lobbed the horn as high as he could over the wall. Just like playing cricket back at Cambridge, he told himself. He curled up into a ball and covered his ears as he waited in nervous anticipation for the blast. He sweat profusely while his heart pounded in his chest and time seemed to stand still for him. Finally, the earth reverberated with the concussion of the explosion and he was covered in several layers of dust and debris. He breathed a deep sigh of relief as the guns fell silent.
Tim Pickering came running towards Evans to help him up as he excitedly asked, “That was bloody brilliant! What the hell was that thing?”
Evans shrugged, “Just a grenade.”
Pickering shook his head in astonishment, “Well we need to rendezvous with the rest of our battalion, wherever they are. You buys are pretty good in a scrap; we’d love to have you with us.”
“Thanks, but we have our own unit to get back to,” Evans politely declined.
“Right, well good luck to you then,” said Pickering, as he and his men ran off in the direction of the nearest town.
“Now we’re really running late,” Evans said quietly to MacDonald, as they began to move again at a very brisk pace towards their rendezvous point with Dumbledore and the rest of the group.
Finally, they reached the designated point and found Bromhead patiently and alertly standing guard while Reynolds walked around, scanning the area.
“What took you so long, Lieutenant?” Reynolds called out to them.
“Oh, we just had a slight hold up,” answered Evans in his typical understated manner.
“Everything went smoothly on our end, but we’re still waiting for the wizards, no signs from them yet,” Bromhead informed them.
Dawn was beginning to break over the horizon when Dumbledore finally came into view, calmly gliding to a stop on his broom.
“I just made a quick flyover of the beaches, and I am pleased to report that the landings seem to be happening on schedule,” Dumbledore informed them.
“So where’s Minerva? MacDonald asked him, a slight tone of agitation in his voice.
“She’ll be here, she knows where to meet us,” Dumbledore said calmly.
“We should do something! Let’s go after her!” MacDonald pleaded.
“Minerva knew the mission and the risks involved and she is perfectly capable of finding her own way back,” said Dumbledore in a stern voice.
They were suddenly surrounded with streaks of light as they were bombarded with a barrage of curses, causing a series of explosions all around them. Dumbledore acted quickly and raised a shield charm to prevent further damage. Evans painfully clutched his arm, which was definitely broken. Bromhead seemed to have a leg injury, and Reynolds was knocked backwards but otherwise unhurt.
Dumbledore turned and looked to see a group of three wizards approaching their position. There was a large burly man who was roughly handling Minerva as a prisoner, a fierce looking man who seemed to be the leader of the group, and a short, round man following behind.
“That’s Franz Dietrich, Grindelwald’s second-in-command,” Dumbledore explained, “Take cover and let me handle this.”
Dumbledore charged towards the three wizards, displaying a ferocity the men had yet to see from him.
Dietrich was shocked when he realized who his opponent was, but he soon allowed himself to dream of the honors this might lead Grindelwald to bestow on him as he incanted, “Avada Kedavra!”
With a mighty leap, Dumbledore skillfully evaded the incoming killing curse, which landed harmlessly in the grass. Dumbledore dove to the ground to avoid a subsequent curse, then rolled over and rose to his knee as he fired a stunning spell, which barely missed Dietrich but scored a direct hit on his shorter companion.
MacDonald stood among his wounded comrades, feeling powerless as he helplessly watched the two wizards duel. He lined up his rifle towards the large wizard holding Minerva hostage and looked through the sights, but he determined it was not worth the risk, she was standing far too close to him.
Seeing no other options, and worrying about what might happen to Dumbledore, who was still fiercely engaged in a duel, he fixed his bayonet to the end of his rifle and charged forward, ignoring the warnings that Dumbledore shouted at him.
As MacDonald ran forward at full speed, the large wizard turned and laughed as he shouted, “Crucio!”
MacDonald’s entire body was overcome with an intense, searing pain. It was far stronger than anything he had ever experienced, and he so badly wanted it to stop. But amidst the agony, somewhere deep inside him, he felt an inner strength, urging him to block out the pain and keep charging forward. He wizard’s expression changed from one of dismissive disdain to one of utter shock as MacDonald drew closer and closer to him, if he could just close the gap.
Finally, only a few feet remained between them and MacDonald lunged forward, painfully pricking the wizard with his bayonet before the very strong wizard turned and knocked him out with a well placed punch. The scuffle was enough for Minerva to break free of his clutches, and she quickly recovered her wand and hit the wizard point blank with a stunning spell.
Minerva nervously stood among the unconscious bodies of MacDonald and her assailant as Dumbledore finally overcame Dietrich with a stunning spell of his own and ran over to her side.
“He’s hurt… he needs help bad,” she told Dumbledore, shaking as she said the words.
Dumbledore looked at her with a collected demeanor as he calmly and firmly told her, “Minerva, I need you to focus. We are going to use Side-Along Apparition and we are going to get everybody out of here.”
Minerva wrapped her arms around MacDonald as Dumbledore threw a large bear hug around the other three soldiers, and with a quick series of pops, they were soon back on English soil.
Evans and Bromhead recovered enough to walk away on their own power, and with Reynolds’ assistance they used a stretcher that Dumbledore had transfigured to carry MacDonald to the nearest medical station.
Still visibly shaken, Minerva turned towards Dumbledore and observed, “He ran straight into a crucio curse. I didn’t know that was possible for anybody, let alone a Muggle.”
Dumbledore looked back at her with his familiar all knowing gleam as he calmly informed her, “Minerva, I believe you will find that love is the strongest power of all.”
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