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Their Finest Hour by Cassius Alcinder
Chapter 15 : The Battle of the Bulge
 
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A cold biting wind filled the air and a thick blanket of white snow fell on the ground as Grindelwald stood at the edges of the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, assembling his mighty army.  The hordes of dementors hovering above only contributed to the dark environs.  After carefully studying the Allied positions, along with several German generals, it was concluded that this region was the weakest point in the lines, and would therefore be the easiest to exploit.  Powerful formations of tanks and artillery were massed amongst the woods, waiting to be set in motion.  Grindelwald’s wizards, who he had recalled from Russia and other missions, were deployed along the lines as well.  Yomuri Yomoto and Landalfo Padovisi were leading magical dispatches that had been dispatched to either flank of the line, and Grindelwald, along with the bulk of his forces, occupied the center.

Wearing a heavy wool parka over his German general’s uniform, Grindelwald stood silently with his arms crossed, watching his forces come together.  Franz Dietrich stood at his side, looking as fierce as ever, as he was very eager to atone for his recent failures.  Sebastian Schwartz was busily preparing intelligence reports, briefing the various wizards on what their objectives would be when the assault began.  Hans Panzerlieder approached, leading a large and ferocious furry white creature on a leash. 

“My lord, we are ready to unleash the yeti,” he informed Grindelwald, who nodded in acknowledgement. 

“My lord, all units are now in place,” reported Wolfgang von Wolfsburg, a bearded wizard who was the former Director of Magical Law Enforcement from the German Ministry who was now Grindelwald’s chief combat engineer. 

Grindelwald acknowledged him as Schwartz quipped, “Let’s just hope there isn’t a full moon during the battle, right?”  

Von Wolfsburg rolled his eyes in exasperation, “For the last time, I am not a werewolf.  That stopped being funny a long time ago.”

Grindelwald continued to stare stone-faced as his army began to move forward, looking out towards the encampments of American troops who were blissfully unaware that they were about to face his full wrath.  There was one thing he was certain of; that once the attack was launched, Albus Dumbledore would not have the nerve or the ability to stand in its way. 

***

The palace of Versailles, once the royal seat of French kings, was known to many as one of the most elegant and extravagant buildings in the world.  Its well manicured gardens, gently flowing fountains and exquisite chandeliers had for many years represented the epitome of luxury and the pinnacle of power.  But now that France had once again become a battleground, Versailles had been adapted to its new role as General Eisenhower’s Allied headquarters. 

As Dumbledore quickly made his way through the corridors en route to an emergency meeting, the scene was one of pure, unadulterated madness.  A sudden and unexpected German offensive in the Ardennes Forest had caught the Allied armies off guard, and now the general staff was struggling to make sense of it all.  Staff officers were frantically running in every possible direction, transmitting messages to and from the front lines.  The large map on the wall of the conference room was constantly being updated with the latest news from the front as conflicting reports seemed to pour in every minute.  The phones were ringing off the hook, the telegraph machines were running nonstop, and nobody present was going to be sleeping anytime soon. 

Dumbledore breezed through security as he was ushered into a private room with Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, and one more General who he recognized but had not met yet; a foul mouthed, cigar chomping American called George S. Patton. 

 The Generals gathered around a table as Eisenhower slumped down in his chair, looking overstressed and completely exhausted.  “Let me bring you up to speed,” he told Dumbledore curtly, “As you can see on the map, German forces have launched a surprise offensive.  So far our troops have been bending but not breaking.”

Dumbledore could see the clear picture on the map of a semicircular bulge in the middle of the Allied lines.  In the midst of the bulge, there seemed to be a small island of land that remained under Allied control. 

Eisenhower explained, “A division of paratroopers has managed to hold out resistance in the town of Bastogne, Belgium, but they are outnumbered and surrounded.  I don’t need to tell you all what’s at stake here.  If we can hold off this assault, then the war is all but won.  But if the Germans break through then all that we have gained thus far may be lost.”

Montgomery elaborated, “Due to adverse weather conditions and persistent fog, we have been unable to utilize air support.”

Dumbledore’s eyes focused in concentration as he processed the information and reached his own conclusions, “It has to be dementors, dark creatures who spread despair.  Their breeding tends to form impenetrable fogs. “

The Generals raised surprisingly few objections to Dumbledore’s explanation; it was just one more piece in what had been a long and steady stream of alarming news over the past few days.  

Patton spoke up next in a very gruff tone, “Well that’s enough talk, it’s time for action.  My Third Army will launch a counterattack and we’ll drive those bastards off.”

“But your army is in the south of France, that’s far too great a distance to travel,” Montgomery objected. 

“Nonsense, my boys will be there in 48 hours,” Patton confidently proclaimed.

Dumbledore calmly offered some words of caution, “I must warn you, General, that the dark wizard Grindelwald is most likely involved.  Your troops would be facing powerful wizards and whatever other magical beasts they may bring to bear.”

Patton pounded his fist on the table, “I don’t give a damn if they have wizards, mummies, vampires, the Big Bad Wolf, or the Fairy Fricken’ Godmother, we’re going to kill all those sons of bitches and any other Nazi bastards that stand in our way!”

When Dumbledore was slightly taken aback at Patton’s bravado, the General simply shrugged and said, “I’m American, I like to win.”

“I don’t doubt your enthusiasm, George, but I’m afraid that even if you do make it there in 48 hours, the whole front might collapse before then,” concluded Eisenhower. 

Dumbledore, having had a fresh idea, then spoke up, “Leave that to me.  I will hold off the assault until General Patton’s army arrives and eliminate whatever magical obstacles I can.”

“And how are you going to get there?” asked Eisenhower, who was now struggling mightily to make sense of the whole situation. 

Dumbledore looked back with his signature all knowing twinkle in his eye, “Leave that to me.”

***

A loud thump shook Dumbledore from his seat as the cargo plane passed through a particularly rough patch of turbulence.  With no effective magical means of reaching the remote and war torn corner of Belgium, he was using the next best option.  Elphias Doge and Benny Hamilton were buckled into the adjacent seats, all sitting in silence as they waited on the edge of a battle.  Joe Spinelli had come along as well, to serve as a liaison with the Muggle American forces they would soon be meeting. 

Dumbledore blithely wondered how Muggles managed to invent airplanes in the first place as he absent mindedly tossed his wand back and forth from one hand to the other, trying very hard to block more serious thoughts out of his mind.  He did not know if he would be facing Grindelwald when they reached the ground, and he did not know how he would react if he did.  He had this far managed to avoid a direct confrontation, and on a certain level he was hoping that trend continued.  He had convinced himself that Grindelwald’s tendency to delegate more dangerous tasks would mean that he would not be directly involved in the current battle; whether it was true or not it had been an essential step to be mentally able to depart on the mission in the first place.  And given the desperate situation for the troops on the ground, the mission was clearly a necessary one. 

Several more bumps of turbulence shook the plane as they crossed into Belgian airspace, and Dumbledore could barely make out some dark forms hovering in the sky amidst the thick fog, quickly realizing what they entailed. 

“Visibility is zero; I can’t see a damn thing!” Roger excitedly announced from the cockpit. 

Dumbledore rose and poked his head in the cockpit, stopping to assure Roger that he could remedy the situation.  With his wand in hand, Dumbledore nudged the plane’s door open and felt an intense rush of cold, damp air in his face.  Roger attempted to hold the plane as steady as he could, but it was still somewhat of a bumpy ride, with each rough patch threatening to send Dumbledore on a very long descent to the ground.  Doge and Benny grabbed tightly onto Dumbledore’s robes as he gradually leaned further and further out of the plane, feeling very thankful that the thick fog prevented him from seeing just how far the drop to the ground really was. 

Dumbledore aimed his wand towards the vague, black forms that circled through the fog, adding an extra chill to the already very cold air.  He closed his mind off to the painful family memories that were trying to creep in and deeply concentrated as he exclaimed, “Expecto Patronum!”

A clear, silvery form of a phoenix escaped from Dumbledore’s wand and spread its wings.  It proceeded to fly several rings around the plane, creating a clear path and much greater visibility.  With a clearer view of the ground, Dumbledore signaled to the others that it was time.  Doge grabbed the pile of three broomsticks and began to distribute them as Dumbledore consulted with Roger.

“The Patronus charm should give you enough visibility to turn around and get clear of the area.  I also placed a replenishing charm on the fuel tanks that should give you enough fuel to make it back to England, or at the very least, an Allied base in France,” he explained. 

“Thank you Dumbledore, it’s going to be a bloody long flight but I should make it,” responded Roger, who was still wondering how he got talked into this mission in the first place. 

“We’re ready to follow you, Albus,” said Doge, handing Dumbledore his broom as he approached the open door. 

Dumbledore nodded and mounted his broom as Doge did the same.  Spinelli grabbed onto Benny as he took a seat behind him on his broom.  Dumbledore took a deep breath, intently focusing to calm his nerves, before getting a strong running start and launching himself out the door.  The wind rushed through his hair and his entire body was lurched around as he tumbled several times through the air before finally stabilizing enough to gain control of his broom and guide his flight path.  Moments later, Doge and Benny had sufficiently stabilized and taken positions behind and on either side of him, making a triangular formation.  Spinelli looked white as a sheet as he tightly wrapped his arms around Benny, wishing he had just stuck to parachuting. 

Dumbledore led the formation in a steep dive, hurtling rapidly towards the ground, and then pulling up to level off when they reached around tree top level.  They skimmed along the treetops before finally gliding to a stop in the middle of a snow covered town.  With its medieval churches, quaint corner shops, and cobblestone streets, Bastogne, Belgium was ordinarily the type of town that would appear on paintings used in Christmas cards.  But now, it was a battleground.  After several days of constant bombardment, very few buildings in the town remained wholly intact, and piles of dust and rubble filled the streets.  Groups of American soldiers huddled together for warmth and shelter among the ruins, waiting to fend off the next assault amidst the constant echo of gunfire in the distance. 

Spinelli ducked into an abandoned building to relieve himself of the motion sickness brought on by the tumultuous broom ride before stepping back out onto the street to guide the three wizards.  “That’s the 101st Airborne, my old unit,” he explained, as they passed by a small formation of troops.

They walked through the bombed out streets past the groups of worn and ragged soldiers, determined to continue their defiant resistance.  They were particularly struck by noticing that many of the soldiers had thrown up makeshift Christmas decorations, and were singing carols and exchanging small, hastily wrapped packages of cigarettes and chocolate rations as gifts.  Dumbledore remembered that it was, in fact, Christmas Eve.  He felt great sympathy for the soldiers who would be spending the holiday away from their families, and he reflected that it had been ages since he had one so himself.  His brother Aberforth was the only family he had left, and they hadn’t spoken in quite some time.  Their sister’s tragic death had driven a deep wedge between them, one that remained all these years later. 

Doge observed the soldiers as well and he remarked in awe, “It baffles me how they can be so bloody cheerful while surrounded by dementors in a war zone.”   

Benny chuckled as he explained, “You just don’t understand Americans, Elphias.  We’re an optimistic people.”

They continued walking through the town until they reached a security post outside a nondescript building.  Spinelli presented his identification, and the four of them were admitted into the makeshift headquarters of the airborne division.  They stepped into the house, which was only slightly warmer than it was outside, and were greeted by General McAuliffe, the commanding officer. 

The General stood up, relieved and surprised to see them, as he greeted, “Lieutenant Spinelli, we thought you went off the grid completely.  Where are you working these days, exactly?”

Spinelli smiled as he informed his former commander, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Sir.”  He then turned towards his magical colleagues, “General, this is Albus Dumbledore, Elphias Doge, and Benny Hamilton.”

“General Eisenhower warned me about the three of you,” said McAuliffe, as he shook their hands. 

They took seats around a desk to begin the meeting as McAuliffe updated them on the situation.  “There have been some very strange occurrences here that seem to be aiding the Germans.  Just yesterday we managed to kill this,” he said, showing a black and white photograph of a large furry creature. 

“Merlin, it’s a yeti!” Doge exclaimed.  “This must be Grindelwald’s doing.”

Dumbledore maintained his cool expression as he calmly asked, “What is the current state of your defenses?”

McAuliffe explained, “We’re outnumbered, outgunned, and running out of supplies, but I think we can hold them, although just the other day the Germans sent us a note asking for our surrender.”

“And what did you tell them?” Doge asked eagerly.

McAuliffe grinned proudly, “I told them ‘Nuts!’ ”

Benny tipped his cowboy hat in homage to McAuliffe as he told Elphias, “This is more of that American spirit I was telling you about.”

McAuliffe then explained the situation further, “The latest reports have General Patton’s army a day or two away from here.  We know what’s at stake; if we can hold out until then, we’ve pretty much won the war.”

Dumbledore had a concerned expression as he appeared to be contemplating deeply, “I fear Grindelwald may attempt one last assault before then, which is why we are here, of course.”

McAuliffe patted him on the back, “Well good luck Mr. Dumbledore, we might not be magic, but whatever is out there, we’ll help you any way we can.”

***

The German General Heinrich von Luttwitz sat in his command tent, assessing the situation.  He was shocked and appalled that his American counterpart had so rudely refused his generous surrender terms, and he wondered what possessed those men to keep fighting despite the odds being stacked against them.  His forces, which greatly outnumbered their American foes, had surrounded the village and cut off their supplies, as well as maintaining a constant barrage of fire towards the defenders.  Yet for reasons unknown, the resistance had held firm, and now, with reinforcements en route, time was beginning to run out for the Germans. 

The General barked furious orders to his staff officers, imploring them to send their troops forward and attack with everything at their disposal.  While beginning to address two of his colonels, he was interrupted by a powerful blonde man suddenly entering the tent. 

“General Grindelwald, Sir, how may we assist you?” the General asked nervously. 

“Why have you not yet secured the village, General?” Grindelwald angrily demanded.

Von Luttwitz stammered for a response, “We are about to launch a new assault, which I have no doubt will be successful at breaking their defenses.”

Grindelwald stared at him with a disgusted expression as he grumbled, “No, it’s too late for that.  It appears I am going to have to take matters into my own hands.”

Grindelwald turned his back to von Luttwitz and stormed out of the tent, leaving just as quickly as he had arrived. 

***

With a determined expression, Dumbledore slowly and steadily walked towards the outskirts of the town, with Doge and Benny following closely behind him.  The guards manning the outposts saluted them as they walked on by, leaving the American lines and heading towards the Germans.  As the three wizards neared the German lines, they were greeted by sudden outbursts of gunfire on all sides. 

Without missing a step, Dumbledore calmly cast a shield charm, forming a protective covering that deflected the incoming bullets.  Protected by Dumbledore’s charm, Doge and Benny unleashed a quick succession of stunning and confounding charms, causing the German soldiers to scatter in confusion. 

The three wizards continued to move forward, creating a large gap in the German lines.  They met no serious resistance until at last they heard the loud cracks of a group of wizards apparating in front of them.  A flurry of curses was unleashed by both sides as they began to duel.  Things were happening too fast for Dumbledore to process as he dove left and right to dodge curses, stopping whenever possible to fire off counterattacks.  It was not clear just how many enemy wizards he was facing, but it was certainly a lot more than the three of them, and they were in grave danger of being cut off and surrounded. 

As a group of dark wizards massed together to combine their firepower and press home the attack, Dumbledore’s ability to think outside the box finally came into play.  Acting quickly, he used a powerful levitation charm to uproot a large tree and send it flying in the wizard’s direction.  He watched as the long and thick trunk impacted squarely in the middle of the tightly packed group of wizards, sending them reeling backwards. 

With the scales now tipped in their favor, for the moment at least, Dumbledore, Doge, and Benny charged wildly forward, firing stunning spells as quickly as possible and pursuing their retreating foes.  Despite their disadvantage in numbers, they remained on the offensive, quickly gaining ground as more and more of their foes fell to their spells. 

Just when Dumbledore began to have a lighter spring in his step, he felt a sudden jolt of fear and apprehension all over his body as he was confronted with a familiar figure from his past.  Though the dark wizard was still a long distance away, Dumbledore could not fail to recognize the familiar face of Grindelwald.

For a moment, both wizards stood in disbelief, both equally shocked to encounter the other.  Then, Grindelwald looked around at his retreating followers before wildly firing a curse, which sailed over Dumbledore’s head, and joining them in the frantic retreat.  Without pausing to think, Dumbledore ran after him, running as fast as he could through the snow as an adrenaline rush surged through him.

Grindelwald fled rapidly, cursing trees, rocks and whatever other objects he could find to fly towards Dumbledore.  Dumbledore ran in a zigzagging pattern, dodging the objects as he magically deflected them.  Dumbledore’s lungs burned as he heavily exerted himself in the cold winter air, and his legs ached mightily from running through the snow.    Pressing on through his growing exhaustion, he widened his stride as the terrain became steeper and steeper, and he soon found himself climbing a mountain.  He cast a charm on his shoes to improve their traction and make them waterproof as he struggled to maintain his footing. 

Finally, he slowed to a halt as the ground leveled off in a ledge overlooking the scenic valley below.  He looked up to see himself nearly face to face with a manically grinning Grindelwald, who quickly disapparated and reappeared on another peak across the valley.  His mocking voice echoed through the valley, “Nice try, Albus,” as he fired off an explosive curse and disapparated again.

Grindelwald’s curse impacted high above Dumbledore on the mountainside, and he heard a low rumble as massive quantities of snow began to slide down the mountain.  Dumbledore stepped backwards in trepidation, but he felt his feet fly out from under him as he stepped on a large patch of ice. The wave of snow became larger and larger as it moved down the mountain.  Dumbledore struggled to grab onto something as he slid downhill.  He desperately fired protective charms, but the sheer amount of snow was just too much for him.  Before Dumbledore knew it, he was buried in a large drift of freezing white snow.  It was packed far too tightly for him to move or reach his wand, and every part of his body was absolutely chilled to the bone. 

Dumbledore had no idea how long he had been buried in the snow when he was finally greeted by Elphias Doge, who was hastily digging while Benny stood behind him casting warming charms. 

“Albus! Oh Merlin, we feared the worst,” said Doge, shaking with excitement at having discovered Dumbledore alive. 

“What happened? Where’s Grindelwlad?” Dumbledore asked as he slowly came to his senses. 

“He’s gone; he disapparted and cleared out of here, they all did,” Benny informed him. 

“And the soldiers in the town?” Dumbledore asked, squinting as the snow melted around his eyes. 

“The relief column is only 12 hours out, it looks like they’re going to hold,” Benny assured him. 

Dumbledore took a deep breath as he leaned back in the snow.  The war was nearing its conclusion, but one major obstacle remained. 

***

Sebastian Schwartz stealthily crawled along the gentle, rolling hills, carefully remaining in the shadows.  After Dumbledore’s unexpected intervention, Grindelwald had ordered his wizards to break off the assault, leaving the Muggle German forces to their fate.  Their new orders were to fall back to Nurmengard, where they would have a strong defensive position.  However, prior to returning to Nurmengard, each wizard was given a target to attack, as Grindelwald desired to send a message that he was still to be feared.  As Schwartz made his way through the green hills of Southern France, with Hans Panzerlieder following close behind him,  their assigned target finally came into view; the sprawling yellow palace of Beauxbatons Academy. 

The crouched along a tree covered ledge, looking down with a commanding view at the school below.  Their orders from Grindelwald were simple; destroy the school, and pay no heed to whoever may be inside. 

“What are you waiting for, Schwartz?” Panzerlieder asked impatiently as he drew his wand and prepared for the attack.

Schwartz did not answer him because he was deep in contemplation.  Like many German wizards of his generation, he had initially been very excited about Grindelwald’s plans for a wizarding empire, and was eager to join his cause in search of adventure and glory.  As he experienced more and more of the harsh realities of war, his misguided idealism quickly faded, and he became focused on simply surviving.  But now, as he watched the French students march to class in neat, perfect rows, he was finally beginning to question the morality of it all.  He had wanted an adventure, and attacking a school was definitely not what he had in mind.

“We don’t have all day, Schwartz,” Panzerlieder testily reminded him.

On a sudden impulse, Schwartz turned towards his colleague and cast, “Stupefy!” knocking him to the ground.  He then quickly followed up with “Obliviate!” to modify his memory. 

Schwartz looked around, not entirely sure why he had just done that, haranguing himself for acting so rashly, yet concluding that it was probably the right thing to do.  Not allowing his thoughts to linger, he turned and walked away from the school and towards a new existence on the run.  He was not sure where he would go next, but one thing was certain; returning to Grindelwald was no longer an option. 

 
 


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