"The best way to survive an ambush is to avoid encountering one. But when reconnaissance fails, you may find yourself in such a situation despite all precautions.
When extracting yourself or your unit from an ambush, there cannot be enough emphasis placed on speed. A successful ambush can consist of many elements, including advantageous positioning and strength of numbers, but it is the element of surprise that so often results in unquestionable victory. While immediate withdrawal is the best tactic to use in an ambush, it may not be possible, and a fighting force which does not respond rapidly will soon lose the opportunity to ever respond at all.
As such, it is vitally important to react as quickly as you are able. It is perhaps the only battlefield situation in which blind decisions can be encouraged, because the worst response to an ambush is no response."
-Excerpted from Field Tactics Introductory Manual, Section III (Imperiarchy Bureau of Information, Third Army Division)
"Watch what, Highground, there's nothing here but shit and leaves."
- Last pre-wrench transmission from Victus Company, 897th SFM, just prior to an ambush.
The scope was swaying slightly in the breeze but he didn't want to reposition in the midst of such a tense situation, so he pressed the stock more firmly into his shoulder and grabbed the branch with his left hand. A relatively thin tree like the one he sat in was not the best platform for a rifle. The problem was the hill itself, though, since it was so overgrown that the trees were the only elevated positions with clear sightlines. It wasn't like he had the time to build a proper stand. Luckily, he wasn't shooting far.
Scott watched through his scope as the distant, hunched figure of Bathilda Bagshot tottered back up the walk towards where ever her house might be. He hadn't seen her actually emerge from any of the structures. He listened while Hermione and Ron planned in hurried whispers.
"I say Stun her, find out what we're walking with," Ron suggested. Scott nodded approvingly, even though Ron couldn't see it. Ron was demonstrating some healthy, proactive paranoia.
"…On the count of three, then," Hermione said. "One…"
The silhouettes of his Primes told him he was at about a hundred and sixty yards, more or less. Wind speed was holding fairly steady, so that was a plus.
He felt a reminder to his untrained Primes was in order. "Shift right after your shot. Do you copy? Take cover, right side, after your shot." There was a fenced-in yard to their immediate right that would provide decent safety in a hurry.
Hermione and Ron were still talking, but he half-listened — none of it was critical. Instead he switched to the alternate channel briefly when he heard Harry.
"Scott, we're almost at the square," Harry said.
"Copy, Red-Lead. Just be prepared to deviate," Scott told him.
He didn't have time to say more. Two Stunners, bright through the magnification of the rifle scope, slammed into Bagshot and sent the old woman reeling to the concrete. "Good hit," Scott muttered. He frowned when his Primes just stood there afterwards. "I said shift right, Gold-Unit," he said curtly. At least they complied once prompted.
His Arctic Warfare Magnum rifle was chambered for .338 Lapua, a round that straddled the line between anti-personnel and anti-materiel. The weapon itself was fifteen pounds and forty-eight inches of steel in a drab green, the barrel ending in a large suppressor. With a round velocity in the vicinity of three thousand feet per second it wouldn't do much in terms of actually quieting the gun, but it would eliminate muzzle flash and makethe point of audible origin harder to identify. He slapped his palm against the handle of the bolt and the bottom of the magazine to ensure they were both fully seated.
Down on the street, Bagshot was moving. Scott figured he already knew at least part of what was going on but he didn't want to put a bullet through an old woman until he had proof positive she wasn't just batshit crazy. A few seconds later, Ron provided that proof with a Cutting Charm that demonstrated just how congealed all of Bagshot's blood had become.
He hit the safety and placed his finger on the trigger, aiming at his target's centre of mass. If accurate, the shot would enter just behind the dead woman's right arm and cut through her lungs and heart. "I'm firing, stay clear of the target," he warned, interrupting Hermione's plans to use incendiary spells.
Precision shooting was a tricky business, especially when the target was moving erratically. Scott moved his aim slightly to the right, targeting a spot just ahead of where she was standing. As soon as she put her foot forward to move in that direction, he started to squeeze.
And that, of course, was when she tripped and flailed forward, dipping downward and throwing off his careful aim. It was too late to readjust, though — he was already in the process of firing. The gun bucked against him, pushing hard into his shoulder. In the confines of the trees the sound was painful enough to make him thankful he'd forgone a muzzle brake in favour of the suppressor. Like the first, sharp note of a thunderclap the sound rang out and then echoed back, rattling against the forest and the houses below.
The results weren't what Scott had intended, but they would certainly do. The round tore through Bagshot's frail cranium and left a mushy tapering spray of flesh, jellied blood and bone across the side walk, complete with tufts of white hair as garnish. Not a pleasant picture. Scott was more or less inured, but he could hear Hermione trying not to retch over the radio.
"Effective fire, target is struck," he reported. It was more out of habit than anything, since Ron and Hermione were quite aware that the target had been struck.
Bagshot's corpse started moving again. He glared into the scope, feeling almost insulted. He'd scooped the reanimated author's brains right out of her head, how could she possibly be moving? The twitching that sometimes resulted from nerve damage, sure, that wasn't outside the realm of possibility. But Bagshot was moving way more than could be attributed to the spasms of a body that didn't understand it was dead. The Inferi in the cave had all died when subjected to massive head trauma. What made Bagshot different?
What made her different, as it turned out, was the massive snake that surged from the dead woman's mouth — pushing her teeth outwards and sending them skittering across the walk — and then slithered into the nearby brush.
Scott hadn't been expecting that. He was so surprised he didn't even comment, struck momentarily dumb by the absurdity of it; instead he took an instinctual snap shot at the retreating snake, resulting in a close miss.
He tried to track the snake through the bushes but it was no good. The green reptilian blended perfectly into the foliage and he lost sight of it almost as soon as it had appeared. "Traversing right, stay down…" he told Hermione and Ron, not wanting them to get into the line of fire. Even as he said it he knew it was too late. "Lost visual. I've lost visual. I lost the snake, guys, I don't know where it is, get out of there. Move it."
That was the end of their subterfuge. Scott wasn't entirely sure what he'd just seen, but snakes seemed pretty well up Riddle's alley and the clock was now ticking. With all of the Primes converging on the town square, he hauled the rifle and its bipod off the tree branch and jumped down. There was a different, taller tree back to the west, in the direction he had come. He would need a better vantage point.
"We're going to the square!" Hermione said, her breathing strained and the jolts of her steps audible in each word. "Where are Harry and Ginny?"
"They're on their way," Scott answered, ploughing through the heavy brush without regard for stealth. "I'm repositioning, thirty seconds." He switched channels and then combined them again, controlling the two teams' receivers remotely. "Red-Lead, come back."
"There you are!" Harry sounded nearly frantic. "Were those shots I just heard? What the bloody hell is going on?"
"Are you at the square?" Scott asked, ignoring Harry's hurried questions.
"Yeah, we're right at the obelisk."
Then everyone was together and intact, and it was past time to leave. "All element, this is Highground. Disapparate. Get on, get out, this is finished. Everyone is clear."
"We're leaving? All right," Ginny said, sounding a bit confused at the circumstances that were forcing them to leave.
"We'll see you back at Grimmauld," Hermione said.
Scott reached the tree he had in mind and leapt up into it. He wanted a ringside seat for whatever Riddle would send in. No doubt it would be informative. He settled his rifle on a branch that was steadier than his previous one and started scanning the edges of town, watching for black hoods.
About a second later he knew something was wrong — the shape signatures of his Primes were far too close to be at Grimmauld Place. "Any unit, Highground. Come back."
Hermione responded almost immediately, and she sounded scared. "Scott, we can't get out. An Anti-Apparition Jinx is up over us, it must have been raised as soon as we attacked that snake!"
He scanned the shape and, sure enough, once he looked past the Muggle-Repelling Charm still overhead he could feel the buzzing of a large Anti-Apparition field. It was unusually large and strong for something that had come up so quickly. It must have been prepared in advance, somehow, maybe having already been extant in the past and taking advantage of the magical residuum Hermione had once mentioned. Multiple casters, maybe? He needed to remember to ask.
Like the barriers at Grimmauld it was too big to simply destroy — an outright attack would only tear rents into it, easily repairable. Instead he started to look for the threads with which it could be unravelled, a time-intensive process that he probably couldn't afford but he didn't see a lot of choice.
He was angry at himself for not noticing. Between his focus on his shooting and the general miasma of magic that hung over the southern section of the Hollow he'd missed the field entirely. "It must have been masked by the Muggle charm I'm in, it's…" No. No excuses. "I fucked up, Hermione."
She didn't seem inclined to blame him, at least not for the moment. "We're almost to the square, what should we do?"
Right. Current solutions, not future arguments. He paused, working on the spell, trying to think of the best course for his Primes. "Stay away from the middle and take cover on the south-west side. That field can't go forever; link up with Harry and Ginny, get the Cloak. Harry, tell me you aren't still by that obelisk." As if in answer, a small explosion echoed from the direction of town. Scott abandoned the shape and pressed his eye to his scope while he tried to mentally calculate his new MOA adjustments. "Harry?"
"Death Eaters! We're gonna need help!" Harry shouted, and even as he did so more sounds of a struggle began to rise above the houses.
So much for dealing with the jinx. Through the scope Scott could see dust rising from a hole in the cobblestones around the obelisk. "Are you hit?" he asked, trying to zero in on the origin of the damage. He could see Harry and Ginny where they had taken cover behind some overturned tables outside of the café.
"Blasting curse, Ginny deflected it," Harry said breathlessly. "They're coming from the graveyard."
Graveyard. He swung the barrel slightly upwards and brought the church doors into focus, and then panned right. The gate to the cemetery was gone, as was a good portion of the fence. There were multiple figures in black robes stepping over the wreckage and flanking both sides of the square. He heard more popping sounds in the distance; pulling his head back, he looked down to see even more Death Eaters arriving near the cottage.
The sheer number of them was enough to give him pause. He wasn't going to have time to work on the jinx. He wasn't even sure he could get everyone out alive.
Which was fine. He just had to get the Primes out alive.
"Hermione, they're Apparating in through the jinx, how can they do that?" he said rapidly.
"Really? Oh… They set it up in advance, they must have. It's not a quick job, it's a ward, like the one at The Burrow," she replied in a grim tone.
That explained his difficulties with it. Looking back through the scope, he added up what he was seeing with his options and arrived at the only solution he could think of. "Harry, they're coming right at you. So listen close — are you listening?"
"We're listening," Harry said softly.
"Do you remember how to get back to the park?"
"I do," Ginny said.
The Death Eaters were closing in on the café, circling the square. Their progress was somewhat impeded by the handful of Muggles they had cornered. They were levitating one man, spinning him around in mid-air, and had a few women backed up against a wall. Scott couldn't hear what was being said, but he knew it was nothing good.
"If you run back down the street just to your right, you'll find the other two," Scott said, trying to talk quickly but still be clear. "Link up, use the Cloak, get to the park. From there you can get to the car. Hermione, you have the keys."
"The emergency keys you gave me?" Hermione said nervously.
"I'd say this qualifies. Harry, Gin — I'm going to take a shot. The second I do, you run as fast as you can."
"I'll shield us, Gin, you counter," Harry said.
Scott pressed the rifle to his shoulder and began searching the square for the best target. "No countdown. Just be ready."
It didn't take long to locate the lucky winner, which was good because Scott had no more than a few seconds — and that was a generous estimate — before Harry and Ginny were spotted. The closest Death Eater was a rotund fellow who wasn't so much walking towards to the two as he was swaggering, apparently without a care in the world. A rather odd way to approach enemy number one.
Scott was centring the crosshairs over the man's chest when he shouted, close enough and loud enough to register over Harry's microphone, and what he said greatly changed Scott's perception of the situation.
"You two, behind the table! Budge up and get over with the others!" the Death Eater yelled hoarsely, and he kicked the short fence around the café's eating area for emphasis.
The Death Eaters hadn't lost track of Harry and Ginny; they'd been aware of their hiding spot the entire time and just hadn't seen the spell deflection, writing it off as a miss. They hadn't recognised the Chosen One and the youngest Weasley at all. Sophie would be pleased to know her work had been so successful in the field.
"They don't know it's us!" Ginny whispered.
"I heard. Run!" Scott said, and squeezed the trigger.
The Death Eater stiffened as if he were about to say something further when instead Scott's bullet knocked his breath and a good portion of his lungs out of his back. Scott didn't waste time watching the results. As Harry and Ginny stood and ran, he fired four more shots in rapid succession, working the bolt as fast as he was able. The first in the barrage was relatively on target, piercing one more Death Eater through the side (he spun on his feet with the force of the shot and bounced off a shop window), but the next three all missed, hitting in and around a cluster of enemies and just scaring the hell out of them.
Which was ultimately the point; Scott wanted them to understand that it had not been Harry and Ginny who had shot the first man. They were sprinting away at full tilt even as the shots snapped through the air and blasted holes in the cobblestones.
The Death Eaters didn't seem to entirely realise what was happening, which suited Scott just fine. However, they were about to be given the time to figure it out because Scott had to reload. The seconds required could make a difference in a firefight.
Sure enough, when he slammed the bolt shut and brought the scope back up to his eye he found himself looking at a much emptier square. The Death Eaters had ducked inside the buildings — no doubt whatever chain of command they had was deciding how to handle a Muggle sniper. Scott could be reasonably certain that there was at least one enemy down there that understood what they were up against.
They were pinned, for the moment, which was what mattered. He tracked downward, locating the second, larger group of Death Eaters coming from the cottage. They were running through the streets, not far behind Harry and the others. Scott studied them for a moment as they moved, and he didn't like what he saw.
The front of the group was comprised mainly of non-hooded individuals who weren't wearing uniform black robes. Instead they were dressed a mix of normal, everyday clothing and whatever else they wanted, often with what seemed to be rudimentary attempts to appear militant. Behind them were a handful of actual Death Eaters, robed, hooded and masked. Obviously, Scott was looking at an infantry unit of Snatchers with their Death Eater commanders. The most worrying thing about them, though, wasn't their numbers; it was the way they were holding formation. The group hurried through the town keeping to the same basic organisation, and they never stopped to loot the houses or attack the occasional Muggles they encountered. They were properly coordinated and under orders.
Scott's lip curled in contempt. Fine, good for them. They had fundamental unit coherency skills. Now he would see how well they stuck to their rudimentary training while under fire.
He picked a Snatcher at the front of the pack and aimed for the head, looking for something dramatic. He would take aim at one of the Death Eaters in charge next, but first he wanted a nice, sharp shock to their morale.
The Snatcher ran up to the corner of the next intersection, leaned against the wall to peek down the street, and then picked himself up and began to run across the open space.
BAM. The shot hit him on a downward angle about an inch above his left eye and burrowed through his skull, coring it like an apple. The resulting spray of blood and brain matter, the exiting force of which sent his head snapping forward on his suddenly limp neck, was just the image Scott had been looking to share with the corpse's comrades.
Scott was too far away to hear whatever shouts of horror and alarm rose up in the aftermath, but the body language of the other Snatchers was clear enough. They reeled back in terror, scattering around the dead man. Scott quickly moved his view over to snipe one of the commanders while they were frozen in shock — only to have his heart sink slightly in his chest.
None of the Death Eaters could be seen. When the Snatcher had been killed, they had all moved to stand behind the houses on the side of the street towards Scott, removing them from view. And even as he watched, the Snatchers — who were probably having orders shouted at them — began to do the same.
He swivelled back to the front of the formation and put a bullet through the chest of a second Snatcher and then, running low on options, separated a witch's leg at the knee, as it was the only part of her visible.
Looking up from the scope, he saw the Death Eaters from the square had left the centre of town and were moving quickly in his direction. He knew at that moment that he'd done all he could from a distance. He couldn't suppress both approaching groups of OpFor at the same time.
Which meant Plan B.
He dropped from the tree and set his rifle down, ripping the bandoleers with the .338 magazines from himself and leaving them where they fell. He hated to abandon the weapon, but he couldn't carry it with him. He flipped the M4A1 strapped to his back around so it rested on his front torso, quickly checked the compensator for any detritus and then flipped the safety.
"Harry, what's your progress?" he called out.
"We're with Ron and Hermione and we're heading to the park," Harry said, panting into the mic. "Gin?"
"Just a few more streets, I recognise that motorcar," Ginny said.
Scott made a mental note of Ginny's excellent sense of direction; it was a useful skill to have in a team. "What about the Cloak?"
"We're moving too fast."
That made sense. With the four of them the Cloak would be only partially effective anyway, and while running it was more or less useless. It was really too bad that the magic of the Cloak only worked when it was worn, and they couldn't simply let it fan out behind them. "Understood. Good luck."
"Good luck?" Hermione repeated, sounding suspicious. "Where are you? Aren't you meeting us there?"
Scott squeezed the stock of the M4, debating exactly how much he needed to tell them about Plan B. "They aren't actually chasing you right now, but that could easily change if they see the four of you together, that's some simple math. I've got their attention right now, so keep moving and hopefully they'll wander off into the trees."
"Okay, then go back up the railway so you can meet us at the car," Harry said.
He started moving, making his way down the hill on an intercept angle to the Death Eater forces. "There's no time, I'll just aperture out, you know the jinx doesn't affect me."
He knew that if he didn't open an aperture before he started a running battle, then he wasn't going to open one at all.
"Then let us know when you're about to leave," Hermione said.
"We'll be out of radio range by the time you get to the car," Scott lied as he ran. "You can't wait for a signal if I can't give it. The second you're out of the Apparition field then leave, I'll probably already be gone at that point. Don't be surprised if I beat you there and eat all the celebratory biscuits."
"We'll see about that," Ron promised.
"All right, Scott. Don't be late," Harry said.
"Never am," Scott assured him, and then he muted his microphone, hefted his carbine, and darted over a hedge and into the alleyway that would take him to the streets.
He skidded to a halt against an old stone wall that was part of a house. To his right, just a few doors down, was the street that eventually connected to the square, where the first group of Death Eaters were coming from. Straight on past that was the second group, who were darting from building to building and looking for a good way up to the hill. They had started casting at the trees, Scott could hear it. He could also hear the repeated shouting of Shield Charms; he leaned around the corner and saw, to his chagrin, that many of the Snatchers were holding defensive charms in place at the front ranks, while those behind them cast a wide variety of offensive spells, trying to flush him out.
Still rudimentary, he thought, trying to convince himself. It didn't mean anything. Even a Death Eater could have a good idea or two if they tried hard enough.
Time to draw their attentions elsewhere.
The sun was just beginning its long dip below the horizon when Scott leaned out and carefully centred his holographic reticle on a Snatcher who was casting what looked like incapacitation-oriented jinxes at the woods. She was spacing out her spells without much regard for how Scott could have actually moved in the time after his last shot, which was nice to see. The world hadn't turned completely upside down.
He took a breath, let it out, and squeezed.
Without the magnification afforded by his rifle scope he couldn't tell what the damage was. The woman fell over, but in all the flurry of casting no one noticed right away. He ignored the man with the Shield Charm who had been in front of her and placed a few more careful shots into the back ranks. Hopefully they were lethal. He was able to see one man clutching his stomach because he had fallen out into the street, but before Scott could follow up with a better shot the enemy realised they had been flanked.
It took a second, but not much more than that, for the spells to begin hurtling his way. Before they could really build up a frenzy and pin him, he held down the trigger and loosed a long, ripping burst back at them. The bullets flashed bright against the Shield Charms as Scott picked himself up and almost threw himself across the intersection, moving as fast as he was able.
The side street he was on ran back up towards the square. He ran, legs and arms pumping while his carbine swayed against his chest. He wasn't running for distance, forgoing a strong and steady loping cadence that made full use of his height. He was all-out sprinting, running as fast as he could. He needed to get past the Death Eaters coming from the square before they found out he was on the adjoining road.
He took a sharp right after winding towards the church and found himself viewing the square up close and personal. He glanced around, taking in the damage; the captive Muggles were nowhere to be seen. Hopefully they were just hiding.
He wanted them to stay that way. "THIS IS SERGEANT WATT, I'M WITH THE TA!" he bellowed across the open space. His voice echoed back to him and he had a brief sense of déjà vu, of putting his back to a stone wall and looking out across a similar square with a weapon in hand; not so far away, over in France, but separated by time. "LOCK YOUR DOORS, STAY INSIDE AND KEEP AWAY FROM THE WINDOWS! HELP IS COMING."
The only help that was coming would arrive in the form of a Ministry Memory Charm. Scott saw a discarded single-use camera lying in a puddle near the café, and wondered how wizarding Britain found all the possible photographic evidence. There were very real bullet holes out there they would have to fix, as well.
His musings would have to wait. The first unit of Death Eaters had doubled back, and, no doubt drawn by his shouting, were coming into the square.
He opened fire immediately, his shots sparking off of hastily raised Shield Charms. The Death Eaters fell back, quickly retreating down the street and out of sight.
He'd gone through something in the vicinity of twenty rounds, he was pretty sure. That left half a magazine. During the mission to rescue Kylie he had discovered it took about three shots from his M14 to rupture a Protego. It probably depended on the caster, but he figured the total would usually hover around that mark. His M4A1 didn't put out the same muzzle energy as the larger calibre M14. He would have to shoot more to down a shield, and while the 5.56x45mm was a lighter and more compact round than the heavy 7.62x51mm, he had been carrying ammo for his Arctic Warfare Magnum, the bulky .338 Lapua (8.6×70mm). Accordingly, he was hauling fewer rounds for the carbine.
In other words, a battle of attrition would quickly leave him shooting back with his .45 handguns, and then, shortly after, throwing rocks.
He put two rounds into the walls on either side of the opposite street to make sure the Death Eaters were thinking good and hard before sticking their heads out again when his radio buzzed and Harry's voice filtered through the static.
"Scott? Sco—Um, Highground. Come back. …Hello? Scott, we're at the car. The jinx doesn't reach out here and we're about to leave. Are you already gone? I mean, of course, if you were already gone you wouldn't be… getting this…"
"He said these radey things don't work this far away, mate," Ron said.
"Radio. It's a transmitter and a receiver and, never mind, you just weren't listening when he explained it all, were you," Hermione said. "Scott, if you can hear this we're leaving right now. We'll see you back at home."
"Home?" Harry repeated, sounding disgruntled.
"Well, it is for now, Harry, like it or not…"
"Come on, you lot! It's not safe, remember?" Ginny helpfully prompted them.
"Right. I bet he's already left," Harry said, and then the radio went silent.
That was the biggest problem taken care of. With the Primes safely removed from the field, Scott could breathe a bit easier. Not much easier, though, since the Snatchers were rushing into the square.
The difference between the group of Death Eaters with the Snatchers and the group without had never been clearer. The Snatchers scattered the moment Scott opened fire on them, but instead of simply trying to hide they took cover and began shooting back. Scott switched from target to target, trying to use the first few vital seconds of the firefight to suppress them, fixing them in place and swinging the odds momentarily in his favour.
It was no good. He dropped one man by pounding through his shield and hit his partner once the protection was gone, but there were too many and the volume of spells heading his way increased so rapidly that he found himself ducking behind the wall as chips of stone flew past his face. Scott fired back as best he could, but when he saw Snatchers beginning to come out of the alleyways onto his side of the buildings he knew he was outnumbered, outgunned, and outflanked. He just barely jumped a nearby hedge and went prone behind a fence before several cutting charms scraped off the wall he had been near.
Suddenly, it seemed that Scott was out of vulnerable targets, and as he lay there on the grass with curses lighting the space over his head, he realised with a sinking feeling that someone on the other side understood the dance — and Scott didn't have a partner.
Now he was the belle of the ball. But he'd had enough of being a débutante: it was time to spike the punch and head for the door. He'd also had enough of dance analogies.
He kept still for a moment, letting the barrage of spells slow somewhat. As soon as he had a bit of breathing room he hopped onto his feet and backed up to the other side of the fence, letting constant bursts of fire go at every target in front of him, forcing them into cover. The firing pin clicked on an empty chamber, and with that he spun around and ran.
He cut around the back of the church with spells bursting at his heels. Then he headed south, towards the crescent hill.
To say that Harry was upset with Scott was something of an understatement. He wasn't in a full out, screaming rage, not quite yet, but he was not happy. And, really, Ron could relate, because it wasn't like he enjoyed being lied to, either.
After arriving at Grimmauld place they had expected to find Scott already present (waiting for them in the kitchen and eating all the biscuits, no doubt). But instead the room was empty. Upstairs they had located Sophie and Kylie in the middle of dusting out the drawing room. That was the point at which Harry had started to boil over, but at least he had gone back downstairs so as not to upset Kylie.
There had been a little bit of ranting about 'that bloody lying fucking gobshite', but mostly Harry fumed in silence, standing tense with his arms crossed and staring at the floor as if he was attempting to see through it.
Ron didn't always get Harry's moods, but he understood this time. Scott had fully and completely lied to all of them, repeatedly, just to get them to leave him there. So they could be in safety while he let the Death Eaters chase him around. So they would just abandon him like a bunch of Slytherin cowards.
And it angered Ron to a degree that actually sort of surprised him. Scott had always been a shifty bastard. For the most part, though, the Kharadjai's lies and omissions hadn't been specifically aimed at Ron. Not that Ron liked it when his friends were lied to, either… It just hadn't been quite so personal.
Scott had to have known how Ron would feel about leaving one of their own behind. If there was one thing Ron knew he wasn't, it was a disloyal prick. He'd never abandon his friends. No matter what happened, regardless of the odds, he knew he was with them. And that included Scott.
So, yeah, Ron was just a bit narked about the whole thing.
Hermione was pale and her lips were pressed tightly together, giving her the appearance of worry. And while that was probably a part of what she was feeling, her eyes sparked. "I didn't even think to question it, we were in such a rush," she mused. "That was nonsense, of course, about the radio… I'll bet they have a range of a couple miles, at least…"
Ron knew her logical dissection of what had happened was her way of dealing with things, but he sort of wished she would just stop because every word out of her mouth made Harry's fists clench even tighter.
"And he knew we couldn't go back to the village, not with the ward in place. We could go back to the car park, but then who knows where he would be in relation, or how many Death Eaters would be in town or the Ministry might be there by now, or…" She took a hard breath through her nose, her glare intensifying. "He really did it, this time. Trapped us but good."
"I could go back," Harry ground out.
Ginny straightened up from where she had been slumped in one of the chairs. "Not without me, you aren't!"
And not without Ron and Hermione, it went without saying. And since Harry wouldn't drag his friends back into almost certain death or capture, he wouldn't be going at all. Hence the clearly audible noise of his teeth grinding together.
"Don't do that, Harry, it's bad for your enamel," Hermione told him absently as she stared into nothing, likely still trying to calculate some way to help Scott.
"I DON'T FUCKING CARE!" Harry exploded, and rammed his foot straight into a cupboard door. Ron winced; the wood splintered and he imagined Harry's foot probably had as well.
"Harry! Are you trying to hurt yourself?!" Ginny demanded.
Whatever pain he was in seemed to have dulled Harry's fury. "…If I was, it worked," he said after a moment of grimacing.
"Daft sod," Ginny said, though her tone was more fond than anything. "Why do you have to yell and kick things?"
Harry didn't appear to have an answer for that. The silence returned while Ginny watched Harry, Hermione worried, Harry paced (or limped, now) back and forth, and Ron just waited to see what would happen next. He knew Scott could very well be in serious trouble, but he simply couldn't think of a single thing they could do about it. The blond bugger had neatly ejected them from whatever fight he was embroiled in.
If Scott had any idea what was good for him, he'd have run and hid the moment he ended up on his own. However, self-preservation had never been one of Scott's more prominent traits (the way he provoked Hermione alone was testament to that). No doubt he'd done his best to draw all of the Death Eater attention his way to allow Ron and his friends their easy escape.
What Ron didn't understand was why, now that they were safe and Scott had to be aware of that, he hadn't come back yet. Ron didn't know how Scott went from place to place (none of them did, really, not even Hermione). But he knew that mysterious ability had allowed the Kharadjai to follow the others when they used Apparition, and that the wards shouldn't matter at all. So there was something else going on.
Harry came to the same conclusion. He hobbled his way over to the stairs. "SOPHIE, WE NEED YOU," he bellowed upwards.
Her slight voice drifted down, barely understandable. "Wha…?"
"DOWNSTAIRS! WE NEED YOU DOWN—bloody hell, I'll just go up there," Harry muttered.
Sophie yelled something else that Ron couldn't make out at all, but a few seconds later he could hear her footsteps on the ground floor landing. She hurried down into the kitchen, still holding a dust rag. "What? What is it?" she said a bit anxiously, looking at all the serious eyes on her.
"Where's Scott? Why isn't he here yet?" Harry said brusquely.
Sophie blinked. "You didn't mean to leave him behind?"
"Sophie, Scott lied to us," Hermione said, crossing her arms. "You see, he told us he was leaving the Hollow before we did, but now he's still not here. And there were a great many Death Eaters when we left, we were lucky to escape. So why hasn't he just come back yet when the wards won't trap him like we were?"
"Oh…" Sophie said softly, and she began wringing the dust rag in her hands, mindless of the way it dirtied them. "Was he fighting?"
"He drew them off so we could get away, but he said he was keeping his… distance…" Harry trailed off, his brow furrowing in fresh anger as he realised Scott had probably lied about that, too.
Sophie always carried herself in a very rigid posture, but now there was a tension in her shoulders that fought against the weak smile she tried to maintain. "I see."
"So? Why isn't he here?" Harry said again.
"Well…" Sophie tapped her fingers together, obviously debating how to reply. Ron could have told her that was a mistake; Harry had a bit of thing about people getting choosy with the truth.
"I just want a real answer," Harry growled.
Sophie's face took on a stubborn cast. "And you'll get one, if you'll be patient and let me decide how to explain things," she said, obviously not liking Harry's tone.
"It's really very simple. You open your mouth and tell me the truth."
She frowned at him. "I don't know why you're mad at me, I didn't do anything!"
"What we'd like to know is whether there is anything we can do to help Scott get back," Hermione said, cutting in before Harry said something he would regret later.
"There's this saying, that everyone knows…" Sophie began. She stopped and frowned again. "Or, I think everyone knows it, unless Scott made it up and just told me everyone knows it, which is something he might do…"
"And that is?" Hermione prompted.
"Oh! Um, it's, 'opening an aperture in combat is like threading a needle in free fall: you can waste your time trying it, or you can pay attention to the ground'. …I guess that doesn't work too well for you, since you would need a parachute, but you get the idea."
"So… Scott can't come back while he's fighting?" Ron guessed.
"No, he can't." Sophie's eyes filled with concern. "Apertures aren't easy to make even in ideal circumstances, especially when they have to be stable enough to move a person through. And when you're in combat, and you can't spare the time to concentrate, and the shape is going all crazy…"
"Then they must still be chasing him, correct?" Hermione said anxiously. "Otherwise he'd have hidden somewhere and come home?"
Sophie didn't look any happier about that scenario than Hermione. "That's likely… He might need to get further away from the town and the Death Eaters, depending on how the shape is acting. Or…"
Harry grimaced and took a few steps back, not really looking contrite but at least trying to be less confrontational.
"There are a lot of things that could be giving him trouble: density, magnetism, shape turbulence, certain types of radiation…" Sophie trailed off when she saw that, with the sole exception of Hermione, everyone was looking blank or impatient. "But I thought there were people in the town? Moogles?"
Ron grinned. "Muggles," he corrected, glad to hear someone else mispronounce something for once.
"Most of the people there are Muggles, yes," Hermione confirmed.
Sophie sighed. "Then he's probably going to draw the OpFor out of town, if he can, to protect the civilian populace."
"And of course, we're not allowed to fucking help with any of that!" Harry spat.
"You are the Priority One, Harry, and as such, Scott has a responsibility to keep you from becoming a casualty even at a cost to himself," Sophie said gently.
Ron actually held his breath after that, and was pretty sure Hermione was doing the same, because Sophie probably couldn't have pushed Harry's buttons any better if she'd tried. She started to say more, but Ginny glared at the short woman so fiercely that she blinked in surprise and closed her mouth. Harry had his back to them, so Ron couldn't see how close they all were to being treated to a repeat performance from the summer before fifth year, but he reckoned it was pretty damn close.
Fortunately, Harry was self-aware enough to realise that, too. He spun around and stormed up the stairs without another word. Ginny followed with one last blistering look at Sophie.
"…Well, that was rude," Sophie said after a moment of silence.
Ron looked over at Hermione. "You know what I like best now that Ginny's snogging Harry? We don't have to go after him and try to talk any more."
"Ron!" Hermione said, but there was a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "How easily you toss your best mate duties onto your little sister."
"She wanted that one, so she can have it. Just like you and trying to convince Scott he's wrong about something."
Hermione immediately sobered at the mention of Scott. "I'd say I can't believe he put us in this situation… but I really can. I hate feeling so helpless. He knows I hate feeling this way and he still did it!"
Ron hated it as well. He put an arm around her shoulders and drew her close. "Me, too. I owe him a punch to the gob when he gets back."
Hermione laughed against his shoulder, where she had rested her head, but there wasn't much humour in it. "I hope he'll come back in good enough condition that it will be all right for you to punch him."
That was not a good thought. Ron remembered that night in Gryffindor Tower with the seeping hole in Scott's arm. "That bomb hole he had in him was right fucked. At least he won't ask me for an Episkey."
"Language, Ron," she protested without much enthusiasm. They stayed in their embrace for a minute or so, and then she pulled away. "Come on, let's have a sit down. I'm exhausted and there's nothing we can do, for now."
As they walked towards the stairwell, Ron noticed that Sophie was still standing near it. Her complexion was pale and she was staring at nothing, still idly crumpling the dust rag she held. It occurred to him that her state of mind might not be so far away from the rest of theirs.
"Think he'll be all right?" he asked her.
She jolted out of her reverie. "Oh! Yes, I'm sure he'll be fine… He's one of our best, you know, so he probably won't be captured…" she ended her half-hearted assurance waveringly.
"He's the most dangerous bloke I've ever known. I guess I haven't known that many, but it's got to count for something," Ron told her.
"I bet he'll be back soon," Sophie said in something approaching her usual tone. "Please don't mention this to Kylie, though, I don't want her to worry herself sick."
"We won't," Hermione promised.
Ron just hoped Scott made it back soon, because it wouldn't take Kylie too long to notice his absence.
It was getting dark out.
The setting sun was to his advantage, and every darkening shadow made it less likely his pursuers would find him once he disappeared from their sight. Unfortunately, they knew it. Their chase, once more careful and considered, grew reckless.
After carefully pulling them out of town by slowing his gait and taking shots at intervals, Scott had initially outpaced them once he reached the woods, moving more quickly on foot than they were able. But, again, he had underestimated them (or, as he was beginning to suspect, their new leader). The Death Eaters had split the Snatchers into smaller, more mobile groups. Some of them had begun Apparating to keep up, sometimes even flanking or appearing ahead of him, depending on what they were able to see. Others had taken to brooms, and while Scott's gunfire had forced them to keep a respectful distance it also revealed his position.
Several flying enemies had hovered over him at considerable height, spotting for the rest and ensuring escape would not be easy. The encroaching darkness made such high altitude reconnaissance less useful, and soon it would be impossible to see him from the air at all. The Death Eaters were becoming desperate, running themselves ragged to keep up.
Scott hadn't seen any sign of Riddle himself, which was a bit insulting. Apparently, having been told that Harry wasn't present, the self-proclaimed Dark Lord didn't feel that Scott was worthy of any personal attention. Scott didn't know if the enemy had been ordered to capture him, but judging from the damage the spells sent his way did to the forest, he sort of doubted it. Taking him alive would be a happy accident.
He was sporting the usual scrapes and bruises that came from sprinting through the woods, along with some other assorted minor lacerations from shrapnel. The only direct hit he'd taken had been a Full-Body Bind that had sent him crashing into the rough soil. Luckily, he'd stopped himself with his face, which now stung like a motherfucker. He didn't know what the damage was, but he probably wasn't ready for date night.
He hurtled over a small ravine and crunched through a dead thorn bush. Sliding across the loam, he regained his balance and took cover behind the largest nearby tree. At first he didn't see anyone. Then, dark shapes flitted under the canopy to his right.
He scowled at them. He could stop and just try to hide, but the forest didn't offer much in the way of concealment. Short of crawling into a hollow log (he hadn't seen any big enough) or something else equally obvious, there were no options that wouldn't be easily discovered in a thorough search. He might have expected a less than thorough search in past engagements. Now… Now, someone on the other side definitely knew what they were doing. If the DEs lost track of him, they would double back and look. He had to get beyond their radius and disappear.
He had just decided to leave the group he could see behind and try his luck in a different direction when something smacked into his left hip.
He grunted in pain and rolled with the blow, bending at the waist and sliding partway down the trunk. He looked down to see dark blood spreading out from a sliced section of his camouflaged pants. Slapping his hand over it, he glared back to where he thought he had been hit from, trying to twist around enough to raise his weapon that way one-handed.
Sure enough, a hooded Death Eater was crouched on the short ridge to what had been his left. When Scott met his eyes, the man fell flat to his stomach and crawled backwards until he was out of sight.
"Good call," Scott muttered.
The first group he'd spotted was still a ways back, but close enough for their frontrunner to shout a curse. Scott snapped back to face forward and snuffed out the green light shooting towards him. The Killing Curse was fairly slow, he'd noticed, compared to many of the other dangerous spells. The Severing Charm in particular had enough velocity that Scott found it difficult to counter even when he knew it was coming.
Scott returned fire, the sharp crack of his carbine reverberating wildly through the close-set trees. The Snatcher under fire didn't fall, running to a spot where he could no longer be seen. Scott was almost positive he had hit the man. Another Snatcher dove behind a nearby tree, but didn't travel far enough to be safe: Scott shredded the trunk at neck level, getting a nice gout of arterial spray for his trouble.
The rest retreated, but Scott could hear more behind another grove. "DOCTOR! DOCTOR, WILLARD IS HIT!" a woman screeched.
Willard — the man who hadn't fallen, the man with the punctured neck or someone else who had been behind either of them? Whoever it was, their suffering had given Scott a chance to get moving.
He pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the burning in his side. The cut was deep, but it didn't hamper his movement enough to warrant healing. He ran, peppering the short ridge with a few random rounds in case the Death Eater there was thinking about being proactive again.
There had been more of them closing in than he had thought. Spells rattled against the trees, showering him with bits of bark. Scott might have spun around to suppress them and give himself some more room to run, but he'd done too much of that earlier. He was down to his last two magazines.
He was beginning to wonder if they weren't also tracking him the old fashioned way. He was moving at such speed that his trail was apparent to anyone who knew how to follow broken twigs and faint footprints. And they had been diligent enough about holding a good search pattern that he hadn't been able deviate his course much, heading mostly south.
Opportunity arrived in the form of a stream that trickled through a gully ahead of him. With the rightmost group of foes concerned with their casualties, he had a chance to move that way, and the stream provided just the path he needed to--
--weightless, wet, pain--
--confuse the trail, what happened?
He gasped out a mouthful of water, the feeling rushing back to his limbs and the ringing in his head beginning to subside. He braced his hands and pushed to extract himself from the mud but he wasn't rising, his left arm was simply rolling him over. He raised his head and forced it to look to the right, sliding his chin along the ground as he couldn't seem to get up in the flooded ditch he was in, lying on his stomach.
There was blood all over the dirt, frothing red in the water. A few gobbets of flesh were scattered along with the stained pieces of camouflage that he knew was his own. He couldn't move his right arm because most of his right shoulder was gone. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a dark, glistening hole in his shoulder blade, the bone splintered out into the muscle. It was just a throbbing red mess. He didn't know what had hit him but it must have been hot, because the skin around the injury was red and blistered, and wisps of smoke rose from it.
He couldn't feel it. That was very bad, because the first rule of shape triage was 'what you cannot feel, you cannot heal'. He needed the pain to provide his body with information, to intimately know the location of the injury. Under better circumstances it was best to dress the wound and wait until his body was prepared to handle it, but, since he didn't have a great deal of time, he grabbed a jagged nearby rock and dug it into his ruined appendage.
That, he most certainly felt. He howled into the mud, writhing with the agony, not trying to stifle it. The burning point of intolerable pain was where he shunted his energy. The pain intensified, then changed into a sort of pressure, and then just when the sensation was almost unbearable, it stopped.
His right arm flopped down into a more natural position as the wound was healed, and sweat immediately ran down his face. He was tired, now. All of his muscles felt lax, uncooperative. It had been a deep injury with at least second degree burns. A couple more like that, and he was finished. Replacing anything was exhausting — replacing bone was brutal.
He forced himself to stand, shoulder still badly hurting. The actual hole created by the spell would be gone, the bone and muscle restored — mostly. Shape triage in the field was not the most reliable of medicines, especially without assistance. He couldn't even look at the wound to make sure it was fully healed, and there was always a chance that there were problems below the surface of the skin that he would have to tend to later. The blistered area around the wound was still there, as were all the other related lacerations and bruises. The little things were hard to get, and usually not worth the energy.
He had only been down for about thirty seconds, but he could hear the Death Eaters closing in. He took off down the stream as fast as he could, his shoulder sending spikes of hurt through him with every jolt.
The stream coiled around through the trees, changing direction a few times but always heading generally westward. By the time the sun had sunk completely below the horizon he had left the water behind, climbing up the stream bank and continuing west. He jogged down a slope and found a narrow road at the bottom. It was paved, clearly of Muggle origin. He looked around for any way to identify it and perhaps figure out where he was based on his memory of the maps of the Hollow. That was when the lights caught his eye.
Weaving through the trees, up across the other side of the road were the twinkling lights of lit wands. He counted six, maybe seven individuals, no doubt looking for him. He didn't see any Death Eater hoods. They could have been Ministry people, which wasn't much better.
They might have Apparated ahead of him, or the net was wider than he'd thought. Either way, there were probably more still behind him. The lights were moving away from him, so it would be a good time to hide.
He ran down the flooded ditch along the side of the road until he came to a drainage pipe which ran through a brief hill. Crouching in the water, he peered into it. He couldn't say it appealed to him as a particularly sanitary hiding spot, but it would do. He just had to gather himself for a minute or two until he could piece together an aperture pattern. All the fighting had left the shape a whirling mess (it hadn't been even a fraction as bad after the mercifully brief encounter at Kylie's) and his head was pounding. He really just wanted to lie down.
It wasn't until he was already a good twelve feet or so inside the pipe, sinking into the filthy water, that he remembered that it was, duh, full of water. He couldn't open an aperture in water. That much fluid mass was more than he could transport.
He pressed the heels of his hands to his stinging eyes, not sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. Both possibilities could bring unwanted attention, so instead he just took off what was left of his jacket and turned it into an acceptable (if extremely soggy) pillow.
Any further problems would have to wait until morning, after his pursuers were gone.
So I've heard that, recently, ol' Rowling decided to throw some dynamite in the fireplace by claiming that, given the gift of hindsight, pairing Harry with Ginny instead of Hermione was perhaps a poor decision based on her original ideas for the narrative and not what eventually evolved. Well. I don't keep up on any HP-based news sites. I'm assuming they exploded. In the end, it turns out she was more or less misquoted and taken out of context, as she came back around to believing in Ron and Hermione by the end of the interview, but I'd imagine the damage is done.
There are a lot of things wrong with this, but first I'd have to say that if Rowling was concerned about shaping her story according to emergent narrative and not initial conceptions, then what in the ever loving shit was that epilogue? Her plan was rigid, almost inflexible at times. Characters frequently behave strangely and are as stupid or smart as the plot demands them to be (especially in book seven). I'm not attacking her abilities as an author; most of the time the requirements of her narrative are hidden well enough, and it's not like the books weren't entertaining to the point that we can forgive a lot of plot bullshit. We give a lot of leeway to things that are fun.
So, let's disregard 'death of the author' and the deep problems inherent in retconning established works — we may all be beginning to fear a George Lucas-level Harry Potter rewrite sometime in the near dystopian future, but we don't have to worry about it just yet. Many of Rowling's after-the-fact assertions fit well enough into the existing framework, some better than others. Dumbledore's sexuality is a strong subtext in book seven, so not really a problem. A lot of the other things she's said have nothing to do with 'current' events, so to speak, and can be more or less ignored.
The problem with proclaiming that Ron and Hermione only ended up together for the demands of narrative, or as wish-fulfilment, is that it ignores the deeper backgrounds established. It's not like Rowling twisted the characters to place them with people whom they obviously weren't compatible with. Ron and Hermione have clear romantic tension going back to book four. Their being drawn to each other is such an integral part of their characters that I find it hard to accept the notion that it's an unnatural imposition on the narrative.
It would be easier to accept if there was any kind of Harry-Hermione subtext. But there's not — and I say that as someone who read the books through initially without any shipping preconceptions or proclivities. I didn't give a single shit who ended up with whom. And while it's my understanding that the movies drop a few Harry/Hermione hints, there aren't any in the books. And the books are my basis for this story, right down to appearances. I don't imagine a single one of the movie actors and actresses when writing these characters.
When I read that Rowling interview, I immediately thought of my favorite character insight from the fanfiction, 'After the End'. It's not my favorite story overall, but there's this one part where Harry is raging, as he does, and Hermione is trying to talk him into something. He turns on her and she recoils and the narrative states, and I'm paraphrasing, 'He always had the power to frighten her'. I think that came to mind because it's always been, what I've felt, is the biggest obstacle to them being a couple, on top of their general incompatibility, the way they related in a very sibling-esque manner, Harry's frequent genuine annoyance at her and that there's never the slightest hint in any of the novels that he is even attracted to her. Harry, when he gets going, intimidates her.
When I began writing this, I chose canon pairings just because they made the most sense. If anything, Ron/Hermione makes more sense than Harry/Ginny. I've tried to even that playing field a bit by making Ginny a bigger character and filling in some of the blanks.
I still hate that epilogue though. An end of an era, like that, is really the moment where, as an author, you have to let it go and leave it to the reader to extrapolate. I don't think she could have ever capped it off with an epilogue that would be satisfying. That's why we read fanfiction.
Author's note, too long! Shutting down… Losing power… And this chapter was mostly about Scott, come to think of it… Probably should have written a note about him. Next time! So, what did you guys think of Scott's delaying action/diversion/retreat?