The 'Fighting Ninth' has a practical exercise, Harry is off his meds . . .
Harry and his ladies stood before Headmistress McGonagall and surveyed the artifacts that had once housed Tom Riddle's soul: the diary still holed by the basilisk's fang, the one that had been created by murdering Myrtle Frisbee, the ring, a product of patricide, the locket, the cup the inkwell and the scabbard and belt; each and every one created by an act of ultimate evil.
"Commander" the professor began, "none of these objects carry any part of Riddle's soul anymore but they have all been touched by dark magic. I would prefer that they not be left here. As you seem to be able to use them with no ill effects might I suggest that you take them with you?"
This was a great relief to Harry, who was going to ask to borrow the objects, thinking they might give him a psychological advantage over the self-styled Dark Lord during the final confrontation.
"Yes ma'am, I think I may be able to find a use for them in all of this."
The aged pedagogue walked over to the glass case containing Gryffindor's sword and whispered "patefaciamus" which made the case swing open.
"The scabbard would be impractical without a proper sword, and this one will fit perfectly, I believe."
Harry was stunned "Headmistress, I can't take the Sword of Gryffindor, it belongs here at Hogwarts!"
"Indeed it does, be sure to bring it back when you have finished with this business, Commander Potter."
She offered the sword with a slight curtsey and a saucy grin that made Harry realize what a rare beauty she had been a few decades before. He accepted the blade reverently and sheathed it in its scabbard.
"I will, Professor, I promise."
Headmistress McGonagall knew he had every intention of keeping that promise.
"Commander?" Marietta gestured for him to turn. When he did she unbuckled his regimental sword belt and handed it to Belle, then took Gryffindor's blade and scabbard fixing it around her commanding officer's waist.
The jeweled handle, gaudy in more plebian surroundings looked resplendent against the background of his black uniform and maroon cloak.
"Lieutenant?" Harry accepted the regimental sword from Belle and affixed it to Marietta's tiny waist; he had to admit it looked damn fine resting on the pleasing curve of her hip.
Belle performed a shrinking charm on all of the remaining objects and placed them in a small velvet black bag which she handed to Harry. Pocketing the bag within his cloak he turned to McGonagall and said "thank you ma'am for your help and hospitality, I look forward to seeing this castle become our school again."
He offered his hand which the headmistress took before she pulled him into an awkward embrace. "Take care Harry, please do what you have to do and come back to us safe and whole!" She kissed his cheek and stood back defiantly as if to dare anyone to laugh at her acting like a foolish old woman.
"Lieutenant Edgecombe, Miss Black, Miss Frisbee, I charge you to watch over the Commander, he needs looking after."
Marietta snapped to attention, "yes ma'am!"
Belle embraced the old professor and Myrtle repeated her thanks from earlier.
Harry took a handful of floo powder then looked at the ghost "can you use the floo network Myrtle?"
"I'm pretty sure I can if I'm 'visiting' one of you as you go."
"Well, please join me then."
"Anytime, Harry, anytime!"
He had the good graces to blush at the innuendo just as she slipped into his body.
"Avalon Regimental Headquarters!" he said clearly as he threw a handful of floo powder into the fireplace. He stepped in and then stepped out in the floo connection at regimental headquarters. The semi-transparent ghost continued to rotate inside him as he stepped out so that she flashed in and out of sight until the spinning stopped.
"Ooooo, I haven't been dizzy like that in ages!"
As it was the weekend no one was in the floo room so no one saw the Myrtle with Harry, which was good as they had all agreed to keep the ghost girl hidden so that she could be a secret weapon of search and surveillance.
She could be the ideal spy because Harry and Belle could speak to Myrtle when she 'visited' either of them much in the same way that Belle and Harry could communicate with each other over their bond. More importantly, Marietta could, if she really projected, communicate with Myrtle - perhaps owing to the fact that she had been the first living person with whom the ghost had merged.
When the group returned to Harry's bungalow they walked in on a flurry of auror trainee activity.
Sergeant Major Moody greeted them at the door "Glad t'see you all back Commander, Lef' tenant, Ma'am."
"Sergeant Major, how are preparations going?"
"Excellent sir, rules of engagement are on your desk, the venue has been chosen and final maneuvers will commence in" he checked his pocket-watch, which just happened to be on his pocket flask, so of course while he had it out he took a little nip, "in fifteen hours sir."
"Are all the repples here?"
"Aye sir; and grinning like hyenas"
"We'll be ready to deploy tomorrow?"
"We're ready to deploy now, Commander."
"Seriously, Sergeant Major?"
"The troops are just waiting for you t'give the word sir."
"The word is given Sergeant Major Moody!"
Commander Ernie McClaggan stood at the head of four neat rows of auror trainees, the four platoons that made up Avalon Seventh Company, the "Lucky 7th" had always beaten its sister companies and McClaggan was determined to not be the one to break that record. He had drilled his company relentlessly, micromanaging every aspect of training and deportment, he loved his rank and authority and was generally hated by all those unfortunate enough to have to serve under him. There was a McClaggan very highly placed in the ministry that had ensured his rapid promotion and he had taken to command like a duck to water, well, okay his troops were demoralized and couldn't fire a spell straight for more than ten feet, and they constantly complained about his 'leadership style,' but hey, he was not there to be liked, he was there to get the job done. And the Lucky 7th could out march any other company in the regiment.
The mission was simple, just get over the hill, and capture the flag. His plan was simplicity itself. March over the hilltop with his two score and ten, him leading from the front, of course and out duel the commander of the 'Fighting Ninth.' He'd heard good things about the mysterious Commander Evans, how his company was already combat ready and just itching to get into the fight against "you know who." He respected that; maybe after he'd beaten Evans in a fair duel he could share some of his own leadership pearls.
"Company! Fall in! Attention!" he commanded, this was all unnecessary because the company was already formed and at attention.
Fifty pairs of shiny dragonhide boots moved in perfect unison and marched straight up the hill. As soon as McClaggan crested the hill he saw the gold flag of the Fighting 9th fluttering in the breeze and a lone figure in a command cloak sitting cross-legged in a comfortable chintz chair reading a small book. The man hadn't even looked up from his book as the Lucky 7th crested the hill.
McClaggan was so amazed by the audacity of the other commander that he missed the muffled sounds of his troops behind him. As soon as McClaggan had crested the hill Harry's camouflaged troops had petrified, stupefied and silenced the other company starting with the back most troops in their perfect formation. By the time the rest of the company realized they were in trouble it was too late and they too were magically bound and gagged. So it was that Mclaggan marched down the hill alone, oblivious to the fate of his command.
"Commander Evans, my compliments sir" McClaggan bellowed, "as I am here with my whole company and you seem to be without one do you wish to yield sir?"
Harry didn't even look up from his book, he just asked "what company?"
McClaggan turned to gesture at . . . nothing.
"My command! Where is my command?"
Harry looked up, but didn't rise "lose something Commander?"
"See here Evans! What have you done to my troops?"
"Well, McClaggan, we are at war, and y'know, shite happens."
"Forget shite! Where are my aurors?"
"They've been attended to and will be returned in good time, meanwhile as you seem to be shy about fifty troops, do you yield Commander?"
"I think I can take you" McClaggan boasted.
"Commander, and I use the term loosely in your case, my men and women have taken out all, and I mean all of your troops with no casualties to themselves, are you sure you don't want to just admit defeat?"
Just then Marietta came skipping down the hill wearing the blue flag of the Lucky Seventh as a cape over her camouflaged fatigues.
"By the rules of engagement we have captured the flag Commander Evans. I believe that means we've won!" She was out of breath but beaming with success.
"That is totally unfair, there was no engagement, and you, and you snuck up on us in a COWARDLY attack when we weren't looking."
Harry was on his feet now and made no effort to mask his disgust "McClaggan, is that what you've been teaching your troops? To play fair, to march into combat like it's some kind of fuckin' parade? If so you owe them an apology, because before they can be put into the field in ANY capacity they're going to need training, and they're not getting it from you!"
"That's your opinion Evans, my troops have discipline, my troops know how to march, and my troops know how to present a proper military bearing!"
"Yeah, arsehole, they'll make great looking corpses!"
Marietta snickered and McClaggan rounded on her shouting "shut up bitch!" as he backhanded her across the mouth.
Harry moved quickly to stop the blow from landing but wasn't fast enough. He roared in frustration, he hadn't expected that, a commanding officer striking a subordinate? Who'd have thought McClaggan had it in him?
Harry's expression was cold as dry ice and as hard as diamonds as he was about to . . .
Marietta raised her hand to stop Harry and calmly said "I accept."
Both men looked confused for just a moment and then Harry grinned evilly.
"Oh McClaggan, you are going to wish you hadn't done that."
"McClaggan of the Clan McClaggan you have set the challenge and I Edgecombe of the clan Evans" she looked at Harry who nodded his approval, "Edgecombe of the clan Evans accept."
"Since my adjutant is the injured party choice of weapons is hers."
"I choose quarterstaffs, at noon, top of the hill. Be there or forfeit what ever honor you have left McClaggan!"
She whipped off the defeated company's flag and folded it reverently, "good men and women have died under this banner, I promise you I meant it no disrespect" she handed Harry the flag then turned to McClaggan "but you sir, are toast!"
When the sun was directly overhead both companies assembled to watch the single combat between the tall, broad shouldered Scotsman and the petite Irishwoman, no one in the Lucky 7th doubted the outcome, oddly enough no one in the Fighting 9th doubted it either, they had seen Lieutenant Edgecombe go one on one with Commander Evans and about half the time she handed him his arse and nobody else had been able to take the Commander. Of course betting was rampant; Edgecombe getting five to one odds against the larger, stronger opponent. Everyone agreed it would be a short duel.
McClaggan stripped to his waist showing off his impressive musculature and did a complex series of bo katas, he clearly had been trained at some point. As he spun his quarterstaff in front of, to the left of and to the right of his athletic frame he smiled evilly at the diminutive lieutenant who just stood in a loose 'ready' position waiting for the git to quit posturing.
"Will ye be dancin' all day or did y'come ta fight?"
McClaggan growled and tried a one-two combination designed to split her skull and then sweep her feet out from under her. Two small problems: she blocked the head shot and jumped over the sweep, then while his right arm was hyper extended she cracked his elbow effectively numbing his whole right arm.
She went back to the ready position as he shook his arm trying to get some feeling back.
He circled around looking for some advantage, and thought he had it when he stabbed the ground with the end of the staff, he had been hoping to break her foot but she simply moved it and brought her staff down on his knuckles forcing him to let go of his.
He shook his hand in pain before he realized that his staff was still stuck in the ground - she had disarmed him.
He snatched the quarterstaff out of the ground and re-commenced circling his opponent she feigned a quick downward strike which he blocked by bringing his staff straight up with both hands - trouble was, at the last instant Marietta reversed the strike so that the other end came up between his legs. Hard. The sound was like that of the flat of a cricket bat hitting a naugahide couch. Every man in attendance winced at the hit; it was that painful to watch. The petit lieutenant skipped back a pace as McClaggan swung ineffectively, half blinded by pain. He kept swinging back and forth rhythmically so that she was able to get in an annoying strike to his ribs, arms or elbows; whatever part of his body he was willing to expose every time he tried for a hit. He kept his bullocks safe though, every time he saw the business end of her quarterstaff he would snap his knees tightly together - not the most impressive fighting stance.
Sooner or later even the dumbest steer in the slaughterhouse realizes what's happening. She was playing with him. She felt she could end this at any time but she was humiliating him. He saw red. He took hold of the quarterstaff and held it like a long club and began to swing wildly back and forth counting on his size and his rage to overcome the snarky bitch.
This was, of course exactly what Marietta was expecting, indeed waiting for; as he swung hard to his left she used the end of her staff to crack his left kneecap into two neat pieces.
He went down howling until Marietta laid him out with a stroke that loosened several teeth and left an angry red welt up the side of his head. He fell to the ground face first.
A cheer went up from the ninth company and an equally loud groan from the seventh and Harry, thinking 'decorum be damned' captured Marietta in a hug swinging her around. He did put her down when he saw Commandant Hayden storming up the hill; Sergeant Major Moody limping behind.
"Commander Evans, report!"
Harry told the commandant of the quick and decisive 'battle' that morning and how McClaggan had lost his temper and assaulted his adjutant, according to regulations she accepted the challenge and broke a few of his bones in the process.
Hayden could see the split lips and bruising on Marietta's face and asked "is that from the duel?"
"No sir, it's from when he backhanded me, I think his ring broke me tooth" upon close inspection they could tell three teeth were broken.
"Uncalled for, that man is unfit for command, Sergeant Major!"
"Get him out of here!"
"Commandant, if I may" Harry interjected, "you are right, he can't lead a thirsty hippogryph to water but he does have organizational and administrative skills. Perhaps we could use him in a staff position?"
The commandant looked at Harry and broke into a broad grin "damn fine thinking Commander, don't waste resources, all right Evans, you've got yourself a dog-robber, see what you can do with him!"
"Aye sir . . ." he said, not very enthusiastically.
Moody looked like he was going to bust a gut trying not to laugh. Harry had just saddled himself with the biggest git in the camp.
The Commandant turned to Marietta and said "Lieutenant, get y'self to the healer straight away!"
"Aye sir!" she replied and apparated away to the infirmary.
Looking down at the unconscious ex-commander on the ground the old man said "somebody side-along Corporal McClaggan to the infirmary as well."
"Evans" he said, "fine job today, good leadership instincts, good follow through, next field maneuver in two days, get some rest then figure out how you're going to beat Fifth Company, they're not going to fall for your camouflage tricks y'know!"
"Aye sir" Harry saluted as the old Commandant strolled off.
Harry stepped to the top of the hill and called out in his command voice, "Lucky Seventh, you were a magnificent and intimidating sight marching up that hill today, you followed the orders of those who were appointed above you and no one will ever fault you for that. But hear this all of you, because one of you will have to step up and assume command, respect and command goes up and down the ranks; from the rawest recruit to the Ministers of Magic and Defense and down again. Identify your strengths, make use of the talented people I know you have and work together, be a team and while another team might beat you, no one will ever defeat you!"
"Oi, we'll follow you Commander!" someone from the 7th shouted to a chorus of 'hear hears' and Harry smiled broadly.
"Sorry boys and girls, I already have a job and I've got to sleep sometimes!"
More laughter followed, then Harry said "there's hot food and cold stout in the open mess and you're all invited! Companies! Dis - missed!"
The sound of a general cheer went up then was eclipsed by that of over a hundred apparations. Back at the base some of the muggleborns said it sounded like the world's largest popcorn popper.
Harry apparated straight to the infirmary where Healer Dumphries was putting the finishing touches on Marietta's teeth.
"Good as new, Lieutenant" the healer said then motioning for Harry said "I can release her into your care Commander."
"Thank you Healer Dumphries."
"Would you like that potion now?"
Marietta's eyebrows went up.
Harry saw the reaction and groaned, "no sir, not just yet I don't want to lose it."
"It's going to be more uncomfortable as it progresses you know."
"Harry just shrugged"
Marietta was getting concerned "Healer Dumphries, what's all this then?"
"Oh, sorry, I thought you knew."
"Seems our Commander is reluctant to take the dampening draught."
She looked at Harry as though he had grown a third eye "are ye daft man, how d'you expect to get through this without it?"
"Belle needs me, is all, if I take the potion she will not be able to sense me anymore, and I won't be with her the same way either."
"Healer, have ye not told him what'll happen?"
"Come along Commander" Marietta said, with an edge to her voice, "we're going home!"
Harry nodded and gathering up his courage followed her out.
The concept of "Dog Robber" is easily explained, just find a store that carries old movies, and find the DVD titled "The Americanization of Emily." The short version, a dog robber is the guy in just about every command who can find anything you might need, think of him as a military concierge.
A BIG hug to all who have taken the time to write reviews, you have been very encouraging. Some of you have written reviews that are less than favorable and I'm grateful to you too (hey, if all I wanted to hear was 'great job' I'd only show the stories to my mother, right?) To all of you who write reviews, favorable or unfavorable, you are my heroes and I love you, truly. There is a third category though, the phantom raters, you know what I mean, people who rate a story as 'OOC' or 'Train Wreck' or 'Illiterate.' Funny how these people don't leave reviews. I have over thirty chapters here; think about that for a moment, who would read thirty chapters of a fic that they rated as a 'Train Wreck?' When I don't like a story I tell the author why I don't like it and if the story doesn't improve I just stop reading it.
Life is too short to endure bad prose.