The Coming War
“Where are the others?” asked Rose. Her legs were trembling.
“I'm not sure.” said Nabus. “I doubt they went too far.”
Albus continued to stare at the still-expanding cloud of dust and debris blossoming above the place where the UN Tower had stood. Whelmuran's words echoed around his head: While we're at it, we might as well have some fun! There had been no purpose to the carnage, no benefit, no place in a grander scheme. On a mere whim, as nothing more than an amusing diversion, the Stingers had killed thousands of innocent people. If they had this kind of power now, what would happen when Malfoy controlled all magic? Worse still, Malfoy was heading out to complete his plan at this very moment. Did they have any hope of stopping him?
“Albus, my boy,” said Nabus wearily, turning to face him. “You have told me that it is your destiny to face Malfoy.”
“Until now, I have taken charge in making all arrangements for your safety. But here lies the end of my prerogatives. I cannot force you to hide from this conflict, and nor can I push you into it. Now that the Feather of Fawkes has crumbled, I am no longer the leader of the resistance against the Circle. That role has passed to you.”
“Me?” said Albus, his eyes widening. “But...but I...”
“Albus, you and Malfoy are now the two most powerful wizards in thousands of years.” said Nabus seriously.
This statement nearly bowled Albus over. He had never thought of it that way. But it was perfectly true...as Malfoy's power had grown, so had his.
Nobody said anything for a long time. They simply watched, as the debris and dust slowly settled over the city, and a swarm of emergency vehicles, flying outside of the sky tubes, converged on the disaster area.
“You can't do it alone.” said Nabus finally.
Albus turned to look at him, surprised. “I must.” he said.
“Even if it must ultimately come down to you and Malfoy, you will require as much assistance as possible in the first phase of the battle.” said Nabus.
“Battle?” said Albus.
“The Circle of the New Birth of Sorcery is a vast entity.” said Nabus. “Aside from Malfoy, there are also at least thirty Stingers and thousands of lesser supporters. I do not believe Malfoy wants the duel to be an honorable or fair fight. He will attempt to take control of Sirius before he attends to you. And his supporters will work to hold you back until he has become the master of magic. If you went alone, you would not be able to penetrate Malfoy's defenses in time. But if you had backup...”
“But how much more help could there be available?” said Albus desperately. “Who would come with me?”
“The question is,” said Nabus, his mouth twitching, “who wouldn't come with you?”
It took a few days for the entire operation to be prepared. At first, Albus had worried that there wouldn't be enough time, but Nabus assured him that it would take them much faster to reach Sirius than the Stingers. “According to reports, they are flying the entire fortress of Victoria Perfectus out to the region.” he explained. “Something with so many magical enchantments must be carefully and slowly transported, lest any of the spells used to move it conflict with its existing protective curses.”
This was a relief to hear, but it did not by any means vanquish his worries. Everywhere Albus went over the following days, during everything he did, he was weighted down by the imminent prospect of what he was facing. The coming war would decide the fate of all of humanity.
Nabus's prediction that Albus would have a colossal amount of resources at his disposal turned out to be absolutely correct. The first thing they had done was meet up with the UN delegates once more. Albus was relieved to discover that every single one of them had survived the disaster.
They had gathered in the Warp Pod Hall of New York City, which had been completely vacated for their use. The delegates all sat down on the floor, facing Nabus, Dolbri, and Albus, who were standing in the center of the great chamber.
“I have called for our respective nations' leaders to join us here.” said Dolbri, addressing the crowd. “They should be arriving any moment now.”
As if on cue, The Warp Pods around the hall simultaneously emitted brilliant pulses of light, expelling a mass of politicians. Prime ministers, presidents, kings and queens, legislators, and all manner of other government officials flooded the room. Presumably following a prearranged seating order, the group sat down on the floor in neat rows, exactly like the delegates, but on the opposite side of the three in the center.
“As all of you know,” said Nabus solemnly, “Most of the planet is in complete disarray. Yesterday's worldwide announcement of the Stinger's latest plan has caused mass panic.”
Albus suppressed a shudder. He had just the other day seen firsthand the impact of the impending doom. He had spent all of yesterday traveling from country to country with Nabus and Dolbri, beginning to relay and formulate plans for the final stand against Malfoy with the rest of the world. The story was the same everywhere they had gone. The news that the Stingers were planning to take control of the fundamental source of magic had staggered the public so badly that society simply couldn't function. Businesses were closed, schools were empty, and some cities were crippled by looting and mob rule.
“Fortunately, there are still millions of people who, rather than preparing for the end of the world, are ready to fight. Plenty of these people have enlisted in the resistance army we are assembling. The whole process is disorganized and chaotic, but it seems to be working; we now have a huge army which can assist Albus and his friends.
“The final stage of the operation can be completed by tonight. We are even now readying as many armed spacecraft as we can. We will depart for Nereid in the evening, rest up there, and warp to Sirius ten hours later. If our calculations are correct, we should arrive at Sirius only a few minutes after Victoria Perfectus. We must pray that that will buy us enough time.”
“Albus, are you okay?” asked Kramer.
Albus didn't respond. Many hours later, the final phase of the preparations had been completed. They now had ten hours to rest on Nereid.
Kramer and Albus sitting inside an Axis that was sitting idle in a barren, empty valley. It had taken them most of the journey to become competent at driving the ship; at the beginning, their Axis had swerved drunkenly, barely keeping up with the rest of the fleet. Rob had made controlling the ship simple, but in fact it required a thorough sense for timing and precision. Fortunately, as they were flying through outer space, there were almost no obstacles to dodge, leaving them plenty of room for error even while flying at near the speed of light. Gradually, Albus and Kramer had figured out how to steer and accelerate smoothly. Albus wished he had his old Firebolt with him instead, but he doubted he could fly it through space anyway.
The rotating swarm of Axes was not the only element of the great military fleet. A whole host of other spacecraft were also taking part in the battle. There were sleek vessels that looked like Muggle fighter jets, but somehow banked and turned without air. There were flying saucers as large as football stadiums, with massively thick hulls and vast laser cannons. Still others had small, spherical cabins surrounded by two colossal engine bells. It all looked something like Muggle science fiction from Albus's time, but it was all made possible by magic.
Albus looked around at the Axis to their left, which contained James, Rose, and Rob Carter, and then at the Axis to their right, which held Lily, Hugo, and Rasputin. The remaining members of the Feather of Fawkes were occupying the remaining Axes, and would be following Albus and Kramer, protecting them from enemy fire.
Those in various military forces on Earth, meanwhile, were piloting the other small and medium sized spacecraft. They had already received extensive training in spaceflight, and these other ships, though harder to pilot and easier to hit than Axes, were better armed and more capable of wreaking havoc. There was a fairly equal mix of wizard and Muggle pilots in this section of the fleet.
The most crucial phase of all, however, was that which was to be carried out by the massive flying saucers. These ships not only had the most destructive weapons, but also carried all of the volunteers who had limited skills with weapons but proficient magical power. Victoria Perfectus was protected by some of the most powerful magic known to wizardkind, Dark and otherwise, but as Nabus had said, even the mightiest enchantments can be overwhelmed. Their proximity to Sirius would drastically increase the power of the enchantments on Victoria Perfectus, but it would have an equally strong effect on the power of the resistance army's magic.
Sensor probes launched by the vast saucers would be able to provide them with a general idea of the network of enchantments placed upon the colossal fortress, and the sorcery tacticians on the lower levels would then hastily work out the most efficient way to break them. Once they had ascertained the ideal attack strategy, the sorcery tacticians would relay it to the wizards on the upper levels, who would use that strategy to attack Victoria Perfectus. In theory, this plan would not only make the floating fortress an easier target, but also create a window of opportunity for Albus to penetrate the defenses, enter the fortress, and find Malfoy.
This last part was the key to the entire battle. As Nabus had stressed many times, the primary objective of the battle wasn't to kill the Stingers, or to cripple their weaponry, or even to destroy Victoria Perfectus. It was to open a gap in the Circle's protective enchantments quickly enough so that Albus could get past them and engage Malfoy in a duel before his plan was complete. And then...
What would Albus do? His magic may have been powerful, and in terms of raw magical ability he might surpass every other wizard alive. He might even be Malfoy's equal. But his magical education stopped woefully short. True, he had always been exceptional in Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, but he had only three years of magical education from Hogwarts, and a few months' training at the Mariner Valley Academy.
“I said, are you okay?” repeated Kramer.
Albus jumped, and looked at him. He wanted to lie, to say he was fine, and confident that everything would turn out for the best. But the words simply wouldn't come. Finally, he confessed his fears about Malfoy to Kramer, who listened patiently as Albus spoke.
Kramer stroked his chin thoughtfully. “You know, Malfoy didn't have any more education than you, Albus. Don't you remember what we saw in the Pensieve Fountain?”
“But he didn't need it...he learned everything on his own.” said Albus hopelessly.
“Maybe you don't need it either.” replied Kramer softly.
Albus stared at him.
“You need to stop thinking of Malfoy as the superior wizard.” he said. “I think you've got just as much magic, if only you would tap into it.”
“How will I ever tap into it in time? Malfoy's had years to master his own abilities. I have hours!”
“I think that when the time comes that you two are facing each other, you'll find it.” said Kramer.
“You can't possibly know that.” said Albus.
“No, I can't, but I've just got this...feeling.” said Kramer. “And you haven't seen your abilities the way others see them, Albus. You don't even realize how powerful you already are! You can cast magic without a wand. You can produce spells without the slightest bit of effort. If you really unleashed everything you've got, you'd easily be an equal to Malfoy.”
Albus was not at all sure that Kramer was right. But his words made him think. It was true that abilities were increasing all the time.
“Malfoy's done a lot to disrupt the natural order.” said Albus.
“I'm not convinced that that will end up being the better for him.” said Kramer. “Yeah, he's made himself more powerful, but perhaps that power is illusory. Maybe his tampering with the cycle of magic will cause his abilities to fail him when he needs them most.”
Albus was forcibly reminded of Voldemort. What Kramer was saying about Malfoy sounded a lot like what Voldemort had done. Terrified of defeat and death, Voldemort had sought to make himself invincible by splitting his soul into several pieces and confining them in physical vessels called Horcruxes. But by making his soul so unstable and mutilated, Voldemort had developed a kind of supernatural frailty that ultimately destroyed him.
Malfoy had also violated the laws of nature, by artificially transforming his magical abilities through the power of Sirius. But unlike tearing apart the soul, Malfoy's profanation of magic did not present an obvious disadvantage. He was not compromising any part of himself to gain his power. Albus couldn't see any way that Malfoy's actions could end up being his undoing. Certainly Kramer's view was comforting, but Albus doubted it would ever play out that way.
“But what about the discouraging historical record? In all of the fated duels of the past, the Dark side had always won.” Albus said.
Kramer looked at him. “True, but history doesn't show us a reason for it. We don't know that the triumph of evil is also destiny. This battle is different from any that came before it. Maybe that will be different too.”
Albus turned away,
mulling it all over. When you came down to it, he realized, none of it really
mattered. Not now, anyway. No matter what the stakes, no matter what the
outcome would be, he had to face Malfoy. Destiny was not carved in
stone. He had the choice to walk away. But he couldn't. It wasn't right.
Looking up into the
starry sky above the canyon, Albus felt himself drifting off. The last thing he
wanted to do was go to sleep, but so much had happened in the past few days
that he was too exhausted to resist. Soon, the final stand against the Dark
side will begin, he thought, before surrendering to the blackness closing
in around him.