Baker's Hill, Devon, UK
Saturday, October 7, 2007, 2004
"By the time they realised I was gone, I was already halfway across the mountains. I just continued south, walking parallel to the railway line." Harry continued. "Eventually, I found my way to the outskirts of Glasgow. After seeing that the place was still being fought over by House Steiner and House Liao, I decided to bypass the city altogether. I made way around the western side of the city until I found myself in a place called Netherplace. Steiner was using it as a supply depot, with a connection to a motorway. There were convoys of trucks coming in an out of there all day. I intended to sneak on one of the trucks heading south, but then the place came under artillery bombardment and I decided to get out of there."
"Whose artillery was it?" James asked, curious as to whom or what attacked the depot. With the war that was being fought across the world against the invading armies, he had to be sure which faction attacked whom, as there were various Earth forces scattered across the world, fighting for their very survival against the enemy.
"No idea, I just got the hell out of there. I don't know in which direction I ran, but I eventually found myself in a place called Gabroc Hill. I hid up in an abandoned farmhouse there until the area was clear of Steiner and Liao activity. After that, I continued heading south. After two days, I found myself by a railway track outside of a town called Kilmarnock. The place was under Liao occupation, and there was a supply train coming out of the station, heading south. It was going slow enough for me to jump onto, and so I did. I remained on the train as far as Dumfries, where the rain came up to a Liao checkpoint. I literally jumped off the train as it slowed down outside the city."
"Well, that was pretty risky, riding a military supply train." Hatton told him, folding his arms once more. "You were lucky a Liao soldier didn't see you jump off."
"For a moment there, I thought someone did, because for a couple of days after that, there were a lot of soldiers and machines scouring the countryside around Dumfries. I figured they were after me, but it turned out they weren't. They were looking for a bunch of bandits that was operating up in the hills around the city. They were hitting supply convoys and raiding small bases, they'd even nicked a few of their machines and were using them against them."
The subject of the bandits awakened James' interest. "Did you see any of these bandits?" he asked Harry.
"I tried to find them, but with the Liao patrols I couldn't risk trying to get anywhere near where they were." Harry answered. "In the end, I just continued making my way south; bypassing every town and city I came across. I had a lot more close shaves with the machines the invaders use, but I managed to find my way past them and kept continuing south. Eventually, I found my way to Devon. When I got there, I decided to try and get to Ron's house at Ottery St. Catchpole."
"That's to the west of Exeter innit?"
"Yeah," he answered. "I was about halfway there when I ran into those two machines fighting it out. And I think you can guess the rest."
With the story concluded, James took a step closer to Harry, his mind trying to comprehend all the information he had just heard. The thought of Hogwarts under the control of a hostile force, assisted by a power-mongering witch, had left a dark impression on the young man's mind.
"That's one hell of a story, Harry." he finally spoke. "I can think of a few others that went through what you went through. And from what you said, I can say you did bloody well."
Harry looked up and saw in James' face that he was being sincere. "Thanks, James. I appreciate it."
"No problem." James nodded. "Now I guess you must be tired and all after all that walking. I'll speak to the Quartermaster and get you your rucksack back, and then I'll talk to Colonel Brown and tell him I won't be pursuing any charges. I'll also make arrangements for you to sleep here tonight. In the morning, we'll figure out what to do next."
As he was hearing this, Harry began to believe that the Lieutenant was going to try and help him. This was confirmed by the next sentence he spoke.
"Harry, you made a promise to your mates at Hogwarts. Now, I'm gonna promise you that I will do everything in my power to help you keep that promise." James told him. "That school was once my home for seven years, and the very least I can do is to help the Boy Who Lived free what has also become his home."
Harry smiled as he heard his new friend's vow. For the first time in a month, ever since he escaped from Hogwarts, he felt safe.
After the two wizards finished their conversation, Jim left the tent and headed toward the command tent, which in the centre of the camp, surrounded by armed soldiers. As he went through the cordon, the soldiers saluted him before letting him through the tent flap.
Inside, Jim found the Colonel standing over a table with a map of Devon, which was covered by acetate sheets with different-coloured pen-ink arrows and details drawn on them. It was obvious that he was gathering intelligence on enemy movements, as he saw the Colonel move green, red and blue arrows around the map.
Green stood for House Davion, the red, Liao and blue was Steiner. From the amount of blue arrows pointing in on Exeter, it became obvious that House Steiner was mounting an attack on the Davion-held city. There were only two red Liao arrow markers pointing away from Exmoor and the south coast toward the city. This meant that Liao was making a push against Davion forces in those areas, but nothing major. The three green markers pointing into Exeter meant that Davion Forces were retreating into the city to make a stand there against both Liao and Steiner.
Upon completing his mental summary of the situation, Jim looked to Colonel Brown, whom was just looking up at that instant. As soon as they locked eyes, they exchanged salutes.
"Mr. Hatton," he began. "It looks like Liao and Davion have their own problems fighting each other, as well as that huge Steiner force to the north. Looks like they mean to take the city, this time."
"Yes, sir." Jim responded. "And if the city falls, Steiner will move into this area and things will get very hot for us very fast."
"Yes, I agree, Lieutenant." Brown nodded in agreement. "I'll have Recon Troop keep an eye on what happens, but I'll bring Alpha Squadron to full alert, just in case." He then changed the subject and looked up at Jim. "What about that kid who attacked you near Easton?"
"Well, it's like I said in my report," he answered. "He was just some poor kid that got caught up in that 'Mech fight. He hid in that Catapult wreckage after it was downed and watched our people take down that Thor. The reason he attacked me was because he was scared half out of his wits and didn't know who I was. For all he knew, I could have been an enemy soldier."
The Colonel listened to the report with some interest. "So he was just some civvy caught in the crossfire?"
"OK, I'll have the charges against him dropped and have his things returned to him." Brown nodded. "He can stay here tonight, but he should leave here, first thing, in the morning. This is a British Army unit, after all."
"Actually, sir." Jim replied. "He was heading toward a village called Ottery St. Catchpole, which…" He paused as he leaned over the table to look at the map. "…is here, only fifteen miles south-south-east of our current position."
A frown appeared on Colonel Brown's brow as he looked at the map, and noticed the red arrow that was right next to the village. "It's also on House Liao's southern attack axis."
"I've noticed that, sir." Jim responded. "And when they march through, they'll burn the village to the ground." He looked up at the Colonel with a look of urgency. "Harry, that's the boy's name, says he has some friends who might still live there."
"If there are civilians still living there, then we'd better get them out of there." The Colonel responded.
"Well, sir, there's only one way to find out." Jim said, as an idea began forming in his head. "Is there any chance we can get an idea what forces are due to go through the area, sir?"
"Recon Troop are committed for the moment, but I'll see if I can get Bravo Squadron to spare a 'Mech to scout the area."
"Thank you, sir," replied Jim. "Err, if at all possible, I'd like to borrow a Land Rover and drive Harry down there in the morning." Jim saw the Colonel open his mouth to object. "That is, pending the report from the scout 'Mech, sir."
A reluctant sigh came from Colonel Brown's lips. "Very well, Lieutenant. Maybe that's the least we could do, considering the circumstances. But you make that visit as short as you possibly can. There is a war on, you know."
"Yes, sir, I do." Jim replied.
"Just bring that Land Rover back in one piece, you hear me?" Colonel Brown ordered.
"Dismissed." Brown nodded.
"Sir." Jim saluted, before spinning round and walking out of the command tent.
After a soldier came by and returned his rucksack, Harry had pulled out his sleeping bag and laid it out on the grass near the rear wall of the tent. He then removed his boots, which had almost worn through due to the month's worth of walking.
Harry lied down and slid himself inside the sleeping bag. As he did, he dug into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled photograph. He opened it up and looked at the moving image of himself, Ron, Hermione and Ginny, smiling away toward the camera. It had been taken a few days before House Steiner had come stomping into Hogwarts.
The promise he had made to them was still firmly etched into his mind. He had not abandoned them, as Umbridge was probably saying right now. He had promised to return, and he will.
With his promise still in his mind, he put the photograph back in his pocket, lied down to, closed his eyes, and prayed that, tomorrow, he could find what remained of the Weasley's .