With Apologies To Ms Rowling
So… The Dark Knight Rises came out, and I saw it.
I have nothing funny to say about it.
It’s great. Go see it, now.
The trouble with something as incredibly, unbelievably good as Nolan’s trilogy is that it always leaves me like I have to ‘follow’ it, and be overshadowed by it. How the heck am I meant to sit down at a keyboard and write creative stuff when I just saw that? It’s like spending a week touring CERN, and then going home and making a baking soda volcano – depressing, pointless and likely to make a mess. So I had a look through my old archives of writings from around 2008-2009, when I was a young(er), dumb(er), (even more) socially stunted child who spent every lunch reading, hunched over like I was taking a dump in the woods. I looked for something to put up here. And yeah, there’s some not-totally-awful stuff back there – I’m actually kind of proud of some of my creative writing assignments. But then I stumbled upon this.
I am not proud of this.
I did, however, quite enjoy rereading it. And if you’ve just watched The Dark Knight Rises, then you probably aren’t going to be impressed by what I consider my ‘good’ stuff. So here we go. Please forgive me.
“Complete amnesty,” Vostrin said flatly. “From all past crimes, plus a change of identity, new residence, and citizenship in the country of my choice.”
Paul looked like he was about to negotiate, but I interjected. “Done,” I agreed. “Binding. Now get it.”
Vostrin looked between us, a little surprised at the quick acquiescence; helicopters thumped overhead as the fluorescent lights flickered. It was damp; the rain outside had penetrated the cheap Shenyang apartment.
“Please, don’t stand around on my account,” Paul said. The Russian begrudgingly moved to a section of the floor and peeled back a plank of mouldy wood, revealing a thick safe. He began whispering incantations into the locks.
Then a sniper round smashed the window out to the rooftops and sliced over the top of his hair.
“Shit!” Paul yelled as we flung ourselves to the floor. The sound of the helicopter was very loud, Vostrin was screaming on his belly with fright and –
The windows in the threadbare loungeroom burst open as People’s Liberation Army special forces rappelled in.
I kicked over a table and rolled behind the boundary as Paul drew his wand. I grabbed my 93r and fired wildly over the edge of my shelter as dark shapes burst into the next room.
“Avada kedavra!” Green light swept a soldier off his feet. More sniper bullets tore through the walls.
“Screw this,” I grunted, shimmying over to Vostrin. He’d opened the safe somehow and pulled out the briefcase, hugging it to his chest. “Do you have an escape route?” he yelled over the gunfire.
Paul giggled a little as he rolled over to us. “We were planning to just take Air Emirates back to LA…”
“There’s a portkey,” I cut in. “A safe room, a few buildings down.”
Vostrin gazed at me in abject, irrational terror. “A few… they have helicopters!”
Paul tapped him on the shoulder. “Just hold on to the briefcase.”
There were two commandoes in the elevator lobby for the fiftieth floor – we gunned them before they could open fire.
“Can’t we just hijack a Floo gate?” Vostrin whimpered pathetically as we ran to our Samsonite crate where we’d left it.
“The locals will have locked down the entire Floo network,” Paul explained helpfully as he pressed a HK416 into Vostrin’s unwilling hands. “Same for Apparation and the elevators, in fact. So guess how we get down?”
I finished grabbing my gear from the crate, put a round in the breech of my HK416, and kicked out the nearest window.
The roof of the skyscraper, like that of pretty much every other concrete-and-glass prism in Shenyang, was a combination of corrugated aluminium and hard concrete. Under the torrential downpour from the clouds, it was ridiculously slippery.
I was soaked through my Kevlar as soon as I got out from the lobby and started slipping across the rooftop; I shook the water out of my eyes and checked the GPS.
“Hard right, follow me!” I yelled. A helicopter swept overhead; Paul fired a couple of hexes at it and it ducked below our line of sight. We started running, helping Vostrin up when he tumbled.
“Think they’ve got airborne infantry?” I panted.
“Broomsticks? No chance, mate, not in this weather. Now, listen to me, Vostrin – you’re going to have to jump, okay?”
The roof slanted down to a steep aluminium precipice, and the void between this building and the next. It was filled with wind and water.
Vostrin shook his head, long greasy curls flinging raindrops everywhere. “No way, you Yankee bastards. No way am I doing that…”
Three more helicopters swept up above roof-level, commandoes swinging down from ziplines onto this building and the next. Bullets whistled around us.
“You know what’ll kill you, mate?” Paul asked cheerfully as we ran for the edge. “Not Communists; that sense of self-preservation.”
We reached the edge and leapt.
In popular opinion, dramatic leaps are long, slow and horizontal. In reality, I flew forward for what felt like a few metres before dropping like a stone.
“Levicorpus!” Paul yelled, and the charm blasted away gravity for just one second as I fell into the darkness, windows and balconies blurring past –
We crashed through a balcony canopy, tearing through the cheap fabric and slamming down onto the tiles. I grunted in pain at the stinging in my ankles, my wrists, my knees – Vostrin cried quietly. But for a moment, there were no bullets tearing through the air around us.
I staggered upright, helping Paul up, and shouldered my 416. “Thanks.”
Angry footsteps rumbled through the apartments inside; they were audible even over the rustling rain.
He grinned, checking that our angry Russian friend had the briefcase. “Let’s rock and roll.”
The corridors of the tenants block were a battleground.
There were civilians everywhere, terrified-looking Chinese men and women crawling under tables and forcing themselves into cupboards as AK-47s smashed into walls.
“Three tangos, left side apartment,” I grunted as I ducked behind a pillar, tossing out a Stupefy charm-grenade. I waited for the red flash, then ducked out, putting 5.56mm into the two commandoes by the stairwell. Paul dived forward to cover me from the left, firing his wand from his right hand and a Glock from his left. The three PLA troops were dead before they hit the ground.
The helicopter swept by outside, firing wildly through the walls and cutting us off from the end of the hallway. Wood and concrete fragments flew through the air and stung my face; I ducked back angrily. “Gotta get out of here!”
Paul aimed his wand at the ground. “Bombarda!” The floor blasted apart, revealing a half-set dinner table below us.
He smiled and jumped down. “Ever wish you were one of us, mate?”
“Better Muggle than mocked in the street… Vostrin, come on!”
There was a wizened old grandfather huddled in the corner as we kicked open the front door of his apartment. I felt like apologizing, but for some reason that wasn’t covered in the US Army Mandarin primer.
I checked my thermal vision as we hurried through the dark halls; the little monocle showed ten heat blobs coming down the stairs. “We’d better hurry… the elevator shaft, go!”
Paul murmured a quick charm. When that didn’t work, he slipped out a fifty-centimeter crowbar from his body armour and started working on the doors while I watched the commandoes approach. Maybe fifteen seconds…
“I don’t want to,” Vostrin said as the dark maw of the shaft gazed up at us.
“We promised you asylum – “ Paul tried.
“Fuck that. I don’t wanna fucking die.”
I gave the soldiers one last look and then grabbed Vostrin and slammed him against the wall, pressing my rifle-butt into his neck.
“Listen to me you little shit,” I snarled, “the PLA doesn’t want you alive. There is no option other than us if you want to live. Do you want to live?” His face glowed orange through the thermal monocle.
He sniffled, water slicking his face, then nodded slightly.
“Then get in the bloody shaft.”
Paul held the doors as he connected up Vostrin to our zipline; the soldiers had reached the fire door on this floor and I could see, in normal vision, the splinters as they kicked it down.
I dived towards the silvery doors.
A wand-tip and two rifles slid around the corner of the fire vestibule.
Paul let go of the doors.
I slid through.
The doors shut.
The orange thermal blobs came into the corridor.
The adrenaline surge had been so intense that for a moment, I forgot about the whole ‘elevator shaft’ thing.
Luckily, Vostrin grabbed me by the edge of my Kevlar vest and I used the slowdown to grip the zipline. I looked up at the Russian through the darkness, surprised.
I’d dropped my 416 in the dive and I listened for the clatter, but I heard nothing. Paul murmured “lumos” from above us, looking for any obstructions. We checked our carabineers again, and started rappelling down.
The dark metal walls slinked past as I bounced off with my combat boots. Now that I thought about it out of the immediate firefight, I realized that my side was aching ferociously and I’d probably been hit by a bullet or a minor hex. The body armour was good, though, Kevlar and high-quality shielding charms – I didn’t think anything was broken.
I swung down to place my feet against the door for Floor 12. Just before I touched, it was wrenched open by a pair of crowbars, and I tumbled into the middle of four People’s Liberation Army troopers.
I whipped my bowie from my quick-draw sheath and punched one in the face, breaking his young cheek-bones before slashing him shallowly in the ribs; someone was on top of me, choking me, and I tried to roll over and kick him loose. That didn’t work, but from the sound and the impact I kicked someone else in the cheek.
I stabbed the wounded one under me deep in the heart and flipped the blade around, stabbing upwards at the choker –
My knife flew away and I was kicked back against a trash can, feeling the cheap plastic collapse on top of me. The choker had recoiled back, bleeding a little, and another PLA soldier had a wand aimed at my face.
“Avada – “
Paul swung in shooting and put three rounds into the man’s head; that was two down, but I was still unarmed and the fourth man kicked Paul in the gut before he could release his zipline. He tumbled back into the elevator shaft and swung wildly.
I saw an AK47 on the ground and dived towards it, but that fucking fourth guy grabbed a crowbar that was closer and smashed me across the shoulder; I heard something break and screamed. He laughed wildly, and I rolled over and lifted the gun and blew his head off.
I’m special forces. Pain don’t hurt.
The third guy, the choker, was getting to his feet. Or perhaps I should say getting to its feet.
The choker was an Animagus.
The bear roared wildly and stepped forward, rearing up onto its hind legs; it clocked me with its left paw before I could fire. The blow ripped my helmet off my head, cut a centimetre into my scalp and knocked me senseless. It lowered its jaws for the killing blow, but it didn’t quite finish me off in time.
Paul had dropped his Glock, grabbed a Chinese wand and hit it with two Killing Curses simultaneously.
“Motherfucker,” I hissed as the real world faded in through orange and black starbursts. “That really, really hurt.”
“Word,” Pat said. Vostrin clambered clumsily up out of the shaft, holding the wet leather briefcase to his chest. I breathed out gently as I saw that it had survived the descent and the fight. They both helped me up.
“Let’s get out of China.”
The portkey leading to our safehouse in Dublin was contained in a beat-up van parked in a two-hour waiting zone beneath the skyscraper opposite us.
We were on the twelfth-floor balcony, and could only marvel at just how much traffic was backed up beneath the helicopters and –
“Brooms,” I grunted. “I told you.”
My 416 was gone so I pulled out my shotgun and started running for the next balcony. “Jump between the balconies and the fire escapes, get down to street level!”
Bullets smashed past the hanging laundry and the pot plants; women inside shrieked and dropped their cups of coffee. “Run, just run!” I called to the others.
Whatever Apparation jammer they’d been running had been shut off – black ectoplasmic smoke bloomed as wizards burst into corporeality around us. Two Apparated onto the balcony below me as I made the jump; my legs pedalled uselessly through the rainy sky as I fired a shell into each of their heads. Both were torn into red shreds of gore before they finished materializing.
I slammed into the balcony and turned, firing two more shells at the broom riders raining hexes onto the others. Paul jumped down and ran on ahead, barely slowing, but Vostrin stumbled as a Reductor curse blew out the awning he leapt from. His feet slipped on the wet aluminium as he fell over, groaning. One of the PLA soldiers on the brooms Disapparated and appeared above him –
I fired my last shell into the back of his head and blew it into chunky salsa, before bending down to help Vostrin up.
“Nice shot,” he smiled gratefully.
Then a bullet smacked through his brain.
I just stared as he dropped stupidly to the ground as rain and gunfire howled all around us. “No, no,” I mumbled. “No way, no…” I bent down and fumbled for the briefcase. It was strapped to his bloody form, belted on to his Kevlar; I could barely see the plastic clip through the rain.
“Got it!” I yelled.
Seven Chinese wizards Apparated onto my balcony, wands and pistols raised.
The road was four lanes wide, with one lane overhung by the balcony I had been standing on. That was about nine metres to jump across, from a standing start. I had been four storeys up.
Paul hit me with a Repulso curse and knocked me like a ninepin into the RPG team that had set up a firing position in front of our van.
I rolled wildly, breaking too many bones, smacking my skull against hard asphalt. I wound up face-down in a puddle and choked desperately, grappling for my 93r, enemy hands and legs and weapons all over me.
An AK-47 fired from a metre away at my chest, three bullets bouncing off the Kevlar. Ribs broke.
I rolled over screaming, mud and hair and blood and water in my face, and opened fire with my 93r. The shooter fell back in a puddle of blood, as did the others of the RPG team around me. Across the street, people were turning with guns and wands and another animagus shimmered into a leopard and –
Paul jumped down, plastered with blood, and yanked me into the van, sliding the doors shut.
Bullets punched holes for the rain through the walls as we crawled to the portkey, a nondescript plastic cuboid painted military-green. Paul tapped the keyboard, swearing.
“Shit! There’s a jamming field on this frequency, we can’t jump out!”
An RPG smashed into the front of the van, blasting the engine block to smithereens and covering us in smoke, flame and glass. It gave me an idea.
“The jammer would have to be pretty big, right?” More bullets all around us. “In a vehicle?”
“Yeah. Hey, mate, it’s been nice working with…”
“You see any cars outside? Trucks?” The van rocked as Killing Curses spent themselves against the sides.
“No!” he yelled back.
“Cover me!” I screamed, and wrenched open the doors.
“Lumos solem!” Paul charmed, turning his wand into a 30-megawatt strobe. Hard white light seared the eyeballs of the troops turning us into swiss cheese, causing them to yank backwards and cover their faces.
I wriggled forward out of the van, grabbed a loaded RPG from the dead team around us, and looked into the rainy sky.
There were two helicopters; I chose the bigger one.
The missile snapped its tail rotor clean off and the terrible steel harpy spun wildly, flanks grinding against the concrete frontage of the opposite skyscraper before snapping off all its rotors and plummeting to the ground in flames.
I dived back inside as the flare-charm died on Paul’s wand.
We both grabbed the portkey; he hit the keys.
“The fucking briefcase!” I screamed with realization, and slapped a hand over onto the leather as AK-47s growled into nattering life again outside.
The military-green plastic pyramid became a twirling spiral of silver light, and I grabbed the sodden leather case under my arm and held on tight.
That still left my hand free for one gesture to all of Shenyang.
Then we were gone.