26 June 2015

Significant Digits, Bonus: War

Significant Digits, Bonus: War

Does the end justify the means? That is possible. But what will justify the end? To that question, which historical thought leaves pending, rebellion replies: the means.
-Albert Camus, The Rebel


Nurmengard, Győr-Moson, Hungary
April 30th, 1945 C.E.

Reg Hig had been afraid all throughout the war against Grindelwald.  It was a deep and abiding fear that sat in his stomach like a stone, soured his mouth into a grimace, and left him checking and re-checking the wards compulsively.  But he went anyway.  He was scared and he was always exhausted and he would sometimes vomit in nervous heaves until his mouth burned with bile, but he went anyway.

If he’d had a choice, he probably wouldn’t have gone.  But he’d been compelled by pride and ambition, and so he had volunteered with forty other Americans to join the war against the mad Hungarian.  It was the only way he could have a future in the Council.  Even at that time, he’d led a sizeable contingent of the egalitarian wing, but it was clear that no coward could ever rise to great power.  His father’s generation had proven their mettle against centaurs and giants in the west, serving as rangers over vast swaths of territory to enforce the Statute of Secrecy.  But those days were past, thanks to vigilance and genocides.  So in Hig’s time, mighty heroes fought Dark Lords and Ladies.  Gellert Grindelwald was the darkest of Dark Lords anyone had ever seen, untouchable in his mastery and unstoppable in his cruelty.  If Hig had failed to volunteer, it would have been a black mark on the family name.

But he was afraid, and had been since the moment he’d read about the Anschluss -- when he’d realized the shape of things to come.  And he’d known from the start, even then, that it would do no good to try to hide it.  And so he’d owned it.

Before the raids and with every battle, he’d proclaimed his own terror to his allies.  Hig had shouted out his fear, and then said he was going to fight anyway.  If he could do it, then by Mukwooru’s toe, they could damn well join him and fight by his side.  Fear meant nothing, he would declare, and then he would roar out about all the things they were trying to preserve, and roar about the twisted villainy of Grindelwald’s “greater good.”  He would roar for them to follow him, and then they would leap to their broomsticks and surge into the air and their hearts would sing with fire.

Today had been different.

After the plans had been made, and he’d shaken hands with Albus and Fu-min and Dominique and Astrid, Hig had turned to the Westphalians and Argentines and Brazilians, all of whom were now under his command, and he had said nothing.  He’d just looked each of them in the eye in turn.  When you needed to say something good and true -- when you needed the best words -- he’d long ago learned that each person had to write those words for themselves.  Hig met their gazes, and looked at them steadily for a meaningful moment, and he knew that they each found their own song.  And he had found that there was no longer any fear in his own heart.  There was just a deep calm.

Even Limpel Tineagar had been solemn and appreciative today, and she was the most annoying witch he’d ever met.  Normally, no plan was good enough for her, no leader was smart enough for her, and no speech was inspiring enough for her.  He’d barely known her when they left for Europe last year, having spoken to the tall, half-blooded witch only during Council debates, and he almost wished that was still true.  She took nothing on faith, and she never seemed to stir with a flicker of passion.  But today she had clasped his hand and kissed him on the cheek.

Today they were all heroes, and that would be true even if they didn’t see tomorrow.

Hig was flying at the rear of the ragged formation, high over Hungary.  They’d started off in a neat V, but it had degraded to a shapeless mass as they struggled to keep up with Momo.  Momo was the pacer, and so he had to keep up a steady and unflagging maximum speed on his broom.  Three hours and twelve minutes of flight from their Austrian origin should bring them directly over Nurmengard… but only if Momo kept at top speed.

Clouds blew past, above and below.  A dense floor of puffy cumulonimbus anvils and a wispy ceiling of cirrus scratchings.  Hig wondered if you could practice neladoracht from within the clouds, and if so, what their fortunes would be today.  This would be a day of beginnings and endings… but whose beginning, and whose ending?

They were something like twenty thousand feet above the ground, breathing easily and staying warm with magical assistance, but Hig was still relieved when Momo brought his broom to a swift halt.  Most of the Americans overshot him and had to swing back around.  They gathered around Momo, many flexing stiff fingers or shifting in their perches.

Two groups of six separated out from the rest, sorting themselves into Aleph Group and Beth Group.  The others divided themselves into groups of twelve: Gimel and Daleth Groups.  It was difficult to speak -- something about the way the sound traveled through the intervening air between two Bubblehead Charms distorted it badly -- but it had all been arranged beforehand at Dumbledore’s direction.  The Americans were here to destroy the Dogs, and so very much depended on their success.

At Hig’s hand signal, all four groups shifted their positions and began swooping downwards in widespread formations, and the assault was on.

It took about fifteen minutes to descend.  Several of them kept up protection spells, while others worked on keeping them as hidden as possible, while still others tried to pry a clear way through the detectors as they were encountered.  They met success in all three tasks -- not surprising, considering the assembled might of the American expeditionary force and their careful preparation for the day’s attack.

Soon, Nurmengard was in sight, jutting into the sky at them like an accusing finger.  The fortress was a single thick tower of black stone, square and solid, topped with a ziggurat.  It was built into the face of a cliff, overlooking wide plains of grass.  Giant natural statues of karst from Bükk sat lumpily in the fields around Nurmengard; the bulbous grey rock formations might normally have been beautiful, but in this context they seemed eerie and organic.

Hig’s gaze was drawn to a sky-platform that hung in the air over the fortress.  There was a guard, and Hig saw when the man noticed them.  Curses rained down and took the sentry down, but not before he raised the alarm.  That was all right, though.  That was the plan.

Within a few minutes they were within a hundred yards of Nurmengard, and the guards -- the Hírnökei -- were pouring out.  The four squads separated, moving to assigned places.  Gimel Group and Daleth Group (Hig’s own) engaged.  They swooped in and out, diving as if they were Seekers, and dodged curses.  The Americans concentrated on their defenses, working together to support shields.  As was usual, each of them had paired off with an attacker in that odd instinctive way that happened during a battle, and the matches appeared to be even ones for the most part.  Stunners whipped up and down, and a few found their marks.  When the Americans were able, they cast Deprimo on the ground around their attackers, trying to disrupt footing and generate mayhem, and several of the witches in Gimel also began emptying out mokeskin pouches full of Bluebell Flames.  The Hírnökei spent some time in attacking with Fumos and other gaseous effects, perhaps not realizing their attackers had Bubblehead Charms on or perhaps hoping to disrupt their vision, before settling down to more traditional stunners.  They had the red handprint insignia of the Veres Kezek on their robes, so perhaps they were too used to murdering Muggles: the “Red Hands” had been last deployed to Poland, as far as Hig knew, and they had left that area a bloody ruin.

Meanwhile, Aleph and Beth went to the side of Nurmengard that rose straight from the cliff below.  Hig saw them swoop away from the corner of his eye as he swerved his broom to avoid a curse.  No defenders could come out on that side to try to curse them, and there were no windows.  As long as they kept very low and close to the wall, they’d be almost completely obscured.  Nurmengard was magnificent and terrifying, but it was not originally designed to be a military base, and its design had shortcomings.  Aleph and Beth were trying to take advantage of that to breach the fortress walls, as though they intended to storm the fortress by that route.

Fifteen minutes later, which seemed like an eternity of swerving and casting and screaming, Aleph and Beth Groups both flew back into sight, soaring up from below the cliff’s edge to catch the defenders by surprise.  They took down three or four, although that still left at least twenty.

This was supposed to be the signal for Gimel to disengage, but they’d already lost five of their number.  Gimel’s leader, Momo, shot out red sparks as he flew.  He corkscrewed to avoid a cascade of curses from the duo of Hírnökei that he had been fighting, and the red sparks pinwheeled out behind him, flittering brightly.  It was the signal for Daleth to take Gimel’s place.  Hig immediately broke off the fight, along with the seven remaining members of Daleth Group.  From wherever they were on the battlefield, they flew to Nurmengard’s roof.

There were still two guards there, firing at the attackers; Grindelwald was cautious.  Hig and several others on Daleth flew up the wall, holding tight to its side.  They were to the top and over the edge before the guards could react.  One brandished his wand and shouted, “Állj!”  Hig thought that meant “stop.”  He did not oblige.

It wasn’t a pretty fight -- at least one of the guards was unusually skilled, firing curses with remarkable rapidity, while the other guard was actually willing to cast the Killing Curse.  Even in war, that was unusual, and despite outnumbering the guards four to one, Hig lost another of his soldiers before it was done.

Hig assessed Daleth Group quickly.  Seven total, including himself.  Almost all Westphalians, including Tineagar, Sammy Shohet, and three others.  One Argentine had also made it to this point: a skinny and handsome bald man with a toothbrush mustache.  Hig couldn’t remember his name -- the chaos had cleared it right out of his head.  Didn’t matter.

They were inside in moments.  Dumbledore had been able to tell them about much of the layout -- who knew how he’d found out -- and so they knew that it was only a short flight of stairs down to a large and defensible storage room.  There was a door, but it was unenchanted, and so Hig’s group blew it apart and stormed in.  There was no one else there, although surely that would soon change.  The outside war and the diversionary attacks at the base of the fortress might have given them some breathing room to breach, but there was a limit to how effective that could be.  It was the best advantage that highly mobile attackers could wield against stationary defenders, but the Hírnökei were here in force: perhaps the whole of the Veres Kezek and maybe another squad like the Záh Kardja, besides.

Hig, the Argentinian, and Shohet took up guarding position at the other door, reinforcing it and putting up hasty wards.  Tineagar and the other four knelt and touched their wands to the fitted stone underfoot.  They put their free hands on their neighbors’ shoulders, so that the five of them were interlocked in a pentagon.  They began casting.

Nurmengard was harnessed to a ley line, and that power fairly thrummed through the building.  It was a mighty work, enacted by one of the most powerful wizards in the world and his ablest lieutenants, but it was also limited.  Almost all of the ley energy went into the enchantments that prevented time-turning, apparating, and any transfiguration of the fortress walls.  It was a seat of power and a prison… but it was no Wizengamot or Qufu.  It had weaknesses.

There was shouting from the other side of the door in angry Hungarian.  “Dögölj meg!  Rothadjanak ki az anyád szemei!”  Hig didn’t understand much of it… definitely ordering him to die like an animal, and something about his mother.  Curses smashed into the door, along with disenchantments.  The wood glowed red in spots, and blackened in others, but Shohet countered with a Flame-Freezing Charm, and Hig put up another Colloportus.  They needed to hold for at least a few minutes, but it was just going to get harder with every second.

“Guests are knocking!” Hig shouted at the quintet kneeling in the room behind him, as he froze the door hinges in place with Immobulus to stop a Hírnöke from blasting them free.  There was no reply, and he probably shouldn’t have said anything.  If they could hear him, they could hear the curses, anyway.

“A nagyobb jó érdekében!” came the cry from the other side of the door.  Their slogan, which every combatant knew by now: “for the greater good.”

There was silence from the other side of the door, so Hig and Shohet simultaneously sealed off any cracks above, below, or through the door with an immediate and hastily conjured wall of iron.  If your opponent was silent, then they were probably transfiguring something nasty that would drown you in your own blood with noxious gas.

They never found out if they’d been right, or if the Hírnökei were just deciding what to try next, because Tineagar and the other four suddenly succeeded in charming the floor beneath them.  One moment, the seven members of Daleth Group were trying to guard a door, and the next… well, it was as though the floor dropped right out from under them without actually moving.  The Butterball Charm was weak, but it was enough so that all seven of them and all of the storage lockers in the room slipped right through a floor that was suddenly too liquid to support them.  There was a tremendous crash and painful thump as everything and everyone in the room dropped down through seven feet of fitted stone right into the room below.

This was their objective.  A direct fight to bring them to this point would have taken hours and gone through three defensive chokepoints, if they could have done it at all.  Dumbledore had said that a quick swim would be easier, and he had been right.  He had also been right about what was in the room: seven orange crystal balls, spangled with glowing red stars.  Satomi’s Dogs, spoken of in legend and acquired by Grindelwald at a terrible cost.

Dumbledore was wrong about one thing, though.  He’d said that Grindelwald would trust no one with access to this room, but there were three people waiting there.

One of the defending Hírnökei was crushed by a storage locker, hammered into the stone wetly, but the others barely even paused in their surprise.  Instinct took over, and the defenders --  Záh Kardja, as Hig had thought -- attacked.  They got off three curses in a matter of moments, while Hig was still struggling to find his wand in a slurry of liquid stone.

“Stupefy!  Stupefy!”

Avada Kedavra!”

Shohet fell, stunned and then murdered in quick succession.  The Argentinian fell stunned.  Hig found his wand, as did another member of Daleth, but it was still too slow.


“Stupefy!  Stupefy!”

The Latinate curses had the raw accent of Hungarian, but they were no less effective.  Attackers dropped stiffly to the ground.  By his count, only Hig was left.  Still, only one person was needed to smash these damn crystal balls.  He raised his wand and successfully cursed one of the two defenders, “Stupefy!”, and then turned his wand to cast again in quick succession.

Not quick enough.  The other Hírnöke hit him with an Immobulus in the same instant, and Hig felt his body stiffen.  He leaned to the side, caught in an awkward position with one arm thrust forward, and felt himself tilt until he came to a rest against the wall, still upright.  The Hírnöke must be a Legilimens, and want quick answers, Hig thought, cursing inwardly.  He was not a Occlumens, and couldn’t close his eyes while frozen.

The Hírnöke stalked over to him.  She was a nasty-looking woman.  Not that Hig thought he was any prize, but this witch had long curving scars all across her face.  They looked like punishment, but she had the sword emblem of the Záh Kardja: they might be a point of pride.

“Véget vetnénk minden szenvedésnek. Megállítanátok minket? Bolondok,” she spat at him through cleft lips.  He had not the faintest idea what that meant, and he couldn’t have answered if he’d wanted to.  His heart sank.  If Satomi’s Dogs remained intact, then everything was lost.

Expelliarmus!”  called a voice Hig recognized as Tineagar’s.

He’d miscounted.

The Hírnöke’s wand was ripped from her fingers and soared over to Tineagar, who was still rising to her feet.  The American snapped it neatly out of the air, and darted her wand in Hig’s direction just long enough to Innervate him.  Hig went sprawling against the wall, choking on a magically-sustained breath.

“Hig, you okay?”  Tineagar called, leveling her wand back on the Záh Kardja.

“Yes,” he gasped.  “Don’t wait, just do it now!”  Every second they delayed was another second that Grindelwald was channeling power through these crystals.  Hig didn’t understand how it worked -- he suspected that no one but Dumbledore and Grindelwald could have even hazarded a guess -- but they were some vital part to Grindelwald’s invincible strength.  This was April 30th, and every part of the plan had to go correctly.  It was a masterpiece of strategy and tactics, and Hig had been left in awe when Momo and Dumbledore had devised it, but it would all fail unless they destroyed Satomi’s Dogs.  No time for discussion.

Reducto!” cast Tineagar, leveling her wand at one of the Dogs.  It exploded into pinkish glass dust as the blue bolt struck it, destroyed in a moment.  Tineagar paused to gather her strength into her tall and thin body, then moved from one Dog to the next, destroying each of the seven in turn, as quickly as she could.

Above them, Hig heard an explosion.  But it didn’t matter that the rest of the attackers were soon to be storming down upon them, since Tineagar had just turned and obliterated the last of the crystal balls.  Hig readied himself, even as the Hírnöke snarled something completely foreign, heavy with bitterness.  “Láttuk a jóslatokat és tudjuk, hogy még győzni fogunk. Lesz egy ember akit a villám megjelölt és ő kioltja majd a csillagokat.”

Tineagar cut off any more chatter from the Hungarian with a curt stunner, then turned to Hig.  “We did it.”

“Yes.  But it will, I think, be the last thing we do.”  Hig moved to a corner of the room.  They’d have to drop down to get him, and he’d get a clear shot at the first one at least.  He wished they had the time and strength to revive their frozen friends, but that would just leave them unable to defend themselves when the attack came.

As she mimicked him and moved to a different corner, Tineagar said, “It was worth it.”  She glanced at the stunned enemies.  “I can’t abide this nonsense about the ends justifying the means… about how they want to fix everything, so all the murder and madness is worth it.”  Tineagar raised her wand, and set her features grimly.  “I don’t care what kind of good you think you’re going to do, and I don’t care what kind of person you think you are.  It’s your actions that matter, not your goals.  To the pit with tyrants and all their people.”

Her kind of irreducible skepticism had its uses.  He shouldn’t have been so hasty to judge her.  Not that it mattered, now.

“Hello?  Reg?  Sammy?”

Hig blinked.  He called up, surprised, “Momo?”

“Yes!” called his ally. “Get up here -- we can’t block the corridor much longer!  We need to form a line of defense!”

But before he’d even finished speaking, Hig and Tineagar were beginning to Innervate the fallen (except for poor Shohet) as quickly as they could manage.  That wasn’t very quickly at all, given their exhaustion, but it was fast enough that six witches and wizards were able to join their comrades before the Hírnökei could break through to them.

The Americans’ blood was up, and they roared their anger when the Hírnökei came -- the remains of Veres Kezek and Záh Kardja.  The Hírnökei shouted their own fanatical screams in return.  And there was war.  Bloody and bitter war, fought in the halls of Nurmengard and atop its battlement.  Many died that day, and others would long bear the curse scars for years to come.
You probably know the rest of the story -- or at least, you know the romantic parts about Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and how ambition soured into madness, and love curdled after a single tragic accident.  Certainly, you know about the great duel between the two.  It is said to be the greatest duel ever yet fought, justly citing the long hours over which it ceaselessly raged, the unstoppable force of Dumbledore’s skill, and the immovable object of Grindelwald’s defenses.

Grindelwald held the Elder Wand, and was sustained by Satomi’s Dogs, and guarded by the Iron Halo.  While it is known that he stole the Elder Wand from Mykew Gregorovitch, it is not yet known how he came by his other great devices.  But they were all powerful, and they preserved him against all ills, like an unbreachable barrier a hundred metres high.

There are twenty-eight books about Grindelwald’s War, seven books about the rivalry and lives of Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and three books just about that single duel.  And yet it is certain that he would never have fallen, Dumbledore notwithstanding -- all else notwithstanding -- had the Americans not succeeded in breaching Nurmengard and destroying Satomi’s Dogs.

Reg Hig learned something about Limpel Tineagar that day.  He learned about her steel, and he learned her value.  And Hig took her words about the “greater good” to heart, too.  He would remember them.

חיילים אלמונים הננו בלי מדים,
וסביבנו אימה וצלמוות.
כולנו גויסנו לכל החיים,
משורה משחרר רק המות.
בימים אדומים של פרעות ודמים,
בלילות השחורים של יאוש.
בערים, בכפרים את דיגלנו נרים,
ועליו, הגנה וכיבוש
לא גויסנו בשוט כהמון עבדים,
כדי לשפוך בנכר את דמנו.
רצוננו: להיות לעולם בני חורין,
חלומנו: למות בעד ארצנו.
אם אנחנו ניפול ברחובות, בבתים,
יקברונו בלילה בלאט;
במקומנו יבואו אלפי אחרים,
ללחום ולכבוש עדי עד.
בדימעות אימהות שכולות מבנים,
ובדם תינוקות טהורים –
במלט נדביק הגופות ללבנים,
ובנין המולדת נקים.

Anonymous soldiers, we are here without uniforms
And fright and fear of death surround us
We have all joined for life
Only death will release us from our duty
On the red days of pogroms and blood,
On the dark nights of despair,
In cities and towns we will raise our flag
emblazoned with defense and conquest
We were not drafted with force, like so many slaves
to spill our blood on foreign lands
Our desire is to always be free men
Our dream is to die for our land
If we will fall in the streets and the homes
They will bury us silently at night
In our places thousands of others will come
To fight and to conquer, forever
With the tears of mothers, bereft of their children
And the blood of pure babies
With mortar we will join the bodies with the bricks
And raise up the building of our birthright


13 June 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Eleven: Any Advantage

Significant Digits, Chapter Eleven: Any Advantage

Make no mistake: this is a war, and you must choose sides.  It might not be an easy choice.  It is very possible that you agree with some of the things that the Tower has forced on Britain, or that you disagree with much of what we tell you in these pages.  But you must make your imperfect choice, for the sake of our heirs and the world.  These are the times when you must find your courage and hold to it, even when the enemy is vast and powerful.

What makes you shudder, when you think of the Tower?  Perhaps you wish to live a natural life, and for your family to live a natural life, without being reshaped by Dark rituals into a creature of the Tower.  Perhaps you believe in an order to the world, where wizards and witches work as caretakers and stewards over the lesser races, rather than rubbing shoulders with half-beasts and ignorant Muggles.  Perhaps you treasure the long traditions of wizardkind, such as Quidditch -- yes, even the great game is in peril!  What do you fear from this tyrant?

This is a war, and you must choose sides.  And it is the greatest war, even beyond those fought against Grindelwald or Voldemort, since every fallen soldier only rises to serve as the enemy’s slave.  The winner will take all, and the stakes are so high that every old grudge or loyalty must be swept aside.  Do you resent that we no longer fight for blood purity?  I tell you here that it ranks as nothing in the larger picture; it is as important as a chesspawn on a true battlefield.  Do you wish that we could go back to ignoring the Muggles, and pretending that they have not found their own clever power?  I tell you here that the most important thing in this war is to win, and to defeat the tyranny of evil I would take any advantage.

Excerpt from “Allies Must Gather,” by Draco Malfoy
Unbreakable Honour
Vol 4 (1999), Issue 9


The redcap is not Nature’s most perfect killing machine.  It is not the second most perfect killing machine, either, nor the third.  In terms of perfect killing machines, the redcap is somewhere down the list below not only the quintaped and every variety of dragon, but also such relatively workaday beasts as the shrake.

The redcap, which has a dim but malicious intelligence, resembles nothing so much as a grotesque human of between two and three feet in height.  They are drawn to wizard blood and love to feed upon it, but are capable of surviving on a diet of slugs and sparrows.  They invariably use crude clubs made from bone or wood, and dress themselves in woven grass.  Redcaps are named for their hair, which they instinctively smear with blood and slick back into a high peak.

A young or sickly Muggle might have trouble with a redcap.  An adult Muggle would find little danger from as many as two.  Witches and wizards consider them nothing more than a mildly-dangerous nuisance, even when they attack in gangs of five or six.

It would take on the order of twenty redcaps, compelled to work together, to seriously threaten an adult magic-user.

But as for a horde of three hundred redcaps… why, anyone should feel threatened.


Hermione followed Tonks as the metamorphmagus led them to the alley at a brisk pace.  Like the rest of the Returned, Tonks’ right hand was encased in a gold-shining gauntlet of power, but she was the only one who accompanied it with a grin, visible even from the rear.  Hermione, Charlevoix, Esther, Simon, Susie, Hyori, and Urg followed.  The group of eight Returned were all wary, taut, and suspicious as they walked through the narrow Tidewater streets.

Perhaps there was no need to worry, at least out here, Hermione thought.  More than one smiling face watched them pass by with approval, and they even received a ragged but enthusiastic huzzah from a trio of old men who stood under a gaslight.  Hermione thought it was probably half her own presence, and half the presence of Esther.

The town-within-a-city of Tidewater was clean and colonial, with whitewashed walls and shining cobblestones.  A sizable part of Boston’s waterfront had been twisted into a knot centuries ago to produce this enfolded magical community, drawing upon the power of America’s eastern ley line to power the fold, in much the same way that Hogwarts drew from Scotland’s northern ley.  Tidewater was nowhere near as impressive as Hogwarts, of course, and virtually all of those energies were wasted in the sloppy spell-work that had built the place.  But even this sort of wasteful work is beyond us, even with all the research done at the Tower, Hermione thought.  Chargers and slice-boxes are clever enough, but can we really rebuild this sort of knowledge base?

It wasn’t a question of the raw power.  It was a question of using it in the right way.  The creators of Hogwarts had whipped their magics in and out of reality like a needle, pulling and folding a Scottish lakeside with the elegance of a master tailor.  But if you couldn’t ply your puissance behind a needlepoint, you were reduced to hammering one fold on top of the other, nailing them in place with crude might.

“No wizard, no matter how powerful, casts such a Charm by strength alone. You must do it by being efficient.”

Her thoughts were wandering.  Hermione snapped her attention back to the task at hand, chagrined at her own lack of focus.  They were a visibly armed troop of British witches and wizards, marching through little-known territory to investigate a mysterious door decorated with the banner of one of their greatest enemies.  It didn’t matter how friendly everyone seemed… Diagon Alley had been friendly right up until someone had smeared her with acid and dropped a bomb at her feet.  She flexed her left hand in its gauntlet at the thought; the device felt snug and secure, but left her with such freedom of movement that it might have been made of silk rather than goblin gold.  It was only a precaution -- backup, if things went south -- but it felt good to have it.

“This is it,” Tonks announced loudly, with virtually no discretion.  The Returned were standing before the Armin Arms, which was indeed (as she had said) a “dingy little pub.”  That was, if anything, a kind way to describe the establishment.  The whitewash was grey, and the pub’s sign -- a pair of masks, happy and sad -- appeared to be actually rotting.  In the Muggle world, it would look run-down.  In the magical world, it was like a neon sign proclaiming the Armin Arms to be EXTREMELY SUSPICIOUS AND POSSIBLY QUITE DANGEROUS.

Two children in rather nice robes peeked from around the corner down the street, and whispered to each other.  Hermione whipped a glance at them, face angry, and they vanished.  This was no place for children.

“Let’s go in,” she said.  They sorted themselves into a practiced pattern: Simon in front to take the door, everyone else in pairs after him (Esther and Tonks first), with Urg bringing up the rear.  They scanned for traps, both magical and mundane, and then they were in through the door, swiftly and smoothly.

The inside of the Armin Arms wasn’t much better than the outside.  A surprised-looking bartender stood behind a long bar made entirely of unpolished brass, curse-scarred with blackened welts of bubbled metal in several places.  A long mirror went the length of the wall behind him.  There were only two customers: surly and saturated men slumping at a battered table.  The only clean things were the big rattan rug that stretched out wide in the middle of the room and the Slytherin tapestry that hung on one wall.  The place smelled unpleasant: metallic like copper, but thick with the sickly-sweet smell of rot.

“Hello, gentlemen,” Hermione said, smiling.  “Sorry about the drama… a bit silly, isn’t it?  Just here to look around, if you don’t mind?”  None of the three said anything in response, quiescent from surprise or alcohol -- except for one of the drunks, who slid forward onto his face, flinging out one arm across the table and loudly passing gas.  There was a slight tremble underfoot, as though someone had stomped on the boards.  Strange.

“Charming,” Susie said, lowering her wand from the ready position.  “Quick, someone hold me back.  I must restrain my lust.”

Charlevoix stepped forward a pace, sniffing.  “Faites attention… This is the stink of blood.”

“Rug,” Hyori said, gesturing.  Catching her hint, Hermione nodded in confirmation.  She glanced over at the witch with a quick smile of praise, and used her eyes to indicate the gaseous drunk.  Hyori pointed her wand at him.  Taking the hint, Esther and Simon covered the other two.  Urg covered the door with two golden-gauntleted palms, moving to the side.

Within the instant, both “drunks” and the bartender were in motion.  The first two tried to seize the heavy oak table in front of them and heave it up.  Good idea, and faster than going for a wand, but too slow.  Simon stunned his target before the man had done more than grab the table, and while Hyori’s first hex missed, her man couldn’t lift the table quickly enough on his own, and her second stunner swatted him flat.

The bartender ducked down, and Esther’s attack hit a bottle of firewhiskey instead, inflicting glowing red cracks in a spiderweb across the surface of the glass.  The bartender reached over the brass bar with his wand, and blindly shouted a curse that Hermione didn’t recognize: “Aplaniodin!”  Two dozen discrete rays of yellow light flared out from his wand like a starburst, solid beams of brightness that looked dense enough to touch.  Half of them stabbed straight out throughout the room, stopping when they struck the walls, floor, and ceiling all around, while the other half were reflected in the mirror behind the bar, angling back at Hermione and her Returned.

One of the beams of light struck Simon, and another struck Charlevoix.  They were smashed aside by the blow.  Esther flung herself to the ground to avoid a beam, while Hyori inclined her head just enough so that another roared past her cheek and left her untouched.  Hermione was already moving, stepping lightly from the floor to a chair to a table, barely even noticing her own deft steps.  Before the curse had died away, she had launched herself into a curling arc over one of the beams, singing out a hex as she leapt the room.  The bartender crumpled, wracked with a red glow.

Simon hauled himself to his feet within a few seconds, blood streaming from his nose and mouth.  He’d been struck solidly in the side, but he must have hit the ground unluckily; it looked like his nose was badly broken.  He was silent.  Tonks went to check on Charlevoix, while Susie moved to Simon with her wand already in position for a scan.  Urg kept the door covered.

“Esther, the rug.”

Esther approached the broad rattan stretch in the center of the room.  What wandless magic had been cast on or under it… Spongify?  Wandless magic was difficult -- it required holding certain thoughts in the correct way and thinking them into new “positions” -- so it couldn’t be anything too terrible.  Their opponents hadn’t been that impressive.  But what was that light spell?  It instantly controlled the room and hit like an iron Bludger.  I’ve never seen or heard about a curse that powerful and that fast.  She’d have to consult the Hogwarts library and a few people (Amelia, Alastor, Harry) but she was fairly sure that she would have remembered it.  Odd.


A soft susurrus like a snake, and the rug shifted, flexing slightly from some pressure below.  Hermione frowned.  A serpent?  Not very imaginative, even if the Malfoy snake fetish bordered on the embarrassing.

No.  A low voice whispered a word, and the sound was wet.  “Maschaechgo.”

Susie had pulled Simon aside, and she paused just to cast an Episkey on his nose before turning back to the rug.  Urg faced the space as well, both palms up.  Hyori and Esther had their wands up.  Tonks had overturned a table for cover, and was still examining Charlevoix to see if she should be keyed out to the Tower, or if she could recover.

Everyone was appropriately alarmed.

“Maschaechgo… maschaechgo.”  The voice smacked wetly again, and repeated the word.  After a moment, another joined it, saying the same thing.  Hermione didn’t recognize the language.

Slowly, Esther backed away.  The rattan rug flexed up a second time, and then slid off to the side, whispering its way along the floor, gradually revealing the black square of a pit.  A single small hand, the size of a child’s, reached from within and delicately grabbed the pit’s edge.  Then the redcap pulled himself up, and Hermione could see his head.

It was like a horrible mockery of an old man, as though someone had seized the face of the creature and yanked the flesh in different and random directions.  Twisted and corded flesh muddled together into something like a face.  The teeth in the open mouth, which leered vacantly, were so white and so sharp.  The hair was dark crimson, clotted back into a high peak with old blood.  In the other hand was a bone club, wrapped with a twine handle.

Nasty creatures, but not too dangerous.

Another hand appeared on the pit edge.  Then another, and another.  Small malformed heads levered themselves up into view.  “Maschaechgo,” one of them said, lips shining with spittle.

“Maschaechgo… maschaechgo… maschaechgo… maschaechgo… maschaechgo… maschaechgo… maschaechgo…”


“No killing,” Hermione said, and raised her wand again.  They were horrid, but sentient.

“Save one life,” Simon and Susie and Esther and Urg and Hyori said, in unison, and raised their own wands.  They all drew closer, and set themselves between the pit and where Tonks was tending to Charlevoix with healing spells.

Save one life, and it is as though you have saved the whole world.

Stupefy!” she shouted, and the battle was joined.


It is a well-established fact that, since the Peace of Westphalia, dueling tactics have dominated magical combat.  The days of massed armies of Muggles led by a handful of wizards and witches passed into memory, and by the dawn of the nineteenth century there were few alive who remembered that style of fighting.

You might object at such a characterization, pointing out the armies of goblins, centaurs, and other creatures that wizards still matched themselves against.  But goblins lost their wands a thousand years ago, and in their rebellions they made guerilla war with cleverness and subtlety, never in standing fights.  As for the centaurs and other creatures… well, let us be frank.  It was never “war” when wizards and witches fought them.  It was punishment… or extermination.

There have been surprisingly few exceptions to this general trend, particularly as dueling tactics have become highly refined and specialized.  International magical warfare, crudely fought with massed wizards and witches, was nearly eliminated by the Peace and its fallout (the International Confederation, the Statute of Secrecy, etc).  Even those Dark Lords and Ladies who defy convention and try to build slave-armies with crowd-control magics find no one willing to take the challenge.  A team of Hit Wizards, sent on behalf of the Confederation by a member state, simply visits them alone, late one night.  Even Grindelwald’s forces defaulted to dueling behavior, and he himself was only duelled into submission.

Lord Voldemort was one of those few who defied the trend, gathering crowds of Death-Eaters and leading them in attacks on other groups, controlling the battlefield and managing his soldiers from the rear.  And though this was not well-known, he didn’t do this because it was efficient… he did it because he thought it was more interesting.

But once he’d introduced the idea again, and reinforced it in his guise of David Monroe with student armies at Hogwarts, it was only a matter of time before others realized the advantage to be gained.  All of the world’s strongest witches and wizards had been carefully taught to duel, above all else.  Dueling spells and tactics are precisely targeted and built around overcoming individual defenses.

You cannot duel an army.


“Aqua Erecto!” Esther called.  She held her wand with both hands to direct the thick stream of water that blasted from its tip, and swept it through a line of redcaps.  They went tumbling like ninepins, some back into the pit, but there were more to take their place.  It seemed like an ocean of the vile little creatures, climbing from the pit and on each other’s backs and shrieking, “Maschaechgo!  Maschaechgo!”

Ventus!  Ventus!”  shouted Simon, his face still bloody, while Hyori snapped hexes at small groups of redcaps, firing off Immobulus as quickly as she was able.  It was too slow… a dozen redcaps swarmed over the table she’d placed in front of her, bone clubs raised high and twisted faces alight with bloodlust.

“Rotgod!” declared Urg, leaping in beside her from an adjacent chair, one golden gauntlet raised.  There was a pulse of power that throbbed through everyone’s bones as the gauntlet unleashed a charger’s contents at the sound of the goblin word, and a wave of sticky grey foam was ejected from the device’s palm, sweeping over the swarming redcaps.  It rapidly swelled, seething up into stiffening bubbles almost as large as the heads of the redcaps, imprisoning all of the swarm and a dozen more behind them.

The concept behind the foam was an old one by the standards of Muggle science, developed by Sandia Laboratories in America in the eighties; the patents had been easy enough for Hermione to retrieve in London.  It was flame-retardant, it expanded to thirty times its own size once deployed, and it stood almost no chance of killing an enemy.  If their faces were exposed, they would be fine, and a Bubblehead Charm could assist anyone in danger.

Cheered by the result, Hermione blasted redcaps away from herself and called to Urg, “Over the pit!  Trap them inside!”  She could fell them with a single spell or a single punch, but it wasn’t fast enough; she’d already taken a dozen blows to the skull from bone clubs.  The redcaps just kept coming, climbing over the bodies of the fallen and leaping to the attack.  Why were there so many?  She knew they’d just been sealed in the pit, but how had they gotten them in there in the first place?  This was madness.  She didn’t want to have to kill the beasts, but she couldn’t let them kill the three stunned wizards or any of her Returned.

Urg scrambled around the mass of foam-encased redcaps, keeping well away from the sticky, swelling bubbles.  But before he could get in position for another attack, one of the beasts leapt onto the foam from the pit’s edge, landing on the exposed chest of a kinsman, and then tackled Urg.  He was small enough that he was sent sprawling, and he took a heavy hit from the creature’s club in the moments after the scramble landed.  He lay motionless.  Hermione stunned the redcap, and Tonks was already running to go rescue the goblin, but there seemed to be no end to the little monsters.  More and more redcaps climbed out of the pit by the second, howling the word that seemed to be their battle cry.

“Maschaechgo!  Maschaechgo!”

Six twisted little men threw themselves at Esther, and her surging column of water missed one.  He brought his club down on her shin, howling with wet lips, and she staggered before she could bring her foot back to kick the creature away.  The interruption in her attack let three more within reach, and only Hyori was able to save her, blasting the redcaps off of the American witch with wind.  But with every moment the two were not actively fighting back the tide of horrid creatures, the monsters surged further forward.  Hermione threw curses without a pause for breath.

They would lose this battle.  Attrition would win.

“Everyone!”  she shouted.  “Foam the pit, now!

In unison, as if they were marionettes, every Returned still standing cast Ventus to clear their front, and then raised their left palms, shouting their chosen activation words.  Hyori failed to clear away all of her new attackers -- three redcaps pounced at her legs, shrieking -- but still managed to unleash her gauntlet, dropping to her knees as bone clubs smashed into her shins.

수갑!” said Hyori, gasping.

“Stinkbubble!”  said Susie.

“Muggle-goo!” said Tonks.

“Flandermoss!” said Simon.

“AquaCem!” said Hermione.

The foam erupted from five gauntlets as they each spent the contents of the extended space within a charger.  The grey substance fizzed as it washed forward in a thick wave, and almost every redcap was swept back as the foam poured across and into the pit.  It expanded as it went, forcing fat and sticky bubbles down into the hole.  Hermione heard an unhappy wail of “Maschaechgo!”, barely audible over the sound of the foam popping and spitting.

Ventus!” cast Hyori and Tonks at the same time, blowing the three redcaps clubbing Hyori’s stomach into the mass of foam.  They tumbled away into the swelling grey mound which had sealed over the pit, sticking to its surface and flailing their limbs angrily.  Despite their twisted faces and the rotting blood clotted in their hair, they looked like nothing so much as flies trapped on fly-paper.

Immobulus!” said Hermione, securing the last redcaps remaining.  She reached behind and pulled a bone club from out of her hair, where it had been tangled, and irritably threw it into the mound of hissing foam.  “Okay, Nymphadora, you might have found something interesting here, after all.”

Tonks glanced up from where she was working with Hyori, and said with a grin, “I’m not one to say ‘I told you so.’  Too humble.”  She turned back to Hyori.  “Brackium Emendo.  Cataplasma.

“Charlevoix?  Urg?”  Hermione asked.  She walked over to the goblin, who was on his back, reclining on his elbows.  Urg just grunted in response.

Ça va,” Charlevoix said from near the door, where she was getting to her feet.  “My ribs are nearly mended.  Thank you, Tonks.”  She went to check on the trapped redcaps, scanning to ensure that none were badly injured or dying.

Simon and Susie stayed on the alert while the injured were treated, stunning the occasional mewling redcap from time to time.  Fractures and cuts and lumps were not much of an impediment to the magical, so it didn’t take more than ten or fifteen minutes.  For a witch or wizard, “serious injury” was more along the lines of “all my bones exploded and my hair’s been turned into snakes.”  Hyori, Urg, and Charlevoix were ready for combat -- if a bit weary -- in no time.

The bartender and the two “drunks,” on the other hand, were still stunned.  Hermione searched the pockets of their stained clothing with distaste, and then sent them on to the Tower.  Ker-chak.  Ker-chak.  Ker-chak.  They’d had nothing beyond a few odds and ends, their wands, and a scrap of parchment with three crabbed words on it: “Pest numbers book.“  Hermione pocketed it.

All right.  Whatever is happening here, it’s clearly something big and secret and probably evil.  There is absolutely no reason not to call in reinforcements at this point.  Not from Britain… this is the time to bring in the Westphalians.  If this is anyone but them, then we’re showing good faith.  And if this place is their doing, then we’ll be able to snare more of them once they try to spring this exceedingly obvious trap.

“Simon, Susie, Urg, and Charlevoix -- go to the Council and bring them here.  Hurry.”  If they are intercepted or betrayed and captured, at least one will make it out to bring word.  Strength in numbers will also discourage any attacks of opportunity, and four will suffice to hold our ground or (at the worst) cover an escape if we are discovered.  Hyori, Tonks, and Esther remained with Hermione.

Tonks went over to the Slytherin tapestry on the wall, and held it aside for the other three.  “And here it is,” she said, gesturing within a room with a low ceiling that was completely empty.

“What?”  Hyori said, looking around.  She was still limping slightly, and she looked cross.

“Aparecium,” cast Esther, flicking her wand back and forth.  A white paneled door with a golden doorknob in the shape of a snake’s head and three stone pedestals shimmered into view as the concealment was dispelled.  Each pedestal had parchment and quill sitting on it.

“Told you so,” Tonks said.


On the first stone pedestal: “Change my beginning, and subtract my end and all color, and chase me away for good.”

On the second stone pedestal:  “Grindelwald’s fall less Urg’s fall less price of Tower’s rise.”

On the third stone pedestal:  “What have I got in my pocket?”


NOTE:  I am aware of the flaws in this sort of security.  Please think before pointing them out to me.  Levels and levels.

NOTE:  The foam used is based on the foams described in U.S. Patent 4,202,279 by Peter Rand.

NOTE:  This will never be revealed in the story, and it’s probably impossible to independently deduce, so I’ll just tell you: “Maschaechgo” is the phonetic spelling for the word for “red” in one of the Native American Algonquin languages, Mahican.  These redcaps were captured in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, nowhere near Boston, and they still speak the old language they crudely appropriated from the first humans they knew.

08 June 2015

Significant Digits, Bonus: Goblins

Significant Digits, Bonus: Goblins

1107 C.E.
Sugworn Sug, Ackle
All Acklish Gobbeldegook translated to modern vernacular English.

Haddad pounded on the door of Sugworn Sug.  He was an enormous fellow, perhaps four and a half Roman feet in height, and the thumping of his fist on the wood shook the whole door.  “Dodrod!” he called, pounding again.  “Dodrod, open up!”

After a few grains, Dodrod finally loosed the knot and shifted the bar, opening the door.  He was a smaller fellow than Haddad, but handsome as goblins reckon: short and finely-curved ears, a high nose, a dark eye, and skin like cream.  “What is it?” he asked irritably, tucking his wand away in his shirt.  He had been setting his house in order, and the interruption was annoying.  He’d already lost track of which of his will-works he’d refreshed, so now he’d have to start from the beginning, unless he wanted his bed to suddenly revert to unvarnished wood in a few days.  It was a tiresome chore, and he had to do it more often than those of greater will, and so he did not relish starting over.

“The Wizards Council has called a moot!  The human Thing is gathering in London!”  Haddad said, urgently.

Dodrod’s eyes widened as  he lurched forward, seizing at Haddad’s collar.  “You are certain?  Why do they call a gathering?  Is there war amongst them?”

The larger goblin shook his head.  “No!  Severus Hortensius has sent owls throughout the realm, crying against us!  If there is war - it is against us!”  Small sharp teeth gnashed, Haddad’s eyes were opened wide in alarm.  “Dodrod, Hortensius is calling for our wands!  He specifically summoned the Greek to the moot!”

Dodrod blanched, but shook his head.  “Ollivander would never bow to such demands!  She is a proud woman, and many owe her favors, human and sundry alike!”

“I do not have your confidence,” Haddad said, as Dodrod released his collar.  “But either way, we need to come up a plan.”

“Yes,” Dodrod said, sighing.  He stepped past Haddad, to the edge of his home platform.  “They fear us.”  He looked out over Ackle, and gestured.  “They fear this.”

In its natural configuration, stripped of all Forms, Ackle would have been a plain city.  It was large by any standard, with nearly three thousand goblins living within the mountain, but much of the true substance was harsh, indecorous metal and stone.  The underpinnings of Ackle were hewn and true-forged to be unyieldingly strong, holding buildings level to cling to the steep interior walls.  It was for safety’s sake, so that no combination of poor scheduling and weighty homes could lead to the collapse of the city.  Many goblins willed their homes into structures that were not only beautiful, but also heavy, with vaulting marble walls and diamond roofs; these homes would have broken and fallen if they were set upon anything but stone and iron supports.

But Dodrod knew that few visitors might be aware of these facts -- for why would any goblin tell them? -- and so Ackle must have looked like a place of impossible wonder.  Whirlgigs of weighted gems and gold swung in ceaseless patterns from elegant manors that glowed in the rock-sun’s light (itself a marvel of Vincian mirrors).  The narrow streets, clinging to the side of Ackle’s mountain-within-a-mountain, were solid curving surfaces of pebble-surfaced granite, shot through with beautiful whorls of starmetal.  The ceiling of native rock, the sheer drop of the vast Oubliette below the city, and a few choice pillars were the only unworked places in the whole city.

It was magic, of course, but not incomprehensible magic.  To be accorded a seat in the Urgod Ur, each grown goblin had to tend to a portion of the city, sculpting it with Forms and renewing the longevity of their work every few days.  Naturally, there was some mild competition within the Urgod Ur as a result, and so the city shone like a glittering gold lode  in the rough.  It was a living representation of the fierce goblin spirit, for goblins put themselves into whatever they created, from the heatless magma of the Jurg Hod right down to the trivial hand-forging work of Toggle Gol.

Dodrod tried to imagine Ackle without wands, or with those crude wands that the Welsh humans in the surrounding areas used.  To him it seemed like the place would be a dark and dismal underground version of Tomen y Mur: clumsy stones and that Muggle stone-wax crafted into rough buildings, all thick with smoke and anger.

Haddad spoke with a snarl, thumping his hand against the luminescent emerald of the wall of Dodrod’s home.  “Our souls go into our works -- what we make, is made of our spirit!  Would they take that from us?  Are they mad, to think we will permit it?”

“We won’t permit it,” Dodrod agreed.  “We won’t let it happen.  We will leave the fortresses of the Fey and Gwent and Hortensius himself all in ruins, first.  We will give them our wands as hot as new bronze, and quench them in wizard blood, first.  And if that fails… we will try again until those wands break in our hands, and throw the pieces at them.  We are a patient people.”


1580 C.E.
Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Diagon Alley, London

“And that is why, dearest Ug, I regret to say that we will be assuming formal proprietorship over the bank.  It has been a score of years since the intercessors began working with you and your kind, here, and so there will be no damage in the transition.  We must protect the bank -- there are representations that we must make before the Wizengamot.  While you have done a fine job, you cannot request examinations, you cannot request the body, and you cannot really function in this wider world of trade.  This isn’t just for the good of the bank, it’s for the good of your kind.”

Ug sat in stunned silence, quill in one limp hand, notes forgotten.  Years and years of meddling and greed, and now they wanted to swallow it all up, as though they had put anything of themselves into the bank?  He wanted to spit.  He wanted to vomit.

Closing his ledger, Ug licked his lips, and spoke carefully.  His mind was already racing ahead like a gol doll.  So much hung on this moment.  So unbelievably much for one unprepared Ug Sugug, Chief Goldsmith.  “You would assume title of Gringotts, as a group?  Or on behalf of the Wizards Council?”

Alba laughed like a small bell.  “Oh, on behalf of the Council, Ug!  I won’t make a Knut off of this… I’m in it just like you, working as I’m told!  Really, it’ll just be like before… you and me against them!”  She leaned over the table to slide the official documents over to him, the seal of the Wizards Council visibly moving as it melted and re-stamped itself, continually asserting its veracity.  “Each of the Grand Sorcerers has commanded, and so we must follow orders.”  She winked, and it was repulsive to Ug.

He smiled, and chuckled.  Look at me, I am in on the joke.  We’re good friends, and I am a fool who was happy to sign over half the coining-cost rights to you stub-toothed idiots.

“Well then,” Ug said.  “I will have the documents prepared.  All the rights and responsibilities, everything to be transferred to the Office of Intercession, held on behalf of the Wizards Council, yes?”  This was possible.  Many of the terms under which Gringotts operated had been established at the founding of the bank, sealed by the fires of the Goblet to be eternally binding for as long as the institution should last.  But ownership could be transferred; that was permitted.

“Yes,” Alba agreed, after a long moment.  She was not stupid, of course.  But she didn’t have the feel for Gringotts -- the true weight of the gold, the true heft of the stone, the true heat of the dragons.  The intercessors never went into the vault-catacomb.  They sat in their posh office, rightfully the office of the Chief Curse-Breaker, and argued over numbers.  But they had none of their soul in the stuff of Gringotts, and so they would never know the whole of those numbers.

“The terms will be all words and fluff, but I presume that the Office will take on all ongoing powers of enforcement, coining, curse-breaking, storage, and the like?”  Ug said, lightly.  Alba nodded, and Ug could almost see her salivate at the prospect.  Ug didn’t know what part of the fees the intercessors received, but he guessed it to be nearly one in ten.  Her share would be a fortune.

“And you will still want to employ us goblins, yes?” Ug said, and winked one black eye.  As though these half-giants would deign to work the vaults themselves.

Alba laughed.  “We couldn’t even begin to do it without you!”

True enough.

He laughed along with her.  “Then do you wish to pay stipends -- no, of course not, what if business slackened and you were left to pay the stipends of five hundred goblins on the back of a trickle of income?  Sorry, I was being stupid.  You will, I suppose, wish to simply have the same sort of terms as before, but modified?  You would take all other fees, and we would keep only the coin-fee?”

Alba folded her fingers in front of herself, and leaned forward, her face crafty.  “The terms have been half the coin-fee for the services of the Council and its intercessors, my friend, and everything else for you.  But now we’ll be doing so much more work, making the decisions, running things, and working to protect the bank in the Wizengamot.  You’ll just have to do your duties and not have worry about any of that!  I think it’s safe to say that the Council will expect all incomes, and perhaps half of the coin-fee will be allocated to you and yours.”

Ug sighed, shaking his head.  “That will be hard to bear… even these past years under our current agreement, it has been hard to stay solvent.”  Hard to bear… it’s insane.  The coin-fee might be one of our best sources of monies, but half of it wouldn’t suffice for the entire goblin staff!  That used to be the bribe they paid to these vultures, and now it would be all that was left to them?!

“I know,” Alba said, “but I can honestly say that you are so enormously clever for a goblin that I have absolute faith that you will be able to do this.  Your ideas have been marvelous, at times.”

For a goblin.  Oh, this would not do.

“Very well,” Ug said, heavily.  He opened his ledger, and wrote some nonsense for a second, then paused.  “Well, maybe this is an opportunity.”

“Yes!” Alba agreed, enthusiastically (and slightly surprised).  “You will have the chance to do all the things you never had time to do.  You always said you wanted to go back to live in Ackle, and work in the forges of your mighty stone city.  Now you can do that!”

“I meant an opportunity for all goblins, really,” Ug said, smiling in a way that entirely failed to touch his eyes.  “Maybe we should take no part of the coin-fee, either.  All fees and income would be the Council’s.”

“I’m not sure…” Alba said, uncertainly.  Doubtless she thought he was proposing that wizards run the Bank entire.  Ha!  As if they’d leave their will-work in the hands of the clipped clods!

“I mean, we can do other things than banking, as you know.  I have often thought of opening up…” Ug said, trailing off.  He interrupted himself, leaving her to wonder what fantastically successful new enterprise he was dreaming of building.  He knew that her thoughts would be of taking control of that, too, one day.  It was the way of their loathsome selves, to spread out and devour like insects.  “Never mind.  But perhaps my people could take only two parts in ten of the coin-fee?  Would that be possible?”

Alba Greengrass, who must have thought that Merlin himself was addling Ug’s mind, smiled softly.  She’d just had the Chief Goldsmith agree to keep on all the goblin staff at less than half of what she’d anticipated paying them!   “Oh, yes.  I think that would be possible.”

“We’d just want a few fees waived, in return.  No coinage fee, no storage fee?  Galleons will be tight in these initial years, as we work to start other businesses.  We’d still pay for enforcement, contracts, and all the rest.”  Ug leaned back, and began to make a list.  He wrote in a slightly larger hand than usual:


Look at all these businesses we could start.  And you can steal them, too, someday.  You can try to take our souls there, too.

Alba looked pained, though Ug had no doubt she was inwardly rejoicing.  “No fees on coin or storage?  I don’t know if I can get the Council to agree to that.”

Ug put down his pen, and clasped his hands in front of himself.  “Please, Alba?  For me -- for friendship, and all these past years working together?”

“Very well,” Alba said, nodding solemnly and severely.  “For you, I will do my best to make sure these are the terms.”

“Thank you, dearest Alba,” Ug said.  “And please, don’t hesitate to rely on us.  Should the bank ever become insolvent, let us have it on oath that goblinkind will take it on our backs, once more.”

“Of course,” she agreed.

And to hasten that time, Ug thought, hate boiling behind his grateful smile, we will devote ourselves to scouring the world for gold.  Every scrap of it will be coined and stored, and the terms of storage have been sealed by the Goblet and cannot be altered.  The cost of holding will increase year by year until it flows red over the Gringotts books, and you will pay it.  And when you cannot, we will have back what is ours.  And we will not forget.


No one knows the origin of the goblins, not even the goblins themselves.  Urg the Unclean, who would lead the fifth and greatest of the goblin rebellions in Britain between 1720 and 1722 C.E., was fond of spreading the Shikoku goblin legend of the All-Opposer, who fell from heaven on a shooting star and laid waste with his rage, rending metal like paper and turning all that fell under his gaze into sand.  The All-Opposer made goblins to be his servants and castellans, and Urg would shout in a roaring clatter of Gobbledegook that goblins had fire in their veins, and were born to greater fates than the mudwater humans.

Whatever their birth into this world, though, it is certain that goblins are patient and methodical by their very nature, and they are possessive to a fault.  Goblins usually die before their grudges do.

It was two hundred and eighty-five years before Gringotts was returned to goblinkind, in 1865 C.E., after very nearly ruining the Ministry of Magic (which had assumed control upon the demise of the Wizards Council).  Though Ug the Bloody had not known the term of demurrage, his people used it as a far-sighted weapon over the course of two and a half centuries, mounting the vaults of the bank high with gold that had to be guarded with proportionate precautions under the terms of the founding, an unbreakable necessity enforced by the Goblet of Fire.  Costs grew incrementally with every passing year, and the wizards never could discern how the wealth seemed to be draining from them.

And other goblins waged war after war against witches and wizards.  Twice over the course of a thousand years, they founded and sacrificed new communities of their kind on the altar of their ancient enmity.  In the seventeenth century, Crad the Callow led the Curdish separatists of Caislean-i-Cahaenn in three separate and bloody rebellions, before they were entirely wiped out, while Urg the Unclean swore ceaseless violence against all of humanity at the head of his independent Togrod Teulu in the eighteenth century.

If you cannot win and you refuse to lose, then impose costs.

After they lost the power of Transfiguration, forgotten when their wands were stripped away, the goblins found solace in device-making.  They made great and terrible works, and their patience and care let them create items of unparalleled power.  Goblins believe, perhaps correctly, that part of your soul goes into that which you create.  You own it, ever after.  Only such passion can create weapons such as the Sword of Ragnuk, which remains the most potent blade in existence (for it is not made of steel, but of the Form of war itself).  Only such hate can make the Arch of Ulak Unconquered, the most perfect prison ever devised.

Knowing what we know, there is a question.

You have been for a long time in the darkest of woods, hounded by wolves and torn by thorns.  For years, you have made your bed on rough boughs and breakfasted on bitter herbs.  There has been no light, and you have suffered.  You are made of patient anger, slow-burning but hot, and those coals are your only warmth.

Then ahead, there is a break in the darkness.  Between one heartbeat and the next, you step out into the day, blinking in the cool bright morning.  You are free.  In an instant, you are made whole.

Will you forget?

Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life droop’d from the root:
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, nought discerning,
Trudg’d home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnash’d her teeth for baulk’d desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

      -- Christina Rossetti

06 June 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Ten: What Is Beautiful Is Good

Significant Digits, Chapter Ten: What Is Beautiful Is Good

Suppose a person to make all kinds of figures of gold and to be always remodeling each form into all the rest; somebody points to one of them and asks what it is.

By far the safest and truest answer is, 'That is gold,' and not to call the triangle or any other figures which are formed in the gold 'these things,' as though they had existence, since they are in process of change while he is making the assertion, but if the questioner be willing to take the safe and indefinite expression, 'such stuff,' we should be satisfied.

And the same argument applies to the universal nature which receives all bodies--that must be always called the same, for, inasmuch as she always receives all things, she never departs at all from her own nature and never, in any way or at any time, assumes a form like that of any of the things which enter into her; she is the natural recipient of all impressions, and is stirred and informed by them, and appears different from time to time by reason of them.

But the forms which enter into and go out of her are the likenesses of eternal realities modeled after their patterns in a wonderful and mysterious manner, which we will hereafter investigate.

For the present we have only to conceive of three natures: first, that which is in process of generation; secondly, that in which the generation takes place; and thirdly, that of which the thing generated is a resemblance naturally produced.

 -Plato, Timaeus


Notice of Alterations in Practical Enforcement of the Guidelines for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans in the Environs of Magical Britain
Ministry of Magic
September 2nd, 1994

This notice is to inform the public that the duly elected Government of Magical Britain has determined that all Veela, Centaurs, Merfolk, Goblins, Vampires, Hags, and Elves (hereafter Non-Violent Beings) within the environs of Magical Britain shall henceforth be held responsible for both the spirit and the letter of the Guidelines for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans, as established by Minister Muldoon and revised by Minister Stump.  These Guidelines state without qualification that Beings have  “sufficient intelligence to understand the laws of the magical community,” and specifies that they shall “bear part of the responsibility in shaping those laws.”  Non-Violent Beings shall henceforth be given opportunity to fulfill this duty.

Accordingly, measures will soon be taken by the Being Department, formerly a division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, to liaise with representatives of different Being communities within the boundaries of Britain and begin the process of establishing formal guidelines as to the governance of those communities, and the procedures by which they will be represented by Tribunes of the Wizengamot.  Inquiries regarding this process should be directed to the Being Division at the Ministry of Magic.  Inquiries regarding the rights and responsibilities of a Tribune may be answered by reference to the Suffrage Decree of 1993 (Three Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Session); further inquiries should be directed to the office of the Chief Warlock at the Ministry of Magic.   Every attempt will be made to contact every sizeable grouping of the designated Non-Violent Beings and establish some system by which the franchise may be extended to them in an orderly manner.

Public postings of this notice shall be on display in the following locations: the Ministry of Magic, Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, Hogsmeade, Godric’s Hollow, Dublin, Helga's Roost, Ackle and Curd, the Hogwarts kitchens and all Noble House manors, the Nutcombe Society, and the Salor Sprig in the Forbidden Forest of Hogwarts.
Chatterlings with readings of this notice will be posted in the Black Lake and Loch Lomond.


March 13th, 1999
A small trunk, Tidewater, Boston

Now we find ourselves in a curious space, somewhere in the magical suburb of Boston known as Tidewater.  This place is a small room with wooden paneling, warmly lit by smokeless candles.  A large wooden table dominates the room, along with the chairs that surround it.  A half-dozen gadgets sit in the center of the table: those wonderful but unreliable Dark Detectors.  A trio of oval mirrors, mounted irregularly and filled with the indistinct faces of baleful foes.  A brightly-painted red-and-white top, trembling in place every few moments.  A mouthful of teeth, yellowed with age, set in a neat row on a metal stand.  There’s even a rare and unusual Aeolian Warp, a wooden sphere which made a constant but nearly inaudible whistle, powered by the presence of nearby life.  Dark Detectors can be fooled, but it takes some trouble.  There’s no good reason not to have them around.

With the amount of warding on this small room, one would honestly expect some sort of change in the atmosphere.  But there is no hum of power or staleness to the air -- no goosebumps on your arm.  To the mundane observer, there is nothing to show that every inch of this room is thick with wards to prevent eavesdropping or intrusion.

Perhaps we should say a word about this room, the Mobile Mary.

Now, it has to be admitted that Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres has many clever ideas.  We might not say it in front of him, since it would be awkward, but he is an ocean away: we can safely praise him without risking an uncomfortable silence.  Even if Harry had spent his life in the Muggle world, it seems certain that his erudition, creativity, unorthodox approaches, and critical thinking would have led to some considerable accomplishments and innovative notions.  But in addition to his native ability and the intellectual powers carved into him by a certain Dark Lord, Harry has also been able to wield the might of a whole worldwide Muggle civilization.  So he has many clever ideas.

Not all of his ideas work, and not all of his scoffing is well-founded.  For every instance in which he has thought to put a protective covering around a Time-Turner, there has been another occasion on which he went crashing full-tilt into Chesterton’s Fence -- so to speak -- and looked quite silly.  Chesterton’s Fence is a useful principle suggesting that if you do not understand the purpose of something that seems useless or wrong or insane, you should probably take the time to find out the intentions behind it.  It is unlikely that the thing in question happened by chance, after all.  Harry has a hard time with this principle.

There are spells which create insects or birds or snakes, for example.  And there are other spells which duplicate anything they touch at a frenetic rate.  So why not, young Harry asked in his second year, combine these two principles to make a shield of living and expanding life to block the Killing Curse?  Avada Kedavra cannot be blocked, but it does stop when it hits anything with a brain (tests are ongoing about how many ganglia are needed before a creature counts as having a “brain,” but progress is slow: it’s hard to hate fruit flies).  So block the unblockable curse with a shield of tiny brains!

But of course, this doesn’t work, because conjured creatures do not count as living for any magical purpose.  And after Madame Bones and the hulking blonde woman named Alastor Moody had stopped laughing, they explained that neither they nor their predecessors in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement were quite so stupid as to miss that one.  In fact, almost a hundred years ago the DMLE had devoted the efforts of a dozen aurors to trying to Transfigure living brain tissue as a shield; far more practical and in line with dueling tactics than a shield-swarm of birds, but it didn’t work, either.  Abandoned in 1930.  So: a cute idea with the salamanders, young Harry, but no.

All that having been said, nonetheless Harry often does have clever ideas.  The Mobile Mary is one of them -- a permanently secure meeting room that can be carried around with you.  The Returned have used it on occasion, when they might be observed and when there were enough of them to make it worthwhile.  We can probably credit this particular bit of inventiveness to the Muggle spirit of entrepreneurship; wizards and witches are used to the same age-old buildings and communities and fortresses, and are perhaps too accustomed to living in a lesser age of magic.

This particular Mobile Mary has a metallic scent of sweat and excitement that the Fresh Air Charm can’t quite overcome with its light minty breeze.  Five witches, one wizard, and a goblin are all sitting at the table: Hermione, Susie, Hyori, Simon, Esther, Charlevoix, and Urg.  All of them but one have a dullness to their gaze -- not tired or even sad, but broken in a way not easily mended.  Still, they are calm and pleasant as they all discuss the findings of their investigations of the bombing murder of one Tarleton Gest.

As you remember, Susie and Hyori had gone to investigate the victim’s friend, Bill Kemp, the young man who had identified the body and who had been hired with him.  Susie is a dark-haired and voluptuous woman, a hundred years of age and thirty years by appearance, who was once given two years in Azkaban for the unlicensed production of portkeys and trafficking in fraudulent potions.  It was an unjustly harsh sentence.  Hyori, on the other hand, a slight woman of Korean descent with long bangs before her eyes, was imprisoned for murder aforethought.  The justice of that is in dispute.  Both ladies are members of the Returned, servants of Hermione Atrytone.



“There was nothing out of the ordinary about Kemp,” Susie said.  Hermione listened, leaning her chin on one hand.  “Perfectly normal fellow, although not very polite.  Could do with a bath or with a better quality of tobacco, perhaps.”

“Stank,” agreed Hyori, flatly.

“I went to that skeevy little potion shop here and bought a few bottles, and then knocked on his door as though to sell them,” Susie said.  She rummaged around inside of one pocket of her robes to produce two bottles of sparkling amber-coloured Diamondraught, clanking them onto the table in front of her.  “Used to do that sort of thing quite often, as a decent cover.  No go, but Hyori was able to nip around back and check for wards.”

“None,” affirmed Hyori.  She gave a little shake of her head to clear the tips of her hair from her eyelashes.

Susie nodded.  “I chatted him up, standing a bit away since he smelled quite unpleasant.  But nothing seemed off.  We watched for a few hours, but there doesn’t seem to be anything there.”

“Sorry,” Hyori said, shrugging.

“Thank you, ladies.  Do you think we should keep eyes on him?” Hermione asked.  She didn’t have many people to spare, but she desperately wanted to solve this conclusively.  The possibilities were so unsettling -- even the possibility that Harry… well, she wanted this matter investigated to a certainty, anyway.

“Doesn’t seem worth it,” Susie said, looking thoughtful.  “He’d remember a luscious bint like me, and Hyori, you, Charlevoix, and Urg stand out too much, and Esther is famous here.  That would just leave Simon or Tonks, and I think we’d best have them with us if we get into a spot.  Plus, it’s not like he’s going anywhere, so if we need to do, we can pop on back and get on him.  He’s got a job and all, and if it’s someone all Polyjuiced they’ll probably keep their cover if they think they got away with it.  So all’s said and done, no, I think we’d best leave him be and get on with it.”

Hermione looked at Hyori, who said nothing and only shook her head in agreement with her talkative companion.

“What did the Council say?” asked Urg.  The warrior-goblin had a strong Gobbledegook accent, his native tongue putting a guttural rattle on the velar consonant sounds at the start of “what” and “council.”  It was mildly distracting, but they were all used to it.  He had only arrived an hour before the meeting, but they’d already caught him up.

“The main person in charge there, Councilor Hig, seemed okay with all this.  He seems… well, he seems like he’s on our side, frankly,” Hermione said, pursing her lips.

Simon and Urg both started to speak at once, and there was a moment of politeness as they each paused.  Simon continued, after a second, and said, “But the Americas helped kill the Statute when we tried to put it through!”  The big Scot was irritated.  All of the Returned had taken that defeat badly.   It had no provisions against torture or Dementors, per se, but it would have been a step forward to their worldwide elimination.  Not one more minute.

“Things change,” Hermione replied.  “From what I understand, he didn’t trust Harry--”  There were glances around the table among the rest at that statement; the Returned didn’t trust the Tower very much, either.  “--and he misunderstood what we do.  But Harry said something that convinced them to reconsider him, and as for me... having met with him and Councilor Tineagar twice now, and spent some time speaking with each of them, I think they’re coming around.”  Esther, who had gone along with her to the Alþing, nodded.

She didn’t say anything about her supernatural aura, which they all already knew might have had something to do with Hig’s warming attitude towards the Tower and Goddess.  There were defenses and alarms that experienced wizards could deploy to stop the influence of Veela or Hags, but there was no known way to defend yourself from the air of innocence and trust exuded by unicorns and Hermione alone.  Unicorns had simply never been weaponized effectively or frequently, and so there had never been cause.  It made her more persuasive, because people let down their instinctive defenses… she liked to think it made them more open to reason, and that it was only a supernatural equivalent to dressing well or wearing pleasant scents.  It was the halo effect.

It was an old theory, and some psychologists (Dion, Berscheid, and Walster, her brain automatically supplied) had done detailed studies of the effect as far back as 1972, so it was old hat to Muggle science.  Test subjects were told that their perceptiveness was being measured, and shown photographs that ranged in attractiveness.  They were asked to rate the subjects of the photos in a wide variety of personality traits, based on nothing more than the pictures.  In that study, and many replications along different lines, people had demonstrated a remarkable willingness to judge the virtue, intelligence, and sociability of complete strangers based entirely on their appearance -- and pretty people were often judged to be good, smart, and pleasant.  The fairness of the halo effect was harder to untangle (maybe pretty people really did tend to be more pleasant, since people were more likely to be nice to them?) but it was hard to ignore its existence.  Especially since Hermione’s halo effect was super-charged.  She always felt a little guilty about it, but she would have felt more guilty if she hadn’t used it.

Hermione absently twirled her wand over her knuckles, twitching her fingers minutely to make it spin and dance, as she turned back to Urg and added, “I believe that representatives from Ackle might also have had something to do with his attitude… it is known that Hig stopped in Gringotts while he was in London, and I would bet he’s taken steps to verify the good things he’s been hearing about our work with Beings.”  Hearing from his global network of information-filching devices, she thought with annoyance.  I wonder how he listens in on the merfolk or the centaurs?  Are there magical microphone fish?  The Protean Charm doesn’t work within extended spaces like the Mobile Mary, but there doesn’t seem to be any range limit otherwise, but those Beings don’t buy much of anything… what would he bug?

Urg nodded in satisfaction.  A goblin with a wand… he was a living symbol of the progress they had made, although he virtually never used it.

“Simon, Charlevoix?”  Hermione asked.  They had gone to investigate Tarleton’s boarding house.

“The family had already cleaned out the boy’s room,” Simon said.  “It looked like an anchorite’s cell by the time we got there.  We spoke to the landlord and neighbors, and some friends.  Seems like he was just like the friend -- nothing out of the ordinary about him.  They’d both left school only a few years ago, spent some time abroad on holiday -- the Caucasus, I think they said -- and found a job with the Council when they came back.  We didn’t go speak to the family… it felt like it would have been too much.”  Simon was a thick man, with a chest like a barrel and curly black hair.  His eyes looked tired and flat, as though a twinkle had been weighed down by sorrow, pressed out of existence like a stray spark.

Looking at Simon, Hermione felt a twinge as she wondered what might have been, if he hadn’t been an alcoholic, or if the wizarding world took that sort of thing seriously, or if he hadn’t lost his temper in the Wizengamot.  Oh Simon, my Simon… what were you like?  Were you a roaring and jolly man?  Did you kiss your mum on the cheek, every time you saw her?  Did you catch up a small dog in those big hands, petting its head with one thumb as you drank a cuppa in the morning?

“You did the right thing, Simon,” Hermione said.  He looked back at her, and nodded, eyes flat.  Charlevoix sat quietly, and seemed to have nothing to add when Hermione glanced at her.

“Well, that leaves us nowhere,” Hermione continued with a sigh.  “We should plan our second round of investigation… where can we best devote our resources?  Let’s list all the possibilities and try to be creative with our options, before we decide on any plan.”  She pulled out a notebook and pencil from a pocket of her robes, flipping to a fresh sheet.  “As near as I can see, there are a few ways we can look at this.  We can go back to the Alþing and take a look at the bombing scene, and see if maybe we missed any pieces of the bomb on the first pass.  We might be able to trace that back to its origin.  I can review the memory of the bombing, as well, if Tineagar will let me.”  She started making a list, pencil scratching on the paper with a comforting sound of industriousness.  “We can approach Tarleton’s family, and look into his background a little more -- maybe even examine his ashes.  We can see about whether or not Hig might let us look at some of their intelligence from conversations nearby… maybe they have it sorted geographically or something.”  She paused.  “He might not want us to do that, so we should also consider other options there.”

She wrote quickly.  The Returned were all silent, so she encouraged them, glancing up with a warm smile of fondness.  “Come on, everyone.  Don’t worry about whether or not your ideas seem good or bad or silly or impossible, we’re just coming up with all the options we can.  I know that you c-can--”

A quiet bubbling sound inside of her mind interrupted Hermione, and she stuttered over the last word.  It was the soft fizz of freshly-poured butterbeer, and not unpleasant.  She put down her pencil and reached inside of her robes again, pulling out her pocket mirror.  She held it up in front of her, saying, “Hello?”  Just like answering a telephone, if a phone could ring inside your head.

An image of Tonks appeared.  Well, the chin of Tonks.  “Lemon sherbert, let me in!” she said, chirpily.

Hermione looked at Esther and nodded, and the American hopped up from her seat and went to the door, opening it.  Tonks tripped in, smiling, her hair multicolored and her features in their typical arrangement.  Probably not her native appearance, but it was the face she usually wore.

“Did I arrive at a good dramatic moment?”  Tonks asked.  “Were you breaking something and shouting about how we hadn’t found anything, and shaking your fist at the sky?”

Hermione rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair.  “Did you find anything on your mysterious mission, which was doubtless silly and reckless?”

“I never get to make surprise entrances with all our security,” Tonks said with a huff as she sat in one of the chairs and slumped forward onto the table, dramatically.  She was in a flagrantly good mood, and so she’d clearly found something.  “I’m going to start eating six meals a day until I gain enough weight to do a good Simon, and then I’ll surprise you.”

“Tonks.”  Hermione said, her mouth twisting into a smile despite herself.

“Well-o, well-o… I guess I did find something,” Tonks said, tilting her head to the side to lie flat on the table, and examining the nails of one hand as they grew a centimeter.  “I mean, if you’re interested in secret mysterious meetings.”

Hermione waited, patiently, the smile still on her face.  Hyori crossed her arms, scowling.

“I followed everyone around,” Tonks said, “And just watched for the people who were following you lot.  Madame Bones always says that ‘watching someone is a message to itself,’ and so I watched for whoever else was watching.  Once I found which of you had two people following you, instead of just one, I knew where to look more closely.”

“...since you knew it wasn’t just the Council following that person,” Hermione said, slowly.  Tonks nodded vigorously.  “But how did you know the Council didn’t just have extra people watching one pair of us, for whatever reason?”

Tonks looked enormously pleased with herself, and Hermione knew she’d been waiting for that question.  The metamorphmagus smiled and said, “The shoes.  Almost no one ever remembers to disguise their shoes properly when they’re out and about, being all secret and spying.  It’s one of the things you only notice when you’re always looking at people to copy bits of them, like me.  So when I saw one of the two spies in a pair of Twilfitt and Tattings’ court shoes, I knew something odd was up.”

Hermione was impressed.  A bit thin, but a clever way to find a new lead.  Didn’t I read that in something about the Cold War?  Either way, I’ll have to remember this.  Well, of course she’d remember it, since Tonks was going to revel in this triumph for months.

“After that,” Tonks said, “it was easy enough to follow that guy back to a little rough alley, somewhere near the docks.  I don’t know exactly where, but I marked it down.  And he went into a dingy little pub, and I went in after him, and saw him go into a back room behind a curtain.  I could only get a peek into the room, but I could see what was what, right enough.  Fancy door, giant gold doorknob, and three pedestals with fiddly things on them.  Textbook secret entrance.”

Oh.  Disappointing.  “Tonks, we’re in Tidewater.  The base rate for secret entrances -- I mean, given where we are, any secret entrance is more likely to go to some club, or a Westphalian hideout, or even just a creepy place for randy old men.”

“That curtain you go through?” Tonks said.  “Green and silver, decorated with a snake.”

Still not solid.  A little sloppy.  But suspicious.  How do we go in?  It’d be quiet to go in alone, or with just one person.  No, that’s silly.  If it’s not the Malfoy group, if it’s just a nogtail-fighting ring, then there’s no loss in going in force.  And if it is the Malfoys -- why hang up a sign advertising your secret hideout? -- then it’s probably a trap (definitely a trap) so it makes even more sense to go in force.

“Tonks, take us.  Charlevoix, contact Harry.  Tell him everything we’ve done, and where we’re going.  Everyone else: gauntlets on.  If this isn’t nothing, then it’s probably a trap.”  If Harry is behind this, and he probably isn’t, then he already knows about this place.  If he isn’t involved, then it’d be stupid not to have told him that we were doing a Light Brigade charge into a probable trap.

They all stood up.  Almost as one, they reached into robes or pouches and withdrew a golden metal gauntlet; Urg withdrew two.  The gauntlets seemed to have no angles to them, except along the ridges of the knuckles; the metal of their composition was so shiny that it seemed to defy brute existence.  They were loaded, the small boxes of their chargers embedded into the sockets in a line along the back of the hand.  Their fit was impossibly perfect, and they flashed with imminent puissance.

“Save one life,” Urg rattled.  They marched out the door.


Рiping autumn wind
blows with wild piercing voice
through the sliding door

      -- Basho