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

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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!  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

-Yair

3 comments:

  1. Great continuation of HPMOR. I was going to comment after reading all the chapters published until today, but i can't remain silent to the fact that the Americans destroyed Grindelwald's balls. Great reference to Dragon Ball!

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  2. Seems weird that just last chapter it was established that organized fighting on the scale of the Death Eaters and the Hogwarts armies was rare until Riddle introduced it, but now we see exactly that in the earlier war.

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  3. I think there is a mistake with numbers in this chapter.

    "Hig immediately broke off the fight, along with the seven remaining members of Daleth Group."

    Next one from his group was murdered.

    "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. "

    But then...
    "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. "

    Hig + the Argentinian + Shohet + Tineagar + the other four = 8 persons

    ReplyDelete