28 November 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-One: Esse Quam Videri






Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-One: Esse Quam Videri


Trigger warning: violence, dismemberment, and death.


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Dum spiro spero.


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PERILOUS PEACE PROCESS PROCEEDS
by Simone Sprout

Delegations from more than thirty magical states will meet today at the Tower at Hogwarts for the start of important peace talks related to the recent unrest around the world, along with influential representatives to the Confederation and key Wizengamot members.  The different groups will meet with Minister for Magic N’Goma and her deputies, and the Minister has requested that Dean Harry Potter advise and assist the peace process.  The summit will focus on resolving the issues dividing the signatory states of the Treaty for Health and Life and the more recent Treaty of Independence, including aspects of the Tower’s rejuvenation process that have come into question, the intrusiveness of Safety Poles and their associated facilities, and questions about representation of Beings in local governments.

Yesterday’s conflicts, which sprang up between Health states and Independent states, brought violence to places as far-flung as Antarctica, the United States, Paris, and Cyprus, and as nearby as Diagon Alley, Godric’s Hollow, and the Ministry of Magic.  The skirmishes have led a general sense of fear and hundreds of wounded or captured wizards on both sides, although at press time it had become apparent that Russian claims about their prisoners were greatly exaggerated; fewer than a dozen British or allied aurors had been confirmed missing.  

In a statement sent to several news organizations, the leader of the group informally known as the “Honourable,” Lord Draco Malfoy, announced that he would also be present at the summit, speaking on behalf of the Treaty of Independence and the interests of a conservative faction in the Wizengamot.  While his seat has been suspended for the past three years, Lord Malfoy is widely known to be one of the most influential figures behind both the Independents and the British Honourable.

“We will address all of the issues that have forced the wizards of Britain and the world to rise up against this oppressive force,” wrote Lord Malfoy to The Prophet.  “To name just one, the use of Muggle methods of arithmancy might have put more Galleons in everyone’s pocket, but they’ve also driven up the prices of even the most basic of goods.  Since last year, Floo powder has been three Sickles a scoop.  It’s a process known as ‘inflation,’ and the reckless abandon with which this Government and the Tower have been managing Britain must come to an end, before every house is forced to begin mortgaging their cauldrons to goblins just to pay for Floo powder!  At minimum, more wizards must be trained in Muggle arithmancy, so that they can protect magic and the magical from the wandless hordes.”

A spokesperson for the Tower refused comment on Lord Malfoy’s accusations, saying only that “the Tower recognizes the legitimate concerns of many in Magical Britain and the world, and will act at the behest of Minister for Magic N’Goma to address these issues.”


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Office of Harry Potter-Evans-Verres, Hogwarts, Scotland
November 20th, 1992
8:23 am
Seven years ago

“Over there,” said Draco, pointing at one side of Harry’s office.  “Just eight beds -- no, ten of them.  They should be appropriately simple in style, but of good quality wood.  And keep quiet about it, would you?”

The house elf frowned, ducking his head down and shaking it from side to side briskly, like a cat worrying a mouse.  “I’m most sorry, my lord, most sorry, but we cannot.  Students are not permitted to order furniture, unless a prefect issues the request.  I know you were allowed to order furniture by Professor Quirrell’s orders, sir, but he is no longer employed here.  I am most sorry, my lord, but perhaps I could go check with your prefect?”

“Please just take care of it, Kuttle,” said Harry as he walked in through the door.  His wand was out, and he was walking backwards, carefully maneuvering an enormous box of dull grey metal that was floating along behind him.  “And treat all those sorts of requests from Draco just the same as if they came from me, please.”  He paused and looked over his shoulder at Draco, who was glaring at him.  “Sorry about that, Draco, they don’t--”

“Mr. Potter, sir, I’m sorry, but you can not order furniture either.  Unless I check with one of your prefects, or a professor?  I am most sorry, sirs,” said the elf.  He lifted his hands up to his ears and clutched them, nervously.  “I have no choice, you see…”

Draco was smirking.  “So the legend-in-his-own-time Harry Potter still isn’t allowed to order furniture, either?  He hasn’t been made Secret Headmaster or Professor of Self-Importance or anything like that?  He still needs to trot off and check up with, ah, Robert Hilliard or another prefect before he gets a new chair?”

“Yes, my lord,” said Kuttle, twisting his ears in his hands.  He was a bundle of busy energy, and he was holding one foot slightly off of the ground.  It trembled as he stood there.  It wasn’t clear if this situation was making him uncomfortable or if he just found it intolerable to stand still.

“Well, it’s just--” started Harry.  He floated the metal box over to a corner and let it come to a gentle rest, releasing his spell.

“What about curtains?  Can he order curtains?” asked Draco, and now his voice was saccharine sweet.

“No, my lord,” said Kuttle.

“I just--” said Harry, turning around indignantly.

“How about a goblet with his initials on it?  Wait, sorry, I’m being silly.  There wouldn’t be enough room on a goblet.  How about a bucket?” said Draco, folding his arms in front of him.  There was a look of tremendous delight on his face.

“No, my lord,” said Kuttle, vibrating in place with anxiety.

“You’re bothering him!” said Harry, frowning.  There was no sense causing the strange creatures any discomfort.  They had enough problems.  He turned to the elf.  “Please just speak to the Deputy Headmaster about it.  I’m sure he’ll give you instructions.”

“Yes, sir!” said Kuttle eagerly, letting go of his ears with obvious relief.  He snapped his fingers, and vanished, leaving only a nervous quiver in the air as he departed.

“It’s important to know the rules,” said Draco with a grin, walking over to Harry.  “I was using the Socratic method to discover the exact--”

“Listen, my melanin-challenged friend,” said Harry, “if you tease them, you’re going to end up with hardtack for your tea.”

“I have my own elf, anyway,” Draco said.  He waved a hand dismissively, his sleeve swaying.  The boy was wearing his Slytherin robes, even though he wasn’t technically a student anymore.  In fact, by the laws of Magical Britain, he wasn’t even a child anymore.  He was nobility and he’d achieved at least five O.W.L.s (seven, in fact), so he was an adult in the eyes of the government.

He pointed at the metal box, which was nearly as tall as Harry.  “What’s that?”

“A Muggle computer and some car batteries,” said Harry, brightening.  “I know that it’s hard to get electronics to work around magic, but this is a half-inch of lead.  I’m going to put a larger cube of lead around it with a sliding cover, and only then open up this one.  If this doesn’t work, I’m going to try using plates of goblin-forged silver -- there are some big platters on a shelf near the Hufflepuff greenhouse that look pretty fancy, and I bet they’ll work.  My hypothesis is that stray spells are to blame -- probably a particular sort of spell, too.  Charms like Verdimillious or the like.”

“Muggleborns have been trying to get electronics to work -- mostly televisions -- in Hogwarts for fifty years,” said Draco, shaking his head.  “You’re wasting your time, Potter.  Think in terms of… think in terms of opportunity costs.  You could be doing more useful things.  We need some propaganda, for example.  You’re terrible at it.  And we need to sow some false leads about how we’re doing the healing -- the fake metamorphmagus research I mentioned.”

“I know, I know… I’m trying to get all of those things in motion, too.  We’re going to optimize the world, and that means trying to coordinate a thousand different things and manage the million different consequences.  Even the transition to a post-scarcity society, someday, is something we have to think about now -- whether or not we even want to do it.”  Harry shrugged.  “But I still need some time to myself.  I’m not sure how long I could keep it up if I locked myself in a box and spent every waking minute devoted to other people.  So… computer!”  He smiled.  “And I know other investigators have worked on this, but I bet those other investigators weren’t using the scientific method.  Whatever the problem, we’ll probably end up just needing some sort of shielding.  If nothing else, we can just keep transfiguring different sorts of insulation.  In somewhere between a month to a year, we’ll be compiling code.”  He rapped his knuckles against the lead box, smiling.  The green gem on his ring clicked against the metal.

Draco nodded, but turned away, uninterested.  He walked over to one side of the office and tapped his foot.  “Ten beds here.  And we’ll station some patrol-wizards over here and over there.  Four in here, four at the entrance, and two down the hall.  Ten more patrol-wizards to manage the journey here puts the security staff at twenty at any one time.  A total of maybe sixty or so.”

“Moody agreed to this plan?” asked Harry, raising his eyebrows.  “Bringing in the MPLE?”

“MLEP,” corrected Draco, and Harry made a face.  “And no, he hasn’t yet.  But he will.  He wants to close Azkaban, ever since he and Hermione went on that trip to Wales.  And more staff will help.”  Draco paused, as if considering his words, then spoke.

“Forty-seven members of the Wizengamot.  Five seats are just out of our reach on any vote -- Lestrange, Crabbe, Nott, Knop, and Carrow.  Their comes ad litem are all old family retainers or allies, and they were all picked specifically to be beyond influence.  McGonagall and Bones made a mistake with Jugson’s ad litem, since they picked Clancy, and he’s a closet Euphoric.  Still out of our reach, but we need to keep an eye on him in case someone else picks him up.”

Harry raised a finger to interrupt, and Draco paused.  “We might be able to fix that.  I have plans for advancing the human body, and fixing the mesolimbic pathway is one of them.  And you said ‘Nott’ twice.”

“Knop,” said Draco. “New blood, from the nineteenth century.”  He moved on.  “My mother is exercising my own seat still, and that will continue.  Same with Goyle’s, held by his uncle.  Those are in reserve.  Our independence is assumed, and the fact that we’re working together is still quiet.  Even if it becomes known, everyone will draw the wrong conclusions.  And Mother is certainly helping with every cutting comment she makes in public.”

Harry nodded.  Narcissa Malfoy was one of the leading agitators in the Wizengamot, decrying the “cruel tricks and nasty games of a corrupt government.”  She’d rallied a contingent that had been thoroughly cowed, and given them confidence.  She was beginning to be a political problem.

It was an uncomfortable thing, and Harry didn’t want to dwell on it, so he remained silent.  But he wondered about what had passed between Narcissa and the son with whom she was becoming acquainted.  She, too, had lost Lucius, but she didn’t have the hopes that Draco had been given.  She didn’t know about the possibilities of the future… about the world that might be, someday.  A centaur had been proof of concept for Draco, but Narcissa didn’t have that.

Perhaps Draco had made her other promises.  The dark magics of legend held similar -- if less palatable -- possibilities.  A Malfoy ascendant, unrestrained, could make many things happen.  Was that what Narcissa held, in lieu of Draco’s pure hopes?  Or was Draco disconnected from her after ten years, and comfortable just leaving her in the darkness with her anger?

“Of the remaining thirty-nine seats,” continued the Slytherin, and Harry returned his attention to his friend, “there are eighteen more held suo jure.  No, that’s not… ah, sorry, the Noble House of Granger -- hoary with age -- is nineteen. You have six of them by loyalty, including your own.  You have five more by conviction or self-interest.  Greengrass is changeable, but she goes the way the strong wind blows, and pulls Brooks with her.  That means that we need twelve seats of the remaining twenty-eight members: eight members suo jure and twenty of the Ministry’s members ex officio.  And we only have five of those twelve.”

Harry was already there.  “But two of the ex officio members have connections to the DMLE.  Nguyễn, whose wife is an auror at Azkaban, and Brandenburg.”  So if they gave those members of the Wizengamot a reason to believe that their little fiefdom would grow, rather than shrink, that might win them over.  “Okay, sold.”

“Moody will say something about how grizzled and experienced and paranoid he is, and then insist on full aurors instead of patrol-wizards,” said Draco.  “And that will be the debate in the Wizengamot, too.”

“And you’ll steer that, then?  Bones is ours, and she’s a realist, but I think she should stay out of keeping the terms of debate where we want them.  Secret support for expanding the DMLE would bring a backlash against her,” said Harry, thoughtfully.

“It would?  Why, yes, Potter, I suppose it would,” said Draco, his face agast in pretend astonishment.  “My goodness, what if everyone involved in the vote has ulterior motives?  How dreadful!”

“You are annoying, and so is our system of government.  We’re basically Muggle Indonesia.”

“ ‘Everyone wants the Feverbreak, no one wants the flobberworm,’ ” said Draco, rolling his eyes.  “It’s just how things are done.”

“Not for long,” said Harry.  “Hermione and I have plans.”

At the sound of Hermione’s name, Draco’s face darkened.  “You shouldn’t bother her with things like that -- she doesn’t need any more pressure.”

Harry walked away from the metal box, over to his desk.  “I’m not going to… exclude her, not with those sorts of plans.  She wants to be involved.  She needs to be involved.”  He settled into the chair behind the desk, and sighed.  “She’ll find her Patronus.  We both know what kind of person she is.”

“Granger can’t handle this, Potter.  She can’t cast it.  And she’s killing herself with trying.”  Draco said, moving to one of the chairs in front of the desk and sitting down.

“I’m not encouraging her… I want her to rest, too.  I think part of the reason she can’t do it is that she’s just exhausted.  But… I’m not going to kick her out when she comes to me with plans.  Or tell her to leave a discussion.  When Lesath disappeared last week, she searched for hours -- and came to me even later with a plan for searching the Forbidden Forest.  How do I tell her to stay out of it?”

Harry remembered the look of the young girl when she brought him her notes about the relative merits of a spiral search, grid search, or strip search, asking for his input before she organized the aerial search.  The search needed to not only be efficient (in case Lesath was in danger and lost in the Forest), but also provide for the possibility that his mother might be involved.  But she’d looked like she was paper-thin with weariness, nervously plucking at the green-and-gold necklace that Draco had given her for her birthday two months ago.  He’d told her that she needed to take a break… but he’d known that she wouldn’t and that he shouldn’t force her to.

Draco scowled.  “It’ll be on your head if anything happens to her,” he said, with a note of warning in his voice.

“No, it won’t,” Harry replied, heavily.  “And that’s the point.  Sometimes things get bad for someone.  Sometimes they get really bad.  But that doesn’t mean you take away their choices.  Because…”  He gestured at the air, searching for words.  “Because… sometimes you don’t know what a person’s made of.  What they can be.”


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John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
April 30th, 1999
5:12 pm
Now

“Seal the hall!” shouted Pip, shoving wildly at the broken corpse that was slumped across his chest.  He pushed it up and back enough to kick himself free, scooting out from under the body of the attacker.  “Seal it!  Hit the wailers, set up a perimeter!”

Fernández didn’t reply, but complied.  He slammed the steel-bound door, and the air crackled as he engaged the seals, cutting the general ward and the rest of the clinic off from the north corridor with a shield of goblin silver and a dozen readied enchantments.  Pip put a hand on the wall and hauled himself to his feet, jamming his fingers into a ragged scar on the stone for a hand-hold.  His wand was already raised and pointing down the corridor again, although he didn’t even remember picking it back up.

He gathered his will, and put up a Prismatic Shield, pushing it out so that it intersected with the walls and blocked off the corridor entirely.  Once it was stable, he began putting up the Umbrella Barrier Bauble Charm, the logical next step.  J.C. Kraeme pushed him to the side with her shoulder as she stepped up next to him and began preparing second-step wards for when his Shield went down.  He spared her just enough of a glance to see that she’d healed most of her face.  The skin was shiny and red; she’d rushed through the job so that she could get back into the fight.

Pip didn’t even know how they got into this situation.

One minute everything was as quiet as a Gryffindor brainstorming session: he was on post outside of the clinic in the north corridor, trying to think of something intelligent to say to the Norden auror stationed with him.  Tilma Kulgora was extremely beautiful and tall, and he was fairly sure they actually knew each other from when he’d been at Nurmengard.

The next minute, the response abacus began clacking loudly and the attackers had already streamed out of the Receiving Room, charging down the corridor.

Their enemies were all men, covered in red scars and howling in between curses.  They favored the Hontheim Curse, Hippo’s Fire, and other nasty dark curses, but they didn’t bother with tactics or shielding… or even the Killing Curse.  They seemed entirely mad, raving with anger, eyes wide and mouths stretching in screams that were so fervent that the muscles of their neck stood out from their flesh.

Kulgora followed protocol, and spun her time-turner while Pip began to stun and Incarcerous the attackers.  Fernández and Kraeme joined him from within the clinic moments later, after ensuring that the pair of aurors in the discharge wing were ready for action.  But even as the three defenders began taking down their opponents, there was an explosion of golden particles as Kulgora screamed and began to dissolve.  Pip had just enough time to look over and see her time-turner malfunctioning, spitting bright motes of light that were eating away Kulgora’s flesh like bloody basilisk venom.  Then she was gone in a final swirl of fragmented light, although her scream lingered, sounding like it was calling from some great distance before fading away.  The burst of gold that accompanied Kulgora’s death sprayed out on the others -- it took off Kraeme’s face like a peeler and ate an irregular pattern into the stone of the walls.  Kraeme collapsed behind Pip, blood pouring from her face, screaming.

Even as Pip fumbled with his free hand for his bubbler, he could hear a voice shout out of the resonator inside the clinic, yelling in the device’s quavery metal voice not to use time-turners, that there was a new spell, that there was an attack, that everyone should adopt Protocol Apple.

It must be Russia, it’s always Russia, he had time to think.  And then there was no more time for thinking at all.

It was hard to know exactly how long he’d already been fighting when Kraeme got back to her feet, but it was long enough that the corridor in front of them had been piled with bodies, two or three deep, and at least one Incendio had scorched Pip’s left arm and the side of his neck.  He understood, now, how they’d gotten through the Receiving Room.  There were so many of them that they must simply have swarmed the aurors.  They were fighting like Muggles -- using brute force and superior numbers to overwhelm.  Even the most skilled fighter, they had warned Pip in training, couldn’t reliably win in close-quarters combat with more than three people.  Madame Bones had put it bluntly: “You only have one wand and two hands.”

Pip felt the Umbrella Barrier Bauble Charm set into place, although it was too noisy to hear the quiet tinkle of bells that accompanied the ward.  Their attackers had closed the distance to Pip and Kraeme, now that Pip had stopped cursing, and they were already hammering on his Prismatic Shield.  He pulled it out of suspension before it could be lost, and put his will behind it once more.  Six attackers -- seven, no, eight, with more arriving every moment -- were firing curse after curse into the shield.  Three more were simply smashing the rainbow shimmer with their fists, squeezing into the corridor so that they could beat themselves bloody on it.

Pip felt a tap on his shoulder from Kraeme, and he released the Shield.  The eleven attackers who’d forced themselves into the space fell forward into the Bauble Charm.  There was a heavy thump to the air, so powerful that Pip felt his entire body shudder from the proximity of it, and the Charm triggered.  An invisible wave of air expanded down the corridor with crushing force.  In the narrow confines, all of its strength was concentrated.  Most of their attackers were pulped against the stone walls, which themselves cracked and shifted under the pressure, while the rest were forced back to the entrance of the Tower, where the north and south corridors split off from each other.

There was no time to rest; Kraeme had her own Baubles already cast, and they both moved forward a few steps, to give themselves a place to retreat if necessary.  They could hear the low-pitched sound of the wailers in the clinic behind them, charged and ready, in case Pip and Kraeme fell and the seals were broken.  Defense in depth.

The enemy surged forward, screaming and howling and cursing, some of them slipping on the blood and viscera that was thick on the floor.  But Kraeme was with him, and they could handle this.  Pip grinned, and drove them back, firing off rapid Depulsos.  Easy to cast, and it gave Kraeme a chance to lace into the packed mob with a Severing Charm, surgically placed.

They’d keep up the teamwork until they had a chance to create another breathing space -- a moment to move forward and push back against the attack.  If they could force back these lunatics to the Receiving Room, they could use the first door-shield.  It didn’t matter if there was an army being sent in against them, not with that shield.  They could lock it in place and wait for the rest of the DMLE to relieve them.  Or even better -- leave it just enough ajar that they could flood the Receiving Room with something called “halothane.”  Pip didn’t know exactly how it worked, but he’d been told its name and a rough idea of what it did, and that was enough to transfigure it.  They’d put everyone to sleep.  And if that didn’t work, if the madmen had presence of mind enough to counter such a simple attack, there were other things that could be done.  They’d not only hold the clinic: they’d push these bloody bastards right out of the Tower.

Someone at the summit had betrayed them all, but they hadn’t reckoned on Tally Pirrip’s son.

There was someone new at the end of the corridor, not just another raver.  A woman in black.  She kicked a shrieking man out of her way as she stepped into sight.  She was calling something, but it couldn’t be heard over the tumult.  The woman had a shield up, and it turned aside Pip’s first few sallies.  Through unspoken agreement, he turned to fighting the lunatics, instead, driving them back with a flurry of curses delivered with such speed that he felt his magic strain.  Kraeme engaged the woman.

It was over in a moment, and Pip didn’t get a chance to say anything.  He only heard the words, clearly this time: “Avada Kedavra!”  Kraeme fell to the ground beside him, lifeless and limp.  The woman turned and stalked out of sight, away from the north corridor.  She was going elsewhere.

Pip was alone.

The madmen howled and attacked.


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It was Moody’s plan, at its heart.

“A well-designed security system must plan for the harmless, the foolish, the stupid, and the insane… and yet still defeat your most clever enemy.  Herpo the Foul, creator of the Horcrux spell and one-time master of Greece, is said to have put it this way: ‘Your trap must be a windmill, engaging the intruder with each new blade and forcing them to react.’  Not that it did him much good, since he tangled with one auror too many in the sixteenth century.  There’s a lesson, there, too: don’t brag in public.”

The south corridor led to many of the smaller research stations and to the meeting room.  Past those, there was Material Methods and the Survey Station and all of their incredibly valuable projects -- sfaironautical equipment, new weapons, and the lot.  Plus the Extension Establishment was in the rear, and at the moment it was filled with a crowd of worthies and valuable hostages.

It was possible to access all of those from the north corridor, by going through the general ward and discharge ward of the clinic, but the clinic was heavily defended.  Goblin silver and intricate seals, the best that could be devised, had been set in place to seal it off in case of attack.  This was both to guard any patients and out of the assumption that many attacks might originate from within the clinic.

The south corridor, on the other hand, was not designed to seal itself away and wait for help.  It was designed to disable or kill any attacker who managed to get that far.

Draco had reacted with surprise and alarm when the abacuses began to clatter their alarm, and even Harry -- who had been expecting this for days -- jumped a little.  He sprang to his feet.

“This is it.  This has to be it,” he said.  “She’s here.  She’s brought it,”

Harry had been dropping hints in a subtle way for a long while, but had recently dropped the final plum before the press… and had made sure it was published.  The artifact that he needed.  The artifact that humanity needed.  The artifact that was hidden beyond the reach of every divination he’d been able to discover in recent years.  The artifact that Voldemort had woven into his Horcrux network.  The artifact to which his chief lieutenant must have access.

Bellatrix Black.  You have some part of the lore and power he gained as the Heir of Slytherin, evading the Interdict of Merlin, and you have things that I need.  But all you need -- all you could ever need -- is Tom Morfin Riddle.  And you know that we have him.

It must have seemed inconceivable to her -- that Voldemort could be held prisoner by a stripling like Harry, and that the Tower could be impenetrable to every attempt to magical intrusion or scrying.  It should have been impossible for Harry to do either, even with the assistance of the world’s mightiest wizards.  And yet it was true.  Interdicted knowledge and dark rituals wouldn’t help her.  Voldemort was beyond her reach.

Lesath had been the clue -- or reminder, perhaps, that there was an outside threat that they could never hope to control.  A fallback plan for Voldemort, who would have had plans within plans within plans.

Poor, poor Lesath.  What had he been doing, these seven years?  What information had been stripped from him by his mad mother?  Had he been forced to help her search for her Dark Lord?  Did he still bear his misguided allegiance to Harry?  Had he suffered?

“The Resurrection Stone, which could pierce any world,” he had mentioned at the launch of the Monroe.  A small, careless mistake among other such small, careless mistakes.

I have barriers you cannot break, Bellatrix.  I hold Voldemort within them, your love and lord, Bellatrix.  Come to me, Bellatrix.  Bring me the Spirit Stone.  And bring me yourself, and I will give you rest.

Harry turned to Hermione.  “We need the Resurrection Stone.  She will have it with her.  She must have it with her.”

“You should go to the Extension Establishment,” she replied, getting to her feet.  “It will be safe.  The Brahmins and the Siberians -- the Rakshasa -- are both there, along with the Returned.  Send Tonks here.”

Harry shook his head.  “I need to be here.”

“Don’t you have to go… no, the Vow won’t make you… hell, this is not the time to argue,” said Hermione, gritting her teeth.  “Like a play, indeed,” she muttered, as she turned to Draco.  “He’s being an idiot.  Go get Tonks and Hyori, and keep an eye on all those fancy people.  And make sure no one over-reacts.”

Draco walked to the table and picked up his cane.  “Use your mirrors and tell that American to sort everyone out.  He can get on a stepladder, he’ll do just fine.  I’m not going anywhere.”

“This is embarrassing and you’re both idiots,” said Hermione, snatching her bubbler out of her robes.

The resonator in one corner began vibrating.  It was a fairly simple device -- a low-tech, low-magic way to communicate to the whole Tower in an emergency.  The Protean Charm made any change to the source item occur in all linked items.  This included vibration, such as the vibrations that produced sound.  “Time-turners are compromised,” warbled the resonator, erring on the side of loudness instead of clarity.  The mechanics had been difficult to work out.  “Unknown magics from attackers.  Protocol Apple.  We are under attack and the Terminus is down.  Protocol Apple.  Protocol Apple.  Protocol Apple.”

Time-turners were compromised?  But the enchantment to block time-turning took months to set in place… was this some of Voldemort’s interdicted lore, or…?

Harry touched his wand to the table, and thin seams appeared on its surface.  He pulled up on one, and a mirror slid up and out of a recess.  It showed the north corridor -- a view from the clinic door.  There were aurors there, and they were fighting.  He couldn’t make out the identity of the defenders from their backs, but he could see the attackers: screaming men in ragged clothes.  Low skills, but there were dozens of them.  Thankfully, the defenders seemed to be making short work of each one as they appeared, entangling and rending them apart with fire.  There should be three aurors there, though… ah, and the missing one had probably tried to use a time-turner.

He opened a second display.  The south corridor was similarly defended -- two aurors fighting a holding action.  They were standing at the corner where the corridor turned; behind them was one wall of the Vision Verge.  Doors to other departments were all visible -- Advancement Agency, Ypsilanti Yard, the Survey Station -- although the attackers seemed to have no interest in any of them.  They were charging down the hall, pell-mell.

He could hear Hermione on her bubbler, calling in Tonks and Hyori, putting Reg in charge, asking if everything was okay.  But his attention was on the image in front of him.  He wished a view of the Receiving Room was possible.  How many were dead there, already?

One of the aurors in the south corridor conjured strong blasts of wind, forcing back their attackers for a moment, while the other knelt and touched his wand to the floor.  The auror whispered the command word, and the traps engaged.

With a series of tiny explosions, so quick they sounded simultaneous, pitons blew out of the walls as pneumatic pressure was released.  Fifty metallic projectiles erupted from one wall into the opposing one, burying themselves into the stone at odd angles.  Only one enemy was struck by the attack: a hooting man with long hair and half his face raked with red scars fell to the ground, screaming, as a metal bolt passed through his shoulder.  The others only paused for a half-second, then leapt to the attack, screaming derision and madness.

The one in the lead whipped his wand forward, shouting a curse, but his voice broke into an inchoate scream.  He staggered to the side as blood began pouring from his chest, and an invisible blade cut further into his flesh, sectioning out a wedge of meat and bone.  He fell backwards, gurgling, and a second carbon nanotube bisected him.  He died with bared teeth.

The other madmen screamed and twitched as they met the edges of invisible razors, cutting themselves as they tried to move forward or duck or jump.  They fell all to pieces.

New attackers appeared at the end of the hall, and the aurors brandished their wands, leveling them over the gore-strewn ruin.  Beads of blood and gobbets of flesh were suspended in the air, but they went unnoticed, and the shrieking men, covered with scars, gave themselves terrible wounds on the first few razor-wires.  The aurors assisted with the confusion, one of them putting up wards while the other -- it was Auror Kwannon, Harry could see now -- laid waste with Cutting Curses.

The illusion didn’t last long.  One of the scarred men obliterated his neighbor with a wash of fire, and then snarled something and jabbed a finger at the corridor.  Kwannon took him down during the pause, lashing him with wide wounds that brought the attacker to his knees, but the damage was done.  Five other attackers -- as many as could wield their wands abreast in the corridor -- began to fire curses at the walls and aurors from afar.  Those behind them howled and gibbered, climbing on each other to gain a narrow window through which to fling a curse at Kwannon and the other auror.

The pitons were easy to break free from the wall, and most of the attackers had no trouble blowing apart the anchoring on one side or another with Deprimo or other blasting curses.  They suffered Kwannon’s attacks in the meantime, falling wounded or dead until the floor at their end of the corridor was slippery with blood and viscera.  She was using more gusts of air, as well, to knock them off-balance.

Despite this, they still had the weight of seemingly unlimited numbers.  More than a hundred attackers had already poured into the north and south corridors, forcing their way through the golden entrance of the Tower.  There were simply too many, and they managed to disable a dozen of the razor-wires before the gas reached them.

Individually, the tanks of cyanogen chloride were not very large.  When Moody and two unnamed and grim-faced aurors had installed them within the walls, behind the firing nozzles of the razor-wire pitons, they’d wanted to work with small quantities.  The gas caused choking, a burning sensation on any affected skin, blindness, and -- quite rapidly -- death.  It didn’t need to be inhaled: any contact with the skin would burn and bite and sicken.  Even with transfiguration protocols in place, they’d been worried about an accident going out of control.  Harry hadn’t been able to be within sight, much less close enough to help… it was just that dangerous.

Immediately, the madmen began choking and spluttering, clutching their faces.  All of their exposed skin was probably being affected, but mucous membranes were the most sensitive.

Harry leaned forward, squinting at the image.  Was Bellatrix in that mess of thrashing and howling bodies?  He glanced over at the other image.  No, there she was, laughing and staring with wide eyes down the north corridor at the clinic.  She must have gathered at least a little information about the Tower -- she must know there was nothing for her down that path.  She had no reason to --

He shut his eyes, in spite of himself, as Bellatrix whipped her wand forward and sent a bolt of green coruscating down the corridor.  It struck Kraeme, and she fell to the floor.  And then she was gone, moving towards the south corridor.  Heading for him.

Harry glanced over his shoulder to see Tonks and Hyori arrive at the meeting room.  Tonks was just beginning to make the change to Harry’s appearance.  She looked pale, but determined.  Hyori looked as blankly belligerent as usual, her wand ready in her hand.  Hermione was in a hushed conversation with them both -- telling them about all the traps, including the final one.  No danger there: they were both battle-hardened and trustworthy.

“Bellatrix Black and something like two hundred werewolves are attacking,” Harry called over to them.  His voice was calm.  He felt calm, against all reason.

“Hide,” commanded Hyori, scowling at him and pointing a finger at the door.  Harry just shook his head.

Hermione was digging in the pouch at her waist.  “Harry, it’s irresponsible for you to stay here.  Go to the Establishment with Draco, organize that line of defense.”

“I need to be able to speak to her,” Harry said.  “It is astoundingly important that I speak to her.”  He deliberately stopped his next words, which were going to be “if she even makes it this far.”  Of course she was going to make it this far.  And she probably had tricks he didn’t know about, and plans of her own, and everything else.  Was it really so important that he confront her -- that he look her in the eye and speak to her?

Don’t worry, my trusted ally, there’s no way that the enemy and their ill-equipped army will manage to penetrate to the center of my fortress, past all of my traps.  I won’t deny myself the pleasure of watching their demise.  And if they do make it this far, then I want to look them in the eye when I defeat them with some of the most powerful objects in the universe that surely will never leave my control and threaten all of mankind.

“Years of planning with Alastor, and you’re going to tell me that you think it’s sufficiently pessimistic to think pneumatic tubing is going to do the trick, here?” said Hermione, openly scornful.

“I’m stupid,” agreed Harry, and started for the door.

Is this cowardice?

“Just…” he started, but he couldn’t think of anything good to say.  He couldn’t think of anything that had enough weight -- that sounded right.

“Harry, go.  Be good,” Hermione said.  She was pulling on her golden gauntlet, and the Cloak of Invisibility was draped over her arm.

Harry set up a bubbler before he went, setting it on a conjured stool in a corner with a clear view.  Then he left the room, walking with hurried steps out through the rear door, heading to the Extension Establishment.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

“Out of the way, little men,” snapped Bellatrix Black, as she approached the corridor.  But she saw that very many of them were unable to obey, thrashing and choking.  “Bullesco,” she cast, and a bubble swelled from one nostril until it encompassed her head.  She felt light-headed, and there was a mad dash to her pulse.

Here here here here my Lord, I’m here.  I’m here for you for you for you for you for you for you for you

And she stopped her thoughts before they went too far, before she started laughing again.  Time to fight time to kill time to murder.  Despite herself, she giggled at that, a bit.  A bit.  Bits and bits.  Bits and bobs and blobs.  For you for you for you for you, she chanted in her head, more calmly.

Her skin was burning.  Transfiguration attack, airborne acid.

“You are too slow, Bella, and now you are dead.  Do you feel that?  Listen to me, do you feel that?  That’s your brain dying because you can’t breathe, Bella.  I will save you, because I love you, but it is important that you remember this.  Remember how it feels.  Remember what to do.  Listen to me, and do as I say.  Look at me, Bella.  Listen to me and do as I say.  You will learn how to fight.  You will learn how to live.”

She sent a wave of fire down the corridor, roiling and white-hot, feeding and growing on the air itself.  Two dozen men burned and died.  Her men, her little men.  Little wolves.  Pups.  Puppies.  She couldn’t smell the air, but she knew what it must smell like.  Fire in the air smelled rich and nutty and scorched.

Aurors at the end of the corridor.  More aurors.  More dollies.

Curses.  Moving slowly, in slow motion.  Fighting fighting fighting.  Obvious attack and supporting attack -- direct and tricky, jam and butter.  Twirl to the side and bring up a shield, use Bartolomeo’s Reckoning, easy to cast while moving, redirect the tricky attack and avoid the direct.  Move with grace and speed and death.  Silly dollies.

“Do you see this?  You had two of these, and now you only have one.  You’re slow, Bella.  My dear, dear Bella.  Dry your tears.  Do you wish to be slow?  You will be in pain, or perhaps even dead.  I would be so sad if you were dead.  The world would be less beautiful.  Less perfect.  For you are a thing of perfection, Bella.  But what are we to do?  We can put this eye back, but will you still be slow?  No, you won’t.  You’re a good girl.  You will have something to show Dumbledore.”

Other attacks moving in, but they’re slow, and easy to break out of their rhythm.  That was the key to good music -- playing with life, rather than plodding along to ¾ time like a fool.  She danced to the side and whipped her wand down, sending the Bloodfoot Curse at one of the aurors.  Not to hit her, although that would suit Bellatrix fine, but because it was a big red curse that left her wand in the Ochs.  She flicked off two quick Bertram Bolts in the Bloodfoot’s wake, but knew a counter-attack must already be on the way, and brought her wand down for another Bartolomeo.  Ha!  B b b b b b b b b be be be be be here be here be here I’m here I’m here

Unsuccessful, both aurors alive, but that was all right.  Bellatrix curved her mind in the right shape and clutched with her will at the space before her, wrapping specific thoughts like gloved fingers into the world and dragged them downward.  A burden of hard air curved over her, slowing an incoming red curse -- a stunner a stunner dollies using stunners! -- and then laughed another spell of fire downrange at the aurors.  The flames licked and slid down the corridor.  Someone underfoot was screaming and screaming.  There were things hanging in the air, little black bits, what was that?  Traps!  Muggle traps!  Stupid rat Muggles with little rat brains.  Won’t stop Bella.  Not from getting to Him.

“If you don’t want it, then why do you even try?  I can’t even look at you.  You are some… creature.  A pathetic, nasty little creature.  You’re disgusting.  It’s your soul, that’s what’s so vile.  Thick and clogged… like a stopped-up drain.  But you don’t even know what that is, do you, nastiness?  Why do you do this to me?  Why won’t you be pure for me?”

“Avada Kedavra,” she sang, and sent a green bolt down the corridor.  Her target -- the female one -- was off-balance and had her wand down from deflecting the fire.  Elemental defense required broad gestures.  She couldn’t hope to react in time.  Bella shrieked out laughter as the dolly died.

The other one said nothing, but took the opportunity afforded by her companion’s death to whip curse after curse at Bellatrix, casting so quickly that he would have nothing left when it was over.  Burning himself out, in the hopes that he might get lucky.  Sacrifice.  Silly sacrifice.  Stupid silly sacrifice no b is better.  B for better.

She threw herself to the side and then again and then again, ducked and twirled and shielded, and never stopped laughing.

Incarcerous.  Silencio.  Aggragify,” she cast, a solid string of spells delivered with such fluid beauty and precision that she knew just knew He would be proud of her.  The auror smashed into the wall behind: wrapped with cords, silenced, and bewitched.

“Silly,” Bellatrix said, slightly out of breath.  “Not even dying with dignity like your friend.  Just dead and failed, little dolly.”  She giggled, and raised her wand.  Muggle traps.  Muggle traps.  Little rat Muggle traps.

The Sigil of Cold Earth, traced in red fire.  The ancient name of a bitter creature, spoken six times.  Was she calling some part of that creature, or was there only one in the world?  One beautiful bitter beast, feeding on her sacrifice -- she willed the sacrifice, felt the bite of burning in her breast -- one bitter burning beast.  B b b b b b b b b b.

“Az-reth.  Az-reth.  Az-reth.  Az-reth.  Az-reth.  Az-reth,” Bellatrix crooned.  And scarlet flames reached out from the rune, stretching indolently, almost casually, as they smoothed into the shape of limbs.  It was red all shot through with black, as though the flames had some terrible leprosy.

A chimera of hellish flame padded gently out of the rune and came to stand on the smoking stone before Bellatrix.  A leonine head, flame-flickering mane with black-edged teeth.  A broken-necked goat’s head sprouting from the body, lolling back and forth and smiling a terrible smile.  A snake of scarlet, whipping around and snapping at the air with small puffs of heat.

“Sweet Bella.  Come here.  You love me, don’t you, Bella?  You must do something for me.  It needs to be done.  It may be unpleasant.  But you will do it.  So go.  Go and be good.”












Ergo aegre rastris terram rimantur et ipsis
unguibus infodiunt fruges montisque per altos
contenta cervice trahunt stridentia plaustra.
Non lupus insidias explorat ovilia circum
nec gregibus nocturnus obambulat; acrior illum
cura domat; timidi dammae cervique fugaces
nunc interque canes et circum tecta vagantur.
Iam maris immensi prolem et genus omne natantum
litore in extremo, ceu naufraga corpora, fluctus
proluit; insolitae fugiunt in flumina phocae.
Interit et curvis frustra defensa latebris
vipera et attoniti squamis adstantibus hydri.
Ipsis est aër avibus non aequus et illae
praecipites alta vitam sub nube relinquunt.
Praeterea iam nec mutari pabula refert
artes nocent quaesitaeque; cessere magistri
Phillyrides Chiron Amythaoniusque Melampus.
Saevit et in lucem Stygiis emissa tenebris
pallida Tisiphone Morbos agit ante Metumque,
inque dies avidum surgens caput altius effert:
Balatu pecorum et crebris mugitibus amnes
arentesque sonant ripae collesque supini:
Iamque catervatim dat stragem atque aggerat ipsis
in stabulis turpi dilapsa cadavera tabo
donec humo tegere ac foveis abscondere discunt.
Nam neque erat coriis usus nec viscera quisquam
aut undis abolere potest aut vincere flamma;
ne tondere quidem morbo inluvieque peresa
vellera nec telas possunt attingere putris;
verum etiam invisos si quis temptarat amictus,
ardentes papulae atque immundus olentia sudor
membra sequebatur nec longo deinde moranti
tempore contactos artus sacer ignis edebat.

Then, they say, for the sole time in these parts,
White cows could not be found for Juno’s rites,
And buffaloes, instead, in ill-matched pairs,
Drew chariots to the lofty treasure-house.
Men hacked the ground with rakes, and dug in the seed
With blistered fingers, hitched themselves to carts
And, straining forward, dragged the creaking loads.
Wolves ceased to prowl at night around the fold,
For sharper worries preyed upon their minds;
The timid roe and flying stag made friends
With hounds and wandered all around the farms.
The brood of the mighty sea was washed ashore
Like flotsam from a shipwreck, and the seals
Escaped to unfamiliar inland streams.
The viper died defenseless in her lair
And water snakes, their scales erect in fear.
Birds found the air too heavy for their wings
And, plunging earthward, left their lives aloft.
Change of pasture made no difference
And remedies effected only harm;
The masters of the healing arts gave up.
Pale Fury, flown from Hell’s dark depths to the light,
Tisiphone, drove on Disease and Fear,
Her greedy head rose higher every day.
The bleating of the herds, their steady moans,
Filled all the river beds and thirsty banks,
Reverberating through the supine hills.
The Fury dealt out multitudinous deaths,
Heaving up cadavers in the stalls,
Rotting corpses stank and putrefied,
Until at last men buried them in pits.
The hides were useless, and the flesh so foul
That fire and water could not salvage it;
None could shear the fleece, nor touch the web.
If someone tried to wear the loathsome cloth,
He burned and blistered, rank repulsive sweat
Poured off his fetid limbs; and, soon enough,
His stricken body felt the sacred fire.
-Virgil

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