14 November 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Nine: Intent





Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Nine: Intent




Dear Mum and Dad,

I’m sorry.  Let me say that straight off.  I know that I promised I’d never let magic come between us, but I was wrong.  I can’t come home.

That’s the bad bit, and I’m so so so sorry.  There’s so much I have to tell you, and so much more I can’t tell you, but I didn’t want you to wonder what the bad news would be as you read this whole letter.  That’s the bad news I needed to tell you, and it hurts me so much to write it.  I love you both.  I love you Mum.  I love you Dad.  I love our house and our life and our trips and everything.  I love you so much.  This has nothing to do with any of that, and you need to know that if I had any choice, any choice at all, I would come home right now.

But I can’t.  And it’s not because of some powerful wizard, and it’s not because it wouldn’t be safe for you.  It’s because it wouldn’t be safe for me.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

SECOND WIZARDING WAR?: HONOURABLE SORTIES DEFEATED; AMYCUS CARROW DEAD; PEACE SUMMIT ANNOUNCED
by Simone Sprout

Open warfare erupted on a global scale yesterday afternoon, as several signatories to the Treaty of Independence and their British allies attacked allies of the Treaty for Health and Life around the world.  The fighting occurred on multiple fronts, including strikes directly on the Ministry of Magic; the Safety Poles of Diagon Alley, Godric’s Hollow, Paris, and Tidewater; the Department of Mysteries’ Remote Cautionary Platform; the Cypriot Hold; and the Alþing of the Council of Westphalia in the Americas.  The attacking forces were comprised variously of forces of the Exarchate of Cappadocia, Magical Russia, the Emirati of the Ether, the Emirati of the Sky, Magical Anatolia, Magical Nakhchivan, and other Sawadi and Caucasian states.  In almost every case, the attacks were turned back through armed intervention by British forces and their allies, with few serious casualties but considerable damage to the Ministry of Magic, the Parisian États-Généraux, and the Remote Cautionary Platform.  While the outcomes of individual events have been difficult to verify, at this time the Ministry of Magic has reported that they have 650 prisoners of war.  Magical Russia has claimed to have taken more than 40 prisoners of war, but the Ministry of Magic disputes this figure.

By the end of yesterday evening, hostilities had ceased.  In most areas, conflicts had already been resolved, but news of a truce offered by the Ministry of Magic brought an end to an ongoing battle in Paris and at the Cypriot Hold.  The truce was refused by the Cappadocian soldiers still attacking in Cyprus, who were eventually subdued by the American Brahmins, but all other states agreed to a cessation of the fighting.

The attacks also included an assault on the Tower by members of the militants known as the Honourable, leading to the violent death of Amycus Carrow, one of the most prominent leaders of the group.  While the assault disrupted healing activities at the John Snow Center, Owen Wilifred, a spokesperson for the Tower, stated that there had been no deaths among patients as a result.  “The Tower is proud to say that even these tragic and unfortunate events did not result in any permanent consequences, thanks to the courage and diligence of our aurors and healers.  We have never lost a patient who was remanded to our care.  We are even proud to say that we were able to save the lives of even the most gravely wounded among those who attacked our Safety Pole facilities around the world.  The Tower will remain devoted to preserving life and health for everyone.”

Carrow was notable for his role as an Honourable spokesperson, frequently representing the group at public debates and meetings, as well as his suspected involvement in the Honourable’s military actions.  While he consistently denied any role in such affairs as the Diagon or Alþing blastbombings, Carrow had previously served as a skilled lieutenant for Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters, two decades ago -- a role he claims was forced on him by the Imperius Curse -- and was widely believed to be a guiding hand behind the Honourable’s actions.  His reputation was considerable among the group, and he was particularly known for his cunning.  Carrow was by far the most prominent Death Eater to escape the events of Lord Voldemort’s return on June 13th of 1992, avoiding the fate of his compatriots by substituting a death doll with an improvised Dark Mark.

The Tower was unwilling to comment on the assault in detail, saying through their spokesperson that they “didn’t comment on security procedures, as a rule,” but The Prophet has been able to independently discover that Carrow’s attack involved brutalizing and coercing two students into helping him gain access to the facility, employing a series of small blastbombs and an attack by twenty trolls in the process.  Carrow then attempted to assassinate Harry Potter-Evans-Verres, the Dean of the Tower School of Doubt and chief of the John Snow Center for Medicine, but was defeated when he proved unable to control his own Fiendfyre in the face of Potter-Evans-Verres’ defense.  Much of the success experienced by the Life and Health forces throughout the evening may, in fact, have come from the incident; at least one auror was willing to state under condition of anonymity that Carrow survived for a short time after the attack, during which time his Occlumency barriers were down.  This would flatly contravene Tower policy on healing, and was vigorously denied by Tower spokespeople.

As events are ongoing, a later edition of The Prophet will contain updated reports about yesterday’s events and continuing developments.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

April 30th, 1999
On the shores of the lake of teeth, where the black hills end, Tír inna n-Óc

Three figures of shadow stood facing each other, their bodies taut coils of animated darkness.  The weather in Tír inna n-Óc was foul this morning/day/evening/night, and a storm was approaching.  A preamble of thick yellow fog was tonguing the three visitors.  Soon, milks would fall thick and white on the black hills.

The three figures conferred in a dialect of Norman French now entirely extinct.

“You have acted,” said the first figure.  “You sent in our bishop.”

“She did, yes,” affirmed the second figure.

“Events were moving without us,” said the third figure.  “If I had waited even another hour, it would have been too late.  All was ready -- the wolf has done its work.  It was time.”

“You were right to do so, and I would have done no differently,” said the first figure, approvingly.  “I have accused you of haste in the past, but not now.  But I must ask -- by what method will our piece breach the Tower defenses?  All our lore has not succeeded.  Even the Lens has failed.”

“Lens?  The Lens of Kasreyn is sand and dust, broken long ago,” said the third figure, putting shadowy hands on shadowy hips.

“It survives, though it was damaged in the fight when Gellert Grindelwald fell.  But even it cannot see through to the Tower.  That stronghold must draw upon the northern ley that feeds the school, for nothing less could erect such mighty barriers,” said the first figure.

The third figure crossed its arms, and said nothing for a time.  The others waited patiently.  Finally, the third figure spoke again, guardedly.  “The stone might succeed in penetrating their guards -- although perhaps not.  I had not known that the Lens survived and that it too was unable to see within the Tower.  That information would have been helpful.”

All three were quiet and reflective, and stood thoughtfully as the yellow fog rubbed its miasmic muzzle against them.  It was growing thicker and colder as the storm approached.

“Not everything can be shared, even at these times.  There is always some crisis that approaches, looming large in the moment,” said the second figure, after a while.  A peace offering and a scolding, neatly tucked within a few harmless words.

“Regardless,” said the third figure, seemingly resigned, “there are alternate approaches if the stone fails.  Our piece is prepared, and will succeed.”

“In which case, I must note that it may be too late to return to the previous status quo that has existed since the Confederation took charge.  The order of the world is in disarray, and I doubt we could simply return everyone to their row,” said the first figure, moving on.  “I propose we abandon our opposition.  Matters are too far along for any coup or division to stop the consolidation of the magical world.”

“That is a matter for another time, I think, Meldh,” said the second figure mildly.  “It is enough, for now, that we clear away the danger at the Tower’s top.  We shall judge our next move later… after all the stones have stopped their tumbling.”

Tír inna n-Óc endured.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

Lord Draco Malfoy of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Malfoy was blood relation to fifteen families of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, speaker and leader of the Honourable, counselor to the nations of the Treaty of Independence, defender of three millennias of Magical British tradition, and master of both ancient lores and new sciences.  He rejected the Tower’s offer of a Safety Stick for travel, and scorned in sharp language the suggestion that he fly to the peace summit by broomstick.  His dignity would not bear either insult.

Lord Malfoy and his mother traveled by fortress instead.

The Declaration of Intent was dominated by a single tower, three stories high, made of fitted wedge-shaped blocks of smooth tan stone.  Mullioned windows ascended around the tower in a spiral, each featuring a depiction in stained glass of a notable act of a notable Malfoy.  In addition to the tower, there were two broad platforms and a gate of black metal.  All four of these points -- tower, platforms, and gate -- were linked by spikes of thick curtain wall that jutted out into the space beyond, protected by battlements.

The fortress moved slowly and grandly, no more quickly than a learner’s broom, and so it took a full ten hours for The Declaration of Intent to bear the Lord and Lady Malfoy from Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire up to Hogwarts in Scotland.  Lord Abraxus Malfoy, Draco’s grandfather, had not built the structure to speed along like a twittering sparrow.  The Declaration of Intent was built for intimidation and war.

(When he was a boy, Draco’s father, Lucius, had once told his father that the Declaration was a “Muggle-mimicking boondoggle of unspeakable proportions,” and was generally unwilling to even admit that the thing existed, hulking in the distance on their estate and never once used.  The fortress had been built around the Aa-Khem of the Shafiq family: the bronze scarab statues, capable of independent flight, had been purchased from one of the impoverished Shafiq heirs only at staggering expense.  Abraxas had punished Lucius for his insolence, lashing the whipping boy nearly to death, but it must be admitted that the flying fortress had rather severe limitations when it came to combat.)

The Declaration of Intent arrived at Hogwarts early on the morning of the April 30th, gliding high above the Scottish countryside.  The Malfoys hadn’t bothered with any of the complicated and difficult glamours that might have hidden the fortress from sight, and only the diligent work of the exhausted Obliviators and Professor Sinistra’s conjured cloud kept the Muggles from fussing.  The Declaration hung in the air like a black star, Hogwarts far below.

The students of Hogwarts, already disrupted by yesterday’s events, were now further restricted in their movements.  No one was allowed into the North Tower for Divination and Probability, no one was allowed into the greenhouses for Herbology, no one was allowed to play Quidditch or practice flying, and no one was allowed out to the stables or the Forbidden Forest for Care of Magical Creatures.  Some classes were canceled, although this was discouraged since it only meant chasing more gawking children away from windows.

At noon, a hue and cry spread from Gryffindor tower throughout the school as The Declaration of Intent began to move, once again.  Some faculty seized the opportunity for a teachable moment -- the Science Program first-years were required to calculate its velocity -- but all hope of an orderly learning environment ended when the Malfoy fortress gradually descended down onto the Hogwarts grounds.  The Declaration of Intent majestically subsided, moving in a tight spiral, until it settled down on the broad meadow outside the Hufflepuff greenhouses, along the path to Hogsmeade.  It alighted with delicate slowness.  Students from every house shoved and elbowed each other at every window on the south side of the school, fighting for a look.  An enterprising few had thought to bring their Omnioculars, renting them at a sickle a minute.

Only a few minutes later, the toothy black gate jerked and rattled upwards, and a hare that had been trapped inside The Declaration’s new courtyard bolted free.  And Lord Draco Malfoy and Lady Narcissa Malfoy, his mother, emerged.  A small, solemn, and grand retinue followed: Fila Zabini and her son Blaise; Gregory Goyle and his wife Sara; the Lady Gertrude Greengrass and the Lord Teddy Greengrass and their two daughters.  Kingsley Shacklebolt brought up the rear, his head held proudly high and a smile on his face.

The group had only walked for a short time before another group of people became visible below, walking out to meet them: Minister for Magic Carmel N’goma, Chief Warlock and Supreme Mugwump Amelia Bones, Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, Dean of the Science Program Harry Potter, and Hermione Granger.

The Honourable paused as the Government delegation approached, and the two sides faced each other at a distance of a dozen paces.  Words were exchanged, and Lord Malfoy nodded in response, gesturing behind him at The Declaration and then over at several of his companions.  One Slytherin, face glued to his Omnioculars, claimed to be able to read lips; he reported that the Lord Malfoy was making introductions, since several of the visitors had never met each other.

After a time, the two parties joined together into one group, and moved en masse back towards the rear of Hogwarts.  Grumbling children were pulled away from the windows, scolded for being chancers, and directed back to class.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

Harry sat in the discharge ward of the clinic in an unused enclosure, sitting on a cot and waiting.  He heard the quiet murmurs of the healers and aurors, interrupted at long intervals by someone’s rapid steps as a patient was moved.  Somewhere, Draco and his mother and some dozens of eminent persons were meeting and exchanging pleasantries.  Tonks was playing the role of Harry, under instructions to be warm in demeanour but quiet.  They’d make their way through Hogwarts to the Tower gradually, and eventually would enter the Extension Establishment, which was already stuffed with still more figures of worldwide fame and power.  There were representatives from the States, Canada, Russia, China, Korea, New Zealand, Italy, France, Norden, Spain, Germany… the list went on for pages, including a dozen fiddly magical city-states like Nakhchivan (which was, he had found out, within the Muggle state of Azerbaijan).

And at some point in the next hour, hopefully Nymphadora Tonks would find an opportunity and excuse to slip out to the clinic for a few minutes, and let the real Harry get to work.

It would be much more convenient if he could just temporarily change his face.

Harry’s Vow had no sense of degrees to it.  The possibility for action was a binary state: either he could do something, or it might destroy the world and so he couldn’t even consider doing it.  There was some threshold of permission, governed by his own unalloyed best judgment -- he wasn’t held hostage by extremely unlikely possible outcomes -- but there was never any partial obstruction.  He was capable of deciding to create a cubic millimeter of antimatter, since it wouldn’t destroy the world, and probably incapable of creating a cubic meter of antimatter, since it might (even assuming the logistics could be managed).  At some point between the two points, there was a decision point: an amount of antimatter that was just big enough to endanger the world.

It said a great deal about the power of the human mind and the possibilities behind the Unbreakable Vow that Harry couldn’t investigate these things in detail.  It might be interesting to figure out how his brain made the decision about the threshold of acceptable danger, if he could work out how to measure it (would his Vow stop him from pretending to decide to do something dangerous?)

For that matter, there were a lot of good reasons why you might want to have someone take an Unbreakable Vow to improve their rationality -- “I will assess my beliefs with epistemic investigation,” or the like -- but Harry had found himself unable to start that course of research, as well.  That made sense, of course.  It was incredibly dangerous to drastically alter one aspect of any person’s mind, when that person had access to magic.

Unfortunately, it was also dangerous for Harry to alter his own body with transfiguration and the Stone.  He could, and did, regularly check himself over for any new medical problems.  And when he’d found that that he had mild brachial plexus neurapraxia, he’d been able to fix that in just a few minutes (chalking it up to years of stress keeping his shoulders tense).

But changing his face just for an hour’s subterfuge?

It couldn’t be done.  There were accidents when transfiguring, and misjudgments, and all sorts of things that could go wrong.  There’d been times when a healer had needed to spend an hour on a transfiguration that had gone wrong on some deep level -- when the thick-spread magics around the Tower interfered with a delicate moment, or their concentration slipped, or a dozen other things.

So he sat, and waited.

“Oy, Harry,” said Tonks, slipping past the curtain into the little enclosure.  She was already half-changed back to her more typical appearance, shifting slightly in height as she redistributed her flesh.  “You ready?” she asked, as her hair shortened, darkened, and tipped itself with bright turquoise.  Her face was the last to change, giving him an uncomfortable view of exactly what it would look like if he grew breasts, changed his hair, and lost two inches of height.

“Absolutely,” he said, standing up.  He tugged on either side of his robes, to settle them more lightly on his shoulders, and adjusted his ponytail.  It was bound a little more loosely than usual, so that the front would droop just enough to hide some of his scar.  It would be less distracting to some people, a message of prestige to others, and a signal that he knew how to play the game to a select few who were canny enough to understand.

“The Malfoys knew it wasn’t you, but I’m not sure anyone else of that lot noticed,” said Tonks, adjusting her own robes.  “Best assume they’ve communicated, though.  I saw a bucket-load of meaningful stares into each other’s eyes.”

“Anything to report on the walk-through?  How did Minerva handle the intrusion?”  Harry asked.  He fished in his pocket for his left glove, and pulled it on.  It appeared identical to the right glove -- fingerless brown leather -- but the small extensible space on the palm held a different ancient relic of eldritch power than the Stone of Permanence.  Or a fragment of that relic, anyway.  The Cup of Midnight had long since been broken when they’d found its hiding place.

Tonks shrugged.  She reached inside her robes, shoving her arm up to her elbow deep into a small satchel that hung at her side.  “The Lord and Lady Greengrass were a bit smarmy about things, turning up their noses and talking about the reputation of Hogwarts and how it’d gone from being a school to being the government.”

“Not far off,” said Harry, frowning.  “I have sometimes regretted not setting up the new Tower somewhere in the Ministry building.  At the time, I thought it would help avoid any appearance of… influence.”

“Ol’ Kingsley put it right, anyway.  Took McGonagall's arm and said something smooth about how the government could have no better caretaker.  Not that the Headmistress needed the help.  She’s unflappable.  Cannot be flapped.”  Tonks extricated herself from her pocket, retrieving a golden gauntlet in the process.  She pulled it on, working the fingers back and forth until the gleaming piece of armor was comfortably situated.  The gauntlet seemed to have no angles, except for a sharp ridge along the knuckles where the chargers fit.  The fitted pieces of metal moved and slid flawlessly around each other as the witch waggled her fingers.

“Anything else I need to know?”  Tonks shook her head.  “All right, then.  See you out there,” said Harry.  She nodded at him, then returned her attention to her gauntlet, squinting at one of the chargers studding the top.  Harry left her and pushed through the curtain.

Six of the enclosures had their green flags up, so Harry spent a handful more minutes ducking in each and finalizing the healing as quickly as he could.  Only one of the patients -- a man named Ymir, whom Harry vaguely remembered -- had been brought conscious, so there was little need to chat.

Then he was out of excuses and delays and conversations, and so he squared himself off with the door and walked briskly out of the discharge ward, down the hall past the Conjuration Conjunction, and into the Extension Establishment.  Like all of the largest departments, the Establishment was to the rear of the Tower.  They needed the space.  It would be time to reorganize soon, actually… the Advancement Agency and Ypsilanti Yard needed more space, and there was no room to expand near their current position adjacent to the clinic’s special ward.  Although maybe he was being silly, thinking in such limited terms… why not just install some of the first stable pocket worlds here?  There’s no reason for all of them to be put in orbit.

Harry brushed past the pair of aurors at the door of the Establishment, and paused.

There were easily a hundred guests in the room -- diplomats, journalists, and leaders -- packed in the space with half again as many aurors.  They’d moved out every last piece of equipment and scrap of furniture to accommodate everyone, and even so, the room was uncomfortably crowded.  The fact that the crowd had divided itself into factions made things even worse: the Independents and Honourable had segregated themselves in one corner, Hermione was surrounded by all of her Returned in the center of the room, and everyone else had formed a thick-packed horseshoe of murmurs in the rest of the available space.  Five of the aurors had been pressed into service as waitstaff, and were carrying silver trays around the room with studiously neutral expressions, serving drinks brought in from the Conjuration Conjunction, next door.  He could smell mint; they’d cast Fresh-Air Charms to make the cramped quarters more comfortable.

As Harry appeared in the doorway, the conversations all rose in volume for an instant, then died away.  He smiled as pleasantly as he could, and reached to his left, where Norden’s Per Aavik-Söderlundh-Ellingsen was offering his hand and a smile of his own.  “Per, good to see you,” said Harry, with the rote warmth that came easily to him, these days.  “Thank you for coming.”

“You have a third of the Confederation in here,” said Per in his impressively deep voice, plucking at his goatee with his free hand.  “And much good news, I think.  You will wish to speak to the representative of the Court of Rubies, I think.  Perhaps before you make any other deals -- your hand will be stronger.”

We have China?  The possibility was exciting.  China had leather lungs among the Ten Thousand, and if they were signing on to the Treaty for Health and Life, then they’d want to press their advantage and bring in the rest of their neighbors on terms that continued their regional dominance.

“Thank you for the good word, Per,” said Harry.

“We remain as committed as ever, Harry… no light between Britain and Norden, yes?” said the bureaucrat, patting Harry’s shoulder.  Harry smiled and nodded, and moved on.  Another hand was already waiting: someone else eager to pass a bit of advice or a whispered secret or something else that might win them favor.

The Tower was ascendant.

He made his way around the room, moving through the close-packed witches and wizards with slow progress.  Aurors moved through the crowd with him -- Kraeme and Kwannon were on duty for him personally, and he could see them gently push between people to remain close at hand.  He had time to exchange no more than a few words with anyone, shaking each person’s hand and murmuring something blandly pleasant, speaking about his appreciation for their advice or compliment.

Harry did take the time to confer with three people for some minutes, pausing as he reached each of them and taking the time to have a more substantial conversation: Councilor Hig, the visitor from China, and Minister N’Goma.

Hig was all smiles, his delight almost physically palpable.  Harry was fairly sure that he’d walked out of the room having secured ten favours and twenty alliances, particularly since recent events had shown how much influence the Council of Westphalia -- and Hig personally -- wielded with the Tower.  The American had few specific things to say beyond warm congratulations and some cutting comments about Fila Zabini’s formal robes.  Harry couldn’t evade the trap, and said something noncommittal.  Hig’s grin widened, now that Harry had confirmed his suspicions about a body double, and Harry could only keep smiling and move on with a few evasive last words.

He Jin was quiet, and spoke approvingly of the quality of the firewhiskey that an auror had brought him.  He and Harry talked of firewhiskey generally, saying almost nothing pertinent to the current situation.  Harry didn’t know much about the topic, and asked some polite questions about the qualities of superior liquor.  At some point, He Jin mentioned that the Notables had become willing to consider the Tower’s proposal.  Harry nodded and moved on with the conversation, and after some time, he parted from the Chinese with a final expression of gratitude, knowing that the Court of Rubies had agreed to sign the Treaty on the offered terms.  It was a triumph.

N’Goma was a more awkward conversation.  Carmel N’Goma owed her office to him, and she knew it, and he was sure she resented it.  But the proud and insightful politician was always willing to listen to him, and seldom interfered with Percy Weasley, her “aide,” in any significant way.  There wasn’t much cause for complaint, especially when compared to her more antagonistic predecessors, such as Junius Simplewort Smith, but it was still uncomfortable when they spoke.  She discussed He Jin and the progress the Obliviators had made with cleaning up yesterday’s conflicts.  Harry was polite, but moved on as soon as it seemed like he’d given her enough respectful attention.  There were more important people to see.

Hermione met him as he walked towards the Honourable, stepping in alongside him.  Harry nodded to her, and she returned the nod.  The expression on her face was ambiguous -- he wasn’t sure if the twist to her mouth was anxiety or amusement.  Esther walked in Hermione’s wake, golden gauntlet on one hand and a wary look on her face.

The crowd murmured.  Gathered people parted.  Harry stiffened.

Draco.

One hand rested on the silver snake-head of his father’s cane.  His mother held his other arm, her face wearing a fixed smile of obvious falsity.  She was looking elsewhere, pointedly.  Draco, on the other hand, was staring right at Harry.  He looked noble -- or rather like one would hope from nobility, although Harry had found that reality usually fell short.  The head of House Malfoy wore a black Muggle suit with a sharply-colored tie like a vertical slash of serpentine green.  The clothing wasn’t only ironic, but it also served to accentuate his trim athleticism.  He was watching Harry with a smirk on his face.

“If you have seen to your patients, Mr. Potter-Evans-Verres,” said Draco, “shall we speak of recent events?”

The voice brought back a flood of memories.

“Hello.  Hogwarts, too?”

“Father once missed a Wizengamot vote for me. I was on a broom and I fell off and broke a lot of ribs. It really hurt. I'd never hurt that much before and I thought I was going to die. So Father missed this really important vote, because he was there by my bed at St. Mungo's, holding my hands and promising me that I was going to be okay."

"So.  Science. You're going to tell me about blood."

"You call that a warning?  You call that a warning? When we're doing a ritual that calls for a permanent sacrifice? "

“Allies?”  “Allies.”

"I'll help you fix the problem with Slytherin House hating Muggleborns.  And I'll say it was sad that Lily Potter died."

"But let's get one part of it straight.  You wronged me. And you owe me."

"You should die.  You should die for having killed Father."

“If you can give me that, I will do anything.  I will do anything.  I will break the world, if I have to.  But if you fail to hold up your end, I will break you, instead.  Do you understand me, Potter?”

“Granger can’t handle this, Potter.  She can’t cast it.  And she’s killing herself with trying.”

“Harry… no...  Oh, Harry… what will we do?  What can we do?”

“I am the knife.  And it will be a grand thing… to cut.”

Harry blinked rapidly, but could feel tears running down his cheeks, anyway.  That was okay.  Maybe even desirable, he thought distantly.  It would humanize him, and it would be a story, and it really didn’t matter worth a damn anyway since he couldn’t have stopped crying, even if he’d wanted to.

“Yes, Lord Malfoy.  We can speak in the meeting room?” Harry said.  His throat felt like it was closing up with emotion, but his voice sounded weirdly normal.  “We can agree on some basic things, I think, before we are joined by the many people who deserve to speak their piece.”

“Agreed,” said Draco calmly.

Harry stepped back a pace and raised one arm to indicate the door, bowing his head slightly in high style.  It was a dramatic gesture, and put everyone’s eyes on Draco again for a moment, while Harry pulled himself together.

Theatre for the masses.

Draco nodded.  He turned to kiss his mother’s cheek, gave his friend Gregory Goyle his own reassuring nod, and walked towards the door.  Harry and Hermione followed.  Draco’s cane tapped loudly on the stone underfoot as they left, cutting through the renewed whispers of the representatives of the world’s great powers.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

One month ago
Somewhere

Fenrir Greyback was a ruin of scars and blood.  Werewolves must have prey.  The call of the moon induces a blood-madness among the cursed.  If they have no prey, then they worry at their own flesh.

There are ways to mitigate the suffering, of course.

The most brutal method is for the werewolf to simply arrange prey to hunt during the full moon.  The savage wolf will not turn on itself so long as it can savour the richness of human flesh.  In the old times, certain warlords of India were known to indulge themselves in this manner, believing that the lives their beast-selves consumed would perpetuate their own.  More than one legend hints that this was the very origin of lycanthropy, born from the desperate efforts of a mad mage to preserve his youth.

More humane lycanthropes were forced to try to restrain their animal selves, designing and constructing pit traps or bonds that would hold the raging wolf.  While the wolf could tear steel like soft cheese, willing goblins would sell so-called “crinos chains” that were impervious to tooth and muscle.  Unfortunately, this led to an easy way for the wizarding authorities to trace and hunt down the lycanthrope purchaser, so far too many werewolves chose not to run the risk.  Many more innocents were maimed or killed as a result.

The miracles of modern potioneering, however, have allowed the lycanthropes of today to consume the Wolfsbane Potion.  This amazing elixir can’t prevent the change, but it does stop the transformed wolf from being driven into a rage.  For twenty years, werewolves have been able to stop the excesses of their beast-selves.

Soon enough, however, the knowledge of that potion may pass from memory, for there has been a cure for lycanthropy for nearly five years.  The brilliant wizards of the Tower discovered it, and the story passed in whispers from sufferer to sufferer.

Not everyone sought the cure at first, fearing that it was a trick.  Such ploys had been tried before by wizard governments, and those accursed with the greatest hope often paid the greatest price.  But when one friend after another returned, wiped clean of their moon-taint, even the most cynical of lycanthropes let themselves be persuaded to take the trip to the Tower.  They were not disappointed.  Very nearly every one of them had gone.

Not Fenrir Greyback.

Fenrir was a werewolf at war.  He had sworn eternal opposition to the government, to the uncursed, to Muggles, and to anyone and everyone else.  His resentment was as unreasoning and savage as the beast he became each month.

It has been said that no one is ugly from the inside.  But Fenrir had nothing but hatred in him, burning him up like a hot coal of spite.  It burned in his belly and distorted his mind.  Was he insane?  Was he sick?  Was he evil?

Semantics.

Fenrir was a werewolf at war, and let that be enough for now.

There was no end to the war, even now, as he wept with anger and beat at the bars of his cage.  Chains shackled him to the wall, bolted there with spikes of metal as thick as his human wrist.

An elf would come and feed him, sometimes.  He didn’t know how long it was between the meals -- hours? days? -- when the sneering elf in a ragged belt would throw him thick chunks of meat.  And sometimes he would wake up with blood in his mouth.  That was how he kept track of the months.  That was how he knew he was being used.



2 comments:

  1. All things considered, you have never mentioned India anywhere up till this point. And now the first introduction you make includes lycanthropy? Not that it can be changed now, nor do I take offense, but I simply ask, WHY?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are mistaken. Krishna's Butterball in Mahabalipuram is referenced in the third chapter, among other references to India.

      Delete