03 November 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Seven: Zero Sum





Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Seven: Zero Sum


April 29th, 1999
2:00 pm
John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)

After some deliberation, Hermione had arranged herself in the Material Methods annex that had previously been used for the crowd watching the satellite launch.  She’d been tempted to go to Powis, but it was too inconvenient for everyone else.  Going to Powis would also have meant a risky move of Nikitas Seyhan -- who would be a target today -- to some other location.  Better to let Simon look after Nikitas and the others in secrecy and safety while the rest of the Returned marshalled at the Tower: Tonks, Urg, Hyori, Susie, Esther, and Charlevoix.

Cedric Diggory, Alastor Moody, and their immediate staff joined her and the Returned a half-hour later, and at some point -- midway through sticking personnel lists on the wall with a wad of blue-tac -- she’d suddenly realized that this had become the war room of the Tower and the Government.  They were all prepared with ideas and plans; she, Cedric, and Alastor had spent months and years urging stronger action, even as the Malfoys’ informal organization became the more structured Honourable and eventually began pushing their Treaty of Independence.  Now she, Cedric, and Alastor had thrown themselves into an across-the-board assault on every aspect of the opposition, hoping to move with such speed that a bloodless war could be finished before the enemy even knew it had begun.  Her task of coordinating forty aurors had turned into helping organize everyone in these hours -- before she took the field herself, and left everything in the hands of Cedric and Alastor.  Even with her help, they would have an incredibly complex task.

The war room was a welter of parchments and people, with runners sprinting in and out at irregular intervals.  A massive table, swiftly transfigured into existence, had been joined by stools, chairs, desks, and anything else necessary for the moment.

Aurors had been called to duty from wherever they were with hasty Howlers and Patronus messages, and even a dozen retired aurors had been re-activated.  The Hit Wizard squads were all recalled, the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol was called up, the Witch Watchers were put on alert and restationed, and every other department of the Ministry of Magic and the Tower were notified.  Everyone useful and reliable was being urged into service, in a way not seen since Grindelwald’s War.

Not all we could have wished for, though, Hermione thought, as she mounted an updated list of the missing or unavailable on the wall.  It was sorted by department, and it showed some serious gaps in their forces.  Very nearly all the aurors and Hit Wizards were sorted and on duty, but a third of the Patrol hadn’t answered their summons, and more than half the Witch Watchers weren’t willing or able to report.

“Alastor,” she said, turning around.  “Have you seen this?”  Moody looked up from the enormous table where he was working.  He had a scowl on the face he was wearing, but neither his oft-changing features nor his customary glower could hide his rough-edged pleasure in the situation.

“Yes, I’ve seen it.  Not a bit of it surprising, and only half-complete,” he said.

Half-complete?  It’s been almost an hour, there aren’t going to be many more stragglers.  No, he means only half the work is done.

“You mean Malfoy agents in our ranks,” she said, frowning.  “You’re right.”

Hermione glanced at the other side of the room, where assignments were being sorted out.  “We need three fake stations.  Two obvious, and one subtle.  Susie, Esther, and Ernst,” she said, naming two of her Returned and one of Cedric’s aides.  The two witches and the hirsute young Ernst responded immediately, approaching with movements informed by urgency.  “Get names from Alastor and pick two dummy assignments.  Malfoy Manor and… oh, somewhere else pointless.  Put the most obvious spies or people with weak knees at those places, except for one or two.  Put those one or two on regular assignment at one of the priority locations, but assign someone trustworthy to stick to them, and tell someone else trustworthy about that.”

Glancing over at Alastor, she saw his scowl deepen.  She smiled and held up a chiding finger.  “I’m not done, Alastor!”

Levels and levels.

She turned back to the three assistants.  “Put the rest of the suspicious lot in a third dummy location, and then tell half of them to watch the other half, and then a random third of them to watch the other half watching the first half.  And tell one last one of them that he’s the only trustworthy one, and he needs to catch the rest of them.  Then come up with something stressful for them… I don’t know, see if Luna can spare any of her critters.”

Ernst froze in confusion, but the other two were already in motion again.  Susie dragged Ernst away with them by the sleeve, and began explaining matters to him in a whisper.

“Let’s see Carrow figure that out,” she said, turning back to Alastor.  “Hard to plan a response or your own attack when you don’t know who is your ally, who was a fair-weather friend, and who is taking this opportunity to switch sides.”

He huffed.  “Wouldn’t hold up in a real war -- it would collapse under the weight of all the logistics.  More likely someone will slip up and a real mess will result than that you’d catch some real traitors.”

“Tactics aren’t strategy,” Hermione replied, lightly, turning back to the list of the absent and raising a pencil to make notes.  “It doesn’t need to confuse the enemy for a year, just for a day.”  Despite everything, she was enjoying herself.  If all went well, thousands more lives could be saved.  For that matter, there was a good chance they’d look back on tonight as the night when the entire project of defeating death took a giant step forward.

She turned on her toe with a twirl and stepped over to the table.  “So then, we’ll need response squads.  I’m not so worried about the Honourable, but Harry, Reg, and Amelia are tweaking the nose of every Independent, and Russia was already talking about war.”  Those three and their own team of go-betweens and assistants were managing the unbelievably complicated political fallout from the day’s actions.  There was some danger, of course, but far more opportunity.  Hig was pushing to have the Council officially endorse the Treaty for Health and Life that afternoon, which probably necessitated arranging that Councilor Strongbound and his allies be unavoidably detained for a few hours.  This opened up an opportunity to make threats and promises to other key states around the world.  If everything went well, the American agreement could snowball to a dozen other countries.  After that, they’d be within striking distance of a majority of the Confederation -- and a second try at an International Statute for Health and Life.

She went on.  “The Returned and I will be out the door within the hour, which will leave you and Cedric to coordinate here.”  She gestured over at the handsome Head of the DMLE, who was scribbling parchment notes furiously, handing them to an aide with curt instructions, listening to her all the while. “I thought we’d best do with the four Hit Wizard teams, and then put together an irregular group of some of the aurors -- we’ll ask Cedric who’ll be best, maybe the old Advance Guard, and then whichever squads Reg can send over.  I think he’s calling in the Brahmins and some of the Russell Institute faculty.  You can--”

Alastor held up a hand to still her.  “I won’t be here.  I’ll be out in the field, too.”

You can’t possibly be this vainglorious, Alastor, Hermione thought, as she trailed off.  She raised her eyebrows and gave him a frank look.

“There are things to do, missy,” he said, turning away.  His body was heavy shouldered and bulky, fairly similar to his original body, but he still moved with swift assurance.  His body language was clear: I’m more experienced than you.  And more importantly, I don’t bloody answer to you.

“I hope they’re important things,” she said, and left it at that.  She turned and scanned the room.  “Tonks!  You’re tapped to work with Cedric and coordinate responses!”  Tonks looked over from the corner, where she’d been handing a stack of messages to a runner.  Her hair reddened in surprise.

“Are you sure?  You don’t want me with you, out there?”

Hermione shook her head.  “Not this time.  We need you here.”

Tonks shoved parchments into the runner’s hands and moved to Hermione in a half-run, half-walk.  She took Hermione’s hands in her own.  “When I said I thought I might want to go back to the aurors… you know that--”

“Don’t be stupid,” Hermione said.  She leaned in and pecked Tonks on the cheek.  “I just need a friend here, to keep an eye on Cedric Lockhart and make sure he doesn’t take a break to check his mascara.”

“I can hear you,” said Cedric, irritably.  He frowned for a moment, then returned his attention to scribbling the latest order.

“Break that silver-haired bollocks over your knee,” said Tonks with a grin, and turned back to the table.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

4:00 pm
Tallow and Hemp Toxic Tapers, Knockturn Alley, London

Tallow Enser burst through the shop door like a rampaging bull.  He whirled about and slammed it shut with one big hand, throwing the bolt and bar with the other.  His partner, “Hemp” Lock, stared at him, her chubby face incredulous.  “Wotcher, Tallie!”

“Word’s out on more raids, and the streetses is crawling with reevies!” said Tallow.  He dashed to the shop-window, yanked down the rattling wooden screen to cover it, and pulled out his wand.  “Colloshoo!  Colloportus!”  He turned to the shop door.  “Colloportus!”  Hemp could see that the back and underarms of his robes were soaked with sweat, dark Vs staining the unclean fabric.

“They’ve gotten Bigby and Mord,” said Tallow, whirling around and looking for other possible entrances.  His face was shiny with perspiration, and his bulging eyes were even more protuberant than usual.  “I hear they said they’re sending all they get right to Howie, Wiz-pull or no!”

Hemp stuck her thumb into the hole at the bottom of the till, and the drawer sprang open.  She snatched up a hempen bag from under the counter, and began scooping handfuls of coins into it.  “Right then, we better get the week’s take and meet up somewhere safe.  My uncle’s got a place in Kent, lots of Muggles around.  Good place to lay by for a bit.  We’ll go there.”

Tallow scoffed, dipping his head so he could swipe at his brow with one sleeve.  “You’re barking!  Want to try to dance past half the Patrol!?  There’s aurors out there!  Stick tight and we’ll find someplace to hide here -- we’ll just put up a wall in one corner, they’re not going to Finite every last board.”

“Do what you want, mate,” said Hemp, calmly, as she lashed the bag in her hand shut with a length of twine.  She pulled her wand from her pocket, and touched it to the bag.  “Silencio.”

“Well, you’re not taking the lot, if you’re going!  I was in all Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and we haven’t done the split!”  Tallow turned to face her, putting his hands on his hips, indignantly.  His wand was still in his hand, Hemp noticed.  She decided not to put her own away, either.

“No time,” she said.  “I’ll make accounts first thing -- hell, I’ll take a bloody picture, you’ll know just to the Knut what’s your cut.”

“My left gobstone, not bloody likely!” Tallow objected.

“I can’t leave it here, it’ll just get nicked if we’re hiding out or slapped in Howie, Tallie!” said Hemp, her tone rising.

“It’s as good as nicked if you take it!”

“I’m going!”

“You thieving bint!”

“Leggo!”

“My arm!  Getoffit!”

“Fat fool, let me go or I’ll--”

“Ow!  Ow!  Stop!”

“Pbhet me ger!”

“Stop!  Stop, I’m bleeding!”

“Leggo!  Merlin, don’t you wash?  Ugh!”

The aurors must have been quiet when they tried the door, or else the squabbling pair had simply missed the sound of the knob or the Alohomora.  Either way, Tallow and Hemp only noticed they had company when Auror Michael Li blew the door apart with a concussive explosion.  The two corpulent business partners froze in their position on the floor, where they were tangled and fighting over the moneybag.

“Laura Lock and Tallow Enser, you are under arrest for the unlicensed distribution of a controlled substance.  You’ll be coming with us.”

Tallow collapsed flat on the floor, clutching his face with his hands, and burbled something unintelligible.  Hemp rolled away, sighing, and heaved herself to her feet.  “Your bloody fault, Tallie.”

Two other aurors marched inside with Li.  He stood at the door, shaking his head.  “Stop your blubbering, Tallow.  Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of company.”


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

Very nearly the same time
Office of the Thunderer, Boyar Duma, Moscow, Russia

“--and so it comes to this, Your Excellency,” said Special Envoy of the Wizengamot Alexander Alexandrovitch, drawing himself up to his full considerable height and trying to reveal nothing of his sickening anxiety.  “There is no natural right for the domovoi to subvert the will of Magical Russia, and the gathered nations of the world will not permit it.  Life and Health or Independent, no one can countenance a mob turning the shaft of the cart whichever way they please, no matter what innocents suffer in the meantime.  We will accept nothing less than a fair and independent plebiscite… although let me also assure you that we will abide by its outcome.”

The Thunderer of the Conclave of the Domovoi turned his head and spat into the fire, deliberately and with great feeling.  He answered the message in Russian, though his English was excellent, and his words were thick with anger.  “Нашла́ коса́ на ка́мень.  Теперь… пошел вон.”

Even had Alexandrovitch not been fluent in Russian, the answer would be clear.  As he bowed his way out of the Thunderer’s office, he felt his stomach turn over in distress.  There was a small acid belch rising like a hot bubble of acid in his belly, and he hurried even more so that he might be able to make it out of the building before he vomited.  This was reckless and unwise, and there would be immediate consequences.  The domovoi would be called again, and would vote in favor of a violent response.  Their pride would admit nothing less.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

Simultaneously
The Court of Rubies, Hangzhou, China

It was just after midnight, but none of the assembled Notables had raised a word of complaint.  For while their system of government was modeled in large part on the British Wizengamot and Ministry of Magic -- a cause for considerable complaint in many circles, considering the cultural coercion that many called the cause of British dominance -- their own cultural heritage informed their attitude.  They were serious wizards and witches, educated and experienced and ambitious, and time had no meaning in the pursuit of duty.

The formal request had been phrased in the most courteous but urgent language that Supreme Mugwump Bones could devise, and had been delivered to He Jin by her personal Patronus.  He had considered the implications of her urgency and the irregularity of the request for a meeting of the Court at this hour.  The conclusions he might draw are his own affair, however, since He Jin kept his own counsel on the matter as he took the necessary steps to summon the other Notables.

They all sat in respectful silence as they listened to the Special Envoy from the Wizengamot.  Sunny Chow was someone they all knew well, since she was very diligent and had often lunched with them individually to discuss issues of the day.  She spoke at considerable length, making a plain case for her government and for the Tower’s proposal.  They wanted to be fair, she said.  They had word that the Council of Westphalia had endorsed the Treaty for Health and Life.  They had agreed with the Council on special and generous entrance terms for the American states that acted on this endorsement, and wished to extend the same offer to other states.  This would only be a temporary circumstance, however.

Chow began to lay out anew the case for the Treaty -- the end of illness and disability, the promise of immortality, the possibility of new wealth from their arithmancers, and other benefits.  After some time, He Jin rose from his seat among the Notables, and Chow fell respectfully silent.  He Jin didn’t think they needed to hear the same arguments for the hundredth time, although he only offered his polite thanks for her efforts and grace.  He said that they appreciated her elegant words in service of a good cause, and had nothing but the deepest regret that they could not accommodate her.  Nothing had changed, he said, for they still could not submit to a program that shipped their people across the world and brought them back changed in profound ways.  For all the benefits, he said, she must understand that they had been taught to be cautious of such things.  This was not something on which they could give way, he said, for if they were in error, it would likely be the last error the Court of Rubies could ever make.

But unlike at previous times, Chow now hesitated.  Would the wise He Jin accept something only just short of his preference?  She deeply regretted that they could neither duplicate the Tower facility nor place it under Chinese control, but she had been newly-authorized to offer a compromise: a Chinese facility segregated within the Tower, and a Chinese Receiving Room that would feed patients directly to it.  She had to admit that these new facilities might eventually become simply for the use of all the Ten Thousand, as they joined the Treaty, and that Chinese aurors and healers might thus be assuming quite a responsibility if they agreed to this proposal, but this was the best possibility she could offer their great nation.

He Jin sat back down.  He said only that the Notables appreciated her courtesy and willingness to listen to different points of view, and that they would give her generous offer their fullest consideration.

Chow apologized once more for the lateness of the hour, praised them for their wisdom and courtesy, and thanked them for listening to her poor presentation.

She left.

The Notables conferred.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)

One of the most sacred values of the Council of Westphalia was free and open debate, even to the point of officially considering whoever was holding the floor during proceedings to be literally sacrosanct.  But in the span of the last hour, Harry had seen Hig arrange to have twelve councilors detained so that they would miss an important floor vote, strong-arm elected representatives of the Magical Congress into holding an impromptu session that evening, and give specific and uncompromising orders about using some of the vast amount of illicitly-obtained letters and conversations held by Council spies.

How is it that they have embraced the Enlightenment value of free discourse so completely, but don’t give democracy or privacy a second thought?  Harry wondered.  I need to set a date to talk about this with him… it’s too useful for us, and it’s only going to get more tempting as we start working more closely together.  There will always be some pressing reason not to bring it up right that moment.  Harry looked over at the ill-favoured American with grease-licked hair and small eyes, and frowned.  Like now, for example.  I could step over there now and tell him not to use any of that to help us.

He looked to the other end of the room, where Amelia Bones was standing calmly, giving almost ceaseless direction to a pack of seven youthful wizards and witches, each of whom seemed to wordlessly know exactly who had which task.  Most of them had the distinctive, subtle look of rejuvenation: regular features, no blemishes, and unusually healthy skin.  Amelia was known to favour people who got the treatment; she said they were more energetic.  Rejuvenation had made her more vibrant, certainly… but nonetheless she was still ruthless.  She’d call him stupid for even considering giving up the advantages offered by Hig’s lack of scruples.

He sighed, and shook his head.  Another night.  Not tonight.  Too much depended on tonight, and he was really only feeling guilty because he and his cause were directly benefiting from the Westphalian abuse of their own people, and because he was paying particularly close attention to them.  They’d been reading half of Europe's and America’s correspondence yesterday, too, and the day before that.  Today wasn’t special, except that now that wrongdoing was particularly useful to the cause.  He was being stupid and short-sighted.

Need to get back on track and out of my head.  Okay… Amelia is handling allies and new propositions.  She looked to have it well in hand, and would ask if she needed guidance or help.  He’d already authorized contingent terms that envoys would be permitted to offer, if necessary.  Absurdly generous terms, in some instances.  The amounts offered to “subsidize research” in Magical New Zealand was more than their usual annual government budget.  He’d wager some eyes would be popping out of heads when that particular message was announced at the Octagon in Dunedin.

Harry himself had handled the more aggressive gestures, trying to be rude enough for a causus belli without outright taunting or stepping over the line.  They needed dramatic and decisive confrontations today, while the Independent states might still be feeling strong and united enough to push back on them.  Hig had called it the “Caesar model of management”: aggravate the enemy into precipitous action, then be outlandishly kind and merciful in the aftermath.  He’d had a strange look on his face when he’d said it.

Harry glanced over at Hig now.   He’s working on the Americas as best he can, to try to set up the snowball effect we’re seeking.  The States now, Canada next, and then… Brazil?  He’d best stay out of that, as well.  So far, Hig had needed nothing from him, but he was sure the Westphalian would feel comfortable making any requests necessary to move things along.  The American seemed entirely invested in their alliance at this point.  We were going to have him appoint an envoy, but maybe that’s not even necessary.  With portkeys, it’s not as though it would be much more inconvenient to have him work with us in person.  That sort of thing would need a mask of convenience -- “Office of the Special Liaison” or something -- but might make more sense.

I should go check on Cedric, and see how the security arrangements are coming.

“Mr. To-- Mr. Potter, sir, a message,” came a voice at his elbow.  Harry turned to find a runner waiting, message in her outthrust hand.  She was a student -- looked to be sixth or seventh year.  He took it wordlessly, and the runner left at a jog, heading out the door in the direction of Material Methods.  Relying on actual “runners” seemed asinine, but Moody had insisted; it was too easy for one spy to anonymously fake dozens of false Self-Delivering Memos, the more customary paper-airplane delivery method.

Almost at the same time, another runner appeared at the door with messages for Harry and Hig.

Harry opened up the messages.  The first one was marked as a dispatch from the Ministry of Magic from Auror Bahry.  Harry didn’t know the man, but he’d heard the name.

ATTACK ON MINISTRY.  CAPPADOCIANS.  ESTIMATE 40.  10 CASUALTIES ALREADY.  REINFORCEMENTS NEEDED.

The second message was marked as an American dispatch.  Harry didn’t recognize the name of the sender -- Alain McCaffrey -- but he supposed it was a local auror commander.

COUNCIL UNDER SIEGE BY RUSSIAN AND CAUCASUS FORCES.  DRAGONS RELEASED.  ALL IS WELL.

Hig’s must be about the same incident, since Harry could see a slight smile on the Westphalian’s face.  No time to dwell on it, though.

Harry rushed out the door, striding with quick steps towards Material Methods.  They needed a response team at the Ministry -- two of the Hit Wizard squads, perhaps.  By the time he got there, they’d probably already be deployed, but Harry could compose his diplomatic messages -- his own part in responding to these sorts of incidents -- while he walked, and it would reassure him to check up on it.

He hoped they sent someone effective.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡


The Ministry of Magic, Whitehall, London

“Take the east, sun at your backs!  Hyori, come with me!” shouted Hermione over the wind, straightening up in her seat on the broom and pointing down to the east end of the building.  The Returned split up: Susie, Urg, Esther, and Charlevoix went swooping off where she directed, while Hyori settled in tight on Hermione’s right as the Goddess directed herself to the west.

Pillars of air blasted upward around them almost immediately, as the forces of the Exarchate of Cappadocia caught sight of them from the ground below.  Hermione kicked up her broom and then dropped it down in a sharp curve, and the attacks went far astray.  From the corner of her eye, she could see Hyori was still with her, unharmed.

There were fifteen Cappadocians outside the Ministry, clumped together in groups of three.  Two of the groups had turned their attentions to Hyori and herself, but Hermione could see that the rest were still exchanging curses with two aurors who had taken shelter within a recessed brick entryway on the side of the building.  They were out of sight and obscured by dust and sparks, but she could see the occasional arm and wand pop out as they tried to fight off their nine attackers.  Two Cappadocians were down, but she didn’t see any British casualties; their Safety Sticks must have already sent them on to the Tower when they fell.

Or there was nothing left, she thought grimly.  How serious are these attacks?  Are they meant to assert “independence” and strength, or is this the first step in an attempt at armed regime change?

It had been about two seconds -- her opponents would be casting again.  “Break!” Hermione shouted, and leaned hard to the left.  Hyori swept her own broomstick to the right, and another pillar of air and four red-flickering curses ripped through the space between them.

Hermione swooped low immediately, using the roof of the city buildings surrounding the Ministry to block the line of sight of her opponents.  Their angle was poor from their position on the ground.  On the other hand, she couldn’t see them, either.  She’d have to move quickly, otherwise they’d be able to concentrate their fire on the two aurors, and they’d be inside.  She glanced down at the building below her -- an HSBC building, where she had her own Muggle accounts, and slowed her broom.  Then, with a liquid leap, she pushed herself off her broomstick.  

The fall was only twenty feet, but she still made sure to bend her knees in the air.  Otherwise, she might go right through the roof like an arrow.  She’d learned that the hard way.  Landing on her knees would mean much more surface area would absorb her impact, so she’d be less likely to punch right through.

There was a moment of weightlessness as the roof rushed up at her, and then she smashed into the roof.  But she didn’t land quite right, despite her natural grace.  She’d misjudged the angle or something, she couldn’t be sure, and the impact made her whip forward -- she smashed her face right into the slates of the roof.  She felt them crackle around her head like loose stones.

“Nngh!” she heard herself grunt, as she wrenched herself back upright.  She couldn’t see properly out of her left eye -- her vision from that eye was swerving sickeningly, and she had the uncomfortable thought that it might have come free from the socket -- and her face sizzled with pain.  But she was up and moving again in a second, running to the edge of the roof.

Bullesco!”  she cast, and she felt the Bubblehead Charm swell from one nostril -- broken bone crackled with its passage.  Her pace didn’t even slow as she approached the roof’s edge and raised her wand, sweeping it in a short arc in front of her.  “Reducto!  Reducto!  Reducto!”

This is probably not very considerate to the Obliviators...

The roof-edge exploded in a shower of slates, stone, and cement dust, erupting out over the street.  She leapt straight into it.

...and it must be ruining my boots.

She hit the asphalt on the street below flawlessly, letting the impact rock through her and dropping into a crouch.  It was loud, too -- she could hear the boom echo off of the buildings around her.  She could hear shouting in Greek, and someone was coughing and choking.  Not everyone had reacted in time, it seemed.

The pain in Hermione’s face was fading, and her vision swam back into synchronicity as she healed.  She felt her blood sing with excitement in her veins, and found herself -- just for a moment, just for a fleeting moment that barely stung, now -- missing Granville.

Above her, she heard Hyori shout, “Stupefy!  Stupefy!”  The Returned had landed on the same roof, and was providing covering fire.  Hermione didn’t know if Hyori had hit anything, but it would force the Cappadocians to split their attention three ways.  Hermione holstered her wand, and took off at a run for the sound of the coughing, charging into the billowing white concrete dust that was drifting around them.

She found the person coughing in a moment -- a Cappadocian witch.  She was on the ground, and another one of the enemy was holding his wand to her chest -- casting Anapneo, no doubt.  A third Cappadocian wizard had his wand up and was standing in a duelist’s stance.

Hermione was only a few paces away from the trio before she saw their dark forms through the thick cloud of dust.  She didn’t bother with her wand, and didn’t slow down, bursting in on them from out of the drifting concrete powder.

“Ha!” she grunted, lashing out at the duelist with a fist.  He jerked back in surprise as she appeared, and her punch missed.  Hermione followed it with a second to his ribs, however, and that one cracked home.  She felt his side cave in beneath her clenched fist, and was already moving on to his companions before he had time to crumple to the ground.  The cougher was still wracked with spasms on the ground, but the second Cappadocian was wheeling around to aim at her with his wand.  She bent at the waist and pushed off with her right foot, bringing it spinning around even as she heard a barked curse and felt the numbing sizzle of a just-missing stunner flicker over the flesh on her bent back.  Her whirling foot lifted in a kick as she spun in a full circle, and crashed into the man’s shoulders.  He was lifted bodily, thrown to the side by the sheer force of the blow.

She called up her coin-changer from her pouch, taking a moment to thump the side of her breathing-bubble with a palm and clear away the drifting dust that was beginning to settle on it.  Ker-chak.  Ker-chak.  Ker-chak.  She sent the three Cappadocians on their way, replaced the coin-changer, and dropped into a crouch again as she assessed the situation.

Stupefy!  Stupefy!  Stupefy!” she heard Hyori shout from above.  Some of the enemy began to return fire, casting back their own curses.  She could see the flickering red and green lights, a dozen feet away.  Hermione grinned, and reached for her pouch again.  “Gauntlet,” she said to it.

Pulling her gleaming gauntlet of gold onto her right hand, the Goddess leapt into motion.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

6:00 pm
John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)

The Ministry.  Boston.  Nurmengard.  Howard Prison.  Diagon Alley.  There were small conflicts breaking out all over.  And every single one seemed to be in control.  Harry frowned.

He’d asked Luna to clear out a section of the Vision Verge for him, so he could have a quiet corner to himself -- just for a few minutes, at least.  It hadn’t worked very well, since he’d had seven visitors in the past ten minutes, but it was less distracting.  He could focus.  He could think.

If I were Draco trying to react to this, and trying to predict what Harry would do to such a reaction, and knowing that Harry was in turn trying to predict that counter-reaction, what would I do?  Even that’s not really enough levels, given the situation, but for this purpose, it will do.

Harry will try to perceive a pattern in the attacks and use that pattern to deduce the missing information… either where I am directing a redundant attack, or launching a hidden attack, or trying to co-opt a strong position during the confusion, or trying to draw attention away.  My goals are probably to protect my own position and that of my mother, and to make this day appear to be a mixed result, allowing me to claim victory against an overwhelming force.  I want to cast doubt on the Treaty for Health and Life.  I want to persuade more states to join the Independents.

“I activate my agents in the Tower, and strike at the source.  Nothing else matters if I cast doubt on the center of my enemy’s power,” Harry said to himself, slowly.

I have been waiting for this, since I could see the writing on the wall as well as Harry.  I know he’s been going easy on me.  I have several of his agents on hand, including some double agents, and I know about some triple agents.

There was someone behind him.  Another runner.  He held up a hand in a “wait” motion -- he needed to finish this train of thought.  Then Harry clasped his hands behind his back, and devoted every fibre of his mind to thought.

I know Harry Potter very well, and I know a bit about how he thinks.  If I launch a pair of frontal and hidden attacks on the Tower, he’ll deal with the frontal and plan for the hidden.  He’s cautious.  He’s also prepared -- any simple attack is likely to fail.  I don’t want to just destroy the place, since otherwise I’d be using Safety Sticks to send in different kinds of bombs until I succeeded, but I do want to disrupt or co-opt it.

The person behind him impatiently shifted their feet, but Harry kept his mind on the task at hand.  Everything might depend on this.  This was something about which he’d often thought, but this new situation… he had to reconsider his prior conclusions.

I worshipped my father, and quote him often, including oft-repeated Malfoy family advice about the complexity of plans.  And I know Harry knows this, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  So the best way to circumvent the world’s best security and the world’s most devious spymaster is probably to simply take advantage of a known weakness, rather than try a complicated plan that attacks strength.  I will find the simplicity appealing, especially since I can imagine Harry Potter running in circles to try to invent fantastical chains of logic and predict my attack.

“Excuse me.”

Harry Potter’s weaknesses are his interpersonal skills (not as bad as before, but still not great), his arrogance, his ambition, and his sentimentality.  Possible avenues of attack at these weaknesses include using a triple agent and turning them again with more ruthless leverage than Harry will exert or drawing him into making himself vulnerable by giving him an opportunity to prove his own cleverness to himself.  On a night like tonight, I will use any and all contingencies, so maybe I will attack on both lines.

“I said, excuse me.”

Knowing my own weaknesses, I will also try to compensate for them in a manner that cannot be countered.  Maybe an element of randomness in my planning… using dice or--

“Turn around.”  The words were a growl, and Harry was startled out of his train of thought, and he finally processed the voice.

“What is it?” he asked, turning around.  He kept his hands clasped behind his back, lifting the right one enough to reach the wand in the dueling holster of his sleeve.

“Hello there, Mr. Potter,” said Amycus Carrow.  Lawrence Bradwian and Annabeth Dakesang stood in front of him.  Lawrence’s eyes were rimmed with red, and Annabeth was shivering.

“Ah.  Yes,” said Harry.  “Hello.”


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

7:00 pm
Remote Cautionary Platform, Antarctica

“You’re in service to the new Dark Lord… only this one will see all of our wands broken in our hands, and the Muggles in charge!” spat Scarlett Meroveni-Bowles.  Her hair was usually frizzy, but the air here was so dry that it had begun to look like a furry helmet.  It made her rhetoric less impressive than it might have been otherwise.  She gave the silver sphere of a spaceship a savage kick, trying to dislodge it, but it had no more effect than her curses had produced.

“My hovercraft is full of eels!” called back Neville Longbottom, helpfully, from his position behind a metal cabinet.  The cabinet was scorched, and much of the Lovegood Leaf draped on it to protect the equipment on its shelves had been burnt away.

“What does that mean?!” shrieked the witch.  She leapt out from behind the spaceship and spat a curse, obliterating the top of the cabinet with a geyser of silvery fire.

Expelliarmus.” said a voice from nowhere behind Scarlett, and the witch’s wand leapt from her hand into the air.  “It means he is very, very annoying,” said the voice in a Russian accent.  “Stupefy.”

Scarlett toppled over, and the youthful figure of Ilya Bogdanova appeared, as though she were stepping from behind a curtain.  She walked to where Scarlett’s wand had fallen, and picked it up.

“You’ll hurt my feelings one day, Ilya,” said Neville, stepping gingerly out from behind the smoking ruins of the cabinet.

“Why are we here?” said the Russian witch, ignoring him.  “No, why are they here?”

“This is where they have the Vanishing Cabinet for the Monroe, and this spaceship, and the prototype pocket world,” said Neville.  The pair headed for the door out of Chamber 1 to the hall, wands raised and eyes alert as they spoke.  “It’s all really valuable, and it would be embarrassing if someone else got ahold of it.”

“Do not be stupid, Neville,” said Ilya, brusquely.  “I mean that it is foolish to attack here.  It is much easier for us to bring people here, and we have much greater resources.  Unless they were to bring dozens and overwhelm the defence immediately, then they only guarantee their loss.  Instead, ten British Honourable and four or five idiot Russians who never stepped toe in Durmstrang.  It is easy for us to come and defeat them.  So: why?”

“Maybe something got lost in translation,” said Neville, and Ilya sighed heavily.

They walked down the hall, footsteps ringing on the metal floor, Neville in the lead.  The Remote Cautionary Platform was a vast facility, and crude as wizards accounted it.  There were no extended spaces or other tricks: it was simply a series of connected metal boxes, transported by mundane means and sealed together by VeriWeld.  Heating and other comforts were left to the occupants during their stay, and only in recent weeks had more permanent facilities been set up.  The purposes of the Tower had required more complex instruments than the vast circles drawn to the thickness of a child’s hair that were incised into the floors of the Platform’s chambers.  Shooting radiation at things was a complicated and equipment-heavy business, after all.

There was a deafening clang of impact, and Neville and Ilya almost lost their footing on the icy metal beneath their feet.  Something had struck the corridor a terrific blow from outside, leaving a dent in the wall ahead of them the size of a Bludger.

Ilya wasted no time in scooping out her invisibility cloak and throwing it over herself, while Neville backpedaled and reached for the bubbler in the front pocket of his trousers.

He pulled it open.  “Fred Weasley.”

There was a moment’s delay while the bubbler alerted Fred, and Neville waited.  He backed up a few more paces, and almost slipped again when another deafening clang smashed into the corridor from above.  The entire roof was buckling.

“Hullo,” said Fred cheerily from the mirror in Neville’s hand.

“Problem down by one, Fred,” whispered Neville, creeping backwards away from the points of impact.

“There sure is,” agreed the red-haired man, just as cheerily.

“You’re out there, aren’t you?”

“We sure are,” said Fred, and the connection broke.  Neville shoved it in his pocket and turned to face the wall.

“I’ll be out to the right,” said Ilya from behind him.

That meant she would get clear and flank the enemy.  While a competent fighter, Ilya preferred indirect confrontation.

“Bouncy bouncy,” said Neville, happily.  “Confringo!”

A wad of fire spat from his wand and hit the metal of the wall, flaring wide as it impacted.  It ate through the metal, which reddened and sagged and vanished under the punishment, but the immediate blast of arctic air -- Neville immediately felt his flesh burning with cold, even with his Warming Charms -- soon stole away the heat.

Not as dramatic as he would have liked.  He shook his head and raised his wand.

A third immense blow struck the corridor, followed by an angry roar so powerful that it made the metal beneath them vibrate.  Neville’s eyes widened.

“Oh, bugger.”

“What?” said the invisible Ilya.

“Hebridean Black.”

“Of the House of Black?”

“No, of the time to run away.”

There was another roar, and with a shriek of tearing metal four claws, like silvered spear-tips, ripped through the roof above them.

Confringo!” said Neville, and the resulting fire burned away the remainder of the corridor.  He leapt out through the smoking hole.  A dragon regarded him with eyes like angry purple embers.

The Hebridean Black can grow up to thirty feet in length, with a mass of up to eight tons.  It is covered in layers of dark-gleaming scales, and an adult is typically heavily muscled.  They are aggressive, and grown males engage in frequent combat displays to show dominance.  Their breath is fire.  Their temper is short.  Their appetite is huge.

Fred and George were mounted on their brooms, fighting the thick snow and howling winds that eternally scoured the ice of this Antarctic plain.  George shouted something, but the words were torn away from him.

Stupefy!” cast Neville, once he’d overcome the shock of being confronted with one of the most magnificently lethal creatures on the planet.  “Stupefy!  Stupefy!”  The spell stood no chance of working, but the dragon did react, rearing back from him and shaking its head rapidly.  It was probably more annoyance than anything else, but Neville didn’t have any better ideas.

Stunners wouldn’t work, fire wouldn’t work, suffocation wouldn’t work… even the more directly damaging hexes just wouldn’t have much of a result on something of this size -- and that was assuming they didn’t simply bounce off.

He took off at a run.  He’d need to Disillusion himself, at least, to stay safe while he--

Neville lost track of his plan as he was scooped up neatly from the ground by a flying Weasley.  George had simply flown right into him, directing his broom right between Neville’s legs.  And there was a dragon attacking and a blizzard going on.  He’d owe George a pint.  Maybe two.

“Thanks!” he shouted, turning slightly in his seat and clutching the broomstick with his free hand.

George shouted something, but his words were lost again.  Neville shook his head -- or tried to, since George banked hard to the right, and Neville had to concentrate on holding on as a wash of flame blew past them.  The dragon roared again.  Wait, how had it gotten ahead of them?

George leaned forward as they straightened out, and shouted right into Neville’s ear.  “There’s two of them!

That’s just silly!” shouted back Neville.

The other dragon was in flight, and Neville could see it as a great dark shape ahead of them.  It was as big as a house, only a house that could fly and wanted to eat you.

You’re silly!” shouted Neville, at the dragon now.  It roared so loudly that his teeth hurt, and the broom swerved momentarily as George reacted.

Looking behind him, Neville could see the other dragon was chasing Fred.  The other twin was pulling tight turns at a high speed, trying to out-maneuver the creature, but it was too agile.  It was only a matter of time before it landed a lucky swipe of its claws or hit the wizard with a blast of flames.  Seeming to sense this, Fred pulled an abrupt loop, and then brought his broom down and shot through the hole Neville had burned in the wall of the Platform corridor.

George and Neville’s own dragon beat heavy wings and swooped down at them, and George leaned forward and pulled his own tight turn, seemingly unaware that this hadn’t worked for his brother and certainly wouldn’t work for a broom with twice as much weight on it.  Neville yelled something that even he knew was incoherent, and jabbed a hand at the hole into the Platform, looking back at George.  The Weasley nodded, and they shot towards the hole, banking right and left as flames erupted past and over them.

Their entrance was at too high of a speed to stop inside, and they hit the interior and opposite wall of the corridor with a heavy thud.  Neville lost his grip on the broom beneath him and went pinwheeling away, hitting the floor and sliding along the ice-rimed surface for a few feet.  George was more fortunate, and when he bounced off of the wall, he fell into the pile of snow that had been accumulating in the minute or so that the hole had been open.

Neville was just barely getting his wits about him when the corridor shuddered under impact, claws stabbing through the roof repeatedly as the dragon tried to find its footing on the roof.  Fred appeared from somewhere, and was dragging Neville to his feet.

“What do you do with that?  Does anyone remember?  Is this the one you use acid on?” said Fred as he hauled Neville upright by one arm.

“No, that’s the Chinese one,” said George.

“Is there any reason we need to fight them?” asked Neville.  “If there are no wizards around, then won’t they just… fly away?  They’re not going to steal anything important.  Let’s just--”

The roof folded and tore as the dragon ripped at it, and a great tear appeared in the metal.  The dragon’s head appeared in the gap.  It roared, and opened its mouth, eyes glowing a hellish purple.

Avada Kedavra,” said Ilya.  A bolt of green shot from her invisible wand and hit the dragon in the face.  The light of its eyes died in that instant, and the creature’s face vanished from view.  There was a screech of metal and a tremendous thud as it fell to the ground outside.

The three wizards were silent, huddled together for a moment.  Then they separated, dusting snow off of themselves.

“Yes, well--” said George

“--we could have done that,” finished Fred.

“And there’s another one,” added Neville.

“It will soon be,” said the invisible Ilya primly, “pining for the fjords.”  She stepped outside.  A few seconds later, they heard another thud, even over the roar of the wind.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡


The Ministry of Magic, Whitehall, London

Ker-chak.  Ker-chak.  Ker-chak.

Hermione stepped over a burning tire, and put the coin-changer away.  She knew she should be tired -- at least emotionally, if not physically -- but things had gone too well.  There were at least thirty prisoners, and Tonks had bubbled her that things had been going equally well everywhere else, too.  Today might be a clean sweep without a single loss, as hard as that was to believe.

She heard a bubbling sound in her head, and smiled.  She pulled out the bubbler again.  “I was just thinking of you,” she said to Tonks.

Tonks’ hair had gone all black.  “You need to come back.  There’s been a change.  There’s been a truce.”


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

8:00 pm
North Tower, Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland

Professor Pierre Placela shook his head ruefully, and drew a thick black line through another item on the list with his felt pen.  These results were disconcerting, especially after the months he’d wasted on ichnomancy.  He shuffled the deck, and got ready to try again.

No, wait… better switch to one of the other decks.  He had Trelawney’s letter around here, somewhere, and he was sure it said something about “aura contamination.”  He didn’t remember that from the Divination N.E.W.T., but in fairness, that had been years ago.  He slid the first deck to one side, and pulled out a fresh one from next to it.

It was common knowledge that any method of divination needed to be consistent to a minimum degree for it to be useful, and he was becoming increasingly unsure that cartomancy was going to be able to muster up the necessary p-levels.  He’d laid out the Celtic Cross spread twenty times now, and there hadn’t been any more common outcomes than chance would predict.  Either he was a lousy cartomancer, or his own future was beyond his reach, or something else was interfering.

Twenty trials: time to switch methodology by one factor.  It was a quick and dirty way to investigate, but time was pressing… it wouldn’t be too long before other diviners began adopting the new methods, especially since Pierre had been asked to work up a prospective introductory course of study for the Salem Witches Institute.

He’d draw for someone famous this time.

He shuffled again, lay the deck down, and closed his eyes.  He placed his fingertips on the deck, and concentrated.  Face, name, and identity… face, name, and identity… face, name and identity.

When he was ready, he opened his eyes again, and shuffled a third time.  Then he lay out the ten cards.

The Ace of Wands.  The Moon.  The Hanged Man.  The Ten of Swords.  The Ace of Wands.  Death.  The Five of Cups.  The Tower.  The Tower.  The Tower.

He frowned.  Oh, Merlin’s beard… he’d accidentally mixed his decks together at some point.  Stupid and sloppy, and it cast all of his trials into doubt.  He’d have to sort them all out again and start all over.

Professor Placela shook his head, sighed, and swept the layout into a heap.












The noble horse with courage in his eye,
clean in the bone, looks up at a shellburst:
away fly the images of the shires
but he puts the pipe back in his mouth.
Peter was unfortunately killed by an 88;
it took his leg away, he died in the ambulance.
I saw him crawling on the sand, he said
It's most unfair, they've shot my foot off.

How can I live among this gentle
obsolescent breed of heroes, and not weep?
Unicorns, almost,
for they are fading into two legends
in which their stupidity and chivalry
are celebrated. Each, fool and hero, will be an immortal.
These plains were their cricket pitch
and in the mountains the tremendous drop fences
brought down some of the runners. Here then
under the stones and earth they dispose themselves,
I think with their famous unconcern.
It is not gunfire I hear, but a hunting horn.
-Keith Douglas

9 comments:

  1. 'Professor Quirrell was smiling rather grimly. "Your sad excuse for a third-year Defence textbook will suggest to you that you expose the mountain troll to sunlight, which will freeze it in place. This, my young apprentices, is the sort of useless knowledge you will never find in my lessons. You do not encounter mountain trolls in open daylight! The idea that you should use sunlight to stop them is the result of foolish textbook authors trying to show off their mastery of minutia at the expense of practicality. Just because there is a ridiculously obscure way of dealing with mountain trolls does not mean you should actually try to use it! The Killing Curse is unblockable, unstoppable, and works every single time on anything with a brain.'

    Come on, Neville, Fred, and George.

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    1. (In case it wasn't clear, the reason for the full quote is both the lack of killing curse and the suggestion of acid)

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    2. To be fair to Fred and George, they had two years of DADA before Quirrel, and Quirrel only lasted one year. Harry would have been one of the few primary characters to internalize any of Quirrel's lessons, too.

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    3. Furthermore, somewhere was said that not anyone could use death curse, especially at the wery first time, when it is require extremilly pure and strong will of killing

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  2. "Domovoi" as a name for Russian authority figure keeps making me uncomfortable. For Russians, Domovoi can be interpreted as a magical creature, but it's name is roughly translated as "the house creature", and it serves pretty much the same function as house elves do in HP universe. Namely, they take care of chores and have nothing to do with authority or politics.

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    1. It sounds like "house elf" for me but still its historical name and i find it actualy cool here ^^

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  3. It seems to me like there's two obvious ways out of this situation for Harry: Keep them talking long enough for a repeat performance of the spell that defeated Voldemort's goons (possibly targeting hands instead of heads), or snap a safety stick. Of course, if they're smart enough they won't let him hold onto his wand for that long, and there's no indication of whether the sticks work inside the Tower. Still I guess those count as predictions.

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  4. Lol, "The Thunderer of the Conclave of the Domovoi" ))),
    i love this fanfick and ll remember that ^^

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  5. The killing curse requires the caster to hate fundamentally the target. The shichinin cannot hate so deeply.

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