20 March 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Five: Homophone






Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Five: Homophone


Hermione hefted the Elder Wand.  It was long for a wand, and oddly-shaped -- it even looked like there were carvings on the surface, faint knobbly engravings.  She’d only seen it a few times before, for Dumbledore had seldom used it in the presence of students, but its distinctive appearance made it easy to recognize.

As she held it between her fingers, she slowly became aware that a new voice had joined a hymn within her -- a hymn that had been there for a long time, but which she’d never noticed.  It was a hymn to glory and war, and it sang within her as deeply and innately as her own heartbeat.

What do you do?  What are capable of?  How can you help me?  she asked it, speaking to that bone-deep hymn.  There was no response, and no indication of the wand’s power or nature.  She knew that Harry had stopped using it long ago, when he’d begun sacrificing parts of his magic -- over and over, year after year -- to revive some of the dead.  Once he’d committed to that, focusing all of his efforts on organizing, planning, leading… well, he was never going to be a wizard of immense arcane power, and that made carrying the Elder Wand around with him a liability, rather than an advantage.

“It’s too dangerous for me to carry around, putting it at risk, when we barely understand it,” he’d said.  “We don’t even know what it would mean to be ‘defeated’ and lose the Wand to a new master.  If I lose a game to someone, or get charmed by someone, or even just get killed by an attacker, I don’t want them able to just reach down and pick up an ancient device of this sort of power.  It makes all of your spells more powerful, but who knows what else it could do in the hands of the wrong person?  None of our research could find out its hidden properties, but if it’s anything like the True Cloak of Invisibility, there’s another hidden level.”

Well, it didn’t matter right now, anyway.  Whatever the hidden power that might exist here, at the moment Hermione just appreciated the boost to her magical power.  The entire Tower was set against them, magically compelled to do their best to rescue Meldh.  There were no more contingencies, no more plans.  It was possible there was yet another plan, another level, hidden from her own memories the same way the Goblet had been… but she doubted it.  No, it was just her and Harry against the world, it seemed.

She flicked the wand between her fingers, and it trailed silver sparks.  The work of the legendary Peverells, another of the Hallows.  The thought put her back in mind of their situation.  We need to get to the meeting room, to get my things.  The Cloak will get us out of here -- and help us rescue Esther and Hyori, if they haven’t already been dominated.  Then we can work on a plan to free everyone else.

Hermione lowered the wand, and took a look at her injured arm.  It was healing, pink flesh pushing new, raw skin out from the swirl-seamed stump.  She’d be able to use it in a few more minutes.

Firming her resolve, she stepped out of the cubicle, to head back to Harry near the other end of the clinic’s general ward.  She saw that he’d rolled the goblin-silver shield in place to block off the other entry, and was heading towards her with quick steps.  Harry looked disheveled -- a skinny young man in simple robes, soiled with streaks of blood, his hair coming loose from its ponytail.  These days, the scar on his forehead was usually faded, but he was flushed and a pale lightning bolt was visible on his brow.  He had dark circles under his eyes.

They met halfway down the hall.  She turned, and they walked together, moving briskly.

“Meeting room,” she said.  “Not too far.  Just through the discharge ward, around the corner, and down the hall.  We can do it.”

“When they come, just try to get through.  You stand a better chance of making it, and then you can rescue everyone,” Harry replied, holding his wand in tense fingers.  He offered her the white rock that had been Meldh, and she tapped her wand to it and spent a half-second of her will Transfiguring it into its present shape, taking control of the spell with her own magic.

She didn’t bother to respond to his words, and he didn’t push it.  They’d long-since dropped pretenses between them, and didn’t play to roles.  She didn’t tell him that she wasn’t about to leave him, and that he stood the best chance of figuring out a plan to reverse all this -- to free the Tower.  He didn’t reply that it was more important that someone got out, and that too much depended on someone staying free.  No roles.  No wasted words.  Just Harry and Hermione.

A stranger appeared at the end of the ward, racing through at a sprint.  On seeing them, he skidded to a halt.  Almost certainly an auror, Hermione thought.  Average height, average weight, but no one she’d ever seen before.  Wand in hand.

Then the auror grinned wolfishly, and she knew.  

Alastor.

He wasn’t even trying to disguise his body language, with his shoulders rounded and his feet already in correct position for Mezzo Passo.  He was using his primary wand.  He looked as he’d looked in a dozen bodies on hundreds of different mornings, putting her through her paces along with four other students.  He looked prepared.

“Hermione.  Harry.  You’re free,” he said.  An unknown voice, but familiar cadence and gruffness.  “Well done.”

“Alastor,” she said, calmly.  “Meldh is dead.”

“We must serve his interests, and find a way to bring him back,” Harry said, standing at her side.

Alastor shook his head, still grinning, and tapped one side of his head with his free hand, chidingly.  The Eye of Vance, embedded in his head like a real eye.  He could see that there was no Meldh in the room, and see the white stone she’d dropped into the pocket of her robes.  He knew.

Which means, Hermione realized in a flash so quick that it could barely be called a thought, that we’ll be swamped with aurors in a moment, and he’s delaying me and hoping for some banter, and he can see through all the cubicles and barriers so he has a tactical advantage, and he knows I know this but also knows my options are limited, but he also knows I have the Elder Wand now and will have incentive to fight him individually, so he won’t go for the quick stun, no stupid stupid of course he will but he’ll also try to slow me down some other way, Harry is a weak point so he’ll hit him too and make me sacrifice to protect him, watch for it watch for it.

They acted at the same instant.  Alastor whipped his wand in front of himself, turning to the side, and cast two curses as quickly as most people could breathe -- muttered spells that she didn’t recognize from a distance, and without visible effect.  Simultaneously, Harry raised his wand, starting the movement for the Lesser Action of Shahryar’s Delay.  He didn’t get past the first twirl of his wandtip, however, before Hermione violently shoved him aside.  He was lifted bodily off the ground, through one of the thin cubicle partitions.

Before Harry had even landed in a tangle of white sheet and metal frame, Alastor had launched his next attack, and Hermione had raised a ward.  Not her customary Roger’s Shield, but Azarian Fire.  The aqua flames were something he’d taught her, which was both a risk and an investment -- he was intimately familiar with the spell, but it would remind him of how close he’d been to her.  Hermione didn’t think anyone could throw off the Lethe Touch; during the few moments it had bound her, it hadn’t even felt like a separate constraint that could be fought.  But that was still Alastor, and some part of him must still be vulnerable to emotional attack.

The Tower’s chief of security didn’t appear to even slow down, however, and he didn’t try to break her ward, either.  That was wise: when it crackled into life in front of her, Hermione had seen the blue flames surge unusually bright, hotter than she’d ever seen with the spell.  The Wand.

He struck overhead, instead, snapping off a curse at the stone above her.  “Reducto,” he cast, and some of the fitted stones of the clinic roof, five feet above, exploded.  Hermione had seen it coming, however, and brought a Roger’s Shield over herself with time to spare.  It left her wand in Ochs, so she capitalized, slashing down with a rightward flick of her wrist as loose stone and dust cascaded down around her.  “Hominem Revelio,” she said.

She felt a cool wind blow against her from four directions -- from Harry, who was climbing to his feet to her left, from Alastor straight ahead (who was casting yet another spell without any visible effect), and from the two aurors who were Disillusioned or wearing Invisibility Cloaks (or more likely, both) as they crept up on her.  The hidden aurors were nearly halfway to her.

Hermione took one with a stunner, using the back-draw from the gesture to bring up a wall of prisms behind her Azarian Fire.  The other auror sprang to the attack, joining Alastor, who had taken the moment to raise new wards.  She watched through blue flame, firing pass-through curses as quickly as she could.  The Elder Wand gave each attack greater strength: her Bertram Bolts flew with the speed of thought and her stunners were broad and bright, almost hungry for impact, despite the added effort of casting through her own shields.  She dodged return attacks and dispersed an anaesthetic gas produced by the Disillusioned auror, whose presence she could still feel, roughly.  She had no need of the exact counter-spell: brute disenchantment served just as well.

To her left, Harry had stayed crouched down in the cubicle into which she’d thrown him, keeping a low profile on one knee, wand in hand, just touching the floor, ready to be swept up in defense.  He’d used a minor charm to clear a line of the sight through the cubicles to Moody, but was keeping out of the way.

As Hermione dodged yet another stunner, she saw the double flash as two Slow Blades of Unusually Specific Destruction popped against her Azarian Fire.  Realization flooded her thoughts as she remembered the spells Alastor had cast without effect, twice before and once more recently.  Lashing away a stunner with a dashed-off Rune of Abatement, Hermione reached out with her wand hand in the same gesture to raise Bartolomeo’s Reckoning between Harry and Alastor, desperately hoping to block the third Slow Blade that must be headed towards Harry.

Too late, she recognized how Alastor’s gambit had been telegraphed, and realized she’d been forced into turning almost the full of her back on her attackers in order to shield Harry.  “Lagann!” she heard from both her attackers, and her Azarian Fire died.

Hermione didn’t try to turn back, but kept moving, lifting herself onto her toes and spinning into chaînés turns away from where she’d been standing, close to the white wall of the cubicles.  A Bloodfoot Curse ripped along through the ground where she’d just been standing.

As the sickening purplish glow swept by, Hermione brought up her wand, recovering back into Pfugh and Mezzo Passo.  The Disillusioned auror was fading from her awareness, but she could feel through the Revelation Charm that he was running towards her.  She felt the churn of panic in the back of her mind -- even with the Elder Wand, fighting Alastor would have been hard enough.  She couldn’t afford to deal with this other threat.

No sooner had she thought that, however, when she saw the stone floor five feet ahead of her split open, a hole of darker grey yawning and a wide area rippling with gray-limned spiderweb cracks.  It was as though ten square feet of the clinic floor had melted and retained only a thin covering of its native stone.  The auror that had been attacking became visible as he sank into the bubbling grey substance beneath the stone, sprawling forward in surprise, struggling as a sticky substance coated him with thick goo, pulling him down.

To her left, she could see Harry rise to his feet, grinning.  The invisible auror strained against the expanding pool of sticky foam that had been partially transfigured under a thin shell of stone, but he only continued to sink: out of the fight.

Alastor’s wolfish grin vanished.  He went back on the attack, and curses flew between him, Harry, and Hermione like a hailstorm.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡


Harry was awed and confused watching Hermione and Moody duel, as though he were watching experts play cricket (or Quidditch, for that matter, which had always seemed a mix of rugby and test cricket played a hundred yards off the ground).  He understood the rules and the basic tactics, but he couldn’t help but be aware that there were tactics and patterns that were moving beneath the surface that he could barely even notice, much less appreciate.

They both seemed indomitable.  He’d had occasion to see fighting on the highest level from time to time, but the level of play here… he hadn’t seen it since a bitter black night in Azkaban, many years ago.  He could understand why, on a certain level: Moody and Hermione were both skilled combatants, intelligent and creative, with Moody’s breadth of experience and inordinate canniness (and his use of both arms) matched against Hermione’s inhuman reflexes and the Elder Wand.  But more than that, the duels both then and now had been non-lethal.  Neither Moody nor Hermione wanted to kill each other -- in Moody’s case probably because he wanted to preserve a key asset for Meldh -- while in Azkaban the auror had been following protocol (and Voldemort had been toying with his prey).  Duels to the death, Harry thought, usually ended much more quickly.

He kept his wand to the ground, and worked to help.  He made sure to transfigure an air passage for the trapped auror, turning a tube of the foam into feathers.  Then he tried to undermine Moody’s footing in the same way he’d gotten the auror, but the Eye of Vance kept Moody apprised of a repeat of the same trick.  Now that he was looking for it, Moody kept an eye for any shift in the stone around him.  At least it cost him a moment to dispel the creeping transfiguration, giving Hermione opportunity to tear away one of his shields with a coruscating blue curse.  Harry had continued the strategy, using partial transfiguration again and again in order to carve out falling rocks from the ceiling, turn parts of the walls behind Moody into ether or nitrous oxide, or simply destabilize the security chief’s footing.  He did anything he could do quickly and nonlethally, before Moody could spot the change in the stone.

Hermione caught three hexes on three consecutively appearing shields, lunging to one side as she counter-attacked with brilliant yellow bolts of light.  Moody pivoted so that they missed, raising a new ward to protect himself, and Harry saw the pupil of the Eye of Vance vanish as it swiveled around inside of Moody’s head.  It didn’t swivel back immediately.

His reinforcements are almost here -- we’ve been fighting for too long.  They must have gone to prepare something on Moody’s orders, in case he was defeated.  Need to end this.

They simply got lucky, as so often happened in combat.  Harry turned part of the ceiling into benzocaine, and a gobbet of the topical anaesthetic the size of a Bludger fell onto Moody, just as Hermione ripped away his last tactile ward. It splattered onto his arm and along his chest.

The auror slapped the chemical away, spattering the floor, but the damage was immediate.  Within seconds, Moody’s wand slipped from his numb grip.  The determined security chief used the hand that hadn’t been deadened to try to raise barriers in front of himself, but Hermione simply broke through them by main force, using the Elder Wand to dispel them with powerful charms.

It wasn’t pretty or dramatic or clever… just a misstep by their opponent.  Life wasn’t a play, and sometimes that was how things went.

Harry thought of Voldemort’s wasted last word, a moment of meaningless spite.  Sometimes that was how things went.

Just before the end, Moody opened his mouth to say something, but Hermione stunned him without stopping to chat.  He toppled over, an awkward-looking statue.  She went to check on him, calling over her shoulder at him, “Call for help, while I make sure he’ll be okay!”

Harry took a moment to summon up the thought of mankind unbridled, transcendent over death and time and pain.  It was as easy as smiling.   “Expecto Patronum.”

The glowing silver humanoid stood before him, brilliant argent.  Its light was a reminder of gentle things.

“Go and tell Headmistress McGonagall that everyone in the Tower but Harry and Hermione has been taken over by a villain named Meldh.  Moody, Bones, Hig, Malfoy, and all Tower aurors have been controlled.  Alert the Ministry and the Council of Westphalia,”  Harry said.  Then he repeated it all again, just in case she was too startled to take it in, the first time.  He hadn’t seen much of her since she’d declined his offer to help him manage Britain; now they met only a few times a year.  She was a full-time teacher and administrator, and he thought she liked it that way.  She might not be ready to be dragged into this sort of madness again on a moment’s notice.  But she’d step up.  She always did.

The humanoid was gone in moments, vanishing from sight with long silver strides that carried it longer than they should, right through the wall and towards the Tower exit.

Hermione stood up from where she’d been kneeling beside Moody.  “He’s fine.”

Without another word, they sprinted on down the corridor, heading for the unsealed exit.

No time to lose.  Have to get to the meeting room.  We need to escape.  We can’t possibly win against the entire Tower, Elder Wand or no.  Once again, Harry cursed his past self for his unfortunate foresight.  Meldh had said the Lethe Touch had the “capacity for release,” by recasting it and adding another word, or words.  Harry had stopped Meldh from telling him the release command, anticipating just this scenario.

I should really be glad, he thought, wryly, as they raced down the corridor, that a release command even exists.  That always seems to be the case… a strange kind of “conservation of magic.”  No continuous effect is permanent unless there is a permanent loss, like with a sacrifice, or a permanent source of “power,” like with the creation of Hogwarts on a ley line.  It’s a strange sort of moral balance, one of those odd things that hints that maybe it’s a designed system.

One day, he’d track down the designer -- the people of Atlantis, an unknown civilization before them, or whoever else -- and get some answers.  And maybe help them fix some exploits, like the existence of the Killing Curse.

In a few seconds, they’d reached the exit of the clinic.  The Tower was shaped like an enormous isosceles triangle, with the Mirror at the vertex angle.  The clinic ran along one side of the complex, while research departments ran along the other.  Larger departments, like Material Methods and the Extension Establishment, were located at the base of the triangle, where there was the most space.  In the center was the meeting room.  Not very far.

Hermione held up a hand to stop him as they reached the exit.  The hand was pink and raw-looking; only slowly returning to its normal tones, but at least she had both limbs again.  She peeked her head around.

Almost instantly, she jerked back, narrowly avoiding the red bolts of several stunners and the wash of flame from a prepared flame trap.  A lock of her chestnut hair was scorched away, but she was otherwise unharmed.

“They’re set and waiting,” she said, scowling.  “Neville, the twins, and that Russian witch, plus at least ten other aurors.  And there will be more at successive defense points.”

“Once their defenses are set up, they’ll storm the clinic,” Harry said, frowning.  He gripped his wand more tightly at the thought.  “There are weapons in Material Methods... things in development.”

Please, pretty please, I hope I anticipated this and set up yet another contingency.  He searched his brain for likely activation words in times of desperation.  When he was seven, he’d come up with a set of signals, in case he was kidnapped, being held hostage, unjustly imprisoned, or a number of other scenarios.  He’d given it to his parents and insisted they memorize it.  Then he’d quizzed them about it for a month.  Maybe one of those would work?  It was a nostalgic call-back to a personal moment, and it was occurring to him in this moment of stress… maybe he’d set up the secret Spoon of Solving My Immediate Problems to respond to one of them?

“Chumble spuzz,” he said, loudly and hopefully to the air.  Nothing happened, except Hermione turned to stare at him. “Chumble spuzz chumble spuzz,” he repeated.  Still nothing.  “Anatidaephobia!  Anatidaephobia anatidaephobia!  Plippy ploppy cheese nose!”  No… no sudden crash of thunder or magical rescue centaurs.

Hermione was still staring at him, her brown eyes concerned.  “Just trying some possible secret command words I might have made myself forget,” he explained.

“Ah,” she said.  “I thought you might have had a stroke.”  She turned back to the door, and grabbed the goblin-silver barricade.

“What are you doing?  We can’t lock down the clinic and hope for rescue.  We’d never hold out in the time it took an outside force to breach into the Tower,” Harry objected, raising a hand to stop her.

“You’re right,” she said,  rolling the seal over the door.  It clicked into place in its silver brackets.  “Which is why we can’t try to fight through prepared defenses.  We’ll sacrifice our fall-back position, instead.”  She pointed at the wall.  “Carve a big rectangle.  I’ll push through, and take them out from behind.  We won’t be able to retreat without the wall intact, but there are enough people out there to just carve through in fifteen minutes with the Reductor curse, anyway.”

“There’s no going back from that,” Harry said.  But he was already running over to the wall that she’d indicated, laying his wandtip on it.

“There was never been any going back… not since an afternoon on a train with a very annoying boy,” Hermione said.  He glanced back at her to see a tight smile on her face.

It took only a moment to transfigure four thin slices of stone in the shape of a doorway, turning the substance into grease.  A rectangular block of stone was now separate from the wall, ready to be moved.  An old trick -- one of his first partial transfiguration tricks, in fact.  He stepped back.

Harry felt his stomach tighten with tension as Hermione stepped up to the stone and flexed her hands open and closed.  She put her palms on the block, and grinned.  “It’s my own fault, really, for knowing the six quarks.”

She shook her head, as though rueful, and then pushed.

The huge block of stone slid slowly for a moment, as though stuck, but then Hermione lurched forward and slammed her shoulder against it.  With the strength of a goddess, she shoved the stone through and out.  It tipped forward as it reached the end, chipping the upper part of the hole, and then it fell forward with a colossal crash, smashing against the floor hard enough to make Harry’s teeth feel like they were rattling in his head.

Then Hermione was through, wand whipping into several spells before she was even out in the hall, and Harry could hear the sound of battle.  “Left floor,” she called back to him, urgently, and he hurriedly leapt forward, to touch his wand back to the stone.  He began to transfigure, pushing out into the stone.  Harry moved the point of change down away from him and below.  He couldn’t see, so he was forced to guess at how far away from him he needed the effect; he knew the layout of the Tower intimately, of course, but not where the enemy was in the corridor to Hermione’s left.  The larger the area he affected, the more time it would take; he settled on transfiguring the same size of trap as before, transforming another block of stone into sticky foam beneath a thin stone shell.

All the while, he could hear curses and hexes and charms, barked orders.  He heard the crackle of flame and the sizzle of spells.  And all the while, he heard Hermione continue to cast, almost as quickly as she could speak.  She didn’t tire and didn’t pause.  Was this the Elder Wand?  Was it just her?

There was a crash in the corridor and a hiss of foam before his transfiguration was over.  Harry ended the effect.

“Right fl--” Hermione called out.  But before she finished her thought, there was an explosion, and she was thrown back through the hole in the wall, limp, along with thick black smoke.  She crashed through two of the cubicle partitions, landing bonelessly.  Her robes were smouldering.

“Got her!” Harry heard Neville Longbottom call from the hall, cheerfully.  “She’ll be okay, don’t worry!  Load it again!”

What did Neville have?  Did Neville have a rocket launcher?

Harry leapt in front of the hole and raised his wand.  Need to buy time.  Prismatis!” he cast.  A sparkling multicoloured wall burst forth from his wand to cover the aperture -- not an instant too soon, either, as George Weasley appeared from the hall, dashing forward.  The Weasley twin checked his charge as he saw the Prismatic Wall.  George smirked.

“Hello --” he said.

“-- Harry,” finished Fred, stepping in next to his brother.

Together, they raised their wands.  He spared a glance back at Hermione.  She still wasn’t moving.  She looked badly injured, crumpled and broken-limbed.  Her eyes were open.  Sightless.

Harry felt a moment of despair.

This is all so stupid and so pointless.  We could have set up the Goblet different ways.  We could have tried binding everyone with it -- redundant contracts, nested together.  To have come so far, and to be so close to success… we were really doing it, after all.  We could have saved everyone.

It would have been perfect.  Now this sad and stupid ending.  Just like Voldemort, who wasted every chance he ever had, even his last chance at dignity, and now he’s lost in a prison of metal and magic, hidden somewhere in the Tower beyond Harry’s reach.

“Lagann!” cast the twins, together, and the Breaking Drill shattered Harry’s shield.  It vanished, and Harry staggered back.

And even at this moment, when all was lost, his thoughts didn’t stop.  Instead, they came faster -- faster and faster, still thinking of the last moment he’d ever spend with Professor Quirrell -- Lord Voldemort.  Wasting his own last moment.

That scornful last word.  That wasted last word.  And he could almost hear it again, now, as the twins leveled their wands at him.  He could hear that cold laugh, and the roaring mocking hateful last word: “Bah!”

Bah.

The instant of understanding was like a breath of sweet air to a drowning man’s lungs.

“Bah.  Egeustimentis Ba,” Harry said, loudly.

The twins swayed in place slightly, blinking.  They lowered their wands, and looked at each other, raising their eyebrows.

It was suddenly very quiet.  It was suddenly very still.

And for once in their life, the Weasley twins found they didn’t have a single clever thing to say.



11 comments:

  1. Well that wasn't very satisfying. Even for Harry that's was a ridiculous leap to make. Also why does the Lethe touch need touch to activate but not deactivate? Doesn't seem like the spell creator would make it so easily defeated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. “I am offering you fair warning and a peaceful alternative,” Voldemort said, and there was triumph in his words. “If you truly do not understand that these words are the greatest damage I can do to you, then you will deserve your fate.”

      Voldemort told Harry rather explicitly (for their level of coded language) to examine his words to find the damage they can do the Meldh.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Why don't they just use the killing curse? I don't understand. All of them know it can't hurt them. Presumably they'll be able to cast it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also they can just get Voldie back with Expecto Patronum

      Delete
    2. The killing curse can only be cast with the desire (or at least willingness) to kill. If you are only casting it because you don't expect it to work, then you are not willing to kill that person and you can't cast the spell. Voldemort was able to cast it as a feint only because he had no problem with killing his opponent, even if it wasn't the current plan.

      Delete
  4. I don't understand how Voldemort knew the word to end the Lethe effect. Meldh's explanation made it sound like he had manually set up the condition to end it, which would mean he'd probably have chosen the word. Then again, maybe not; he did choose the same word for everyone he cast the spell on. If the spell really did have a fixed end condition and Voldie knew about the spell from his own research, that could have been enough.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That said, I do love how the only defense against a sufficiently nasty attack was to have already set up your defense long in advance. It's very in line with the tone of both the original HPMOR and this continuation.

      Delete
  5. I like how Herpo the Foul is more at fault than Potter and Granger and Voldemort and the rest. If you REALLY want to talk about someone who is not using their brain:

    Dude has an actual army of basilisk snakes. still manages to lose. what a complete moron.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bah... that make that spell what looked "cheating" at the start, extremly useless. Just another sequrity protocoll of SPEAKING it each 30 seconds...

    ReplyDelete