28 March 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Six: Levee







Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Six: Levee



Eventually, of course, help arrived.  A gathered force of Russian, Chinese, American, and Korean witches and wizards had answered the urgent plea of Headmistress McGonagall, who had acted swiftly and with her usual competence to demand assistance.  Indeed, they had sent their most elite response teams: the Boston Brahmins, the Siberian Rakshasa, the Jīngluò, and the Three Treasures.  After an initial accident in the Receiving Room, it took half an hour to negotiate a peaceful end to rising hostility and suspicion.  Harry’s message had stated that everyone in the Tower had been suborned by an intruder, and it was -- unsurprisingly -- difficult to prove that this was no longer true… especially since the visitors from around the world brought grim news of their own.

The Muggle news services had broken into panic -- in some cases, outright hysteria -- over mass disappearances that had occurred in major cities around the globe.  Thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands, had gone missing.  Entire neighborhoods had been emptied of their populations in less than a day.  The Witch-Watchers and their counterparts in other countries had passed on the news, of course, but few in the magical world had been able to say what it might mean.  Such feats of malice were beyond the abilities of any person or persons yet known.  Nothing on the scale had been done in many generations, since the era when magical combat between powerful wizards depended heavily on controlling crowds of armed Muggles with charms and threats.

Also troubling was the restive behavior of the goblins.  It had already been apparent that all seven goblin cities had been in communication with each other, and most particularly with Ackle.  Spies and spells revealed that these Beings had gone further, and that a fearsome gathering of goblins had massed on the plains near Ackle, heedless of Muggle eyes.  The goblin nation, encamped in their thousands, rejected all emissaries and inquiries and threats with cold words and armed guards.  Magical observers could only watch them huddle amid brightly-colored canvas and clockwork beasts of silver, and wonder.

There were rumors and suspicions, especially after two exhausting hours had been spent communicating the events of the past two days and all the concerns that faced them.  Communications were sent back to different Things, and responses multiplied by the minute. Grindelwald’s cell had been examined, and the shackles of the Abiku were checked, and the dark pit of Sarai’s oubliette was secured.  But the monsters were all snug in their captivity, and worried minds turned to other possibilities.  The name of Merlin was mentioned.  Atlantis was mentioned.  Only a few knew enough to speak of the Three, and tremble.

Some did not react well.  A seer in Istanbul had gone mad, screaming about the return of the Dökkálfr -- sheer madness, for that grim faerie people had been gone from the earth for a hundred generations.  And a Slytherin boy named Lawrence felt a cold shiver run up his spine as he read the late edition of The Daily Prophet and recognized that, once more, deathly dangerous events were building on the near horizon.

And yet for all this, as Harry Potter-Evans-Verres sat in a crowded meeting room, surrounded by some of the most important and powerful individuals on the planet, drafting orders to be delivered to the Muggle Prime Minister and Minister of Magic Carmel N’Goma, and struggling to understand the sheer scale of the threat that loomed… for all this, Harry yet found himself wondering about Voldemort.

Where are you, Professor?  They could probably find him with the thaumometers, the same way they’d located Horcruxes.  But Harry had lost not only the memories of where he’d hidden away Voldemort’s cell, he’d even lost how he’d hidden it away.  Just thinking about it, he knew he’d be unable to look for the secret prison within the Tower… it was too dangerous for him.  What sorts of traps or obfuscation did I put in place?  Hermione will have to look for it, but will she even agree?  Yes, she will, once I put her to imagining an endless hell of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation.  We will have to --

“Harry!” said Mafalda Hopkirk, irritably, snapping her fingers.  The buxom head of the Unspeakables had clearly been trying to get his attention for some time.  Amelia Bones and Reg Hig, standing next to her, looked almost as upset.

“Sorry,” Harry said, feeling his face redden.  He stood up from his seat at the conference table, glancing around the meeting room.  No one else seemed to have noticed his distraction.  Moody was conferring with his aides, several of the Americans and Chinese, and three representatives from the Muggle government; Cedric was speaking urgently with Hermione, the Shichinin -- why did Neville have a black eye? -- and the Koreans; a pale Umbridge was sitting silently in the corner while the two sfaironauts (Percy’s brother, Ron, and Basil Horton) spoke with Draco; and two of the Returned, Hyori and Esther, were standing watchfully with several aurors.

Harry turned to Hopkirk, taking a deep breath and trying to settle himself.  “Sorry, Mafalda,” he said again.  “It’s been a difficult couple of days.  Where are we?”

“We’re in crisis,” Hopkirk replied, succinctly.  Her smooth, commanding voice was clipped.

“While we were trapped and enslaved, the world went mad,” said Hig.  He rubbed the end of his plum nose, sighing.  “I have to leave almost immediately to start dealing with just the problems springing up in the Americas.  Thousands of people are missing from New York, Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico City.  And Van Rensselaer, Randolphs, and Hardicanute,” and Hig indicated three of the Boston Brahmins, “all have reports of other disturbances.  Infierno has been breached, and twenty dark wizards and witches have escaped custody.”

“La Boca del Infierno has been broken into?” broke in Bones, sharply.  Without waiting for a reply, she stabbed a finger at one of Moody’s aides, who compliantly approached.  “Send a team of Hit Wizards to check on Howard.  Gecko protocol.”  The aide’s face paled, and he raced away.

“Our prophecy-analysts agree with the verdict of the Pool of Demand… something is happening, bigger than… well, bigger than anything they’ve ever seen or heard of,” said Hopkirk.  She sounded calm, but her shoulders were rigid with tension.

“Time is frozen,” said Moody, who approached.  There was a grim set to his jaw.  “Time everywhere is frozen.  We tried to set some surveillance in place and begin preparations, and we lost two aurors.  Bad deaths.  Shouldn’t be possible to do that, but the second attempt was made in Japan, and it failed too.”

“I checked back in with Powis,” said Hermione, who joined the conclave, Cedric and Draco following.  “Urg says he’s gotten messages from Curd, and it confirms what Cedric just told me.  Thousands of goblins from all over the world have gathered in Ackle.”

“Apparating, though most of them only recently got wands?” said Bones, in surprise.  She checked herself in a moment.  “No, of course not… stockpiled portkeys.”  She frowned, grimly.  “And that hints at long preparation.”

“We knew they’d been gathering weapons,” said Harry, wearily.  “We were going to… I don’t even know what we were going to do.  Speak to them, I suppose.  This isn’t a surprise, though.”  He felt sick to his stomach.  He knew that it wasn’t the right way to think about it -- to think that they owed him anything, just because he’d finally begun to put an end to years of oppression.  A good person stopped doing evil because it was evil, not because they wanted something from the victim.  But it was still a bitter pill to swallow.

“After all we’ve done for those vile little creatures,” said Hopkirk.  Moody and Bones nodded, their faces sour.  Draco looked torn between smugness and horror.

Hermione frowned and glanced at Harry, but said nothing.

Harry imagined all the deadly things that could be done with goblincraft and a little ingenuity.  He imagined all the damage a mass mob of people could do when enchanted, even without magic.  He imagined the power of ancient magic from ages past, wielded today.  He imagined all the unknowns that might yet present themselves.

“Assets,” he said, abruptly, swallowing the bile rising in his throat.  “What are our assets?”

They collaborated to tick them off, estimating the number of witches and wizards they could bring to bear in battle in different scenarios, and their effectiveness.  The leaders of the Jīngluò and Rakshasa joined the group, working with Hig to fill in the gaps.  Everyone lied to everyone else, omitting available artifacts and warriors from their accounting, but it wasn’t too long before the small group had an estimate of the total armed force they might be able to summon, if every member of the Confederation could be brought to bear.

There were perhaps a million wizards and witches in the world, with higher concentrations in a few places like Britain (for reasons that might best be described as “imperial”).  Perhaps half of that number had more than rudimentary magical schooling, and an even smaller proportion could be said to be ready to fight.  All told, an optimistic estimate of the wizards available to fight in a world-threatening emergency -- like massed armies of Muggles or goblins -- would be something like fifty thousand.  The actual forces they’d probably have on hand on short notice would be something like a tenth of that total.

“Are we moving too fast?” Cedric asked, as they reached their grim conclusions.  “We don’t even know if the disappearances or the goblins are related to each other, or to Meldh’s attack here, or even if there’s going to be conflict.”

“I think,” said Hermione, carefully, “that we should probably work on the assumption that all of the events are related in some way, even if it’s not the way we might think.  We certainly shouldn’t start any accidental wars, but it’s the Three, after all, not the One.  There are two more Meldhs out there, and he told Harry that there was going to be violence.”

“We should assume the worst,” said Draco with a look of gentle scorn for Cedric.  “But even if wizards are outnumbered by goblins or Muggles, even if it’s three to one, we can win.  As long as we know where they will strike and prepare for rapid movement, we’ll wipe out any attack.”

Harry held up his hand and waited for the bustle to quiet down.  He looked to Madame Bones.

“Supreme Mugwump, if I might?”  She nodded assent, impatiently, and Harry raised his voice.  “We need to prioritize and organize.  We need communication between decision-makers.  We need to determine likely targets, and likely forces at our command.  We need to try to figure out who is behind this -- if it is the Three -- and what they want.”

He pointed at Moody and Hig, in turn.  “Reg, I know you want to go home, but you need to have home brought to you.  You will work with Moody and sort out our vulnerabilities… no, the world’s vulnerabilities.  If possible, get in touch with He Jin of the Court of Rubies, and let him take the lead.”

Harry next turned to Draco and Bones.  “Draco, you and Madame Bones might best work on a command structure and mobilizing our forces.  Everyone you can think of, and assume some groups will betray us -- either out of short-sighted ignorance or deliberate treachery.  Find the Minister and Percy and ask them to help.”

He turned to the remaining individuals.  “Our friends from other countries need to assign emergency plenipotentiary representatives.  Everyone else, we’ll have specific things for you to do, shortly.”  He drew a deep breath, reaching back to pull his ponytail snug.  “Listen, Draco is right.  Some of you know me, but I think I can say without ego that everyone here knows of me.  And trust me when I say that we can do this.  Even if we’re surprised by an attack, and an enemy has local superiority, wizards have superior mobility and firepower in almost every direct conflict.  Even if this is the worst-case scenario -- a return to the old days we’ve read about in books, with armies of thousands and goblin armies wielding their weapons -- we’ll be evenly matched with them.  If we keep our heads about us, we can do this.”

Many people nodded firmly, cheering at the little speech.  Placing their faith in him.  Some scowled or rolled their eyes.  They needed no encouragement, or didn’t buy it.  A few only looked angry.  He didn’t know why.

“Meldh put those of us in the Tower through hell, but we beat him.  We beat him with our wits and our preparation.  We can do that now, if the Three are really attacking on this scale -- really stepping out of the shadows.  They’re using all the powers of the old world, everything that’s always worked for villains like them in the days gone by.  But we’re going to use all the powers of our new world to match them, and we’re going to beat them.”

Before Harry had finished speaking, an auror had appeared at the front entrance to the meeting room, his face shiny with sweat and filled with horror.  Another messenger was on his heels, and she rushed to Mafalda Hopkirk.

Oh no.

“Madame Bones,” he said, his voice strained.  “An army of Muggles has attacked the Ministry.  It’s been evacuated and they’re holding off the enemy, but there are thousands of them.  And Howard Prison has been breached.  And there’s --”

He was interrupted by a short shriek from Hopkirk, who was swaying where she stood, drunkenly, her face stricken.

All eyes turned to her.

“The Unseelie have risen.  The flesh-harrowers.  The ravers.  The sailors of the sea of teeth.  Oh Merlin, no, no, no… to hell with Muggles and goblins, the Unseelie have returned to the world.”  Her voice was strangled, and it was hard to say if it was the shock of her words or the dissolution of her normal composure that was the more disturbing.  “It’s not… we can’t... oh, Merlin, why?  You do not call up that which you cannot put down.  We’re… we’re...”  She swayed again, putting a hand on the shoulder of an adjunct, overcome with horror.

“We’re all going to die,” Hopkirk whispered.  “This whole world is going to die.”



2 comments:

  1. UNSEELIE COURT!!!!! :D

    so, that's like, what, Fairies, right? So sort of like the Pixies from Second Year? :) Just call Gilderoy! XD

    they are so fucked

    ReplyDelete