24 April 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Fifty: Ultimate

Significant Digits, Chapter Fifty: Ultimate

Out of the night that covers me,
     Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
     For my unconquerable soul.


The oldest stories of magical war are full of glory and drama, wrought on stage in bright colors, and entirely unlike the reality of war.

As the vile goblins or villainous Muggles or vicious warlords swarm the field, awash in blood and villainy, the valorous Lord of Emerald calls upon an ancient ritual and the eldritch might of his Staff of the Seven Words, and sweeps aside the enemy with a single, cathartic gesture.  Or if it’s a different sort of tale, the good-hearted baron finds himself at a loss at the climactic moment, and only the wits of his clever majordomo suffice to trick the gloating foe into a magical vow -- allowing a quibble in that vow, in the end, to bring that same foe to his ruin.  Or the entire action between heroes and villains takes place in the uncertain shadow of some ancient power in the distance, and in the extremity of danger, it is only the intervention of thunder from on high that resolves the dispute in favor of Goodness.

It is not that the authors of these stories were naive or ignorant of war.  In a world where scholarship and warcraft were so closely linked, it was often the winner of a battle who wrote the story of the fight.  Instead, a sort of wishful thinking prevailed in these narratives.

Real war is a horror.


All of the defenders had fallen back within Hogwarts where possible, barricading the doors on the three sides of the castle not protected by the lake.  They found battlements and windows and balconies, and rained down destruction on their enemies.  Outside, a smaller few engaged in different sorts of combat, fighting with growing desperation.

Oddly enough, Hogwarts was not ideally suited for battle.  The school was an ancient sanctuary of arcane lore, raised up when the world was wilder and magic was mightier, but it had seldom ever been directly challenged.  Despite all probability and the disruptive nature of magic, there had not been a violent change of regimes in Britain since the time of Merlin, when the Wizard’s Council was established -- the riotous Thing that preceded Merlin’s Wizengamot and the world’s Confederation.  Only two villains had ever dared to attack the walls of the castle-school, and they had met swift and sure ends.
An outside observer might even say, on balance, that magical history was suspiciously tidy.

Despite these limitations, however, the castle was a formidable fortification.  And once the defenders were forced to fall back within its walls, they devoted everything they could spare to preserving their strength.  It was all too apparent that, should the walls of the castle fail, it would be impossible to coordinate any sort of defense.  There was no motte to which they could retreat, or even any internal system of defense beyond the unreliable will of the building itself.  It was a single keep, and they could not allow it to fall.

They used every force and trick and power at their command, and the powers that be had called in every ounce of strength that could be spared from other fights.

In different corners and in secret places, there were portkeys held in reserve.  Portkeys to Hogsmeade, portkeys to the Receiving Room or other places in Hogwarts, and portkeys to the Forbidden Forest.  Most were illegal.  All that could be found, were used.  Too few came, for there were other wars and other battles.  At the Ministry of Magic, a heroic handful had held their ground.  At Godric’s Hollow, a force of goblins had met a troop of monsters in a clash that could only be called audacious.  Sadder still were the calls that simply went unanswered.

It was hard to say if there was victory to be had on any front.  Across the globe, much of the enemy had withdrawn or had spent itself, but even successful defenses had been ruinous.  And not every defense was successful.  Tidewater was cold and lifeless.  The Court of Rubies was bloody and dead.

But where there were warriors to answer and means to travel, they came to Scotland.  They came to the defense of Hogwarts and the Tower, the center of a global war and the thoughts of all.  From America and Russia and Korea and China they came.  From the Free States and the Sawad and Cyprus and Cappadocia and Norden they came.  From France and Germany and Hungary and Chile and New Zealand they came.  From everywhere they could, they came.

And those in a position to know gradually came to understand that there could be only two outcomes here, as day reddened into dusk and nightmare hordes met castle wall:

Either Hogwarts and wizards would survive this night.

Or they would not.


Hermione could hear Edgar Erasmus screaming.  At some point, the pompous wizard, engaged in aerial battle high above, had been toppled from his broom by a gust of wind.  When he fell, a goblin took the opportunity to dart forward and bury a spear into the man’s belly.  The spear had already claimed the life of a basilisk, and now an acid venom was wracking Erasmus’ wound.  He howled with agony, eyes fixed wide and face red, clutching at his stomach and writhing, legs slopping and flopping in a puddle of liquified stone.  Most of the hill on the east side of the castle had been made into a ruin of shattered rock and enchanted soil.  There were precious few Muggles left here, but the ones that were present could barely make their way forward through the devastated terrain… and most of the ones that managed were cut down by the careless and indiscriminate attacks of giant serpents and unliving creatures of rock, who did not differentiate between friend and foe.

Edgar Erasmus was in very much the wrong place, and his screams of agony spoke of that mistake.  This was no place for humans.  This was a primeval battle against horrors.

And as she heard him scream, Hermione Granger found herself thinking, No time for mercy, and -- to her shame -- not even knowing what she meant by the thought.

Shuddering, she brought the axe in her hand down a third time, and the head of the terrasque parted from its body, falling free.  Its mouth fell open to let a cloud of stinking vapor escape, and the heavy carcass dropped to the ground with a crash that knocked nearby Muggles off their feet.  It landed on Hermione’s right foot.  She barked a short cry of pain and instinctively yanked herself free, leaving behind at least one toe but keeping her footing.  She turned to look for a new target, keeping her gaze low as she scanned around herself.

Off to her left, she saw another terrasque as it savaged someone -- Muggle or wizard or goblin, Hermione didn’t know.  The creature was almost impersonal as it rent the body in its jaws into gorey pieces, holding most of it down with one of its six legs and methodically tearing away with its sightless lion’s head of black stone.

She felt rather than saw the basilisk as it struck at her, and she lunged to the side, chopping down awkwardly with the axe.  The goblin silver sank into the enormous serpent -- a glancing blow.  The blade sliced its way free and off to the side.  Before she could move, one of the basilisk’s coils or possibly just another basilisk collided with her back, swatting her with the strength of a freight train.

For a moment, Hermione lost track of things.

When she found herself again, she was on her rear, sitting with her back to something hard.  She jerked her gaze back down to the ground.  As if fighting giant monsters wasn’t hard enough you can’t even look at their eyes or else you die, she thought, dazedly.  Erasmus was still screaming.

She heard the clank of metal boots -- it was that trio of goblins who’d just joined the fight, Hermione realized.  The ones who gave her the axe.  She glanced at the sound, cautiously.

One of them was in full plate armor in a medieval sort of style, while the other two only wore breastplates and helmet.  The armor was silver and gold and brass; some pieces were bevelled and decorated with engravings, while others had simple and clean lines.  All three carried shields.  For reasons that Hermione didn’t fully grasp, all the goblins now had shields, even when it made it difficult to wield their chosen weapons.

She felt stupid, as if she should understand why, but that didn’t help.

A green bolt came from a defender on the battlement above her and streaked out of view down below.  Hermione was glad someone on their side could still cast the spell; she hoped they had hit a basilisk.  Her own wand was in its holster.  The axe had proven more effective.

She reached behind herself to feel the stone of the castle.  Hermione had damaged it, cracking it with the impact of her body.  If it had been mundane stone, she’d have gone straight through it, she thought; the stuff of Hogwarts was barely chipped.  She found the edge of a stone and pulled herself up.

As the goblins charged past her, she looked at where they were going, scanning the torn and smoking ground carefully until she could see the giant curving form of the basilisk in her near-peripheral vision.  Then she launched herself forward, following the three goblins as they charged.  Two of them raised their swords, and one of them set a spear-butt in the crook of his elbow.  All three of them raised their voices in guttural cries she couldn’t understand.

A gleam of silver -- her axe.  Hermione snatched it up in her golden gauntlet as she ran.  She heard the basilisk hiss, and saw a flash of movement as it struck.  One of the goblins hurtled past her, broken.

The other two kept charging, roaring like heroes.  She joined her voice to theirs, and followed them.


Draco couldn’t move his right arm.  Much of it had been torn away, removed with great gouges by one of the dog-like things that were racing around, tearing apart victims.  He couldn’t quite get a grasp on them -- they weren’t properly visible, but just seemed like smears of insane nonsense.  Rough impressions: Wide mouth.  Sucking discs of teeth.  Pale eyes of blue cataracts.  Knotty muscle.

What was left of his arm hung limply from his shoulder, as though it weren’t even a part of him.    At least the potion had stopped the bleeding.  Kept him alive.  That ugly little American had given it to him.  Hig.  The fellow was down the hall, with Gregory Goyle.  At a different window.  A different defense.

They’d managed to kill three or four of the things.  The Killing Curse worked, and maybe other curses as well, Draco wasn’t sure.  They moved so quickly, leaping around faster than anything could move, faster than anything should be able to move, and their every touch brought bloody blight to their victims.  Wards and shields could stop them, but when they struck even something as doughty as a Prismatic Sphere, it was as though they hit with the force of a dragon.  Draco had thrown up a ward to deflect one of the human-shaped monsters from entering through the window he was defending, and the blow it had dealt his spell had brought him to his knees.  He hadn’t fallen, but only just.  He could feel the magic positively drain out of him.

Draco lifted his wand, held it in Ochs.  There were some Muggles below, but they were thin on the ground.  And in light of the other creatures, they seemed quaint with their cricket bats and knives.  None of them had guns or explosives, and so they weren’t worth his attention.

The sun was setting, and all the light was red.  It would be night, soon.

A flash of motion leapt past the window, and Draco heard a scream from somewhere.

He leaned against the curved side of the window.  He wanted to fall to the ground.  He wanted to weep.  He wanted to sleep.

But he would not.  Some things were stronger than sleep or weakness or death.  He would fight.

Then he heard a hooting sound, and this time he was too slow with his shield.  Before he knew what exactly had happened, he was on the floor before the window, and something was on him.  He’d lost his wand, it was gone, he couldn’t do anything.

It was one of the flying ones, and it was on his shoulder and one side of his chest


he felt

pain ripping


he heard

a wet sound

of flesh tearing

and the crackle

of bone


and the pain

was killing him

he screamed

he screamed

he screamed

he screamed

he went away for a moment

and remembered

“Draco,” Harry said.  “Thank you for coming.  I… well, thank you.”

“What do you want, Potter?” Draco said, staring at the other boy.  Potter had his face all screwed up, brows furrowed, as he always looked when he was about to be unbearably earnest.  Looking at him made Draco feel sick -- a deep and bitter disgust that tasted of acid.

Potter closed his eyes.  “I want to make you a promise.  A promise about your father.  I want to --”

“Harry Potter,” said Draco, his voice a dangerous hiss.  “Be very careful what you say next.”  He could feel the acid on his tongue, but even more, it was burning in his veins.  The rage and hatred.  The things that made him weep at night, as he forced his face into his pillow and sobbed with great wracking cries.  The things that made the presence of his mother a cruel thing, because they were very nearly strangers and his father was freshly buried.  The things that made him so eager to hurt someone, these days.  “Be very careful,” he repeated.

Potter hesitated, opening his eyes to look back at Draco.  Green eyes, filled with compassion.  Draco wanted to spit in them.

“Listen,” said Potter.  “I’ve been thinking about what I owe… about the shape of things, and the degree to which my own arrogance and blindness have hurt others.  And you’ll understand more about that, soon, I think, but…”  He paused, looking at the ground.  “Draco, I want to make you a promise.  A promise to try my hardest to do something.  And I don’t want anything from you in exchange, not even your friendship.  I want nothing from you.  This isn’t about you.  It’s about… terminal values.”  The other boy stopped again, seeming to think about how what he was saying might sound.  “About the things that are the most important in the world to me.”

Draco could kill him.  They were alone, and no one knew Draco was here.  He had a knife, and Potter wouldn’t expect that.

“Draco,” said Potter, “I am sorry your father is dead.  Truly and absolutely.  With all my heart.”  A flash of something came across the boy’s face -- regret, somehow.  “But I have seen impossible things.  Magic is an impossible thing -- or rather, it is all possible things, which is pretty much the same thing.  It’s brought… Hermione is back, and magic has made the space between death and life, which was already not very wide, into something that seems so small.  Magic is…” Potter closed his mouth, shaking his head.  “Sorry, I’m not saying what I mean.  I’m not saying this very well.”

Potter folded his arms, and hugged himself.  Draco stared at him.

“I… Draco, I don’t know how to say this.  If it will seem insulting or crazy or what.  So I’m just going to say it and hope you know that I mean it,” the other boy began again.  He raised his eyes, and met Draco’s gaze.

“I intend,” said Harry Potter, “to spend the rest of my life working to stop anyone from dying again -- everyone’s father and mother and son and daughter.  And I intend to bring back those that have died, through whatever ritual or spell that needs to be invented to cross that last remaining gap of time.”

“Draco,” Harry said, “I promise to try my hardest for the rest of my life to try to bring back your father.”

And there was an instant, right then, when the Lord Malfoy very nearly murdered the Lord Potter for toying with his heart.  But Draco stopped himself, and stared into Harry’s eyes which did not leave his own.

And he saw something there.  He saw steel, and something harder than steel.  He saw a will that would brook no obstacle and tolerate no barrier.  He saw the diamond-hard will that had brought back Hermione Granger and Draco didn’t know how but he knew that had been Potter and he saw an honour that bound this boy to a path.  He saw a promise that was stronger than sleep or weakness or death.

“Will you help?”

Draco’s wand was in his hand.  It was still in his hand.

He was there and he was alive.  Something was attacking him.  One of those things was attacking him.  It was killing him.  He didn’t want to die.  He wouldn’t die.  He couldn’t die.  Because...

Because he wanted to see his father again someday.

And some things were stronger than sleep or weakness.  Or death.

Avada Kedavra!” he cast.  The thing on his shoulder vanished, dissolving in a blaze of green light that burned away the inchoate blur of murderous sensations.

He slumped back to the stone, gasping.

The world was hazy and dark.  Draco blinked, rapidly.

“Sir!”  A voice.  “Sir, hold on, I’m here!”


Pip jumped as the Bloodfoot Curse rippled across the rough slates of the roof towards him.  He lost his balance as he landed, one foot sliding on a tile, but caught himself with one hand.  Bellatrix Black laughed at him.

This was bloody deja vu, really.

The fight had been going on for what seemed like hours.  They had been moving to the roof, to try to use massed volleys of the Killing Curse against some of the more insane-seeming monsters that had come calling at Hogwarts tonight, but what had begun as three tight, tactical formations had dissolved into chaos as some of the enemy took the fight to them.  A flaming chariot had burst from somewhere sideways of reality, drawn by a horse of fire, and it had left madness in its wake:

Ten witches and wizards with bloody sigils of hands and swords on their robes.

That skinny American witch from the Council of Westphalia, looking spidery and sour.

And that bleeding bitchy bint Bellatrix bloody Black.

Pip felt how a Gryffindor in the library must feel: lost and upset.  Bellatrix was missing an arm and an eye, and she was still a better duelist than he was.

To his left, Madame Bones was fighting the American.  That should have been a brief contest, but somehow the Westphalian was managing to hold off the Chief Mugwump, fighting with unimaginably queer new spells and with a sad grimness.  Mr. Diggory was already unconscious, having coughed himself into unconsciousness after receiving a blast of Rotlung in his face.

To his right, Mad-Eye Moody and three other aurors were fighting the Grindelwaldians.  Wait, didn’t they have a proper name?  Something Hungarian and unpronounceable?  No matter.  Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, the good guys were winning.  Pip couldn’t even follow some of the things Moody was doing.  At one point, Pip could have sworn he’d actually seen one of Moody’s stunners turn in mid-air before hitting its target.

That had left Pip and Kwannon to fight Bellatrix Black, which seemed insane since didn’t they already know how that would end after last time?  But there was nothing for it, and so they fought, and Bellatrix was laughing again.

Maybe one of the defenders in the air would be able to help.  Pip knew that one of the American auror squads, as well as the Shichinin.  They had their own enemies to face, but this was Bellatrix Black.

Kwannon raised a shield to buy them some time, but Pip remembered the last fight -- he raised his own, too.  When a Breaking Drill eradicated Kwannon’s barrier, the curse -- following the first one almost immediately, impossibly fast -- burst against Pip’s redundant shield.  And both of them were quick enough on the dodge to avoid the Killing Curse that blazed at them within an instant.

“Better!” shrieked Bellatrix with a laugh.  “Dancing dollies!”

Lagann!  Stupefy!” cast Pip, at almost the same time that Kwannon shouted, “Stupefy!  Lagann!”

Bellatrix twirled in place, cackling, and let her shield dissolve as she dodged.  She had another raised almost as quickly as Pip could have blinked, and then she flicked her wand in a way that Pip didn’t recognize.  A stream of yellow liquid burst out at the gesture, spraying from nowhere.

Caught without any idea of what the curse would do, or what shield would be appropriate, Pip did as he had been trained: he dodged again.  Kwannon, trained by the same person (the curse-casting blur just behind them, in fact) did the same.

And Bellatrix anticipated it.  When Kwannon threw herself to the side, a Slow Blade of Unusually Specific Destruction was waiting for her.  It exploded violently.

Kwannon was thrown bodily away, and off the roof, and she was gone.

And it was at this moment that Pip wished he were a different sort of person.  Someone important.  A noble, or a brilliant researcher, or a seer.  Or even just someone truly special.  Because he knew that truly special people wouldn’t die.  Not this way, not after so much.  Not at the moment when it mattered the most, when failure would mean the death of Alastor Moody and Amelia Bones and so many others.

He’d seen the plays.  Bloody hell, working in the Tower had been like living in a play.  Utterly impossible things happened all the time when necessary.  When the really special people were in danger, even if it was from things like the Killing Curse… well, somehow, it worked out.

Philip Pirrip was just his mother’s son.  He was a decent auror, and a hard worker.  He could say that about himself.  But in that moment, as he leapt to his feet and tried to think of what to do next, knowing that he’d already fought this battle and had lost as though he were a Hufflepuff toddler… well, he just wished he were someone else.  Someone special.


In the fell clutch of circumstance
     I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
     My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Hermione saw her again.  The witch in green.  The one who’d been with the monsters, walking with them, controlling them.

Hermione dragged her axe free of the basilisk’s head.  It smoked with venom.  So too did the golden gauntlet on Hermione’s right hand.  There was a greenish tinge to both metals, now.  Hermione shook the axe, and gore splattered to the ground.  Where the ichor fell, the ground began to bubble and steam.

The witch was standing in front of one of the walls of the castle, and she’d sunk her hand into the stone.  A terrasque stood motionless beside her, obedient as a great stone dog, as the witch in the green dress dragged her hand downward.  Like a knife sliding through butter, she cut a long rent through the stone of Hogwarts, kneeling as she brought her hand all the way to the ground.  Then she pulled her hand free and straightened.

This must be one of them.  One of the Three.  One of the leaders.  The enemy.

Hermione pulled her bubbler from her robes.  The back of it had been crushed in, and the decorative clamshell case was falling apart, but it still worked.  “Boys?” she said.

“We’re here,” came the voice of one of the Weasley twins.

“ ‘Boys,’ ” scoffed the Russian witch with them.

“Be ready and watch for the high sign,” Hermione said.

“You got it,” replied another twin, cheerily.

Hermione put away her bubbler, and steadied herself.  Then she attacked.

She shouted no challenge and no warning.  She simply threw her axe at the witch, as hard as she could.  It flashed through the air, whistling as it flew.

The terrasque intervened, lurching into motion, and the axe bounced off of its side, the handle hitting the creature’s rough red shell.

The witch turned to face Hermione.  Her face was serious, but her eyes were bright.  The terrasque shifted out of the way, lumbering aside.

“Hello,” the witch said.  There was a husky accent in her voice.  “You are Hermione Granger.  You are quite magical, and quite powerful.”  She raised her hand.  “And I think your time is done.”

Hermione already had the Elder Wand in hand, and she charged.


A figure in plain grey robes walked the halls of Hogwarts, unseen.  It moved with some uncertainty -- as though it knew its destination, but not the exact path.  But it found its way to the library before too long.

Harry Potter didn’t see.  He had a bubbler in hand, and was giving urgent instructions.

“-- no, it’s not enough to say the word.  You have to… you have to find something within yourself.  You have to produce a deliberate will within yourself, like you were casting wandless magic.”

Harry Potter was standing at one of the library windows.  A strange sort of Muggle device was set up there -- a tube mounted on a tripod, pointing up at the stars.  Two aurors stood on either side of it, maintaining shields across the window against any intrusion.  The floor was covered in chalk markings, repeatedly rubbed away and redrawn.

This was not the Archon Heraclius Hero, perfectly reshaped into a facsimile.  That was obvious.  How strange.  Harry Potter had won, somehow.  It was beyond belief, but it had happened.

The threat personified stood there, unaware and vulnerable, and the figure studied him.  Just a boy, really.  The crux was still just a boy.  So dangerous to everything and everyone, the age-old threat to life resolved by time’s lens into this single person, and it was just a boy.

The figure permitted himself a smile.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears
     Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
     Finds and shall find me unafraid.


The Unseelie had gathered in a tight knot outside the western walls.  They were pulling someone apart, and that person was screaming.  Impressions of black eyes and wide, wet mouths moved delicately and deliberately, causing pain as if it were an art.

It was horrible, but it was a respite for the defenders.

No, not a respite, Draco thought.  An opportunity.

Where was Moody?  We need to take advantage of this, right now.

He shoved himself away from the wall that been supporting him, and brandished his wand.  “Expecto Patronum.”

A silver krait undulated on the stone before him, moving gently.

“Go to every wizard and witch on this side of the castle and on the battlements,” Draco commanded it, and he bent his will to making that a thought of peace and happiness.  “Tell them to find me near the entrance to Gryffindor Tower.  We are going to strike.”

Before the snake was gone, Draco had fumbled his bubbler out of his robes, and was contacting everyone he’d seen who was still answering.

Outside, someone was screaming.


When Gregor Nimue and Harry Madagascar both slumped to the floor, as suddenly unconscious as though they’d been bludgeoned, Harry knew that the moment had come.

He turned around, and saw a middle-aged man in plain grey robes.  A little out of shape, with a small paunch.  Taller than average, but somewhat stooped.  A face heavily seamed with care, and green eyes.  Ancient, ancient green eyes.

“Are you him?” Harry asked.

The man smiled, softly.  He had a kind face.

“Yes, Harry Potter,” he said, in a voice that was mellow, and deeper than Harry expected.


Pip had lasted only a few minutes more, and he suspected that was only by Bellatrix Black’s cruelty.

“Silly billy boy,” sang the insane witch, “and now such fun!”

She had captured him casually, whipping the Incarcerating Curse at him amid a torrent of attacks.

He lay there, helpless.

He had to watch as she turned on Moody, who was backpedaling away, trying to find a way to create some space.  Only one auror still stood by his side against five of the Hungarians, and curses and shields were appearing and disappearing and flowing and sparking out with such rapidity that it looked more like a magical dance than intelligible combat.  But there was nowhere to retreat to, and no way to create room or escape.  Now he would have to have to watch.  Again.

Bellatrix Black shrieked her mad laughter and struck away Moody’s shield.  Then again as he produced another one, but despite the desperation of his motions he still had to fight Grindelwald’s soldiers.  They redoubled their attacks, and Moody reached the edge of the roof, and had no more room to retreat.  

Bellatrix paused, sighing a deep and happy sigh, and giggled once more.  She raised her wand.


The cry came from above.

“Bellatrix Black!”

It was otherworldly.

Bellatrix Black!”

It was enraged.

“Bellatrix Black!”

It was magnificent.


It was Neville Longbottom.

He came from the sky.  He didn’t land, exactly -- rather, he plummeted to the roof in a swooping dive, so steep that it seemed as though he would simply crash straight through the slates, but Longbottom pulled up at the last minute dead even with the slates, alighting and walking without even an instant of transition.  He stepped forward and the broom clattered to the roof and Longbottom was already attacking, once twice thrice, as though gravity and timing and all the laws of possibility were mere formalities that he’d chosen to discard.  Tall and terrible, the Lord Longbottom moved like the wind.

He attacked Bellatrix, and it was a thing of beauty and glory -- choreographed, as if it had been practiced every day for years.  High feint drawing a shield, which put him into position for obfuscation, and which in turn flowed seamlessly into three glowing offensive bolts.  It was a series like any auror would learn... but rather than two or three spells in sequence, Longbottom attacked without ceasing, a rhythmic and timed flow of variety and passion.  He switched from low attacks to broad ones, raised wards and then shattered them with surprising new offensives, and stripped away Bellatrix’s defenses with a hurricane of attacks.

In an existence that threatened to become overcrowded with the unbelievable, Pip still found room for astonishment.

Bellatrix laughed; high-pitched, insane.  “Silly little do--” she began, but a flurry of attacks cut her off, and she was forced to defend herself.  “Silly bi--” she began again, only to again be forced to bark out a shield of crystal and dodge away from danger.

“You --”

“Silly bi--”

No one could be standing after attacking endlessly, relentlessly, unstoppably, but Neville Longbottom never broke his stride and never broke his sequence.  One spell followed another, one attack followed another, one shield followed another.  No openings, no weaknesses, no opportunities, no respite.

Bellatrix Black’s laugh broke.  She lashed away attacks and raised wards and cast curses, but she was not fighting a wizard.  She was fighting an elemental force.

And every taunt and every joke and every insanity was cut off by some new attack.  Every word broken by offense.  Every moment under siege.

“That’s --”

Longbottom advanced without pausing, never breaking stride.  He was discarding his humanity, and doing it despite eyes streaming with tears.

“No --”

“You --”

And finally, Bellatrix’s mad smile cracked as she desperately ducked the hundredth attack, and she shrieked with a voice full of fear, “Stop!

And like a wrathful god, Neville Longbottom, a thousand feet tall and burning with brimstone, roared in return, “That’s what they said to you!  Avada Kedavra!


Hermione’s duel with the witch in the green dress was a strange thing.

The Goddess charged, wand raised, already casting.  The enemy sneered, raising her own hands, and lightning surged between them.

The Elder Wand took it from the air.

Hermione’s attacks fell uselessly against the witch’s shields, which barely glowed a gentle silver as they absorbed one curse after another.  The witch’s attacks found no purchase, for the Elder Wand moved of its own accord, assisting its true owner, obliterating magics as though they were a child’s whisper.

Hermione closed the distance, and they fought.  Spells fell on shields.  Spells fell on wand-wards.  The duel was a storm without wind.

Almost as an afterthought, the Goddess crushed the head of a terrasque with her golden gauntlet, which carved through the creature with the burning fury of basilisk venom.  But she could gain no traction against the witch in the green dress, who evinced neither strain nor dismay.

“Foolish monkey,” said the witch, her voice punctuated by the wordless thrusts of her hand which sent green light and burning flame and sharp crystal cascading into Hermione’s wand-borne defenses.  “Didn’t you know there was only ever one outcome, here?”

“I did,” said Hermione, panting.  “And so now would be good, gentlemen.”

She lashed out at the witch with every ounce of belief and faith and grief, and the enemy’s wards glowed bright under duress.  Hermione’s other hand landed like a titan’s hammer immediately afterwards, a crushing blow dealt with a troll’s strength.

At the same instant, there were two sharp cracks, almost simultaneous.  Twin gunshots, fired from above.

The first rifle shot shattered the witch’s shield.  The second passed through her stomach.

Perenelle du Marais screamed, and it was loud, and it was long.


Draco looked over his troops.  Perhaps a hundred wizards and witches.  Weary, ragged, wounded, crammed into the small room where the Gryffindor stairs met the main hallway.  Three watching at the windows, where the horror-things were pulling apart their victims.  He clutched his ruined arm with the other to stop it from swaying -- he was swaying, bloody hell.  No, this would not do.

Unbreakable honour.

The Lord Malfoy forced himself to straighten up.  Black shapes danced in front of his eyes, and for a moment everything went dull and far away, but he held himself upright.  He held himself like a Malfoy.

His face was out of control.  Draco mastered it, arranging it how he pleased: a cold look of confidence.  His body was a tool, his to wield.

His voice.  Before he spoke, he felt the blood in his mouth and throat.  No.  He swallowed it back, swallowed the bile and blood.  Cleared his instrument.

“We’re attacking.  A massed attack.  The enemy is gathered together.  They’re not afraid.  They should be.”

“We’ll die,” offered Reg Hig.  Not opposition, but resignation.

“We might.  But we are already dead.  This way, we have a chance..”

No, this is… no, it’s weak.  The stuff of desperation and stupidity… last resorts persuaded no one.  Damn you, Draco, focus on their weakness, not ours.  Where are you?  You are the knife: Cut.

“Listen to me, all of you,” Draco said, and he put steel in his voice.  “I won’t pretend to believe in everything that the Tower believes.  I won’t tell you any pretty stories about the way the world could be.  Listen to me when I tell you that we need to act now to protect the way the world is, and everything that’s in it.  Listen to me when I say that magic exists and it is precious, and we need to protect it.

“I am not the sort of person they call ‘good,’ ” he said, and now the steel came of itself, and he stood even taller, and he heard his father’s voice in his own.  “I am the sort of person who gets results.  Against all odds.  Against a united country and a united world, I have gotten results.  Because there are things that are more important than you or me or even this bloody school.  There are things more important than our blood or our very age.  There is magic in this world, in every wand here and every soul, and they will crush it if we let them.”

He raised his wand into the air, and it glowed with a fire he knew glowed in his own eyes.

“So when I say to you that now is the time and when I ask if you will follow me, know that this is our best hope, and that we will win.  For there is something greater than goodness and greater than even these odds, and that is us!”

What arrant nonsense, thought the Lord Malfoy, as he spoke honeyed lies.

A hundred wands rose in response.

And from high above, there was a new sound.  Many voices, raised in a single call.


“Who are you?” asked Harry, lowering the bubbler.  He left it open, Luna listening on the other end.

“Merlin,” answered the man, simply.  He watched Harry, arms casually at his side.

Despite everything, Harry felt himself shiver at the name.  He knew that it might well be a lie -- certainly it was the lie he’d have chosen, in this man’s place -- but it could also be true.  It was more plausible than any of the other possibilities, if the law of parsimony was any guide: Merlin applying a secret, guiding hand, working to prevent the doom that he’d foreseen… well, it broke no rules of time travel and required no additional elements.

Harry had anticipated other possibilities, of course.  Albus Dumbledore, trapped beyond time -- that could well have put him in some ancient era before the Mirror was made.  Or Garrick Ollivander, whose familial presence in Britain had been suspiciously unchanging for most of wizarding history.  Or Harry himself, returning from a future where they’d mastered all knowledge, acting to ensure the realization of that future.  Or some random, unnamed individual, hidden perfectly from sight throughout all time and legend.

But ultimately, what plausible candidate made sense, other than the one who had famously acted from the start to try to limit magic and preserve the world?

“You’re here to destroy me and save the future of the world,” Harry said.  He kept his voice rigidly formal.  “And for that, sir, I respect you.  It is even possible that --” his voice faltered as he remembered J.C. Kraeme’s  bloodied body, the death of Hermione and Granville, and the hundreds of thousands who had already died today, but he pressed on.  “It is even possible that you have done the right thing.”

Merlin nodded solemnly, his smile fading from his face.  “Then you understand.”

“I do,” said Harry.  For a moment, he felt the absurdity of the moment.  This was a moment that might spell the difference between a world of magic and advancement, a world where death could be defeated and Dumbledore could be retrieved, and… and a different world.  A darker timeline. And all of that was riding on this simple, clumsy conversation.

“But,” Harry went on, as Merlin raised his hand, “your map is wrong.”

Merlin didn’t lower his hand, but only tilted his head.  Just slightly.  An invitation.

“You must have known of Albus Dumbledore -- perhaps you even knew him, somehow,” said Harry.  “I sometimes wonder if he was the wisest man I’ve ever known, or merely the bravest.  He ransacked the Hall of Prophecy and used his knowledge of the future to guide its shape.  He didn’t believe prophecies could be truly averted, I think, and he might have been right.  In retrospect this seems obvious, but people like Tom Riddle spent years trying to avoid one prophecy or another, and they always failed.”  Harry shrugged.  “I’ve never heard of a prophecy that was simply wrong.  And if my readings are correct, you agree with him.”

“So you know this, then: I, Harry Potter-Evans-Verres, will tear apart the stars.”

Merlin nodded his head, slowly.  His eyes were amused and curious, but they held a fundamental flatness.  Harry couldn’t imagine what that might be -- some jadedness from such a long life, a precommitment to ignore all persuasion, or something beyond his ken -- but he had no time to worry about it.  He pushed forward, and felt his thoughts begin to catch fire.

Once upon a time, a lonely little boy had gone to a strange school.  He was a prophet of new ideas, and saw things in a new way -- he was the needle’s point of a black slash that cut from one entire civilization into another, bringing the force of thousands of years of accumulated knowledge to bear on a point forged by trauma into diamond strength.  And yet not a single jot or tittle of that had mattered, in the end.  So little of the boy’s cleverness had actually been brought to bear.  His beliefs were the hard uphill way, and even a prophet was not immune to easy answers.

It was not until the end that the boy had grasped the real meaning of his own beliefs, and had ascended.  Rationality was winning.

Harry’s mind blazed like an inferno.  He raised his hand.

“First.”  He held up a finger.  “Only two people are known to have ever mastered all the wizards and witches of the world.  Both, I think, did it for a good cause.  But consider that for all your power and your age, I have done what you did… and I have done it without force, and by granting life and power, and I have done it in only seven years.  I am your equal in this respect, and if you underestimate me now, then think about the fate of everyone else who has done so.  Think of your ally, Heraclius Hero.

“Second.”  He held up another finger.  “Events are already in motion to ensure that magic and humanity survive.  The Tower is gone, and the Mirror which was the door.  It has found a new place.”  High above us, Harry thought.  Six hundred kilometers high, so that its field of view encompasses the whole planet.  “Some friends of mine wait there -- waiting to find out whether I live or die.  I will not tell you their instructions.  But know that we all lie within the mirror now.

“Third.”  He held up a third finger.  “You have several times attempted to disrupt my designs.  You arranged for the destruction of my first facility, killing my friend in the process.  And this very day your ally tried to enslave me.  And yet I am here, and he is gone.”

Harry’s mouth grew firm. He met Merlin’s eyes for a long moment, and then moved those three fingers: thumb poised against forefinger and middle finger. Ready to snap.

"So think. Stop and think. You have a map in your head -- a mental map of reality. As you move through the world, you can trace your path on it. You can tick off events as you come to them; that's how you know your map matches reality. When you're surprised, it's not because reality is wrong... it's because your map is wrong. When you realize that, you have two choices: you change your map, or you get lost."

Merlin stared at him, and all vagueness and flatness was gone.  In its place was the raptor gaze of someone who was beyond death and weakness, who had weighed human life and discarded it when it interfered with his will.

"Consider whether you have been surprised by events. Consider whether this is unfamiliar ground. Consider your fallen allies. Consider your derailed plans," Harry said, and his voice was soft. "Stop and think, and consider: do you want to keep moving in this direction? Or might there be other surprises waiting for you?"

“I will give you the same chance that Lord Voldemort -- that Tom Riddle -- was given, before I took his life.  I will give you the same chance that Meldh had, before I took his life.  Stop now, and go in peace.

“Or I will end you.”

Harry didn't waver, and he was not afraid.

And it wasn't because he knew of some ultimate sanction or greater plan.

And it wasn't because he knew that Hermione would save the day with some impossible feat.

And it wasn't because he had faith in something greater than himself.

Harry did not waver because this moment laid bare his heart, the white-hot line of humanity at his center, slashing through the black arc of Tom Riddle and cutting through every obstacle in his way. Harry did not waver because he had tested all things and held fast to that which was true, and he had set that truth in service of the good with every last ounce of strength and will and might.

And for Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres, that was the purpose of life.

“Well?” said Harry.

From outside, a woman screamed, long and loud.  The scream of a dying woman.

Within a moment, another cry joined with the first: the sound of a hundred phoenixes, their call like the birth of a new world.


It matters not how strait the gate,
     How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
     I am the captain of my soul.

 -“Invictus,” by W. E. Henley


Merlin studied Harry closely.

And turned.

And left.

22 April 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Nine: Penultimate

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Nine: Penultimate

Hermione had a moment to think as she and the Returned climbed through the air away from Hogwarts, zipping over the school grounds towards Hogsmeade.  It was a short distance -- a few minutes’ flight -- but she took the opportunity afforded her to think beyond the immediate tactical situation.  Strategy, not only the demands of the moment, needed to dictate her movements.  And right now, she didn’t have any sort of larger strategy.

How could I?  How do you fight an enemy that breaks all the rules of the game?  Hermione thought to herself.  The Three were attacking -- Well, now it must be the Two, really, she thought, thinking about the unremarkable white stone that was sitting inside of a small, mundane iron box in the Headmistress’ coat pocket.  But Meldh had wrought havoc and almost brought the entire world under his control with one spell… It had taken an ancient artifact and years of planning to create a safeguard against that kind of attack, and even then it might have failed if things had gone a little differently.  At that last moment, if Meldh had the wits or resources to draw up another spell from his ages of lore, there was literally no predicting what he might have been able to do to her or Harry -- even with his throat missing.

The old books were full of fantastical feats and mighty deeds, and attempting to sort out the historical from the apocryphal was more a work of literary criticism than historical research.  “Lord Foul” was said to have commanded dementors and basilisks and terresque, but was that a real spell of command that the Three might deploy, or simply a legend that the writer thought was appropriate for an infamous dark wizard?

Normally Hermione would be able to rule some things out -- a secret spell from the past that allowed its caster to stop someone’s heart without the possibility of dodging or warding, for example.  If such a spell had existed, it would have made the one who invented it into an unstoppable force.  History would look different.

But according to Harry, Meldh had implied that the Three had been in hidden control of events for generations, which meant that they might actually be an unstoppable force.

“They’re using all the powers of the old world,” Harry had said, “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.”

But unless they had some brilliant ideas very soon, she couldn’t see how.

Hermione heard a dull popping sound from far below among the trudging mass of mind-controlled Muggles -- no, people -- and pulled up on her broom.  The Returned matched her, and they rose higher yet.  They were already too high to be under real threat from rifle fire, even if they hadn’t been warded, but there was no point in risking it.  She glanced around her, making sure everyone was with her and uninjured.  Hyori and Esther rode on either side of her.  Charlevoix and Urg followed them, staggered at different altitudes, while Susie, Tonks, Nikitas, and Jessie were spread out in a third, staggered row.  Simon’s absence was conspicuous.

Simon.  My solid rock.  Sweet, solid Simon.  Gone now.  Hermione wished she could have been there -- to save him, to help him, even just to hold his hand.

He’d been the first one she’d saved.

It was still raining when Hermione began pulling open the cell doors.  The walls of Azkaban had been battered, and a great jagged fissure had split one of the three sides to the prison; Granville had carried her through and they had landed within, and for the first time in centuries, the broken halls of Azkaban felt the cleansing cool of the rain.

Most of the cells were empty.  Most of the prisoners were gone, transferred to the new Howard Prison or simply released.  But there were still people here.

One door was stuck.  Hermione forced her fingers around its edge, the stone cracking loudly through the patter of rain, and wrenched the door open.  Another empty cell -- no, there was someone here.

She stepped into the cell, and let gentle orange flame illuminate it.  Granville made a small sound, shifting in position on her shoulder.  It was a sound of remorse or admonition.

The person was lying on their side, staring up at the ceiling.  Rotting alive, with black leprous streaks of infection spreading from great mottled sores, entwined maladies spread across a withered chest.  As warm light touched the person’s face, they slowly closed their eyes and turned towards her.  What did they see when they looked at her -- just a soaked teenager with a phoenix and a scared look on her face?  Who did they think she was?

She reached out a reassuring hand to the person as she approached.

“My name is Hermione Granger.  I’m here to help you.”

And now he was gone.  Brave Simon.

Her attention snapped back to the present as they passed the gates to Hogsmeade, and she saw new enemies.  Not just the endless flood of weapon-wielding Muggles, but two other groups.

A large wedge of witches and wizards in robes was slowly, almost casually, making their way through the mass.  They walked in good order right along the stone-paved path from Hogsmeade, as though they were merely a group of forty students returning from a trip to Honeydukes.  The Muggles parted before them as though directed by an invisible force.  Something to do with the spell controlling the Muggles, or something about the orders they’d been given, or… maybe these are involved in the control or can give directions?

Hermione felt cold run up her back as she recognized -- even from this height -- some of the enemy.  Councilor Limpel Tineagar.  Bellatrix Black, with one eye and one arm (her artificial arm, the Gripmain, presumably still lay in the vaults of the Department of Mysteries).  Some of the strangers wore markings on their robes that Hermione recognized as the sigils of Grindelwald’s death squads, the Hírnökei; she could see the red sword of the Záh Kardja and the red hand of the Veres Kezek.  No Grindelwald in his own person -- a small mercy in this tide of nightmares.

And yet even this was not the end, for behind this infantry of dark wizards was a cavalry of monsters.  

She recognized the basilisks.  The enormous serpents were following a lone witch in a green dress, seeming to mimic her movements.  As she walked, they swayed to match the swing of her hips, and their gaze was clearly fixed on her back to the exclusion of all else.  The basilisks were at least fifty feet long, perhaps more; the portion of their serpentine bodies that they held upright was as tall as a two-storey Muggle home.

Behind the basilisks was another mass of creatures -- terrifying things that could only be terresque.  They had broad shells on their backs, rough as chipped stone, and moved on six stubby legs with shiny red scales.  They were huge -- ten feet high, with round black heads as large as a lion’s, and great mouths that smoked with some sort of vapour.  As they lumbered along, they resembled nothing so much as a mad cross between a tank and a turtle and a parade float.

As both groups came into view and as soon as she grasped what she was seeing, Hermione immediately reacted.  They couldn’t handle this -- not with so few people.  She yanked her broom to one side as sharply as she dared, almost colliding with Hyori before the Returned could match her change of heading.  Should they be trying to transfigure protective goggles or something, in case the basilisks’ stare reached them at this distance?  No, no time, and they needed free wands.  The important thing was to get back out of sight and warn everyone else.  Luna already had one task, but now Hermione had something else for her, too.

The witches and wizards weren’t mounted -- strange, but in keeping with their lack of hurry in a time of war -- and so there was a chance that Hermione and her people might get away before any conflict could begin.  She heard a distant shout from below as they wheeled about, but the enemy wouldn’t manage more than one or two attacks before the Returned were clear.  My God… in addition to a seemingly endless horde of Muggles, we’ll also be fighting the denizens of Howard and Nurmengard?

A bolt of green light streaked past, veering wide.  It was joined by another, placed more accurately and blistering through the air between Esther and Charlevoix.  A thick gust of steam blew into the group almost at the same time, but it was without force at this distance, and the Returned were putting distance between them and the enemy with every moment.

There was no point in engaging, but a thought did occur to Hermione -- obvious, in retrospect.  She slackened her pace just slightly, and brought her wand to her throat.  “Sonorus,” she cast, and then bellowed at the top of her lungs, “Egeustimentis Ba!”

There was an immediate response below, as four or five of the witches and wizards began firing on each other.  A fireball erupted among the group, cast by one of its number.  Hermione grinned, and leaned further into her broom, urging more speed.  They still needed to prepare for the monsters.

An odd hooting sound startled her.  It sounded like a giant owl -- and it seemed far too close, as though it somehow cut through the rushing wind.  Hermione jerked her head to the side and looked for the source, but saw nothing.  She could see Urg looking puzzled, and knew she hadn’t been the only one who heard it.

Then Susie fell out of the sky, tumbling off her broom, slapping at something that was wrapped around her head.  Hermione only caught a glimpse of it as Susie tumbled away -- a naked thing of skin and teeth, vibrating violently.

And then Hermione was diving after her, her broom vertical, arm stretched out and golden gauntlet reaching.  She could hear Susie screaming -- shrieking at the top of her voice, louder than a person should be able to scream, agony tearing out of her.

Shouldn’t do this no time stupid stupid, she thought, in a confused jumble that didn’t shake her from her course in the slightest.

Hermione strained forward, trying to force herself to go faster, to dive more quickly, to reach farther.  Susie tumbled away in a tangle of robes and blood, beating at the thing on her face and chest until it fell away, tossed in the wind.  The ground rose towards Hermione and Susie, surging up to meet them as they fell.

She reached and reached and

Got her.

As her hand clamped down on Susie’s ankle, Hermione kicked herself savagely back, hauling on the front of her broom so fiercely that she felt the wood strain and crack dangerously in her grip.  She pulled up into a swoop, the bottom of the arc dipping within arm’s reach of a crowd of threatening Muggles, dragging them both back up into the sky without letting go of a drop of speed.  The violent motion wrenched Susie badly, and Hermione felt something in the witch’s leg give -- the hip or knee -- but Hermione had her, thank God thank God, she had her.

They rocketed forward, Hermione leaning forward and holding the broom steady with her left hand.  With the other, she pulled Susie up, lifting the witch’s lower body over the front of the broom.

But Susie was dead.

Her face and chest were a mess of bloody meat, ground and torn as though by some monstrous industrial machine.  Her mouth was agape -- a lifeless black wound in the shredded flesh.

Hermione’s eyes burned with the wind and her rage, and she clenched her jaw.  She leaned forward, though, gripping Susie in place.  Stay focused.  Susie could still be saved.

The rest of the Returned joined her moments later, swooping down to fall in line with her.

Hermione heard more hooting.

No no no what is that?!

Esther pulled even with Hermione, and leaned over.  She grabbed one of Susie’s arms, pulling on the witch.  Hermione understood what she wanted, and helped, seizing the back of Susie’s robes and lifting the witch from one broom onto the other, fighting with the other hand to keep their flight steady.

There was another hooting sound, and something collided with Esther, her broom, and Susie.  The two witches were gone, as immediately as if they’d been struck from the sky by lightning.

Hermione wheeled in her seat, and saw… something.  Not a physical thing so much as a flow of sensations.  It was something like the use of wandless magic: the purposeful movement of particular ideas.  But this was somehow visible, and moving, and malevolent.  A collection of sensations, divorced from sanity and sense.

Large eyes.  Black and oily.  Wet.
White skin.  Flaky, run through with spidering cracks.  Ragged in places, as gnawed.
Long, thin limbs.  Sparse flesh.  Lumpy joint.
Mouth.  Smile.

And there were more, leaping up around them.  Hooting with mirth.  They were so fast; Hermione was on a broom at top speed and they were leaping at her.

Without word or order or request, Hyori and Charlevoix broke away from Hermione and the rest of the Returned.  Hermione twisted to see once more, and they flew around and back, in a circle back to where Esther and Susie had fallen.  Their curses flew as quickly as they could cast them, but the creatures were too quick and too inchoate.  Even the spells that seemed to hit had no effect.  They leapt at Hyori and Charlevoix, hooting, and the pair vanished, plucked out of the air.

Hermione turned back around, gritting her teeth again, and her hands tightened on her broom.  She fought to stay calm -- fought to stay under control.

Esther and Charlevoix.  The French witch had once been nearly catatonic, breaking into screams every time she was separated from Hermione.  Esther had been very quiet, too, for a time; injured deep within herself by betrayal and her own anger.  But the two had found each other during this past year in some new way -- Hermione hadn’t pried.  They were even leaving Powis -- they’d just recently gotten a cottage in Godric’s Hollow.

Hyori.  An enigma, even to Hermione.  Laconic and deadly serious, imprisoned for murder, but with some hidden depth that Hermione had never understood.  She’d made a game of things in subtle ways, and her sharp eyes had always hinted at thoughts the witch had never revealed.

Susie.  Lascivious and sarcastic, delighting in affecting cockney, alluding to a sexuality she used like armor.  Like all of the Returned, she’d left some piece of herself with the dementors, but she was bravest of them all in trying to reclaim it.

Hermione, Tonks, Urg, Nikitas, and Jessie flew on, back to Hogwarts and back to help.

Not that Hermione could imagine what help would suffice.  What could anyone do in this situation?  What weapons did they have that would work?

And again: what did these damned monsters even want?

This didn’t make any sense!  Why was the enemy entering through Hogsmeade, and not right outside the castle -- or for that matter, why not right inside the castle?  They didn’t know the limits of the spell, but Bellatrix had used it to simply appear within Hogwarts, so why not do that again?

For that matter, why go to war like this at all?  Harry had said that Meldh had only said that “a great and fearsome god” was calling for “blood”... part of some larger plan to eliminate magic from the world.  That last bit accorded with what Tineagar had said back in Tidewater.  That seemed like years ago, now… Tineagar had claimed she was fighting to stop the world from breaking.

They were wasting resources, unless they had some hidden aim.  Their plan had been for Meldh to take Harry’s place, with Harry in some “new shape” as an enslaved advisor.  But preparations for this attack must have started, at the latest, well before Hermione went to the Tower.  The Muggle news, she’d learned, had begun reporting disappearances in the morning.  So why were the Three essentially attacking each other?  It couldn’t be infighting or rivalry, since Meldh had known about it to mention to Harry.  It was part of a plan.  But she couldn’t see what that plan’s goal might be, in light of the Three’s goal of ending all magic.  Were they trying to start a war between Muggles and wizards?  Or just trying to kill off as many wizards as possible?  Or was it just a distraction from a trio of monsters who had no particular regard for the lives of others?  And how would they react to the loss of Meldh?


Hermione’s broom wobbled as she suddenly realized something, letting go with one hand to snatch her bubbler out of her robes.  She lay her will upon it, picturing Harry; he answered almost immediately.

“Harry!” she shouted, calling at the top of her voice to be heard over the wind, unwilling to slacken the pace of her speeding broom even a fraction, “Meldh was going to take your place!”

His eyes lit up, and she knew he understood: to the other two members of the Three, the world might not look any different from one in which Meldh had succeeded and was in control of the Tower.  They might not have heard her use the counterspell, if they weren’t near that group of wizards.  They might still think everything was going according to plan.


It was an uncomfortable moment when Draco realized he wasn’t in charge.  He arrived in the Great Hall with Mad-Eye and Diggory at his side and twenty aurors in tow (and one Gregory Goyle).  Longbottom and Bogdanova were there, and told him that Granger had left operating orders and then had gone flying off to do her usual routine (jumping from really high, getting in over her head, discovering she was actually a bit rubbish at magic, and resorting to punching things like a Muggle).  Her plans were good ones, but they still needed someone in command.  The Lord Malfoy (now the greatest of that name, one of the handful of people in command of the entire world) drew himself up to his full height and readied himself for the burden.

But before he could begin, Mad-Eye had already taken control from a perch on the rooftop over the great doors.

“You there, get back here -- get on that roof, no need to be flying around!” he roared, pointing at one of the groups in the air.  “Use the castle and hold this ground!  Keep them back, but Hogwarts is stone from the ancients -- use it!  And for Merlin’s sake, everyone put up a bloody bubble!”

Chastened, Draco tapped his wand to his head, casting, “Bullesco.”  He felt the uncomfortable feeling as a bubble swelled from one nostril, inflating until it encompassed his head.

They went to work.

It soon became clear that standard dueling tactics were useless.  There were simply too many of the enemy, and those methods had already failed one group of defenders.  It was simple math: even if every auror was able to kill a hundred Muggles, there would still be more.

Instead, they focused on attacks that affected a wide area -- not those rare spells that could do damage on a large scale, for those were deeply draining.  Instead, they used attacks on the terrain, and innovative Transfigurations.

The fliers dispersed from a height something called “sarin” out among the Muggles, far away from the castle.  Within minutes, it began crippling and killing huge swaths of the enemy.  At the same time, other fliers dropped large metal canisters that Mad-Eye transfigured; the blastbombs detonated into fiery explosions as they landed among the Muggle horde.

Closer by, defenders picked off those Muggles who managed to reach the top of the hill and the castle walls, and used the Butterball Charm to make it almost impossible to make the approach.  Some still got close enough to attack with their weapons: they became targets, too.  One fired a ranged blastbomb which leapt from its tubelike gun and blew up against the castle wall, as though it were conjured fire.  It did but minor damage to the school, but it was dangerous nonetheless.  A massed horde of Muggles, despite their limitations, were a fearsome threat.

It’s like the ancient wars, the stories from old, Draco thought, with a tingle of excitement and unease.  Muggles died in droves, and from a perch on a balcony above the great doors, Draco lashed out to protect everything he valued, fighting a war he had never really believed would come.

In only a few minutes, he was starting to feel sick.  But there was nothing for it.  He swallowed hard and leaned over the railing, twirling his wand, “Stupefy!  Stupefy!”  Two more Muggles fell back, stunned, dropping into a frictionless slurry of liquified stone and vanishing from sight.

A movement from above caught his eye, and he glanced up to see Granger coming back, streaking through the air at top speed.  Half of her band of fanatics were gone.  But it looked like she was unhurt, he saw with relief.

She dropped down from the sky and swooped to a stop near Mad-Eye on the roof, out of sight from Draco (on the balcony below) but within earshot.  “Alastor, there’s a force of witches and wizards on the way here.  Bellatrix and that American witch, Tineagar, and at least thirty others, including some of Grindelwald’s old bunch.”

“But not Grindel himself,” gruffed Mad-Eye.  “Makes sense, since they tortured him into insanity twenty years ago.”

Draco didn’t even have time to be shocked by the news, as Granger went on.  “There’s worse… ten basilisks and almost as many rock-monster things -- from the old legends, the terresque.  And… and --”

Her voice ended in a strangled cry before she found her words again.  “And something else.  I don’t know what, some sort of creatures.  They’re so fast and spells didn’t work.

“Harry’s in the library,” replied Mad-Eye.  Then he shouted at someone Draco couldn’t see, calling roughly, “You lot, get down here!”

The Shichinin flew in from Draco’s left, joining the pair on the roof.  Draco turned his attention back to the battle as an explosion concussed the air, claiming another dozen lives, and picked off two more Muggles who’d separated from the pack and nearly reached the castle.

A few minutes later, the monsters arrived.  Draco had never seen anything like them.  Giant serpents -- basilisks, he knew.  Creatures the size of buildings, with six legs.  They tore through Muggles like the people weren’t even there, crushing them underfoot as they stormed at Hogwarts across the castle grounds.

Monsters… what did you even do in a situation like this?

There was nothing to do except handle one situation at a time, and wait for instructions.  Three more Muggles reached the top of the slope, clambering on the partially-submerged bodies of their compatriots, and Draco took them down.  One of them had raised a tube-weapon, but Draco thought he took him down in time.

The next instant, everything went black and pain, jumbled up in a riot of impact.  Draco found himself staring at the side of the castle, lying on the stones in front of the great doors.  

He lay there, ears filled with white noise, and tried to understand what had happened.

Draco rolled over onto his back, and coughed.  It hurt abominably, as though something inside him was torn.  But he couldn’t stop himself, and coughed again, spasmodically.

He stared up at the roof of the castle.  Granger and the Shichinin were in flight again, a tight bunch.  They flew down to him, pausing in the air a dozen yards away.

No time for this, do your asinine plan, whatever it is, Draco thought, scornfully.  Weakly, he lifted a hand, and flapped it in a dismissive gesture.

Granger nodded at him, something unrecognizable on her face.  She turned and waved at one of the Weasley twins, Merlin knew which one, and pointed down at something on the ground, out of Draco’s view.  “Fred!” she shouted, barely audible through Draco’s ringing ears, “You guys take those and get high!  Wait for my signal!”

Draco put a hand to his forehead, and it came back red and wet.  He felt dizzy and nauseous.  Bile rose in his throat, and he leaned over to vomit.  When he was finished, he’d barely straightened before he needed to throw up again.  His legs felt weak, and he swayed in place, staggering to the side as he tried to stay upright.

A strong grip seized his forearm, held it tight, held him in place.  Dazed, he looked to find an armored child holding his arm.  No, not a child.  A goblin, clad all over in shining silver.

“Rest easy, wizard,” said the goblin, its consonants guttural.  “We’ll need you yet.”

Draco couldn’t quite understand what he was seeing.  Something was in his eyes; he swiped at his face with the sleeve of his robe, blinking rapidly as something stung his eyes.  His Bubblehead Charm was broken, he realized.  He needed to get it back.

But for the moment, all he could do was fight to stand as the goblin let him go.  It hefted a spear in its hand, and pointed it down the slope, to where the monsters were raging.

Draco held himself upright, and felt a moment’s hope.

Then he heard the strangest hooting noise.


A solitary figure in plain grey robes, unseen and unnoticed, watched the fighting.

It paused to flick its fingers through the air, whereupon a tracery of crimson light formed a sharp arrow, directing the figure’s gaze to the castle itself and an unseen target within.

The figure picked its way carefully up the steep slope towards the Hufflepuff greenhouse, which was damaged and open.  Where the way was inconvenient, the ground gently shifted itself, as though the earth itself was trying to be accommodating.  The lone individual stepped delicately over broken panes of glass, and slipped inside the school.  

It made its way to the library.