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.”

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.  


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.


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!”


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.

13 March 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Four: Batter My Heart

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Four: Batter My Heart

O royal Hera, of majestic mien, aerial-formed, divine, Zeus' blessed queen, throned in the bosom of cerulean air, the race of mortals is thy constant care. The cooling gales they power alone inspires, which nourish life, which every life desires. Mother of showers and winds, from thee alone, producing all things, mortal life is known: all natures share thy temperament divine, and universal sway alone is thine, with sounding blasts of wind, the swelling sea and rolling rivers roar when shook by thee. Come, blessed Goddess, famed almighty queen, with aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.

    -  Orphic Hymn to Hera (trans. Thomas Taylor)


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 19th, 1999
The same day

Hermione had only a few seconds to think before someone stepped into the cubicle, past Harry.

It was an older man with a pleasant smile.  He glanced at Harry, but said nothing.  He reached out to put his hand on Hermione’s ankle.



Hermione existed as a fragment of consciousness, while a strange man walked through her mind.

“And you are Miss Granger,” mused the man.  He stroked the broad fur of one thought, as it wriggled down among its fellows.  “Or shall I call you Hermione?  Maybe when I know you better.”  The thought squirmed away from the man’s touch.

“I am Meldh,” said the man.  “It has become necessary for you to be altered to a certain degree.  All of your friends have been changed thus, including Harry Potter.”  He waded through the thoughts that seethed around him in their furry multitudes, plucking at them here and there.  “Another Muggleborn… and so much like Mr. Potter, himself.  He would be pleased to hear that, I think.  There is no romance, there… more worship than anything else, as though you were a statue on a pedestal.  But it would please him to hear it.”

The mote that was Hermione observed this, distantly.

Meldh touched a tightly-spun wire of dense yellow fog, and it undulated at the contact.  “So much that is interesting, here.”  He flickering his fingers over a series of fog wires, and seized one between two fingers to examine it.  “You think a great deal of your ‘Returned,’ hmm?  We will take them into our organization as well, then.  Great events are in motion, Miss Granger.  Entire armies are moving and preparing, getting ready to crash against each other like great waves.  Nations will fall.  Worlds will end.  We will add your Returned to the ranks of the belligerents… take them off of the map, too.”

The wizard smiled, amiably.  “But first we must make some changes.  One rather important change, laid down upon your brain.”  He picked at a wire, pulled it free, and moved it.  “We begin, Hermione.”


Meldh released Hermione, and smiled amiably.  “There.  All better.”

She looked back at her master.

The world shuddered, as though in pain.

A ripple passed through the small white cubicle in the Tower clinic, through Hermione where she lay, bound, on the bed, and through Harry and Meldh.  It was as though someone had taken hold of reality by the corners, like a bedsheet, and given it a firm snapping shake.

Meldh said nothing, but shot Harry a questioning look, his lips firm.  He stripped back the sleeves of his robes with two rapid movements.  His skin had begun emitting golden light, pleasant in color, but pricklish on the skin, and some manner of green-skinned creature, translucent and smelling of sulfur, had slithered out from beneath Meldh’s clothing to wrap around his waist.  The beast had innumerable jointless legs, like clawed tentacles, and the wide-nosed snout and beady eyes of a great lizard.

Harry looked around, bewildered, sweat on his brow.  His hands were trembling.

“What --” began Hermione, her voice a croak.

“My God,” interrupted Harry, whipping his head around at her.  “You used it, didn’t you, Hermione?”  His voice was rising into an accusing, outraged shout.  “I can’t believe you would be so reckless!  Don’t you realize you’ve put us all in danger?!  You’ve put the whole Tower -- all of England in danger!  Are you insane?!”

“What is it, boy?” cut in Meldh, his voice an uncharacteristic snarl.  His eyes were narrow and dark.

Harry stabbed an accusing finger at Hermione.  “It’s the ultimate power in the universe.  And you have used it.”

Meldh whirled to stare at Hermione, raising his hands in front of him.  His palms seethed with black ichor, boiling forth as he glared threateningly.  The wizard was all alive with anger, bright-edged and sharp, and it was as though he were a different person.  “What have you done?!”


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
January 17th, 1996
Three years ago

Harry set the leather satchel carefully on the table.  “Here it is,” he said.  “Fred says that it was just where the centaurs said it would be.”

“And we’re sure,” Hermione said, staring at the bag, “that it’s not a fake, made into a trap that will turn us into frogs or something?”

“The Headmistress, Moody, Mafalda Hopkirk, and Edgar Erasmus have all independently verified it,” said Harry.  In answer to Hermione’s raised eyebrow, he added, “...shortly before their memories were voluntarily wiped.”

She pursed her lips, and leaned forward across the table, opening the satchel.  She reached inside, and pulled out the Goblet of Fire, also known as the Cup of Dawn.  It was a crude-looking thing with a thick rim and rough base.  There was no fire or glow about it, and to all appearances was nothing more than a poorly-made wooden goblet.

“This is… underwhelming,” Hermione said, frowning.

“That’s the cup of a carpenter,” Harry said, smiling.

“Is it really --” Hermione began, then frowned again.  “Oh, shut up.”

“I worked out the language for the contract,” Harry said, pulling folded parchment out of his pocket.  “They used to use this cup for sporting events and major contracts between magical races, so it’s pretty well-understood.  Hopkirk explained it to me.  It can bind anyone to a contract if their names are placed in it.  Only valid contracts -- binding two or more people, clearly stated terms, only negative consequences, and so on.  But it’s famously impossible to evade the penalty clauses.”

“It doesn’t seem that useful to us, then,” said Hermione, disappointed.  “We don’t need a contract to trust each other.”

“The idea of ‘negative consequences’ is relative,” Harry said.  He shoved the parchment over to her.  “We swear this, and then seal the memories of all of this away.”

The proposed contract was lengthy.

We, the oathbound, hereby make contract that at no point shall we be controlled, possessed, or otherwise ensorceled by the same individual, group of individuals, club, coterie, organization ...  Should we fail to abide by this bargain, whether it be by fault of our own or the deeds of others … shall suffer the immediate and complete dismissal of all enchantments or alterations of mind present on our persons at that time, including but not limited to… as further specified in Appendix XIV …  required loss of memory of all terms and conditions for the contract, as well as loss of memory of the contract itself, as well as the location and status of all agents or objects involved in maintenance of the contract, for the duration of the contract…

It went on.

“You don’t think this is paranoid?” she asked, studying the oath, looking for flaws or loopholes. “I mean, even beyond Alastor levels of paranoia.  There are other ways to use this… there’s an opportunity cost for setting this contingency up.  If we hide this thing and erase it from our memories, then we can’t use it for anything else.  Why not use it to lock in support from signatories to the Treaty?  Or even just use it to keep all our aurors loyal?”

Harry picked up the Goblet of Fire, and studied it.  “Magic is too big.  It’s too unpredictable.  That’s a good thing in a lot of ways, since it means we can’t even begin to guess at the possible limits for humanity in a universe full of magic.  Exploring and colonizing outside of our light cone, reversing entropy…  we can’t rule anything out.  There are thousands of spells, and tens of thousands more that have been forgotten or mostly forgotten.  There are too many possible unknowns.  This might actually not even be paranoid enough… I tried to figure a way for this to work for us individually, but you can’t contract with yourself.”  He put the Goblet back down.  “Yes, we’d pay a price for doing this.  But we have to defend against everything, even the impossible things we don’t know about yet.  Levels and levels.”

Hermione regarded the Goblet of Fire, and nodded, slowly.  “All right.  Although honestly, I’m not sure why all of these sorts of things have such silly names.”


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 19th, 1999

“She has used the Star of Death,” said Harry to Meldh, his voice upset and his face sweaty.  “And now we’re all at risk.  Our very existence in Time is at risk.  Sir, we have to get you someplace safe!”

The Goblet of Fire… our contract, Hermione thought, blinking rapidly.  The memory was there -- the knowledge of the contract was present, as though it had always been lurking just out of her mind’s eye.  We broke the contract, and it has imposed its penalty.  The failsafe worked.  We’re free.  She glanced down at the bands of goblin silver across her legs, her waist, her chest, and each forearm, fixing her in place to a strip of silver on the underside of the cot.  Well, free in a manner of speaking.  Are these restraints for unruly werewolves, or something created just for me?

Meldh pivoted in place, holding one palm towards Hermione and swinging the other towards Harry.  Ichor bubbled from between his fingers.  Where it dripped on the floor, the surface vanished, leaving a series of divots and pocks in the stone.  “The ‘Star of Death?’  There was no hint of such in either of your minds,” declared Meldh, his voice taut with tension and anger.  

Smart man.  When your captured enemy is making implausible claims about secret weapons, he’s almost always lying.  And even when he isn’t, your enemy’s demise will often be the best solution.  Better for your health and your reputation to wipe them out immediately.

He needs fear.  She glanced at the marks left by the black ichor.  Fear of obliteration.  Fear of the unknown.

“It’s coming,” said Hermione.  “And it’s already altered our past -- eating it up from the source.  I think… I think it begins from the first moment of its own existence.  Even our memories of it.  Maybe it… I’m not sure.  I only know that it won’t stop until it has devoured our time.  Yours, mine, and Harry’s.  We’ll be gone.”  She breathed out, heavily, and closed her eyes.  “I’m willing to pay that price.”

“You defy the Lethe Touch,” Meldh observed, coldly.  “I mastered you and I changed you, yet now you are glad of my death.”  He paused.  “There is something at work here that I do not understand.”

Hermione opened her eyes again, and saw the Asiatic wizard staring at her with narrowed eyes.  She remembered lunch with Reg Hig and Per Aavik-Söderlundh-Ellingsen, and the value of a strategic but subtle slip.

“It doesn’t matter what you do,” she replied, her own voice as firm as bedrock.  “I will not stop the Star of Death.”  She raised her voice, pronouncing as clearly and coldly as a mountain stream, “Die.  And be damned.”

He turned to face her, fully.  Just behind him, she saw Harry watching, carefully but silently.  Good.  Don’t oversell it.  The translucent green creature that clung to Meldh’s waist hissed, quietly, and kept its attention on Harry.

Meldh said nothing, either.  He only met her gaze with dark eyes.  She felt a touch on her mind -- the gentlest of probing contact with another’s thoughts.  Barely a whisper of Legilimency: a thin needle of attack so perfectly honed in its intrusive power that it seemed to have physical form.

Hermione didn’t react.  Her training had not overlooked the obvious.  Her mind was a stone her mind was steel her mind was wax her mind was an ox her mind was a child her mind was herself.  

And there was nothing for Meldh to find there but contempt.  Die, and be damned.

Meldh said nothing, but she felt the touch on her mind change.  The whisper-sharp needle of Legilimency vanished and was replaced by something unfamiliar… a draining emptiness that settled down around her thoughts.  It plucked at her from many directions at once, presenting a blankness into which her mind could pour.  It was like the last moments of consciousness before sleep, where a thought could occur, linger on the edges of awareness, and then gently tumble away into the darkness.

But Hermione had an answer for that, too.  She cast thoughts into that darkness, one after the other, flinging them out into the sucking unconsciousness that lay on her thoughts like a blanket.  She hurled memories like weapons, a bulwark of recall that could be offered without loss: the feeling of sunshine on her shoulders as she sat in a field at Powis; the rich ribbons of smell that filled the house when Gran made venison pies; the joyful screams of Granville that shattered the grimness of Azkaban; the click of one chess-piece against another as her father taught her how to castle.

The draining emptiness vanished with that last thought, and she saw a flicker of reaction on Meldh’s face.  Surprise and suspicion.

Hermione never moved her eyes from his.

“Kурва,” Meldh spat at her, his face reddening.  “Very well.  Another Touch.  And I will tear your mind to shreds this time.”

You have to get near me to do that, little man, thought Hermione.

He took a step towards her, reaching out for Hermione’s restrained arm.  The golden light that had been gently emanating from him faded, and the ichor vanished from his palms.

Behind Meldh, Harry drew his wand.

She bucked in place, kicking both legs as hard as she can, straining her stomach, wrenching her arms in place.  The goblin silver didn’t yield even a little.  But she remembered fighting Tineagar in a Tidewater basement -- remembered the value of sacrifice.  Pain is nothing.  Save one life.

Her right arm braced against the restraint, and she twisted it to the side.  It broke with the sharp sound of fracturing bone.  Pain roared like a lion, savaging her.

Meldh, reaching out for her, lurched backwards in surprise.

Harry raised his wand to point at Meldh.  Almost immediately, the green creature wrapped around Meldh’s waist hissed loudly, and lunged at Harry.  He backpedaled, swatting at the creature as it landed on his chest, shrilly hissing and baring its smoking fangs.  Meldh jerked around in shock.

Hermione jerked her arm free, torn hand and forearm still locked in place on the bed, blood pouring out of her like a bolt of crimson fabric.  A scream burst from her.

But the end of her backup wand, the Ultimate Ulna, was exposed amid the splintered ends of her bones.

Lagann.  Stuporfy.”

The Breaking Drill Hex cleared the way, and the Swerving Stunner didn’t even need to swerve: it hit Meldh full in the chest.

The member of the Three didn’t fall.  He staggered, red flickering energy jolting through him.  The green creature on Harry’s chest -- connected somehow?  a sort of magical circuit-breaker? -- whipped its head back and exploded in a shower of phosphorescent green sparks torn through with flickering red.  In the same moment, the Ultimate Ulna also flared green and red, and burnt itself into ashes.  She could smell her own flesh as it burnt.

I’m unarmed, she thought crazily.

Meldh lurched forward towards Hermione, grunting something unintelligible, his face a grimace of rage.  He reached for her.

Desperate, she lashed out with her broken arm.  The splintered bones lashed Meldh across the face, leaving deep scratches along his cheek.  The pain was Fiendfyre on her nerves.

“Hermione!” called Harry, reaching for his dropped wand, eyes wide.

“Hermione,” snarled Meldh, arm outstretched, swaying in place.

“Hermione,” agreed Hermione, and struck once more with her broken arm, and her splintered bones tore like talons through Meldh’s throat.  Blood geysered across her chest and face.

The dying man’s hand came down on her shoulder, his dark eyes bright with anger.  Blood poured onto her from the lacerated meat of Meldh’s throat.  He tried to speak, to cast a spell, but could produce nothing more than a bubbling gurgle and a mouthful of blood.  Meldh grimaced, and his teeth were red.

Stupefy.  Stupefy.  Stupefy!” cast Harry from behind him.  And this time, mortally injured and bereft of his defences, the spells took Meldh.  The member of the Three shivered through with red energy, his muscles locking, and toppled to the ground like a fallen tree.


Oh, All-Nature, Queen, Mother of all things, untiring Mother, exalted, creating, She who tames all, Unmentionable, shining, the Firstborn who quenches everything, who brings the Light! Born of yourself, present everywhere and all-knowing You Blessed One, who makes things grow and rot, Father and Mother of all things, Universal Worker, you who walk forth in an endless maelstrom, conserving, you who uphold yourself through repeated metamorphosis: I pray to you, give me peace!

    -  Orphic Hymn to Demeter (trans. Thomas Taylor)


Hermione, shaking, clutched at her injured arm with the other.  It had stopped bleeding already, which was a relief.  She’d been worried that her innate healing ability had been “dismissed” by the Goblet of Fire.

Across the cubicle, Harry was leaning on a chair, wand in hand.  He was shaking, and there was a scorch mark on his cheek.  Hermione supposed that had happened when that green creature had exploded -- taking her wand with it.

She found her voice, finally, glancing from Harry to the frozen Meldh, and then back again.  “The Death Star?”

Harry shrugged, but couldn’t stop a smile from spreading on his face.  It was an odd contrast with his trembling hands and the sweat plastering his hair to his forehead.  “I couldn’t… I couldn’t think of anything else that sounded plausible and scary enough.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t know how we…”

His voice trailed off, and he paled.  “Oh, God… everyone else.  The Tower, the entire Tower, is magically bound to serve Meldh.  He got almost everyone, Hermione.  Draco, Moody, Cedric, the aurors, the healers… dozens and dozens of people are still under the effects of that... that… that spell.”

“Get me out of this, first,” Hermione said, slumping back against the bed.  The pain in her arm was fading, finally.

“Buttons thirteen Sangomas,” Harry said, and the restraints opened with a gentle click.  “I’m so sorry about that, I didn’t --”

“No time,” interrupted Hermione, “and anyway, don’t be stupid.  How do we free everyone?”

Harry rubbed his temples, gritting his teeth.  “I don’t know.  There’s a counter-spell, but I stopped him from telling me about it.  For exactly this reason, as a matter of fact.  You cast the spell -- which is Egeustimentis -- and then you say something else.  But I don’t know what.”

Hermione knelt down next to Meldh, and clamped a hand over his neck.  “Get out your medical kit.  Maybe we can wake him up and get the spell out of him, somehow.”

Harry knelt beside her, opening his mokeskin pouch.  “Medical kit,” he told it.  He opened the small white case as soon as it leapt to hand, taking out Haverford’s Marvelous Coagulant and some bandages.  “It’s been weeks, and I only just found out yesterday that we had finally managed to safely get some things out of Bellatrix Black.  You think we can crack this guy in the next few minutes, before someone checks on us?  Without him playing puppeteer again?”

“Point taken,” Hermione allowed.  “But I don’t even have a wand, much less my other stuff, so I don’t know what we’re going to do, otherwise.  Can you manage to stun everyone here by yourself?  Have you been secretly practicing duelling with Cedric or something?” she asked.  She lifted her hand from the injured wizard’s throat.

Harry didn’t answer, just rolled his eyes as he squeezed orange gel onto Meldh’s neck.  The blood pouring out of the wizard’s ragged throat began to slow, and soon stopped.  “Your usual wand is in the meeting room, with the rest of your things.  But I have a back-up wand for you.  It’s actually here in the clinic.  I wanted to keep it especially safe, sealed off even from the rest of the Tower in case of trouble.”  He held out his wand to her.  “Take mine for the moment.”

Hermione took it from him with her uninjured arm.  The wound on the other had closed, but she thought it would be ten or twenty minutes before the arm was usable again.  She examined the raw-looking pink skin of the stump, which throbbed with pain in time to her heartbeat.  She made a face.

“For now, I’ll transfigure Meldh,” Harry said.  “We can’t kill him, since we really might need him to release everyone.  Let me have that back for a moment.”  She handed him back the wand, reluctant despite the obvious necessity.  Harry was not a duelist.

He took the wand and held the tip against the chest of the villain’s stiff body.  Meldh began to shrink and warp in color and shape.  Harry glanced over at her.  “He was really Herpo the Foul, you know.  Inventor of the Horcrux spell.”

Hermione nodded, thoughtfully.  “That makes sense.”  She stood up and went to the curtained entrance to their little white cubicle.  “That spell… it was enslavement.  How long were you like that?  How long has he been here?”

“A couple of days,” Harry said, quietly.  His voice was very small.  “It hurt.  It was like being at war with myself.  Everything in me pushed as hard as it could, but it was like part of my mind had forgotten itself.  Couldn’t help itself.  And it was the most powerful part.”  He stopped speaking for a moment, staring down at the diminishing Meldh with distant, unseeing eyes.  “I worry a lot about addiction.  I think that this was what addiction would feel like.”  Meldh was gone.  In his place was a small white rock.

“Then you’ll have put at least some plans in place in case something like this happened,” said Hermione, firmly.  Stay with me, Harry.  “How long do we have before someone comes to ch--”

Cedric Diggory pulled back the curtain to the cubicle, flanked by a pair of aurors.  He looked startled, opening his mouth to say something.  The aurors behind him were quicker on the uptake, and their wands were already drawn.  They raised them.

Harry still has his wand.  I’ve got nothing -- less than nothing, only one arm.  Need to close the distance.

“Είναι ο ίδιος!” called out Hermione, firmly, walking towards them with a bold and unafraid step.  Her Greek was abysmal, a basic vocabulary put together in haste before the raid on the Cappadocian fortress of Göreme, but that wasn’t important.  They have one overriding priority, the same one that was given me: protect and obey Meldh.  That’s an advantage for me.  And they might be the slower for their internal conflict.

They were too well-trained and experienced, however, for any of that to slow them more than a moment.  She was still out of reach when they recovered from their surprise, deciding that the better part of service was to incapacitate first and ask questions later.  Good for them, that was the right decision.  Even if it’s massively inconvenient at the moment.  The faces of the aurors hardened, and she saw their arms tense again.  Cedric’s eyes widened in alarm, and he snatched for his own wand.

Hermione thrust out her mind with the thought of blue November and the smell of burning leaves, and threw herself forward in an inhumanly powerful tumble.  Her ward of prisms burst into existence, unfolding themselves with a crackle of crystal into a solid wall across the front of the cubicle.

They didn’t fall for the gambit.  The auror to Cedric’s left fired Bertram’s Bolts high and low, while the other tracked her with his wand, casting the Stunning Hex at her moving form.  As Hermione tumbled forward, she heard the prism-barrier shatter and evaporate, and felt the numbing sting of a near miss.

Stupefy!  Stupefy!  Expelliarmus!”  she heard Harry cast, just before her tumble rolled her into the trio of aurors.  She smashed into and through Cedric’s legs with her back, carrying them out from under him.  He fell on top of her, thrashing at her as he struggled to bring his wand to bear on her.

One of the aurors gestured a Roger’s Shield into being in front of himself, almost effortlessly catching Harry’s attacks with the multicolored circle.  The other had his wand pointed at her, his mouth open to curse her.  Cedric was in the way, but that didn’t matter if he was just going to stun her, anyway.  The auror was just too far to reach, and she didn’t have any weapons.  Could she grapple with Cedric and get his wand?

Oh.  Cedric.

She seized one of Cedric’s legs with her good arm.  She had a moment to see him staring at her, horror on his face.  Then she heaved on the leg, hauling it as hard as she could upwards and away from her.  She couldn’t actually lift him off the ground that way -- his leg would have come off if she tried, she thought -- but he swung along the floor like an enormous club, smashing into the threatening auror’s legs.  The two wizards fell into a tangle of injured limbs.

The other auror turned his attentions to her, but it was too late.  She was on her feet like lightning, and dropped him with a light backhand across the side of his skull.  He collapsed, unconscious.

Harry darted forward and stunned the other two.  They froze into immobility, still folded around each other and struggling.  He threw her the wand, and she snatched it out of the air with her good hand.

“Last cubicle on the end,” he said.  “Password is ‘splendour fifty Buick.’ 

Hermione nodded.  “Make sure none of these three are too badly hurt.”

“Go,” Harry said, already reaching for the medical kit.

She leapt over the auror she’d knocked out, into the main corridor of the clinic.  The long row of white cubicles confronted her, screened off with sheets.  She sprinted the length of the corridor in the blink of an eye, arriving at the other end of the general ward at the same moment as a running auror appeared at the door -- Hedley Kwannon.  Kwannon’s wand was already drawn, Hermione saw.

Stupefy!” cast Kwannon and Hermione at the same time.  As she cast, Hermione lunged to the side into one of the cubicles, clawing out with her mind to raise another wall of prismatic crystal.  For her part, Kwannon was unbelievably fast, raising a wall of Azarian Fire and the red mist of Bartolomeo’s Reckoning almost at the same time, and still able to bring her wand back to Pflug position.  The auror’s wards absorbed Hermione’s curse, and Kwannon was ready to cast three Bertram’s Bolts, each a foot apart from the next -- avoiding the lure of the prism ward, and aiming for where her target was actually going.  Hermione felt them sizzle past her, the dull yellow hexes missing her only by the grace of her speed and luck.

Hermione sprang to her feet as Kwannon charged through the door.  Immediately, Kwannon raised more Azarian Fire, and it was again a cover for an attack.  But this time she attacked Hermione’s footing.  “Orbis.”  Hermione felt the stone underfoot soften, sloughing away from under her shoes.  She’s better at chaining and a better shot than me; if I lose my mobility, I’m done, Hermione thought.

Hermione responded the way Alastor had always taught her: once you know your advantages, press them relentlessly.  She sacrificed position and used the stone for her own purposes, charming it into a swirling wall of rock between the two of them.  Then she sprang forward, driving her toes hard into the softening floor.

From the other side of the wall, Hermione heard Kwannon chant the first few syllables of the runes of balance: a delaying action.  Unfortunately for Kwannon, Hermione simply had no time for more of this.

She threw herself shoulder-first into the stone at full speed, and it yielded before her.  She burst through, into a startled Kwannon -- still tracing orange symbols in the air -- and stunned the auror with a crackling red curse.

Panting, Hermione turned to the cubicle on the end.  “Splendour fifty Buick,” she said, holding her shoulder.  

The plain stone of the wall shifted in one spot, slightly and silently.

Hermione stepped over to the stone that moved, and gently pushed it to one side.  It swiveled open on an invisible hinge, exposing a small ledge within the wall.

Resting on the ledge was a wand of elder wood.  She recognized it.  It had once belonged to Albus Dumbledore, before it passed to Lord Voldemort.  He in turn passed it to Harry Potter, who became -- as she understood it -- the rightful owner, by dint of conquest.

Until he was defeated by Bellatrix Black, she realized.  Right before I put my fist through her.

Hermione Granger picked up her wand.


O Powerful Nike, by men desir'd, with adverse breasts to dreadful fury fir'd,
Thee I invoke, whose might alone can quell contending rage, and molestation fell:
'Tis thine in battle to confer the crown, the victor's prize, the mark of sweet renown;
For thou rul'st all things, Nike divine! And glorious strife, and joyful shouts are thine.
Come, mighty Goddess, and thy suppliant bless, with sparkling eye, elated with success;
May deeds illustrious thy protection claim, and find, led on by thee immortal Fame.

    -  Orphic Hymn to Nike  (trans. Thomas Taylor)