Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 16: The Battle of Hogwarts

MORPHEUS: I am a world, space-floating, life-nurturing.

CHORONZON: I am a nova, all-exploding… planet-cremating.

MORPHEUS: I am the Universe — all things encompassing, all life embracing.



CHORONZON: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?


Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes


Hogwarts
1107 C.E.

There was no hope.

How could there be? Lord Foul had thought of everything. Although Ελαολογος was older, she was no warrior. She was an artist, a creator of things. She was Life, and at the fabric of her world was woven in such a way that all life must end.

He, on the other hand, was Death, destroyer of worlds. He commanded vast, terrible armies. He cast visions into their mind of the Tarrasque razing the beautiful city of Estremoz, making sure that every exquisite scream echoed within their souls. The wail of every mother, watching their children’s broken bodies chewed and crushed by an unfeeling, dispassionate beast. The shrieks of anguish as men lived their last moments in abject, blinding pain and misery. An unending windmill of horror sliced through their minds, blade after blade after blade.

And they had not even battled him yet; they were still fighting their way through his creatures, his pawns, his proxies. The king was well protected. It was only through barest of chance, dumbest of luck that they managed to turn away the dozens of snake-creatures he had at his command, creatures that could seemingly turn men into stone with but a glance.

Scores of armored defenders had been turned into statues by the gaze of these unknown beasts, but even in death, their stone form had been put to use. With a quickly improvised ritual, Rowena Ravenclaw imbued the statues with a small measure of her life force, then animated them:

“Piertotum Locomotor!”

Hogwarts was under attack, and they rose to defend it. But even then, the only tactic that seemed to be of any effectiveness against the creatures was distraction. Once they realized that their gaze could not affect the stone defenders, they simply stopped engaging them and slithered past to attack the defenders behind them. The golems continued their defense, but it had little effect.

In desperation, Professor Kaspersky sent out a burst of light and sound in order to distract them, draw their gaze away. It seemed to work, momentarily; the basilisk could not initially differentiate between the harmless lights and the bolts of deadly magical force. As such, the Professor continued the assault, burning through memory after memory, drawing on every experience in his past in order to distract them, forcing them to divide their attention between the true and false attacks.

He was reaching the point of diminishing returns. With each successive burst, it held their gaze for a shorter and shorter period of time. It would not be long before they ignored it entirely and resumed their attack with full force. Had it not been for Rowena Ravenclaw’s keen eye, all may have been lost. With one burst of sound, the basilisk reacted differently. For a moment, they froze, and she could see a brief flicker of fear in the language of their movement.

It was a panoply of sound that the Professor had drawn upon his days on the farm as a youth in order to produce: cows mooing, horses whinnying, donkeys braying, pigs squealing, roosters crowing.

“Do it again, now!” Rowena commanded. The sound echoed forth with doubled intensity, and she began her experimentation. One sound at a time.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Something.

When she broadcast the sound of the rooster crowing, the basilisk vocally shrieked in fear, seizing backward and whipping their coils around to look for the source of the unknown threat. They were confused.

“Daerovan!” She shouted to a nearby Fae, who was casting his glamours outward in pink, crystalline bolts. He and his kind had bound themselves to serve the house of Hogwarts, exchanging their vast, unknowable power, in exchange for a home and protection, in accordance with the laws of their kind. “Summon the kitchen staff, now!”

He nodded, and with a snap of his fingers, half a dozen Fae appeared. Because they were rarely presented to the public, they did not bother maintaining their physical glamours. They appeared in their natural form: short, lanky creatures with bulbous eyes and floppy, leathery ears. Most were wearing rags or improvised outfits made of tea cozies and such. Rowena shouted, “Do we have roosters in the henhouse?”

Charky, the head of the kitchen staff nodded. “Would it pleases Mistress for me to bring them forth.”

“Very much, Charky.”

With a smile, he waved his hands in an arc, and the roosters immediately instantiated. They were confused, and ruffled their feathers, clucking angrily. The nearby basilisks winced in pain. No longer were they acting in confused fear, they were reacting with abject terror. The ones that were closest spun around, and began to slither away as quickly as their scales would carry them.

Catching on, Salazar Slytherin amplified the sounds of the roosters, throwing the basilisks into disarray. Realizing that the roosters needed more stimulus, he cast a false sun into the night sky, temporary illuminating the battlefield.

The carnage was horrifying. Broken bodies of all manner of magical creatures lay strewn about, discarded. Every surface was slick with the vital fluids of men, goblins, snakes, giants, and other unknown creatures. The grass was matted, compressed. The air buzzed with the sound of chizpurfles, feasting upon the enhanced blood and remnants of magic in the air.

The sun pulsed with power, casting long, ominous, undulating shadows. In response, the roosters began to crow, their calls amplified by Slytherin’s magic. The basilisks were now apoplectic. They wrenched and twisted in pain, shrieking and hissing. They were dying.

“Pleasssssse….. Sssssstop.”

What?

Slytherin had been experimenting for some time with a language that would allow him to lend some measure of his own sentience into a serpent to allow for speech. But his results had largely been in vain.

“Pleasssssee…. Do not wisssssh to die.”

One of the great snakes was talking to him, beseeching him. It had wrapped its coils around its own head in an attempt to drown out the sound. Slytherin responded in the tongue of snakes:

“Tell me, ssssnake. Why do you ssssserve him?”

“Wassss born to him, sssserve him for he threatenssss our young. Pleasssssse.”

“Do you underssssstand me? Are you truly a living mind?”

“Pleassse, ssstop thesssse creaturessss… Do not wisssh to die, have lived ccccenturies, have much lore I can teach you.”

Salazar considered this. It could be a workaround, for the time being. The beast was clearly ancient, possibly even ageless. If it was sentient, and he passed his knowledge down to it, bound it to him….

“Lore like ssssecret to true Horcurxxxxxx…..”

He stopped in his tracks at this. In an instant, he made his decision, whipping his wand in vicious slashes, quickly transfiguring the creature into a rough-hewn emerald, and bade it upward and into his robes.

Rowena stared, open-mouthed at what was unfolding around her. None of this made sense. He could talk to snakes? Snakes are sentient? And why in the name of Merlin would a rooster’s crow be fatal to these beasts? Even by the admittedly lax standards of Magic, this defied reason. How is it that they just happened to stumble upon these invulnerable creatures’ one random weakness. And how is that someone whose last name just happened to be “Slytherin” could speak to snakes?

Waves of terror crashed over her. How could they win? And what if they did? What good was any of this? If nothing in the world made sense, if nothing followed the rules, there was no point. Why not just descend into madness if the rest of the world was mad, too?

“What good is any of this?” She shrieked, roughly grabbing the robes of Godric who was standing near to her. “The world is mad!”

“No, he is driving the world mad. He has been my enemy since my youth, there is something about him, something that brings out the madness in people. Stay strong, there is still a battle to be fought.”

“Why? Why do we fight? Why is this so? He is your fated foe? There are prophecies that brought us together? It’s too convenient! This isn’t a story, this is life!”

“Pull yourself together, woman!” he barked, roughly.

She started cackling. “Pull yourself together! Pull yourself together!” She stared around: fear was thick in the air, the basilisks writhing in their death throes, Salazar looking white in the face as he backed away slowly, clutching the fat green emerald. “You pull yourself together! This is not our world! It can’t be! It’s too convenient! This is a story, a fantasy, a fiction!”

She cackled again, and began gesturing with her wand. “Can you hear me?” She screamed at the reader. “Did you write this?? Is this your doing? Or are you just watching??” She screamed incoherent curses, and with a rapidfire movement of her wand and thricefold repetition of the trigger word, “Az’reth”, she summoned forth a great and terrible raven crafted of dark, bloody fire.

Drops of the living flame dripped from its wings as it bore itself into the air, beating in circles above them. “This world is insane, this story is insane, and I will burn it down! Do you hear me?? I’ll give you a story of ash, and fire, and emptiness! Enjoy your tale of Nothingness!”

At that, she cast the raven upward, and it beat its wings, sending wave upon wave of burning Fiendfyre in all directions, igniting the ground and the air alike. The flame stopped at a certain point in the sky, as if it was meeting resistance. She grinned, “The fourth wall?” she called to no one in particular. She directed all of the fiery raven’s force against the barrier, until it stressed, bent, cracked, and eventually shattered under the force, causing waves of destructive magical backwash to spray back onto them.

As the shield that cloaked the left wing of Lord Foul’s army fell away, they could see something in the distance: three dozen dark, hooded figures, floating, watching them all intently. It was like a dam had burst: the shield had been concealing them, but it had also been restraining them. With nothing to keep them held back, and their master’s promise of countless souls heavy on their dead minds, they charged. They opened their mouths and inhaled the living flame, which flickered weakly and died.

Slytherin stared up at them. “Specters…” he whispered. He turned to his companions. “Summon your Patronuses, now!” Godric blinked a few times. He had never been able to muster enough happiness to summon forth a corporeal Patronus. But Helga Hufflepuff immediately leapt into action, summoning forth a vast, angry badger to join the Lord Slytherin’s bright, silver serpent.

The defenders lifted their heads and watched as the shadows passed from their hearts. The hooded creatures were turned away by the pure life force that stood between them and their victims. The madness was gone from Rowena’s eyes, but she was still shaken. “That… that fool. We shall turn his creations against him.” She attempted to summon her own Patronus as well, but Salazar turned to her.

“Lord Foul is no fool, that much I know.”

Godric nodded with a frown on his face as he studied the battlefield. Basilisks lay slain, their corpses contorted into coils. The Hogwarts Tarrasque was vanquished, imprisoned beneath the Black Lake and left to drown. The Dementors circled high above, kept at bay by the Patronuses of the survivors which had joined the serpent and badger, a menagerie of mist, shining brightly in stark contrast to the darkness above.

The students had long before been hidden within the Room of Requirement, which had expanded to the size of the Great Hall to accommodate their numbers. Portkeys had been arranged for each student, suspended in unreality for so long as the four founders maintained their hold on their magic. If they were slain, rendered unconscious, or deliberately relinquished control, the Portkeys would instantiated, and the students would be transported to safety.

That said, Hogwarts was the safest place in the civilized world, second only perhaps to the Keep of Mysteries. They did not know to what lengths Lord Foul would go to end the perceived threat of Hogwarts; it was entirely possible that he would simply hunt down the students at their homes, where they were defenseless. For now, it was easier to protect the students if they were in a centralized location. If that layer of protection were to fail, they would be dispersed.

There was a lull in the battle. Lord Foul’s shock troops, the disposable magical creatures, the muggles, the Goblins, had put a significant dent in the ranks of the defenders. Although each individual wizard was more than capable of handling multiple threats at once, there were just so many, so many of them. And the true battle had not even begun, for Lord Foul still had his army of men, and behind them, a battalion of wizards.

There was no hope.

And yet, all five of them knew that they were fated to win.

By the ancient laws of combat, the four generals strode to the front lines, having been granted an audience with Lord Foul in person. He stood tall, proud, passionate. His Asiatic features wore his eternal age well. He was not young, but he was not aged. He looked exactly as he should.

For their part, the founders wore their age well. They were all at least a century old, which was basically middle aged by the standard of the time. They stood, defiant, bolstered by the confidence of prophecy and fate, as the Lord began to speak.

“You four, you have been bound together by prophecy. You know as well as I that you will win this battle. And you may have asked yourself, why would I wage such a senseless campaign, knowing that it can only end in defeat. The answer should be clear: in defeat, I shall find victory. It is your choice, however, whether that victory will be over you, or our shared enemy, the last enemy.

“I have seen your heart, Salazar Slytherin, and it is mine, for we share that same enemy. Your face to the world speaks of spreading magic, spreading knowledge, but you simply seek one thing: you do not wish to die. Why must you hide this desire deep within your heart? Why must this be your craven, secret, sinful indulgence? Your desire is heroic. I see how you have studied and pored over ancient lore, and you have even unknowingly sought out me and mine in order to glean the secrets of the Horcrux.

“Yes, you have rightfully identified the key weakness of its common form, and further, you have rightfully deduced that there is a more advanced ritual, the knowledge of which, I am in sole possession. You revealed your true heart when you attempted to tame my creature instead of slaying it, in order to tap into her mind. It was in vain: she knows as much of the secret of the Horcrux as you do. But it seems that she shares your aversion to death, along with your cunning. She fed you a clever lie, and you spared her life.

“You struggle with the reality you are faced with. You hoped that by spreading the light of knowledge, someone would shine a candle into the darkness and burn away the specter of death that looms over you. I tell you now that I am your light. I am that candle. If you end me today, you snuff out the wick, you extinguish your only source of hope. End me today, and my secrets die with me.”

Capture the rook, the King is in check.

“You, Rowena Ravenclaw, you know of what I speak. You know more than any of them the price of knowledge lost. ‘Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure’, indeed. You share a craven desire of your own, one you wish to keep hidden away: to overturn the Interdict. Perhaps that is why you and Salazar shared such a bond… such…. passion. You thought a daughter would be the perfect vessel for preserving your lore, and Salazar, for his part, thought he could train her, put her on the righteous path so that one day she may rise up and conquer the final enemy.”

Slytherin was already reeling from his blow, and Rowena was too numb to react to the exposure.

“Now, now, don’t be prudish. Your companions shared the same passion, but for much less noble reasons. All the same, your heirs not walk the world, and yet you are no closer to achieving your ends. But you have correctly deduced that no magic is without its counter, that no incantation is so binding as to never be undone, that no sacrifice… is permanent.” With a hand gesture, a speck of the air turned pitch-black, and began to coalesce into a single red droplet of liquid, which floated towards Rowena and entered her.

“I return to you a single drop of blood, the price you paid to reveal the Specters of Death. You seek, one day, to return that which Merlin sacrificed, in order to undo his Interdict. End me today, and that secret too will be forever lost.”

The move is forced, the bishop is captured. The king remains in check.

“And you, Godric, I too have seen your heart. I, who have traveled between worlds on the tongues of fire. You know the path of righteousness, your heart is good. You can be redeemed. It might be as simple as thinking of a flame…”

At this, Lord Foul looked into the sky. A star flashed in the night. A faint star whose brightness was slowly, visibly waxing, seeming to grow as well as brightening. It looked closer, suddenly, no longer so far away… A lighted form whose shape you could actually see…

A bird.

A piercing cry split the night, echoing from the rooftops of Hogwarts. Great shining wings, red like a sunset, and eyes like incandescent pearls, blazing with golden fire and determination. The Phoenix’s beak opened, and let out a great caw that Godric understood as though it had been a spoken command.

JOIN US.

Godrich stood paralyzed. This was it. This was his choice. Should he follow the Phoenix? Or…

“…solve the riddle…” Helga Hufflepuff whispered. She looked at Meldh. “And what of me?”

The knight must retreat, the king is still in check. The queen is in danger.

A slow, sad smile spread across his face. “Oh, I believe you know all too well the price.”

She took a step forward, and started directly at him. Ollivander and Meldh stared at each other, the raging Fiendfyre burning around them as the Dementors swirled overhead. He whispered to her, “The choice is yours, as it always has been. You must make your decision, now rise up and do so.”

With tears in her eyes, Ollivander embraced her Hero. It started with a tight, passionate hug, and they separated briefly to look into each other’s eyes, and she kissed him, hard, deeply. Godric watched, as he always had. Hot with anger, he watched, as he always had, as they embraced with lurid passion. He grit his teeth and gripped the hilt of his…

…His sword was gone.

Her left hand was encircled around Meldh’s waist, her right hand running through his hair, roughly. The pointed, patchwork hat atop her head had an oddly shaped lump in it. When she reached the top of his head with her hand, the reached up into her hat, and pulled from in the Sword of Gryffindor, forged by the Goblins from the form of pure War.

“I’m sorry, my love.”

His eyes grew wide, as she reared the sword up in one swift motion and pulled it roughly across his throat. Immediately, blood poured down from his neck as he stared in shock. She followed through with her right arm, pulled back, and slid the sword through his heart. The light left his eyes, immediately.

The connection to life is severed, now to contain the soul.

She was ancient, she had visited the Necropolis at Carthage, she had heard whispers of the Specters of Death, she knew the basic premise of their operation. They conformed to expectations, they were drawn to death. And so, she opened the dark doors within her heart, the ones she had worked all her life to slam shot, under lock and key, rejecting with all of her being. She now embraced that dark heart, that small spark inside of her that relished the prospect of revenge, allowing it to grow into a raging inferno, a terrifying blaze of hatred and death.

Feast, she commanded wordlessly. The Dementors circling above swooped down, and before his soul could escape to one of his many countless vessels, they began to inhale. White points of light seemed to draw from all directions, all corners of the Earth. Their vortex of death was so strong that white wisps were drawn forth, even from the flames of the Fiendfyre. They coalesced into a single white ball of light, centered around the small, silver cross around her neck, and then began to float upward towards the mouth of the Dementors.

The Phoenix that had been waiting expectantly for Godric’s decision looked distastefully at what was unfolding. It was objectively vile, repulsing the Phoenix on a fundamental level. It stared accusingly at Godric, hissing a disappointed ‘Caw’, and with a burst of flame, disappeared.

Godric watched the Phoenix depart with a sickening ache in his heart. He always wanted to be brave. He spent his life raging from one battle to the next, viewing the world in black and white, risking his life time and time again. He knew in his heart that this was not true bravery, for he had never made the hard choice, never considered the shades of grey.

And here was his opportunity. And he let it slip. He turned away his Phoenix and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would never see that Phoenix, or any Phoenix again. The pain of it broke him in a way deeper than his heartbreak.

He stared at Helga, who was lost within her hatred. It had consumed her to the point where all she wanted was to see Meldh’s soul irrevocably destroyed, to see his being banished into the Abyss, sacrificed to no end other than the sake of sacrifice. She was falling, falling, falling, and with each moment, she gained velocity. She had given herself over to hate, and once she had done so, it became easier and easier to justify, which in turn made her numb. The horrible things he had done, the crimes he had committed against man and nature, the ways he had violated her…

She was beyond the event horizon. There was no turning back now. She was broken beyond repair, and she would break Meldh along with her.
“NO!” Godric shrieked. “Expecto Patronum!

White light, tinged red with holy fury, hurtled out of his wand. It had no discernible shape, it was war, it was fire, it was passion, it was love. Like a battering ram, it crashed into the seething mass of the Dementors, spreading far and wide, buffeting them backwards, causing them to retreat in fear. The light threatened them in a way that the mere animal forms of the badger and snake could not. They knew what the light could become, and they fled from it, fleeing far, far away to the place where their master told them they would be safe.

The ball of light floated downward, slowly, settling back into its singular resting place within the silver cross that hung around Helga Hufflepuff’s neck.

Godric’s magic had been broken. He knew that he would never summon a Patronus again, and would never see the Phoenix that had come to him. He had given everything he had to rescue his love from the brink, and her place in that Abyss.

Salazar stood, dumbstruck, as he watched the forces of the Lord Foul fall into disarray at the death of their master. He could hear the pops of wizards Apparating away, the thunderous roar of flame as great chariots of fire carried away entire regiments of goblins.

He caressed his hand over the fat emerald, and peered into the still, unconscious mind of the basilisk. Lord Foul had spoken true: the creature had lied. But, Salazar had spared her, and the basilisk was, after a fashion, bound to him.

Rowena, for her part, was still staring at her chest, where the sacrificed drop of blood had reentered her. She could feel it, she had grown all too familiar with the touch of the interdict, the jagged edged tears in the fabric of her mind. Her Diadem, created with the aid of Lady Hufflepuff, assisted her with this, for more often than not she could discern the form of lost knowledge by following the edge of that boundary, tracing the shape of the negative space.

But as she explored the Sacrifice, there was no shape; it was a line, a line that extended indefinitely in either direction. There was no shape to discern, it was simply the terminus. She railed in vain, pounding, trying to break through, but of course she knew it was to no avail.

Ollivander looked from Rowena to Salazar, reeling with their losses, and turned to Godric’s broken face. His sunken eyes stared beyond her into some great Nothing. It was him, but it was not him.

She knew that day that she had lost both of the men that she could ever possibly love, lost in a way that they could never be returned. For death was temporary, but change is forever.


MORPHEUS: I am hope.

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 15: The Battle of Hogwarts, Prelude

But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living… for the price of wisdom is above rubies.

Job 28:12


Hogsmeade
1107 C.E.

“Did you not think that I, the one who would be most likely to see the rightness in your cause, would be offended that I was the last of the Four that you approached?” Helga Hufflepuff took a sip of tea, watching her friend’s reaction closely. “It is fair to say that I and my brethren are known for little, save for our tenacity. But I dare say that hard work often beats a faster path to Truth than cleverness, cunning, or courage.

“I have seen what our students have done. I have seen what we have wrought. I know what we are capable of. And yes, I have heard the prophecies. Even The Prophecy.” At this, Heraclius Hero arched an eyebrow.

Helga continued, “Friend, I have often considered walking the same path as yourself. I have often considered abandoning my companions, walking away from what we have built. The others, they do not see the extent of the danger as clearly as I do.”

“So then, you will aid me, when the others have rebuffed me?” Heraclius asked.

Helga began to speak, but her regretful smile communicated everything Heraclius needed to know.

“You’re a fool! All of you are!” He slammed his fist into the table, causing the other people in the pub to look over in irritation.. “You’re so damned clever, every last one of you. You only believe the best because you want it to be true! But has it ever occurred to you that sometimes, the simplest solution is the correct one? I am well aware of the manifold interpretations. Rending asunder the fires of the sky. Tearing open the eyes of heaven. Tearing apart the very stars in heaven. They all speak to one thing: destruction, death, the end of all things! And you, you cursed deathists, you wish to let it happen, in the misguided hope that The Prophecy means something other than the obvious!”

At this, Helga’s phoenix, Howard, cawed softly, and Helga interjected. “Do you not think that out of death, can come rebirth?” Heraclius cut her off, “Not this again. I have heard this enough from the others, but from you as well? No. I do not accept this. Death is never good. Death is never right. And I for one, will not stand idly by and watch as you march this world towards oblivion, made worse by the fact that you think you lead us into salvation.”

Heraclius stood up to leave. “SIT.” The command seemed unsuited for Helga’s lips, but it was spoken with such force, anger, and determination, that he was almost bound to comply. “You have insulted me and mine enough. It is fortunate that I did love you, once. You have little idea of the sacrifices I have endured for the sake of you and your wretched companion. The lies he told me. I had made beautiful, terrible things. My power was growing. I was to be The One, to lead us to a new era.

But he came to me, with honeyed words and promises. He came to me as he came to all of us, and I gave him an audience because of you, because of our love. He told me the plans he had for my Cup, the ways he would channel our power to create the ultimate creative force. He told me LIES, and now all I have to show for my life’s work is THIS!” She angrily shook her teacup at him. Fortunately, it was empty. Not that it would have mattered.

“He shackled me, he shackled all of us, Meldh. And you allowed it to happen. You knew. You allowed this, this monster, to become masters of all of us. Even yourself. You began this march, this inexorable spiral into stagnation. Despite this, I never sought to strike against you, but you would be well to know that you only live by my grace. We have watched the passage of time for a millennium, you and I, and I do not end such friendships lightly. But the tools of my will are spread wide, every man, woman and child wizard in the whole of this part of the world uses a piece of my Will. And through them I command a great power. See to it that you do not give me cause to turn that power against you.”

Meldh considered his response. “You call me by my True Name, It is a word I have not heard in centuries. I shall return the favor, Ελαολογος. But know this. You do not absolve me of blame out of some misguided loyalty to our centuries together. You know as well as I do that I had been Bound. You know that I would not have deceived you otherwise.”

A pause.

A long pause.

She said nothing.

“Not under my own volition, so to speak, but nonetheless, I am Bound, forever more.” This made matters considerably more complicated. After a time, she spoke.

“Would you move against us all the same, were you not Bound?”

“I would. But I would not have lied to you. I would do as I do now, moving openly.”

“And have you spoke with Godric?”

“I have not. His pride would not permit it. Nor would mine,” his words were tinged with bitterness. At this, she finally laughed.

“To think. All of history, all of fate, the future of all our kind, will be altered by the pride of two jealous men, quarreling over a woman.”

He smiled in return. It was genuine. “More significant events have been precipitated by less.”

Helga began to speak.

“Then there will be war.” At this, Meldh nodded.

“And you know that we will win.” At this, Meldh nodded.

“And yet you still will move against us.” At this, Meldh nodded.

“Because you truly, deeply, believe that what you are doing is right.” At this, Meldh nodded.

Helga closed her eyes. No one is the villain of their own story. She stood.

 


Estremoz
1107 C.E.

The first thing that Adelberto noticed was the oppressive heat; Évora was known for being warm, but this was bordering on unnatural. These were strange times, but God worked in strange ways. It was a stroke of fortune that this stranger, who was no Christian or Moor, was willing to pay such a handsome sum for such strange cargo. Adelberto was a poultry farmer by trade, he lived a simple life and had simple needs, but in the last six months, he had fallen on difficult times. Even when every last galo came down with the febre vermelha, his Faith never waivered, for the galinhas were unaffected. This gave him at least a few months time. He was confident that the Lord would provide, and He did.

The man was waiting, as promised. He stood near a circle drawn in the ground with chalk. There were five buildings nearby that looked new’ in fact, they looked like cages, but Adelberto could not think of any beast large enough to warrant a prison that large. He then thought about his cargo, and what would happen if it were discovered. The local authorities were friends of the Lord, it was doubtful they would care about some leftover weapons from the Reconquista. Crates of scimitars. Piles of nooses. They were tools of the Lord; their victims were simply Moors.

The man spoke. “Ola amigo. Leve o seu ouro, deixar o vagão, em seguida, partem. Egeustimentis.” The man shook Adelberto’s hand, and Adelberto shuddered for a moment, but complied. Quickly.

The man removed the tools from the wagon. He breathed in deeply, then began the chant.

“…Eu dar-lhe um Nome, eo Nome é perdido . Eu dou-lhe o sangue de fora da minha veia , e uma pena eu puxei de asa de um anjo . Eu chamo -lhe nomes, de meu senhor, meu senhor . Eu convoco com veneno e chamar de dor. Eu abrir o caminho e eu abrir os portões. Vem. Vem…”

He closed his eyes, and felt the heat from the five caged dragons begin to dissipate, counterbalanced by an unnatural chill. Well. That had worked.

In his mind, he retreated to a comforting mantra, the one that had guided him for so many centuries, his battlecry. With intense effort, he whipped his wand out and enveloped the darkness with light.

The chill lifted. Soon enough, he would ensure that the counterspell was lost forever, but he still had much work to do. He pointed his wand at one of the cages containing the Welsh Green, and fired off a spell at each cage in rapid succession.

“AVADAKEDAVRA AVADAKEDAVRA AVADAKEDAVRA AVADAKEDAVRA AVADAKEDAVRA!”

He was preparing for war, and he was building his army.

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 14: Things Fall Apart – The Center Cannot Hold (pt. III)

Dearest Louis,

The taste of victory is sweet. I would have never guessed in a century that at the end of it all, Severus Hortensius would be our greatest ally. This is a new and treacherous game board, for certain, but it is certainly preferable to waiting patiently for our forebears to pass so that we may take their seat on the Council.

Even in the few short days since the Edict, alliances are being formed within the ranks of the Hogwart’s Governors. My father chuckled at the very notion. In my younger days, he used to tell me that trying to keep my in light was like trying to cage a bolt of lightning. It has been many a long year since he told me that, but he said as much with regards to the Founders: ‘They are bolts of lightning that you wish to cage, son. Take care.’

The Founders truly care about their mission. They are devoted to the school, which means they will be easy to control. They are not experienced in the games of power and intrigue, and as long as we take care to keep the best interests of the school in mind at all times, they will be in our catspaw. Although Hogwarts is young, I do suspect in the years to come that our Board of Governors will wield a power even greater than that of the Wizard’s Council.

Of the matter regarding blood, that I think we should discuss in person. You and I do not always see eye to eye on this subject, and it would hurt me greatly if you misinterpreted my words as carrying anything but the utmost respect and friendship. Our means may be different but we still strive for the same end. The blood will run cold in my veins before I allow the blood of Atlantis to fade from the world. Of that, we are of the same mind.

Until our next meeting, I wish you the best of health.

-Excerpted from the private correspondence between Richard Potter, Son of Henry, and Louis Malfoy, son of Armand.


The Keep of Mysteries
Westminster, London
1107, C.E.

“Civility, I will have civility!” Severus Hortensius shouted. He held the Line of Merlin, the symbol of his station, in his left hand, and it whispered to him ideas, suggestions, paths. “I remind all of the members of the Wizard’s Council that Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, and Salazar Slytherin are here as our guests and should be treated as such.” He stared at Godric. “And in turn, I expect that our guests will afford us the level of respect that we are due. Now, that said, Master Longbottom has a fair and valid point. You requested special dispensation to circumvent the military authority of this Council in order to fight Lord Foul yourself. We granted that, and not only did you fail, but Lord Foul’s whereabouts are currently unknown.”

Septimus Longbottom added, “And this trophy you brought back for us, this Archway, we know nothing of its nature. For all we know, Lord Foul and his army may be dwelling just on the other side of that veil.”

“Master Longbottom, I can assure you that I have thoroughly inspected and researched this artifact,” Salazar Slytherin provided. “It is no dark portal to realms unseen, it is something much more eldritch than that. You should be thanking Godric for ensuring its safety within the hallowed halls of the Keep.”

“Yes, and further to the point, Longbottom, we have our best Unspeakables working around the clock to further decipher its mysteries.” Hortensius spread his hands. “But Godric, the fact stands that our world has grown close, perhaps too close. And your past few… escapades have not ended satisfactorily.”

“You speak of Dark Evangel. The Apostle of Darkness, she is dead, is she not?” Godric replied.

“Yes, and it practically put us to war against Shafiq and his regime in the process. Look around you at the world. The Muggle pontifex has called for war against Shafiq’s people. The Muggle king sends soldiers. Our world is fragile, and you have upset the game board too many times.”

“And what would you have me do, Severus? Stand idly by and watch as Longbottom’s Aurors flail blindly?”

Longbottom scoffed at the insult. “If we are blind, Godric, it is due in no small part to the fact that you and the others horde much-needed lore in your fortress that you call a ‘school’. Severus, the time for reform is here. Hogwarts needs to be recognized as an official branch of the Wizards’ Council. There is much we can share, much good we can do each other. You would have access to resources that I know for a fact you are currently struggling with.”

“And at what price would that come?” Godric demanded. “I am unwilling to sacrifice the neutrality of our school, to trade it away for a handful of coins. In this new era, knowledge is far, far more valuable.”

“Is it knowledge you crave? Or power?” Longbottom asked, the accusation ringing clearly.

Helga stepped in. “As distasteful as the idea of administrative oversight may sound, Longbottom is correct. There is much we have struggled with in the early days of our school. We can put limits in place as to the degree with which our affairs may be interfered.” She cast a sidelong glance at Godric. “I for one am comfortable with putting limitations upon the… military wing of Hogwarts.”

Salazar Slytherin nodded in agreement, and Godric voiced his displeasure, “And what limitations did you have in mind?”

William Umbridge looked down over the top of his glasses, “Yes, and I am curious what limitations you had in mind with respect to our influence.”

“Yes, I think that it is only fair and proper to demand that we are consulted when matters of international or interspecies relationships may be significantly impacted.” Albert Dumbledore spoke loudly from the back of the room.

Longbottom spoke up again “Yes, that fiasco with your sword has given the Goblins much reason to rally against us. They, like we, were not entirely in favor of such an accord.”

Severus Hortensius stepped in, before the matter could escalate. “We shall discuss the issue of Goblin insurgency in due time. And make no mistake, it is something that absolutely must be discussed. But we must come to an accord as to how Hogwarts will operate in the future. And another matter that needs attention in this regard is the attendance of Hogwarts.

“If you are to be granted a degree of privilege above and beyond that of a private institution, you must be aware of how your policies may be interpreted as an extension of the policies of the Council. Acceptance of those of mixed lineage by Hogwarts could, for example, be seen as tacit acceptance by the Council, perhaps even a mandate, to water down the blood of Atlantis.”

“Water down?” Godric exclaimed. “I thought that we were above this sort of arrogance and hubris.”

“There is no need to preach. We have heard the lecture many times, but you seem not to have heard our rejoinder. It is not a matter of intolerance, it is simply that we wish to proceed with caution for now. It is simply the fact that, as of yet, we still do not know the impact of diluting the blood of Atlantis.” Slytherin retorted.

Helga rolled her eyes. It was the same argument, but this time they had an audience. They went through the motions of appearing to argue with each other. Helga, and for that matter, everyone else in the room, knew full well that Godric and Salazar were arguing for the benefit of the crowd, not each other. Typically, Helga and Rowena could respectively calm Godric and Salazar, but Headmistress Ravenclaw was at Hogwarts; politics or no, there was still a school to run.

“Yes, and as we discussed previously, it is observable fact that the strength of one’s blood has no impact on the power that they may wield. Some of our best students are half-blood or less, and could easily out-magic those in your own house.” Godric added.

‘Yes, and as we have also discussed, it is an observable fact that the purity–” Salazar hesitated and reworded himself. “That the strength of one’s connection to Atlantis has measurable environmental impacts. One need only compare the Slytherin common room to that of, say, Gryffindor’s, to see the difference.”

Godric paused for a moment. His voice no longer carried the self-assured fire of before, and he proceeded hesitantly. “Are you so sure that is a good thing? I agree that magic flows more freely within your halls than my own. But with that power comes… danger.”

Salazar narrowed his eyes, “You have danced around this point for weeks, ever since returning from Azkaban. It is not a concern that you have ever brought up in our long years together.” He looked Godric in the eyes, who instinctively cast them downward. Slytherin growled, emphatically. “What did you see there?”

“What I saw…” Godric faltered, but then like a climber unexpectedly finding solid purchase, continued with renewed fervor, “What I saw was the danger and devastation that one person can wield. Lord Foul has inflicted a terrible evil upon not just our people, but the entire land as well. As we have seen, he is experimenting with magics that are dangerous even to the most reckless among us. And that is coming from me,” he added with a rare tone of self-deprecating humor. It seemed to work, as several members of the Wizard’s Council were smiling.

Longbottom seized this opportunity. “You see? They cannot agree, even among themselves! Yes, we should be mindful of the danger that one man may possess, Godric. Not only did you drive a rift between the Goblin communities, but you then massacred an entire regiment of them. They are a threat to our country, now. Even those who were on your side, they did not look kindly upon that spilled blood.”

“Damn them, and damn anyone who served Lord Foul. I taught you myself when you were at Hogwarts, Longbottom. You were renowned for your bravery. Have you truly fallen so low as to cower beneath such little feet?”

A few members of the council laughed. Longbottom turned red, “I would not underestimate them, were I you. They are, more and more, becoming armed. They have lost their lore, and in response have taken up wands. Combined with their mastery of artifice, they present a a very real threat.”

Hortensius was growing exasperated with the several different directions the conversation was taking, but had given up trying to corral it. After all, they had time to cover all points, even if it were not in the original order Severus had envisioned. “Yes, and you propose a limitation on their access to Wizard-made wands?”

“At the minimum, yes. They must be regulated, monitored. To say nothing of the matter of the dwindling supply of wands since Madame Ollivander’s absence.” He offered an olive branch to Godric, “What Godric had done with Ragnuk the Rampant, was, in its own way, brilliant. I propose that we can enforce similar such limitations upon them, under the guise of such mutually beneficial relationships?”

Godric clearly did not see the olive branch as a peace offering, “Limitations such as those you wish to enforce upon Hogwarts?”

Longbottom smiled, placatingly, “Godric. You are a wizard, not a Goblin. Although we are concerned that you may upset the game board, we are quite certain that we all play with the same color pieces. I do not share that same certainty with respect to the Little.”

Godric harrumphed, but Helga stepped in, changing the subject slightly, “But there is the matter of logistics… I am unsure as to whether Madame Ollivander would take kindly to such impositions upon to whom she can and cannot sell her wares.”

“Yes, well, Madame Ollivander is not here, is she?” William Umbridge piped up.

Hortensius rapped the Line of Merlin on the stone podium to demand silence. “The matter of what we do with the Goblins is a discussion for members of the Council, not the Founders of Hogwarts. We have called you here to discuss one specific aspect of the Edict, not all the points in their entirety. I suggest that we finish that discussion so that the Wizard’s Council may deliberate on their own matters.”

The council reluctantly nodded their agreement and began discussing anew the regulations that would be placed upon Hogwarts. It was over the span of several hours that the finer points of the Edict of Hortensius were hashed out and debated. When they had finally finished discussing Hogwarts, they bade the Founders to make their exit.


“I don’t like it.” Godric said, departing the meeting chamber with Salazar and Helga, looking up at the Archway. After the battle at Azkaban, representatives of the Aurors and several members of the Council had answered his urgent calls. He stayed there until enough of them arrived, but in the meantime he made sure to clean up much of the gruesome mess that had been made as he battled his way to the lowest floor. If they had seen the true extent of it, it was unlikely that the last meeting would have been as amicable as it was.

It took the group several hours, but they had successfully removed the entire inner core of the triangular tower, leaving it with a hollow center that extended up to the top through which the Archway was levitated up, up, and away. As Godric walked through the spiral staircase back to the top of the tower, the effect was chilling. He could see into almost all the rooms in the tower from any vantage point on the staircase.

There was a small note of confusion that he had trained himself not to ignore. This layout did not make sense. Why would a tower be designed in such a way? From a rough glance, it seemed that several of the chambers were previously inaccessible prior to the removal of the inner core. It didn’t make sense. Although he was not an expert in magical architecture, he had picked up a thing or two in the many long nights spent designing and building Hogwarts castle.

The triangular shape was not optimal, architecturally. The original plan was to simply blast the hole out the side and remove the Archway through the opening. But a few cursory charms to inspect the structure of the tower revealed that any such attempt would, in all likelihood, cause the entire tower to collapse upon itself.

How was it that the tower would have such an obvious architectural weak point, but that it was further built in such a way that the entire center could be removed with no ill effect? There was only one conclusion to be drawn, and it was chilling: this was deliberately designed. Whether Lord Foul had built Azkaban himself was unknown, but whoever did, it seemed clear that what Godric saw now was its intended final shape.

He voice these concerns to the other Founders, who personally visited the tower and scrutinized the Archway. Rowena Ravenclaw concluded that the tower was built to temporarily house the Archway. Further, she deduced that the curious metal ring with which the Goblin leader had escaped, was somehow linked to the Archway.

They had done all manner of experiments. Passing inanimate objects through the veil seemed to have no effect. Similarly, mundane living creatures could pass freely. Magical creatures, however, reacted very differently. No creature seemed willing to enter the Archway of its own volition. At first they tried immobilizing Cornish Pixies, and floating them through with magic. But the creatures resisted so intensely that they managed to break the bonds of the Immobulus charm.

After a few similarly failed attempts, they used magically reinforced leather straps to tie a Pixie down to a long length of rod, which they extended through the Archway from a distance. The sprite hissed venomously as they hoisted it into the air, but as it drew closer and closer to the veil, that hiss became a shriek. It shook violently within its bonds, trying desperately to escape, and eventually the shriek gave way to a wail of terror. Salazar held the rod, and continued to dispassionately proceed despite the fact that Rowena was visibly distressed.

As it past the threshold, the struggling immediately ceased. The light left its eyes. It was dead.

Helga Hufflepuff walked to the other side of the Archway, “Same over here. Dead. And Godric, you are certain that Lord Foul walked through the archway and simply ‘disappeared’?”

“Yes. Absolutely certain.”

Further experiments showed a certain magical resonance occurring between the Archway and the ring whenever living creatures passed through the veil. No matter what variables they manipulated, the end result was always death. The one thing they had not tried, however, was a creature of true sentience. A human. However, the need to decipher the Archway’s mystery did not seem to be so great that it justified the monstrous cost.

It was Salazar that suggested experimenting on prisoners, those who were already sentenced to death for their crimes. It was a notion that none of them were particularly comfortable with, and required the explicit consent of the council. But the Council seem far less concerned with the ethical implications, and far more concerned with simply solving the mystery. And a few less criminals in the world was no skin off their backs, because after all, the members of the Council were not criminals.

In the end, the result was the same. The first three prisoners, all dead. But the  curious observation was made that there was no Death Burst of any kind. They would have been able to detect if the Burst had simply been channeled through the Archway. To be fair, not every sudden death of a wizard or witch resulted in a Death Burst; it was roughly one in two deaths. As such, Rowena pointed out that there was still a one in eight chance that this would happen by pure random chance. The Wizard’s Council helpfully pointed out that they had several more prisoners that could be experimented upon.

A brief debate ensued concerning what their limit would be. After all, you can send one hundred men through, and even if there were no Bursts, it could still be nothing more than dumb luck. How many men were they willing to sacrifice before being satisfied? On this, Godric and Salazar were of the same mind: if they were to die anyway, what was the harm? So they agreed: five more prisoners. And if the same result was observed, they would have their conclusion.

Five prisoners walked through the Archway, five more died. No Death Bursts.

Besides the most obvious sign of death, the cessation of all activity associated with life, there were none of the other telltale indicators that the victims had passed. It was almost as if it simply transported the life force of its victims to someplace else entirely. But that still didn’t explain how Lord Foul had simply disappeared, unlike the others. There was another hypothesis to be tested: being a tremendously dark wizard and the very inventor of the Horcrux ritual itself, it was overwhelmingly likely the Lord Foul was in possession of one, if not several of the phylacteries.

Sacrificing a prisoner for the sake of science was already walking the very darkest edges of the grey area of morality. But overwriting their very life force in order to create a Horcrux? Even Salazar Slytherin was unwilling to go that far. By happy coincidence, however, Dark Evangel, a witch whom Godric had personally defeated half a century prior, had left behind a Horcrux of her own. Like most dark witches and wizards, she was prone to folly, and wore the Horcrux openly around her neck: a glittering silver pendant which now rest safely within the Keep of Mysteries.

More than willing to be rid of the terrible artifact, Severus Hortensius authorized the Unspeakables to remove it from its protective chamber. A veritable army of Aurors led by Lord Longbottom himself was gathered in the chamber that contained the Archway, ready to strike in the event of some unforeseen dark magic.

Godric did the honors, and flung the pendant through the Archway. In retrospect, that particular experiment was quite foolish. For all they knew, the spell could have triggered a blast which knocked the entire room unconscious. Although they had safeguards in place, levels and levels of safeguards, Magic is unpredictable and doesn’t always follow the rules. In fact, it rarely does.

Nonetheless, nothing particularly sinister happened. Save for the prone, childlike, unconscious form of Dark Evangel hurtling through the other side of the Archway, following the flight path of the pendant, which was nowhere to be found. Immediately, a dozen or more bolts of light, concussive waves, fans of ice and pillars of stone shot from the wands of the assembled group, stunning, sapping, imprisoning, and in one unfortunate case, eviscerating her.

That was unexpected.

She was kept on the cusp of life, and all manner of detection charms and rituals were used upon her, which revealed that her spirit was anchored. There was no trace whatsoever of any Horcrux connection. Satisfied that she did not pose the threat of revival, one of the Aurors snuffed out her remaining life, and a brief pulse of energy shockwaved through the room as the veil rippled softly.

“Lock it down, now.” Rowena demanded. She immediately went to work upon sealing the portal, and prepared a charm that spread as a diffuse, barely visible mist that blanketed the room. “It goes without saying that the results of this experiment should not leave this room. I have placed a Trace upon us all, and so if it does, I shall know. And more importantly, Godric shall know, and as you all are well aware, he does not wear the crown of restraint or ethics as heavily as I do.”

The Aurors in the room looked uncomfortably at the diadem on her head and the sword in Godric’s hands. The threat was effective, although uncomfortable. Although there were several paths to reconstructing a bodily form using a Horcrux, this one was surprisingly simple. They did not relish the prospect of being under constant attack from erstwhile servants of previously fallen dark lords.

Presently, the archway now sat, unused, for several months within the Keep of Mysteries before the day that the Wizards’ Council had convened to discuss the Edict of Hortensius. As Godric walked from the room, he could hear whispers from beyond the veil, calling to him. They all could, and they all heard something different.

Godric heard the slow, sad wail of a Phoenix’s cry.


Elizabethan Tearoom

The eight men sat in the cozy room, whose exposed oak beams and soft, velvet covered furnishings provided the perfect atmosphere in which to relax before venturing out into a strange, timeless world. Presently, they were playing Dragon poker. How else would they pass the time? Although, time was perhaps a bit of a misnomer. They were on their hundred, thousand, millionth hand? They couldn’t keep track. They were on some hand of dragon poker when they heard voices from beyond the unopenable door to the north. They had tried, of course, to leave. But such a strong feeling of dread overcame them that they found themselves incapable.

Although they couldn’t leave the room through the door, there was a Judas window installed through which they could view the outside world. They rarely bothered; it was quite boring, to be frank. But now there were sounds, which was new, so one of them stood up to investigate the disturbance., and opened up the porthole to see the source of the disturbance. As soon as he did, a silvery pendant was flung unceremoniously through, hitting him square in his face.

“Oi! That was rude!” He cried.

The other men looked up. “What is it?” one asked.

“Something shiny, I reckon. Give it here.” The man closest to the pendant grabbed it, and another lumbered over trying to get a closer look, and tugged on the chain in an attempt to take it. “Oi, gerrof!”.

The other men rolled her eyes and watched the two wrestled bawdily for control. One of the men who was still playing laid his cards down on the table, “Read ’em and weep, boys. Straight flush!”

“Not so fast, Gilesbie.” Travers grinned as he laid down the Dragon card, and paired it with the deuce. “Reverse-o!”

Gilesbie groaned, and began collecting the cards to shuffle for the next hand.


The Edict of Hortensius, although remembered later in history primarily for its restriction of wand ownership, was rightfully hailed at the time as a brilliant political masterpiece. Its original intent was to settle the long-standing concern over the growing autonomy of Hogwarts by establishing an independent Board of Governors that, although did not explicitly answer to the Council, was nonetheless influenced by them.

It maintained Hogwarts’ neutrality by ensuring that no member of the Wizards’ Council could simultaneously be a member of the Hogwarts’ governing board. But it had also satisfied the Council’s desire for a degree of oversight by granting board positions solely to the heirs of the various most prominent members of the Council.

In doing so, it also addressed a growing but unstated problem: the heirs of those on the Council were well of age at this point, and many had heirs unto themselves. They were growing restless, hungry for power, but their fathers and mothers had no plans on dying anytime soon, and creating additional seats on the Council was not a desirable option.

It even managed to address the ever growing concern of wand supply. Ever since Madame Ollivander’s son had graduated from Hogwarts and taken over the family business, the production of new wands was vastly limited. Ollivander the Elder had clearly not passed her expertise down, and she rarely made appearance at the store. Each year, their vast supply of wands she had created over the centuries began to dwindle precipitously, and unless Ollivander resumed production or passed on her lore, there would be none left within the span of a few decades.

In a move would satisfy both the prudent and the purists, the Edict of Hortensius demanded that all Ollivander wands in the civilized world be returned to the Wizard’s Council within one year’s time. Those wands would be registered and then returned to their owners, provided they could demonstrate an appropriate knowledge of magical safety. For the vast majority of wizards, this meant either having attended Hogwarts themselves, or having a living heir who is attending or had attended the school.

The move drew out the few Methuselahn, heirless wizards that the Council knew existed, and had long wanted to keep tabs upon. Those who did not present themselves were greatly weakened, for in a shocking, rare public appearance, Madame Ollivander gave her support of the Edict, and pledged to enact a grand ritual at the end of the yearlong deadline, which would render her creations useless were they not subject to the registration process.

In one deft stroke, Severus Hortensius had eased the tensions between three powerful and disparate groups of interest, and had further consolidated power in the civilized world in the hands of the Council and its heirs.

But alas, every river of good intentions must eventually terminate, flowing out into a sea of unintended consequences.


The Urgod Ur
Ackle
1107 C.E.

“Do not be so hasty to deny this opportunity, Surdod.” Godrod spoke, emphatically.

“I agree. Let us not show the same ignorant intolerance as the humans and reject him out of hand simply because he is not Goblin.” Haddad agreed.

Surdod slammed his first upon the table. “It is because of him that Ulak the Unconquered has fallen. Ulak and his kin chose to follow the Archon, and paid for it with blood. I wish to see no more goblin blood on this man’s hands, or any man!”

“Yes, but let us not forget whose sword actually drew that blood. That man is upon whom the Archon proposes war.” Bilgurd offered amicably.

“Need we escalate this cycle of death? Say we win, what then? Do you truly think that humans, in their perpetual bloodlust and ignorance,” He nodded his head at the Archon Heraclius Hero, who sat in the guest chair at the table. “Present company excluded, of course. Do you really think they will let such a blow go unreturned? Of course not! They will wage war.” Surdod retorted.

“Then war they shall have!” Haddad roared. “They seek to take our wands, they seek to remove the ability with which we may defend ourselves from their ever encroaching advances. Somehow they have bamboozled or coerced Madame Ollivander, who was a friend to all of our kind, and I believe her when she says that our wands will turn to sticks in our hands if we do not submit to their slavery. We must strike before that happens.”

Surdod sighed. “And what good will that do? We cannot control Madame Ollivander: our wands will still be useless, war or no. What do you suggest, that we send our younglings to that human school to have their minds filled with rot and poison? Do you propose that we take over the school, and teach humankind our secrets? Or do we simply refuse entry to all but Goblins?

“At the end of all these paths lie ruin. The covenant that the Four Founders and the Board of Governors signed, bound by the Cup of Dawn itself, dictates that all parties much reach a supermajority on any matters which ‘significantly impact the course and direction of the curriculum or administration of Hogwarts’. Such an agreement cannot be coerced, it must be entered into freely. In their spite, the humans would never agree to allow us our wands.”

Godrod nodded. “Then it is they who send us into the cycle of death, not us. We cannot simply sit idly by while they trample our people. I speak to you now as a friend, Sodrod. I know that you have been hesitant to send our people to war, and with good cause. Your voice of reason has been much appreciated and greatly valued. However, we stand now at the precipice of a new era. Already, our magic wanes. Wizards wish to crush us beneath their heels. It is often more brave, more honorable, more difficult to stay one’s hand than to strike. But now is not one of those times. If we stay our hand, it will be cut off. If we put down our spears, they shall be stolen. We are stuck between the hammer and the anvil, forced into a choice not of our own making. It is a terrible choice, yes, but one that we cannot afford not to make. This is the future of our very race at stake, and sadly now we must fight for that future!”

An overwhelming majority of the goblins at the table cheered loudly at this. Bilgurd, Sodrod and a few others looked at each other, dubiously exchanging meaningful glances, and eventually nodding amongst themselves.

After a time, Sodrod spoke. “Very well. Let us decide then, on whether to ally with this man who proposes war against Wizards.”

Archon Heraclius Hero, who had been silent up until this point, raised his open hand, and the room grew quiet. “Before you decide, I would like to speak. Because I do not wish you to enter into such a decision lightly. You must understand that, although I disagree with Sodrod’s hesitance to fight, he is correct in that it is unlikely that Lady Ollivander will change her course. By allying with me, you embrace a new era, but it will be a darker era. Many magicks will be lost, and must one day be rediscovered. I can help you with this, I can help you to shine a light in the darkness, but darkness will come, make no mistake.

“Those who knew Ulak, they should know that I did not view him as a subordinate, but truly as equals. If you ally with me, you do not take on a master, but rather, an advisor, a general to fight under your banner. But make no mistake, this will be not be a battle, it will be a war over the span of centuries. Many of you in this room will die. Many of your children will die. Many of your children’s children’s children will die as a result of the seeds we sow in the coming year. If we win, it will not be a happy victory, but it will be a necessary one.

“I know that this likely will dampen your ardor, I can see that many of you are still reluctant, and my warnings will make more of you so. But I respect your people too much to try to win you over with honeyed words and clever rhetoric. I speak to you plainly, so that you may truly know the risks in which you are about to engage.”

The surrounding goblins nodded grimly, understanding. A long moment of silence passed, as they considered and weighed his words. Eventually, the vote was called, and the goblins began to raise their hands. The decision was unanimous.

Meldh smiled to himself.

All too easy…

Orders of Magnitude: Interlude – Trump Card

Author’s note:
A large portion of this dialog is borrowed from HPMOR, starting with “When I had devised my great creation…” and ending with “…from where he stood by the cauldron.”


Igbo-Ukwu 
Present Day

She-Who-Calls-The-Dead and her nameless daughter fluttered through the sky, following the elder human and younger human, who walked hand-in-hand towards the Dead Place. Here and there, they pecked at holes in the ground that they thought might contain worms, or perhaps a nice, fat bug or two. After some time, the two humans stopped.

“The elder one will be greeted by Grandmother Death shortly, youngling.”

“How do you know this, mother?”

She-Who-Calls-The-Dead lifted her beak in the air, and ruffled her wings. “There is a smell about the air, a feel to the wind. You will learn it in time, dear. For now, you can simply trust me.”

“I’m scared.”

“As you should be, but you will be safe. The spirits of human-kind are big, and they are frightening, but they cannot harm you. We must do as we have always done. We will call to them, mimicking the voice of their ancestors. Their ancestors will call to them as well. And they must choose which call to follow to the Sunless Lands.”

“And if they choose to follow us?”

“Then you shall gain a Spirit, daughter. And you shall gain your name.”

“But what of them?”

“What happens to the humans when they pass into the Sunless Lands, I do not know. We birds hear much, but that is beyond even our reach.”

“How many Spirits do you have, mother?”

She-Who-Calls-The-Dead cocked her head. “You will learn in time that is not a question you should ask aloud. The truthful answer is, I do not know. I lost count around one hundred and seven.”

Her nameless daughter cawed in surprise. “What are they doing now?”

“They are telling their stories. They are people of stories, of tales, like we are. They are telling the tale of the All-Conqueror, who created his own twin in order to help him rule the world. His twin then rose up and imprisoned him. Despite this, the All-Conqueror still offered his counsel from beyond the walls of his prison. Together, they flew to the Sunless Lands and conquered Grandmother Death.

“The women of the tribe tell a different version of the story altogether. In their story, the All-Conqueror creates his own twin without intending to do so. The two are mortal enemies from the very beginning, and after many long seasons of war, the twin finally defeats the All-Conqueror, whose mind has grown frail with the rot of evil.”

There was silence for a time as She-Who-Calls-The-Dead pecked at the ground, idly. After a bit, her daughter spoke.

“Which one is the true tale?”

“Ah, my daughter. Well, we birds have our own tale as well. Come, roost. We have time to wait before we must make our calls. I shall tell you our story.”


Hogwarts Castle
June 13th, 1992
Another Time, Another Place

“My original plan this evening was to retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone from the Mirror, and then dispose of you. However, I was visited by a prophecy a few short hours ago, which has significantly altered the course of my plans. Something about the words and the images they invoked indicated that the very threads of time are tangled and looped, which makes this prophecy all the more dangerous, even moreso than the one that marks you as the destroyer of this world.

“Simply put, new information was revealed to me, and I see that there is something far greater at stake than this world: all worlds. It seemed that I have a choice. The particulars of the prophecy, I shall not share, but there is one portion that I believe is for the ears of both Tom Riddles.”

The Professor closed his eyes, and when he spoke, it was not his own voice, it was a hollow, clipped imitation, and the echoed syllables carried with them meaning far beyond the words themselves.

“YOU MUST CHOOSE TO FOLLOW THE PHOENIX OR SOLVE THE RIDDLE”

He opened his eyes. “It seems that fate has a sense of humor when it comes to wordplay. There are several levels of meaning to that, some more obvious than others, and in due time you will discover that meaning for yourself.

“The most surface level interpretation, and thus the one most generally applicable, is the choice I face tonight: do I follow the Phoenix or do I solve the Riddle? Every problem, every great catastrophe that has befell our world has a cause and an effect. Are you familiar with the tale of Estremoz?”

“No.” Harry responded flatly.

“Estremoz was once a grand and glorious city, where wizards flourished in peace. Many great magical innovations were made there, and it was a hub of culture and art. A great wizard known only to the world as Lord Foul was concerned with the fate of this world, much as I am, and was convinced that the four founders of Hogwarts were misguided in teaching such terrible, dangerous magics to young students who could barely contain their powers. And so he threatened war upon them.

“He summoned a great and terrible beast, thought by many to be indestructible, from the depths of the underworld, and he set this beast upon the city of Estremoz. And so, the four founders had a choice: they could band together and protect the city, or they could band together and fight the wizard who summoned the threat and prevent it from ever happening again.

“It is a variation on the trolley problem, which given your Muggle upbringings, I am quite sure you are familiar with.”

Harry nodded.

“And so, when presented with a problem with a clear cause and clear effect, do you address the effect immediately, saving a handful of lives in the short term? Or do you address the cause, allowing the effect to go unchecked, but hopefully saving many more in the long run?”

“Both. You always strive for both. It doesn’t have to be a choice. You cheat. You win.” Harry’s reply was more passionate than he intended.

The Professor laughed. “Are you so sure you were not a Gryffindor? That was Godric’s response as well. But he learned, as you will one day learn, that one person simply cannot do everything, that hard choices must be made, that you cannot always have your cake and eat it too. That being said: you are forced to pick between the two. Which do you pick?”

“If I had to choose, well, you do what saves the most lives in the long run. That’s what you have to do. That’s with any sane, rational, good person would do.”

At this, Quirrell smiled. It was a cruel, condescending smile. It carried no hint of mirth. “Yes, yes indeed. And that is with the founders did. And so they ended Lord Foul’s reign of terror. His great beast, the Tarrasque, it razed the city of Estremoz. Left unchecked, it rampaged through the beautiful marble buildings, and killed every man, woman, and child, before it went to hunt those who had escaped.

“How the Tarrasque was contained is unknown, and there are several legends that attempts to explain this. A popular tale that is tangentially relevant to our current situation is that one of the escapees was in possession of the true Cloak of Invisibility. With it, he was able to hide from the Tarrasque, who was bade with the task of extermination. Absent a master to call it down, it would not rest until it had completed its goal. And so it wandered the world in search of its final quarry.

“The legend says that the sons of that man laid the Cloak over him on his death bed, and that he passed me on this world of life from underneath that shroud. And thus his passing went unnoticed by the beast. So to this day the Tarrasque still wanders, searching in vain.

“The loss of Estremoz was a terrible tragedy, and the wizarding world blamed the founders. Despite doing the right thing, they were cursed for it, hated for it. It is amusing how they were cursed by virtue of their ability. No one cursed the common simpleton who had neither the strength nor will to fight such a beast. No, they cursed the only people who could possibly protect them. If Dumbledore were not intercepting your mail, refusing the petitions of countless hundreds from every corner of the globe, you would see how people curse your name, how they hate you for doing nothing to solve their mean, personal little tragedies.

That is the curse of competence, that you are forced to make those choices, between ‘right’ and ‘more right’. And so that brings us to now. When I had devised my great creation and come into the fullness of my magic, I thought the time had come for me to take political power into my hands. It would be inconvenient, certainly, and take up my time in ways that were not enjoyable. But I knew the Muggles would eventually destroy the world or make war on wizardkind or both, and something had to be done if I was not to wander a dead or dull world through my eternity. Having attained immortality I needed a new ambition to occupy my decades, and to prevent the Muggles from ruining everything seemed a goal of acceptable scope and difficulty.

“It is a source of continual amusement to me that I, of all people, am the only one really taking action towards that end. Though I suppose it would make sense for the mortal insects not to care about their world’s end; why should they, when they are just going to die regardless, and can save themselves the inconvenience of trying to do anything difficult along the way?

“But I digress. I saw how Dumbledore had risen to power from his defeat of Grindelwald, so I thought I would do the same. I had long ago taken my vengeance on David Monroe – he was an annoyance from my year in Slytherin – so I bethought to also steal his identity, and wipe out his family to make myself heir of his House. And I conceived also a great foe for David Monroe to fight, the most terrifying Dark Lord imaginable, clever beyond reckoning; more dangerous by far than Grindelwald, for his intelligence would be perfected in all the ways that Grindelwald had been flawed and self-destructive. A Dark Lord who would do his cunning utmost to disrupt the alliances who would fight him, a Dark Lord who would command the deepest loyalty from his followers through his oratical skills. The most dreadful Dark Lord who had ever threatened Britain or the world, that was who David Monroe would defeat.”

Professor Quirrell’s mallet struck a bellflower and then a different pale flower with two more thuds. “But then, while I had sometimes played the part of Dark Wizard in my wanderings, I had never adopted the identity of a full-fledged Dark Lord with underlings and a political agenda. I had no practice at the task, and I was mindful of the story of Dark Evangel and the disaster of her first public appearance. According to what she said afterward, she had meant to call herself the Walking Catastrophe and the Apostle of Darkness, but in the excitement of the moment she introduced herself as the Apostrophe of Darkness instead. After that she had to ruin two entire villages before anyone took her seriously.”

“So you decided to try a small-scale experiment first,” Harry said. A sickness rose up in him, because in that moment Harry understood, he saw himself reflected; the next step was just what Harry himself would have done, if he’d had no trace of ethics whatsoever, if he’d been that empty inside. “You created a disposable identity, to learn how the ropes worked, and get your mistakes out of the way.”

“Indeed. Before becoming a truly terrible Dark Lord for David Monroe to fight, I first created for practice the persona of a Dark Lord with glowing red eyes, pointlessly cruel to his underlings, pursuing a political agenda of naked personal ambition combined with blood purism as argued by drunks in Knockturn Alley. My first underlings were hired in a tavern, given cloaks and skull masks, and told to introduce themselves as Death Eaters.”

The sick sense of understanding deepened, in the pit of Harry’s stomach. “And you called yourself Voldemort.”

“Just so, General Chaos.” Professor Quirrell was grinning, from where he stood by the cauldron. “You, the destroyer of worlds, I could trivially end your threat. In doing so, I would save this world. But it may come at the price of losing everything. In those hours between hearing the prophecy and now, I have done a great deal of thinking, and have devised a plan. Either way, I suspect it shall end in my favor.

“Despite everything, you still see the good in people. You still trust the democracy of idiots. I plan to disavow you of that trust. I will use the Stone to revive myself to my full glory as Lord Voldemort. And, I shall further use it to revive your friend, Miss Granger. The world can ill afford another wizarding war, and so I will enter the world of mundane politics. Cornelius Fudge has six years left on his term, at which point coincidentally, according to our ancient customs, Miss Granger will be of age to oppose me in my bid to become Minister for Magic.”

Harry could already see where this is going, and interrupted, “That’s a rigged game. I will not play it. People would vote for you out of fear, they would remember the last war, they would not vote for you because they truly thought it was right.”

“Of course you are correct, Mr. Potter. That is why I would publicly take the Unbreakable Vow, I would bind myself to not extract any sort of revenge or harm upon any of those who may choose to vote against me.

“You will have six years to groom her, The Girl Who Revived, to battle for the souls of this country against He Who Must Not Be Named. Six years to employ all your tools of reason and persuasion to oppose me while I appeal to the dark heart of humanity. You know that I am not a good person, Potter, and I will not attempt to disguise that fact. I will openly display my vileness. I will call people to me with my cries of intolerance and wanton displays of ignorance. And you, Mr. Potter, will see the folly of trust.”


Igbo-Ukwu 
Present Day

“But how, mother? Why? Why did the people choose evil over good? How can this be true?”

She-Who-Calls-The-Dead cocked her head, and flapped her wings gently towards her daughter. “No one believes what they are doing is evil. When doing wicked deeds, one believes that one is choosing from the lesser of two evils. Or worse still, the greater of two goods.

“And furthermore, I did not say the story was true. We are Drongo birds. We are tricksters, for every truth we tell, we tell ten falsehoods. It is our nature.”

“But tell me mother, I must know. Is this a true tale? Or is this a falsehood?”

Her mother cawed. “That is the curse of the Drongo bird. We may never know. Now, come. They are standing, it is almost time.”

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 13: Things Fall Apart – I Love the Way You Lie (pt. II)

‘Twas down the glen, one Easter morn
To a city fair rode I
There armored lines of goblin-kind
In squadrons passed me by
No pipes did hum, no battle drum
Did sound its rare tattoo
While the Angelus bells o’er the Liffey’s swells
Rang out in the foggy dew.

‘Twas wizards bound our ancient lore
So that our nations would not be free.
Their lonely graves at Bas Cliabhan’s waves
On the fringe of the great North Sea
Those who died by Ulak’s side
They stood both tall and true
Their names we shall keep where our fathers sleep,
‘Neath the shroud of the foggy dew.

And the bravest fell while the requiem bell
Rang mournfully and clear.
For those who died that Easter-tide
In the springtime of the year.
The world did gaze with deep amaze
At those fearless ones, but few.
Who bore the fight so freedom’s light
Would shine through the foggy dew.

And back through the glen, I rode again
And my heart with grief shall soar.
For I parted then with my valiant friends
Whom I ne’er shall see no more.
And to and fro in my dreams I’ll go
And I’ll kneel and pray for you.
Though slavery’s fled, o’ glorious dead
When you fell in the foggy dew.

The Ballad of Ulak the Unconquered
Author Unknown


Bás Cliábhan
1106 C.E.

Godric stared at the blade, the Sword of Ragnuk, now the Sword of Gryffindor, forged from the form of pure war. It was every weapon ever created. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the glittering, polished silver of the blade, which seemed to whisper to him, calling from beyond eternity, crying out for blood, for vengeance.

Ragnuk the Rampant had forged the sword for Godric, in exchange for a covenant between Wizards and Goblin-kind. Godric had done this without the consent of the other Founders, and Ragnuk had done this without the consent of all Goblins. Not that Godric necessarily needed the Founders’ approval; a representative of the little would always have a place at Hogwarts, covenant or no, this just formalized that understanding.

It heralded a new era of peace between these two peoples. Ragnuk the Rampant was the first in a long line of many goblin, or half-goblin teachers at Hogwarts, and his discipline was the fine art of Transfiguration, one of the most fiercely-guarded secrets of Goblin-kind.

It was a trade of necessity, of course. Goblins were not teachers, by nature. They were creators, artists. They had written volumes upon volumes, stored within the glittering vaults of Curd, Ackle, and beyond. They were not trained in the art of passing knowledge down from one living mind to another. Their speciality was in taking their knowledge and transforming it into something concrete and tangible, but dead.

Their mastery of artifice was an advantage; in some ways, they possessed some of the most eldritch powers of this new era of Magic. But their knowledge, which previously had been passed down from generation to generation in those tomes of lore, was rapidly decaying. They needed teachers to pass their secrets on, but more importantly, they needed to learn how to teach effectively.

Many goblins did not take kindly to Ragnuk’s perceived betrayal. Goblin secrets were for Goblin minds alone, they thought. They were not coins to be peddled, to be traded for carved sticks and silly incantations. But what choice did they have? Already, their charms had grown weaker, their famed prowess in battle had dampened. They needed to grow, to adapt.

And Godric, he needed a weapon, a weapon to teach him the ways of battle, the ways of bravery. He still shuddered when he dwelled on the memory of the Sword’s creation, that precious blade being forged and imbued with the essence of Void so as to take on the power of that which may harm it.

But what he remembered most was that phoenix, that precious phoenix, who had come to Ragnuk in his hour of bravery and need. He could see the pain and tears in the goblin’s beady, black eyes, and the shock in the phoenix’s final call as Ragnuk slid the blade through the fiery heart of the bird.

A heatless inferno washed over the room in an instant. The flame and the phoenix were both taken in by the blade, which glowed momentarily with an angry, ruddy light. Ragnuk held the blade in his hands and spoke.

“The blade chooses the wizard, Godric Gryffindor, not the other way around. Remember that, always. I pass this blade to you now, not in the manner of the trade of our kind. I truly give it to you, and you are its owner. It is a part of your heart, and you are a part of it. But just as you may one day give your heart to another, the blade may one day choose another as well, if need is great.”

And with that, in a burst of flame, the sword disappeared from Ragnuk’s hands and instantiated in Godric’s. Instictively, he gripped the hilt tightly, feeling the anger, the need of battle coursing through him. He could feel the finely-gilt writing that had been inlaid into the hilt of the sword, digging into his palms.

Nihil Supernum

There would be no blade that would ever come above this one. Only those of pure intent and noble heart would be able to wield it to its true potential. But such power comes with a price; it is lonely at the top, and if you find that you stumble, you will find that the rescuer hath no rescuer.

The memories washed over Godric as he stood floating above the great North Sea, staring at the triangular obelisk that jutted out of the waters, an unnatural blight on the otherwise rugged beauty of this place. This was an evil place, and within it dwelled an evil man; a dark wizard from origins unknown who was known only to the world by a series of epithets. The Grey Slayer, the Enemy, the Corruptor. He commanded a small legion of goblins who knew him as a-Jeroth, an ancient word that could roughly be translated as either “savior” or “destroyer”.

He knew that he was likely going to his death, like so many battles before this one. He waited, and waited, and waited. He knew, like those other battles, he would be waiting in vain, but he waited nonetheless, standing there, agonizing, over the call…

That wouldn’t…

Come.

His eyes flicked once to the stars above, wishing, hoping that just a single one would flash in the night. But it did not. He sighed, and steeled himself for battle. He drew the sword across his forearms, drawing blood in an ancient ritual: blood for blood. The blade took in the precious liquid, and the wounds healed themselves, but he could still feel their sting and he allowed it to fuel his anger, a reminder that death was close at hand.

He hurtled up, to the top of the tower, where six goblin guards stood watching dutifully. It saddened him to see them corrupted so. They looked among each other. They were ready. They had been expecting him. The one who was dressed in the most ornate armor and carried the most elaborate weapons spoke to the others.

“Ef yn dod, mae’r grissa ost drauka. Yw ef yma, yr un sy’n proffwydoliaeth dweud ewyllys i ddod â’r cleddyf y ffurlfen gwir rhyfel.”

The others nodded. Godric landed across from them, several yards away. The leader of the goblins then addressed Godric, in a broken, stilted form of the common vernacular. “You have come. It was said you would come. And it was said you have the choice, that you can leave now, before you bring death upon the world.”

“The only death I will bring today is upon your master, and you, if you continue to serve him. I am a friend of your people. Lay down your weapons and I shall let you leave in peace.”

The goblin spat upon the rough-hewn stone floor of the tower. “You carry the Sword of the Betrayer, he who sold our secrets to you, who would use them to tear apart this land, our world, even the stars in the sky.”

The light drizzle of rain had grown into a full-fledged storm by this point. The remainder shifted uncomfortably. They were unsure of themselves, their mission. Godric could see it clearly, that they did not truly believe in the cause. He had their attention, it was time to use their uncertainty to his advantage.

“I give you one final chance. Your minds have been twisted by your dark master. He has fed you lies, warped your thoughts. Leave now, or you shall die!”

He held his sword menacingly in the air, and nature itself seemed to respond to his battlecry: lightning crackled above, illuminating Godric’s silhouette, striking the Sword of Gryffindor itself. The power of the sword shielded Godric and those around him, taking in the force of the bolt and using it to augment its own strength. It glowed a brilliant white against the dark backdrop of night.

The goblins eyes grew wide. Good. Press the advantage. He moved to speak, but the leader of the goblins whispered softly to the others, “Ti’n gweld? Mae ei ei farcio fan fellten…”

This was not the reaction he was expecting. They stiffened, eyes narrowed. They carried themselves with grim resolve now, as if they suddenly had been given a reason to fight, a very good reason. They shifted into battle formation, and the leader shouted at Godric, “You are Death, and we shall end you!”

They shouted war cries, and rushed forwards towards Godric. They were six, six magic-wielders against one. It should have been a death sentence, but Godric was aided by War itself.

Time is finite, and as such not every subject and discipline can be studied and mastered. The art of wielding several people’s magic against one happens to be one of those disciplines. Such circumstances simply do not come up in the normal course of combat between magic users, and if it does, the situation simply takes care of itself without the need for special planning. One wizard simply cannot stand against the force of several combined.

There are rare occasions when one wizard is of such superlative power that they may stand a chance, but who could teach and train such a wizard on such circumstances? How could such a curriculum even be devised?

The result was slightly disorienting for the attackers, like playing chess against an opponent who simply does not move his pieces. Each attacker was expecting an individual, discrete response to their attack. But that is not what they were met with: his defenses were perfectly crafted to ward all of their assaults with brutal efficiency. The sword whispered hints, suggestions, and identified openings and weaknesses to be exploited.

He did not seek to wound or disable. These were servants of Death, and they had cast their lot, so he would send them to their master. They fought with a similar ferocity, for this man was the bringer of Death, and they would not allow him to bring death to their people.

It was a fight to the end, and despite being hopelessly outnumbered, Godric had them hopelessly outmatched. One of the goblins extended his arms a few inches too far when casting a curse, and the sword saw the opening. It prompted Godric to spin to avoid the bolt of light. With his left hand, he cast his wand in a fan-shaped motion to block the incoming elemental forces that were hurled his way from the blind side, and used the momentum of the spin to slice the goblin’s wand in two with the sword.

The goblin stood dumbly for a split second, mouth open, and Godric unleashed a kick which not only collapsed the lungs of the small creature, but sent him flying backward into one of his comrades behind him, who faltered. Another opportunity. Godric leapt into the air with preternatural strength, summoning wind and fire to turn aside both the physical projectiles and the gusts of ice that were directed towards him. He flipped forward in midair to dodge a series of spell-bolts, and then drove his sword downward through the top of the Goblin’s skull, all the way down until it reached the shoulder blade.

Ruined bone and brain splattered across the floor, and without sparing a moment, Godric wrenched the blade sideways, sending through it a flow of magic which caressed the dead bone of the goblin’s shoulder blade and arms, contorting them into sharpened spikes.

These were battle-hardened warriors, but even they did not expect the gruesomeness of their fallen comrade’s bones being sharpened into weapons. That surprise was the end of two more of them, as the spikes jutted outward and found their marks. The goblin leader, and one other were the only two that remained standing. There was a break in the battle.

Godric panted heavily, “Leave this place, now. Or you will die, like them.”

Ulak was the leader of the goblins, he had a wife at home, and a trio of younglings. It was for them he fought, and his eyes grew wet with the thought of them growing up without a father, of her without a husband. He wondered if they would know how he died, what he died fighting for, and whether they would continue the fight. He wondered if this man would rewrite history, turning Ulak into some callow villain.

He continued to fight, despite the rising hopelessness of the situation, breathing hard as he saw his final comrade blasted off the side of the tower with a concentrated burst of wind. With a quick glance, he saw the light had already left the goblin’s eyes before he even reached the precipice.

Although there were many more levels to the tower, levels and levels, they were the first and truly last line of defense. For if an attacker could breach their line, he could surely deal with the warriors inside. The scale of the tower was misleading; as large as it was, an outsider might think it host to an entire army, but the truth was that much of the place was unused. Ulak could not imagine a world with so many magical creatures and beings that this place could be filled to its full potential. His master apparently did.

He was staring Death in the face. Between the crackling of lightning, the downpour of rain and the crashing of the waves, it was likely that no one in the immediate lower levels heard the melee above. They had, of course, sounded the alarm from the first moment they saw the intruder, but since no reinforcements arrived from below, Ulak was certain the man had sabotaged their systems. He was not sure how, but the facts were clear. He was fighting alone.

Goblin honor dictated that he stand and fight, even if it meant his death. But what would he be dying for? There were those in the levels beneath him that would likely be slaughtered as well. And he could not risk the Gateway being lost. It occurred to Ulak that true bravery was not blindly adhering to a code laid down by those before you, that true bravery was making your own choice, even when that choice seemed impossible. Ulak would rather die than dishonor his name and the name of Goblin.

But then, some things are worth dying for.

He would not let death extend its reach any further than it had to. He would end the fight on his own terms. In one swift movement, he tore the metal ring from his belt and hurled it into the air. Godric’s wand immediately pointed towards it, tracing its flight path, but the ring expanded to several times its own width, and with a bright flash of orange light, it encased Ulak, freezing him in time.

Godric watched, his wand still following the ring, sword ready to strike, but the deed was already done. The ring, now a hoop, clattered to the ground with a loud CLANG, and Godric was alone.

Ulak, for his part, was gone. Gone, but unconquered.


On the bottom floor of the tower, Lord Foul stood, watching, waiting. He was wearing a jet-black robe, as befitting his moniker, and his face was obscured entirely by a billowing hood. As expected, the archway on the dais in the center of the amphitheater began to glow with an intense blue light, and the tattered black veil billowed violently, as if caught by some unseen gale.

This was a triumph… he thought to himself. He made a mental note, and continued to wait. He heard the clash of battle above him, the unmistakeable ringing of steel and crashes of magic and shouts of rage and cries of death. Patiently, he stood, listening, biding his time, until he could hear the footsteps clamoring down the spiral staircase near the back of the chamber.

There were a thousand and one ways that Lord Foul could have ended Godric Gryffindor long before this point, long before this battle had begun, long before Hogwarts was even founded. But now was not the time for Godric to die. No, now was the time for Godric to learn. It was time for the theatrics.

Lord Foul slowly clapped his hands as Godric made his way into the chamber.

“Congratulations, Godric, on making it this far.”

“Lord Foul,” Godric hissed.

“Lord Gryffindor,” he replied, mockingly. “I suppose you will want to have your climactic battle to the death with me here momentarily, end my reign of terror. Yes, yes, all in good time. But for now, come, come. I would like to show you something.”

Lord Foul gestured to a meter-tall lens, embellished with a fine platinum rim, affixed by an axis to a stand that looked to be carved out of an iridescent green stone. The stand could rotate, and the angle of the lens could be adjusted. The dark wizard spun the lens around to point at Godric, who could now see within its depths. He saw fire, all-consuming fire, a thousand phoenixes emerging from the conflagration.

“Do you see the phoenixes, Godric? Each one represents a choice, the choice that to this day, you have not made. Your phoenix will one day come, when you are faced with a moment that requires true bravery.”

“What do you know about bravery?” Godric spat. “You hide in this palace, you enslave a lesser people to do your bidding, you unleash your devastation from a distance. You are a coward.”

“‘Lesser people’? My, my, how high-minded of you. Are you not, as you say, ‘a friend’ to them? And yet you think of them so lowly…”

Godric grunted. “Enough word games. It is time for you to die.”

“No, it is not. I have a message for you. It is not a request. I will bring war and death to Hogwarts, for you cannot be allowed to persist in what you do. You know why you cannot be allowed to persist. You have seen it first-hand. Through this lens, I can see into your very soul.”

“Enough!” Godric drew his sword.

“Tell me, then, and speak truly, for I shall know if you are lying. You know the risks, you have seen them, you know what will happens if you continue, do you not?” Godric did not answer, he simply advanced upon Lord Foul. “Tut, tut. And you call me a coward.”

“I do call you a coward! Now show me your face and fight me!”

“And yet, you are too afraid to look inward, to embrace what you know to be true.”

“What I know is that I am doing what I must. Prophecy demands it. We must build a foundation for magic to be restored. Merlin, in his wisdom, put us in chains, because we were not ready for true power. We are teaching that responsibility, we are passing on–”

“Do not lie to me, or to yourself. You have seen the way your young wizards abuse their powers, ignore even the most basic and sensical of precautions. You teach Transfiguration to wizards who are barely of age! Already there have been accidents, already you have flirted with–”

“And what would you have us do? Stagnate? Rot? That is the world you envision, Lord Foul, a world of ruin and a world of death. That is not the world I choose to embrace, that is a world I will do everything in my power to prevent from coming to be. Yes, there are risks, but there is no risk greater than–”

“Than what? A world without magic? A world that is safe? For all of your supposed acceptance of what you call ‘Muggles’, you seem to view them much the same as you view the Goblins. Lesser. Impotent. Have you seen the wonders that they have created? You know the prophecies, you know that one day, they will reach the very stars, and they will do so without the touch, the taint of magic.”

Godric roared in anger, “They will reach the very stars in heaven so that they may tear them apart! Look at them! How they multiply, how they spread! Magic must rise, we must first raise ourselves up so that we may then raise them. Otherwise, they shall be the end of us all.”

“You speak of the prophecy, the one that goes by a thousand names. I wonder, how much do you truly know?”

“I know enough.” Godric took another step closer. They were within arms reach of each other.

“Do you? Do you truly?” There was a pause. “You know, we are more alike than you’d like to think.”

At this, Godric laughed. “Do you think you are the first dark wizard who has tried to tempt me with that speech?”

Lord Foul smiled. “No, but I am the first wizard who will show you,” And like a flash of lightning, his arm lashed out, grasping Godric’s shoulder, and he whispered a word.


Godric stood, reeling. “Ba. Egeustimentis Ba. Ba.”

“I have done nothing to alter your mind, Godric.”

“BA! BA!” He yelled, futilely.

“Say it all you like. I merely revealed new information to you. No magic can undo that.”

“Why? Why, damnit?” Godric shook his head, angrily. “What then? Why is this,” he gestured at Lord Foul’s cloak and around at the evil chamber, “Why is this the answer? How?”

“All in good time, Godric. You have served your purpose in coming here, child, and now I will take my leave.” Lord Foul turned and began to walk towards the archway.

“No!” He shouted, passionately. Lord Foul stopped, a step from the archway, and turned around. “You must tell me. How, how are we to stop this?”

“That is the riddle, isn’t it? You’ll have a choice soon. Very soon.” And with that, he removed his hood.

Godric’s eyes grew wide, and he staggered backwards. “You.”

“Goodbye, for now, Godric.” And with that, Meldh stepped through the archway.

Godric stood alone.

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 12: Things Fall Apart – The Transmigration (pt. I)

Igbo-Ukwu
Present Day

Chinwendu and Nnamdi strode hand in hand through the ruins, holding spears in their free hands, which doubled as walking sticks. They walked for many hours, past the ruins, through the dead place. The farther they walked, the more death surrounded them. Dead grass gave way to loose scrabble and dirt, and when they at least reached their destination, Chinwendu stopped.

“We have come to this place, Nnamdi, so you may finally become a man, and hear the story of our people, that only our men may hear.”

“Why is it that only the men may hear this story?”

“The women tell their own tale, as do the birds and beasts. Such stories are not for your ears, nor is our story for them to hear. It is a tale of our people, where we came from, and where we shall go. It is a tale of our magic, how like the little weaver-bird who once flew to close to the sun, as did our people, all people. It is why we are colored the way we are, and why we must have pity and mercy on the foreign ghosts beyond our country: despite their evils, they were not graced with the presence of Anwu as we were.”

“But, how do we know that our tale is the true one, if we cannot listen to the tale of the women, or the tale of the beasts?”

“Ah, Nnamdi, you are not old like me. You have an entire world inside your head, you and all the children, when you play in the plains while the men and women work. You see the world in front of you, rigid with its rules and laws, you see the order and structure of our village and how it is not at all like the fantasies of your imagination.

“And so you grow to ignore the world and stories inside your mind. I have seen many things. I have heard many things. And if there is one bit of wisdom I may pass to you so you may pass to your sons, it is that all tales are true in their own way.

“Now sit, and you shall hear the tale my chief told me, and his chief told him before that, and his chief before that. It is a tale that stretches back uncountable seasons…”


The Palace at Arcadia
903 C.E.

THE FOUR SIDES OF THE SQUARE HAVE ENTERED THE BOARD
THEIR CRESTS SHALL BE THE BLOCKS BY WHICH MANKIND’S CUNNING SHALL WAX
THOSE WINGS WILL BEAR MAN TO THE STARS, BUT THEY AS ALL, MUST MELT
AND THE FALLEN HERO SHALL SWING HIS BLADES
AND IN RETURN THEY TOO SHALL SWING
BY THEIR ASHES THREE OF THE THREE THREE SHALL RISE
THE ENLIGHTENED TOWERS, THE HALLOWED GODDESSES, THE STOWN-HEWN SERPENTS
TOGETHER THEY MUST CHOOSE TO FOLLOW THE PHOENIX OR SOLVE THE RIDDLE

“This is… complex, to say the least,” Meldh finally spoke.

“Yes, but is a tapestry that has been woven ages ago, long before this day.” Merlin replied.

“Are you sure it is wise to keep so many threads in play as one time? The people may be ‘ants’, as you say, but I have learned that things do not always work out–”

Merlin cut him off with a gesture. “Perhaps for you. Step on an anthill, and the aftermath may be unpredictable, thousands upon thousands of them scurrying at random, barely comprehending the cataclysm that destroyed all they have built. But as surely as the sun rises, they rebuild and go on. By the time the next hill is built, the cataclysm has passed into ancient history.

“When I step on this hill, it will matter little. As you said, they are cunning. They will find a way to rebuild, as they must, and the manners in which they may do so are limited. And more to the point, all of which are to our advantage. The most obvious choice, and thus the inevitable one, is that they circumvent my Interdict by formalizing the passage of knowledge from one living mind to another.”

Meldh nodded. “A school.”

“You will either succeed in destroying that school, and we shall rebuild it again in our own image, or you will fail, and the world will unite as it never has before, in defense of a common foe and his allies. Either way, it is a victory.

“When the interdict comes to pass, it will be felt across the world. Those who did not bear witness to the event shall be confused, scared. And once they are made aware of the fact that they were not among the few who did bear witness, they will retreat, entrench their positions, resentfully hoard their lore. After a few centuries, those in the north will sense the opportunity, and embark on a great crusade to claim that lore from the hands of those with which they have split.

“As with all wars, the descendants of Atlantis will use mortal men as their pawns, and use the carnage to further their own ends. Long has the wizard-kind of this kingdom sought revenge on the Fae and the Goblins, and you shall give them further cause to do so. I suspect they shall enslave the Fae, bind them with their magic into servitude. And they shall oppress the Goblins, which will be quite convenient for us, as we can play the two against each other for centuries to come.”

Meldh considered this in silence for a moment. “And what of they holy relics? The Seljuks are in possession of Neirkalatia’s Cross, and they will not surrender it lightly.”

“The Cross shall be taken, I will see to that personally. Such artifacts of power do not fall into the hands of the masses. Its new owners will seek to protect it, shroud it in mystery. Like so many other cults of power, they will form a secret society to protect its lore, pass down its knowledge. They will shepherd it for us until Ragnarok.”

The Arch that stood behind them whispered softly, the brilliant white veil billowing slightly in the windless room. They were surrounded by marvels of gilt and glass, and dotting the room were various tables and plush chairs, constructed of the finest quality. The floor was a stone that took in the light with a soft quality such that it was not painful to look upon in full light despite being the purest of white.

Merlin began gesturing, and spoke as he did so. “I think a change of scenery is in order before we begin.”

With but a thought, their surroundings began to transform. Their sparkling glass paradise slowly melted into brilliant grey stone, and the various seating arrangements merged together into a raised amphitheater with Merlin at its center. Meldh dutifully took his place in the audience, and observed as Merlin himself changed as well. His young, brash, and beautiful form slowly melted into that of an old, wizened leader. He raised the Cup of Midnight.

When Merlin spoke, his voice was other-worldly and echoed within his mind rather than within the chamber. “Come, come, come, those of puissance, you Lords of those of flesh and blood, of all of nature’s creatures, touched by Magic. Come, come to me. It is I, Merlin, first among you, Prince of Enchanters. Come.”

He could have summoned the entire world if he had so chosen, but that would be unnecessary and foolish. A few select leaders of a few select regions would be more than sufficient to seed the legends. The true ritual would affect the entire world, regardless of those who were in attendance to witness.

Ignorance and mystery were their allies. The rulers who were not present would surely find out, and the ensuing conflict would be to their advantage. Those who were too remote to hear the news in any sort of timely fashion would create their own explanations and tales. They would remain shrouded in ignorance, their progress stymied by their lack of understanding.

Those affected by the Calling could hear the voice as clear as day, a harsh whisper from within their own minds, beckoning them: “Come, come, come to me in the seat of my power, for my days grow short.”

Merlin’s name alone was sufficient to command the audience of the most powerful wizards of the day. But even had they wanted to resist, they found themselves compelled by the inexorable pull of Merlin’s magic. One by one, they Apparated into Merlin’s tower, and the silence was punctuated by dull pop after dull pop. When the room was full, and Merlin was satisfied with the attendance, he began.

“I am old, my friends, as are many of you. So I will speak swiftly and to the point. Atlantis is gone, claimed by a horrible tragedy beyond reckoning and comprehension. It is sealed beyond time, and with it, its secrets, but most importantly, its protection. There was a time when all men had Magic as we do, and all men knew the dangers, all men knew the precautions necessary to protect themselves and the world.

“That time is no longer. Not one man in 10,000 now is a descendent of those noble people, and of those, they have not one piece in 10,000 the knowledge those people had. The world grows large, once again. And the days of one wizard ruling 10,000 men are gone. This growth, if allowed unchecked, will surely result in disaster.

“Imagine, the combined power of all in this room, multiplied by a hundred-fold, waging a great and terrible war against an equally sized force. It seems unimaginable, but within a few short centuries, that will be the reality. The world grows, and with it knowledge, and with that, threat. Magic is a great power, yes, but it is also a great responsibility, is it not?”

This remark drew grim nods from all those in attendance.

“You are not just the rulers of your lands, you are its shepherds, its stewards. Despite the cries of tyranny, despite the ungrateful accusations from the very people you protect, you stand true and noble. You give them life, you give them love, and even though they spit on your name, you allow them to grow and thrive.”

Scattered applause, a few cries of agreement.

“No man lives forever, but in spite of this, it is no secret that we live far longer than those touched by Magic. Some of you in this room several centuries old, and you who have watched the ebbs and flows of time have seen firsthand how the world has changed.

“Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr, there was once a time when your people were prosperous, and you were free to spend your days helping them build. But I have watched you over the years, and more and more of your days have been spent preparing for war and battle. You have been defending your lands rather than growing them. You withstood the barbarian hordes–”

Glewlwyd chimed in, “Yes, but that was nothing compared to the invasion of the Greeks. Of his people.” He pointed a finger at Meldh, who stood opposite Glewlwyd in the amphitheater. “You, Mundre, from the City on the River.”

“Do not pass the sins of the father down to the son. My ancestors and those who came before me may have brought war to you, but my people have recanted, we have relented, we have left you in peace, and we have opened our doors to you in the spirit of trade and prosperity.” Meldh spoke.

Merlin intervened. “And that, precisely, is the problem, my friends. Society is a fragile powder keg. It takes but one spark to ignite, to lead to war. And with our knowledge growing day by day, not only are there more potential for sparks, but the price of war becomes more and more untenable.

“I have many subjects about which I wish to speak to you, but we must respect the traditions of our kind, and so let us first begin the Ceremony of the Gifts.”

In keeping with the spirit of Noblesse Oblige, it has long been a tradition among wizardkind for the most powerful members of the community to bestow gifts and favors upon the lesser. And in that spirit of nobility, these gifts and favors were rarely for personal gain, but rather for the benefit of their subjects.

The leaders of Britain, Europe, Rome and Greece among others came forth with their requests. Advice on magical theory, assistance with enchantments that were outside their skill and knowledge, all manner of things that to Merlin were harmless bits of hedge magic and parlor tricks. The last of them, Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr, was accompanied by a chieftain from his lands of great import but very little power.

The chieftain spoke. “My lord Enchanter, Prince among Princes, this is a matter of which it embarrasses me to speak, but I must. My wife is the treasure of my heart, she has born my children and claimed my heart and soul. The thought of life with her is… The pain of those thoughts is too much to bear, much less if such a thing actually came to pass. There is a great Seer in our village, and he has foreseen that my wife will one day become the wife of Lord Edmond of the Noble House of Black. How might this fate be prevented, how might it be stopped? I know that such a request–”

“Fool!” Merlin exclaimed. “Although there are those who would argue otherwise, you should know that all prophecy is true in its own manner. We live in treacherous times. Time has but a single thread it may span: et quod dicitur erit quod. And if you differ by so much as a grain of sand, you risk a fate far worse than your wife one day marrying a noble Lord. Prophecy is not something the untrained should dwell upon.

“You may one day pass before her, would you wish her to be lonely? Perhaps her choice of husband after you were gone would be Lord Black, and perhaps he would ease the pain of your loss. Or, perhaps, in your single minded quest to avert prophecy, you neglect her and drive her into the arms of a lecherous Lord. Prophecy forms strange loops, and it is best not to entangle yourself within them. Heed the matter no more, Sir Davies, and your world shall be better for it.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“It is now on the subject of Prophecy that I wish to speak. You have all known for some time of one of the key prophecies, the once and future King who is marked by lightning and whose arrival is marked by thunder, he who shall pluck out the very eyes of heaven. This man may be our savior, or he may be our damnation, but we must not seek to delay or forestall his coming. We must simply prepare for it, and pray that when he arrives, he does not choose the path of Death for us all.”

“And how may we stop that end, how may we preserve the world of life?” Asked Meldh.

“So that we will not suffer the same fate as our forebears from Atlantis, I shall bind the world of life, and seal away the most dangerous and troublesome secrets of Magic. Knowledge spreads like a plague, and there is some knowledge that is not meant to be passed unchecked. I will ensure that the most powerful of Magicks may only be passed in their entirety from one living mind to another, to ensure a pure path of succession of such power.

“You in this room who have lived to see dynasties rise and fall know the implications of this. The most dangerous, the most powerful bits of Magic, the ones that give their wielders the most singular advantages, they will not be shared. They will be hoarded, and because no man is immortal, one day those secrets will die along with their owners.

“It is in this manner that only magic worth sharing, worth spreading, shall persist. Magic which makes life better for all rather than concentrate power in the hands of the few, that is the magic that will proliferate, that is the world we shall craft. The dark magic and eldritch rituals that are being discovered on a daily basis shall no longer freely flow to whichever lucky adventurer happens to stumble upon the grimoire of someone far more ancient and wise than himself.

“And yes, it is certain that there will be some who wish to keep these bits of Magic alive, and they will form orders and mysteries and cults designed to protect these secrets. You, who are the stewards of this world, must seek out these demons and purge them. This is my Interdict, and that is my mandate.

“But even this spellcraft, both blessing and curse it may be, shall not be enough. Man is a cunning creature, and even without the aid of Magic, his knowledge will grow, and one day their power shall surpass even ours.”

At this, the leaders of the Wizarding world looked at each other, and they were greatly troubled. Many murmured in disbelief.

“Prophecy has foretold this, that one day mankind will touch the stars, a power which is beyond even the greatest of you. But of that Prophecy, I shall speak no further. Instead, I tell you this.

“The Greeks came to our island as invaders, joining with the Faerie and the Goblins to lay waste to our places of power, as you too well remember. But Britain is a strong land, and we resisted them, showed them the rightness of our ways, and we have joined as one, combining our lore to do great things.

“There will be invaders in the future, but of a different sort. They will seek to bring the entire world to its knees, and with them they will bring fear and ruin. This is the Apocalypse of which I spoke. What we have here will not last, for no man is immortal. New orders will rise, and with them a new order shall arise. I have seen this, and now, I ask you to bear witness.”

As he spoke these final words, he overturned the Cup of Midnight, its effulgent, inky black Void flowing forth, blanketing the entire room, the entire world, for Life and Time. For an instant, an eternal instant, the world was dark. And in that darkness, a voice cried out. Not yet a man’s voice, but not a boy either. It spoke in hollow, clipped tones:

THE FIRES OF THE SOUL ARE GREAT
AND BURN AS BRIGHT AS THE STARS


Ha’Rova Ha’Yehudi
Moments after

Anka looked up at her mother. That was odd. The torch by which she was reading must have flickered. Or something. She blinked away the momentary darkness and looked back at the scroll. Her parents were scholars, so she was one of the few children her age who could read. She was browsing her mothers writing on the Ritual of Flight. Something about it though, something didn’t make sense. She had it moments before, but now… Once her concentration had broke, she couldn’t understand it.

She grasped the cursory incantation of Levitation, and the basic principles were the same. She read the words, and the theory should have made sense, but she just couldn’t make it work. She had seen her mother fly with her own eyes, so she knew it was possible.

“Mama,” she asked. “I don’t quite understand.”

Her mother stood up from her desk and walked over, putting a warming hand on her child’s back. “It’s quite simple, Anka dear. It’s the same premise as Wingardium Leviosa, but with a few simple tweaks. Here, let me show you.”

She walked her daughter through the bits of hand gestures and the proper frame of mind. Immediately, it clicked, and Anka understood. She performed the Ritual, and rose from her chair.

How very curious, indeed.


Zaqatala
Moments after

Georgi Abashvili was disturbed by the momentary darkness. His brother had long since taken leave of this life, but Georgi had persisted like a bad cough throughout the many years. He was old, and he could feel the ache and pain the world and in his bones. He felt that ache in a new way, now. Something was different in the rustling of the leaves, the soft gusts of wind, the way the light glittered off the Caucasus mountains in the distance. He was old, and his head was already stuffed too full of useless knowledge. Although he could not put a shape to the Interdict that lay on his mind, he could feel its presence, the same way he could always feel when someone else had sat in his favorite chair.

No matter. He had experienced upheaval before, he would experience it again. He took a long drink of goat’s milk, and wrinkled his nose slightly, for it had turned. He closed his eyes, and resumed his meditation.


The Headwaters of the Misqat’nk River, Nipmuc lands
Moments after

The guardians of the Sleeper waited, for that was their role. They waited in darkness, waiting until he who was marked by lightning would emerge forth from the Voice, and bade them wake his master. When that day would come, and not a moment earlier, they would open the sacred Scrolls, laid down by the Sleeper himself. They would read the Ritual of Awakening, learn its secrets, and call forth their master from his dreamless sleep in the City of the Dead.

Although none of them could feel it, none of them could sense it, somewhere in the forgotten soft places of the world, the Sleeper shifted in his rest, for he knew this day that he would never again wake.


Glen Nevis, Scotland
Years later

Ollivander, who now called herself Helga Hufflepuff, still reeled from Meldh’s betrayal. Her dream, her heart’s deepest desire was crushed. Meldh and his companion had lied — no. Not lied. They had told her what she wanted to hear, and that is what she heard. They said she could help with with her grand design.

She wanted to elevate all of humanity, not simply Wizards, but every last man, woman, and child, to gift them with the blood of Atlantis. She was no fool. She would implement safeguards, she would limit magic, not just for the newly ascended, but everyone. The Interdict of Ollivander, it would force magic to be channeled through a wand. Wizards across the whole of civilization were already well used to her devices, and through that she exhibited no small measure of control. She envisioned a world of wandholders, doing great, magnificent things, channeling their power through her creations.

But there were so many missing pieces, and she was not patient. When Meldh and his companion showed her the means by which she might accomplish her ends, she was blinded. She willingly relinquished control of her Cup to that man, the ruler of Magic-kind in this corner of the world. He was known for his wisdom and benevolence, and she trusted Meldh’s judgment.

She trusted him because they were bound by something far more deep than even an Unbreakable Vow: they were bound by the honor of their kind. The word of an Immortal is inviolate, it simply must be. No matter how long they may live, one simply cannot enact one’s grand plans without assistance. If their word were not their bond, what other coin could they spend? Threats are too often empty, bribes too often worthless. To violate the sanctity of one’s own word even once is to render one impotent: if you cannot be trusted, you have no allies.

So although they swore to help her, swore they would accomplish her ends, she should have listened more carefully to their well-chosen words, to the promise they both made. They did not say how, or even when they would grant the gift of Magic. They did not specify the means in which they would enforce her safeguards, only that they would see to it that the Interdict was put into place.

She knew now the true meaning of the prophecy, the one concerning the four sides of the square. She knew this was how she was to spread the Gift for the time being, and she knew that as long as Meldh was alive, there was hope.

And so it was that Helga Hufflepuff, her apprentice Godric Gryffindor, the bookkeep Rowena Ravenclaw, and the scholar Salazar Slytherin had banded together, the four pillars on which a new renaissance of Magical education would begin.

It took decades for them to plan, to execute. The sheer logistics of it were seemingly intractable at times. How would they inform the parents. How would they find the teachers? How would they pay the teachers? Who would write the curriculum? Where would the students stay and who would feed them?

Together, they mulled over these questions. Long nights stretched into bleary-eyed mornings which gave way into sleepy afternoons, all spent together, discussing, arguing. Oh, the arguing. Godric had grown now, and Ollivander in her new identity as Helga Hufflepuff had allowed herself to age as well. The sting of Meldh’s betrayal was still fresh in her mind, so perhaps it was some deep-seated desire for revenge, or perhaps it was simply that proximity had given way to fondness. But Godric and Helga began to care for each other beyond the relationship of master and apprentice, and that fondness eventually grew into love.

She would watch, enchanted, as Godric and Salazar would argue about the origins of Magic, the blood of Atlantis. Long hours were spent debating whether, (as distasteful as such segregation would be to all of them), they should only allow entry to those full-blooded Witches and Wizards.

Although she did not take his side, she understood his concern. For magic to grow, it must be nurtured. Education was essential, on this they all agreed. Further, it was a well-observed fact that Magic begets Magic. Enough Wizards gather in one place, and the air becomes electric; ideas exchange more easily, Magic flows more freely. Enough wizards settles a land for enough time, and the land itself seems to change in response, with magical creatures and plants emerging, worming their way out of the collective subconscious.

They all knew and all agreed that the amount of Magic one carried was tied to their bloodline. But, they also knew and agreed that the amount of Magic one carries is not necessarily proportionate to the amount of Magic can output at any given time. Although Achilles may have a fraction of the endurance of the Tortoise, he can still sprint far faster over a short span. A school of pure-bloods would not ensure a school of powerful Magic, but it would ensure a high concentration of raw Magic.

So it came down to a simple question of quality versus quantity. Godric believed that it would be easier to find and teach 100 half-blood wizards than it would be find 50 pure-blood wizards. Salazar believed that this would present a logistical problem: how do you scale Hogwarts to handle that kind of population growth? Godric, ever the idealist, wanted to wait to solve that problem when and if it happened. Salazar, on the other hand, was known for the detail and care that went into his plans, and such an omission did not sit well to him.

The eventual compromise was to divide the school into three houses, with Salazar managing the pure-blood lines and the other founders managing the growth of the middle-bloods. They decided that the term “half-blood” was not strictly accurate, and carried pejorative connotations. Of course, they had not foreseen the linguistic corruption that would eventually shorten “Middle-Bloods” into “Mid-Bloods” and then twist that into “Mudbloods”. Nonetheless, they would compare results after a century or so, and that would dictate the course of Hogwart’s future.

Or, that was the plan, at least. This palace of education was a necessary evil, but its growth needed to be checked and stymied. Meldh still held the sting of Ollivander’s betrayal fresh in his mind. He knew he held no claim to her heart besides that which she freely gave. He still loved her, aged or no, and to see her with the newly-aged Godric Gryffindor caused him pain. Perhaps it was some deep-seated desire for revenge, or perhaps he was simply following the path laid down by Prophecy, but when the next steps were made clear, he gladly volunteered for the task.


Igbo-Ukwu
993 C.E.

Onyekachi was the leader of the Idemmli, and he had heard the legends. They were a people of conversation; their tales were passed from father to son, mother to daughter, from living mind to living mind, as it has always been. When sharing kola nuts, they would tell the tales of their past so they may live on for as long as the Idemmli lived on. But more importantly, they would grow, change, and adapt over time. The tale of Amiodoha had changed over the generations, and that was good. It diverged as well, for the women told a very different tale than the men. In one version, Chukwu formed Amadioha in his own image, and although they quarreled as father and son do, they eventually came together and defeated Ogbunabali. In yet another, Chukwu and Amadioha were destined to be rivals, and Amadioha rose up and overthrew Chukwu’s chains and went on to have a family of his own.

Onyekachi and his son, Ikenna walked hand in hand, both holding spears in their free hands that doubled as walking sticks. They did not have to walk long before they reached the place. He stared out at the small circle of Death in the plains, running his hand idly through the bare earth that stood in stark contrast to the lush grasses that were filled with creatures, plants, and tasty things to eat. It had grown slowly over his lifetime, and eventually it would take his entire village and people. But they, like Amadioha, would fight against its inexorable tyranny until they either won, or could fight no more.

But there would be time for that later. For now, it was time for his son to hear the tale, it was time for Ikenna to become a man.

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 11: The Sudden Stop

The Palace at Arcadia
903 C.E.

“Knight to C3.”

“Clever. Now, tell me more about this woman. Bishop to C5.”

“We are kindred spirits. She was chosen by one of yours: Gom’Jorbol of the Rod. She is an artificer. She… creates things. Rook to E8, check.”

“Ah yes… Little Gus. That problem has taken care of itself. King to F1. And this is why you are enamored with her, because of her, ah, creative potential?” He trailed off with a smile.

“Don’t be crude. Yes, she is beautiful. But beauty is cheap. We are all beautiful,” Meldh gestured at Merlin and the glittering palace of glass in which they currently sat. Even their Shatranj board was of such superlative quality that to disturb it seemed somehow profane. “Bishop to E6.”

“Bishop to B6. Your queen is captured. And, she has sent word to you, I hear. We had bade her to make her leave of Greece centuries before, to attempt to recover the Cup of Midnight. From my understanding, even though it was lost, she has been pining over it for ages.”

“Bishop to C4, check. Yes, she has. She has been attempting to recreate it. I suspect she has succeeded.”

A pause. Considering the moves…

“King to G1. And if she has?”

Another pause.

“Knight to E2, check.”

“King to F1.” Another pause. “And if she has?” Merlin repeated.

“She is useful.”

“I never said she was not.”

“I… I have brought this up before, as have you. We have sought to make our union a Triumverate for some time. Have you reconsidered–”

“Make your move.”

“Have you reconsidered your position?”

“Make your move.”

He sighed. “Knight to D4.”

“Thank you. She must prove herself to us, not the other way around. Until that happens, no I have not reconsidered. King to G1.”

“Knight to E2, check.”

“Testy, testy. King to F1.”

“Knight to C3, check.”

“King to G1.”

“Pawn to B6.”

“My, my. Have I struck a nerve? Queen to B4.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Rook to A4.”

The banter had slowed; Merlin was actually paying attention to the game, now. “Queen to… B6.”

An immediate response: “Knight to D1.”

A pause. “Pawn to H3.”

Meldh actually laughed. “Rook to A2.”

“King to H2.”

“Knight to F2. If she has succeeded, what are your plans?”

“Rook to E1. Just ask me if I plan to kill her.”

“My Rook to E1, thank you for that. Do you plan to kill her?”

“Queen to D8, check. No, I do not.”

A slight hint of relief. “Bishop to F8. Then what are your plans?”

Merlin studied the board for a moment. The moment stretched into a beat, and the beat stretched into a pause. “Damnit.” He swept his hand across the board and knocked the pieces to the floor. The White King shattered when it struck the floor. “Knight to E1, Bishop to D5, Knight to F3, Knight to E4, Queen to B8, Pawn to B5, Pawn to H4, Pawn to H5, Knight to E5, King to G7, King to G1, Bishop to C5, check, Knight to F1, Knight to G3, check, King to E1, Bishop to B4, check, King to D1, Bishop to B3, check, King to C1, Knight to E2, check, King to B1, Knight to C3, check, King to C1, Rook to C2, checkmate, you win. Go, and speak to your lady, find what you can, and meet me upon the Shores once you have news.”

“Yes, master.”

“And, Meldh?”

“Yes?”

“Brilliant game.”

“Thank you.”


In a world rife with possibilities, such as one containing Magic, it is no small wonder that many clever individuals have discovered the secret (or one of many secrets) to what some might call “immortality”. A clever theorist would come up with at least half a dozen means of achieving this goal, without even trying particularly hard. And yet, there are so few to ascend to the ranks of the deathless. This speaks to something; perhaps the stolid devotion of Wizardkind to their outmoded ideals of “light” and “dark”. Or, perhaps it speaks more to those who glibly remark on what should be possible in theory, without paying any heed to the world at large around them.

Regardless, there are those who have ascended. There is an upper limit to what one can accomplish by oneself before simply growing bored; this is a fact that applies to the immortal even more so. So it is only natural that like would seek like, for companionship, guidance, wisdom, a different perspective, or simply for entertainment.

Further, in a world where knowledge is tantamount to power, those who are driven by curiosity, and have the means to pursue that curiosity for as long as they wish, have an undue amount of influence on the course of events in the world. Short-sighted scholars of Magical history have suggested that Greece was once the location of “Atlantis” (whatever that might mean), and that the blood of the ancients flows most strongly there, and this must be why Greece has played such a central role in history.

The reality of the situation, (as reality often is), happens to be far more arbitrary and capricious. A handful of Ancients once made a particular mountain their home, eons ago, and over the ages they attracted more of their kind like a lightning rod. They were not always discrete with their secrets, and so their numbers and influence only multiplied.

Thomas Malthus would not be born until nearly a millennium later, so perhaps their slightly blasé attitude towards population growth may be excused. But in spite of their numerous peccadilloes with mere mortals, among them was one rule that seemed to go unspoken yet universally understood: it does not do for a God to fall in love with a God.

Trust is delicate and finite. It is the ultimate expression of entropy. Trust is a delicate menagerie of spun-glass sculptures, resting precariously upon the shelf of one’s psyche. All it takes is one careless hand, and the world comes toppling down, never to be recovered.

A life can be reconstructed, the fractured pieces of one’s soul picked back up and stitched together, placed in a new vessel to persist. One can pierce the veil of the worlds, like an arrow shot into the ether, peeling back the layers of time in order to reach back into a distant era where the mind and the being was still intact. But that arrow shoots in both directions, for what is done is done, has been done, and always will be done. If an entire life can be reconstructed from the faintest echoes of time and space, so too can a memory of one single mistake.

And unfortunately, immortality provides one with an eternal lifetime of opportunities to make mistakes.


Glen Nevis, Scotland
903 C.E.

“I know that it’s unbecoming to gush over one’s own creation, but this could change everything.” Helga Hufflepuff grinned widely at her companion, Hankerton Humble.

“The Cup of Midnight…. I know that you — Wait. How certain are you that this room is secure?”

“Quite certain. Godric has quite the talent for such charms.”

Humble winced at the name. “Yes. Godric. And where is he now?”

Helga cocked her eyebrow. Her eyes were suspicious, but her face was smiling. “Do I detect jealousy?”

He barked out a laugh, just a fraction of an instant too quickly. They had known each other for a long time, perhaps too long. She immediately knew from the clipped tone and the just-too-quick reaction that it was a forced laugh. She knew. And he knew that she knew. Attempts to dissemble would be pointless. “Yes. Obviously. He is young. He is objectively attractive; I have seen him when he bathes at the river.”

At this, Helga laughed, and this time it was genuine. “It’s not even midday, and already you put such ideas in my mind.”

Hankerton smiled at this, as well. “The lady of the house having a lascivious tryst with the virile servant boy… Well, clichés are clichés for a reason”.

She ran her hand through his hair. “Please. Yes, they are clichés because they are so blindingly obvious that one would have to be a fool to fall into their trap. Now, stop being silly. Will you be a dear and animate this for me? I don’t think the effect will be quite as spectacular if I demonstrate on something of my own creation.”

“Expecto Patronum”, he whispered. Hankerton Humble’s life force, a very small measure of it, shot from his wand and into the clay golem that Helga Hufflepuff held in her hand. It twisted back, sleepily, stretched out its arms, and looked up expectantly. He could see from its body language that it was a bit annoyed. The thin slit on its face split open and it spoke.

“Lovely. I suppose I should not get too attached to this life. It won’t be much of a loss, I can barely think properly with such a rudimentary form.”

“But you are sentient, yes?” Humble asked his alternate self.

“Yes, although that is exactly what a non-sentient golem would say, now, isn’t it? So to that end: 927 πατάτα.”

He mentally noted the code, and would not use it again. “Yes, he is sentient.”

Helga watched the proceedings with interest. “Perfect. Now, observe.” She delicately cradled her jeweled teacup. It did not look like the original Cup of Midnight, which was deliberately grandiose, meant to serve as a stark contrast to the plain wooden Cup of Dawn. But its essence was unmistakable. The thick black Nothing contained within its bonds poured out slowly, a single drop flowing through the air.

There was enough Void within the Cup to bind the entirety of life, both now and forever. Used in such a fashion, it would render the cup useless forever afterwards. But there was also enough Void within the Cup to selective bind one person at a time for as long as once cared to do so.

The Void was diffuse, almost transparent, and settled upon the golem. It looked up, quizzically. It felt different.

The man who called himself “Hankerton Humble” was, in no uncertain terms, the world’s most foremost expert in the subject of mental magic. He could see the subtle shift in behavior even in something as rudimentary as an animate clay statue. “There is… a degree of flexibility to the control you can exert, correct?”

“Yes. It is similar in function to the Unbreakable Vow.”

Yes, that made sense. The field of mind control was either achingly simple, or absurdly complex, depending on whether you were considering the ends or the means. If one is simply concerned with extracting a specific behavior from a specific subject, once scarcely needs magic at all. Criminals from all walks of life, magical or not, are quite familiar with a shockingly effective spell whose incantation sounds something like, “Do what I say or I will torture and kill your family.”

Humble had performed experiments to this effect, examining the inner workings of a person’s mind when put under duress. Like the limbs of an animal exposed to an electric current, the mind would instinctively flinch and react in response to certain stimulus. The “Lethe Touch”, as it had come to be known, operated on this basic principle, albeit on a more granular level. Further, it lent those changes a degree of permanency with its magic.

Spells such as Legilimens or concoctions such as a Love Potion, worked on a different premise entirely. They created a compulsion within the subject’s mind, as difficult to ignore as a loud bang or a bright flash of light. The greater the magic of the caster, the more intense the stimuli. The greater the will of the victim, the easier it is to ignore. But because this is an outside intrusion, the mind actively works to resist it, to eject it, and as such the magic required to sustain such a compulsion grows exponentially over time.

The Unforgivable curse, Imperio, operated in a different fashion as well: the connection between the victim’s mind and body was, to an extent, severed, and replaced by the will of the caster. Such bonds between the soul and body are not permanent, they are in fact regenerated on a moment by moment basis, so without a sustaining flow of magic from the caster, the victim’s minds would regain complete control within an hour or so. This meant that for Imperio to be truly effective, it required the conscious attention and direction of the caster, rendering it impractical in many and most cases.

The old adage, “It is easier to create than destroy”, is actually quite untrue when it comes to Magic, and especially so in the realm of mind control. The mind is quite capable, (perhaps too capable), of visualizing abstract concepts; it’s the fine details it struggles with. Tell a person to think of a loved one, and they’ll have no trouble picture their face. They’ll them to draw that same face from memory and they’ll likely fail miserably.

One of the most simplistic explanations of Magic is that it simply completes these mental images from their patterns. It’s a very neat and tidy explanation, (which is why it fell into such favor during the Muggle Dark Ages), and it conveys in simple terms one of the key limitations of Magic: Form requires Substance. Magic can take the imaginary Form of a cat, and make it real. An imaginary cat may run like a cat, purr like a cat, stalk like a cat. After all, this is what truly makes a cat a cat. And yet, it does not bleed like a cat, or digest like a cat. The chemicals in its brian do not interact like that of a cat. All of the mechanical automation that powers the rules and symbols behind a “cat” are fundamentally lacking. There is no Substance to power the Form, and as a result, such creations are rarely long for this world.

The realm of the mind, however, is one of pure Form, and so it is not subject to the same limitations. Creating an idea is trivial. Destroying one is nearly impossible. Even Oblivate does nothing more than sever the connection between a memory and the mind that created it. The memory still exists, it is merely hidden in the mind. A few years, or decades, and those connections will eventually be rediscovered, like a message in a bottle that eventually washes back ashore. But the Unbreakable Vow…

Sacrifice has always been a subject that has fascinated and stymied practitioners of Magical Theory since the dawn of Magic. Something Sacrificed simply cannot be reclaimed. The mechanics of this are hotly debated and not well understood. The end result, however, is inarguable. The Unbreakable Vow quite literally sacrifices the portion of the mind which allows for a certain course of action to even be contemplated. A person Bound in such a way is truly bound for all time. And if this Cup of Midnight operated on the same principle…

“You could destroy the world with this device. You could obliterate the minds of every living being. The Cup would be broken, afterwards, but so too would the world,” Humble said, in quiet awe.

“Yes, I suppose that’s true. But then again, there are countless devices of power of which the same could be said. Even without an artifact, I could think of half a dozen ways to cause mass death without even really trying hard… Transfigure a bit of poison into a town’s water supply… Let loose a hint of Fiendfyre in the middle of a crowded village… Use Salinos to salt the ground and destroy a region’s food supplies… Transmute–”

“Right, right, I get the point. And of course, you would not use it in such a way. But, I do not understand how it functions beyond the scope of a single victim, or perhaps a handful.”

“Ah, yes, the recursion. It took centuries to finally achieve the necessary breakthroughs, and no small Sacrifice. You see, the Cup contains itself, and within it, a piece of my being that powers the recursion.”

Hankerton’s eyes widened. “And so… Unless you were to pass on its secrets to another, you would be unable to recreate another.”

Helga Hufflepuff’s eyes narrowed, “I sense an ulterior motive to that question, but I was never one for plotting. Tell me why you ask, and be truthful.”

Hankerton replied swiftly and truthfully, “You know that I am deeply concerned with the fate of this world, and the threats that we may pose to it. Such a device in the hands of someone malevolent, or even someone foolish, could spell disaster. But you know this. And because you cannot be coerced to make another, the only two points of failure are the Cup itself, and your knowledge of its secrets.”

“Yes, dear.” She walked over to him, and stood close behind him. The back-and-forth, the assumptions and completing of each other’s thoughts, she enjoyed this. She ran her hands through his hair. “Go on.”

“You would have safeguards in place. The same safeguard for both the Cup and its secrets. Something preventing them from being taken by force, or coercion, or duress.”

“Yes,” she spoke. She was in front of him now, her hands wrapped around his waist, her lips softly brushing his ear as she whispered, “Tell me more.”

“A trap, something triggered either by a word, a thought, or a deed. Or, more likely, any of the above. You are powerful enough to resist the majority of attacks, but in the event of the unknown, anyone who accesses the Cup, or the knowledge of its creation, without your explicit consent would trigger the trap.” He thought for a moment, “It would Sacrifice both, to put them safely out of reach, but to what end..? Simply killing the intruder would not be sufficient. Ah, yes… It would Sacrifice the intruder as well. At that point, what is summoned forth by the Sacrifice is inconsequential, no?”

“I wouldn’t say that. It’s an alarm, of sorts. It would alert me,” she slid her hands down his chest as he spoke, “Me and those that I love.” At that word, Humble inhaled sharply. “Would you like to see it? Would you like to… Enter me?”

He let out a soft moan of pleasure, “Oh god, yes. Egeustimentis

Her mind was a towering castle, a picturesque landscape, a fractal pattern beautiful in its simplicity and infinite in its complexity. He was there as a guest, not as an intruder. Sometimes seeing something from the inside out was far more effective than simple words at communicating a concept. Further, in here there was no need for aliases or secrets. No need for “Helga Hufflepuff” or “Hankerton Humble”. They were simply Meldh and Ollivander.

Their physical forms were, of course, perfect. Because why would they not be? But their mental avatars were beyond perfect, they were the very Platonic ideal of Perfection itself, made real. They strode hand in hand through the glittering palace of her mind. As they walked the halls, he saw libraries, laboratories, factories, workshops, vaults.

Vaults. Hidden things.

Secrets.

Not now. They continued to what was obviously a throne room, the Crown Jewels of her being. He was looking at the Holy Grail. The complexity of it stretched even his own comprehension, a comprehension honed by centuries of study. As ancient as he was, she was older, and her mind could contain entire concepts that he still struggled to simply understand. She sensed his struggle, and obligingly condensed the concept of the Cup into something more manageable.

The Cup was endlessly pouring itself onto its victims. Not pouring its contents but actually pouring itself. Over and over, slowly making its way around the world of life.

“I don’t understand, why the limitation? If it truly contains itself why can it not duplicate? Why can it only fully Bind life once, before being rendered unusable?”

“Simply physically reproducing it is insufficient. Does your reflection have a mind of its own?”

“It depends on the mirror. “

“True.” A pause. The number Three began to pop up in the room countless times. Hundreds of times. The room began to be filled with Threes. “How many Threes are there?”

Instinctively he tried to count and then roughly estimate, but he knew that this was a riddle of words. He stared at the numbers. After time he spoke: “One. There is only one ‘Three’.”

“Correct. Writing down the number “Three” a thousand times does not change its properties, nor does it give the concept more significant or weight or meaning. Three is simply Three. And the Cup is simply the Cup. Another could create a Cup of their own, certainly, but it would be theirs and theirs alone; it would have powers unto itself. But such secrets are ones I shall not pass down.”

The Vaults of her mind were locked with the absence of chains. There were simply no doors, no latches, no surface with which to gain purchase. He could see the intricate webs of magic meant to masquerade as such, webs which would not only destroy the intruder, but further destroy the secrets they sought.

He also saw, beyond the Vaults, a number of lesser compartments, ones which contained secrets no less powerful, but far less guarded. There was one that caught his attention, a fluid room of portraits and memories. He would have been able to resist, if not for a single face he saw, reflected from deep within the folds of the room.

Godric.

She had given him permission to enter her, and so she did not at first detect his absence. It was not until she spoke and heard no response that she realized the violation.

She instantiated next to him, as he roughly pawed through the volumes of memories, all related to that one face, that haughty, insulting, proud young face. It reminded him of himself, in his youth, his true youth. Perhaps it reminded her as well, perhaps that is why–

–The concussive wave of power that forced Meldh from her mind shattered windows, rattled dishes off shelves, and forced the door to the kitchen off of its hinges. It was enough to physically knock him backward into a table, which splintered from the blow.

“You stupid, stupid bastard,” she hissed.

Meldh matched her gaze with anger. “Yes, I suppose I am. To give my heart, to make myself vulnerable to–”

“No, NO, you stupid child. THINK. Think about what you saw, tell me what you saw, you unforgivable… IDIOT!”

Silence.

“Tell me!”

Her words carried with them a palpable hint of power, magic made manifest as needle sharp shrapnel that flew across the room. Meldh instinctively raised his hand in front of his face. The impact was not severe, but it was enough to draw blood. “I saw passion, I saw feelings, I saw the undeniable loops and whorls of Love. The Touch of Truth is inviolate. What I saw I can’t be faked, you can’t tell me that – –”

“What did you see?! Did you see action? Did you see deed?” She advance on him, hotly. He briefly faltered.

“I–”

“You saw nothing. What you saw were the idle fantasies of someone who has lived twice your span, and nothing more. Do you mean to tell me you hold no unacted lust in the dark heart of your mind?”

He saw the opportunity to seize the high ground and he made his move. “Yes. Yes, that is what I mean to tell you. I open my mind to you, lay myself bare. Look. Look inside me.” He roughly grabbed her hand, and placed it forcefully on his shoulder. “Say the words. Say them! Look, and tell me what you see.”

She tried to pull her hand away, but he held it firmly. “And you think your chastity gives you the right to violate me? You think that gives you the right, you think that that justifies– Unhand me, child.” She pulled hard again, and he yanked roughly pulling her close to him. She glared at him, and the temperature in the room dropped several degrees. “I could tear you apart with the flick of my wrist.”

“Could you? Could you really?” With his free hand he shoved her backward, and then slapped her. Hard. “Go on then, do it. Tear me apart.” They stared at each other for a hot moment. The air was electric. Frost formed on the windows and the metallic silverware that lay unused on the table.

Nothing.

“Well?” He demanded. When he got no response, he raised his free hand up again, and grab the braided of her hair. He yanked it back, and pulled her body against his.

As he turned away she spit squarely in his face. He reared his hand back to slap her again, but with the flick of her finger he was hurled backward. He crashed hard into the wall, and the shelves behind him collapsed. He briefly considered a magical counterattack. But from the corner of his eye he glimpsed a copy of one of Godric’s research journals on the desk. He grabbed the book and roughly tore a few pages from them, used them to wipe the saliva from his face, and then spit the blood that had pooled in his mouth. He crumpled the ruined paper, threw it in her face, and turned on his heels to leave. “Give Godric my regards.”

As he took a step, the door slammed shut, and the icy chill that had previously washed the room now dissipated with a THUMP and waves of oppressive heat coursed across Meldh’s body. Ollivander spoke, angrily: “You enter my house as a guest. You entered my mind as a guest. You defiled my house, you defiled my mind. You insulted me, you attacked me, and you think you can just leave? With no consequences?” She grabbed him roughly by the collar of his robes. “I would have given you everything. But you couldn’t just trust me.”

“Would have? You would have given me everything? I did! I did give you everything. I left my kingdom, my country. I gave you everything I have to give. My love. My soul.” He gestured angrily and the simple leather thong around her neck that wore a small silver cross. “Why wasn’t that enough? Why was I never enough for you?”

The anger still hot in her voice, she replied, levelly. “Because you are weak. Look at you, you petulant child. I do not even need to enter your mind to see the tears forming in the corner of your eyes, you boy, you eunuch. I don’t need to violate your trust to see the way your shoulders shake at the insult, to see your fragile male ego come crashing down at the very thought of a woman having an independent desire. Look at you. You are weak. You’re disgusting.”

He angrily pulled her towards him again, “And I don’t need to enter your mind to see your heavy breathing, your dilated pupils… The slick sheen of sweat, the elevated pulse…” He gripped the back of her dress and twisted, ripping them, and then he forced his hands into the tear. “There are certain signs that are unmistakable.”

His slid his hands into the tear in the dress, and caressed her sternum, down to her stomach, down–

With a shuddering moan, she pulled his mouth to hers and they kissed, passionately.


He knew that he should turn away. He knew that if he had courage and integrity, he would turn around, walk away from the window, and go back to his chores as if he saw nothing. What was her business was her business. He had certainly seen the two argue more heatedly than this on more than one occasion. He knew the man was not good enough for her. He knew he should stop them. But he also knew he should walk away and leave her to her own business. Oftentimes, the bravest thing a person can do is to make a difficult choice, knowing that neither one may be right.

Instead, Godric Gryffindor did neither. He stayed at the windowsill, and he watched.


Knockturn Alley
903 C.E.

Rupert Scabior gazed nervously into the darkness of Knockturn Alley. “I’m here, sir, I have him,” he called to no one in particular. He thrust forward the unconscious body of the prisoner, with a sack over his head and his arms tied behind his back. Not that it would have mattered, as the prisoner was fully unconscious.

Rupert was no saint, by any stretch. But this whole arrangement made him deeply uncomfortable. Even though he had to verify, firsthand, the horrific nature of his victims’ deeds, even though he personally took no part in the enacting of their punishment, he still felt a twinge of guilt and regret.

But, the pay was good, and he had a family. The only dream he had left in his small, miserable life was that his daughters would be able to rise up beyond their station and make something of themselves and their family name. And this man, his mysterious employer, had seen to it that they had the audience of the greatest tutors in the land.

Inky black shadows writhed in the darkness, and a man in a billowing black cloak stepped into view, surveying the scene. “Good, good. And you are certain, completely certain of his crimes?”

“Yes, master.” Scabior produced the vial containing the silvery, undulating wisps of memory tainted by oily black slicks of Nightmare. “His own niece, sir. This is plucked straight from her unknowing mind.”

The man in the the cloak kneeled down and put a hand to the prisoner’s shoulders, whispering a few words. He nodded with satisfaction. “Yes, this will do. Did you heal her afterwards, erase the traces of this Nightmare?”

Scabior looked around, nervously. He never understood this part of their process, but he had done it dutifully, nonetheless. “Yes, master. She will remember nothing. She slept with a smile for the first time in many seasons.”

“Good.” The man removed the sack from the prisoner’s head and reached his hand into the prisoner’s mouth, who began to awake groggily. Reflexively, still mostly asleep, he tried to speak, but, with several fingers probing roughly inside his mouth, he of course could not. The man’s forefinger and thumb found their way to the back molar, and with preternatural strength, he yanked the tooth roughly from the prisoner’s head. The shock and pain immediately roused him from his stupor, and he began to scream as blood filled his mouth and poured onto the street. The cry was clipped short by–

“AVADA KEDAVRA!”

The green light shot out and illuminated the alleyway briefly, until the entirety of the light was drawn into the single tooth he held in his fingers. When the green glow subsided, he turned towards Scabior. “You may go.”

Scabior needed no further prompting, and quickly made his leave.

Meldh holstered his wand, and with a swift gesture, plucked one of the eyes from the socket of the murdered man. He poured the vial of the child’s nightmare onto the lump of flesh, and it continued to pour, effulgently. As it touched the ruined eye, it reacted, turning a bright flaming red, and it continued overflowing, liquid flame splashing onto the ground, flame which flickered but produced no heat. It poured and poured, grew and grew, and slowly poured itself into the form of a chariot drawn by a horse. Still clutching the tooth, Meldh stepped into the chariot and was carried away.


On the shores of the lake of teeth, where the black hills end
Tír inna n-Óc

The lake of teeth was quiet at this time of daynight. The bilious, sulphurous stench that emerged from the archway that stood on the Isle of Woe would not begin to belch forth until at least Midnight. The archway and the forgotten statue of Adrienne the Witch, a hero from a bygone era, were the only two signs that any sort of intelligent life had consciously touched this place.

The archway cast a shadow, although from what direction the void-sun shone was unknowable. Not unknown: unknowable. Within that shadow were more shadows still, and within those further more. From somewhere within the fractal reflection deep within the fractal reflection, a shift occurred, which reverberated exponentially out into this constructed world. The shadows which contained shadows swirled, accommodating their new host.

The black shadow of the first figure stood in stark contrast to the white mist that comprised the second figure. The black shadow held a tooth in his finger, turning it over, inspecting it before flicking it casually into the lake.

“I bring news.”

The second figure waited, expectantly, and gave no acknowledgment.

“The Cup of Midnight is at last recovered. She has recreated it. I’ve seen to it myself.”

The white mist nodded in satisfaction.

“But, please. See that no harm comes to her. I– ”

The white mist held up a single hand, silencing the shadow. After a few tense moments of consideration, the mist spoke: “No harm will come to her. In fact, I will give her her heart’s desire.”

The black shadow shuddered at this, as very rarely did such a promise end well. “Thank you. Please, just… Be kind. She is a good person. She is on our side, whether she realizes it or not.”

“I do not know what you take me for, but I am no monster. She will come to no harm under my hand. Where I you, I would hold yourself to the same standard.”

“I, that’s not–”

But the white mist had already dissipated, for midnight had come sooner than expected. The plumes of sulfur belched forth from the arch, casting aside the last wisps of mist, leaving the inky fractal shadow alone with its thoughts.

Tír inna n-Óc endured.


Diagon Alley
903 C.E.

He was running in circles. He was bound by a rope, stretched beyond its limits. Or, was it a Line? The rope, or the Line, it was staked into the ground. He was a dog, chained. The Line was staked into something important, terribly important, the most important thing. And yet. It eluded him. It was always eluding him.

Maybe. Maybe if you run fast enough. So he ran. He ran faster. He ran fast, so fast, so fast. Around, and around, and around. He ran so fast that he ceased to simply be a point attached to a Line. He was a blurred circle, jagged around the edges but if you screwed up your eyes it looked like one solid shape. A circle, an endless, strange loop of frustration and exasperation. Twice per go-around, he would cross that… that thing, that the Line was staked it. A Path? A Path that stretched backwards into eternity and forward into eternity. But the Line. The Line took the path to a dark place. A dark eternity.

When he crossed the path the first time, he could see them. Her flowing hair. His strong jaw, a family of his own. He saw happiness. And behind the happiness, only a slight fear, the fear of some great Death that was eons away. But that fear was bolstered by hope. Not the empty wish of a dreamer, but the assured hope of an entire civilization fighting together, gladiators. Fighting the Titan, with hope as their weapon, made sharp by the knowledge that from now until the End, if that End came, they would fight, they would fight, they would fight with all of their soul and all of their being and everything they had and would ever have.

But then they were gone. They were so close. But he only saw them for a brief instant as he ran by them. He could reach out and touch them. He did. But they disappeared as he ran, and he kept running, desperately, to see them again, the feel that hope. But each time, he would cross the Path again. And in that world, it was a desolate, empty place. Stagnant. It didn’t smell like Death because there was nothing to smell. An empty, horrifying Nothing. And he wanted nothing than to run away from that Nothing, horrified.

So he did.

He ran and ran and ran until he reached the Path again, until he could feel that brief instant of hope. He kept running. He had to. He was Bound by that Line. The Line. It was always the Line. He knew, somehow he knew. There was no intuition, it was pure reason, but that reason worked from a premise that was lost to Time. Nonetheless, it was true. True but impossible to prove. As true as this is a lie is false. If he could break free of the Line, he could make everything whole, make everything right. The Line took something precious, something valuable, something of the utmost important, something that was lost. He knew that if he just ran faster, the line would diminish, would eventually disappear.

So he ran faster. Faster. And faster. He poured his entire being into running. He sacrificed everything, everyone, just so he could run, faster and faster. He ran until the Line grew smaller. He ran until the line diminished. He ran, and ran, and ran in circles and circles and loops and loops and circles and loops, and ran until all that was left was a fragment of silver, a fraction of a Line.

(black robes, falling)

…blood spills out in litres, and someone screams a word.

Suddenly, without warning or notice, the line began to lengthen. It grew, and grew, and he ran, and ran, but still, it grew, strengthened, bolstered. It could not stop. It wouldn’t stop. It was out of control.

This couldn’t happen. How could it happen? The equation was too perfect. He had seen to it, he had controlled the inputs to thousands of degrees of precision, had guided the thread through every possible eye of every possible needle, but it went wrong, it all went wrong, how could it go wrong? Input, output, functions, decision trees, logic maps and neural nets flicked through his mind, streaming an infinity of possibilities into the span of a single instant. How?

But, the one inexorable truth of the universe, something deeper than any law of “magic”, held him back, stymied his efforts. There is no infinity. If permitted, a pattern will persist, and persist, and persist. If allowed, the digits will keep repeating. The irrational pattern of the numbers will continue and continue as long as you care to generate them. At some point, there has to be a point where you take action, where you decide the the map matches the territory enough to where you can start your great adventure. At some arbitrary point, you have to decide that you have enough significant digits.

It wasn’t enough.

Those forgotten numbers, that endless stream of numbers forever lost, stuck on the wrong side of that arbitrary termination point. They add up. And after millions upon millions of inputs and outputs and combinations and permutations, they all added up, added up to one choice, one crux. Like a fist with a limitless number of fingers, closing one at a time, until all that remained were the two choices, a finger and a thumb, poised to snap. If they did, all would be lost. The Path would never be made whole. 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.

He turned.

And heard the snap.

Merlin awoke, screaming

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 10: Egeusly Stare

The man placed his hand on Meldh’s shoulder and replied. “But there are still more to be fought. You are a worthy leader. But I fear you may not yet be strong enough for the battles to come. Egeustimentis.”


Meldh existed as an abstraction. His mind existed as a physical structure. The space that Meldh currently occupied, however, was a crude facsimile. It was fuzzy, low fidelity. Like a sketch of an artist painting a portrait of a beautiful landscape. The broad strokes of his being were there, open and laid bare for manipulation. But the subtle interweaving of connections that truly made up his being were lost in the amongst the sludge, and as such the intruder did not have complete control. Meldh sensed this, and the intruder responded.

“I do not need to forcibly change your mind, Heraclius Hero.”

What manner of magic is this–

“It is the Aletheia Touch, the Touch of Truth. It lays the victim’s mind open in its entirety. Exceptionally powerful magic, yes. But trivially dismissed.”

Who are you?

“I am the one who runs this world. That is to say, I set the world in motion. All of the events that you have witnessed in your lifetime and will ever witness in millennia to come are my doing.”

Then what use do I have to you?

“You are but a mere child to me. A mewling babe. But what I have learned from watching this world spin and dance is that wisdom can be found in the most unlikely of places. People are resources, you must never forget that. Like a shepherd, one must cultivate and husband the flock, or you will see no yield. If you let your flock stagnate, they will do nothing for you. If you do not protect them, they will wither and die.

“The world grows large, Hero… or shall I say, Meldh? An old word, of questionable origin, yet an undeniable meaning. Yes, I rather like that. You asked who I am. I have gone by many names, but you may call me Merlin. Yes, this world grows large, and it is a world that will be shaped by your vision, not mine. The world will and must be ruled by man and reason, not by old gods and whispers, or shamans with their totems of power.

“I can no longer be the only shepherd of this world. Every era, the world doubles upon itself. No, the world requires an entire flock of shepherds. And someone must herd that flock, Meldh. No matter how much power I can obtain on my own, people are always necessary. Two people will always have more absolute potential than a single person. And, as it were, it appears that I am operating under a rather strange and very peculiar set of constraints. So to put it simply: I need help.”

How? And why?

“Inspiration can come from the strangest of places. There are an infinite number of possible ideas and concepts. New ideas can be refactored upon old ideas, and recombined with newer ideas in ways newer still. Those combinations can be further refactored, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. A mind can contain but itself, and as the arrow of time progresses, the possibilities in the world grows exponentially faster than any one person’s capability to understand them all.

“A simple solution to this is to limit the scope of possibilities, to move the world in the direction of one’s choosing. Which I have done. This is the world of my imagination. But that is precisely the problem: it is an echo chamber. It is time for new input to be introduced. Somewhere in the swirling miasma of possibility, something useful lurks, and I intend to find it.”

You have answered neither the How nor the Why.

“I am not proud to say this, but I simply lack the empathy to properly deal with the masses in the manner that I would prefer. They seem so… Alien to me. Imagine, trying to comprehend the mind of a mere insect, trying to empathize with a gnat, to the point where you can predict its behavior, understand what it will do next. I understand human nature, yes. Far too well, some may say. I can tell you as surely as the sun rises the direction that civilization will take, and how to shape it in the direction of my choosing.

“But ultimately, really how useful is it to point to the sky and say, ‘The sun will rise tomorrow’? That yields no wisdom or knowledge. The sun is a mighty force, it burns with the fury of a God, and so a fool may be inclined to see himself as powerful because he can shade himself from that sun. There is delicate work that must be done in the future, delicate work far more subtle than mere shade. It needs a delicate hand. Someone who… Understands the insects.

“For example, this spell, if executed with sufficient empathy, would yield a perfect, inviolate reflection of your mind. But as it were, my rendition of it merely produces… Ah, how did you put it? ‘A picture of a picture of a landscape’?”

No. ‘Like a sketch of an artist painting a portrait of a beautiful landscape.’

“You see? Executed perfectly, I would be able to pluck those thoughts from your mind before they even had a chance to form for your self to experience them. Your mind, any mind, is simply information. Patterns reflecting patterns, folding in upon themselves endlessly. And yes, you are precisely correct in assuming that this is the basic principle behind your ‘Horcrux’ ritual.”

It is called the ὅρόσταυρός.

“Forgive me for using the Latin rendition. Although I do think it’s catchier. Less of a mouthful. Regardless, you will find that there are, in fact, many ways of extending one’s life, of achieving functional immortality. Some of these means are likely as far beyond your comprehension as your Horcrux is beyond that of an ant’s. Others are so simple that it feels like cheating. Others still are simply esoteric and bizarre.

“It is enough for you to know that as long as you are allied with me, your Form shall be perfect. In exchange for this, I request, not demand, your loyalty and assistance. I expect that you will be able to make far better use of the Aletheia Touch than myself. And I further expect you to make some very strange advances in the world of herpetology. But most importantly, you must be one to fulfill a rather crucial prophecy.

Prophecy is Delphic nonsense, designed to impress nobility by telling them half what they want to hear and half what they already know.

The voice of the interloper took an abstract form as a quizzical smile. “Oh?”

If our destinies were in any way predetermined, it would be incompatible with my observations. I observe that I can make decisions, that I am a Prime Mover. If I choose to say Fire is my favorite element rather than Water, that is my choice.

“If I asked you then, to tell me the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow… Let’s say, African, for argument’s sake. Could you *choose* to tell me?”

That’s pedantic. That is information which I do not possess. That is not a decision of choice.

“You are precisely correct. You cannot simply make the decision to know something you do not know, just as you cannot simply make the decision to walk through solid stone without the use of magic or tools. Just as you cannot simply make the decision to disobey the will of prophecy.”

That is unfalsifiable.

“Is that so? Then open this box.”

A black box, darker than dark, deeper than the pitchest black, unearthed itself from beneath the flow of time and instantiated within Meldh’s mind. Its presence was the absence of presence, it’s entire form a negative, defined by the razor-sharp hole that it appeared to make in the world.

He knew that with a simple exertion of his will, he could open that box.

“I swear that no harm will come if you choose to open that box.”

As surely as he knew that he was capable of opening the box, he also knew that he would not. He knew, somewhere, somehow, that opening the box with irrevocably destroy this world, and all worlds. To open the box would bring about the End of All Things. He could not open the box; he would not open the box.

“I have told you that no harm will come to you or yours should you choose to open the box. And yet, you hesitate.”

Meldh considered opening the box simply to prove a point, but he knew this was an idle boast. He knew beyond reckoning that the box would stay closed until the end of Time.

“You see? There is nothing preventing you, in the laws of nature or physics, from opening that box. In your mind, you are bound only by your free will: you would not make that choice. In reality, you are bound by prophecy. You cannot make that choice.

“The world must be consistent with itself. And therein lies the heart of my trouble. As you have been so impatiently thinking throughout this discussion, I have still yet to tell you why I require your assistance. All prophecy is true. But there will come a day when prophecy will no longer be able to guide us. The choices we make now are 10,000 threads woven through 10,000 needles, and each one must be woven expertly in order for us to continue down the path of life.

“When that day comes, there is but a single choice that is the crux of the matter, a single decisions, the fundamental decision for all things: life or death? All worlds ultimately narrow to those two. The paths that lead to death are nearly infinite. The paths that lead to life, on the other hand, are few and precious. The irony of that is not lost to me.

“My entire life, I have been trying to shepherd this world, all worlds, down that path. There was a time, many ages ago, that I made a crucial mistake, and was fooled by own power. I gave in to the temptation to believe that because I was a good person, that my actions were in the right. I have had the rest of eternity to contemplate that mistake.

“Magic binds this world to all others. Using nothing but a small bit of your magic, you can pierce the veil of this universe and reach into another world and bring forth your Will. This provides for possibilities beyond your wildest imagination, but it comes at the expense of salvation. Magic is part of the answer, but it is not THE answer. All paths that travel solely down the road of magic end with death, and that is why you must join me. That is why you will join me.

I do not understand. I suspect you know more about the true nature of magic than any of the scholars of Greece and beyond. So you should know that Magic has been used to defeat death.

“Magic connects this world with all worlds. But the path of life, it must be inviolate. Life can tolerate no death. Life is a potion in a cauldron, and death is the poison. There can be no compromise; in any compromise, only death can win. Either must destroy all beyond a remnant of the other, for those two spirits cannot in the same world. Through the bonds of Magic, we are but a veil away from that world of death. Observe.”

The entirety of the night sky illuminated the interior of Meldh’s mind. An ethereal centaur comprised of stars drew from its back a glittering bow, and let loose an arrow across the night sky. It flew directly into the heart of a great, bejeweled scorpion, and travelled farther, farther away, beyond to the center of something.

“We walk down that path of the Scorpion and the Archer. It points us to a place Beyond Time, beyond reckoning. Every improperly used bit of magic draws us further close to that realm of death, allows it passage into our world. You are familiar with the Ritual of the Subtle Knife?”

I have heard whispers of it from the Necromancers who dwell beyond Carthage. A rope that has hanged a man and a sword that has slain a woman, among other things. It is said to be able to summon a Specter of Death. I had assumed, until now, that it was simply a myth, a legendary retelling of some old bit of lore lost to time.

“It is no myth. In a universe of endless possibilities, it is only inevitable that we encroach into a world that has death as its final endpoint. These are wounds in this world, and with each day we open more. That ritual simply provides a Form to those wounds, a Form that our minds can comprehend. The Specters, you see, they are horrifically dangerous. But in other ways, they are useful, for that which has a physical form can be defeated. Observe.”


“Lawrence, I’m not so sure about this.”

“I am. What would Harry Potter have done? He knew science. WE know science. He gave his life to fight the God King so that we don’t have to.”

“But you don’t even understand what it is you’re doing. You don’t even know what these things really are.”

“Sure I do. They’re the lightest of all elementary particles. They form the basis of neutrons and protons. They have mass, and as such can be Transfigured.”

“No, I don’t mean… Look, I can recite an encyclopedia entry, too. But I mean, you don’t really understand what these things will do.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m taking adequate precautions. How much damage could a few cubic centimeters of ANYTHING really do?”

“I still have a bad feeling about this… You really should have been sorted into Gryffindor, you know.”

He gave her a quick peck on the cheek, held her hand, and directed his wand at the Knut that lay on the table.

Annabeth and Lawrence were instantly consumed, as was the whole of Hogwarts and most of Scotland. The world itself screamed in pain as it warped beyond recognition, consumed in its entirety by the Void that was created.

In the brief instant of time before his mind was lost, Meldh recognized the Void, or more specifically, recognized the ways it was different. There was no control, no safeguards, no finesse. It was purely unfathomable. It was madness.

The notes of the universe’s song stretched interminably, seamlessly shifting from reality to a musical harmony to a single note sustained infinitely. The note slowed, lowered in pitch, lowered, lowered until the individual frequency of the periodic wave became discernible. The frequency stretched further, further. The waves were fewer and fewer between. At some point, there was nothing, no change, no fluctuation, no vibration, nothing.

And somewhere between that nothing and The Nothing, the true horror of Death crashed into Meldh’s unprotected mind like the fist of God.

If the reflection of his own mind that the interloper had generated was but a picture of a picture, what he saw now was like he was like he was given new eyes, eyes that could see beyond the veil of time with a clarity so crystalline that it was physically painful for his mind to behold.

What he saw was beyond terrifying. There were no expectations for the force to conform to in order to protect him. It was new, to him and to the majority of mankind. As such, it was unknown: there was nothing for his mind to flinch towards or away from. He was simply hit head on with the full impact of that horror beyond horrors.

It was Death, pure, glorious, powerful, terrible Death. The point at the end of all paths. He saw the universe run like some clockwork automaton, powered by a cosmic spring, tick tick, tick tock, tock tock. He saw the spring slowly wind down, and he saw the brave, the intelligent, the cunning, the diligent, all fighting with the entirety of their being to no avail, like a stone falling from a cliff. All the motion, the action, the vibrancy of life, fighting against the anticipation, hurtling towards that inexorable end.

He could live to be 10,000 years, 10,000 times over, and it would be of no use. That end could come. That end would come one day. The hopelessness of it all consumed him. His brain, in sheer reflexive self-defense, began throwing as many happy memories as possible into that void: the less happiness he clung on to, the less brutal the sting of loss would be.

It was betrayal, which made the sensation all the worse. His own mind, willingly turning against his own values, in exchange for an infinitesimal bit of respite against an elemental force that did not care to bargain. It was the dark center that dwelled at the heart of all mankind. He would commit any crime, sacrifice any virtue, defile anything holy, for no atrocity could even be a speck of dust in comparison to the darkness he was approaching.

Somewhere in Meldh’s mind, an idea lurked. It was hidden, out of sight, but it was there, waiting to be uncovered, if he only knew where to look. His mind did not want to look. His mind wanted to die. His mind begged for death. Death would be preferable to this Death.

Kill me.

Please.

Gone. Gone. The abstraction layer stripped away. Bare metaphor, unplaced structures, synaptic connections. Separate. Separate. Regroup. Fight. Fight. Fight.

A hasty retreat. The king was in check. Sacrifice the knight. Sacrifice the rook. Save the king. Retreat. Relent. Recant. Pawn to E7. Sacrifice. Regroup. Sacrifice. Reclaim control. Take your position, no matter how small. Take it.

Meldh fought his own mind, fought the instinct of sacrifice, partitioned away the truly important parts of his mind and used the rest as a buffer. It afforded him a few precious moments. His memories, his thoughts, his happiness, they were all being stripped away, burned through at an alarming rate, but Meldh was still intact, for the time being.

Fight.

He thought back to all the things he had learned, from all the people he had met, from the simpletons in the asylum all the way to the Old Gods themselves. He thought back to the hope of which they spoke. The hope. The hope. He fought for that hope.

He focused that hope, harnessed it, and looked towards Death with new eyes. He saw Death, feasting upon his very soul: a tiny ball of light that was floating towards its… Mouth?

Its gaping mouth? Surrounded… Surrounded by a black, tattered cloak. A rasping hiss. Beneath the cloak, a tall, thin, naked man, obscenely painful to behold… But alive. Tangible. Something almost human. Something that could ultimately be defeated.

ENOUGH.

He had already seen Death. He had already beaten Death. He had died before, he would die again, and he would not give up. And although this was more than just the mere death of his body, although this was the Death of All Things, he would still fight. And with his Steel and his Magic and his Will and his Life and his Time, he flung his weapons against his foe, his final adversary.

I…

The light built up within him. He directed it downward, looking upward, always upward, always to the stars, never looking back. He would not look back. He could not look back. Close the box. Ever upward.

I will…

He had wings. He was Wing. He flew to the sun, and beyond. Even as his wings melted, he flew higher, ever higher, never looking down, never looking back.

I will never…

He was a single point of light in a dead, uncaring, clockwork universe. As he hurtled past the infinite darkness of space, he saw the others stars like him, the other points of light, shining brightly, fighting ceaselessly against the void, giving meaning to an otherwise meaningless collection of symbols, rules, laws, and patterns.

I will never stop…

Some of the lights were dim, some of the lights were dimming, they were the ones in danger. To them, he gave a measure of his Life, his Light. He found that the more he gave, the more he had to give, so he gave more. He gave more, and more. He gave his fire, and that fire grew, he burned through everything he had and more.

I will never stop fighting.

He directed that inferno outward, in all directions, in a single direction: backward, downward, behind. He directed it against the stagnation and the death that chased him, that chased everyone. He directed it at the hideous, all-consuming beast that lived beneath that tattered black cloak. The beast greedily and happily consumed the fire, but Meldh would not stop fighting, would not stop burning.

It was not just his star that burned, that raged against the beast, it was every star in every universe, every star that ranged with hot, angry resolve, and burned, burned, burned to live.

You are not invincible, I have beaten you once.

You are not inevitable, so long as we have a choice.

You may one day claim me, but I will return, as I have before.

You may claim others, but I shall see to it that they too return to fight.

I fight you with the power of my mind, with all of my life.

I am Heraclius Hero, and I will fight you.

I am Alexander, Protector of Mankind, and I will fight you.

I am Meldh, descendent of the Ancient Gods, and I will fight you.

I am Man, every man, woman, child and beyond, who has ever thought to shine a candle into the darkness.

And I will never stop fighting.


Somewhere in the distant corners of a distant universe, the sound of wings: a tattered black cloak, drifting away into nothingness.

Orders of Magnitude: Interlude – Minor Fall, Major Lift

London

Neville was tired. He was always tired when he came home from work. His job was physically and mentally draining, and he was glad to be home. From the other side of his flat, he could hear the tinny sounds of music; he left his radio on. He did that, from time to time. He made a beeline for his study as the music wafted slowly through the air.

…Pass me that lovely little gun, my dear, my darling one,
the cleaners are coming, one by one, you don’t even want to let them start…

He thumbed through several bottles in his cabinet, and decided on brandy. He uncorked the bottle, and briefly considered the jigger measure in the drawer. Naw. He’d just eyeball it. He started pouring the liquor into a glass which had dutifully filled itself with ice. Glug. Glug. One finger. Two fingers. Three fingers. Four.

He reckoned that it wouldn’t do to just drink it straight, so he added a little splash of fizzy water. He didn’t want to bother cutting up a lemon, so he fished a cherry from a jar in the icebox and plopped it into the cocktail. He stirred the drink with his finger, and sat down in his armchair.

…they’re knocking now upon your door, they measure the room, they know the score
They’re mopping up the butcher’s floor, of your broken little hearts…

He was already almost halfway done with his drink before he was really even consciously aware of it. His mind was elsewhere; he was thinking about his path and where he would go next. What do you do after you’ve won?

No one ever told him that vengeance didn’t feel like it does in the books. In stories, all you get to see is that moment of beautiful catharsis. You pump your fist and cheer as justice is meted out, and you feel nice and warm inside. The stories don’t show you how things end after the ending. They don’t show you the ‘happily ever after’. Neville wondered if he would ever have his own ‘happily ever after’.

…O’ children…. Forgive us now for what we’ve done, it started out as a bit of fun
Here, take these before we run away; the keys to the gulag…

He didn’t feel nice and warm inside. It felt good, for a moment. She deserved what she got, despite everything Harry had said. The fact that she used to be such a sweet, nice girl didn’t change anything. No tragic origin story would change anything. She did what she did, and for that, she deserved to die. It was as simple as that. But her death, that didn’t make a difference either.

His parents were still dead.

He envied Draco. The memory of Lucius Malfoy had been preserved, whole and uncorrupted, written somewhere in the underlying fabric of the world. Frank and Alice Longbottom persisted, their old, pure selves overwritten by these broken, damaged shells. Draco was lucky enough that his father actually died. Draco put his faith in Harry, and Harry delivered.

…O’ children, lift up your voice, lift up your voice…

He was finished with his drink by this point. He was crunching the ice and pondering why the world was the way it was. Why did it have to be this way? He walked over to the wet bar, and fished for a different bottle to refill his glass. No pretenses this time, just straight vodka, poured over the melted ice, sloppily filled to the brim. He stared at himself in the mirror mounted behind the bar.

The alcohol was dulling his senses, but somewhere in the recesses of his mind, two independent, disparate ideas joined together to synthesize an entirely new concept. It was a small spark, but one that caught Neville’s attention, and he would not let it be extinguished. As he watched himself, he saw tears begun to fill his eyes and break free to drip down his cheek. But these were not tears of woe, or self-pity. They were the angry, hot tears of resolve.

Why did the world have to be this way?

Something about Harry’s endless, pedagogic lectures had clicked into place. Harry and Hermione had challenged everything that Neville knew about the notion of death. When Hermione returned to the world of life, it shattered all the rules. But for some reason, Neville had just invented his own arbitrary rules to replace the previous ones. But why those rules?

There really was no reason the world had to be the way it was. There was no reason why he couldn’t reach back into the depths of Time and recover his parents the way they were, the way they should be. That would be his true revenge; he wouldn’t be content with merely striking down a bishop. He would mate the Black King himself.

…O’ children, rejoice, rejoice ….

He dumped out his drink, and turned on his heels. He didn’t even pause to turn off the radio or wash the ice out of the sink. He had work to do, and there was not a minute to be lost.


Malfoy Manor

Draco sat in his study, alone, scribbling notes on a parchment. The room was illuminated by a few torches, sunk into the walls, and the flickering silver light of his Patronus, idly slithering around his desk. The war was over, and they had all but won. The rest was just a formality. A few political maneuverings, but it would be done. This chapter in their tale would be over and they could rebuild a world, united.

It felt late, even though the night was only just beginning. The Muggle radio program detailing the day’s news had ended. It told tales of terror and war across the world, a world driven temporarily mad, but a world restored. They were rebuilding, just as Draco was. The news had given way into a selection of various pop songs, but Draco didn’t bother turning it off.

…Here comes Frank and poor old Jim, they’re gathering round with all my friends
We’re older now, the light is dim, and you are only just beginning….

Something Harry told him once had stuck in his head for years. It was when he was retelling the story of his final confrontation with Lord Voldemort. Something that Albus Dumbledore had told Tom Riddle: “Anyone who can bring themselves to act the part of Voldemort, is Voldemort.”

He had been playing the part of a monster for almost half a decade now. He’d played the part of someone who was actively opposed to life, someone who championed stagnation, entropy, and death. The mask he wore was not false, it drew upon true emotions that lurked deep within him, emotions that he had to actively seek to repress. He could not lie to himself; there was a strange sense of freedom when he let those feelings run rampant as part of his act.

…O’ children… We have the answer to all your fears, it’s short, it’s simple, it’s crystal clear
It’s round about and it’s somewhere here, lost amongst our winnings…

This was why he enjoyed the company of his Patronus. It served as a reminder, an assurance, a touchstone of sorts. The happy, life-affirming memories still existed. There was enough Good inside of Draco to be able to produce the soft, silvery light that now cast an otherworldly shadow across the desk as the radio continued to hum across the otherwise silent room.

He knew what Harry would say. Harry would tell him that you can’t be your own barometer of goodness. Harry would say that everyone is the hero of their own story, and of course you are going to think you are doing the right thing. Otherwise, why else would you do it? Draco knew that this was true, of course. But the Patronus comforted him nonetheless.

Draco looked up at the torches on the walls. He snapped his fingers, one by one, and the torches extinguished. The only light left in the room was from his Patronus, which slowly reared her head up to look at him. It was like staring into a crackling fireplace; the swirling, fractal forms of mist and shadow that undulated beneath the form of the snake… It was almost hypnotizing.

“Am I a good person?”

…O children, lift up your voice, lift up your voice
O children, rejoice, rejoice…

He knew it was a silly thing to ask. But no one was around to hear him. The Patronus seemed so… sentient, as it looked up at him. Draco knew, though, that it wasn’t his own judgment that mattered. Because Harry was right. He needed someone on the outside, someone to serve as a sounding board, not an echo chamber. He lay his head down on the desk.

After a time, he raised his head back up to face his Patronus, who was still looking at him in that odd sort of way. As Draco’s mood shifted, the Patronus began to flicker and dull, then dissolved into a mist that hung in the air. No. He would not let it extinguish. Not now. This was too important. His eyes welled with tears; these were not tears of woe or self-pity. They were the angry, hot tears of resolve.

He grit his teeth, and he fought, he thought about everything good, everything happy, everything worth living for, and fighting for. The mist did not dissipate, but it did not regenerate. He continued to pour his heart and soul into that mist, desperately trying to keep what it represented alive. After a time, the mist began to coalesce back into a corporeal form.

It had regenerated itself… as an otter?

…The cleaners have done their job on you, they’re hip to it, man, they’re in the groove
They’ve hosed you down, you’re good as new, they’re lining up to inspect you…

That was… Odd. He had never seen it do that before. It was not unheard of; people’s Patronuses often changed forms in response to their masters’ emotions. The otter swam playfully through the invisible water that was the air in the room. It darted around Draco a few times, and then swam up to eye level, and whispered a single word.

“Draco…”

Draco’s heart stopped. That was not the voice of his Patronus. That was… It was her? His Patronus darted forward, into Draco’s chest, filling him with a beautiful, ethereal light. He didn’t understand what was happening. But then again, did he need to? Somehow, although he didn’t know what it was, or how it would work, somehow he knew that this silver light would take him to the place that he needed to be.

He stood up, embraced the light, and disapparated with a dull POP.

…O children, rejoice….


The Tower

Harry was type, type, typing away at the terminal. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot. He had been at it for almost twelve hours straight. There was so much work to be done. He had returned, of course, as Hermione knew he would. He and the Professor had accomplished much, but they needed some sanity checks, some way to ensure that the results were reproducible outside of their sandbox.

There were so many projects, both near-sighted and far, so many weak links that needed to be strengthened, so many crossroads that still terminated with him at their crux. There was the physical aspect, the biological, the mental, the metaphysical, the logical, and countless more. There were so many facets of this gem that needed polishing.

Currently he was working on the problem of self-contained recursion. He had cracked it years before with respect to a relatively simple system. Magic was simple at its heart, although it had grown to something mind-numbingly obtuse. It was easy enough to simulate a large physical system. You could track the path of a thrown ball, or the behavior of water through a pipe under pressure, or the melting of ice, and so on, and so forth. But simulating physics, true physics, with enough precision to accomplish his goal? It just wasn’t conventionally possible. He needed to cheat.

But it seemed like the universe did not want him to cheat. It wanted him to die, the good old-fashioned way. To keep running until everything ran down and then fold up into a great, empty Nothing.

He would not do that, of course. He would continue to fight.

He fought for hours today, and didn’t even notice as morning rose into midday, and midday waned into evening. He didn’t notice the sounds of the radio in the corner, or the sharp pop that reverberated from the Receiving Room moments earlier, or the soft rapping at the door to his office.

…Poor old Jim’s white as a ghost, he’s found the answer that we lost
We’re all weeping now, weeping because, there ain’t nothing we can do to protect you…

The rapping grew more insistent. “Enter,” he spoke.

The door opened, and Hermione walked inside. “That’s a rather rude way to greet your guests, don’t you think?”

Harry was distracted, and he didn’t look up. He was still staring at the innumerable lines of code that filled his screen. “Huh? Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Uh… Hi Luna.”

Hermione coughed. “Hello, Harry.”

He looked up, embarrassed. He stammered a weak apology, and turned back to the computer. She looked around the room, distantly considering everything. She had a soft, peaceful smile on her face as she watched Harry work. He continued to type, type, type away as she stood, silent. Eventually, he became self-conscious of her presence, and the typing slowed, and eventually stopped, as Harry turned around, expectantly.

Hermione said nothing. She walked to where Harry was working, leaned over, and turned off his computer monitor.

“Hermione, wha–”

She took his hands, and pulled him up from his seat. Even though the gesture was purely symbolic, it did have an effect. Harry felt, in some distant way, like he was carrying a great weight around his neck. With the monitor switched off, he felt that the weight had been temporarily lifted. He looked at Hermione.

She still said nothing. Harry looked tired, so very tired. So very tired, and so very alone. He had been in a solitary prison of his own making, both literally and metaphorically, for many long years. Hermione smiled distantly at the soft music echoing from the radio.

“This song does seem out of place, doesn’t it?” She remarked.

…O children, lift up your voice, lift up your voice…

She held both his hands, and took a step backward. She started to sway her shoulders back and forth in time with the music.

…O children, rejoice, rejoice…

She cocked her head at Harry, who reluctantly joined in. They held each other’s hands, moving in an awkward little dance. It reminded him a bit of the bumbling fourth-year students that he watched at the Yule Ball so long ago during his first year at Hogwarts. Harry didn’t dance, no one ever taught him, and he certainly had no experience or occasion to practice.

Hermione didn’t seem to mind. She lifted one of his hands up, and spun him.

…Hey little train, we’re jumping on, the train that goes to the Kingdom
We’re happy, Ma, we’re having fun, and the train ain’t even left the station…

He laughed, silently, as they waltzed around the room, sometimes falling completely off-beat with the music which had started to pick up in tempo a bit. He felt guilty, though. This was time he could be spending working, but he was wasting it on frivolities. Hermione seemed to sense this shift in Harry’s emotions, and pulled him closer.

…Hey, little train, wait for me, I once was blind but now I see
Have you left a seat for me? Is that such a stretch of the imagination…

He couldn’t abandon his quest to save the world. But then again, wasn’t she part of that world? The enormity of it all, of the path that lay before him and the path that he had already walked down, seemed to crash in on him all at once.

What was he going to do?

He did the only thing he could think to do, and buried his head in her shoulder and began to cry, softly. They weren’t tears of woe or self-pity. They were the angry, hot tears of resolve. He felt Hermione’s hand on the top his head, patting his hair gently. He was a soldier in the war. An important soldier, but a soldier nonetheless. And no soldier can fight on the front lines twenty-four hours a day.

…Hey little train, wait for me, I was held in chains but now I’m free
I’m hanging in there, don’t you see, in this process of elimination…

He gave in, temporarily surrendered himself to this brief moment of respite. He knew, in his heart of hearts, that he would never give up the battle, that taking one break to have one silly dance would not be the end of the world, and that, it might, in fact, make the world better in its own special way.

…Hey little train, we’re jumping on, the train that goes to the Kingdom
We’re happy, Ma, we’re having fun, it’s beyond my wildest expectation…

They continued to shuffle back and forth to the music, their heads on each other’s shoulders. They held each other as the music and began to slowly fade away. The tears were gone.

…Hey little train, we’re jumping on, the train that goes to the Kingdom
We’re happy, Ma, we’re having fun, and the train ain’t even left the station…

The music faded out, and Harry and Hermione separated, looking at each other, so much unsaid, so much that did not need to be said.

“Hermione, I… Uh… Thank you for that. I feel better. I really do.”

She smiled. “I know, Harry.” She leaned forward and planted a kiss on his forehead. “That’s what friends are for. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Orders of Magnitude: Interlude – Something to Protect: Bellatrix Black

August, 1962
London

Cygnus Black was not a man who cried.

It was simply not in the Black family nature to reveal signs of weakness. And emotion is for the weak. Thus, Cygnus Black did not so much as weep, even when his firstborn daughter was readying herself for the Hogwarts’ Express for the first time.

“Daddy?”

His daughter looked up at him with heavy-lidded eyes, glittering with an innocent, good-natured curiosity.

“Yes, Bella?”

“What if I AM put into Gryffindor?”

“And what would be wrong with that?”

Bella paused for a moment to think. “It’s the house of the foolish. It’s not a house for the clever, or the cunning. It’s not Slytherin. What if I’m not good enough to get in to Slytherin?”

Cygnus kneeled down and put a large hand on Bella’s frizzy mop of hair. “Bella. Dear Bella. Gryffindor is also the house of the brave, the house of the strong. Two of the best men I’ve known were–”

“Cygnus! What is that ridiculous nonsense you’re filling her head with?”

Druella Black had overheard that one small bit of their conversation, and glowered at them both.

“Druella,” he whispered in a sidebar, “She’s worried. What you have me say to her?”

She loudly directed her next comment towards Bellatrix, “I would have you say that she should see to it that she gets sorted into Slytherin, or else both of her parents will be quite disappointed in her.” She turned her head as she caught the eye of someone in the crowd, waving them over.

Cygnus took this moment to speak directly to Bella. “Dear Bella, you will do well wherever you are sorted. And I want you to know that the Sorting Hat does take your choice into account. That’s not to say that’s the only thing it considers. But I will be proud of you, and will love you, regardless of the choice you make.”

He gave her a quick peck on the cheek, stood up, straightened himself, and pat her on the head. “Now, what you’ll want to do is walk straight at the wall between platforms nine and ten. Best to do it at a bit of a run if you’re nervous.”

Later, as Cygnus watched the train pull away, his heart swelled with emotion. But Cygnus Black was not a man who cried.


July, 1963
Coventry

Bella’s 13th birthday party was held at the sprawling Rosier Estate, where she had spent her youth outside of Hogwarts. Although it was deeded to her Uncle Gilles, the current scion of the Rosier family, Cygnus and Druella Black had made it their home. For her part, Bella was surprised when Uncle Gilles decided to attend the party: he had been coming up with flimsy excuses to avoid Black family gatherings for as long as she could remember.

As the night drew on, Bella noticed Uncle Gilles’ eyes growing glassy; he did seem to be drinking quite a large amount of her dad’s firewhiskey. Daddy really favored that particular vintage, and, although they were quite well off, it was still very expensive. That must have been why Bella kept catching him glaring at Uncle Gilles surreptitiously throughout the evening.

As the festivities drew on, Bella opened several fabulously expensive, lavishly wrapped presents. A new pair of cauldrons, a gilded set of Wizard’s Chess from Andromeda, a beautiful sapphire telescope from Cissy (although, neither of her sisters were present at the party; it was tradition that only those who had come of age could attend). After she unwrapped the last of them, Uncle Gilles strode behind her, leaned over, and whispered.

“You haven’t opened Uncle Gilles’ present, Bella.”

“Oh! I didn’t? I don’t think I saw it!”

Gilles chortled. He was a large man, with ruddy cheeks, bushy eyebrows, and stubbly fingers. Currently, those stubbly fingers were resting on Bella’s shoulders. “How foolish of me. I must have left it in my chambers. Bella, why don’t you come with me, and help me find it?”

At this, Cygnus stood up and coughed loudly. “Gilles, that’s quite alright. Why don’t I help you with that? We wouldn’t want to keep Bella from the festivities.”

Druella shot him an angry glance. “Cygnus, sit down. You’re being rude to our guest.”

Gilles said nothing, and simply smiled warmly at Druella. Cygnus shook. “I… No. I will not have this. Not in my house.”

At this, Gilles laughed, humorless and mocking.

There was a beat of silence, then Druella spoke. “Cygnus. Dear. Need I remind you that this is the ancestral home of the Rosiers, not the Blacks? So it is, in fact, MY home. Now sit down. I do believe you are offending my brother.”

Cygnus did not sit.

“Sit. Down.”

He closed his eyes, and slowly sunk into his chair, his teeth gritting. Bella was, well, confused. It wasn’t that big of a deal, Uncle Gilles just forgot to bring the present out. Daddy must have just been upset that Uncle drank all of the firewhiskey.

As she followed Uncle Gilles down the hall, Cygnus turned away. He couldn’t watch. And he would not cry. Even when he heard the muffled shouts and clipped sobs coming from the chambers, he did not cry.


May, 1966
Coventry

“Greetings, Uncle Gilles.” Bella intoned, icily.

“Bellatrix Black, you will greet your superiors with a smile, not with a scowl.” Druella warned.

“Greetings, Uncle Gilles!” She repeated, her voice dripping with saccharine sweetness.

Druella’s hand flew back, and Bella instinctively flinched.

“Greetings, Uncle Gilles…” Bella curtsied politely.

“Greetings, little Bella,” he replied, and he kneeled to cup her cheek in his hand. He lightly brushed her neck with his pinky.

Uncle Gilles stood and surveyed the house. He walked over to the sitting area, eyes locked on the bottle of firewhiskey that daddy had always favored. “I’m pleased to see that you still have some of the 1899, Cygnus. The vintage is truly delightful. Care for a glass, good man?”

“Gilles, it’s barely even noon…” Cygnus shifted, uncomfortably.

“Ha! Nonsense. Don’t be silly. Who is going to judge us?” He filled his tumbler about an inch from the top with liquor, and dipped two plump fingers into the glass. After swirling them around for a moment, he placed them lovingly in his mouth, tasting the firewhiskey with a wet, sucking noise. He let out an exaggerated moan. “Simply delightful.”

He stretched out his hand and waved his two fingers underneath Cygnus’ nose. “Come on now lad, give it a whiff.” He lifted his fingers up a bit, wafting the smell upwards, and Cygnus tilted his head back to avoid physical contact.

Uncle Gilles extended his remaining fingers, and with his open palm, gave Cygnus a hard yet good natured slap, and laughed uproariously. “There’s a lad!” Gilles took a loud slurp from the glass, and stared at Cygnus. “Curious, isn’t it, that some things actually taste better the older they get?”

At this, Uncle Gilles whipped around and smiled broadly. “And this must be little Cissy!”

“Narcissa,” Bella corrected. Druella shot her a warning glare. “Allow me to introduce Narcissa. Narcissa Black.”

“And how old are you, little Cissy?”

“I’m eleven sir. Pleased to meet you.” Narcissa giggled a bit.

“Pleased to meet you, darling.” Uncle Gilles ran his thumb across her cheek and she giggled even more. He was so silly. His round features and rosy cheeks reminded her of those kindly garden gnomes from the stories father used to tell her.

“And I hear another one is about to have a birthday soon… Her 13th, no?” Gilles inquired.

Druella turned away in disgust. “Andromeda will not be joining us for the summer. She has decided to spend her days in less… Desirable company.”

“She’s dating a Muggle,” Bella provided. Beneath the perfunctory tone of disgust, a perceptive listener may have noted a hint of triumph and challenge.

Uncle Gilles choked quietly on his firewhiskey. “Disgusting.” He made a face, worked his mouth a bit, and spit the remaining firewhiskey onto the plush carpet of the sitting room. “A Muggle, Cygnus? Truly?” Cygnus gave a slow sad shake of his head.

“Well, I suppose I shan’t be returning again this summer. I never much cared for the taste of mud.”


June, 1968
Coventry

It was Narcissa Black’s 13th birthday party, and Bellatrix had just graduated from Hogwarts. She was speaking pleasantly with other members of her family and extended family who had showed up for the twin festivities.

“–and I was thinking of picking up work at Burgin and Burke’s while I–

“A Rosier-Black, a common shopkeep?” Aunt Matilda scoffed.

“No, no, nothing of the sort. Their newest purchasing director, he has made some very interesting advances in the field of ritual magic, and–”

As Bellatrix spoke, a flicker of recognition glint across Aunt Matilda’s eyes. “Oh yes, I actually do recall that. I’ll have you know, I actually went to school with him. A good boy, a nice Slytherin. I’ll have you know, I fancied that boy once,” she cackled lasciviously. “Not as handsome now, though, sadly.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially, “I hear he took a curse to the face in Albania. Which reminds me, my husband I were just vacationing in the forests of–”

Bellatrix nodded vacantly. She was not listening, she was too busy staring across the room. She could pick up indistinct bits of the conversation. The words were missing, but the intent was crystal clear.

“But Cissy, you haven’t opened Uncle Gilles’ present.”

Narcissa cocked her head, looking around the dining room. “Oh! I didn’t see it! Where is it?”

Uncle Gilles chuckled. “Silly me! I must have left it in my chambers. It is a bit heavy, though… Do you think you could help me lift–”

He stopped mid sentence at the sound. Clambering footsteps, broken glass, a high-pitched shriek:

“NOT MY SISTER, YOU SON OF A BITCH!!!”

Bella had closed the distance between the two of them in the span of a moment, and she flung herself protectively in front of Cissy. With one hand, she pushed Cissy backward, and with the other, she lashed out across Uncle Gilles’ face.

She was still holding the shards of her broken wine glass.

The jagged edges of the crystal cut deep crimson ridges across Uncle Gilles’ ruddy cheeks. Blood gushed out in angry rivulets as he stumbled backward, crashing into the delicate glass coffee table. He lost his footing, and fell fully over onto the table, the glass giving away underneath with a terrific crash.

Druella stood up, her face ruddy with anger. “Bellatrix Black, what do you–”

“EXPELLIARMUS! SILENCIO!”

Bella flourished her wand, and shadowy black cords shot out, wrapping like tendrils around Druella’s feet and Uncle Gilles’ torso. With a swift motion, she cracked her hand and the cords whipped up, suspending the two mid-air.

It was Judgement Day. Reckoning. Vengeance. There was no one to stop her. No one that could keep her from taking what was hers, no one to keep her from protecting–

“PETRIFICUS TOTALIS!”

Bella’s body stiffened abruptly. The cords winked out of existence instantaneously, unceremoniously dropping both Druella and Uncle Gilles to the ground.

Cygnus Black stood, shaking, his wand out, his eyes filled with tears.

“I’m sorry, Gilles. She didn’t know what she was doing, she’s just–”

Uncle Gilles spoke as he stood up, the wounds already healing with the wordless gesture of his wand. “I’ve seen enough, Cygnus. One daughter who fornicates with Muggles, and another who would dare attack a pureblood superior? I had my reservations when my sister married a Black, but it’s disappointing to see them come true.”

“Gilles, please.”

“You can forget about my support on the Roanoke matter. And Druella: this man is no longer welcome in my house. I expect him to leave, immediately. Druella, you may stay if you wish. I think there is much business that you and I have to discuss.”

Druella nodded, and turned angrily towards Bellatrix, but she was already gone, as was Narcissa.

Bella had apparated them both to the hill, their hill. It was already dark, and they could see the stars through the clearing. She held her sister tightly, openly weeping. “Cissy, I may be going away for awhile. But you go back home. Go back to Hogwarts. I’ll make sure to write, I’ll make sure to visit.” She pressed something into Narcissa’s hand, a small blue sculpture carved of brilliant sapphire. It was a dolphin. Bella’s dolphin.

“Bella, I don’t understand.”

“You will, Cissy. You will.”

And with that, Bella apparated away, leaving Narcissa alone, staring up at the stars.


December, 1975
Wiltshire

It pleased her to know that Uncle Gilles never came to another Black family birthday celebration. If she had only done one thing in her life, that was enough. She protected Cissy. If she was safe, that was all that mattered. Eventually, she forgave Father. But the relationship was never the same. How could it be? She wasn’t Daddy’s dear Bella anymore. She was Bellatrix.

It also pleased her when she received the owl informing her of mother’s untimely death (although she lived long enough to scorch Andromeda off the family tree). Yes, Andromeda had run off with a Muggle. But she too was safe, in her own way.

But, it pleased her most of all,to be with her family and friends to witness the marriage of her Cissy. Malfoy Manor was resplendent and glorious, with the sun setting elegantly behind the Declaration of Intent. Now, Cissy truly was protected. She carried the protection of the Lord Malfoy. And soon enough, she would carry his children. And oh, how Cissy wanted children.

Some of Bella’s most wonderful memories as a child were of laying on the ground in the foothills outside the sprawling Rosier Estate. Due to the various enchantments surrounding the property, the night sky was always preternaturally dark. Cissy and Bella would stare up at the sky for hours, talking about the stars, telling stories about the constellations and thinking ahead into the future.

They talked about their future families and children. They would name them children after the constellations, to remind them of their destiny in the stars. Cissy always wanted a big family. She’d start with a boy and a girl. Draco would be the oldest, the greatest: king of the serpents. And Lyra, she represented the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Bella could appreciate that. If any harm ever came to Cissy, she too would travel to the depths of Hell and challenge the Lord of the Underworld himself to make things right.

For her part, Bella only wanted one child. A little girl who she would call Delphini. The dolphin, Bella had once told Cissy, is one of the most intelligent, most social animals. Oh, how Bella loved animals. She was protective, maternal. And one day, she would have that daughter of her own to protect and nurture. But until that day came, she would see to it that Cissy was safe.

Now, she was. Cissy would have her family. Bella looked up through her heavy lidded eyes, which sparkled like twin stars. She smiled lovingly at Cissy, who smiled lovingly back at her, and she gave the young Lord Malfoy an approving nod.

All was well.


June, 1980
Malfoy Manor

It was dark times, truly dark times. One Dark Lord fell decades before, and another had risen in his place, more terrible and more powerful than any before him. One who saw the Malfoys as an enemy, and therefore saw Cissy as an enemy. A foe that even Bella, with her newfound power and lore, could not protect Cissy from. Bella needed allies, someone worthy of leading an army against the rising tide of Albus Dumbledore.

She found one.

There was something inscrutable about him. He was insane, yes, and powerful beyond measure. But something was off, and she noted a tiny hint of confusion. He spouted ridiculous ideologies, saying openly the kinds of hateful rhetoric that was typically exchanged behind closed doors within the ivory towers of privilege. Bella knew what it was like to speak those words aloud, and knew what it was like to not truly believe them. And she saw that quality in him.

But why? It was not even a means to an end. His power would have been sufficient to cow the noble families into submission. His cunning would have been sufficient to outmaneuver even the most seasoned Wizengamot veterans. The lore he possessed was sufficient to entice even the most erudite of scholars.

He could have easily won over the nobility. And when you win over the nobility, you win over the undesirables. He did not need to appeal to the Carrows of the world. And yet, he did. And so Bella needed to understand, to comprehend. If he was to be the new leader, their new ruler, she needed to know what type of ruler he would grow to becomes. Even a tyrant would be preferable, so long as Cissy was safe. Bella needed to understand.

But those were long term concerns. In the short-term, she needed protection. War was raging. And yet, in the middle of the darkness there was light. She stood beside Cissy’s bed, holding a small, frail baby boy, with piercing eyes and the thinnest wisps of platinum blonde hair. There was light in the world. And she would fight to protect that.


September, 1980
Wiltshire

He’s dead. Albus silly, bully billy, bobbing Albus, silly silly silly silly silly Dumbledore, so silly and wily, why? Why why why did you take her, why why why why why why, now you are dead, dead by little Bella, deary Bella, silly Bella isn’t silly anymore, Cissy. Sweet Cissy and little Lyra, all burnt up. Burnt through, murdered. Burned up and burnt through and crisped up like little flakes of burning burning burning burning burning burning burning burning every last one of you will burn like phoenixes and I will burn you until you die and I will burn you when you are reborn and burn you burn you burn you when you wake up again, you took away sweet Cissy and little Lyra, burn burn burn burn burn burn burn–

The crackling power of Bella’s manic intensity filled the air outside Malfoy manor. She felt the very moment that the sapphire statue of a dolphin that she had given Cissy so many years before was consumed by the magical fire. Immediately, she apparated outside the grounds of Malfoy Manor, and she tore past the wards and jinxes, forcing her body into Mistform and bouncing off the ground in order to go faster.

When she arrived, it was too late. Dumbledore was gone, and so was Cissy. Lucius stood outside with several of the servants and a few members of the family who had been staying the night. He held little Draco in his arms. His face was white, his eyes sullen, the shock of it all rendering him dead to the world.

Once she gathered her bearings, she directed the mist of her body upwards, through the oppressive heat and licking flames, into bedroom of the Lord and Lady Malfoy. If there was even the remotest hint of a chance, she would do anything, give everything.

There was not.

She arrived in time only to see the last bits of ruined flesh bubble and crack, melting away from Cissy’s face. Although her bonds had long since burned away, her position suggested she had been tied to the bed. There were no eyes left to look into, no final shared gaze. Just a flaming, grinning skull, staring lifelessly back at her.

Bella’s scream was one of unending pain, as if all sorrow, loss, grief and rage in the world had condensed into a single point which was then stretched into a sound. With a terrifying crack of power and a whooshing thump, the temperature in the room dropped by about 150 degrees, covering everything in a chill of ice and frost. The heat was gone, but the scream continued.

She didn’t notice when another sound joined the scream: a hiss. That hiss. That cruel, terrible, baleful hiss that masqueraded as laughter. It echoed across the grounds of Malfoy Manor, unmistakable in its source. The laughter penetrated her mind, devoid of any hint of positive emotion. The laughter was a deliberate mockery of the very notion of happiness.

Beneath the laughter were the pops of various wizards and witches apparating. Still screaming, Bella looked up, and saw the Dark Mark burning bright green in the night sky. It was bright, oppressive, and it blocked out the other pinpricks of light. She could not see Draco, she could not see Lyra, she could not see Delphini. She could see nothing, and could feel only rage.

The Death Eaters were arriving, one by one, in response to their masters’ call. Lord Voldemort continued his insane, shrieking laughter, and compelled his dear Bella to return to the ground, where she slumped forward, fists on the ground, body wracking with sobs.

When they had all arrived, the Dark Lord spoke: “Dumbledore is finally learning to play the game as it should be played. He has grown up, and we now finally have a foe worthy of Lord Voldemort’s attention! Today, the battle has truly begun.

“You look somber, my servants. This is a cause for celebration! The game is afoot, and for that, you should be happy. For that, I shall reward you for your loyalty. For that…” His lips curled upward in a cruel smile, “we shall have a Dark Revel!”

He gestured with his skeleton-fingers towards the prostrate form of Bellatrix. She heard nothing. She did not hear the hushed, shocked silence. She did not hear the awkward cheers and forced shouts of celebration. And she did not feel any of what was to come. Her world was pain, and her world was rage, and there was no room for anything else.


June, 1981
Sontag

“HA HAHA HAHAHA HAHA!”

The cruel high-pitched laughter echo through the ruins of Sontag.

“The silly stupid stinking Scottish slut has a sissy for herself!”

It was too late to run. The anti-apparition wards had already been complete. No time to think. Physical escape was the only real option. If they could just get beyond the bounds of the wards. But the city was walled, there was only one exit point and it was sure to be guarded.

Well, it wasn’t the first time that Minerva and Moira McGonagall were going to go have to fight their way out of a sticky situation.

Of course, Bellatrix Black was far more than just a sticky situation. She remembered teaching the girl, she remembered her skill, and she remembered her soft, sad smile, and her quiet, reserved manner. She wondered what the Dark Lord had done to break her so completely.

”Come out, you old hag! Pull the snakes of of yer’ quim and fight us like a true lady!” Moira shouted, angrily.

“I cannot say I approve of my sisters choice of language, but I agree with the sentiment. Enough with the games. You came to fight, so fight you shall have, Ms. Black!”

“HA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHAAHA”

The laughter rang out from behind them now, and they both whipped around. Bellatrix Black, in the flesh, not 10 meters away.

“Quim, Quim, Qualabim, Rastaban, let’s finish them!” Bellatrix sang.

“With pleasure.”

Rastaban LeStrange’s low, guttural voice rumbled from where Minerva and Moira were just looking, a few moments before they spun to face Bellatrix. Moira turned slowly, keeping her back against Minerva’s, as they both stood with their wands drawn.

The ground was flat, there was no cover to be had or high ground to be exploited. Two against two, nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. This was a duel of pure power and skill. You devote exactly as much energy towards constructing a defense as is necessary, and pour the rest into your attack. An infinity of split-second decisions must be made, and any one of them could prove to be the crucial determiner of the fight.

Every shield has its weak point, and every shield can only tolerate so much abuse before its structure is compromised. Do you attack the weak point, spending more time and energy on precision and aim? Do you simply attack with pure brute force, sacrificing efficiency for speed and attention? If it’s your shield, do you take the time to craft false weak points to draw attacks elsewhere, or do you just reinforce the structure as much as you can? Or do you not even bother with shields, and rely on physical prowess to avoid curses?

Bellatrix was, at first, a vision of pure offensive power. She fired curse after curse, putting no effort whatsoever into the creation of any shield. The intensity of the onslaught forced Minerva into a defensive position. Her first shield was hastily assembled, and inefficient. She lost time, and had to make it up. Not seconds into the fight and she was already backpedaling. Not a chance to even fire a counter curse.

Bellatrix pressed the advantage. Sensing the lack of counterattack, she took her focus away from enhancing her physical maneuvers and poured everything into the ensemble of curses. Minerva threw up a Prismatic Wall, to give herself about a second and a half to think. No shields. Too fast, no point curse. No bystanders, use AOE. Limber, can duck or leap versus Line. Need Field. Mental math, look at feet. Bota Lunga, minimal lateral movement. Concentrated Field, 3 meters, Diffuse Field, 10 meters.

A ten foot wide burst of flame shot from Minerva’s wand, quickly followed by a cloud of needles three times the size. There was nowhere for Bellatrix to dodge, she could only counter or shield. Minerva prepared for both. She prepared a brute force volley of multiple weak physical attacks; it was a minimal expenditure of magic, and it would not do much if it actually landed, but it was enough to severely weaken most shields.

At the same time, she loosed an ice blast, in the event that Bellatrix opted for an elemental counter to the fire: ice trumps water trumps fire. Finally, Minerva prepared a single concentrated lance, in case Bellatrix tried a purely magical hard counter. Such a counter would need to be an applied area of magic, which would be easily penetrated by a directed burst.

Bellatrix indeed used the elemental counter, and her wall of water was quickly frozen by Minerva’s blast of ice. But Bellatrix had anticipated this, and directed a flow of magic into the wall of ice to lend it a measure of permanency. The now-physical barrier blocked the volley of blows intended to weaken a magical shield, and it trivially absorbed the impact of the lance. Bellatrix had the initiative now, and used it to withdraw her magic from the wall and turn it inward, rupturing it from the inside out and send an explosion of knife-sharp ice crystals towards the McGonagall sisters.

Minerva sensed the impending destruction, and also sensed an opportunity. Redirecting or blocking the crystals would not be difficult. But instead, she twisted her wand and summoned a vortex of wind, allowing the crystals to simply bypass them and continue their path. A path which happened to contain Rastaban LeStrange, who was ferociously engaged in his fight with Moira.

If Minerva and Bellatrix’s duel was a chess match, Moira and Rastaban’s was a fistfight. There was no elegance, no levels upon levels of moves, counters, counter-counters, contingencies or gambits. It was a knock-down, drag-out battle of who could out-magic the other. The simply fired curse after curse into each other, both opting for the pure brute-force approach. They were swapping shield-and-curse combinations ruthlessly, and one of them would eventually break.

Rastaban’s shield had been dropped by one of Moira’s curses, but he was already in the middle of loosing a curse of his own. As the magic began to flow from his wand, he saw the burst of ice-daggers flying towards him. He hastily attempted to assemble a barrier, but it was shattered by the hex that Moira had fired the moment she noticed the opening.

The shards pierced his skin, ripping chunks of a flesh away and crumpling him into a heap. It was over for him. A quick stunner from Moira, and it was over. She spared a brief moment to perform an Abjuration ritual; one of the links of the fine platinum chain in her pouch disappeared into nothingness. Massive chains, firmly rooted in the ground, sprung forth from the aether and bound Rastaban.

Bellatrix cackled. “SPECTACULAR, SPECTACULAR!”

There was a brief détente, as they all gauged what the next move was to be. Bellatrix was still cackling. Moira whispered, “She’s as mad a shit-house rat…”

“Mad or no, she could still turn you into a pile of blubbering jelly faster than you can say ‘Death Eater’.” Minerva cautioned.

“Sounds preferable than hearing another lecture from you.” Moira smirked, as they both readied themselves.

“MUSICAL LITTLE MINERVA AND MOIRA, MISERABLE MOUCHES! Time to fly, little flies!”

Rather than wait, Moira took the first action, and fired a standard blade volley at Bellatrix. Minerva backed her up with a trio of non-lethal area of effect jinxes with the intent of hobbling Bellatrix’s ability to respond effectively to Moira’s ceaseless attacks.

“SO EXCITING!” Bellatrix cackled. She cast her hand out, and rather than any sort of deadly curse or counterattack, a massive whirlwind of daffodils shot out, like some arcane blizzard of flower petals.

A distraction?

The flowers billowed around them, but they could still see her form so they continued the attack. But at the moment the blows would have struck, Bellatrix dissolved into viscous black smoke, and flickered backwards and then up. She continued to cackle as the flowers continued to rain down from nowhere. And then, the music.

Music?

A familiar tune, from an unknown source, bawdy and uplifting. Another distraction?

“ELEPHANTS, ARABIANS!”

Minerva tried to trace the position of the black smoke with her wand and fire Halting Hexes, but they could find no purchase. The black smoke landed, and Bellatrix instantiated once more. She grinned, baring her teeth, waving her wand. But there was no attack. Just more flowers, and more music.

“INDIANS AND COURTESEANS!”

“What is she blubbering about?” Moira whispered through the side of her mouth.

Minerva was barely paying attention to her sister, she was trying to focus on firing her curses. But as soon as she let out another round, Bellatrix flickered back into the thick black mist, and erratically bounced around the field once more.

“ACROBATS AND JUGGLING BEARS!”

The music was growing louder and louder, and the rain of flowers was getting too thick to see through. They could see Bellatrix in the distance, waving her wand like a conductor, kicking her legs up in time with the music. She wasn’t fighting back. It was almost like she was… Stalling? But what —

Oh no.

“Moira, construct a shield, now!” Minerva shouted, her voice barely registering now over the blaring horns and drums.

“Wha–”

Dear Bella….

No. That hiss.

Dear Bella… Take what we came here for, and depart. I will kill the spares.

No, no, no.

Minerva and Moira McGonagall were going to die.

The music cut out abruptly. Whatever eldritch wind was powering the tornado of flowers had ceased, and they began to drift silently to the ground. Bellatrix was nowhere to be seen.

He was coming. He was here.

She was going to die. And in that cold moment of clarity, she also realized the monumental mistake she had made earlier. It was so obvious, now. Anti-apparition jinxes were always exponentially wider than they were tall. Immediately, she thrust her wand into the air.

“EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

A bolt of white light shot upward. It only took a few meters, and then the form of her Patronus was able to escape.

Why, why didn’t she just think? She should have called for help from the very beginning. Once again, she was too busy playing a role, the plucky duo of sisters who complemented each other perfectly and could fight their way through anything. But where there is smoke, there is fire, and she should have known that the presence of Bellatrix Black most likely meant the presence of Lord Voldemort.

And no one could fight their way through him. Except for maybe…

POP

Alastor Moody appeared directly overhead, and immediately sped downward on his broom, assembling shields and fields and traps and weapons, even as he dismounted. His wand hand continued to cast every manner of protective spell, and his free hand was manipulating the landscape to provide cover, obstacles, and an advantageous position. No one except Dumbledore could ever hope to take on Voldemort in a fair fight.

But Alastor Moody never fought in a fair fight in his life.

“I’ve alerted Dumbledore. He’s bound by a Time Turner currently but he has…” The Eye of Vance whirled in his head, as he took a brief moment to check Albus’ status. “Seven minutes. We just need to hold him off for seven minutes.”

“AND IN THE END SHOULD SOMEONE DIE?” Bellatrix shrieked from somewhere in the distance.

“Quiet, Bella.”

And there he stood. Terrible, powerful, glorious.

It began.

If Moira’s duel was a fistfight, and Minerva’s was a chess match, then the duel between Alastor Moody and Lord Voldemort was… There was no comparison. It was like watching a gunfight where the combatants were shooting each others’ bullets out of midair.

It was an exercise in horrifically brutal efficiency. Shields were raised on a millisecond by millisecond basis, using no more magic than absolutely necessary. And they were dismantled just as swiftly, analyzed for their weak points and ruthlessly dispatched.

The physical element was equally impressive. There were no unnecessary flourishes or wasted movements. Just pure reaction time and power, traded back and forth. Minerva replenished Alastor’s magic with her own, bolstered his shields, and subtly manipulated the territory to their advantage. Moira, who was not as accomplished at battlefield control, desperately fired curse after curse.

Voldemort was still winning. But they weren’t expecting to win. They were doing what Bellatrix had done. They were stalling until their own Champion could arrive. Seven minutes. That’s all they needed.

Somewhere in the distance, they heard Bellatrix shout in glee. “MY LORD! I HAVE IT!”

From the corner of her eye, Minerva could see Bellatrix in her Mistform, hurtling towards them. The mist hurtled past Moira, who deftly dodged, and towards Lord Voldemort. She instantiated, grinning maliciously.

“Time to fly, dear Bella.”

And in an instant, they both were gone.

A beat passed. Minerva stood, wide-eyed, in shock. She had just faced Lord Voldemort and lived to tell the tale. They had all faced Lord Voldemort and lived to tell the tale.

Alastor took no time for such frivolities. He was already layering the entire area with dark detectors, protection spells, and shields. Moody gave a wolfish grin. “A few more minutes and we would have had that snaky bastard. Almost.”

“I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my students, Alastor: ‘Almost’ only counts in Divination and Gobstones.”

She paused, expectantly. That was odd. Moira usually never passed up an opportunity to quip. Minerva glanced over at her.

Minerva’s eyes widened.

Moira was hunched over in pain. She was bleeding out. Fast, too fast.

“Alastor. ALASTOR!” Minerva called. It was unnecessary; he was already rushing over. Minerva was casting as many healing charms as she could think of, and she held her sister tightly. She continued to work her magic, but spared a moment to glare at Moody expectantly, who was still casting defensive spells around their perimeter.

“Damnit, woman. I’m an Auror, not a healer. And this doesn’t look good…”

“Have you no Healer’s Kit? One would think, constant vigilance would dictate–”

“Minerva, for the types of wounds my men suffer on the job, a Healer’s Kit would do about as good as pumpkin juice. Just stem the bleeding. Three more minutes until Albus is here, and he’s sure to bring an army of healers.”

Moira coughed, and a light mist of blood sprayed from her mouth, and trickled down the corner of her cheek. She spoke, weakly. “Why didn’t YOU bring a Healer’s Kit, Minerva?”

Minerva froze, until she saw the small hint of a smile on Moira’s face. “I…” Minerva had been fighting the war for long enough to know how this was going to end. But she needed to be strong. She needed to quip. “I… I assumed that your unflappable sense of self-importance would be enough to protect you from any harm the Dark Lord might have thrown at you.”

“I AM important… You should have been more prepared…” Despite the pain, Moira grinned. Moody was respectfully giving them their distance. Minerva choked out a sob, but still smiled, which prompted Moira to laugh, softly. Minerva laughed too, as best as she could.

Laughter. Cold, dark, hissing laughter, mingled with a mad, manic cackle. That horrible laughter, that mockery, was Voldemort and Bellatrix’s parting gift, and it reverberated throughout the ruins of Sontag. They would not even allow her one final laugh to share with her sister, they took even that from her.

The laughter ceased only when Moira McGonagall’s eyes closed for the last time.


May, 1999
Hogwarts

There was no hope. Cissy was ashamed of what Bella had become. But the shame, it was just an act. It had to be. And, if the Dark Lord were to rise again, Cissy could stop the act, remove the mask. Cissy and Bella could be sisters again. Cissy didn’t need Bella’s protection anymore. A new Lord Malfoy protected her, who was in turn protected by the dark reflection of the Dark Lord, who was in turn protected by the true Dark Lord. There was hope.

Until today.

That man, that ancient man, had burned into her mind and she saw the truth, the horrifying, final, inexorable truth. The Dark Lord was gone. The mask would stay on forever. Cissy and Bella were no more. There was nothing left. Nothing to strive for. Nothing left but combat.

She felt no pleasure, or pain, or anything as she dueled with the boy. She fought without thinking. What was the point? She wore the mask, because why remove it? The mask protected her. The manic, mad smile. The cruel, nonsensical taunts that were as much a part of her combat technique as her curses. The singsong voice, the high pitched laugh, the insane ramblings, the horrible, soul-shredding curses. They protected her.

But the boy, he smashed mercilessly against her mask. With attack after attack, he was the waves and she was being battered upon the rocks. Battered, battered, battered through all of her protection. The mask cracked.

She was afraid.

And in one brief, tragic moment of clarity, she realized something terrible. She did not want to die. It didn’t have to be this way. Although she chose her path, the path of death, many years before, there was no law of the universe stating she had to continue down the path she had lay for herself. She could stop at any time, turn around, and walk back into the light. Back to Cissy.

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!