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Enter the Dragon (Harry Potter/Shadowrun)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Dunkelzahn, Jul 10, 2018.

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  1. zup

    zup Versed in the lewd.

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    Finally caught up with the updates. I am glad to see this continued.
     
  2. Demonfir

    Demonfir Getting some practice in, huh?

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    Up to 3.16 now. Almost caught up! Doing well though harry's speech pattern could stand to be touched up. Specifically in 3.15 where Harry talks about making "them spoons" or something like that. I've noticed it seems a fair bit different than his speech patterns and vocabulary choice when compared to his talk regarding manners and highclass wizarding society.

    the word choice seemed like a step back in character development. Only noticed it once but just try to watch for consistency unless the development is intentional and with cause.
     
    caspian1a and Ayashi like this.
  3. AzureShogun

    AzureShogun Getting out there.

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    Great read. Can't believe this story is so overlooked. The world is a bit dark for my tastes. Waaaaay too dark where the detective is concerned, the only reason I can continue reading is because of Harry's overwhelming power, but from what that ginger green-eyed 'guy' at the circle mentioned, and what I've read of the Shadowrun setting, I'm not sure how long that will last.


    The actual way yhe dragons made is interesting, but yeah. The world is just sooooo dark.
     
    caspian1a likes this.
  4. Wolfboy

    Wolfboy Not too sore, are you?

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    That is Shadowrun I wish I could give you a link to the in world history, but it isn't available online.
     
    caspian1a likes this.
  5. Hunting time

    Hunting time Getting out there.

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    Did Harry ever get the cloak? Also what do the Hallows do in this world?
     
    caspian1a likes this.
  6. Freshenstein

    Freshenstein Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    So I know it's still early in the story, but it looks like Harry is developing a harem. I mean Hermione, Abigail, and Sue Li are all interested in him, and who knows who else will be added to his collection of damsels. Is Harry going to have multiple girlfriends or will he just have one?
     
    caspian1a likes this.
  7. Threadmarks: Section 3.18 - Vasili's Dream
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    3.18.0 Vasili's Dream

    It was an uncharacteristically sunny morning in London, not that anyone could tell deep within the halls of Gringotts, the subterranean nature of which left conditions inside nearly constant no matter the outside weather. Severus Snape walked through the now-familiar halls on the way to his business partner’s office with purpose in his step. Along the way, he garnered subtle nods of acknowledgement from the guards, a common enough sight by now not to warrant further challenge beyond the one he had already gone through in the lobby.

    “Aha! Master Snape come in! Come in, do,” Crackjaw Slackhammer greeted his grumpier than usual acquaintance in his customary manner when the man appeared at his office door in a billowing cloud of dark robes.

    After the potions master had grunted an acknowledgement and taken his usual seat, the dapper goblin continued. “Your communication indicated a certain interest in establishing contact with the Confederacy quite uncommonly quickly. We at Gringotts do have some history of dealings with our neighbors across the Atlantic, so we may be able to be of assistance. Might I inquire as to your motives? Our optimal approach will likely depend on your goals.”

    The potions master nodded before answering with a question of his own. “Has my colleague kept you apprised of our efforts with the nexus project?”

    “Master Flitwick has done so, indeed,” Slackhammer confirmed, taking his usual beverage from the tray his aide had brough in unbidden. “Though I must admit I had been under the impression that there was still much to be done in that vein on this side of the Atlantic before you would require travel abroad. This seems an oddly hasty scheduling choice.”

    “If only we had been so lucky,” Snape sighed, pausing to take a sip of his tea — he had forgone his customary whiskey on account of the morning hour. “Unfortunately, our itinerary has been set by my colleague, Sybil Trelawney, who was quite insistent that the next site we deal with must be one located within the Confederacy’s territory. I had hoped for at least two or three years to prepare, but needs must.”

    International travel in the wizarding world was a hit-or-miss proposition. Unlike the non-magical world, in which diplomatic relations within the international community were generally sufficient to make such travel only moderately risky — downright safe, in many cases — diplomatic relations within the magical international community were… unreliable, to use an almost unreasonably charitable term.

    Nonexistent’ would be a much more generally accurate assessment.

    In the magical world, the traveler was directly and solely responsible for his own wellbeing while traveling, not only in obtaining the usual food and lodging, but also in navigating the various pitfalls of the foreign societies and governments he encountered along the way. There were no embassies or treaties to smooth over misunderstandings or serve as a safeguard, so international travel in the magical world was generally a major undertaking for the traveler, normally involving months or even years of preparation, much of which was spent cultivating local contacts via correspondence and third-party introduction to serve as a safety net and rudimentary intelligence network to help avoid any local unpleasantness.

    Allowing only a few months of preparation for a first visit to a new polity was a very tight schedule, indeed.

    “I see,” the dapper goblin nodded, stroking his pointed chin thoughtfully as he considered the issue. He was familiar with the name Trelawney, and when a seeress set a deadline, it was generally best not to quibble about inconvenient scheduling. “I am given to understand that such activities are rather noticeable?”

    “To say the least,” the potions master confirmed. “Our last attempt at Stonehenge was rather well contained, but the event at Avebury was quite apparent to anyone with functioning magical senses. Given Sybil’s insistence, I rather expect this one to have more in common with Avebury than Stonehenge.”

    Slackhammer nodded, acknowledging the point. “In that case, I would suggest approaching the Grand Council directly and presenting your case openly. If you are going to be causing such a kerfuffle within their territory, it would be best to explain beforehand rather than try to argue with their warriors after the fact.”

    “So, a formal approach is preferable to secrecy, then?” the dark man asked.

    “For the Confederacy, certainly,” Slackhammer confirmed. “They tend to be reasonable when approached properly yet quite deadly when riled. A stealthy approach would likely trigger a preemptively lethal response, given their ongoing conflict with their southern neighbors.”

    “In that case, would Gringotts be willing to provide us with an introduction?” Severus requested. “You mentioned already-established ties.”

    “We do have some such ties — mostly based in mutually profitable trade, though we have also recently opened up something of a joint humanitarian venture — and Gringotts would certainly be willing to provide an introduction in aid of your eminently necessary cause,” the goblin affirmed. “Where is the artifact in question located? It would be best to curry support for your efforts among the tribes closest to the area in question beforehand. My own contacts are mostly centered around the Great Lakes, where we have been resettling the unfortunates Mr. Potter’s railroad has been helpfully shipping partway to Glasgow, but various of my colleagues do business all across the continent.”

    “I believe it is near the Pacific coast, in the muggle provice of British Columbia,” the sallow-faced man said, retrieving a map from his pocket with the appropriate location marked in red.

    Slackhammer examined the chart and nodded agreeably. “The Salish, then — I know just the gob to approach.” He turned back to his guest with a serious look, “Master Snape, have you considered the logistics of this venture?”

    “How so?” the potions master asked.

    “I am given to understand that Mr. Potter’s presence is critical to dealing with these devices,” the dapper goblin stated. “Am I correct in that understanding?”

    “You are,” Snape confirmed.

    “Have you worked out a method to convey him to your final destination?” Slackhammer asked.

    “My tentative plan was to book passage on a non-magical aircraft to cross the ocean and then secure local ground transportation to take us to our destination,” the dour man explained.

    “And how did you plan to feed Mr. Potter along the way?” the goblin asked delicately.

    “I had intended to work with you to arrange a location and supply dump near our final destination. He would then be able to eat upon our arrival.” Snape said, before revising his statement on seeing the dapper goblin wince. “I take it that is unfeasible?”

    “I believe you are underestimating the distances involved, Master Snape,” Slackhammer explained. “A meeting with the Great Council will take place at the Great Longhouse, located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, thus, you will be flying into Erie, Pennsylvania. It will be easy enough to arrange to feed Mr. Potter during your time with the Great Council, but you will be traveling overland nearly three thousand miles. Using the methods available — essentially the non-magical highway system — that means nearly three days of continuous travel. Assuming you stop to sleep, that will stretch the time to the better part of a week.”

    The potions master scowled at Slackhammer’s assessment. “I do not look forward to attempting to power them, but would it be possible to secure portkeys for the domestic portion of the travel.”

    “Quite impossible, I am afraid,” the dapper goblin denied immediately. “All forms of magical travel are heavily monitored and restricted within the Confederacy due to their ongoing hostilities with the Aztec Empire to the south, portkeys included. In fact, their entire territory is warded against all forms of magical teleportation.”

    “How did they manage that over such a large area?” Snape raised a dark eyebrow in surprise. “An effective ward over such a massive territory would be a monumental undertaking.”

    “Not quite so much as one might think, in fact,” the goblin explained, shaking his head. “The tribes were quite clever in their approach. Rather than warding against magical transit in such a way as to allow only selected teleportation methods while preventing all others, they simply warded in such a way as to actively disrupt magical transportation methods. One is not prevented from apparating or portkeying within Confederacy territory, the wards simply disrupt the process sufficiently to ensure that any such attempts are messily fatal.”

    “That is rather irritatingly inconvenient,” the sallow-faced man scowled. “What lunacy possessed them to do such a thing?”

    “The lunacy of their neighbors to the south,” Slackhammer replied dryly. “The Aztecs have ever been wont to raid their neighbors for sacrifices — both to supply their twisted religion and as fodder for their magical endeavors — and the only thing keeping them out of Confederate territory is the assiduous application of force of arms. I understand the tribes consider being limited to non-magical transportation methods a small price to pay for keeping the bloodthirsty cannibals the Aztecs call priests and their unnervingly effective blood mages at arm’s length.”

    “Fair enough,” the dark man allowed before venturing, “Perhaps a second flight to cover the distance quickly?”

    “Non-magical air travel is restricted just as heavily, for much the same reasons,” the goblin countered. “You will fly into Erie International not only due to its proximity to the Great Longhouse, but also because it is the only destination at which the detection of magical persons aboard a plane will not automatically prompt the locals to dispatch a kill squad to greet you on the tarmac. After the Pueblo incident in 1986, that rule is ironclad.”

    Severus raised a questioning eyebrow.

    “In that year, Aztec intelligence managed to acquire scheduling information for one such exception early enough to take advantage,” Slackhammer shook his head sadly as he explained, “They arranged to charter a private flight to the same airport at the same time in order to slip a war party through the temporary gap in security. Once they stole past the security cordons, the Aztecs managed to slaughter over seven hundred tribespeople before Confederate war mages were able to hunt them down and exterminate the lot.”

    “I see. I had not realized tensions were so high,” the sallow-faced man frowned, showing no further reaction to the tale of wanton slaughter. “Perhaps if we were to rely on Mr. Potter himself for transportation? If we stuck to night flights at high altitude and avoided cities…”

    “You would run afoul of the nonmagical military in that case,” Slackhammer interjected. “The nations involved pay very close attention to their air traffic, and Mr. Potter’s size and metallic composition mean that he will show on their detection grids like a beacon.”

    Snape scowled. “Would concealment spells eliminate the problem?”

    The dapper goblin shook his head negatively. “Not the standard ones, though that might be a useful avenue for Mr. Potter to research in the future. I imagine it would simplify travel arrangements immensely.”

    “I shall have to suggest it to him, then,” the potions master nodded, “though that does little to help our current situation.”

    He fell silent for a time, the ticking on Slackhammer’s mechanical office clock loud in the comparative quiet, before Snape admitted defeat. “I must admit that I am at a loss on how to proceed. What would you suggest?”

    “I would suggest that you carry your supplies with you, Master Snape,” Slackhammer suggested.

    “You are suggesting that we carry enough to feed that wretched lizard for the entire trip?” Severus confirmed, wide eyed. “I have seen the vehicles normally arranged to deliver his usual supplies — are you suggesting that we arrange to hire a convoy?”

    “On the contrary,” the dapper goblin clarified, “I am suggesting a single vehicle fitted with expanded cargo compartments. The vehicle will already be manned by magical persons, so you are not quite so limited in that regard as bulk freight systems are.”

    “That is true, but the required expansion coefficient to fit that much material into an automobile would be enormous! And that is without even considering the required expansion for passenger space and normal luggage,” the dark man countered. “Even a group containing wizards of my colleagues’ quality, supporting the strain would leave us lucky to cover fifty miles per day! Covering the distance you quoted would take months.”

    “That is true for a standard automobile,” Slackhammer acknowledged. “However, should you lease or purchase a significantly larger vehicle, the ratio would be more manageable.”

    “What sort of vehicle would you suggest?” the potions master asked. “I suppose one of those articulated lorries might work, but if I recall, they require a particular sort of license to drive legally — presumably because they are quite difficult to drive.”

    “That is an accurate assessment, to the best of my knowledge,” Slackhammer confirmed, “however, I had a different sort of vehicle in mind. I know of one clan among the Sioux nation which specializes in magically adapted recreational vehicles, and I am certain that one of their larger models could be loaded with enough supplies to keep Mr. Potter fed along the way while also serving as transportation and housing for your entire party.”

    “A recreational vehicle?” Snape queried. “I do not believe I have encountered the term before.”

    “Such vehicles are also known as motor-homes,” the goblin clarified. “One of the larger models is essentially a mid-sized flat on wheels.”

    The potions master narrowed his eyes in consideration, running through the expansion coefficients and power estimations in his head, before nodding slowly as he found that they came to a workable conclusion.

    “That sounds promising; how shall we proceed?”

    3.18.1 Deliberations

    As the potions master and his goblin business partner set about the serious task of planning the dour man’s first major road-trip, another meeting was taking place on the other side of the world in a fortified manor home overlooking the sprawling cityscape of Kowloon from its perch on the western slope of the eponymous Kowloon Peak.

    Shafts of late afternoon sunlight streamed in through the square windows set in the gently curved outer wall of a sitting room as a pair of young girls dressed in simple light gray garb — a traditional ruqun, with a long-sleeved wrap-around blouse of a lightweight fabric tucked into a similarly structured skirt and tied with a contrasting black-dyed sash — cleared the intricately carved wooden table which had been set with a light evening meal. The girls, perhaps twelve years of age, were sufficiently similar in appearance to pass as identical twins even under close inspection.

    If the inspector had recently visited Hogwarts and met the second-year Ravenclaw students, he would have recognized the look immediately… and revised his estimate to say they were identical triplets.

    Four much older women, their gray hair pinned up into elaborate buns with colorful lacquered needles and wearing much more elaborate variants of the same traditional ruqun — each dominated by a different vibrant color rather than the light gray of the servant girls — sat around the table on elaborately carved dark wooden chairs as they waited for the remains of their meal to be cleared. When the girls had finished and left the sitting room with only a deferent bow to their elders to mark their departure, the most elaborately dressed of the old women, her garments done up in a rich marigold color and accented with turquoise trim and jewelry spoke.

    “We have received our agent’s report from the school of the English barbarians. She awaits further orders,” she began, snapping her fingers imperiously.

    The snap was apparently a signal, as it prompted another pair of young women to enter through the door carrying trays holding a familiar set of dossiers which had graced the table in the Ravenclaw common room a number of weeks before. Though these girls were slightly older — perhaps in their late teenaged years — and dressed in a rich vermilion rather than gray, they were still similar enough in physical appearance to pass for twins — and similar enough to the earlier girls to pass easily as their older sisters. As the red-clad girls carefully transferred the paperwork onto the recently cleared table, the old woman continued speaking.

    “You have had the chance to review the relevant materials for each of your areas of responsibility, and I have been informed that the clan laboratory has returned its analysis of the accompanying genetic samples,” the marigold-clad chief matriarch began. “What have you concluded?”

    “None of the samples obtained present a clear advantage,” one of her colleagues, this one done up in the pale green of celadon, spoke up. “My technicians have identified no heritable magical talents among the current crop of prospects. Even the one that had the talent for plants,” she gestured to a dossier topped with the picture of a somewhat doughy-looking boy with muddy blond hair, “proved to be a dead end. His botanical talents are a personal idiosyncracy, rather than a genetic one. We have no outstanding prospects.”

    “What of the missing sample?” the third old woman, dressed in a bold orange, asked, indicating another packet featuring a face topped with shaggy black hair and set with vividly green eyes that almost seemed to glow even through the photographic medium. “Our agent reported some rather impressive feats attributed to him, feats that would seem to indicate an excellent addition to the bloodline.”

    “It would be a risky gamble at best,” the celadon woman replied with a negative shake of her head. “That sort of towering magical strength is almost always a freak occurrence. It is highly unlikely to breed true.”

    “And the physical strength?” orange challenged.

    “Almost certainly a result of the subject’s magic acting subconsciously,” celadon countered with a dismissive wave of her hand. “That sort of secondary effect is well documented in the clan histories.”

    “The linguistic talent, then?” the orange-clad woman countered.

    “That is a possibility,” the woman in celadon allowed, “though our technicians suspect it to also be a secondary magical effect, since there are no hints of such linguistic talents in the subject’s family history. It would be a gamble on very long odds.”

    “I see,” the orange woman said with an irritable huff. “Are we then left with choosing one of the targets simply to provide additional genetic variation for the line?” She grimaced at the idea. “That seems a terrible waste of one of our agents. We developed that line to seek out new, valuable, and above all rare traits and bring them into the clan.”

    The sentiment prompted sounds of annoyed agreement from all three other women. It was hardly ideal. Su Li represented a great deal of investment on the part of the clan, both in breeding and training.

    “If we simply seek to add genetic variation and robustness, then we hardly need to spend one of our agents on the task. Just look at the failures,” the woman continued, gesturing to the two teenaged girls in red who, after delivering the documents, had retreated to stand diffidently by the wall. “Nearly half of those have genetics good enough for our purposes if we are simply incorporating genetic variation for the stability of the line. Send a few of the young ones off to the brothels without the standard sterilization, and we will have all the genetic variation we could possibly want in short order. Our agents were made for greater things than simply…”

    “I had intended to recommend we withdraw Su Li from her current assignment and send her to new hunting grounds entirely,” the celadon elder interjected, interrupting her orange counterpart’s swelling tirade. “Perhaps a stay among the Malagasy would be appropriate? I have my suspicions about the high average magical strength there being a heritable trait, given its pervasiveness in the population.”

    “It is almost certainly an environmental factor,” the chief matriarch interrupted with a sharp gesture of her marigold-clad arm. “Environmental factors seem to drive much of the expression of magical strength, you know this. It is why I ensure every main clan member is conceived and born in the birthing chambers under the mountain where we can elevate the magic levels artificially.”

    “I had considered that possibility, but I felt the chance that…” the green-clad elder began only to be interrupted again.

    “Consider the consequences of failure in each case,” the marigold-clad woman commanded. “If you are wrong about it being a genetic anomaly, as you most likely are, then we will be left with the same choice we have now, only it will be among the dark-skinned Malagasy barbarians, likely in their holdings on the continent, rather than among the light-skinned European barbarians.”

    “Yes, that is the case,” celadon allowed. “Is that worse than our current situation?”

    “The clan histories tell us that it will take at least seven generations to breed the line back to acceptable standards of beauty subsequent to such a coupling,” the gold-clad elder explained, gesturing to the nearly identical porcelain features of one of the red-clad teenaged girls standing impassively against the wall. “A European match would take barely three.”

    “I see,” the green-clad woman nodded. “Could we not simply move on once more and try a new location?”

    “I remind you that our agent does not have an infinite shelf life,” the fourth old woman, dressed in a rich purple, spoke up for the first time. “She will be reaching the end of her childbearing years within four decades, and even with her ideal genetics and the clan magics weighting the process in our favor, conception is still a roll of the dice. She will need to carry at least a dozen pregnancies to term for us to be comfortably assured of picking up whatever desirable genetics she finds, and that means she must start by age thirty at the latest, preferably by twenty to account for potential complications or circumstances that might require her to raise her own children rather than farming the task out. Moving her to a new location and reestablishing her cover even once would be a major risk to that deadline.”

    “So, we are stuck with the current hand, then?” the third, orange-clad, elder confirmed, gesturing to the dossiers still spread on the table between them.

    “Yes,” the purple-clad woman confirmed.

    “In that case, our chances of a favorable outcome are maximized by sending her after the missing sample, are they not?” the woman in orange suggested, gesturing again to the photograph of the green-eyed boy on the table. “At best, we acquire the magical and physical strength he has shown, as well as the linguistic talent our agent described. At worst, we would be accomplishing the secondary goal of acquiring additional genetic diversity with no additional benefit. Our only other option is one of the samples which we know can only accomplish the secondary goal.”

    “No matter how long the odds,” she pointed towards the green-eyed picture one more, “that is the most profitable gamble available. It is obvious.”

    “True,” the celadon-clad elder acknowledged. “Even long odds on something are better than sure odds on nothing.”

    “There is another issue to consider,” the marigold-clad woman who had initiated the discussion broke in once more. “That is the one most likely to yield beneficial results, but how are we to get him to go along with things? Based on the historical behavior of his ancestors, the target is unlikely to willingly go along with coming here and signing over his children for our use.”

    “He is a man, or he will be with a few years to mature,” the purple-clad woman waved her hand dismissively. “Men are easy to control. Bring him back here on some pretext or other, then assign enough of the failures to his bed to keep him too busy to think coherently, much less object. A constant stream of willing nubile flesh will keep him docile and compliant, and it will only improve our chances of acquiring his genetics if the bet pays out — especially if it the traits prove to need reinforcement for a few generations. Easy.”

    “True, as far as it goes,” the marigold woman nodded, “and that would be our ideal course of action, were the target not also entangled in politics. He is the Head of a prominent clan, its last member, as well.”

    “How careless of them!” the elderly woman in celadon sniffed disdainfully. “Very irresponsible to risk the future of their bloodline in such a way.”

    “Quite,” the elder in marigold acknowledged, “but the target is nonetheless quite important politically in that part of the world, and our investigations have shown evidence that he is likely quite valuable to the goblin nation as well. Were he to disappear, or even if the line of succession were imperiled, there would be trouble, possibly with the English, but definitely with the goblins.”

    “Suddenly, I see the appeal of going with a lower value target,” the old woman dressed in orange nodded. “I am not certain anyone could get the British savages to pull in the same direction long enough to threaten us here, but the goblins, at least, are not to be trifled with. Still, it seems a shame to waste our agent on such a thing. Perhaps she could pursue a genuine marriage?”

    “And how would we benefit from that?” the celadon-clad woman demanded. “We are running a breeding program, not a matchmaking service. We need control of the children if we are to further the development of the line.”

    “He might be willing to part with a second or third child,” the orange-clad woman offered weakly.

    Unlikely,” the woman in celadon scoffed. “And there is also the risk posed by the target himself. The same strength that potentially makes him valuable to us also makes him dangerous to cross. Consider what he might be able to accomplish if driven by enough rage and desperation.”

    All four elders fell silent at that mental image. If the boy was anything like the other examples of such wizards in recent history — oddly enough all three European natives as well — then he could bring the Clan to its collective knees with the proper motivation.

    “There are ways around such things, other options we have used in the past,” the purple-clad woman offered carefully, “and we can explore them if need be. For now, we need simply decide which target to pursue. The specifics can come later.”

    As her three compatriots began arguing the various merits of each position, the chief matriarch, in her marigold finery, rose from her chair and walked over the the outer window overlooking the city below to consider the issue.

    The green-eyed boy clearly represented the best choice, but the risks were high, both of failure and of complications. The other choices represented a clear and certain loss of the effort put into producing their agent, but at least they didn’t come with much risk of complications. Which was the best choice for the Clan?

    Nonmagical breeding programs were complicated enough without including magic in the mix, but magic added entirely new layers of complexity. Many magical traits were incompatible with each other, or even with certain seemingly innocuous combinations of non-magical traits. Arranging to reliably incorporate magical traits from a single donor was thus quite an undertaking, an undertaking the Clan had tackled by developing a specialized line whose genetics were tailored specifically for that purpose. The Su branch family had been groomed for centuries to produce girls optimized to capture new genetics which would then be incorporated into the clan’s main family.

    A fully realized agent like Su Li who had precisely the right genetics to almost guarantee assimilating new traits into the line was a rare specimen — the sort that came along once every few generations — and the matriarch hated the idea of wasting such a valuable asset to no great effect, yet the choices seemed poor either way.

    The safe bet, which would be a near-complete waste of their effort in training the agent, or the risky one that might succeed at long odds but carried with it the very real danger of potential retaliation if their efforts were discovered at the wrong time by the wrong people. It was a difficult decision to make.

    If only there was something to tip the balance, some assured payoff that would make the risky course more palatable.

    She sighed, tired, jaded eyes flickering as they scanned over the cityscape below illuminated brilliantly by the setting sun, until the sight of one neighborhood in particular sparked an insight, a reminder of one of the particulars of the Clan’s eugenics program that often went overlooked. Just a few miles away stood the densely packed warren of tenement houses and human filth known as Kowloon Walled City, home to two of the Clan’s busier brothels as well as the headquarters of the Triad that brokered most of their wider sex trafficking business.

    While the most obvious results of the Clan’s ongoing breeding program were the successful attempts such as their agents, they were not the only valuable product the Clan’s efforts produced. The breeding programs that had produced Su Li and her ilk were highly selective, aiming to combine ideals of appearance, personality, intelligence, magical ability, and thaumogenic susceptibility into a single individual. In any highly selective process, successes were rare, which, almost by definition, meant that failures were common.

    Yet, while the failures of this process were not useful for the originally intended purpose, they were not without value themselves.

    While the children resulting from those failed efforts were not useful for the primary purpose of the breeding program, they were not without value to the Clan, even if the current political climate had heavily restricted the formal slave trade.

    Her own clan, the Yin Guan, had long ago begun the development of magics intended to optimize the conception and birthing process. In addition to various methods of assisting conception, pregnancy, and childbirth, the latest versions included spells designed to push the probability of a conception resulting in a female child to nearly ninety-five percent, which was a distinct improvement over a fair coin flip. It was a great advantage for their breeding program, which required a disproportionately large number of females, and it also made dealing with the extras much simpler.

    After all, even without the open slave markets of old, it was not difficult for amoral ‘former’ slavers to find profitable uses for a large number of nubile young women — especially ones whose development and education they could control from birth.

    All the near-identical ‘cousins’ now served the Clan in various capacities, usually various forms of prostitution. As children of the Clan, the girls were trained from a very young age to go into the business, and as soon as they grew old enough to avoid injury, they were put to work. With the Clan conditioning them for the role from birth, the control spells they all carried were seldom even needed.

    The most impressive specimens would normally be sold off as concubines or billed as high-class courtesans, while the majority were either employed directly in the various Clan-owned brothels or were allowed to be ‘kidnapped’ in exchange for a generous bribe from one of the local Triads. The criminal syndicate would then put them to similar work in the city or elsewhere around the world. Per the reforms, the last was technically illegal — involving as it did the sale of slaves outside the Clans — but the ‘kidnapping’ fiction allowed the Clan to maintain a veneer of plausible deniability.

    It was a good reminder that there were more potential payoffs to consider than simply magical traits.

    Even as her compatriots continued to argue, the marigold-clad matriarch turned back to the table and her gaze locked onto one of the dossiers lying there for a moment before gesturing imperiously to one of the red-clad girls still standing quietly by the wall. As the young woman approached, the other old women fell silent, looking on curiously.

    A quick flick of her marigold-clad wrist had the matriarch’s wand in hand, and another practiced twitch cast a glamour on the docile girl she had called over.

    Reaching out with a suddenly empty hand, the elderly woman firmly grasped the younger woman’s chin and turned her head this way and that, examining the overall effect the girl’s now intensely green eyes had on her appearance before nodding slowly in approval.

    Yes… yes, that would do nicely.

    Her celadon-clad peer caught on quickly and chimed in, “Ah! I hadn’t considered that.” A quick consultation to the dossier in question then had her continuing, “The target’s mother had the same eyes, according to records, so that is almost certainly heritable.”

    “A pretty set of eyes is less of a payout than I had hoped for,” the orange-clad elder began thoughfully, “but I suppose it is something to sweeten the pot and make the long odds more palatable.”

    “You are too quick to dismiss the benefits,” the violet-clad elder cautioned. “I am embarrassed to admit I had not considered it myself, but exotic eyes such as those could double, possibly even triple our profits on our concubines and courtesans. Even the brothels would likely see an incremental increase as they pull a greater portion of the market share.”

    The marigold-clad matriarch smiled as she looked into the alluring, currently emerald eyes of her subordinate. As far as assured payoffs went, that would do nicely.

    It was decided; Su Li would soon have her hunting orders.

    3.18.2 Be very, very quiet

    On the other side of the world, a very much larger yet otherwise identical green eye blinked as it peered over the shoulder of a rather perplexed centaur.

    During the previous day, one of the centaur patrols had come across a situation they had no precedent for dealing with, and so, they brought word of it back to their leader and dumped the situation in his hands, as they were trained to do.

    Unfortunately for Bane, the leader in question, he hadn’t known what to make of the situation either.

    In the normal course of things for a centaur clan, that would have meant ignoring the situation until it either went away or made itself impossible to ignore and forced them into doing something — probably something poorly thought out and ineffective. Yet in a convenient turn of events, the course of things was not normal for the Black Woods Clan. The clan was in a firm alliance with the Great Wyrm, which opened up a second option for the befuddled clan heir.

    The alliance provided the opportunity for Bane to take a leaf from his own days as a lowly scout and he gratefully did so, dumping the mess off on the Great Wyrm.

    Bane had guided the Great Wyrm carefully to a vantage point where even the massive dragon could take a look at the anomaly from the cover of the forest, then the centaur had gingerly drawn aside the last layer of shrubbery to reveal the scene that had left him and his scouts so puzzled.

    “Is that a car?” the dragon asked, barely managing to keep his voice down to some semblance of a whisper. “What’s it doing here?”

    “It looks the part, indeed, Great One,” Bane nodded affirmatively, keeping a weather eye on the dirty, mangled-looking vehicle. It might have been blue at one point, but now it was covered with so much dirt that it was hard to tell. “Yet while it seems quite similar in form to the devices that have brought several of your esteemed visitors to these woods, it does not behave in the same fashion.”

    “What do you mean?” Harry frowned as he took a closer look. “It doesn’t seem to be doing anything other than sit there right now.”

    “Aye, it is quiet at present, but watch the change when it catches sight of us,” Bane instructed the Great Wyrm. Then, putting words to action, he stepped forward, deliberately rustling the leaf litter and snapping a half-buried branch.

    The change was as immediate as it was startling. The clearly much-abused vehicle roared to life, its few still-intact lamps flaring bright as it spun in place to face the sound, an occurrence that revealed another rather more pressing maintenance issue for the poor vehicle. Its left front wheel was splayed out at an odd angle, the axle obviously having broken at some point. The other front wheel had managed to hook itself over a tree stump, which had allowed the rear drive wheels to pivot the car, yet it obviously wouldn’t be moving anywhere else any time soon.

    “I don’t see a driver in there, and I don’t smell one either,” the young dragon remarked after a quick sniff. “Do you?”

    “Nay, Great One, and that is the oddest thing about this whole business! I was under the impression that such devices were not alive, yet that thing,” the centaur pointed to the broken-down vehicle pulling off a good impression of a wolf caught in a hunter’s trap, “behaves as if it were a wounded animal!”

    Following his guide’s example, Harry stepped forward into view, and as his scaly bulk was revealed to the oddly animated car, the thing’s horn let out one, somehow startled-sounding beep and then went absolutely still. Where before it had seemed a wounded wolf caught in a trap, now it seemed a terrified rabbit on the verge of panicking itself to death.

    “Huh, you’re right,” the young dragon marveled. “It really does act like an animal! They always do that when they see me.”

    Bane merely nodded, and Harry turned back to looking at the obviously terrified vehicle in curiosity for a few moments as the silence stretched on awkwardly.

    “Um, so now that we’ve established that,” Harry began uncertainly. “What did you want me to do about it? I mean it doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone over here, really.”

    “If it acts as an animal, then I expect we should treat it as one,” Bane offered, sounding more confident now that he had had his own judgement independently confirmed. “And right now, it is a wounded animal in great pain and unable to move. I am given to understand that you consume its kind regularly?”

    “Yeah,” the young dragon nodded his great head in acknowledgement. “I do, but I’ve never seen one that acted like this before.” He frowned in thought, “I wonder why it’s doing that?”

    “When encountering a prey animal in such a situation, there is only one moral response,” the centaur opined sententiously.

    “What’s that?” Harry asked.

    “There is no reason to put it through unnecessary suffering,” the experienced hunter explained. “You should kill it quickly to put it out of its misery, then eat it so it does not die in vain — just as if it were a deer in a similar situation.”

    “Really?” Harry raised a scaly eye ridge. “What if it belongs to somebody?”

    “Then they should be grateful that you ended its torment kindly,” Bane nodded firmly. “Just do it quickly.”

    “Well, okay,” Harry said dubiously, walking carefully over towards the now-trembling vehicle.

    “You know, I wonder if this is an animation charm or something? But it’s so lifelike!” the young dragon mused as he peered in the windows in a final check to make certain no one was inside the odd car. “Hey! Maybe its something like Donald, only you know, an animal rather than a person? I wonder if he might know?”

    “Just finish it off, already,” the centaur said with some exasperation. “Can you not see how terrified the poor thing is?”

    Harry could see that indeed, and so, feeling a tad sheepish, he did so, ending the unfortunate situation with a single, massive bite and a cacophonous crunching of steel and glass. Two additional bites and a bit of chewing removed the evidence of the whole sordid affair.

    As he ambled back over towards his damsel’s father, the young dragon frowned as a thought occurred to him.

    “Hey, Mr. Bane?”

    “What is it, Great One?”

    “If that was so obviously the right thing to do, how come you waited to get me rather than taking care of it right away yourself?”

    3.18.3 A helping hand

    The brightly-lit Receiving Hall of the Ministry of Magic — an offshoot of the underground facility’s main lobby which was set up as the only place in the facility which allowed magical transportation in or out — flashed with green light as one of the massive fireplaces that lined the hall flared up briefly, heralding the arrival of Griselda Marchbanks. The elderly woman wore a satisfied smile on her face and, after giving the bored-looking attendant a polite nod, immediately set out for her office.

    She was freshly arrived from her latest discreet attempt at tracking down a couple of willing assistants to help out at Hogwarts — an attempt which had just borne fruit. The process had taken longer than she had hoped, with many false-starts and prior commitments along the way, but she had finally managed to round up a couple of old friends to help out at Hogwarts. Both had retired from the auror corps in recent years. One had previously worked as a trainer — and had retired to open a woodworking shop of all things — while the other, who had been a rank-and-file member of the corps, now worked part time as a private teacher of self-defense.

    Both were skilled teachers, and both were currently reviewing copies of the required syllabus for the Defense program. By the end of the week — the date they had agreed upon for the actual visit — Griselda figured that they ought to be well prepared for the task. Between the two of them, they ought to be able to straighten Lockhart out well enough to salvage the children’s education before it was too late.

    “Madame Marchbanks,” her secretary greeted her as she entered the department offices of the Examination Authority. “Did everything go well?”

    “Quite well,” the elderly witch confirmed with a satisfied nod. “Both of my acquaintances are available to join me for a visit to Hogwarts later this week. Have you learned when Mr. Lockhart will be free for a meeting?”

    There was no need to interrupt classes and make a big, embarrassing mess of things. That sort of thing would serve no one.

    “Yes,” her secretary confirmed, flipping back through a small notebook and examining her earlier notes, “he should be free… ah!” The woman looked up at her supervisor, “Which day did you say you planned to visit?”

    “My contacts were available Friday afternoon,” Griselda informed her.

    “Friday,” she confirmed, turning back to her notebook. “Per the schedule Minerva forwarded us at the beginning of the term, he is available… all day?” The secretary’s eyes widened in surprise. “Huh, I wonder how he managed that?”

    “He managed to arrange his schedule to give himself a three-day weekend?” her elderly supervisor asked, wide-eyed herself.

    “No, not a three-day weekend,” her secretary said in a shocked tone. “He seems to be free on Mondays, as well.”

    “A four-day weekend?” That was a truly shocking revelation. “How did he manage that without his colleagues murdering him in his sleep for ruining their schedules?”

    “If I knew,” her secretary asked dryly, “do you think I would be here rather than finishing up my own four-day weekend?”

    “Ah, a point,” Griselda allowed, marveling at the idea for a moment more before dismissing the issue. It was interesting, she supposed, but irrelevant in the end.

    Though, even if the man had proven himself a poor Defense teacher, perhaps he might be willing to offer a class on negotiations and diplomacy in the future? It was something to consider.

    “In any case, back to the business at hand,” the elderly Head of the Wizarding Examination Authority continued in a businesslike tone. Her secretary snapped back to attention at the change. “I believe we will aim for four o’clock on Friday, then,” Griselda said with a nod. “That should give him plenty of time to wrap up his business for the day before we interrupt.”

    “Shall I floo ahead to confirm a visit?” the secretary asked.

    The elderly witch considered the idea for a moment before shaking her head in the negative. “No, Albus will likely be taking his lunch now, I will call personally closer to the time. Thank you for your assistance.”

    “Of course, Madame,” the woman said with a nod before turning back to her papers.

    Griselda walked on to enter her personal office and sighed with relief as she sat in the comfortable chair at her desk. It had been a long time coming, but she had arranged everything, now all that remained was the actual visit.

    Hopefully, the famous author would be open to well-intentioned advice — if he proved to be the difficult sort, the visit might end up rather unpleasant.

    She supposed she’d find out in the afternoon.

    3.18.4 Baseless

    Several floors away, in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Amelia Bones looked up from her seemingly bottomless inbox full of paperwork at the sound of a knock on her office door.

    “Enter,” she commanded, setting her work aside for a moment.

    “Madame Bones,” her secretary, Beverly, greeted her as the woman opened her door. “I have a report from Investigations regarding the anonymous Lockhart tip we received a while ago.”

    “Hmm,” Amelia frowned for a moment as she tried to call to mind the tip in question. “Ah! Yes, I remember now. And what is their recommendation?”

    Her secretary handed the report to her even as she gave her summary, “The Office recommends against pursuing the matter. They do not believe they can win such a case with the evidence available.”

    “That is disappointing,” the Director said, cracking open the report folder to take a look at the executive summary. “What was missing?”

    “Clear proof of motive, apparently,” Beverly explained. “The evidence in the report looks damning st first glance, but it is all circumstantial. Our people can think of at least five different defenses, ranging from one that could argue the whole thing down to a very minor case of tax fraud all the way through ones that could explain the whole thing away and leave Lockhart looking like a folk hero, based on some of the things they found in a preliminary check into his financial records. With what we have now, at best we’d get him on a hundred galleon fine for misreported income, at worst, we’d look like the villains of the piece, and daft ones at that.” She shook her head in dismissal, “Prosecution is a losing proposition at the moment. We would need firmer evidence to build a winning case.”

    “I see,” Amelia acknowledged, and indeed she did see as she read the summary of the findings for herself. The report cited records of repeated payments to persons at the sites of his exploits that could be spun as either charitable assistance for those he had already saved once, or possibly as royalty payments for the publishing rights to a story. “Those payments would muddy the waters in any case we could bring. Even if we could prove he obliviated the people involved, it would be hard to prove they hadn’t agreed to it beforehand, not when they’re getting paid handsomely under the table.”

    Amelia sighed in exasperation. “Let the relevant people know to be on the lookout for anything new in the case, but aside from that, we’ll let this one go for now. We’ve got more important things to deal with.”

    As she closed the folder and set it aside for later filing, she looked over at a book she kept in a prominent place on her side table. In it were listed four hundred and sixty-three of those more important things, names of people she suspected to have been captured and sold into slavery. And those were only the ones she had been able to link to names. There were thousands more for which she didn’t even have that much.

    Any one of those took precedence over what appeared to be a case of fraud at worst, especially one they couldn’t prove.

    3.18.5 On the nature of folk

    Nearly a week had passed since Harry had accompanied Bane to encounter the odd automobile in the woods, and the young dragon had finally managed to arrange to discuss the questions the encounter had raised. It was thus that, just after lunch on Friday, Harry found himself walking once more down a seldom-used hallway that he had visited only once before, during the previous September, to visit the only piece of haberdashery he counted among his friends.

    “Welcome, Mr. Potter!” the Hat’s distinctive voice warmly greeted him as soon as the currently human-shaped dragon opened the door to his warded parlor.

    “Hi, Mr. Donald!” Harry returned the greeting in kind.

    “It seems your sense of timing has improved; it has only been half a year since your last visit, rather than more than a full one,” Donald said with dry humor. “What brings you to see me today?”

    “Well, Bane showed me this thing in the woods last weekend…” Harry began, only for the Hat to interrupt.

    “Take a moment to put me on, Mr. Potter,” Donald said in a long-suffering tone. “It will save us both a great deal of hassle.”

    “Right,” the young dragon said sheepishly, quickly making to follow the Hat’s suggestion. “Sorry, I always forget we can do that.”

    “Hmm, I see,” the Sorting Hat hummed to itself, now no longer audible outside Harry’s head. “I believe I am up to speed on things once again. Proceed.”

    “Right, so anyway,” Harry began, “You know the thing with the car that was acting like it was alive?”

    “Yes, what of it?”

    “Well, I was wondering why it was acting like it was, since as far as I know automobiles aren’t supposed to do that,” he explained, “and then I remembered hats aren’t supposed to act like you do, either, and that seemed a little similar, so I thought you might be able to explain what was going on with that.”

    “Am I truly so similar to a base animal in your eyes, Mr. Potter?” the Hat asked in a teasing tone. “I had no idea you thought so little of me.”

    “No!” the young dragon hurried to explain, afraid he might have offended his friend. “I was just thinking that since you were a Hat that acted alive, and it was an automobile that…” he trailed off as the Hat’s warm laughter filled his head.

    “Not to worry, Mr. Potter,” Donald reassured him, “I was simply having a spot of fun. As it happens, while I am uncertain of the precise origins of the vehicle you encountered, I can hazard a guess as to the broad strokes of how it came about.”

    “How do you think it happened?” Harry asked eagerly, his momentary worry immediately forgotten with the Hat’s reassurance.

    “It has to do with the nature of magic,” the sentient headgear began. “Magic adheres to purpose at its most basic form, that is, free magic — magic that is not already bound to a purpose — will tend to enhance whatever purpose it finds nearby. I believe you were instructed in this during your basic charms curriculum last year?”

    “Yep,” Harry said with an affirmative nod, causing Donald to sway on his perch atop the currently human-shaped dragon’s head. “I remember that lesson.”

    “One important consequence of that tendency arises in long-running or very powerful spells,” the Hat continued after his conversation partner stilled. “Despite being constructed of magic, a spell itself has a purpose, and free magic will tend to try to enhance it just as it would any other. This tendency has several consequences. For one, it means that enchantments will gain strength over time, for better or for worse…”

    “You must be really strong after all this time then, right, Mr. Donald?” Harry offered. “I mean, you’ve been around Hogwarts for like a thousand years now, right? And there’s lots of free magic around here.”

    “After a fashion, I suppose,” the Hat allowed. “Though I should point out that the supposed ‘strength’ of my enchantments would only come into play should they be able to directly contest something, which they cannot by their nature. The magics of which I am composed simply record and process information before regurgitating an answer. The only thing they could contest would be a direct attack on the spells themselves — an attempt to disenchant me or corrupt my purpose, as it were. Though, that discussion leads into the second consequence of such enhancements.”

    “What’s that?” Harry asked.

    “The the more magic a spell is exposed to, assuming it is durable enough to survive, the more idiosyncracies it will collect,” the Hat explained. “Essentially, it means that the older a spell is, and thus the more magic it is exposed to, the more lifelike it will act, regardless of its actual purpose. It is commonly referred to as the tendency of magic to beget life.”

    “Why?”

    “The technical term for it is, as silly as it sounds, teleological fuzz,” Donald chuckled. “Can you guess what it means?”

    “Well, ‘telos’ means ‘purpose’ in Greek, so it’s probably something about that,” the young dragon frowned thoughtfully. “I’m not sure what to make of the ‘fuzz’ bit; how would that fit together with ‘purpose’ anyway?”

    “Think of ‘fuzz’ in this context as little extraneous bits that stick out from the main body,” the Hat prompted. “As if you had dropped a piece of candy on the ground and it picked up various debris.”

    Harry’s currently human-shaped eyes widened, “You mean it’s little bits of ‘purpose’ that got stuck onto the main one? How would that even happen? I mean, it’s not like there are ‘purposes’ lying all over everywhere, are there?”

    “Actually, there are, after a fashion,” Donald corrected. “The world is full of such purposes, and life is the principal source of most of them. What is a living creature, after all, if not a collection of various bits and bobs bound together in a common purpose?”

    The young dragon nodded slowly as he processed the idea. “I suppose that makes sense,” he allowed, “but why would any of those affect a spell, especially one that is durable enough to last for a long time? Wouldn’t that kind of thing have to be made to resist external influence?”

    “They are, in fact,” the Hat gave the odd mental impression of nodding, even as it remained motionless on Harry’s head. “Yet no such measures are perfect, so while they might delay things, they will never completely stop the process.”

    Harry hummed for a moment before nodding in acknowledgement of the point and asking, “So, how does this teleological fuzz thing work, then? I mean, I know you explained it as little bits of purpose sticking to a spell, but… well, it’s not like it’s real, material stuff — as far as I know, you can’t go out and grab a handful of ‘purpose’ — so how does it stick to anything, even magic? I mean, if it were the same stuff as magic, I guess that’d work, but I can see magic, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like that.”

    “A good question,” Donald approved, “and one that requires a spot of explanation. I said before that free magic enhances whatever purpose it happens to find nearby, but I specified that only ‘free’ magic did so, magic already bound to another purpose does not. This applies even to magic that is physically separated from what it had been doing…” the Hat trailed off leadingly.

    “So, it carries its purpose along with it?” Harry confirmed, connecting the dots his friend had laid out. “Then the teleological fuzz thing is just picking up bits of magic that have other purposes attached, then?”

    “Partially, though the full explanation is a tad more involved,” Donald congratulated him. “In addition to bound magic being acquired from the environment, there are also the issues of misaligned magic being bound into the spell at casting and free magic entangled in the spell gaining purpose from the nearby environment.”

    “I thought the magic in the spell wasn’t free magic?” Harry ventured.

    “In a perfectly-cast spell, that would theoretically be the case,” the Hat allowed, “but I sincerely doubt that any spell has ever been perfectly cast in the history of existence. All real spell casting involves imperfections. If the caster’s focus wanders slightly off target, then some of the magic in the spell will be bound to some other, often near-random purpose. Additionally, if the structure of the spell leaves any gaps during its formation, then environmental magic will be entrained within the spell structure; which will enhance the function of the spell, true — spell crafters routinely leave such gaps specifically for that purpose — but it will also enhance those random bits that were bound in at the casting.”

    “And all that is before the environmental debris is considered,” the Hat gave that odd mental impression of nodding once more. “The little bits of bound magic that bring their own purposes are one thing, but free environmental magic will enhance those, and that effect accumulates over time.”

    The young dragon nodded thoughtfully at the additional information, setting his conversational partner flopping about in the process, which didn’t seem to bother the Hat in the slightest.

    “Uh huh, so it’s sort of like a fuzzy shell of magic builds up around it over time, and that’s the bit that acts like it’s alive,” he ventured.

    “Essentially, yes,” Donald confirmed, “with the caveats about imperfect casting I mentioned earlier. Those give the ‘shell’, as you have termed it, some degree of access to the internal workings of the magical structure as well.”

    “Right,” the young dragon acknowledged the clarification. “Um, Donald?”

    “Yes, Mr. Potter?”

    “Where do those little bits of purposeful magic come from, anyway?”

    The Hat gave the odd mental impression of a frown, “They come from purposes nearby, in large part, those associated with life; I explained that to you earlier.”

    “Yeah, I got that,” Harry acknowledged, “but you also said that free magic enhances any purpose it encounters, and if you’re taking free magic to start with, and it interacts with something to pick up a purpose, wouldn’t it just stick there and enhance that? I mean, I guess if you had a magical creature providing the purpose, then that’d be one thing, but most life isn’t magical, and I gathered from what you were saying that it was more widespread than that.”

    “Ah! I see the difficulty, then,” Donald did his mental nod again. “You see, the thing is, to one extent or another, all life is magical.”

    “Really?” the young dragon frowned. “But I’ve seen lots of stuff that’s not glowy or anything. I mean the deer I eat seem pretty not-magical, same with the porpoises in the sound, and the heather on the moors, and most of the trees, and…”

    “Yes, well, that was perhaps a poor choice of words,” the Hat interrupted. “Allow me to clarify. All life is magical in that all life produces magic. They vary in how much they use and how they use it, but everything makes it,” the magical haberdashery explained. “What you know as non-magical life uses very little of what it makes — nothing beyond the tiny amount required to trigger voluntary actions — but it has magic flowing through it in significantly larger quantity than is necessary for that task. That excess is released to the environment, a small proportion colored with the purposes that make the lifeform that produced it work. On the other hand, most of what you know as magical life uses more magic than it produces internally, collecting from the environment to make up the deficit.”

    “Well, I guess that makes sense,” Harry said slowly, obviously thinking hard about something. “Um, Mr. Donald?”

    “Yes, Mr. Potter?”

    “When you talked about voluntary actions, you reminded me of something I wanted to ask about last time I visited,” he began. “You know last time how you talked about choices and stuff? You know, how people have to choose between doing good and doing bad?”

    “Yes, I do,” the Hat allowed. “What about it?”

    “Back then, when you first started talking about people and choices, you said you couldn’t speak with authority on the subject since you lacked personal experience,” the young dragon said carefully. “What did you mean by that? Can’t you choose to do things?”

    The Hat fell silent for a long moment.

    “Donald?”

    “That… that is a difficult topic to properly address, Mr. Potter,” the Sorting Hat began, “but the simplest answer is — no, I cannot.”

    “Why not?” Harry asked, troubled. “I mean, you talk and stuff, so you’re a person, right? And you said people can choose what they do — I mean, you chose to tell me about all that stuff I asked about just a few minutes ago, right, and last time, too. So, what do you mean, you can’t choose to do things?”

    “You have made an erroneous assumption, Mr. Potter,” Donald countered. “Do you know what it is?”

    The young dragon frowned in concentration as he thought about it before shaking his head in the negative.

    “I am not a person, Mr. Potter,” the Hat informed him gently. “I am a magical construct, in the same vein the spells you are learning to cast in your classes.”

    “But the spells we’re learning can’t hold a conversation,” Harry objected, sounding rather troubled, “and you can, so how can you say you’re just like them?”

    “I’ll have you know, Mr. Potter, that I am a great deal more advanced than your current curriculum! ’Just like them’, indeed!” Donald harrumphed before settling back into his explanation. “That being said, as we have just discussed, particularly old constructs often begin to spontaneously exhibit lifelike features — including intelligence in a variety of cases. That tendency grows even more pronounced as their complexity increases, due to the greater likelihood of random errors being introduced during their creation.”

    “I am both about as old and about as complex as they come, so it should come as no surprise that I do a passing fair job of imitating life,” the Hat chuckled, “and that is setting aside the fact that I was actually designed to do so from the beginning! I am far from unique in that regard; the castle houses many such constructs. Much of the castle portraiture, for instance, is nearly as conversationally competent as I am, and the castle ghosts are as well. Advanced magical constructs can be fully capable of thought and reason — we simply cannot choose our actions. We lack agency.”

    “But what do you mean by that?” Harry asked insistently, sounding somewhat distressed by the Hat’s answer to his question. “I mean, your whole job is choosing what House to sort kids into! Isn’t that choosing what to do?”

    “No, Mr. Potter, that is Sorting, not choosing,” Donald replied, picking up on the main thrust of the young dragon’s misconception. “I am a magical construct designed to offer students of this school guidance — a tool whose function includes placing students in the appropriate House. While the Sorting may appear to be a free choice to the outside observer, it is, in truth, a deterministic process. I read information from the student’s mind and combine it with information about the state of the school as I know it. I then process that information through the lens of the collective wisdom imprinted on me during my manufacture, producing the appropriate result — with a bit of conversational window dressing nowadays, I must admit that I am much chattier now than I was back in the days of the Founders.”

    The Hat chuckled, “Conversational aptitude aside, though, I can no more choose where to Sort students than the strainer in your potions kit can choose whether to allow something to pass through it.”

    Harry was silent for a moment as he processed that. “But what about our conversations? I mean, you couldn’t have been pre-made with all those responses, right? That’d be way too complicated!”

    “That is true, but again, I was imprinted with the wisdom of my makers and given enough intelligence to use that properly. When I participate in a conversation, I respond as the imprint dictates I should — that is, I emulate the responses of a real person, but I, myself, am not a person. Magical portraiture does the same thing — for that matter, so do ghosts.”

    “That’s kind of confusing,” Harry remarked, still sounding rather perturbed about the whole thing. “How do you tell the difference? I mean, I could see it with Professor Binns, but I never would have guessed you weren’t really a person.”

    “It can be difficult, it is true — I know of no simple and widely-applicable test which will reveal such a thing — but it is nonetheless critically important. Personhood — the soul — is a strange and wonderful thing, Mr. Potter,” Donald explained, “and, unlike intelligence and reason, a soul is something I will never have. I am a tool, a valuable, spectacularly well-crafted tool, to be sure, but a tool, nonetheless. You and those like you… even the least of you is infinitely more than I.”

    “The soul is something beyond magic,” the Hat declared softly. “Its influence is subtle and hard to measure, yet its importance cannot be overstated.”

    The shared mental space fell into an uneasy sort of silence again as Harry considered the Hat’s recent revelations, a silence that stretched for some time until the time came for the young dragon to leave.

    Even then, he still had much to think about.

    3.18.6 Staging

    “Hello there, and welcome to the Three Broomsticks,” came the call from the blonde woman tending bar a few yards away from where Griselda Marchbanks had appeared on the hearth designated as the pub’s floo terminus. “I’ll be with you in just a moment, as soon as I finish this order.”

    “Hello to you as well, Rosmerta,” the elderly woman greeted the blonde warmly. “Take your time.”

    Topping up the tankard she was filling and sliding it down the polished wooden surface of the bar to the customer who had ordered it, the now-named Rosmerta looked up, her green eyes wide with pleased surprise. “Gran? Fancy seeing you here!”

    “Is it so surprising that I would take the time to visit my great-grandaughter, hmm?” the matriarch of the Marchbanks family asked the much younger woman teasingly. “You should know by now that I always have time for family.”

    “Of course, of course,” Rosmerta smiled. “And you’re welcome to visit, any time. I was just a bit surprised at the timing. Aren’t you still scheduled to be working at the Ministry at this hour?”

    “I am at that,” Griselda answered her great-grandaughter. “Which works well, because I am actually here for a business meeting — touching base with a couple of my colleagues before we head up to the school for a bit of a sensitive conversation.”

    “Ah, well, if it’s sensitive business then I will ask no more, though you were getting my hopes up that you’d visited just for little old me,” the younger woman laughed. “I suppose if you started visiting all of us grandchildren individually, you’d never have time to do anything else!”

    She waved her great-grandmother towards a table hosting two men chatting over a late lunch in the far corner of the pub, right against the timber-and-plaster wall and not far from the large but unenchanted fireplace dominating the far end of the room. “I expect you’re the colleague those two were waiting for. If your business at the school is done before the dinner hour is over, come by and we’ll talk. It’s been too long since the last time you visited for a chat!”

    “That sounds quite lovely, Rosie,” the elderly woman agreed. “I will be sure to stop by after our business is done. I’ve set things up with Albus for half-past four, and I don’t anticipate it lasting more than an hour or two. Even if things run late, I’ll be sure to send a note to let you know.”

    “I’ll be looking forward to it, then!” the pub’s proprietor acknowledged with a smile.

    And with that, the Head of the Wizarding Examination Authority made her way over to the table housing her two colleagues in order to go over their plan of attack for the upcoming conversation with Gilderoy Lockhart — planning out what to say and how to say it.

    If the famous author turned out to be as touchy as she feared he might be, then it would be best to have all their ducks in a row beforehand.

    3.18.7 Stalking

    The cloudy Friday afternoon seemed much like any other to Tom as he once more doggedly stalked the castle halls in a so-far fruitless search of his prey; nonetheless he held out hope that this seemingly unremarkable day would prove to be different from the others — that today would be the day of retribution against Harry Potter.

    Tom had been diligent in his pursuit of vengeance, taking frequent strolls to unobtrusively patrol the castle whenever his schedule permitted, but the search had so far proven futile. Between the differences in class schedule and Potter’s infuriating tendency to spend so much time off campus and out of Tom’s reach, the homicidal fiend who had murdered his poor Charlotte had remained elusive for weeks on end.

    No, that wasn’t quite accurate, Tom grimaced at the thought. Rather than elusive, it would be more accurate to call Potter slippery. Finding the little bastard was easy enough, but arranging an encounter without witnesses in the crowded school had proven much more difficult; thus, Tom had yet to find the proper opportunity to make his displeasure with the foul miscreant known.

    Despite the challenge, he had remained steadfast, and the present moment found him prowling along the main hallway leading to the library. Well, Tom scowled yet again, to be perfectly accurate it was more of a scurry than a good, satisfying prowl on account of his irritatingly short legs, but he contented himself with imagining that it was the thought that counted.

    In any event, he was on the hunt!

    No matter how silly he was certain he looked.

    And then the sight before him chased any consideration of appearances right out of his head.

    The green-eyed villain appeared right in front of him, coming from a part of the castle Tom had never known him to visit before. It was an odd change of routine, as Tom didn’t know of anything down that hallway that was worth visiting, but he was hardly going to look a gift horse in the mouth. It was a fortuitous change in routine for Tom’s purposes, because if Potter was going to return to his usual schedule and visit the library — and from what Tom could see of his current path, he was — then the most direct route would be taking the miniature murderer through exactly the sort of secluded location in which Tom had been hoping to catch up with him.

    It seemed Potter’s comeuppance was at hand!

    The hallway was crowded at the moment — a hindrance, to be sure, but most were wearing Slytherin or Gryffindor colors, so they’d be removing themselves from the scene soon, either to classes or to their common rooms — so Tom dismissed the crowd as irrelevant and followed his quarry as casually as he could manage. As expected, the hallways cleared rapidly as Tom’s prey moved closer to the library, the other students off to their various undertakings in other portions of the castle. If he recalled the school layout correctly, then the hallway ahead would soon… yes!

    As the pursuit turned a corner into a portion of the hallway which jogged about twenty feet to one side for a few dozen yards, cutting off any sight lines from the other parts of the castle, Tom knew the moment of truth had arrived.

    A half-dozen hurried steps closed the distance — several more than it should have taken, damned too-short legs — and a wand came out smoothly to point at the messy-haired butcher’s unsuspecting back. Tom paused for a moment of concentration, dredging up as much magic as he could to match the seething wrath that filled his heart, and then spoke the dread incantation in a high, clear voice.

    Avada kedavra!”

    A rush of green light issued forth from his wand and streaked towards his target’s back, leaving in its wake a wave of unbearable exhaustion.

    Blast it! Tom thought desperately as he sagged to his knees, feeling the unmistakable onset of magical exhaustion.

    He had forgotten his situation and underestimated his current form’s magical shortcomings just as he had its physical ones. There was no way he would avoid detection if he fell unconscious at the scene! He managed to stumble forward just a single step before his body gave out and his too-short legs collapsed under him as leaving his slender body to slump bonelessly to the floor.

    Damn!

    At least he’d gotten the bastard, Tom thought as he slipped into unconsciousness.

    Charlotte was avenged!

    3.18.8 Dark decisions

    Fresh from his heavy conversation with the Sorting Hat, Harry found himself lost in thought as he walked towards the library via a passage he knew about but didn’t often have the occasion to use. He had been left with much to think about.

    The young dragon knew it was irrational, but finding out that his friend, Donald, wasn’t, rightly speaking, an actual person — not just not a people-shaped person, but actually not a person at all — had left him more than a little out of sorts as he struggled to fit the new, distressing, revelation into his view of the world.

    He frowned unhappily as he turned slightly to follow the curve of the hallway as it jogged slightly to the side, following the outer wall of the castle.

    When the talking hat had told him the truth of its nature, it had felt like a puch to the gut — almost as if he’d lost a friend.

    Shaggy black hair whipped about as Harry shook the thought from his head, dismissing the notion.

    “That’s not really right either!” he muttered darkly as he walked. “It’s not like…”

    Precisely what it wasn’t like would go unsaid for the moment as Harry was rudely interrupted by a girlish voice behind him saying decidedly unfriendly things.

    Avada kedavra!”

    Shaken roughly from his musings, the currently human-shaped dragon was already turning to face the voice behind him when the lethal spell struck, having the same effect it usually did on him. He finished the turn — already shrugging off the increasingly routine stinging sensation of the killing curse — only to find a vaguely familiar redheaded girl already in the process of collapsing to the stone floor in a dead faint.

    Harry frowned, puzzled.

    Who was she again?

    Then the insensate girl’s head lolled to the side affording Harry a good look at her face.

    Oh.

    “Huh,” Harry raised an eyebrow at the sight, puzzled. “I thought the whole Weasley thing was settled already.”

    Maybe their little sister hadn’t gotten the memo?

    He considered that for a few moments before shrugging it off as irrelevant for for the moment. Whatever her reasons, the youngest Weasley had just tried to kill him. Admittedly, she didn’t do a very good job of it, but it was still a murder attempt, and murder attempts were something he generally wanted to discourage quite strongly, so he really ought to do something about that.

    Unfortunately, the current situation presented the young dragon with a bit of a conundrum.

    On the one hand, he’d already established a precedent for dealing with this sort of thing back at the end of his first year by killing that guy who’d said he was that Voldemort-guy. Harry figured killing the guy who tried to kill him had set a pretty firm example of why people ought not do that sort of thing; thus it followed that if he did the same to this one, he’d reinforce the message and show he meant business when he said he didn’t like that sort of thing.

    Consistency was important, after all — though, admittedly eating the guy had backfired something fierce last time, so, eating this one was probably a bad idea, too. Who knew what sort of magical silliness this one might be carrying on her?

    Harry didn’t want to get sick again — getting knocked out for weeks on end hadn’t been any fun at all.

    Of course, eating someone was hardly the only option he could take if he wanted to kill them. Humans were pretty fragile after all — that was why he had to be so careful around everybody. The problem was, Mr. Dumbledore had asked him not to kill any of his fellow students if he could help it all the way back at the beginning of his first year.

    The currently human-shaped dragon frowned thoughtfully as he looked down at his would-be murderer. The petite redhead passed out on the floor in front of him was, in fact, a student — she was wearing the uniform and everything — there was no getting around that. As far as arguments against killing her went, that was a pretty good one, since Mr. Dumbledore had asked nicely. The elderly wizard was generally a pretty good friend, so Harry didn’t want to disappoint him.

    Plus, it wasn’t like he had to kill her — she was hardly a threat now that she was passed out on the floor, after all.

    All that aside, Harry most certainly did not want to set a precedent where people might think it was okay to try to kill him, either. That struck him as a spectacularly bad policy decision. Sure, no one had found a way of killing him that worked yet, but if he kept letting people try without consequence, eventually someone was bound to get lucky. The young dragon frowned thoughfully, scratching at his currently human-shaped chin as he considered the unconscious girl in front of him.

    Killing everyone who tried to kill him set a pretty clear policy to discourage such attempts in the future — “try to kill me, and I’ll kill you right back” — it was hard to misunderstand that! But, if he let this one go on account of Mr. Dumbledore’s request, the message would get all muddled. “Try to kill me, and I might or might not kill you, pending circumstances” wasn’t nearly as straightforward and understandable, and this was a message he wanted to be very clear on.

    So, what was he supposed to do with her?

    “Right,” Harry nodded decisively as he reached a conclusion after a solid minute of consideration. The currently human-shaped dragon bent down, reaching out towards the fragile-looking redhead, his lethally strong hand slipping towards the join between her small shoulder and her delicate neck.

    This would only take a moment, then he could get back to the library and his friends.

    3.18.9 Untimely arrivals

    The quiet of the cloudy Friday afternoon was interrupted by a trio of rapid-fire pops of displaced air as three figures popped into existence on the grassy lawn of the Hogwarts portkey arrival point. Griselda Marchbanks and her two companions had finished their discussions at the Three Broomsticks shortly before she had arranged to meet with the Headmaster, and they had apparated to the receiving point rather than hiring one of the ubiquitous thestral-drawn carriages.

    She turned to her companions. “Again, thank you both for agreeing to help with this. I expect someone will be out to greet us shortly.”

    Sure enough, they were waiting less than three minutes before the rather disreputable-looking castle caretaker, Argus Filch, stumped over to the arrival point to greet Hogwarts’ visitors.

    “Madame Marchbanks?” the perpetually dour man asked as he drew close enough to see who had come to call. “Right, the Headmaster told me he was expecting the three of you. Come this way, and I’ll contact him to come and get you through the wards.”

    As the scruffy man turned and unceremoniously headed back to the door, Griselda and her companions followed quietly before stopping at the door.

    “You three wait here while I head back to the office,” Argus instructed curtly before stumping off to disappear into the relatively dark hallway.

    “He’s just as unpleasant as he was when I was in school,” the younger of Griselda’s compatriots commented, drawing little more than an amused snort from his colleages before the disgruntled man returned.

    “I’ve sent an elf to inform the Headmaster of your arrival,” the castle caretaker informed the visitors. “He ought to be down before too much longer.”

    With that, the man settled in to wait, seemingly content to ignore his visitors entirely.

    “I understand Mr. Lockhart has finished his classes for the day,” Griselda ventured after about half a minute of awkward silence.

    “According to the schedule he has,” Argus confirmed, “in fact he didn’t have any today.” The bitter man turned an eye to the old woman. “You three are here to see him?”

    Griselda nodded.

    Filch looked speculatively at the two men flanking her, noting their demeanor and the competent air they put on, despite having been retired from the corps for several years. “There some trouble afoot?” He looked almost eager at the prospect.

    “I’m afraid not,” Griselda denied, deftly ignoring the terribly disappointed expression that stole across the caretaker’s wizened face at the lost opportunity for schadenfreude. “We are simply here for a discussion with the man.”

    “Too bad, that,” Filch muttered before falling silent once more.

    Madame Marchbanks settled in to wait in silence alongside her companions.

    There wasn’t much to say to that.

    3.18.10 Somebody else’s problem

    “Is Mr. Dumbledore in there?” an impatiently bouncing Harry Potter asked the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the Headmaster’s suite. “I’ve got something I need him to deal with, and I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

    The youngest Weasley bounced along with him, her long red hair swaying with the motion. It had taken a bit of work to get the limp girl to stay in place over his shoulder — she was both relatively fragile and rather awkwardly floppy at the moment — but he had eventually managed it with a bit of careful juggling, leaving the small girl unceremoniously slung over Harry’s shoulder like a bag of coal. After that, it had been easy to carry the girl’s barely noticeable weight to the Headmaster’s office.

    If Mr. Dumbledore wanted to make everything so confusing, then Mr. Dumbledore could deal with it. Harry nodded to himself — it was a good solution in his book. As soon as the gargoyle got its stone head together and opened up, he’d be able to drop the inconvenient girl off and get back to visiting with his friends.

    He could always deal with the redhead later if it turned out he’d made a mistake by not killing her, but he figured it was pretty hard to un-kill somebody if it turned out to be a poor choice — best not to rush into that sort of thing unless he had to.

    3.18.11 Problems

    “Oh, bloody hell,” Albus Dumbledore cursed uncharacteristically as he looked down at the trouble the resident dragon had dropped off in his office chair.

    He had been putting some effort into preparing for a visit from Griselda Marchbanks — effort mostly consisting of attempts at guessing why she had asked him to help set up a discreet meeting with his Defense professor rather than simply contacting the man herself — when Mr. Potter had barged into his office a scant few minutes ago carrying the unconscious form of one Ginevra Weasley over his shoulder and dumped the girl in the chair in front of his desk, making the rather outlandish claim that the youngest Weasley had cast a killing curse at him in the hallway before passing out. Unfortunately for the currently unconscious girl, it was a claim the elderly wizard had been able to corroborate with a quick check of the first-year girl’s wand.

    Story relayed, the then-human-shaped dragon had promptly left with the stated intention to spend the remainder of his afternoon with Miss Abercrombie and his damsels as he had originally planned, washing his hands of the proceedings entirely.

    Albus took a moment to envy the young dragon’s ability to just drop the problem in someone else’s lap and go do something else. It had been a depressingly long time since the elderly wizard was last able to do the same.

    A wave of his wand dispatched a message to Poppy to come take a look at the small girl laid out in one of his chairs. No matter the reason for the girl’s actions, she would need a full checkup — casting something as taxing as the killing curse was not a simple endeavor for a developing witch, and they would need to ensure the girl was not permanently damaged by the strain.

    In the meantime, Albus busied himself with examining the young Weasley’s personal effects in hopes that he would find some indication of what had possessed her to do such a foolish thing.

    When his examinations turned up a diary bearing the name “Tom Marvolo Riddle” and practically dripping with magic ensconced within the girl’s school bag, the elderly wizard had to wonder whether his turn of phrase had been rather more literal than he had originally intended it.

    “Albus, where is the patient?” Poppy asked breathlessly from the top of the stairs to his office.

    “Poppy, your patient is unconscious in the chair in front of my desk, one Ginevra Weasley.” As the Healer made her way over to the indicated chair, he added, “Mr. Potter brought her here after she attempted to kill him in the hallway outside the Library using a killing curse.”

    Poppy’s gaze hardened even as she got to work with admirable professionalism, “So, magical exhaustion, then?”

    “At least,” Albus agreed absently, wand flickering all the while as he alternated between casting containment charms and increasingly obscure diagnostics on the suspicious diary. “Poppy?”

    “Yes, Albus?”

    “I recommend you check for signs of possession as well,” the elderly man suggested in a tone that said it was anything but a suggestion.

    “Possession?” the Healer questioned in a sinking voice. “Again?”

    “Indeed,” Albus confirmed, scowling at the name embossed on the leather cover of the diary. “Someone seems to be making an unfortunate habit of the practice.”

    The sighed as he remembered what he had been doing before the resident dragon had decided to trample all over his plans for the afternoon. Everything his diagnostics had told him so far pointed to this situation quite rapidly becoming quite tedious to deal with; though depending on what he found, it also might afford him with a rather welcome intelligence windfall.

    Though taking advantage of that windfall promised to be even more tedious, requiring some competent assistance and a great deal of preparation — the old wizard paused to take in the crowded surroundings of his office suite — both of which would necessitate a change in venue.

    Pausing for a moment from its near-constant flickering over the increasingly sinister-seeming diary he had found, his wand stabbed out in another direction, conjuring a messenger patronus with what almost any other wizard would consider to be shocking ease.

    He hated to renege on his promise to aid Griselda with her inquiry, but he was sure his old friend would understand.

    For now, he would send Hagrid to let her in before continuing on an errand for him. As the Keeper of Keys, controlling access to the castle a central, if rarely exercised, part of his duties, and Griselda certainly knew the school well enough to get around on her own once she was marked as authorized for the wards.

    He was certain his presence wouldn’t be too sorely missed during her meeting with Professor Lockhart.

    3.18.12 A big birdie told me

    At the entrance to the school, Griselda and her two compatriots waited with slowly fading aplomb as Argus Filch became more and more irritated with the lack of a response from the Headmaster.

    “Daft old man must have gotten caught up in his lemon drops again,” Argus mumbled to himself. “I’ve half a mind to…”

    Whatever Argus had half a mind to do remained unrevealed as all four individuals looked up in slight alarm on hearing, and to some extent feeling, heavy but still quite rapid footsteps coming from further outside the castle. The source of the disturbance was revealed shortly when Rubeus Hagrid passed through the outer gate of the castle’s gatehouse bailey at a deceptively slow-looking lope which nonetheless ate up the distance between them and the very large man alarmingly quickly.

    “Ah there yeh are!” the hairy mountain of a man greeted the three visitors when he caught sight of them. “Sorry ‘bout the delay, ‘spect yeh’re getting’ a mite worried ‘bout ‘ow long ‘t were takin’. Mr. Dumbledore — good man, Dumbledore — ‘e sent me ter tell yeh somethin’ unexpected ’s come up, an’ ‘e’s got ter deal with tha’. ‘E wanted me ter give yeh summat ter get yeh through tha wards before I take care o’ summat else fer ‘im, so ‘ere yeh go.”

    With that, the massive man fished a trio of small wooden coins out of one of his voluminous pockets, each of which which he tapped with a massive key drawn from under his jerkin where it hung on an impressively sturdy chain. He then handed one coin to each of the visitors.

    “Those are temporary ward tags, good ‘til mornin’. I ‘spect yeh’ll already know tha’, but yeh got ter make sure, yeh do,” Hagrid explained with an admonishing shake of a massive finger. “They’ll get yeh through tha wards an’ keep yeh safe, so don’ lose ‘em!”

    All three of his visitors nodded immediately, familiar with the concept. They would certainly be careful; the Hogwarts wards were famed for a reason, and even on peacetime footing, running afoul of them was an unpleasant prospect.

    “Righ’,” the massive man said with a nod, “then I’ll leave yeh to it. Yeh know where yeh’re goin’ right?” At the guests’ nods, he nodded in turn. “Good, now I got ter go. Sorry ‘bout tha rush!”

    And with that, Hagrid left as swiftly as he had come, going on into the castle proper accompanied by a great clamor of thumping footsteps to mark his passage.

    Somewhat bemused by the circumstances, the three visitors wordlessly set out for the wing they all remembered as housing the Defense classroom. It would have been nice to have the Headmaster along to lend the weight of his authority to the discussion, but it was by no means necessary — not so long as Lockhart was feeling reasonable.

    3.18.13 Sinking feeling

    Gilderoy had just finished with his work for the day — not classes, true, but despite the nominal four-day weekend, he had found that the job gave him plenty to fill his hours, even without formal classes — and was preparing to retire to the attached apartment suite when he heard a knock on the door. With a frown, he wondered who was coming to visit at this hour. It certainly wouldn’t be a student; his office hours had ended nearly half an hour ago.

    After a momentary pause to consider the possibilities, he gave up the effort as pointless and pasted on his usual well-practiced smile as he rose to answer the door.

    The sight that greeted him as he opened it was chilling.

    A severe-looking elderly woman that Gilderoy vaguely recognized from his own NEWTs stood outside his door with a stern expression on her face. She was flanked two men in escort positions behind and to the side of her — quite obviously there as bodyguards.

    An Education Department official and two plainclothes aurors — it was the exact makeup Lockhart had been expecting to see for a snatch team.

    Well, shit.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2019
  8. Ayashi

    Ayashi Experienced.

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    Sweet mother of god, were you somehow stranded on an island with no internet connection and a mighty need to write ?
     
  9. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    So it's been a while, but there are some difficult sections in this one and the upcoming segments. Still not sure I like 3.18.1, but it is what it is (and what it is is much improved from what it was a few weeks ago).

    Trying to bring the various plot threads together so they mesh like they need to has proven a significant challenge.

    To answer a few earlier posts:
    A good point. At some point I'll need to go back through and clean up the diction to make it smoother. That was intentionally inserted, but I'd already improved his grammar too much before then, I suppose. It's hard to write a character that uses poor grammar and have it come across properly.

    Yeah, it's pretty dark. If it makes you feel any better about continuing with the story Frank's situation is about as dark as it gets.

    And if it makes you feel better about Frank, I've got about as happy an ending as I could reasonably write planned for him and Betty.

    Harry hasn't gotten the Cloak yet, but he will at some point. As for what the Hallows do in this world, in terms of practical uses, it's pretty much the same as canon.

    In this setting, when united, the one responsible is granted dominion and control over Death, the Thirteenth Passion of Barsaive as part of a scheme to allow the pseudo-divinity in question to escape his imprisonment during the Fourth Age. This is a feature which is now utterly irrelevant as the entity has been just as stone dead as the rest of the Barsaive pantheon since just before the end of the Fourth Age.

    The short answer is: it's complicated.

    The slightly longer answer: things can develop in unexpected and unusual ways --- assuming I execute on the writing correctly, of course.

    Harry will be marrying one woman.
    He has not yet met the lucky girl.
     
    Ame, Amrynel, wasprider and 14 others like this.
  10. Ayashi

    Ayashi Experienced.

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    i think you can forgo that.
    Lets not forget that Harry is supposed to be (slowly) growing up as 'time' passes. If anything it's a good thing that his speech slowly changes and becomes neater, clearer and more mature...
     
  11. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    The slow improvement is intended as he matures. I was referring to the apparently out-of-sequence irregularities in that development as noted by the first comment. The transition should be reasonably smooth, possibly with some temporary reversion in times of stress that will go away eventually as well.
     
    Ame, caspian1a and Ayashi like this.
  12. BladeofthePast

    BladeofthePast Getting some practice in, huh?

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    as long as he’s fine I’m ok with that! (joking)

    Nice to see your still kicking. Is this going to be updated more?
     
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  13. hwjumeau

    hwjumeau Fascinated but cautious

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    Glad to see you back Dunkelzahn, great chapter.
     
  14. hyperspacewizard

    hyperspacewizard I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I really can’t wait to see Harry interact with Luna that’s going to be hilarious and fun
     
  15. Pyeknu

    Pyeknu Cross-Dimensional Magical Sith GIrl

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    Whoo, boy, is Lockhart in trouble...!
     
  16. gadrial

    gadrial Getting sticky.

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    I find this section... interesting, on one hand, me and my modern ethics code says this is wrong, but I cannot help but be fascinated by the efficiency and effort that went into it. literal centuries of selective breeding and genetics research is quite the achievement, but it's dark purpose is not one that sits well with me. Well done, very well done indeed.
     
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  17. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

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    I've read 40k fics with lighter world building.

    Heck, Shadowrun it self in lighter.


    Still, it's reasonably well done, and it hangs together (Strangling and kicking) so I'm mostly waiting for a dragon to start eating most of the Wizarding World.
     
  18. Nomads

    Nomads Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Bwahahaha well shit lol famous last words.
     
  19. Nioz

    Nioz Know what you're doing yet?

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    Keep it cool, Lockhart! Don’t be too hasty in your get away, you might be able to salvage this!!!
     
  20. MasterOfDragonsGod

    MasterOfDragonsGod Versed in the lewd.

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    Great story keep it up.
     
  21. stads

    stads Getting sticky.

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    nice chapter thx for writing it
    now am starting to feel sorry for su-li trying to seduce that dense dragon ^^
    would be fun to see lockhart out him self asking for mercy for his crime's when we walks in believing there on to him ^^
     
  22. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    If you want to be realistic the temporary reversions should not be limited to stress, but will happen nearly at random. That said, writing things that way may make it seem implausible, despite being realistic.

    About the chapter:
    1)I liked Snape's discussion regarding travel arrangements, although I think it would be a lot more belivable if there were agencies governmental or otherwise that would handle the travel arrangements in many cases...just none that Snape could use either due to political leanings, or because there simply wasn't one available to handle Britain-Confederacy relations/travel. Given that there is regular trade and at least semi-regular international travel, there's a LOT of money to be made in smoothing out such obstacles so either the government or some private group would take it upon themselves to handle it. Of course given the difficulties in traveling to the Confederacy there might not be such a group in England.
    2)I found Su Li's clan leaders to be quite short-sighted, wasteful, and stupid even before considering their abhorrent ethics. However their stupidity, and wasteful short sighted xenophobia do help explain Su Li's actions.
    3)I really liked the way you got the different plot lines to come together with Lockhart, I hope Marchbanks will make it out of the mess alright.
    4)I can see Marchbanks calling her granddaughter "Rosie", or "Rosmereta" (especially if they're not very close of she knows her granddaughter prefers the later) but starting off with "Rosmereta" and then switching to "Rosie" seems odd.
    5)I liked the conversation with the hat, and Harry's response to Bane's urging, although Bane's urging didn't seem to fit your description as him passing responsibility to someone else. The dialog fits with Bane having decided on a course of action, and getting Harry to handle the brute force needed, only to have Harry start questioning him. If does not fit with Bane deciding to
    6)Nice way to resolve Ginny and Tom's plotline.
     
  23. Drake

    Drake Making the rounds.

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    1) Why would the government be interested in that? The nanny state is a very strange modern issue. It makes good sense to have firm rules and private companies that make profit of knowing and exploiting these rules for trade. Unless you desire mass tourism or the formation of multinational companies (neither thing seems desired by the powers in charge), there is just no need or incentive for anything more.
    2) How exactly is trying to do the best for your children (by giving them the best genetics with as many advantages as possible) short sighted or stupid? I'd say our current practice of paying no attention to how we possibly harm our children with genetic defects that could be edited out of our genome would deserve such condemnation. Don't forget that the whole Su clan exists to capture interesting genetics so that they can be refined before being bred into the main line (that presumably makes up the clan leadership). In face of the rather xenophobic nature of all wizarding countries, I can't see how their practices could be improved. I'd be interested to hear your ideas however.
    So far they seem to have created a clan of far above average intelligence, beauty, magical power, physical potential, life expectancy, and a number of magical gifts. Clan members are clearly better than anyone around them and will have massive advantages, regardless of what they decide to do. As such the clans breeding program seems to work very well.
    5) I think the idea is that Bane wanted to dump the issue on Harry, but then had to deal with the fact that Harry is a child. A classic case of intentions and reality not meeting up as desired.
    6) Poor Dumbledore is going to be very busy. I'm a bit surprised that Harry seems to have no interest in how the situation is resolved, but I guess that's appropriate for his age.
     
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  24. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    1)As I said, either the government or private individuals. It's established there's regular trade, which means there's a lot of money to be made in smoothing things over efficiently and quickly.
    2)That's not stupid. Defining "best genetics" so narrowly, and throwing away the talents and skills of everyone who isn't the best, that's incredibly short sighted and stupid. Choosing a single standard of beauty and declaring that every deviation from that is sub-standard is even worse.
    5)Maybe that was the intent, but there was much too much definite instructions and not enough speculation and hesitation for the dialog to work for that.
     
  25. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1. On the travel agency idea, that might be a business opportunity for the future --- perhaps something Gringotts might get into --- but for now, such things are extremely limited in scope. Individuals might hire themselves out, leveraging their personal experience to serve as guides and escorts, but at the moment, there is little to no casual international tourism in the wizarding world (Note that here I consider travel within the ICW to be domestic, since it shares the same legal framework as Britain). Such paid agents are much more common on the receiving side, hiring themselves out as guides and consultants to aid (and often fleece) travelers in need.

      For businesses, each concern manages its own network of contacts to facilitate such travel, with the contacts serving as a business advantage as important as, or sometimes more important than, the actual products they sell. They are not generally inclined to share that advantage with potential competitors. Gringotts is only receptive to Snape's request because of their close business association.

    2. I had intended the entire setup to be self-consistent and reasonable within the confines of the cultural mores of magical Han society. For a group of people who deny any inherent value of the individual, are quite unhealthily assured of their own moral and intellectual superiority, and are perfectly willing (much like their non-magical countrymen) to launch on multi-generational enterprises that will only pay off centuries down the road, I felt it was a well-reasoned and well-executed scheme --- evil as sin, of course, but the plan is internally consistent and quite rational within the confines of those evil assumptions. It's much of the same logic that drives eugenicists of all stripes.

      Seeing as it is the backstory of a character I'm intending to use as a chief villainess of Harry's school years, I felt it worked reasonably well overall. There are a lot of other conflicts going on, but Su Li's role is up-close and personal for Harry, while the others are more distant.

      That said, I'm not sure where you're getting 'xenophobia' from. Their not afraid of foreigners; they hold them in aloof contempt, judging them as distasteful to deal with and inherently inferior, yet still occasionally useful. They're racists, not xenophobes.
    3. Glad that worked well. It was a challenge.
    4. ---
    5. The idea with Bane was supposed to be that he was confused about how to deal with the situation since he wasn't precisely sure of how to interpret what he was seeing. Then after Harry agreed with his tentative assessment of the vehicle as a wounded animal, Bane was suddenly back on solid ground. Weird human machines behaving strangely he doesn't get. Wounded prey animal, though? That's everyday business. I agree its not quite as clear as I'd hoped as written.
    6. Glad you liked it.
     
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  26. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    1. I'm not talking about a travel agency but...lawyers and purchasing agents. If they exist then your description of international travel requiring years of building up personal contacts in other countries doesn't work. Again, there can be all sorts of reasons Snape can't use the established networks, but the description of how international travel works in the Wizarding world doesn't fit with there being regular international trade.
    2. That part makes sense, the problem is they don't consider what talents or uses a person who doesn't quite meet their standards can have. They seem to acknowledge only two categories: (a) meets all our requirements (b)completely useless fit only to be sold as a whore. There should have been a lot of graduations between the two (and for that matter ones who aren't fit to serve as whores and either make themselves useful in other ways, or are killed)
      It's possible there are racists who aren't xenophobes, but I'll believe it when I see it. For your characters specifically, their upset at gaining the possible appearance of foreigners even while courting them seems to indicate strong xenophobia. One thing I forgot to mention, I was a bit surprised that their expected child bearing years weren't longer, given how much longer their lifespan is.
     
  27. Drake

    Drake Making the rounds.

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    I think the problem here is that you believe there to be far more international trade than there really is. And what trade there is belongs to a few companies that are quite happy with every country making very complex travel requirements so that no competitors can enter the market. What lawyers exist for international affairs are part of such a company or starve to death because of a lack of business. There may literally be less companies facilitating and engaging in international trade than there are countries.
    Indeed, trade may actually be limited to potion ingredients and very little else. Wizards need to buy very, very few things and they have had no industrialization, so mass production of stuff isn't a thing. There are no mass produced good, just the produce of craftsmen. There's no copyright, no trademark system, no treaties against simply copying any new product locally. What exactly is being im- and ex-ported? Anything not magical is probably taken from muggles locally and as such doesn't matter.

    How serious can the Confederation take such alarms? I mean, I understand that they're essentially at war with the Aztecs, but how many mugglebornes will travel by air before they learn about magic? There have to be at least several false alarms each year because of this. The alert squad must go in very cautiously or the consequences of the false alarms would be impossible to hide. So there might be ways to arrange travel that Gringotts isn't aware of. Snape should at least be aware of this - unless there's a reason for there to be no muggleborn in America.
     
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  28. Tisaku

    Tisaku I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    pull
    without
     
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  29. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1. The networks exist, but at the moment there is no publicly accessible interface to them. Individual businesses have established their own networks, by means of those years of development, and they use them to facilitate regular trade. Similar to how Drake put it, there are only a handful of such companies that engage in international trade in the first place, and magical industrialization is mostly limited to Europe at present, hence the horrific growing pains British society is going through during its version of the industrial revolution. Gringotts is one such company, Black Industries is another (currently run by Narcissa Malfoy), and there are perhaps another twenty or so others around, all of them British. Smaller businesses sell to the international companies which then resell abroad. None of those companies want to give out their hard-earned contacts to all and sundry, lest they lose their competitive advantage.

      Note that Snape is actually using an established network here, the one Gringotts has built, but without a friendly corporate contact to provide introductions (which is the situation I was describing in the flavor material), he would be on his own.

    2. As for other uses they could be put to, the main issue is a massive overabundance of personnel compared to the jobs the clan has available, and a big part of that is the relatively recent (in wizarding terms) upheaval in Han society to which adjustments are still ongoing.

      Previously, the clan dumped their excess human capital on the general slave markets, where a diverse array of buyers would pick up various talents for various purposes --- mostly nefarious, but not universally so. There was also an essentially infinite demand for excess slaves both to feed into both the ongoing war with magical Japan (both soldiers and sacrifices to power large-scale offensive magics) and to supply the Imperial slave markets to the west.

      Then about two hundred years before the story, the Magical Ottoman Empire was driven out of the Indian subcontinent by the Magical Romanian Empire (or more precisely, by its Emperor), and their old trading partner was replaced by a terrifyingly powerful abolitionist in the form of the Romanian Emperor, Vladimir Tepes (whose power set is basically an expy of Alucard from Hellsing), who had no apparent compunctions about throwing his metaphorical weight around, as evidenced by his continuing (at present in the story, five century long) personal vendetta against the Magical Ottoman Empire.

      In response to their new, utterly terrifying neighbor, the Han Emperor rammed through reforms to the legal structure of slaving in his holdings in hopes of appeasing Tepes enough to prevent the Great Monster of the West from turning its eyes eastward. Those reforms changed the available markets drastically, both reducing demand and making previously marketable professions no longer viable.

      The current system is what the Clan has managed to reestablish so far as it was relatively easy to set up. Also note that only a fraction of the girls are actually sold off (the very best going to other families as concubines, and the worst going to the organized crime syndicates), the largest portion of them go to the clan's own brothels where they spend years working, but they can be (and are) shifted to other tasks as needed or as they become too old for the work. While it wasn't mentioned in the scene, only the chief matriarch (marigold) and her second (orange) are actually from the main family, the other two... ah, worked their way up, as it were, eventually taking over technical oversight (celadon) and operations (purple) as their talents dictated.

      As to why all the girls go through the brothels to a greater or lesser extent, well part of it is to bring in currency, true, but just as important for the Clan's purposes is the maintenance and reinforcement of their mental and emotional conditioning.

      They girls get pushed into the situation when they are young and impressionable, eager to please their family. Then in the aftermath, guided by their trusted elders, they rationalize what was done to them as being a willing and worthwhile sacrifice for the good of the Clan --- it had to have been willing, because otherwise that would have been a massive betrayal by the people they trusted the most, and they don't want to face that possibility. From that little gem, they rationalize that the Clan must be worth their loyalty, for why else would they have sacrificed so much for it? Repeated trauma, first by personal participation and later, when they are too old for the work, by giving them the 'sacred duty' to do to their younger cousins in turn what was done to them, prevents them from ever gaining enough mental and emotional distance to rethink their unwavering loyalty to the Clan --- hence, "...the control spells they all carried were seldom ever needed" (3.18.1).

      For reference, it's almost the same scheme, though obviously larger scale, that many child abusers and sociopathic cult leaders use to engender loyalty. For that matter, a lot of gangs use similar tactics, brutally violent 'initiations' and the like serve similar psychological purposes.

      Like I said before, it's evil as sin.

      Anyway, I had originally included more of the political backdrop before cutting it as unnecessary to the scene.

      As for the relatively short fertile years, I'm treating the female reproductive cycle as a developmental process that runs from a definite beginning to a definite conclusion, rather than a stochastically-driven breakdown like the rest of aging. Magic staves off problems resulting from random failures, keeping witches and wizards alive for longer, but it doesn't substantively change their life cycle as humans. Thus, magic only helps extend a witch's reproductive years by making pregnancy safe and healthy right up until menopause, rather than extending the cycle for longer.

      Note that this treatment applies to normal magic and its effects on life. Exotic magics that are specifically directed at regeneration or similar things can have significantly different effects.

      For instance, Perenelle Flamel is still in her prime fertile years of development due to her continued use of the Elixir of Life, despite her six and a half centuries of age. If not for another circumstance rendering her effectively barren, the old couple would count about half of Europe as descendants by now.
    Pretty seriously, actually, though I'm sure someone is working on refining the system for that reason. They've only been doing it for half a decade at this point, after all (the Pueblo Incident of 1986).

    As for how they deal with false alarms, well, obliviation covers a multitude of sins. You know all those times you were on a flight that landed and it got delayed while taxiing to the gate, and you're just sitting on the tarmac for what seems like hours for no apparent reason? Yeah, in this setting, that means your flight just got processed. The kill squad starts with a wide-area compulsion charm aimed at putting everyone to sleep. If it's a muggleborn kid who hasn't started schooling, the charm will put him out, then they check all the sleeping passengers to make sure before obliviating everyone and letting them go about their business. Adult, trained magic users will resist the charm, so if anyone is still awake the squad shoots first and asks questions if anyone happens to survive.
     
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  30. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    No, as long as there's any regular trade (which there has to be for the goblins to have dealings with the locations in question) the less there is, the more likely that there will be independent agents arranging travel and trade.

    This would require there be quite a lot of trade for the companies to be able and willing to take it over and enjoy the advantages of being a big company. It also means that most people traveling would go to whichever company handles the trade and have them arrange the travel for them, no need for years of personal contacts.

    1. In which case if Joe wizard wands to travel internationally the normal method would be to get a private contact with the company that handles trade where they want to go, and have them handle the mess for him. No "years of personal contact" which is my point.

    2. Given the time frame they're working on "recent" would have to be at least a dozen generations back to make them change the way they've been acting. Additionally, that still leaves a range of options, just means a lot more people would be sold as whores or worse.
      That would mean there are plenty of jobs for "not slaves" to do
      this sort of thing does change somewhat the view of them, but doesn't really fit with the dialog. The dialog presented only two groups whores and prime stock. What you're describing here, is pretty much what was missing from the scene, i.e a mention of slaves (or "not slaves") for any purpose other than prostitution, or any mention of anyone in the gray area between "useful only as whores" and "prime breeding stock". Even if those useful slaves were also prostitutes, they'd be more valuable than just prostitutes.
      Oh and given their methods of control I think I know the answer, but what do they do with all the male children?
      Okay, that changes my reason for why they're wasteful, but just reinforces the fact that they are. That method would leave a lot of people useless for anything, and takes a lot more time and effort to maintain than the mind control spells seem to.

      Makes sense.
     
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