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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. RedX

    RedX Not too sore, are you?

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    Nope. I just searched through the story again. His involvement seems to have consisted entirely of taking Hermione and Harry to the ministry, thinking "Snape readily acknowledged the necessity of seeing to the girl’s safety via the servant registration Potter had arranged, even to the point of agreeing to go along to assist them with the whole ordeal. It was about time, in his opinion; he had come close to saying as much to the girl’s father over a year previous".

    Nothing about, yanno, physically sticking close to Harry being in any way important. So that's another adult saying "take this one precaution, then run along now"- and Hermione took that precaution, and it only helped because it was tangentially related to the problem so another group of folks had the chance to get massively lucky.

    Then (a) they're incompetent because the situation is readily obvious to any responsible adult involved, and (b) anyone who did know what was going on- Harry, Abigail, Snape, and Dumbledore- deserves even more blame for not getting anyone else involved, despite it being the matter of a ten-second conversation. (Heck, Harry did get Hermione's parents involved- just for the Servant thing. Did he ever even consider that they were in charge of her summer itinerary, too? Eh, Harry's a kid, give him a pass. We know Snape must have realized so, but we also know his solution was a purely reactive social and political one that didn't actually help prevent her from getting permawiped, so he's already got the idiot ball firmly welded on.)

    Then there's the whole matter of the Emergency Portkey, yet another security feature arranged for this situation to allow Hermione to go about her life... which also did nothing. Less blame to be assigned here, unless there's such a thing as a contingent portkey that reacts to its wearing being stunned or the like, in which case she should have had one of those. Its very existence- another security feature that doesn't involve Harry being constantly by her side- was another situation in which several knowledgeable adults had a chance to say "This isn't going to be enough! Go with Harry!" to her... and didn't.

    Still, again, I can accept that a titanic Rube Goldberg tragedy of errors lead to this situation. I must simply point out that none of the errors were Hermione's, and everyone should be reassuring her that it was in no way her fault and that everyone who did mess up will be doing their damnedest not to in the future.
     
  2. SoCar37

    SoCar37 Getting out there.

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    Too bad that probably won't help a young teen who tends to over think and is sitting in a holding area worried about her parents. "Oh they had their memories partially wiped, but they're muggles and muggles don't count anyway they should be fine."
     
  3. RedX

    RedX Not too sore, are you?

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    Getting a whole bunch of people that she likes and trusts truthfully saying "this wasn't your fault, this was ours, we were wrong and will do everything in our power to make it right" will go a long, long way, and certainly can't hurt the situation.

    Getting a whole bunch of people saying "you should have listened to your fellow child, The Protagonist, instead of everyone else you know. You could have prevented this whole thing!" is... not helpful.

    I guess we'll see where the story has the blame land.
     
  4. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    This is true regardless of the truth of the situation.
     
  5. RedX

    RedX Not too sore, are you?

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    Only by sheer plot-induced incompetence. The fact that no adult bothered to explain the security situation to the fourteen-year-old is on them, not the fourteen-year-old. The fact that no person that actually called the threat correctly (all kids, in a classic Adults Are Useless moment) bothered to get an adult involved does not speak to their competence, either, but they get a pass- they're kids. Abigail is an edge case, she really should have cared enough to pick up a damned telephone and give Hermione's parents the what-for for taking the stupid risks they were, but she's more tangential and- unlike the rest of the adults- not technically in a position of authority over Hermione.

    The only 'lesson' Hermione could possibly learn from this is to not trust anyone over the age of 18 to care about her enough to spend five minutes warning her, and not trust anyone under the age of 18 to think through any approach to a serious problem. Unless the entire rest of this story is going to have a huge hole in it where the adults continue to be are competent and intelligent in every other matter but Hermione's security, then that's the precise opposite of the lesson she should be learning. (Which... actually, I'm having a hard time figuring out what an appropriate lesson would even be. What did Hermione do wrong, at any point in this whole drama?)

    Hrm. Well, two adults did realize and act against the threat, they just bungled the response- Dumbledore and Snape. They both decided that political and social top-cover would be sufficient to prevent the abduction, despite... well, not particularly popularizing and distributing the fact that Hermione has said top-cover. They just... assume that threats of dire implications that a handful of people know about is going to stop people that have no idea about it from doing something stupid. Sure, that lets them legally punish the malefactors afterwards, but nothing that's going to stop Hermione from getting brain-wiped and shipped to godknowswhere. I'm still trying to figure out what Snape's endgame would be there.
     
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  6. SystemSearcher

    SystemSearcher "I fought the door and the door won"

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    I think that the issue is that nobody expected that Hermione would be kidnapped, like, a week later. They thought that all of this was long-term preparation, the addition of protection for the future. and that they had time to actually deal with all of those issues.
     
  7. RedX

    RedX Not too sore, are you?

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    Yeah. The fact that she's an immediately available and extremely vulnerable target that's publicly close to Harry Potter, the memetic personification of everything the abductors despise, does not seem to have occurred to anyone.

    So she got grabbed the very moment she got home from the Express, not even a week later. Like, literally, as she was walking in the front door.

    Whoops.
     
  8. zup

    zup Experienced.

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    Hermione was quite unwilling accept the proposed more paranoid summer plan, or to even negotiate a delay going to her parents so proper defences could be implemented. What was Harry supposed to do, chain her to the wall of his lair?
     
  9. RedX

    RedX Not too sore, are you?

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    Call up her parents and get them to implement the more paranoid summer plans. Or any one of a dozen other adults with both a high standing in Hermione's lights... and, in extremis, the actual authority to restrict her movement.

    Of course, you're right in that Harry isn't the one with the largest share of blame here. He's a thirteen-year-old. He's The Protagonist, sure, but this isn't a little kid's book- he's not responsible for everything going on, not until this story starts moving along in years and he gets the emotional maturity and wisdom to go with his physical power.

    No, Harry gets a pass. It's not his fault he's too young and disorganized to realize none of the adults around him are paying attention. It's those supposedly-competent adults that get the blame- the ones that know full well how much of a target Hermione has painted on her back, and sort of... shrugged it off.
     
  10. Something

    Something Your position has been compromised

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    Just finished reading the story. While I liked most of it, there were a couple parts I felt were being depressing for the sake of being depressing. For instance, the brothel that took Betty seems to operate in the open. How do they avoid Bones kicking the door in and getting the workers out?

    The buyers were disposable middle men.

    As for recovery, while so far in-story the recovery time for mind Magic’s is long, there seems to be a rather large breakthrough on the horizon with the treatment Pomphrey wants to test on Ginny. It’s going to be expensive and takes three highly skilled Healers, but this is Harry we’re taking about. He’s already planning to bankroll the extraction and rehabilitation of the slaves. Using this new method if it works will speed the process up immensely and allow him to likely save money as the former slaves will be mentally and emotionally sound long before they would with older methods.

    This brings up a good point. I think part of the problem is that those in the loop kind of forgot that people on the outside don’t absolutely know that Harry is a force of nature that is not to be messed with. Knowing what they do, just saying ‘If you mess with Granger, Potter has carte blanche to kill you’ works because Harry is a 60 ft long multi-ton metallic dragon that killed a basilisk without issue to them. On the outside, Harry is still the Boy-Who-Didn’t-Bite-It but other than that he’s mostly just a kid that looks like he’s still between 8 and 10 years-old. While he has the resources to make your life difficult, he can’t just Kool-Aid Man his way into your living room, shrug off any spell you throw at him, and crush your mind just by talking too loud. Those are eminently more survivable odds compared to reality.

    Add on that while Hermione is registered as his retainer and everything is official, there was not enough time for any notifications to really go out unless you were specifically looking for it. The Malfoy are going to collectively shit themselves when they realize how much of a mess they’re in. Especially once they realize that there are leads on the buyers. Buyers who were participating at Malfoy’s request.

    Then again, it is entirely within Harry’s legal rights to demand a duel or just fly over and burn down anyone that may have even been tangentially involved with this.
     
  11. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    That was explicitely and repeatedly stated. The Brothel has all the paperwork showing that the workers are there voluntarily, something the workers will all be happy to confirm. Unless you can prove someone brainwashed them into that state (which is what the private eye has been working on for years with no success) there's nothing legal anyone can do.
    With Amelia choosing to start doing what's right rather than limiting herself to what's legal places like that Brothel may start finding all their "employees" stolen and the managers killed, although depressingly, I doubt the Brothel is any where near the worst.

    Ginny's treatment seemed to be specifically for buried mental commands they were unable to detect. I doubt that will change the situation overall.

    Fixed. Nobody was thinking that people would refrain from attacking Hermione for fear Harry would challenge them to a duel. However Harry could, if he chose offer a bounty on anyone involved in the attack out to three generations, or recruit a regiment of mercenaries to hunt down everyone involved and have them impaled. That is what was intended to act as a deterrent.

    In the sense that he can have you and your family killed and everything you owned destroyed? Yes, I suppose most people would consider that a bit difficult.

    That is a problem.

    Narcisa already had all traces of any connection to the Malfoys terminated because of Dumbledore's prophecy, adding Harry on top of that doesn't actually make things any worse.
     
  12. Something

    Something Your position has been compromised

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    For most of the above, okay however:

    You mean one of the major roadblocks to recovery? Remember, they don’t just use memory manipulation, they also bury compulsions and mental commands and triggers in the slaves. The ability to rapidly remove those without months or years of intense work is a major leap forward in the arms race.

    The recovery from the oblivations and other mind altering effects will still take time. But ridding them of the compulsions will make things significantly easier.

    The problem is the DMLE has a lead on the Crabbe family and is kicking in the door on the Dolohov family. Both of whom are involved because Malfoy made contact with them as part of the deal. Honor amongst thieves only extends so far and with how zealous the aurors are and them wanting to get some back I don’t think they’ll take the high road during the interrogations.

    EDIT: I almost forgot, if Dumbledore gets solid enough evidence that the Malfoy family was behind this- even if it’s not good enough for court- he may execute whatever plan he has to take down Malfoy and his associates.
     
  13. RedX

    RedX Not too sore, are you?

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    Um. I think that plan was "throw the Rule of Law by the wayside, go Full Vigilante on everyone he even suspects of involvement, turn himself in afterwards".

    Without the Big V in active play, the bulk of the 'bad guys' in Wizarding Britain basically only exist because Dumbledore's really pushing the Cincinnatus thing.
     
  14. Something

    Something Your position has been compromised

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    Yeah, that's the broad strokes, but I'd put money on it more detailed than that. I also suspect it won't just be Dumbledore by himself and more of a coordinated attack.
     
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  15. Monitor

    Monitor A Monitor sitting before a Monitor

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    The important leap forward is the detection... If you can prove that someone brainwashed the muggleborn, you have a rather solid case for that she/he is not there by his/her own free will. Bonus points if you are capable of identifying the specific commands. If that issue is solved, the slave trade breaks down, and it breaks down hard. Especially because a certain economic juggernaut will likely decide to voice his displeasure if meassures are not taken...

    Ignoring the fact that all of the friends of the economic juggernaut are preoccupied by preventing him from going on the warpath personally. Including the goblins. Ashes do not pay well, after all... :)
     
  16. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    Not really. The issue with Ginny is they suspect she may have buried commands which will trigger at some point that they can't detect. Eliminating undetectable commands that haven't triggered yet is the problem.
    With the slaves the problem is proving the mental commands were imposed from the outside, if they actually get someone legally free they can fix the problems

    You're right that will be a cause for a freakout, however

    This. As I said adding Harry to Dumbledore's threat isn't going to change anything the big threat is still (as far as everyone not in the know is concerned) Dumbledore showing up to murder them all.

    Not really. As powerful as Dumbledore is he couldn't actually kill all or even most Slavers before he was taken down. He can however go around killing the top 10-20 most notable slavers and destroying their networks before surrendering, which would be a setback for the remaining slavers for a while, and Dumbledore surrendering would in it's own way be an even bigger setback because of how it will boost the rule of law. Of course that still ends up with Dumbledore dead so I am not sure which side of the conflict would come out ahead in this, but Malfoy doesn't care because he and all his allies would definitely end up dead if he forced Dumbledore to reach that point.
     
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  17. TheBeardedOne

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

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    If Dumbledore gets a hint that Malfoy may have been an originator of the kidnapping plan, he may decide to make a personal visit to tell Malfoy to make sure to live according to the law from that point onwards.
    While riding on Harry's shoulders.
    Cue Malfoy spontaneously generating building materials for a wall as he looks up from the wreckage of his front door to see Dumbledore lazily sat on a rather pissed-off-looking dragon (with no leads, reins, straps etc) that is drooling at him.

    After all, Malfoy knows all about "Plausible Deniability" and Dumbledore has just demonstrated to him that he knows how to get rid of inconvenient corpses in ways that leave no trace whatsoever. Not even magical residue from a Vanishing Spell...
     
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  18. Pyeknu

    Pyeknu Cross-Dimensional Magical Sith GIrl

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    Oh, yes, that would be VERY intimidating even to a family of political survivors like the Malfoys.
     
  19. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    Two problems with this, the minor one is that Dumbledore just made a very big deal out of the fact he'll ensure the law is upheld if he has to sentence himself to death so there's a fairly good chance Malfoy would not believe Dumbledore would engage in such illegal activities.
    The major issue, is that Dumbledore doing something like that would be destroying everything Dumbledore worked to establish all his life by saying that "Might is Right".

    I can think of scenarios where Dumbledore would decide to break away from the laws he helped establish, but if he did he would not be making threats, he'd be declaring WAR and trying to kill as many of the Slavers leaders as possible before they can start retaliating (which with Harry, Amelia Bones and the Goblins on his side might just be all of them, but I doubt he'd be willing to take that risk even once they work out what the deal with Bones is).
     
  20. pjung

    pjung Making the rounds.

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    Didnt he make a threat to basically rampage through them and their peers then get caught and sentanced to Malfoy at one point?
    if they ever harm a student of his?
     
  21. RedX

    RedX Not too sore, are you?

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    Yup, section 4.7.2.

    Of course, this did nothing to discourage Hermione's kidnapping- because (a) Malfoy had already set it up and carefully removed his connections to the process; and more importantly (b) the low-level people that actually do the kidnapping and brain-wiping cannot be discouraged by a high-level political threat they do not know about.

    No amount of political or social protection can discourage someone who does not know it exists.
     
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  22. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    Not get caught, surrender and accept his punishment.
     
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  23. Threadmarks: Section 5.2 - New places and interesting people
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    5.2 New places and interesting people



    5.2.1 Contested landing

    At the same time Hermione lay unconscious in the back room of the auction house on the other side of the Atlantic, a privately chartered airliner touched down with a squeal of tortured rubber in northeastern Pennsylvania. As it taxied to its parking spot on the tarmac outside the terminal at Erie International Airport, its passengers prepared to disembark, a process which in many cases involved waking up from their naps. Such was not the case for Harry, so he took the extra time to reflect on the first flight he had ever taken that was not under his own power.

    To be honest, it hadn't been half bad, though the novelty had worn off pretty quickly; once night had fallen, there had been little but the steady rumble of the engines to indicate they were flying at all. At first, conversation had kept him nicely occupied, but eventually that too had died off. Even an excitable bunch of academics with a new toy to play with can only stay awake for so long, and many had opted to go to sleep after the first few hours, leaving Harry at loose ends. Only Mr. Snape had stayed awake the whole time, watching Harry for signs of nodding off with all the attention and caution he normally reserved for a particularly deadly potion.

    Attentive as he had been, however, Snape had not been particularly talkative, which had led to Harry digging a random book out of his stash of reading material to pass the time. One had led to another, and it was thus that Harry found himself carefully tucking volume seven of Durrell Jenner’s Investigations of Radioactive Decay in the High-Thaumic Limit back into his luggage as the jet came to a stop. As far as reading material went, it had not been the best of choices for the trip, consisting as it did mostly of tables of measured half-lives of various radioactive isotopes and how they varied according to thaumic background count. The thing was dry as dust, but Harry wasn’t about to let it get damaged just because it was boring.

    As looked up from the bag, the currently human-shaped dragon caught sight of a pair of men standing at a safe distance from the plane on the tarmac, waiting for the engines to spin down. They were clad in official-looking dark business suits, but perhaps their most distinctive feature was their hairstyle. Their heads were plucked bald aside from a four-inch wide strip running along the top of their skulls from the forehead to the nape of the neck. His sharp eye also picked up on a pin of an odd design on their lapels, a darkly glittering rectangle with some sort of geometric design emblazoned across it. Unfortunately, the yellow sodium lamps made the colors impossible to determine.

    “I see you have discovered our welcoming committee,” Severus Snape noted without preamble.

    “Who are they, Mr. Snape?” Harry asked, stifling a tired yawn.

    “They are the Confederacy’s border guards,” the potions master explained as the rest of the adults bustled about the cabin. “I would assume from the Mohawk tribe, judging by their choice in coiffure.”

    “Oh, I remember reading about those guys, the Keepers of the Eastern Door, right?” the young dragon said, perking up with a bit of interest. “Why are they here? I thought landings were authorized.”

    “I would imagine they will inform us soon enough.”

    It took another five minutes for the flight crew to fully secure the aircraft and deploy the airstairs, at which point Severus climbed down to the tarmac. As he stepped away from the airstairs, he looked up and his eyes widened. What he had thought was a two-man welcoming party was in fact just the vanguard. Perhaps seventy-five times that many sheltered behind a line of black armored cars just beyond the reach of the floodlights, wands at the ready to fire from cover. Dark eyes widened as the sallow-faced man turned even more pale than usual, signaling frantically behind his back for his colleagues to take care.

    “Might I inquire as to the reason for the large welcoming committee?” he asked, managing to keep his composure admirably as a pair of the men approached. “I had not anticipated such a warm reception.”

    “That is for you to answer, stranger,” the left man challenged. “Just what are you carrying on that plane?”

    “Only passengers and their effects,” the potions master said with a puzzled frown.

    “Passengers and their effects would not have triggered every magical proximity alarm from here to goddamned Newfoundland!” he snarled. “Now, what is on that plane?”

    Snape fell silent for a moment, considering the question. What were they carrying that could have caused such an effect? There was nothing onboard that was particularly interesting or energetic. Perhaps it was some manner of interaction with the more esoteric equipment they had brought along? Then his thoughts stilled as a half-forgotten memory swam up from the depths. It was something Septima had said during her early attempts to measure Mr. Potter’s magical potential using his monstrously large aura...

    ...his monstrously large aura that they had just dragged over hundreds of miles of Confederate countryside at high speed.

    Oh, bollocks.

    “In hindsight, I believe I know what caused that,” the sallow-faced man began, “and I do apologize for the false alarm, but I can assure you that he is, in fact a passenger, if a rather unusual one.”

    “Oh?” a skeptical eyebrow rose to rather odd effect given the man’s hairstyle. “Then let’s see this ‘unusual passenger’.”

    “Mr. Potter,” Snape called up over his shoulder, “come here please.”

    There was a bit of a commotion as the dragon, in his usual pint-sized human shape, hopped cheerfully down the airstairs.

    “What do you need, Mr. Snape?” he asked brightly.

    “This is the one?” the guard asked. “Doesn’t look like much.”

    “It seems that our passage has been noted quite widely due to your aura, Mr. Potter,” Snape explained, ignoring the comment. “In order to reassure our hosts that we are not attempting to smuggle something unpleasant into their territory, I believe it would be for the best to reveal your nature now.”

    “I thought we wanted to wait until we met the Grand Council?” Harry cocked his head curiously.

    “That does not appear to be an option at this juncture,” Severus countered, “not if we wish to avoid unproductive conflict.”

    Harry looked around the area with new eyes at that assessment, taking note of the previously unseen men and vehicles.

    “Well okay, Mr. Snape, if you say so,” he allowed, sounding utterly unconcerned. He turned to the Mohawk officials. “Um, I’m going to have to go over there a little first,” he asked the leader of the security delegation. He gestured to the paved no-man’s-land between the 737’s wing-tip and the line of armored cars. “From what I can see of your setup, that should still be inside the concealment charms, and I don’t want to risk breaking the airplane if I bump into it.”

    The security spokesman nodded his assent, motioning for the men behind him to hold their positions as the young-looking boy scampered the seventy-odd feet onto the open tarmac. Then the small form shifted.

    What had been a scrawny looking little boy stretched and lengthened, precipitously gaining bulk as his skin darkened, sprouting scales as he grew two extra limbs and a long tail. Mere seconds later, an utterly massive dragon stood in the boy’s place, silvery scales glittering darkly under the sodium lights. From nose to tail-tip it stretched more than half the length of the airliner behind it, and it likely outweighed the one-hundred-and-ten-foot-long, mostly hollow aircraft by a very wide margin.

    It was quite the startling transformation. Luckily, the security team was too busy freezing in atavistic terror to do anything untoward before Harry defused the situation in his own inimitable way.

    “So yeah, I’m kind of a dragon,” the monstrous beast said in the same boyish voice it had used while in its other form, raising a great taloned paw in a friendly wave to the assembled security personnel. “It’s nice to meet you!”

    Back by the airstairs, Snape watched the formerly belligerent spokesman closely, quietly amused at his slack-jawed expression.

    “He is unusual,” the potions master said, straight-faced, “yet he is nonetheless a passenger.”

    “Indeed...” the man squeaked before clearing his throat and repeating in a more normal voice, “Indeed. Then I suppose we should get on with our business. The People of the Flint greet you, strangers. As Keepers of the Eastern Door we ask of you your intentions.”

    “We seek an audience with the Grand Council to request permission to carry out an operation of great importance within your territory,” the dour man intoned.

    “Then we greet you with a hand extended in peace,” the representative said, stepping forward and extending his hand to the potions master.

    As they clasped hands, a sigh of relief rose from the surrounding men at the sight, audible despite the distance and the poor acoustics of the open tarmac.

    “You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that,” the spokesman breathed, now much more comfortable with the situation than he had been moments previous.

    “I suspect I might have some notion,” the potions master countered dryly. “Now then, my local contacts have arranged our accommodations for the evening, so with your leave, I believe it would be for the best if we relocated presently. Mr. Potter over there has been awake for nearly twenty-three hours unless I miss my guess, and I would prefer to get him off the tarmac before he falls asleep. Attempting to move him after the fact would be rather more of an adventure than I care to deal with.”

    At that, the guard laughed, and with the tension thoroughly broken, he and his compatriots waved the baggage handlers in to unload the plane.

    5.2.2 Lakeside accommodations

    Barely an hour later, the scenery had changed greatly, exchanging the harsh lighting and shrill scream of jet engines for the gentler crash of waves against the shore and near pitch darkness. A gentle wind rustled the leaves overhead at a blufftop campsite on the south shore of Lake Erie. Moonrise was still hours off, and even then, the clouds were thick overhead. The only light to be seen was the occasional firefly, blinking yellowish green in the warm summer night.

    One pair of the bioluminescent beetles moved in curious synchrony, mirroring each other in flight as they danced, drawing nearer and nearer, blinking in unison. Then, in the blink of an eye, one disappeared, leaving the light from the remaining insect to dimly illuminate a great scaly eyelid.

    Harry had blinked back, and the tiny, bewildered creature flitted off in another direction.

    The travelers from Hogwarts had arrived at the campsite about half an hour earlier and had quickly erected a rented wizarding tent, into which they had retreated to sleep off the meager remains of the night as soon as they renewed its space expansion charm and triggered the auto-transfiguration on the furnishings. Harry could just make out their occasional snoring through the open tent flap.

    The young dragon had elected to sleep outside rather than taking up Mr. Flitwick’s offer to hyperextend one of the rooms in the tent. It was nice out, and there were even those curious little fireflies... though those had been slowly drifting off and ending their nightly display in favor of well-earned rest. The one he had blinked away seemed to be one of the final stragglers. Between the darkness, the fatigue, the hypnotic crash of the waves at the foot of the bluff, and the warm weight of Suze nestled against his side, the young dragon figured he would soon be following their example.

    Unseen in the darkness of the overcast moonless night, Harry’s great green eyes closed again, this time reflexively as his mouth opened into a great toothy yawn. Harry’s last thoughts as he drifted off were of his absent damsel. It’d be morning back home, so he figured she was she was probably up and about, enjoying her first day back with her parents.

    That was good.

    Harry’s face flexed into a sleepy reptilian grin.

    He hoped she was doing well.

    5.2.3 Art gallery

    Gravel crunched under the tires of a pair of minivans bearing the livery of a local taxi company as they pulled into a parking lot on the edge of the Erie Bluffs State Park, and the motley group from Hogwarts — eight witches and wizards, a currently human-shaped dragon, and perhaps most impressively a centaur maiden — piled out of them, the latter feat made possible by Flitwick’s rather... artistic use of cushioning charms. As Snape stumped over to pay the drivers — and to subtly trigger a delayed removal of the notice-me-not charms which had fended off any awkward questions from them — dragon in the group took the opportunity to examine his surroundings.

    The lot was unremarkable for the area, nearly indistinguishable from a dozen others like it that they had passed along the way. Paved with gravel and bounded on one side by the road which separated it from the corn field across the way, a dense row of tall evergreens hemmed in the other three sides entirely hiding the rest of the facility from view. The only access beyond was through another evergreen-lined pathway which quickly jogged to one side, blocking any line of sight.

    “Come, my contact has assured me that we are expected,” Snape said as he turned to his compatriots. He then led the way towards the tree-lined pathway as the pair of minivans pulled away.

    The group set off, pebbles crunching underfoot as they followed the twisting path deeper onto the property. With the trees lining the sides, sight lines were limited, but as the path turned once more and opened up onto the grounds proper, Harry’s green eyes opened wide. The gravel path continued to wind through a broad grassy lawn, lush green and fluttering in the breeze off the lake. Along the way, it passed a plethora of art installations: totem poles, stone plinths, strange constructions of wood and bone, brilliantly colored banners fluttering in the breeze, all sorts of things dotted the lawn. There was even a long line of house-sized boulders each with an entire mural painted on its side reminiscent of the cave paintings that Harry had read about before in passing.

    Of course, they all paled in comparison to the Great Longhouse itself.

    The large rectangular building dominated the site, not so much because of its design — built with an exposed roundwood frame and plank walls on a stacked stone foundation, it was essentially a pole barn by any other name — or its composition. No, what truly caught the eye was the fact that every square inch of the structure was covered in art. Each exposed beam bore intricate carvings and bright paint in a riot of colors, each one unique. Every wall was covered in murals, be they painted or carved or both. The approach to the door was guarded by a long series of totem poles and carved stones flanking the broad gravel pathway, and even the pathway itself incorporated periodic carved medallions and a strange but clearly deliberate pattern picked out in different colors of gravel.

    There was art everywhere, and every single piece of it had its own story to tell, its own personal symbolic language. It was a remarkable sight, especially for a creature with the innate linguistic bent of a young dragon like Harry, and unlike a fully developed formal language, these partially developed artistic lexicons did not resolve easily. Art — good art, that is — was dense, a near bottomless well of beauty, insight, and meaning. Left to his own devices, the young dragon likely would have wandered the grounds for hours, fascinated.

    For better or for worse, Harry was not left to his own devices, and the party soon reached the door where Harry was jolted from his odyssey into the dreamings of the centuries’ worth artistic minds who had contributed to the riotous display by the great doors swinging open in front of him.

    5.2.4 Politics

    The interior of the Great Longhouse, the seat of the Confederate government, was a sight to behold. Banners and tapestries woven by the best artists any of the Nations had to offer festooned the walls and ceiling, lending a colorful gaiety to the place. Sculptures of bone, wood, and leather sat at regular intervals giving ceremonial seats for the guiding spirits so that they might watch over the machines of governance. Arrayed throughout it all, art pieces of all sorts in a spectacular range of materials — from bone scrimshaw to glazed pottery, carved wooden masks to fur paintings — depicted the histories of the Nations, accompanied by the elaborate beadwork tapestries known as wampum to commemorate notable treaties. Hardly an inch of wall or ceiling was left unadorned.

    It truly was a magnificent sight, one which had only improved over the eight decades that Toh Yah had served on the Grand Council. Unfortunately, after those eight decades, it was no longer enough to distract the old Warleader of the Diné Protectorate from his boredom as he waited.

    Turning away from the walls, Toh Yah’s gaze fell upon his fellow councilors seated around the low stone hearth and simmering cooking pot that was the focal point of the Great Longhouse. Six low benches like the one upon which he sat, roughly rectangular cross sections of a truly massive tree trunk, were arrayed in a circle about the fire. There was one for each of the great nations that had come together to form the Confederacy, each seating a varying number of representatives, and all arrayed in a circle about the common pot... a union of equals come together for a meal, sharing friendship and common purpose.

    Toh Yah shook his head, lips twitching into a sardonic smile at the thought. It sounded so high-minded when put like that, rather than the thoroughly practical consideration that it was. No other arrangement could possibly be acceptable for the wildly dissimilar and fiercely independent Nations of the Confederacy. Anything implying a real hierarchy would have dissolved into bloodshed within hours. This was, after all, the same organization which had conducted all its business through translators for the first thousand years of its existence, not because the participants couldn’t learn the others’ languages — no, they had all done that quite early — but rather because choosing any one official language would have been a slight against the Nations whose languages were not chosen. It had only been in recent centuries that they had settled on the newly arrived language of English as an official common tongue. It had never been spoken by any of the members, and it had therefore been equally offensive to everyone.

    Were it not for the constant threat from the Aztecs, the Confederacy would likely have never... Toh Yah checked his own thoughts, reluctant to ascribe anything positive, no matter how indirect and unintentional, to the monsters in human skin across the southern border.

    He dropped the line of thought with a frown in favor of tapping his fingers impatiently on the great slab of wood beneath him — the bench reserved for representatives of the Diné Protectorate, of which he was the only one — as he waited for the last few councilors to arrive. Ironically, the absentees were a few of the minor representatives from the Salish Commons, the ones who had called for the special session in the first place.

    Typical.

    “While we await the arrival of our late members, perhaps we can address some other ongoing business,” the antler-wearing primary representative of the Haudenosaunee, Tadodaho, proposed suddenly from his seat on the other side of the fire, proving that Toh Yah was hardly the only impatient one in the room. “Have there been any new developments on the negotiations with the Sleepers?”

    He scowled. Toh Yah had been quite enthusiastic about that operation when it had first been proposed, throwing his not inconsiderable political weight behind the project from the beginning. It had been intended to combat the growing influence of the Aztec-run drug cartels, and it was something that even the most reluctant of his colleagues had fully supported after the 1986 Pueblo Incident. The Incident had proven the effectiveness of the associated smuggling apparatus alone, let alone the cocaine trade it enabled. The magically engineered drug facilitated the remote harvest of blood magic from the suffering of the addicts and those around them, and with a user base of tens of millions around the world, that was no small advantage, magically or financially speaking.

    Efforts had stepped up in recent years, and eventually Toh Yah had found a Sleeper politician, then CIA Director George Bush, who was receptive to the idea of cooperation despite the necessary veil of secrecy imposed by the Silence. The man had made it a central leg of his platform for his presidential bid.

    At that time, things had been looking up. A covert partnership with the nonmagical American government and its vast military and logistical might would have been a coup of unprecedented scope in their millennia-long conflict with the Aztecs, and as election day had loomed closer the project had looked very close to succeeding, especially after Bush’s opponent had made a rather impressive public relations blunder in the final weeks. Everything had seemed to be in the bag.

    In the bag, that is, until Aztec covert ops had managed to slip something by counterintelligence...

    “Nothing so far,” Wahchinksapa, proudly wearing the eagle feather headdress of a Chief of the Seven Fires Council, responded in his deep baritone roughened by over a century on the High Plains. The height of the headdress made his careless shrug obvious as he continued, “Lynch refuses to consider our proposal.”

    ...counterintelligence headed by the same man who was now so lackadaisically reporting on his continuing failure to salvage the very situation he had allowed to fall to ruin.

    “Perhaps he would be more receptive if someone else were to explain the situation,” Toh Yah bit out through clenched teeth, his eyes narrow as he struggled to maintain a civil tone.

    No one would be well served by an internal conflict, and the Warleader knew that Wahchinksapa was a good man and a competent leader. It was just that they had come so close....

    “Perhaps, though I have no idea what else could be said,” Wachinksapa allowed with an apologetic shrug, meeting his colleague’s angry gaze with his own understanding one. “We have presented the case as plainly as we can while maintaining the Silence. Unfortunately, it has so far proven insufficient; the Sleeper politicians have considered the issue to be political suicide ever since Bush’s campaign collapsed in ‘88.”

    Aztec intelligence had fabricated evidence regarding the then-recent Iran-Contra Affair and anonymously delivered it to Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis. Eager to salvage his campaign after the infamous tank photo, the desperate man rushed the document to the papers immediately rather than taking the proper precautions to verify his sources. It had sparked an investigation resulting in a criminal indictment of his opponent mere days before the election, all but ensuring Dukakis’ victory on election day.

    “He was exonerated, was he not? The program should no longer carry such a stigma,” Toh Yah argued.

    “He was, we made sure of that,” Wahchinksapa said, his baritone hard with remembered irritation. “Unfortunately, that exoneration came after the election. By then the Sleeper journalists had already stopped paying attention; a particularly fractious squirrel can stay on topic for longer than those idiots. First impressions are the only impression you can really count on nowadays.”

    “Then make them pay attention!” Toh Yah grumped, leaning forward impatiently.

    “How? What would you have us do that we have not already done?” Wahchinksapa asked tiredly. “Our efforts in that direction ushered in Lynch’s election in the first place. What else is there to do but to wait for him to come around? More disruption will only delay things further.”

    The old soldier sighed at that and nodded in quiet acknowledgement as the room fell silent but for the crackle of the fire.

    It was true. Confederate intelligence had taken the Aztec success as a personal insult, and in the years since they had busied themselves with stamping out everything and everyone even remotely associated with the embarrassing failure. They had provided evidence of the cartels’ involvement in Dukakis’ election and guided the ensuing investigation: pointing the nonmagical investigators in the right direction whenever they ran into a dead end; calling in anonymous tips; rescuing ‘destroyed’ evidence with covert repair charms; and prompting many a conspirator to develop a conveniently guilty conscience at the most inopportune times with compulsions. Over the past five years, they had enabled what was quite possibly the most brutally effective and far-reaching internal affairs investigation in recorded history.

    By the end of his term, Dukakis’ name was mud. His party was defunct, its shredded remnants on the verge of being openly declared a criminal organization. More than half the former Sleeper politicians were in prison on various corruption convictions — worse in some cases, like that nasty husband and wife pair still on trial down in Arkansas — and the rest were scrambling to find their place in the new political landscape.

    The sudden collapse of one half of the previous order had spawned half a dozen fledgling political parties to fill the void, among them that of the current Sleeper president, Jeffrey Lynch, who had been elected in a landslide on a hardline small government, anti-corruption ticket. The man had so far been very keen on sticking to that agenda, which while admirable, was honestly a large part of their problem.

    “Could we rename the initiative and try again?” another man proposed, breaking the silence. The leader of the Salish Commons, he was a rather heavyset sort who sported an elaborately embroidered outfit woven in a rainbow of colors accompanied by finely wrought jewelry of bright copper. In his early seventies, he was the youngest of his peers. “I always thought the War on Drugs was a stupid name, anyway. Would that break the association?”

    “In time,” a hoarse wheeze came from the next bench over. “Have patience.”

    Bundled up so heavily that he looked rather like a man-sized pile of elaborately patterned green and white cloth, the four-century-old representative of the Great River Coalition was by far the most senior member of the Council. Despite being barely audible, his voice carried weight on account of the wisdom of age and his extreme magical talent... source of both great deeds in his youth and the longevity that still kept him kicking. Such was doubly the case since he would likely last only a few more years. While magic could stave off the effects for a long time, eventually and inevitably age came upon everyone. When it did, a wizard spiraled into a final decline, and the longer aging had been delayed, the steeper that decline would be. The wizened ancient of the Great River was now well into that final spiral.

    The elder’s brief pronouncement killed discussion for a time, leaving a silence in its wake broken only by the low crackle of the hearth fire.

    “Perhaps we could simply explain the situation in full detail rather than hiding behind the public health excuse,” a new voice, deep and rumbling, offered from the last bench. “If we paint it as the calculated assault by a foreign power that it truly is rather some horribly self-destructive but still personal habit as they believe it to be, I would imagine the Sleepers would be much more open to action.”

    Everyone turned to the sole occupant of the final bench. The representative from the Frozen Shores was a compact man, surprisingly so in light of his voice, and he sat atop the furry polar bear pelt that would have been a ceremonial cloak in colder weather. In contrast to his compatriots’ elaborate finery, he wore only a loincloth and a few elaborately carved ornaments of ivory and bone. Despite his scant attire, his skin glistened with sweat in the mild summer weather.

    “And break the Silence?” the Salish headman gasped in shock.

    “Why not?” the loincloth-clad man inquired with a careless shrug. “What purpose has it served?”

    “Without it we would have been caught up in the Wars,” the rainbow-clad man protested, clutching at the beaten copper necklace. “You saw what happened to our Sleeper cousins, how many they killed! We cannot possibly trust those barbarians!”

    “Yes, yes... our Sleepers fought a long and difficult series of wars against theirs, the newcomers eventually won, and rather than enslaving or exterminating the defeated as any sensible people would have, the insane fools left their former enemies alive, even offering them land to use as their own,” the loincloth-clad man sneered. “Such horrible monsters those Americans are!”

    “You know perfectly well it is not that simple!” the Salish representative protested. “So much culture was lost!”

    What culture?” he scoffed. “Remember that you speak of those same Sleepers that we abandoned as useless dregs over a thousand years ago! They were pathetic then, and they have only degenerated since. Nothing of value was lost.”

    “Nothing of value? Nothing of value! Look at what we have lost, even with the Silence protecting us!” the copper-bedecked man protested, waxing poetic as he fell into a practiced argument. “Traditions, ancient rites, venerable institutions of our great culture... abandoned! And for what? Fear! Fear of the American Sleepers and their baseless and unthinking prejudices, their unwarranted interference... all because you were afraid something would slip and endanger the Silence, and now you want to give it up voluntarily? How dare you say that...”

    “Oh, shut up! That tired old saw was already ancient when you were appointed to the Council, and it has not improved since,” Tadodaho interrupted with an exasperated groan. “It has been a hundred and twenty years, and you are still whining about giving up your damned slaves! That was before your time, for that matter, it was before your grandfather’s time, if I recall. Stop already!”

    The man shook his head in disgust, antlered headdress swaying with the movement, before continuing sternly, “And for the record, it was not out of fear that something would slip, it was in reaction to something that did slip... something that slipped four hundred and sixty-seven times! You were the ones who couldn’t keep your mouths shut around the Sleepers, not the rest of us. The Council only stepped in when your forebears forced our hand with their own incompetence!”

    “You kept slaves too!”

    “We did,” he acknowledged calmly, “yet you don’t hear us complaining about losing them over a century after the fact, do you? And we, at least, would have grounds to complain, since we gave them up on account of your ancestors’ stupidity.”

    “But...”

    “There was more to those wars you spoke of than you are willing to admit as well,” Toh Yah interrupted. “I saw many of those firsthand. Had I been in the American Sleepers’ place and my people been subjected to the atrocities theirs were...”

    “Comanche,” the Great River elder interjected in a laconic wheeze, as if that one word were argument enough.

    In a way, it was. It took quite a lot of bad blood for an entire tribe to earn the name ‘enemy’, after all. There was a reason that the magical counterpart of that nation no longer existed... some people were just bad neighbors, and the Nations of the Confederacy shared none of the American Sleepers’ childish compunctions against genocide.

    “Exactly,” Toh Yah agreed with a nod to the elder. “That the American Sleepers did not exterminate them all, that they did not hold a perfectly justifiable grudge, ought to be evidence enough of their good nature. That they went further, integrating the rest into their society, is simply insanity. However, while they may be crazy, that particular brand of insanity does bode well for our chances in this case. If the Americans could get past that sort of atrocity, then I refuse to believe we would have any trouble with them.”

    At that point, the last few members of the Salish delegation finally filtered in.

    “Perhaps the Sleepers might have accepted us... had approached them back then,” Tadodaho ventured. “I do not believe it would go so smoothly now... not after hiding for so long. Perhaps if we...”

    “That will have to be a discussion for another time,” he was interrupted by another voice, this one belonging to the only female present. She spoke with firm and final authority. “The Council is now at full attendance, and our visitors await. It is time to receive them.”

    She was Jigonsahseh, Keeper of the Great Longhouse and the only woman present at the meeting of the exclusively male Grand Council. Her thick shock of hair white with age, she nonetheless stood resplendent in the rich blue of her formal garb which shone iridescent, the firelight glinting from the thousands of tiny mother-of-pearl beads encrusting its elaborate embroidery. Jigonsahseh was not a member of the Grand Council itself, those seats were reserved for the men, but she was the final authority on proceedings within the Council chamber. Outside the proceedings, she also headed the matriarchs’ council which held final sway on both appointments to the Grand Council and on large-scale magical affairs.

    All told, she cut quite the imposing figure.

    “Of course,” Tadodaho acquiesced easily as the rest of the men immediately fell silent, everyone shifting slightly to ensure they were seated firmly atop their respective benches.

    With that, the doors swung open behind Toh Yah, seemingly of their own accord, to admit their visitors.

    “Enter in peace, strangers, and make yourselves known to us. I am Jigonsaseh, Keeper of the Great Longhouse,” she introduced herself to the guests.

    As she spoke the ritual greeting, animation charms built into the benches engaged, slowly and smoothly turning and then levitating into a rough approximation of amphitheater seating so that everyone could face the newcomers as one front. As the wooden slabs floated off the ground, beaded banners which had served as rugs when in their resting position fell to hang from the front edge of the slab benches. The individual banners, or wampum, hung down depicting the sigils of the associated nation picked out in purple and white beads.

    As craning his neck to see them would have been beneath his dignity while within the Council chamber, it was only as the benches settled into their final positions that Toh Yah got his first look at the newcomers. It was a motley group — including both a child and a centaur of all things — and at ten strong, it was an unusually large one as well. The old wizard barely suppressed an amused snort as he watched the young boy in particular, his head turning rapidly this way and that as he attempted to take in the entire interior of the Great Longhouse at once in wide-eyed wonder.

    As the group reached a good distance for talking, he settled in alongside his colleagues to hear what they had to say.

    5.2.5 A hand extended in friendship

    Much to Harry’s fascination, the interior of the building was even more ornate than the exterior. Where the outside had been covered in bold carvings and paints, the inside was festooned with softer furnishings. Colorful blankets and banners woven with intricate designs, sculptures of bone and leather, carvings of all sorts in a spectacular range of materials, bold wooden masks and elaborate beadwork tapestries, ornate pottery, and even hide ‘paintings’ made by carefully shaving an image into the fur. Hardly an inch of wall or ceiling had been left unadorned, and even the free space between was curtained in layer after layer of free-hanging decorations, at least around the perimeter of the room.

    A large central rectangle, however, was almost entirely clear. The floor was clean, sanded wood, for once plain and free from carvings, and in the center of that expanse stood a curious sight.

    Six low benches sat around a low stone hearth at the center of the room, full of elaborately dressed men. Smoke from the hearth fire licked at the edges of a large cooking pot as it made its way towards a hidden chimney opening in the roof. A stately and imposing looking woman in blue tended the hearth, unbowed with age despite her snow-white hair.

    “Enter in peace, strangers, and make yourselves known to us,” the woman spoke in perfect English. “I am Jigonsaseh, Keeper of the Great Longhouse.”

    As she spoke, the benches began to shift with a quiet rasp of wood sliding on wood. The ones closest to the door swiveled in place until they faced the Hogwarts party and then rose a few inches off the ground, while those behind the fire rose much higher. They eventually settled into a sort of levitating stadium seating arrangement which framed the hearth and the woman who tended it.

    The Hogwarts contingent stopped at what seemed to be an appropriate distance from the fire, and Albus took the lead.

    “Greetings Jigonsaseh, I am Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and these are my colleagues,” the old wizard began with a shallow but respectful nod before running through a round of introductions for each of the professors who had accompanied the group.

    “...and finally, we have Mr. Harry Potter and his young lady, Miss Suze,” he concluded his introduction gesturing to the two in question. “We have come in pursuit of a matter of notable importance involving a number of ancient artifacts, several of which we believe to be located within your sphere of influence. Before I explain further, however, we would present you with a regard gift to commemorate our meeting, as is proper.” He turned to Harry. “Mr. Potter, if you would?”

    Snapping back to his senses at the address, the young dragon sharply nodded and reached into his pocket to withdraw what appeared to be a tiny twig. A tap of his wand undid the minor transfiguration that had shrunken it to fit in his pocket, and the sculpture slammed outward against his fingers as it suddenly reverted to its original size. Despite weighing over a hundred pounds and standing taller than his current human form, Harry carried it easily as he approached the fire and gently set the sculpture’s carved wooden base on the smooth floor with a slight thump.

    As soon as they had returned to their proper size, the runes on the steel tree had begun charging, and by the time he had crossed the room, the glowing, drifting patches of light that served as leaves had begun to fade into existence, seeming to bloom as the base touched the floor. Soon they were casting their ethereal glow over everyone around the fire. As Harry released the trunk, a tiny eagle figurine which had been perched quietly on a steel branch unfurled its silver wings and took flight with a piercing cry, circled the room once, and then came back to alight onto the tree once more.

    Through it all, the assembled Council watched with rapt attention.

    “I hope I got the white pine right,” Harry said nervously after stepping back slightly. “I know it doesn’t look quite like the Scots pines back at home, so I was working from a drawing in my encyclopedia set, and Suze did the carving on the base, and... um, there are some arrows under the tree in a hidden compartment in the base just like I read about your founding story, and Mrs. McGonagall made the eagle. Sorry if the cry isn’t quite right, she based it off a hawk, ‘cause we don’t have any bald eagles back home for her to listen to. Anyway, I hope you like it!”

    “It is quite remarkable, Harry Potter. I thank you on behalf of the Nations for your fine gift.” She nodded gravely before her eyes narrowed. “However, I must ask: why have you seen fit to enter this place of peace wearing a false face?”

    That accusation drew a hard gaze from every man around the fire.

    “Because I couldn’t fit through the door otherwise,” the young, apparently human boy fielded the question with easy aplomb.

    Those hard gazes quickly melted into confused ones... all except for one sitting in the back row on the same bench as a man in an antlered headdress. Dressed in beaded and fringed deer hide with his hair in the same distinctive style as the guards from the previous night, the odd man out leaned forward, smiling faintly as if in anticipation of some great joke.

    “Well, now that you are inside,” a harsh voice demanded, “perhaps you should reveal yourself to us properly? In fact, I must insist.”

    The voice belonged to a grim-faced man dressed in all the colors of the sunrise who sat on the center cushion of one of the foremost benches, his gaze still rock-hard. Despite its colorful nature, his clothing was nonetheless very practical-looking, cut for easy movement with no trailing bits to catch on things and studded with enameled armor plates covering his vitals. His only nod to the finery of his colleagues was a copious quantity of silver and turquoise jewelry which stood out in bright contrast to the rest of his attire.

    Unfazed by the confrontational tone, Harry looked about the room, calmly estimating its measure.

    “I guess I ought to fit if I curl up tight,” he shrugged. Turning to his compatriots, he asked, “Um, guys, do you mind moving back a bit. I don’t want to step on anyone by accident.”

    The rest of the Hogwarts contingent complied, and soon enough a giant dragon swelled into existence, leaving the cavernous interior of the Great Longhouse seeming rather unbearably cramped. After a collective inrush of breath, the room fell silent but for the crackling of the fire and the quiet snickering of the Mohawk chieftain.

    The quiet was interrupted by a loud thump.

    “Oops!” Harry’s childish voice broke the stunned silence as one of the masks adorning the wall fell to the ground, having been dislodged by an errant twitch of his tail. “Um, I don’t think it’s broken... um, sorry?”

    “That is quite alright,” Jigonsaseh assured him nearly automatically, the childish tone of the apology familiar enough to trigger the same response she had given her own children and grandchildren so many times over the years. “There was no harm done, simply take more care in the future.”

    The great draconic head gave an earnest and enthusiastic nod which, were it not for the creature’s terrifying visage, would not have been out of place from her own sons back when they were that age. The tiny spot of familiarity was enough of a point of refence for her to begin to collect her wits.

    “Why then have you come to us, Harry Potter?”

    “Well, I came along because they need me to deal with the node thingies, ‘cause no one else can drain them properly, as far as we know,” he said with a great draconic shrug... an odd sort of thing that shrug, involving as it did two pairs of shoulders and a long, rippling neck. “Mr. Dumbledore is better at explaining that, though, so maybe...”

    “Of course, of course,” the blue-clad woman agreed with a sigh, the reminder finally setting her fully back on track. “Albus Dumbledore,” she called to the man where he presumably still stood unseen on the other side of the dragon in the room, “if you would continue.”

    And, as soon as the remainder of the Hogwarts contingent managed to squeeze back into view, Dumbledore continued. The elderly wizard spoke of ancient artifacts and apocalyptic explosions, and the Grand Council listened with rapt attention until eventually the tale drew to a close.

    “And finally, our seeress informed us that the next node on our itinerary ought to be the one that lay near the Seven Sisters Peaks, which I have been led to believe lie within Salish territory. That is why we have sought you out at this time.”

    The room fell silent but the occasional crackle of the fire as the Council considered the request.

    “I see,” one of the men spoke from the center of the bench directly behind the fire. He wore an antlered headdress and beaded leather. “What say the Nations?”

    Each bench conferred among themselves for a short time, until the harsh-sounding man spoke up from his bench.

    “The Diné Protectorate does not object to the newcomer’s activities. They have approached us honorably,” he nodded to Harry, who practically preened at the acknowledgement, “and their stated goals are in our best interests. We do, however, suggest that the matter be forwarded to the matriarchs for a review of its spiritual implications before final permission is granted.”

    That drew a round of nods from around the fire.

    “The Salish Commons agree on both counts,” a man decked out in polished copper spoke from another bench. “Should the women also agree, they will be welcomed within our territories.”

    “Agreed,” wheezed a green and white pile of cloth on another bench.

    “The Seven Fires concur,” a man wearing the elaborate eagle feather headdress that was so iconic in popular culture nodded.

    “As does the Alliance of the Frozen Shores,” the loincloth clad sole occupant of the last bench spoke up from where he sat.

    The antlered man looked to his fellows on his own bench, who nodded in assent.

    “Then it is decided, for the Haudenosaunee also agree,” he nodded, antlers tilting with the motion. “The Great Council grants its tentative approval, pending review by the matriarchs. Honored Jigonsaseh,” he turned to the blue-clad woman, “we leave this matter in your capable hands. So speaks Tadodaho.”

    The Keeper of the Great Longhouse nodded in grave acknowledgement, and so the meeting ended.

    5.2.6 Delay is...

    Across the Atlantic and five time zones ahead, it was already mid-afternoon in London as Crackjaw Slackhammer watched the blindingly yellow robes of the recently hired pair of solicitors disappear behind the door to his office. The news had been... not precisely good, but it had been far better than he had feared.

    The Brethren had a long and bitter history when it came to family members being held in Ministry custody after all, and learning that his business partner’s young lady was being held by the organization had not augured well. Finding that she seemed to be in actual protective custody rather than the sort of ‘protective custody’ that had come very close to sparking the Bold ’99 six months prematurely had been a weight off the goblin’s mind.

    The girl was safe, sound, and not being held under duress. Because of that, the Nation would not be required to take precipitous action to keep his agreement with his youthful business partner. For a few tense hours there, the Vice-Director had feared that he had managed to drag his people into a shooting war for which they were ill-prepared, but in the end, it seemed to have turned out for the best.

    That was good.

    He sighed.

    Now he just had to decide what to tell the young dragon of this incident.

    The portly goblin sat back in his chair and grimaced as he took a sip of his now unpleasantly tepid cup of goblin tea before knocking back the remainder in one go.

    That was an entirely new problem.

    Slackhammer had seriously considered waiting to tell Mr. Potter until he returned home. Practically speaking there was nothing to be done from across the Atlantic; the only thing the boy could conceivably accomplish was to fly back under his own power at the risk of revealing himself to the nonmagical air defense grids and disrupting the important work he was there to do. By those metrics, it would be irresponsible in the extreme to interrupt.

    On the other hand, Slackhammer also knew well how the boy thought, and if he withheld that information, it would be a tossup whether his youngest business partner would accept his reasoning or be offended by the perceived lie. If he accepted it, then all to the good, but if he did not... well that was the sort of thing which could poison any relationship, business or otherwise.

    Therein lay the rub.

    The continuing joint venture with Mr. Potter was critically important, not only for his own future but also for that of Gringotts and the Brethren as a whole. Fostering and maintaining that relationship had become one of Slackhammer’s primary responsibilities of late. It was the sole reason he had entered into the ridiculously open-ended protection agreement with the young dragon in the first place... the very agreement which had had him on tenterhooks all afternoon fearing a sudden outbreak of war and a personal appointment with a firing squad for his role in causing it. Despite that, he did not regret the choice.

    The goodwill of the Dragon of Hogwarts could not be jeopardized.

    Tragically, both available options did so... one by risking the success of two critically important long-term projects, the other by preserving those projects at the risk of earning the personal ire of a great wyrm.

    The portly goblin slammed his cup back down on his desk with a loud clatter of breaking porcelain as he stood up from his desk and began pacing, showing more energy in his frustration than he had all day in his worry.

    What was he to do?

    The door opened to admit his batman, Steelhammer, who held the door with one hand, the other resting on his sidearm ready to draw as he sought the reason for the commotion. As soon as he saw the desk, his hand fell from his holster and he ducked back out of the office, soon returning with a dustpan and a small whisk broom.

    “Troubles, sir?” Steelhammer asked in his usual deadpan as he busied himself with cleaning up the shards of broken ceramic.

    “Indeed, Mr. Steelhammer, my apologies for the mess,” Slackhammer replied with a sigh of regret at the necessity of the gob’s current task.

    It was not becoming of him to cause his men extra work in a fit of pique. There was much work to be done and no profit in wasting time with... he froze at the thought, eyes widening as an idea coalesced.

    Perhaps that was... not quite correct in this instance.

    “Tell me, Mr. Steelhammer,” he asked suddenly. “Is Quickknife still courting that fetching young lady — Snickersnack, I believe it was — down in Signaling?”

    “Yes, sir... at least he was as of two days ago,” he said, not batting an eyelash at the apparent non-sequitur as he collected the last of the porcelain shards and dumped the lot into the waste bin.

    The Vice Chairman nodded thoughtfully and continued, “We have all been working quite hard of late, and I believe the office would be well served by an evening off. Give each of the staff a galleon from my personal account and instruct them to take the rest of the night off and use it to enjoy themselves. After that return, I will have one more task for you before you may retire for the evening as well.”

    “Yes sir, Mr. Vice Chairman,” Steelhammer acknowledged with a nod as he turned to carry out the unusual order.

    “And Steelhammer,” Slackhammer called after him, “be sure to suggest that Quickknife take his young lady out for a night on the town... something that will keep the pair out late. Tell him I will be very disappointed with him should she return to her desk before...” He quickly tallied the hours in his head. “... call it lunchtime tomorrow.”

    Steelhammer nodded and left.

    With that, the dapper goblin sighed in relief as he returned to his now clean desk and retrieved a sheet of parchment, setting to writing out a quick report to Mr. Potter on the situation and his own recommendations, taking care to mark the message as urgent.

    Soon, Steelhammer returned.

    “Ah, good. Have they left?” Slackhammer asked. At the Corporal’s nod, he continued, “Then please take this to Signaling and place it on Miss Snickersnack’s desk.” He handed off the report. “Remember, her desk only. You may then retire for the evening.”

    As the reliable gob nodded and left to carry out his final task of the evening, his superior indulged in a stiff drink. Sighing contentedly as he sipped his firewhiskey, he relaxed into the plush embrace of his office chair and enjoyed the silence of the now-empty office, smiling a toothy sort of grin.

    The portly goblin raised his glass to the small bookshelf off to the side of his office which carried upon its shelves a modest collection of books, among them several written by a human, one C. Northcote Parkinson.

    “Here’s to you, Mr. Parkinson,” he saluted the author whose recent passing had prompted him to reread his books. “You may well have saved my life, possibly among a great many others.”

    Delay truly was one of the most powerful tools in the bureaucratic arsenal.

    Now he just had to remember to send the field agent a case of something nice for the holidays lest the poor unfortunate try to kill him once he finally sussed out who was responsible for the mess that was about to fall in his lap.

    5.2.7 Names with teeth

    Toh Yah strode purposefully across the rolling grassy expanse of the Great Longhouse complex.

    The audience had been full of surprises, Toh Yah reckoned as he shrugged off his annoyingly ornate formal jewelry. Fortunately, only most of those surprises had been unpleasant. Shrinking the jewelry, he stowed the tangle of silver and turquoise away in a convenient pocket without breaking stride, leaving him in the warm Painted Desert camouflage of the armored battle fatigues which had been his standard uniform for as long as he could remember. Aside from the colors, which varied with the environment, he was fairly certain he had worn nothing else for at least two hundred years.

    That Albus Dumbledore had painted a dire picture, and the potential bad outcomes were spine-chilling. At least he also seemed to have a well thought out plan for handling the situation, so Toh Yah didn’t feel the need to worry about it too much. He had spent a lifetime dealing with dire possibilities, and a good plan was far better than what he usually had to work with. The women would handle the details, as was their duty. If they deemed it necessary, they would tell him what needed to happen, and then he would make it so, as was his duty. Spirits knew they had never been shy about telling him what to do in the past.

    Though speaking of spirits, there was something he did feel the urgent need to investigate, and had his colleagues not forgotten their childhood lessons, they would have been right by his side.

    A Great Serpent had appeared.

    Or to put it in proper context:

    A Great Serpent, among the greatest of the wide variety of powerful beings the Nations knew collectively as ‘spirits’, had appeared right in front of them for the first time since the days of the Sundering.

    Toh Yah had trouble imagining how it could be that he was the only council member seeking the creature out, yet here he was. The elder from the Great River had the excuse of barely being able to walk, and Wahchinksapa obviously had other business, given the beeline he had made for the parking lot. Those were understandable, but the rest of his colleagues had headed for the cafeteria of all places...

    Fools, the lot of them.

    Pausing at the top of a slight rise, Toh Yah looked out over the grounds and quickly spotted the small human child that was the guise to which the Great Serpent had reverted to fit through the Council chamber door. Destination now set, the old soldier resumed his brisk pace, determined to strike up a conversation before his fellows came to their senses and tried to interrupt.

    The creature stood before a grand mural painted on the side of a massive boulder which it was examining closely. Toh Yah frowned as he tried to recall what the piece depicted. It was one of about twenty such pieces that littered the grounds, and it had been a while since he had last taken the time to walk the grounds and actually look at them. If he recalled that one was... he trailed off only to smile as he drew close enough to directly confirm his vague recollection.

    How appropriate.

    “Reminiscing?” Toh Yah asked conversationally.

    “What do you mean?” the spirit asked, turning to look up at him cutely with its big green eyes open wide with curiosity.

    Toh Yah’s hand twitched at his side as he fought down his instinct to pat the creature on the head. This Harry Potter was uncannily good at imitating a young human child. It seemed an odd choice for a great and terrible creature of the spirit world, but if it was content to pretend to be an adorable human child, then Toh Yah was content to allow it its idiosyncrasies.

    It was, after all, a great and terrible creature of the spirit world; there were far worse things it could choose to do with its time.

    “That mural depicts the story of the Great Bridge and the Sundering, the story of how we came to inhabit this great land long ago,” he explained, pausing for a moment to meet the creature’s vivid green gaze. “It was also the last time that your kind deigned to interact with us, Great Serpent.”

    Green eyes opened wide.

    “I would imagine that you would have had a different perspective on the time, living across the ocean in foreign lands,” Toh Yah ventured. “What was it like there?”

    “Um, I don’t know personally,” the currently human-shaped creature shifted uncomfortably. “I mean, from what the centaurs have told me — they’ve got some similar legends — that was a long time ago, and well... I’m only twelve, you know. I mean, I’ll be thirteen at the end of next month, but...”

    The Great Serpent trailed off uncertainly, and it was the old wizard’s turn to be surprised as wizened eyes opened wide.

    The Great Serpent was only a dozen years old? It was practically a newborn! Toh Yah had not realized that spirits even came that young, though now that he thought of it, he supposed it made sense. Everything had a beginning, after all, so it stood to reason that spirits could be born, and if they could be born, then they could obviously be young. That said, the revelation killed most of what he had planned to ask. Toh Yah frowned thoughtfully; this would require some thought on how to proceed.

    “Mister... uh, what’s your name?” the young Great Serpent asked uncertainly. “I didn’t catch it earlier.”

    “I am called Toh Yah,” the old soldier answered absently, still lost in thought.

    “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Toh Yah,” Harry Potter nodded politely. “I remember you saying you represented the Diné Protectorate. That’s in the southwest, right? Between the... Great River Coalition to the north and the Aztec Empire to the south?”

    “And extending from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Gulf of Mexico in the east,” Toh Yah confirmed with a nod. “We also share borders with the Seven Fires and the Haudenosaunee out in the far east of our territory, but very few of us live out in those parts.”

    “Okay, neat! Um, I’m sorry I’m not older, Mr. Toh Yah,” the creature apologized, rubbing the back of its head in another of those remarkably humanlike gestures. “You seemed pretty disappointed.”

    “No, Harry Potter, I am not disappointed,” Toh Yah shook his head, “but I am at a loss on how to proceed. I had planned to ask your advice under the assumption that you were one of the Great Serpents of legend, ancient as the mountains with the wisdom attendant such age. Unfortunately, it seems that is not the case.”

    “Oh!” it fell silent for a moment as its face screwed up in thought. “Um, well I might not be really old, but maybe we could talk about whatever it is anyway? I mean, sometimes it’s good just to get another perspective on things.” It shrugged, “I can’t see it hurting, at least, even if I can’t help much.”

    “Perhaps,” Toh Yah answered with a shrug of his own. He smiled, “If nothing else, I suppose I could tell you some of my stories from the war! My great grandchildren have always enjoyed those.”

    “That’s the war with the Aztecs, right?” Harry Potter confirmed.

    “Of course,” Toh Yah’s white-haired head bobbed in confirmation. “There has been nothing else in many decades... at least nothing more consequential than an ugly bar fight. We have been fighting off those damned cannibals for over two thousand years, taking and retaking the same blood-soaked ground the entire time. Other conflicts rarely garner enough importance to become an actual war.”

    “Really?” the Great Serpent frowned. “I’d think that someone would just give up and stop fighting after that long a stalemate. I mean, that ground can’t be that important, right?”

    The old wizard barked out a humorless laugh. “No, that land serves no purpose beyond being a defensive buffer. The problem is that the Aztecs do not fight for land; they fight for blood.”

    “You mean they’re out for revenge?” Harry Potter ventured with a puzzled frown. “After two thousand years?”

    “No, they are out for actual blood, human sacrifices,” Toh Yah explained. “When given the chance, they raid us, taking our people — men, women, and children alike — as sacrifices, either to feed to that bloodthirsty snake they call a god or to fuel their wretched magics. We object to that, and thus we have the war. We will not be overrun and turned into their own private hunting preserve as they have done to the tribes in Central America, not on my watch!”

    “Oh... I guess that makes sense,” the Great Serpent said, sounding somewhat taken aback. “I guess... I’m still kind of surprised that it’s run this long, though. I mean, after two thousand years, especially with that kind of motivation, I figure someone ought to have won out by now. I mean, that sort of back and forth usually leads to someone winning in the end...”

    “In large part, it is due to the nature of their magics,” the warleader explained. “Technically, with our allies in the Confederacy, we have a significant numerical advantage, but Aztec blood magics draw strength from death and suffering, meaning that any time we gain the upper hand and start winning the war, their mages get a new, plentiful source of power, allowing them to push back ever harder. The deeper an offensive goes, the more powerful the defenders get.”

    Harry Potter nodded. “I get that, but why hasn’t it gone the other way? Wouldn’t they strengthen regardless of who was doing the most dying? I’d think that would be just as much of an issue if they were winning.”

    “There have been a number of such times, times when they came to occupy significant portions of our territory,” the old wizard nodded gravely. “Again, the Aztec lust for blood saved us, as odd as that might seem. Had they pursued a scorched earth policy, we would have been finished any number of times, but they want a rebellious population, a cowed population apparently makes for poorer sacrifices. That, combined with the sheer size of the Confederacy, meant that eventually the tides would change, and liberators would come. The last such cycle of conquest and liberation ended shortly before my birth, early in the eighteenth century. The tides have been mostly in our favor since, though that has shifted of late.”

    “How so?” the young spirit asked curiously.

    “At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Aztec Empire controlled most of the area the Sleepers know as Texas and New Mexico,” Toh Yah explained, nodding. “I personally led the offensive which pushed them out of the Rio Grande valley... twenty years and two thousand miles of continual combat, ending when we ran them into the sea.”

    “Wow...” Harry Potter breathed.

    “It was that campaign which earned me my name, Toh Yah,” he smiled a wistful sort of smile.

    “What does it mean?”

    “It means ‘He-Who-Walks-by-the-River’,” he elaborated, his wistful smile taking on a predatory glint. “I understand the cannibals gifted me with a much less flattering name for the same achievement.”

    “What’s that one?” the Great Serpent asked curiously.

    “Chichiltisokitl,” he replied.

    At the creature’s curious expression, he explained, “That one translates to ‘Red Mud’.” His smile turned downright nasty.

    Harry Potter nodded slowly at that, closing its eyes as it considered what it had been told. “Umm you said it had shifted, what’s changed?”

    Toh Yah closed his own eyes and sighed, then he began, “Many times the balance of power shifts with the development of new techniques or technologies. Our last liberation was ushered in by the development of the Interdiction...”

    “That’s the ward thingy you guys have up to stop magical transportation, right?” the Great Serpent asked.

    “Yes, it is,” the old wizard confirmed. “The Interdiction spoiled Aztec battle tactics which relied heavily on superior mobility, allowing our allies to sweep in using the new tactics they had developed to take advantage of the shift. They did so, to devastating effect.”

    “How do you take advantage of that?” the creature asked, puzzled. “I mean, aren’t you just as restricted as they are?”

    The old wizard closed his eyes for a moment as he gathered his thoughts.

    “Horses are fast, are they not, Harry Potter?” Toh Yah suddenly asked.

    “I guess?” Harry Potter ventured, frowning in confusion at the apparent non sequitur.

    “Did you know that a properly trained human can run down any horse in the world?” the Warleader continued. “Horses are sprinters. They will win a short race, but humans can always win in the distance, running the horse to exhaustion.”

    “At that time, there were no other transportation methods available,” the old wizard explained. “Trains would not become available for nearly a century, and automobiles did not enter the picture until the turn of this century. We wizards had our own methods, of course, but the Interdiction ended those, so it was either on horseback or on foot. We chose the latter for one, simple reason.”

    “Okay...” came the leading response.

    “While any properly trained human can run down a horse given time, a properly trained wizard can outrun one in the short distance, too. Better yet, he can maintain that pace for a very long time. Our warriors were and are properly trained, Harry Potter,” the old man explained, meeting the Great Serpent’s vivid green eyes intently. “The Aztecs were not. My name is He-Who-Walks-by-the-River for a reason. When I said we ran them into the sea, I meant we ran them into the sea; the entire campaign was conducted on foot. During the past few centuries, our infantry has ruled the field, and in the absence of magical transportation the Aztecs have struggled to find a counter.”

    “But you said that’s changed lately, right?” the Great Serpent asked. “What’s going on now? Is it because of cars and stuff?”

    “Part of it was the introduction of nonmagical automobiles, it is true; automobiles blunt the edge of our advantage; however, the effect was minimized due their introduction on both sides of the fight at roughly the same time. The major issue has been something else,” the Diné leader explained. “The enemy has used blood magic-based enhancement rituals for quite some time, and those can make Aztec infantry quite competitive — even superior in many ways — but they have never had the resources to enhance any group larger than a raiding party. That changed half a century ago, and the numbers of enhanced personnel have increased dramatically since.”

    “For several decades, the reason for that remained a mystery, until we finally identified it approximately twenty years ago,” he continued. “The Aztec mages had begun to employ a new tactic, a method of harvesting power from the Sleeper population mediated by a magical drug called cocaine.”

    “I’ve read a little about that,” Harry Potter volunteered. “It’s an extract from the leaf of the coca plant, I think. I didn’t think it was magical, though.”

    “It is,” Toh Yah assured the young spirit. “Artificially engineered, too; though our analysts do not believe it originated from the Aztec labs. It doesn’t seem to match the earmarks of their favored methods. The current theory is that they stole it from someone else, though we have no idea who.”

    “I think that article mentioned it originated in South America, but it was a nonmagical encyclopedia, so I’m not sure if that’s right. If it’s a magical plant, then someone probably hid that part, too,” the young dragon deferred with a thoughtful frown. "I’ve got no idea what might work to counter it either. I’d guess interfering with the distribution systems or something... maybe find some way to immunize people? I know you can counter-dose for potions sometimes, depending on how they work, but the logistics would be hard for millions of people.” It sighed, “I assume you know all that better than I do anyway.”

    “We have several programs in that vein,” the wizard agreed. “Unfortunately, they have borne frustratingly little fruit.”

    “Um, well... it seems to me that the problem is that they’re catching up on the physical magic front, right?” Harry Potter offered, his words coming faster as his ideas presented themselves more clearly. “They’re starting to put you in the same position as you had put them when you first put the Interdiction up, maybe...”

    Toh Yah cocked a curious snowy-white eyebrow and waited attentively.

    Green eyes opened wide as a smile appeared on the creature’s boyish face.

    “Hey, can I get a look at how you set up that Interdiction thingy?” it asked.

    “Why?” the warleader asked suspiciously.

    “Well, depending on how it works, we might be able to...”

    Toh Yah leaned closer, listened intently to the young spirit’s counsel.

    As it finished its explanation, the old soldier smiled.

    5.2.8 Winnebago

    Walking down the gravel pathway towards the parking lot, Severus Snape’s sallow face was twisted into a scowl, as was his wont. It was, however, a lesser scowl than his usual fare. The meeting had gone as well as could be hoped, and the potions master was cautiously optimistic that the trend would continue. Thus, he had few reservations about going forward with the second half of his business for the day.

    It was time to take delivery on his new vehicle.

    That morning during his meeting with his local Gringotts contact, the goblin had assured him that the vehicle would be available in the Great Longhouse’s parking lot after the council meeting. All that was left was to finalize the sale. Snape had high hopes for the thing... he ought to. He had paid a great deal of money for it, after all.

    As the dour potions master rounded the last bend in the pathway and passed through the stand of tall evergreens into the parking lot, he caught sight of what he could only assume was the vehicle in question. It was massive, but he had known it would be from the earlier discussions; that was the point, after all. At a bit over thirty feet long, it was nearly half the length of the locomotive that pulled the Express, and that was about as far as that comparison went.

    The locomotives Snape had grown up around had a certain grace to them, a grace apparent in the curve of their boilers and the coordinated ballet of their exposed driving mechanics. This vehicle was a blocky affair with hardly a curve to recommend it and all its mechanical components concealed within the beige box that was its main chassis. Even the wheels themselves were half-hidden by squared off wheel-wells. Other than the windows and door, the only structural point of interest was the front end which projected forward to form a sort of beak a little less than halfway up the front face of the awkward-looking thing. It was a box on wheels, the bland color only broken up by accent striping in a dark brown and orange that ran down the length of the vehicle at about chest height and outlined the windows.

    Taking it in, Snape shrugged internally. It would do.

    As he made his way across the expanse of crushed stone, two men stood beside the wheeled contraption engaged in conversation. One was easily recognizable as a council member despite standing with his back to approaching potions master, the representative of the Seven Fires Council, if Snape remembered correctly, the prominent feathered headdress he still wore was a dead giveaway. The other was a younger man, dressed simply in blue jeans and a collared chambray shirt with a blocky orange ‘W’ embroidered on the chest pocket. He was the first to notice Snape’s approach, motioning to alert the council member as soon as he did so.

    “Greetings, Severus Snape!” the older man turned around and called out with a broad, well-practiced smile. “It is good to meet you in a less formal situation, especially if we are to be working together on these things in the future. Your elder mentioned a number of these devices in our territory as I recall.”

    “Indeed,” the dour man agreed gravely. “This will be only the first of many, should everything go well.”

    “And the last time we do anything if it doesn’t,” the feather-bedecked man delivered the morbid observation with a slightly whimsical air.

    Snape shrugged, not feeling the need to reply. It was true after all.

    The councilman took in Snape’s laconic response, then nodded slightly as if he had learned something profound.

    “Well, it occurs to me that some introductions are in order,” he said, changing the subject. “As I do not believe we were formally introduced, I shall begin with myself. I am Wahchinksapa, chief of the Seven Fires Council. This is Kohana,” he gestured to the younger man, “a brave of the Winnebago, one of the Seven Fires tribes, and more relevant to this discussion, the senior project manager in charge of fulfilling your commission. Since he is one of mine, I decided to come over and sit in on things.”

    With that, Wahchinksapa stepped back leaving Kohana to step in with the broad, slightly artificial smile of a salesman.

    “Mr. Snape, it is good to finally meet you in person!” he said warmly, offering his hand to Snape, who shook it readily, if briefly. “It’s hard to get the true measure of a man secondhand.”

    Snape nodded in terse acknowledgement.

    “We have customized your vehicle to your specifications,” Kohana continued. “All our standard features, four-mode automatically reconfigurable interior which will comfortably sleep twenty-five, deployable space expansions, full climate control systems, and the rest of our top of the line suite. We have also exchanged the engine for a 600 horsepower Cummins-brand diesel to accommodate your extra features, namely that under-floor cargo compartment.”

    “As requested, the compartment is fitted with its own independently deployable, variable extent expansion, de-interlocked from the movement safeties so the vehicle can be operated while it is deployed. At full expansion, it will provide approximately double the volume of the vehicle’s main compartment, though I strongly recommend against driving with it so deployed,” the man frowned. “For that matter, I would not recommend driving with it deployed at all. I do hope you remember that moving expanded spaces is dangerous, Mr. Snape. Neither Winnebago Customs nor our nonmagical affiliate, Winnebago Industries will be held liable for any damages if you manage to kill yourself while driving with the space expansion deployed; we have specifically written a disclaimer to that effect into our bill of sale.”

    Snape nodded. “I am aware.”

    “Very well, so long as you are aware,” the man nodded, his smile returning as if a switch had been flipped. “Then I suppose our next step is to take you through and show you all the systems in detail before we get you behind the wheel. She’s a bit of a beast, so we’ll want to let you take her through her paces before the final handover; that Cummins takes some getting used to.”

    “We’ll start with the exterior,” Kohana began. “She started her life as a 1984 Chieftain 33RU before we brought her into the garage; the newer models changed around some of the internals, and we’re still reworking the enchantment anchors to accommodate them. We had to strip her down all the way to the frame for that engine upgrade. It’s not just finding a place to stick the bigger engine, we needed to strengthen the drive train; that Cummins would have sheared the stock model right off, same with the tires on the other end.”

    Kicking out, his foot thumped off the rear right tire, the outer one. “These are standard semi tires... that is, tires for an articulated lorry, as I believe you would know them. If you need to replace one, be sure to ask for steer tires. You will need six for a full set; we doubled up on the rear axle, though my mechanics did a good job of hiding it from casual view. You’ll need the extra bearing capacity if you’re planning to fill up that cargo compartment of yours.”

    He led on, Snape following him as they rounded the back of the vehicle with little more than a quick note of the spare tire and the ladder for roof access and stopped by the fuel fill.

    “That was all stuff for the mechanics if you run into a problem; this is the first bit you need to pay attention to as the operator,” Kohana continued. “You’ll be looking for diesel to fill up, that will usually be a green handle on the pump, but other than that it is just like filling up your car back home. However, that panel there,” he gestured to a small, covered access panel next to the fuel fill, “is a custom feature of ours, the access hatch for what we call a bricking tank. A lot of our customers, especially those from the Frozen Shore, operate a long way from the nearest fuel station, and the bricking tank makes it easy to fuel up for a long trip. It works like so...” The sales rep popped open the access panel and began pointing out components and explaining their function.

    The potions master nodded as he listened intently to the first of many explanations that would follow. He learned a bewildering variety of things about the nature of his recent purchase, how to operate it, things to do, and things not to do. He learned that when Winnebago Customs declared a vehicle “all-terrain”, they meant all-terrain, and he learned that his new top-of-the-line magical RV was in fact significantly better appointed — and more spacious, at least when parked and its expansions deployed — than his own home back in Britain.

    Most of all he learned, much to his growing irritation, that his uncharacteristically impulsive decision to save time by just agreeing to get ‘all the bells and whistles’ during the ordering process had backfired quite spectacularly. The explanations and demonstrations of feature after feature would drag on for more than an hour and a half.

    5.2.9 Observer

    As the youngster droned on, Wahchinksapa watched intently.

    The chieftain did not normally make a habit of overseeing such transactions; the men knew their business far better than he did after all, but this was a special circumstance. Wahchinksapa had led the Seven Fires for three-quarters of a century, and he had managed all Confederate intelligence operations for nearly half that time; he had not risen to either position through recklessness or gullibility. So when Jigonsahseh had taken him aside and informed him that one of the visiting delegation stank of darkness and pain, he had immediately formulated an excuse to get close to investigate.

    On the face of it, such an aura might well be nothing to worry about. Such things were to be expected of those who had lived hard lives in dark circumstances. Unfortunately, such things were also to be expected of an infiltrating Aztec blood mage doing his level best to be inconspicuous.

    He would watch, he would learn, and then he would judge.

    5.2.10 Practicalities

    “And when you are ready to go, this readies the vehicle for departure,” Kohana tapped another small gold-inlay on the control panel to the right of the door.

    As his wand touched the magically conductive metal, a slight pulse of magic triggered a dramatic alteration. The rich furnishings of the large sitting room which filled to inside of the cabin twisted and blurred as they changed, mapping into a new configuration as the auto-transfiguration engaged. Cabinets became luggage racks; couches and chairs moved and altered into comfortable bucket seating complete with seatbelts and rigid floor attachments; and tables merged into the floor. Doors faded into unbroken walls, the rooms behind them disappearing as the space expansion which had allowed their existence was undone. Even the main cabin seemed to ripple as it shrank slightly, and soon everything looked very much in keeping with what one might expect from the interior of a luxury tour bus.

    “As a reminder, the interior can only be reconfigured if the parking brake is engaged and no human is beyond this line,” he indicated the edge of the carpet about six inches beyond his own feet where he stood near the door. “Also note that the safety interlocks only check for humans. If you have any other living beings with you, pets or the like, you must ensure that they are out of the danger zone manually. I believe that is the last of it unless you have any questions?”

    “No, that will suffice,” Snape declined stiffly, his eye beginning to twitch irritably every time his guide opened his mouth.

    “Then I suppose it is time to get you into the driver’s seat,” he said with an eager smile, gesturing towards the front of the vehicle. “Come this way, and we can get started. You mentioned early on that you are familiar with driving a car, and the stability charms take care of most of the really difficult parts of driving a vehicle this big. You should expect it to handle much more sluggishly than you are likely used to, but that should be the only major difference. Take a seat, and we can get started.”

    Snape sat down and reflexively reached for the belt across his body with his left hand only to grasp empty air.

    “Other hand, Mr. Snape,” Kohana offered helpfully, “it’s reversed on this side of the ocean.”

    The unasked-for advice earned the man a venomous glare from his customer as Snape quickly corrected his mistake and jammed the buckle into place with unnecessary force. A few moments later, the key turned bringing the massive diesel to life, its insistent rumble reverberating across the parking lot. Soon enough, Kohana had his customer driving the massive vehicle about the almost empty lot getting used to its quirks.

    “Alright, I think we’re ready to take it out on the road now,” the still cheerful salesman pointed out, earning himself another dark glare. “Now the first thing to remember...”

    “Do you perhaps have any errands you might wish to run in preparation for your trip, Severus Snape?” Wachinksapa interrupted.

    A dark eyebrow rose in wordless question as Snape turned to eye his previously silent passenger.

    “Two in fact,” he drawled. “We are in rather dire need of some appropriately detailed maps of our destination in British Columbia, of the major roads between here and there, and of southern... Michigan, I believe it was. Mr. Potter sprang another intermediate destination on us yesterday... a friend of one of his goblin acquaintances, I believe.”

    “I see, and the other?”

    “Picking up a purchase from a nearby facility,” the sallow-faced man informed him.

    “That’s perfect!” Kohana exclaimed. “Always better to have somewhere in particular to go. “As I recall, the closest place to get maps that include customs bypass locations for magicals is probably...”

    “Perhaps you should go take care of that, youngster,” his elder interrupted him again. “An international highway map and detail atlases for Michigan and British Columbia?” he ventured, looking to Snape for confirmation. At the dark man’s nod, he continued, “yes, those three, please. Feel free to take one of our loaner cars over by the dormitories.”

    “But we still need to...” he protested.

    “Now, please,” Watchinksapa cut him off firmly. “I am certain I will be sufficient to see to your customer’s acclimatization to the rules of the road.”

    As soon as Kohana left, the chieftain turned to Snape, “You looked as though you were about to unload on the poor boy, so I thought to intervene.”

    The potions master spared him a nod, carefully not denying the observation.

    “That said, you do need to get used to handling this beast in traffic,” Wahchinksapa asserted. “Where did you say that pickup was?”

    An awkward fifteen-minute drive and an even more awkward parking job later, the pair could be found strolling through a local automotive scrapyard.

    “Tell me again why you need this for a road trip?” the Seven Fires chief questioned with a grunt of exertion as he helped levitate a stripped down, half-crushed sedan back to the motorhome. He had finally taken off his feathered headdress, which he had left draped carefully over a seat in the Winnebago.

    As the twisted hunk of steel and aluminum crashed to the ground, his companion sliced it into three relatively manageable chunks with two waves of his wand.

    “Food for Mr. Potter,” Snape replied with a grunt of his own as he levitated the chunks into the now-expanded under-cabin cargo compartment of the Winnebago to join its two fellows. “In the past I have had the misfortune to be in close contact with the wretched lizard when he is truly hungry, and I have precisely zero desire to repeat the experience.”

    “I can imagine,” the older wizard agreed with a note of horrified awe at the idea. “He eats steel?”

    “That and quite nearly everything else, but steel and coal are perennial favorites,” Snape gave another grunt as he levitated the last of the chunks into the ever more crowded compartment. “We intend to substitute diesel fuel for his usual daily coal intake which should be easy enough to acquire as we go. Steel, however, is difficult to arrange enroute.”

    “I see,” Wahchinksapa nodded, and the conversation fell silent for a time as they worked to load the scrap metal.

    Several automobile carcasses later, the potions master closed the cargo compartment door with a clatter and latched it shut. He turned to the Seven Fires chieftain and asked, “Have you learned what you came to learn?”

    “What do you mean?” the older man asked.

    “A man of your stature would not spontaneously decide to spend hours overseeing what was ultimately a minor economic transaction on the part of one of your constituents,” Snape reasoned. “Therefore, you must have had an ulterior motive, and the only one I can think of is intelligence gathering.”

    “And what intelligence would I have been searching for?” he asked curiously.

    “That I do not know,” the sallow-faced man admitted with a scowl and a shrug. “I know of nothing I might be aware of that you would both be interested in and that Albus has not already revealed.”

    “And if I told you that it is a question about you, yourself?” the chieftain asked, meeting Snape’s gaze intently. “Does that give any hint?”

    The potions master met his eye unflinchingly, though his scowl turned slightly puzzled.

    “No.”

    Wahchinksapa nodded slowly, coming to a decision.

    “One of my colleagues informed me that you ‘stank of darkness and pain’,” the chieftain explained. “Such a description fits a condition which can arise from a variety of situations, most commonly it is found among those who have faced... difficult lives.”

    Snape nodded stoically.

    “It can also describe the feeling given off by a blood mage doing his best to conceal his nature,” he elaborated.

    The dark man nodded in understanding. “I see, and what have you concluded?”

    “I do not believe that you are an infiltrator,” Wahchinksapa declared.

    “Very well,” Snape nodded, turning to the door into the RV. “I suppose we should be off then.”

    The old man barked out a laugh at the man’s calm acceptance and turned to follow.

    5.2.11 Greenlit

    As the Winnebago rolled to a stop and its engine cut off, Snape and his single passenger slumped forward in their seats at the sudden relief. Both men were soaked with sweat and trembling from exertion. The cabin was silent for a long moment before anyone recovered enough to say anything.

    “I do not envy you your coming travels, Severus Snape, particularly when you get out on the highway where there are minimum speed limits,” Wahchinksapa managed to pant after nearly a minute of recovery. “Moving that expanded compartment a mile and a half put us in this state. Are you certain you will be able to handle the strain?”

    “Not on my own,” Snape admitted, “but with the entire group, Albus and the dratted dragon among them? Splitting the load among everyone, I believe we will manage well enough.”

    “Very well,” the Seven Fires chief shrugged and stood, now recovered enough to do so. “I will need to go make my report in any case. Safe travels to you.”

    With a final nod, the man set out for the Great Longhouse. Snape took the opportunity to continue his recovery, leaning back in the driver’s seat and drifting off.

    After an indeterminate period, though it could not have been too long, given that the sun was still well above the horizon, the dark man was awakened in an unpleasantly familiar manner.

    “Hey, Mr. Snape!” the voice of the resident dragon burbled excitedly from near his right ear, waking him from a sound sleep.

    “What is it, you blasted beast?” he demanded irritably as he tried to shake the sleep out of his head and the soreness out of his muscles.

    As he stretched, he noted that the maps he had requested earlier in the day had been delivered while he slept and now sat on the dashboard alongside the final bill of sale for the vehicle. The form had a place for his signature marked with a yellow sticky note which asked him to return the completed form to Wahchinksapa.

    He must have been more tired than he thought to have slept through such a thing.

    “Mr. Dumbledore wanted me to let you know we got final approval for the trip, so we’ll be heading out in the morning,” the young dragon reported. “He couldn’t find you, so he asked me to try to...”

    “Yes, yes,” the potions master waved him off. “Was there anything else?”

    “Well, I also had the best conversation with Mr. Toh Yah about that Interdiction thingy they use to stop magical transportation! He’s one of their best military leaders, and he explained how it works, and I’ve got a ton of ideas if I can figure them out. I mean, maybe....”

    “Enough!” Snape demanded irritably. “You may tell me about it later, but for now, I must rest for our travels tomorrow.”

    “Um, Mr. Snape?”

    “What is it?” he snapped.

    “I was also supposed to tell you we’re supposed to attend a meal commemorating our new relationship with the Confederacy. It’s kind of important.”

    Snape sighed and picked at his robes, giving them a tentative sniff and recoiling with a grimace. He was still rather ripe from his earlier exertions, certainly not suited to what might well turn out to be a state dinner.

    “Very well, allow me ten minutes,” he nodded to the currently human-looking dragon. “In the meantime, make yourself useful by plotting out our course for the first leg of our trip tomorrow. I believe our first stop will be your acquaintance in southern Michigan.”

    “Okay, Mr. Snape!”
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2020 at 6:54 PM
  24. Dromuthra

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

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    Thanks for the chapter! I can't wait to see what they come up with for the Interdiction upgrade. I also really, really like your worldbuilding and take on the Confederation - it's utterly fascinating. Excellent job!
     
  25. Ayashi

    Ayashi Well worn.

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    i'm not convinced that Harry will be very impressed with the "bureaucratic delay". Not when it comes to the health and well being of one of his damnsels...
     
  26. Acolyte

    Acolyte Getting sticky.

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    Also, why wouldn't they just mind control this lunch dude. Who the fuck is going to stop them
     
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  27. Mashadarof402

    Mashadarof402 Versed in the lewd.

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    Oh no.

    Mr Potter will build that wall. And make the Aztecs pay for it.

    On the other hand, I think the Confederation dodged a bullet there with how much of a failure the WoD turned out. They might be better off working on some kind of pathogen that kills the coca plant.

    As for Slackhammer, I think he'd have been better off if he had prefaced his message with the assurance that Hermione is safe, well guarded and all that rot before he goes into why she needs that protection.
     
  28. Skjadir

    Skjadir Versed in the lewd.

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    Well looks like the Aztecs will get fucked with a bit more which is always good because really fuck Shadowrun Aztecs.

    One can only hope they will get kicked out of their current position a bit more and the Aztech will be much weaker when it forms (doubt that can be prevented).
     
  29. naarn

    naarn Know what you're doing yet?

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    But it will be ostensibly the fault of a low-level paper-pusher. Harry isn't the sort to eat them for being late to work. Eventually Harry will figure out other possible explanations, but that hopefully will take enough time for him to acquire a bit more perspective. And even then he probably won't be certain.
     
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  30. stads

    stads Not too sore, are you?

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    nice chapter thx for writing it
    nice idea to messing up plans of shadowrun aztecs interesting that they have lore so old that they recall the land bridge perhaps they also recall the location once there ?
     
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