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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. Doghead13

    Doghead13 Grumpy Old Scottish Biker

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    As ever don't take my word for it, this hasn't been my fic in a decade plus, but the contrast in tone was very deliberate.

    Take the big powerful character and have them going on a wild carefree gallivant because, hell, why wouldn't a kid (even a nice kid) who found themselves turned into a big dragon do that; big powerful character gets home and discovers that someone they care deeply for has been through An Badde Tyme while they were running around with their head in the clouds. Fairly common in fiction, major difference here is that the Ann Badde Tyme is going on on-screen because the small and squishy character is a secondary protagonist.

    It advances multiple subplots - some taken from Shadowrun, some not - really gets the magical North America I pieced together a fragmentary form of (mostly from Shadowrun references and the contents of some discussions on the old Yahoo iteration of the Caer Azkaban mailing list) introduced which is important 'cause that'll be important later, and drops a massive and very much needed wake-up call on Our Protagonists heads. At least, that was ten-years-ago me's rough thought process as far as I can remember.

    Course, I don't know what Dunkelzahn is planning with it: this is pretty close to where I started to peter out.
     
  2. thethomas

    thethomas Everyone's twin!

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    I can't say I agree with you here. I see what you mean but we are also getting what seems like important world building and background lore at the same time so I wouldn't call it filler. The heightened diplomatic tensions is going to be a recurring theme, and it neatly adds to the suspense of Hermione's troubles too so it strikes me as a well executed foundation for future plot. Particularly with the Li clan situation that's brewing. What's Harry going to think of their ancient eugenics program and how do you think his opposition to the failed eugenics programs of British blood purists will affect that can of worms? I'm seeing a whole lot of suspenseful foundations being laid and suspect your interpretation of that as filler is largely due to the lack of further plot development; the story is still being written afterall.

    Edit:fixed name
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2021
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  3. Spartan3909

    Spartan3909 Know what you're doing yet?

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    It's Su Li, not Cho Chang.
     
  4. Acolyte

    Acolyte Getting sticky.

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    Is this dead.
     
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  5. Randommosity

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

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    I don't think so, it just takes a few months between updates.
    Thankfully the updates are fairly big.
     
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  6. Megaolix

    Megaolix Moderator

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    Kindly respect the spirit of Rule 7 guys.
     
  7. Redstone

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

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    He was asking if there ever in 10000000000000 years will be a chapter not asking fore one,
    fore all we know the author can have suffered a heart attack and be dead, and then we will never have more chapters,
    so is it wrong to ask if the author has abandoned the story or if he is dead?
    I do hope he isn't dead!!
     
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  8. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Let's not wake this thread up again unless with something substantive.
     
  9. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Getting sticky.

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    May 10, 2021

    I've just been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. It's incurable and inoperable. My doctors are going to try to use chemo to buy me time until
    an effective treatment can be found. That's going to put me inside for most of the summer. Is there anyway of getting the story in *.mobi file
    so that I can put it on my Kindle or my IPad?

    Thanks,
    Edmond
     
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  10. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    You can use the FanFicFare plugin in Calibre to download any thread on here and turn it into an ebook file.
     
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  11. apocolypse1011

    apocolypse1011 Getting out there.

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    I'm really enjoying this story so far and love the various characters. The whole road-trip section feels a bit weaker than the rest of the story and while it has amusing parts, it doesn't feel as engaging as the portions set at Hogwarts. Also, I can't help but wonder if the tubing made from the material derived from Harry's stomach lining could be used in solving the bacteria and fracking issue since it's basically invulnerable.
     
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  12. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Getting sticky.

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    I'm using Ubuntu Linux on my mini-tower and that's what I use to gather and filter *.mobi files. I'd love to install fanficfare on my machine, but am struggling with it. Anyone here help?

    Thanks,
    Edmond
     
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  13. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    If you've got Calibre already installed, you can go to the "Get plugins" screen (through Preferences -> Plugins) and search "FanFicFare". Once it's installed, it'll create a new icon in the toolbar; you select "Download from URL(s)" in the dropdown for that icon, then copy the URL for a QQ thread into the text box.

    To install it manually, you can download the latest release here and install it from the ZIP file.
     
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  14. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Getting sticky.

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    Took me a while, since I'm still getting used to Ubuntu Linux, but I got it done. I now have at least a major portion, without the recent additions, in *.mobi. Thank you! It's going to be a long, hard summer.


    Edmond
     
  15. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    FYI: If you feel up to checking your PMs, I dropped you a link to a full copy (at least of the published parts) this morning.

    Good luck, and God bless you in the coming trials.
     
  16. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Getting sticky.

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    Thank you so much. It's people like you who make life worth living and I am deeply grateful. :)

    Best regards,
    Edmond
     
  17. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Getting sticky.

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    I love this story... it leaves me wondering about what happens to Harry when he discovers that Hermione had been kidnapped and was going to be sold. He's perfectly capable of killing
    and in a way that can't be traced (he flames them until his enemies are nothing but wind-born dust). What happens to him emotionally when he kills intentionally for the first time? And how does he
    relate to Hermione after he has done so? Does he confess to her that he killed people in her defense? Does he admit to her that he loves her? (as far as he is able, given his age) and how does
    Hermione take that? Does Hermione's father have to get involved to remind her that *he* would happily kill in her defense too? And that being mad at Harry for doing the same doesn't make
    any sense and could drive a huge wedge between them?

    Just curious.....


    Edmond
     
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  18. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Getting sticky.

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    Another thought popped into my head tonight.... sry. Chemo.

    Anyway - what happens when or if Su Li discovers that Harry is a *Dragon* (and I use capitals because he's supposed to be... *huge*... like 400M long? when he's full-grown?)

    Does Su li pee herself when she comes f2f with Harry for the 1st time and sees those teeth and those massive eyes staring at her? Or does she swoon and wet her panties with
    excitement (is she too young for that?).

    What does she tell her family and her "handlers" when she knows the truth.... that there's no way to control Harry or to convince him to do anything he doesn't want or isn't prepared
    to do? What do they do to her?

    Anyway - just my random $0.02 worth.

    *Tired*
    Edmond
     
  19. Acolyte

    Acolyte Getting sticky.

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    I don't he is supposed to to be 400 m longe. That's a walking skyscraper. He has been described as much smaller.
     
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  20. Wolfboy

    Wolfboy I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Currently Harry is a Juvenile dragon and thus, yes, is much smaller. However, he is destined to get that size as he is a Great Dragon by bloodline.
     
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  21. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    Just as a note, Harry has killed intentionally at least once already. Voldemort/former-Quirrel was the first, even if it didn't stick in the end, and arguably Charlotte the basilisk was the second (she was smart enough to talk, even if she was still pretty stupid). Rightly or wrongly, he's not particularly broken up about either because he's a child and he thinks (rightly in both cases) that he was doing the right thing.

    As for what is going to come along those lines, we will move to spoiler tags now, for obvious reasons.

    The DMLE investigation went fast and furious, making great inroads for a couple weeks until one of the analysts made a mistake (about the same time Harry arrives at his end destination) and a certain obnoxious beetle animagus managed to sneak a peek at some work he had taken to lunch, breaking open news of the secretive investigation to the world at large. That kicked over a hornet's nest in the Syndicate, and everyone started scrambling to cover their collective backside. By the time Harry returned home a couple weeks later, those backsides are mostly covered, and the initial scramble is beginning to die back into a cold war between the DMLE and the organized crime rings.

    Thus, after Harry finally receives news of what happened to Hermione (when our intrepid goblin finally catches him outside the Vancouver charter terminal on his way out of the country), he returns ready and raring to go to a situation that has very little yet to be done. The immediate perpetrators were dealt with even before the DMLE got there, and there are no leads on who ultimately gave the order other than that such a person definitely exists. This leaves Harry very angry but lacking any immediate targets on which to expend that anger. This is tremendously frustrating for Harry, but he refuses to let whoever it was get away with their actions. After a bit of thinking, he concludes that since he doesn't know who was responsible in particular, he'll just have to get them all. That's the only way to be sure.

    That's how Great Dragons roll.

    Of course, making sure you catch every rat in the garbage pile requires a delicate hand; barging in will just make them scatter off into the shadows and become almost impossible to catch. So, true to form for a Shadowrun dragon, Harry bangs together a rudimentary black ops organization for the purpose, using many of Snape's contacts as well as a few others hunted up from other sources. He then launches into his first shadow war (oh, they grow up so fast...). Of course, Harry's organization is not the well-oiled machine that Amelia has built the aurors into, and they have some rather significant mishaps along the way, first with Harry losing some people and then being forcibly reminded that the enemies on the other side are people too after he overreacts to that initial loss. That is most of Harry's arc for the next year.

    After a rather tumultuous initial meeting on Harry's return, Amelia suspects Harry 's intent, but she and her loyal DMLE very carefully avoid becoming officially aware of his activities going forward. Without a defined perpetrator on which to declare war, even as Head of House Potter, Harry technically does not have cause to engage in such a wide-reaching private war. Ancient and Noble Houses reserve the right to field a private army; that said, they are not allowed to declare war on the general public... or, properly, they're allowed to do so, but the government will fight them just as they would any other hostile power. The DMLE is quite sympathetic, however, and they know how to use disingenuous technicalities to avoid legal entanglement as well as anyone after having so many used against them over the years. Functionally, by allowing his operations and seeing to certain bits of intelligence being misplaced around him and his agents, Amelia can use Harry as an unacknowledged and deniable agent to follow up on leads when her aboveboard methods fail, and Harry slowly becomes more adept at navigating the subtleties of such a relationship over time, learning some politics and tact along the way.

    As for Hermione, by the time Harry is in the proper planning stages, Hermione is getting her parents back from their treatment. Between that and all the brooding she did before Harry got back, she just doesn't want to hear about any of it any more, so she actively avoids the topic when Harry tries to bring it up. Then by the time she would be willing to listen, Harry has already internalized the idea that she just doesn't want to know about what he's doing so he no longer brings it up. In the long term, Harry starts to coast through school as his focus shifts to other matters while Hermione remains primarily a student concerned with student-type things. This disconnect has consequences over time, especially when taken along with Hermione's growing friendship with Su Li.

    First off, hope the chemo is going well... or as well as can be expected, anyway.

    Second, the subject of Su Li is a complicated one that has a great deal of development yet to happen before that reveal. She and her clan will actually be cycling through several different approaches as they learn more about Harry, and the order in which they learn about things will heavily influence how things develop.
    As the matriarchs learn more their approach shifts.
    What the clan knows about HarryHow they formulate their approach


    • Wizard with potentially useful genetics



    • Place Su Li as his wife

    • Use her to bring him back to the Clan

    • Put him out to stud to ensure maximal chance of uptake of desirable genetics



    • Wizard with potentially useful genetics

    • Well connected with the goblins


    Story is just getting into this range at the moment

    • Place Su Li as a second or third wife

    • Leave the first wife to deliver the Potter heirs

    • Negotiate with Harry for the disposition of Su Li's offspring by him



    • Wizard with potentially useful genetics

    • Well connected with the goblins

    • Personality and morals will never allow him to sell out his children like that

    Approx. Year 4 Spoilers

    • Place Su Li as his mistress/concubine after grooming his potential wives to prevent conflicts later

    • Use various tricks of scheduling/other methods to hide Su Li's pregnancies from him

    • Raise the resulting children within the clan without the father's awareness



    • Wizard with potentially useful genetics

    • Well connected with the goblins

    • Personality and morals will never allow him to sell out his children like that

    • Running a covert anti-slavery campaign

    Approx. Year 5 Spoilers

    • Place Su Li as his mistress after grooming his potential wives to prevent conflicts later

    • Use various tricks of scheduling/other methods to hide Su Li's pregnancies from him

    • Raise the resulting children within the clan without the father's awareness

    • Be very careful to hide everything and never let him visit



    • Wizard Dragon with useful genetics

    • Well connected with the goblins

    • Personality and morals will never allow him to sell out his children like that

    • Running a covert anti-slavery campaign



    • Left for the future story to reveal

    Currently, Harry is about 18-20m long. By the time he's out of Hogwarts, he'll be close to 40m and still growing. By contrast, his elders will be pushing 200-230m in most cases (Dunkelzahn and Lofwyr respectively), but they all keep growing indefinitely as they age. Even with as fast as he has been growing, Harry still has tens of millennia of growth to catch up on before he'll be of a size with his elders.
     
  22. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Getting sticky.

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    ==============================================================================================================

    June 6, 2021

    OK... so the only problem with "indeterminate" growth (that is, growth that has no upper limit) is that you can't consume food fast enough to feed yourself. You'll notice that great whites, which *do* have this characteristic, can't get much beyond 25 to 30 ft, because of the nature of volumetric growth.... see: https://animalbiosciences.uoguelph.ca/~swatland/HTML10234/LEC20/LEC20.html
    1/W . dW/dt = k/t

    specific growth rate = species constant / age

    Growth curves constructed in this manner, with animal age as the controlling factor in deceleration, never reach a point of zero growth in older animals. Although perpetual growth may occur in lower vertebrates, until cut short by accidental death, there is a finite upper limit to the size of mammals and birds. In agriculture, age-based growth curves may provide a reasonable fit to growth data since the commercial growing period is in the first half of the sigmoid curve.

    See also: https://www.britannica.com/animal/snake/Egg-formation-and-laying#ref421433


    Which says. "Snakes have indeterminate growth, which means there is no terminal point in time or size for growth in their lifetime, but they can continue to increase in length until they die. Sexual maturity is reached in about two years by many snakes. In the larger species, sexual maturity comes later, after four or five years or more."

    If this holds true, or even a part of it holds true for the story, and Harry doesn't reach sexual maturity for .... well, say, 100 years, just how big will he get? And how does one go about feeding a creature that gets to +/- 1000 TONS or more? How do you possibly ingest enough calories in a given day to keep a mass of that size going?

    Regards,
    Edmond
     
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  23. 128Hunter

    128Hunter Far too busy to respond often, my apologies.

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    Why do people insist on writing like that? If you have the site on the Dark format then it’s basically invisible.

    If you go to the color area and click the box with the x it will return your settings to default that shows up properly for everyone.
     
  24. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Experienced.

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    The problem with applying this to Dragons that primarily consume magic is that their ability to absorb/consume food goes up much faster than that ability does for RL vertebrates, and (at least in high magic areas/times) they practically don't need to expend any energy to collect food.

    The limit on growth would be the strength of the magic in the area.

    Nobody insists on doing it, but it's easy to do so by mistake, especially if you're copying from another document,
     
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  25. Purplepurple

    Purplepurple Getting sticky.

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    It was noted (in story or in author notes or maybe spoiled noes) that Harry grows much, much quicker than other dragons that were basically chronically malnourished.

    Note that for typical animal limitation is that it needs to hunt manually. Harry can tap into entire industrial civilization - note what he eats!

    See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_slave for a related topic.

    With broken biology allowing to directly consume for example petrol and coal, that is not going to be a problem. Though thanks to his wealth and trade and wonders of superproductive modern agricutlure - even eating just more traditional sheep and cows would still avoid bottleneck

    And that is without fact that canon HP magic laughs at conversation of energy, is game breaking and has FTL. (yes, canon HP has short range FTL travel and applying it to long-range one sounds like engineering problem).

    I think that it is not a problem even without pulling "It's Magic. I Ain't Gotta Explain Shit.".


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_whale :

    Krill is far less energy dense than gasoline or coal and eating 1500 kg of coal is not going to be a problem.


    tl;dr Industrial civilization is ridiculously efficient at extracting energy and resources, not matched by anything else known to humanity - especially not by animals, with only few getting even close.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2021
  26. mn--

    mn-- Getting out there.

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    Not a given and I really wouldn't like to just assume.

    For all I know, dragon innards might at some point (in age or size) go nuclear. As in magic-catalysed fission for ingested heavy elements or even protium-protium fusion... sufficiently advanced magic and all that... and would also be an unfounded assumption that a dragon's development would stop there.

    Just a bit of a bother to check or measure, and all that.

    Is there even a generalizable baseline between types of dragons? Are the various different dragons seen in HP fully separate species, or just variants / subspecies, and are their nutritional requirements, feeding patterns and such at all similar? And how does that compare to the Shadowrun side here anyway?
    ... well, that too.
     
  27. Girador

    Girador Lord of the Headache

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    Wasn't Harry canonically using e=mc2 to provide himself with operating energy? Given how big real world animals can get just using chemical energy I'd imagine Harry can get quite a bit bigger than anything currently in existence with relative ease.
     
  28. Purplepurple

    Purplepurple Getting sticky.

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    Damnedmatt likes this.
  29. Threadmarks: Section 5.6 - Espionage and escalation
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    5.6 Espionage and escalation


    5.6.1 In a van, down by the river

    The peaks of the Coastal range towered high above the densely forested Skeena River valley, through which ran one stretch of the Trans-Canadian Highway. It was a land that was in some ways very similar to the Highlands around Hogwarts, yet in others it was quite foreign. Both were mountainous, but while the Highlands were rugged, they were short, barely qualifying as foothills by comparison. Here the mountains just seemed to go up forever. The Highlands were old, old enough to have watched over the land when animals first dragged themselves up from the primordial waters to colonize the land, and the long slow march of time had ground them down, though anyone who had traveled any distance through them would argue the years had done nothing to file off the rough edges. By contrast, the Coastal ranges were barely a quarter of their counterparts’ age, and it showed in snow-capped peaks that seemed to claw at the very sky.

    Up beyond even hulking those stone behemoths, the summer sun hung high in the sky, shining down on the group from Hogwarts as it neared the end of a second hard, if pleasantly scenic, day driving through Canada. It had been a pleasant drive, for the most part, and the scenery had kept Harry practically glued to the window watching it, abandoning his more productive pursuits in order to do so. He considered it a fair trade. The vastness of the plains that had dominated the first leg of their trip had its own appeal, but here there was something new to see around every bend.

    They had just rounded just such a bend in the road when the Winnebago suddenly slowed. Ahead, an unremarkable bridge lay across a tiny stream proclaimed to be Price Creek by an equally tiny sign. Just beyond the end of the bridge’s guard rail, a familiar looking pair of stone cairns flanked a small turnoff on the landward side of the road.

    As the Winnebago turned in, the cairns lit with magical flame just as their counterparts had at the Regway border crossing, and as the vehicle passed between them, space seemed to unzip before it revealing a steep ramp down to the creek. After an only slightly awkward descent, the RV’s sturdy tires settled firmly onto the land, sinking an inch or so into the coarse gravel of the stream bed. The creek was broad and shallow — barely deep enough to float a magically lightened canoe, much less impede the passage of the Winnebago — yet much more than the long stretch of persistently damp gravel it had seemed to be from the roadway. The broad reflective ribbon stretched off into the woods, almost entirely hidden from outside observation by the enchantments anchored on those cairns. Ahead, more cairns stretched off into the forest, two-by-two, marking out a path through the wild northern woods.

    In the driver’s seat, Severus Snape’s already sallow skin paled further.

    For a man who, prior to this voyage, had never driven anything larger than his Vauxhall Cavalier, driving the thirty-three foot Winnebago more than three-quarters of the way across North America had already been quite the adventure. Coaxing the massive diesel-powered beast of a vehicle through the close quarters of crowded parking lots, coaxing it through chaotic city traffic, and forging up steep grades in the mountains had each posed their own unique challenges, but Snape had gamely tackled them all. The wet, boulder-strewn ‘path’ ahead, overgrown with pine and spruce, however was an entirely different level of intimidating.

    “Mr. Potter,” the potions master rasped through a suddenly dry mouth.

    “Mr. Potter,” he tried again, much more steadily this time after clearing his throat. He turned in his seat and gestured for the young dragon to come forward.

    “What is it, Mr. Snape?” he asked as he arrived by the driver’s seat a few moments later.

    “Are you certain that was the correct turn?” the dour man asked. “The road ahead… well, I hesitate to dignify it with the name.”

    “Yes, Mr. Snape,” Harry nodding his currently human head earnestly even as he dug a decidedly crumpled road map out of one pocket and unfolded it. “See, that symbol there,” he tapped the map with a finger, “is for those flaming stone piles the Confederacy uses to hide pathways and anchor wards. We just passed one of those, and you can see it’s the only one on this stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway, so this has to be the place.”

    The potions master eyed the path ahead dubiously, noting one boulder in particular. Barely visible through the trees, the specimen had doubtless not moved since it had been deposited by some unnamed glacier long since melted away and lost to the mists of time… he said ‘doubtless’ because the rock was the size of a small house and sported a full-sized tree of its very own rooted in a crack on its upper face. The sight did not bode well for the path ahead.

    “You are absolutely certain?” he confirmed.

    “Yeah,” the young dragon-in-human-form nodded firmly.

    “I see,” the dark man sighed. “I suppose the salesman did claim this to be ‘all-terrain’. It seems I shall be testing that claim most strenuously.”

    With that, the faithful diesel roared back to life, accompanied in short order by the clatter of dislodged stone.

    5.6.2 Ghost of the past

    “Please remain seated with your seat-belts fastened until the aircraft has come to a complete stop and the ‘fasten seat-belts’ light has turned off.”

    The canned voice filled the interior of an airplane as it slowly taxied by the international terminal of the Vancouver airport on the way to its assigned gate, nearly five hundred miles south of Severus Snape’s ambitious first attempt at off-roading. A tall man with vividly red hair sat in the window seat of the last row of the first class cabin, dressed like an extra from an old western film… albeit an extra with expensive tastes. He wore blue jeans and a chambray shirt which would be mostly covered by the long leather coat currently folded over his lap and topped with a well-worn Stetson. A pair of recently shined snakeskin boots completed the ensemble, one of which was currently tapping impatiently against the floor as he waited.

    As the aircraft slowed to a stop, still some distance from the jetway, the man tuned out the prerecorded voice and instead directed his attention to view outside the window, where the ground crew danced their way through the chaotic-looking motions of the carefully coordinated ballet of receiving a large aircraft. Almost involuntarily, his experienced eye quickly picked out a pair of men acting suspiciously out of place. They stood off to the side, half-hidden in the shadow of the terminal, chatting idly as the plane approached, in marked contrast the rest of ground crew. Worse even than their behavior was their clothing. Formal business attire was rather less than apposite for the airport tarmac — at least, it was for flights served by a jet-way like this one, where the passengers never set foot on the ground — and the identical black business suits lacking even a single hi-vis armband to recommend them made the pair stand out like a sore thumb…

    …not that any of their supposed coworkers noticed, of course.

    Green eyes closed then red hair swayed as the man shook his head, revealing flashes of the long pointed ears.

    Wizards,” he mumbled with a sneer, the sound entirely hidden by the slowly dying whine of the turbofans as the spun down.

    Hyper-effective secrecy magics or not, there was no excuse for such slipshod trade-craft! What would they do if something unexpected happened along? One would think they would have learned not to take things for granted after that unpleasantness in New Mexico a few years back, but no, apparently even that wasn’t enough to keep the guards properly focused on their duties.

    Arrogance, that’s what it was, careless arrogance; it seemed that blood would tell, even after so many millennia.

    Though they were hardly alone in that, his sneer twisted into a complicated expression, a jumbled mix of curdled anger, long-remembered pain, and more than a touch of ancient guilt that flickered quickly across his face before disappearing as if it never was, replaced by a sardonic grin.

    Perhaps he ought to take some time to school them in proper vigilance?

    The man drummed his fingers on the arm rest for a moment as he considered the merits of such a course before reluctantly shaking his head. Tempting as it was, he had no time at the moment… as ironic as that was. He would have to amuse himself with teaching some other time. For now, he would have to content himself with slipping through their security net undetected… not that that would be difficult. After all, so long as he used no active magic within their range, he might as well not exist as far as wizarding detection grids were concerned.

    The youngsters had forgotten so much after their conquest, it was…

    The aircraft finally lurched to a stop and the jetway extended, triggering that same carefully modulated female voice to interrupt his musings.

    “Welcome to Vancouver, and thank you for flying with us today. Please enjoy your stay!”

    The intercom dinged one final time, and the “fasten seatbelts” indicator went dark. Before the sound faded, it was already drowned out by the shuffle and commotion as passengers began to collect their carry-on baggage and ready themselves to leave. For his part, the man donned his Stetson and duster, and prepared to disembark.

    Forty five minutes later, after long walk and a quick trip through customs, the red-haired man in the long leather duster and cowboy hat could be seen stopping off to the side of the foot traffic by a wall of glass overlooking the tarmac and framing a beautiful view of Vancouver Island across the strait, misty with distance. Pausing to lean casually against a support pillar, he withdrew a familiar-looking torsion pendulum from his pocket, shook out the string and set it swinging.

    “Now, where has our early bird gone?” he mumbled as he carefully watched the device’s oscillation, periodically checking it against the landmarks outside.

    Several minutes later, the man nodded in satisfaction and tucked the device back into his pocket. He stole a final appreciative glance at the ocean view before turning to head with a purposeful step for the terminal exit and the city beyond.

    5.6.3 On the other foot

    A hundred miles to the south, another figure turned from another waterfront view on the edge of Puget Sound. Framed as this one was by the wide mesh of a chain link fence next to a rail line rather than the plate glass of an airport terminal window, this view was much less glamorous… but then so was the figure.

    As he finished turning around, his beady black eyes squinted up from their low vantage point — just under four feet off the pavement — at the building towering over him. Composed of alternating horizontal bands of mirrored glass and dull gray concrete, the rather ugly building rose six stories above the waterfront railroad. It was no remarkable feat of engineering or architectural design, nor was it in the best part of town, but it didn’t really have to be. This unassuming office building housed both the bureaucracy of the Salish Commons and the real estate investment firm which served as that government’s primary link to the non-magical economy, and a pleasant external appearance was neither needed nor desired. It was a place made to be forgotten by those who had no business there.

    Of course, the Gringotts representative was not one of those fortunate souls.

    It had been two long days since the goblin’s ignominious defeat at the border when his quarry never deigned to put in an appearance. Two long days’ driving had then carried him from eastern North Dakota all the way over the continental ridge to Seattle and the office building in front of him. It had been a long, hard drive, yet difficult as it had been, the goblin had almost hated to see it end. As was usually the case, end of the drive that was hardest to deal with.

    Plan A had been a long shot, but Plan B promised to be so very much worse.

    The goblin grimaced one last time before squaring his shoulders and setting out. He strode through the automatic doors and the utterly unremarkable lobby within, reception desk and small seating area all done up in beige and white. The receptionist on duty ignored him beyond the initial glance — the magical reception area was on the second floor — and he arrived at the elevator bank without incident. Soon one of the elevators arrived with a generic chime and the goblin punched in the appropriate floor. A short ride later, the doors opened onto a labyrinth of bland, uniformly beige hallways which the goblin skillfully navigated until he came to a door seemingly indistinguishable from the dozens of others he had passed along the way.

    Pausing one final time to suck in a deep breath and steel himself for the unpleasantness to come, he knocked.

    “Come in,” a reedy voice issued from within.

    The goblin did so, entering a tiny windowless box inhabited by an utterly unremarkable mid-level bureaucrat. As the scrawny middle-aged man looked up from his paperwork and caught sight of his visitor, a broad, insincere smile spread across his doughy-looking face.

    “Well, well, look at what washed in with the tide!” the Salish liaison to the Goblin Nation greeted the Goblin liaison to the Salish with passive-aggressive enthusiasm. “What brings you to my office today, my friend?”

    “I find myself in need of a favor, I’m afraid,” the goblin ground out with utmost reluctance.

    “A favor is it?” the man leaned forward, looking rather like a hyena eyeing a wounded gazelle. “Business or personal?”

    “Business,” the Gringotts representative replied.

    “Oh…” the man sat back, disappointed. “And what does Gringotts ask of me today?”

    “I have been tasked with carrying an urgent message to one of Gringotts’ most prominent clients,” the goblin explained. “I need to find out where they are.”

    “Lost track of one of your clients?” the bureaucrat shot him a smug, condescending smile. “How careless of you!”

    “Perhaps,” beady black eyes narrowed in irritation as the goblin bit back a retort.

    The Salish official paused for a moment to relish that irritation before returning to business.

    “So,” he asked even as he stood and went to a large file cabinet off to the side of his office, “which of our valued citizens has managed to evade the long arm of Gringotts Bank?”

    He sounded quite thoroughly amused.

    “Our client is actually visiting…” the Gringotts representative began.

    Visiting, you say?” the dough-faced man interrupted, latching on to the idea like a lamprey to the side of a shark, his eye taking on a decidedly malicious gleam. “Well then, that’s quite a different circumstance. I’m afraid that arranging contacts with visitors is quite beyond my purview as the liaison to Gringotts. Terribly sorry about that, old friend, but rules are rules! You know how that goes, right?”

    The apology might have been more convincing were it not for the sly grin on the man’s face.

    “Can’t you just tell me where they are at the moment,” the goblin tried. “I know your government tracks visitors that closely. I can make contact myself.”

    “You mean, ‘can’t you just do me a favor’?” the man raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know. That’s not technically part of my job description. Wouldn’t want to get in trouble with my superiors by ‘exceeding my mandate’.”

    Pointed teeth ground together.

    “You remember that, don’t you old friend?” the bureaucrat eyed his goblin counterpart intently. “What were your words, again… ‘I can’t sign off on that…’”

    “That was a completely different circumstance!” the representative of Gringotts Bank burst out, finally at the end of his patience. “You demanded a personal loan to be forgiven in return for facilitating an official contact. That is a goddamned bribe… it’s completely against bank policy; hell, it’s against your own government’s policy!”

    “So you said at the time,” the bureaucrat nodded, seemingly agreeably. “Of course, I’d simply call it common courtesy… ‘you scratch my back; I scratch yours’, just one of those little dabs of grease that keep the wheels of society turning. Though I understand,” he gave an exaggerated sigh, “in the end, it is a matter of interpretation…”

    His malicious grin returned.

    “…much like your own request now.”

    Beady black eyes turned to flint.

    “Perhaps, had life gone differently, I might have seen things differently,” the human allowed with a faux-diffident shrug. “Perhaps, had a certain friend of mine not seen fit to report me over such a minor misinterpretation, I might have been a little more open to sticking my neck out.”

    “Alas,” the human gave a flippant shrug, “I suppose we’ll never know.”

    “What do you mean, ‘sticking your neck out’?” his khaki-skinned visitor demanded agressively, leaning forward to brace his hands on the desk. “I’m just trying to deliver a message; there is no risk involved!”

    “So you claim,” the man nodded agreeably, “yet that is not what I see: from your perspective, a harmless favor, from mine a flagrant overreach of my mandated job responsibilities; from my perspective simple courtesy, from yours foul bribery… odd thing perspective. It can really twist things around.”

    “How could you possibly frame this as a ‘flagrant overreach’?”

    “Aiding an unrelated third party of dubious intent in tracking down an honored guest of our great nation…” the bureaucrat reeled off with a sunny smile. “Why, I don’t imagine my superiors would see that as harmless at all!” That smile twisted into a smirk. “Not if I put it in those terms.”

    “Gringotts is not an ‘unrelated third party’,” the goblin protested. “We set up their meeting with the Grand Council in the first place!”

    “A meeting with the Grand Council,” the bureaucrat gasped, his eyes opened wide as his face lit up like Christmas had come early. “You mean to tell me that you are attempting to enlist my aid to interfere with diplomatic proceedings?”

    “No, that’s not…” the goblin quickly tried to backpedal.

    “For shame, Representative,” the man drew himself up to his full, still rather unimpressive height. “We take the safety of diplomats seriously in the Salish Commons! I refuse to betray their location, and I will hear no more of it! Good day, sir!”

    “I am not attempting to interfere with anything!” the Gringotts representative protested again. “I just need to…”

    “And I have no way of knowing that,” the man countered. “For all I know, your message might be calculated to interfere with whatever diplomatic negotiations are occurring. In any event, as far as I am aware, you are uninvolved. If you were involved, you would already be there rather than here. Therefore, you are an uninvolved third party attempting to interfere with diplomatic proceedings. Please cease and desist.”

    “That’s not…”

    “How dare you, sir!” the man intoned loudly with exaggerated outrage, giving him no chance to object. “I will have you know that you will not sway me from the path of righteousness!”

    “But…”

    “This conversation is over!” the petty bureaucrat thundered, smiling a darkly gleeful smile. “Now, get out before I call security.”

    Beady black eyes glared impotently as though their owner was attempting to set the target of his irritation on fire with willpower alone, and breath hissed angrily between clenched, pointed teeth. After a long moment, the goblin grudgingly turned to leave.

    “Representative,” the smug human called after the retreating goblin.

    The Gringotts representative looked back over his shoulder.

    “Just so you know,” the man’s eyes glittered with malice, “I will be filing a formal complaint about your behavior with your superiors.”

    With one final glare of utter disgust, the goblin turned away and stalked out of the office without another word, ignoring the Salish liaison’s mocking laughter as it chased him down the hallway. He did not fear such a report; his superiors knew the score. It would amount to little more than a petty annoyance… yet he also knew that the man would follow through, even if only for precisely that reason. It was the reason the goblin had been so reluctant to pursue this route in the first place.

    Plan B was a bust, as he had expected. All that remained now was to fall back once more, on to Plan C.

    5.6.4 Salish salutations

    Over ten miles of hard off-road driving, scrambling through loose rocks and snaking around boulders, squeezing between trees and crashing through undergrowth, repeatedly fording the creek and plowing through the occasional lingering snow bank, all the while climbing nearly half a mile in elevation, it was little wonder that Snape breathed a sigh of relief as he finally rounded the last bend of the steep sided gorge and caught sight of the lights of the remote village flickering in the darkness ahead. Per Sybil’s divinations all those months ago, the node was somewhere nearby, and they had arranged with the Grand Council to use this place as their base of operations for the next few weeks. The last leg of the voyage had been nerve-racking, yet it had proven beyond any reasonable doubt that Snape had gotten his money’s worth with his purchase.

    When Winnebago Customs pronounced their vehicles all-terrain, they meant it.

    Despite the impressive performance, it had still taken several hours to cover those ten miles, and it was already quite dark at nearly nine o’clock in the evening. While this far north, the summer sun would still be above the horizon for more than an hour yet, that horizon itself was well hidden behind the mountains to the west. Just five miles away, the great bulk of the Seven Sisters rose nearly a mile again above the village’s already lofty perch, and it cast a long shadow. As far as the village was concerned, the sun might as well have set over an hour earlier.

    Needless to say, the darkness had not been kind to the potioneer-cum-chauffer on his already stressful drive, and he was feeling more than a little brittle, looking forward to nothing so much as getting away from the wheel for a few good hours’ rest. Unfortunately, he had just enough time to heave a sigh of relief before that relief was shattered once more by an unexpected rap on the driver’s side window.

    “Bloody fu…!”

    The dour man had just enough time to flinch and instinctively scrabble for his wand before he caught sight of the cause of the unexpected noise.

    Inches away was the face of a man, one hand sketching a jaunty wave on the other side of the glass as the other held tight to the side mirror to stabilize his perch on the side of the vehicle. Bedecked in dark clothing with dark face-paint to match, the man would have been nearly invisible against the twilit alpine forest were it not for the brilliantly white teeth exposed by his broad grin and the slight metallic glint of a familiar purple and silver pin on his breast. The pattern was different than the one he had seen all those days ago in Pennsylvania — which made sense as the man was from a different tribe — but the make was obviously the same. This was one of the Confederate guardsmen.

    At a gesture from the new arrival, Snape rolled down the window, forcing down his own lingering discomfort at the stranger’s sudden close proximity in favor of diplomacy.

    “Severus Snape, I presume?” the man’s voice sounded quite energetic despite the late hour.

    The potions master nodded.

    “We have been expecting you. Come,” he gestured towards the village. “I will guide you the rest of the way. Once we get you parked and your party settled, there is a feast in the offing.”

    With that, Snape put the Winnebago back in gear, driving slowly into the village while his guide clung easily to the side of the vehicle.

    True to the guard’s words, there was indeed a feast laid out to welcome the visitors, and the newcomers partook… at least for a while; though they retired quite early. Fortunately, the locals were quite familiar with the hazards of their long driveway and were quite understanding when their new guests turned in early. Despite the conspicuous absence of the guests of honor, the bonfires still burned long into the night, and much merriment was had.

    The path to the little village in the mountains was not one often traveled, after all, and the locals were not the sort to waste an excuse to throw a party.

    5.6.5 Taking care of business…

    At about the same time the last of those celebratory fires began to gutter out in the Canadian Cascades, a very different sort of scene played out half a world away under the Thames.

    “I’ve got another shipping bill referencing the Liverpool facility,” an analyst called out in a large operations room in the subterranean DMLE offices.

    “Give it here,” another answered. “We’re collecting them all.”

    Standing in the midst of all the frenetic activity, Amelia Bones proudly overlooked her domain. Finally, they were making progress!

    A week had passed since the covert raid on Crabbe Manor, and the offices of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement continued to buzz with activity… not unlike an angry beehive. Each successive operation brought in new evidence, new evidence prompted new investigations, new investigations spawned new operations, and so the cycle continued. Nothing else had yet matched the scale of the Crabbe Manor job; nonetheless, they had been effective.

    As a result, the Department’s holding cells were as full as they’d ever been, holding slavers and accomplices as they awaited trial… delayed on account of the ongoing investigations. Even better were those they’d rescued. They remained unseen here, of course, having been passed on to the goblins as soon as they came in due to a lack of DMLE resources to care for them, but she was keeping a careful tally.

    Six hundred and seven unfortunate souls.

    So far, the raids had freed six hundred and seven illegally enslaved individuals from their unlawful bondage. Six hundred and seven. It was heartening progress for everyone in the Department, particularly for Amelia herself. She had even managed to link thirty-eight of those six-hundred and seven to the unsolved cases in her book. For the first time since she had begun recording them, she had removed names in that handwritten monument to her failures. For once, the number had gone down, and it felt good.

    Victory was a hell of a drug.

    Amelia smiled tightly at the thought. On that, her men certainly seemed to agree. There had been not a single complaint despite the grueling pace and long hours. Hell, a lot of the analysts had had to be chased away from their desks to force them to rest before they collapsed. Her men had the taste now, and they wanted more.

    Eventually, Amelia knew, the streak would end; it was inevitable. For the string of unbroken successes to have continued even this long was nothing short of a miracle. Sooner or later, something would go wrong: either news of their activities would leak and the leads would dry up, or her people would collapse from exhaustion and flub a job… with much the same result. The task was just too big and the web too tangled to unravel in one go.

    That said, the more they dealt with now, the easier it would be to finish the job in the long run. They had a head start, and Amelia fully intended to milk the opportunity for all it was worth.

    5.6.6 On the ground

    A side hallway strobed with red light, followed by a dull thump. In its wake, a calm, almost bored “Clear” crackled across the communications channel.

    Standing on the main production floor of a light industrial building in some town he had already forgotten the name of — they were all starting to run together at this point — Kingsley Shacklebolt nodded at the sight, satisfied. He turned back to his partner and the thirty one now-liberated slaves that were the reason for their presence here.

    “Sounds like things are going smoothly,” Shacklebolt remarked casually, his pleased smile hidden behind his polished steel face mask.

    “They damned well ought to be!” came the wry rejoinder from Shacklebolt’s partner, Rupert Hayes. “If they couldn’t handle it by now, I’d sent them back to the trainers.”

    His polished steel mask glinted as Kingsley nodded, acknowledging the point. The team had gotten a great deal of practice taking these sorts of places in recent days. The Syndicate seemed disproportionately fond of using the bloody things to house their operations, and they all seemed to share the same basic layout. The raids were practically a chore at this point… at least as far as his team was concerned.

    “We have been busy…”

    It was a good sort of busy: honest work for the best of causes. Better still, it was not only his team. Every other Auror squad had been keeping a similar schedule, and they had kept prisoners and intelligence flooding in quicker than Investigations could process them. After a dozen years of stymied frustration with the Syndicate investigation, the relief around the Department was a tangible thing. Morale had never been higher.

    “…I just hope we can keep up.”

    And there was the rub. Shacklebolt couldn’t help but wait for the other shoe to drop. Despite the casual ease with which his team had torn through the opposition today, Investigations were not alone in being overburdened. Kingsley had absolute confidence that his team could handle any individual situation the Syndicate threw at them; he had trained them after all. The problem lay in the collective nature of the job. The Syndicate was a big organization, and there were limits to how much even his team could handle at once. Even if each little bite was easy to deal with, chewing through them would take time… time enough to fear the rest of the meal spoiling.

    “We’ll just keep at it for as long as we need to,” Hayes said with a shrug. “We can’t conjure up new Aurors out of nothing.”

    Kingsley nodded with a sigh, mostly muffled by his steel helmet. He wouldn’t voice it aloud, but Hayes had missed the point… probably intentionally, to be honest. The senior auror’s concern was not the time it would take, rather it was secrecy. The longer things stretched out, the more he expected news to leak. Intelligence had a shelf life, after all. Leave it long enough, and it would spoil.

    A door slammed open somewhere in the facility, the noise echoing from another hallway. It was followed shortly by another calm “Clear” on the channel. Neither auror even twitched at the now-routine noise.

    Kingsley hated the Syndicate and everything associated with it, yet he was honest enough to admit that the rotten scoundrels that composed it were anything but stupid. His adversaries knew their business, and they knew the DMLE. Once the news broke, the organization would scramble to hide again, and much as the big man hated to admit it, they would likely be largely successful. It would not be clean, certainly; they would likely be picking up Syndicate members for quite some time solely on the evidence they had already gathered, but given warning, the higher-ups would be rearranging and reorganizing to stanch the bleeding, and those continuing arrests would cease provide any further evidence.

    An “All clear,” sounded over the team communication channel, signifying the last room in the facility had been verified secure. Then the channel started to crackle with message traffic as the support team made its way in through the front door, ready to strip the place down and process the rescuees.

    Worries were for the future, and with luck, they might never materialize at all. Maybe they could keep things together long enough to do irreparable damage to the Syndicate! Unlikely, but he could always hope.

    For now, Kingsley set aside fears and hopes alike.

    He had work to do.

    5.6.7 …and working overtime

    Deep under the Thames in the subterranean warren of the DMLE offices, Junior Analyst Clyde Evans strode confidently down a twisting hallway, diligently reading his case folder even as he walked. He was a young man in his element.

    Evans had never been a personable sort, having always felt more kinship with books and spells than he did with the alien creatures that were his nominal peers. It was not that he disdained companionship — on the contrary, he had long found the idea strangely alluring — yet no matter how he tried, Clyde had never really managed to understand people. He could never seem to manage that first step, could never bridge the gap and open a dialog… no matter how desperately he wanted to. And so he had always remained an outsider looking in.

    Extreme social awkwardness aside, Evans was a decent sort who wanted to do the right thing, even if he wasn’t too clear on the finer details of what the right thing was or how to go about doing it. Fortunately, Clyde had had the good fortune of meeting Director Bones at a recruitment event shortly after he graduated, and as soon as he did, he had found his compass. Clyde might not know what needed doing, but as soon as he met her, he had known that the Director surely did… as surely as he knew that the sun rose in the east.

    With that certainty had come a sense of belonging beyond any Clyde had never known; he had found his home. In the DMLE he could fight the good fight, and he could give it his all, always assured that as long as the Director was happy with him, he was on the right track. He never had to wonder or second guess; it was an ideal division of labor as far as Clyde was concerned. Over the past few years in the Department, he had grown content with his place in the world.

    Then everything had changed.

    The Director had sprung this most recent project on them late in the evening last… week?

    Clyde frowned uncertainly as he tried to tally up the days before finally giving up on the task. It had been a while. He knew he’d caught a few naps when he’d no longer been able to stay awake, but how closely those had corresponded with the real cycle of day and night he hadn’t the foggiest idea. Someday, when the work was done, he’d take the time to check a calendar to find out.

    Anyway, the Director had sprung their newest project on them in a surprise late-afternoon meeting, letting everyone know there’d been a major break on the Syndicate case. Ever since, the Department had been a hive of activity. Clyde had been on-the-clock the whole time, combing through newly acquired evidence until he passed out at his desk, only to wake up a few hours later and do it all over again. The work had been the most difficult he had ever known, mind-numbingly tedious and utterly exhausting.

    It had been the most fulfilling time of his life.

    Here he was, Clyde Evans, helping people, real people, with real problems. He might not have met any of them yet — heck he might never meet even a single one of them in person — but he knew, and Clyde was beginning to realize that in the end, that was enough. Gratitude would be nice, but the knowledge that he was doing the right thing was all the thanks he really needed.

    Clyde Evans had discovered self-respect and had found it to be a heady brew indeed. Now he wanted more, and he would cheerfully work himself to death to get it.

    That was why, when Clyde Evans finally realized that that annoying gnawing sensation was in fact his stomach threatening to begin eating itself if he didn’t feed it forthwith, he refused to put his work down for even a moment, carrying his current case folder with him to the closest Ministry canteen.

    He arrived to find the place deserted but for a single cashier. Whatever the current hour, it was clearly not a normal meal time, and given the state of the room the junior analyst thought nothing of slapping his evidence folder down on an open table before he went to purchase a meal.

    Clyde never noticed the large beetle skulking about a high corner of the canteen ceiling when he arrived, nor would he have paid it any mind if he had… aside from possibly noting the unusual bright red eyeglass-shaped markings on its carapace. The thing was gone by the time he returned with his meal, in any case.

    He did, however, notice his newly opened evidence folder.

    “Nothing missing…” he muttered, quickly flipping through the folder. A thought occurred, and he quickly drew his wand to run through a detection charm. The only returns were himself and the cashier, and unlike the table, she had been in sight the whole time. He gave a relieved sigh.

    “Maybe I threw it down harder than I thought?”

    Then he shrugged, dismissing the matter, and flipped back to continue his reading from earlier.

    As Clyde diligently pored over the evidence, his lunch cooling on the table next to him, an attractive young witch in her early forties sat in a public restroom, not too far away but well outside the range of his detection charm, rapidly scribbling away on a small pad of paper. Finishing, she tucked the pad carefully away in a pocket in her robe before stepping out of the stall. Stopping at the sink, she checked her appearance in the mirror, primping her short, wavy hair with well practiced movements and straightening the glossy red frames of her glasses. Satisfied, she straightened and flounced off to the exit, her acid green robes swirling about her ankles.

    Her smug smile never faltered.

    5.6.8 Nature hike

    Cold alpine air whistled over the scales edging his nostrils as Harry breathed deeply in the manner that only a giant fire breathing dragon could. As he did so, he took in the scents of the area: snow and ice, stone and dirt, and trees… lots and lots of trees. It was only to be expected; he stood smack dab in the middle of an absolutely gigantic forest… and a particularly pungent one at that.

    Unlike his familiar stomping grounds back in the Highlands, this forest was almost entirely evergreen… at this altitude, anyway; there was a more varied mix down in the lowlands. Back home, the pitch-and-turpentine pong of the conifers was but a single note in the olfactory melody that he knew as ‘home’. It was a strong note, to be sure, yet it was only one among many… a kettle drum in an orchestra, as it were. In these mountains however, it dominated the composition like that same kettle drum at a flute recital. So overwhelming was the scent that his nose adjusted to it and started picking up subtle hints within, notes of vanilla from some of the bigger pines and even the odd hint of citrus from the snapped twigs along their back trail. There was just as much detail as he was used to, but it was different, going off in odd directions from the scents Harry knew, a variation on a theme.

    It was a forest; it was not his forest.

    The bite of snow in the middle distance was another peculiarity. Snow was common enough back home… during the winter, that is; midsummer was a different story. The mountains were taller here, their tops colder, and that meant the scent of snow and ice still lingered. For that matter, everything was taller here, even the trees, the largest specimens of which towered over four times Harry’s own body-length into the air. It was as if he’d suddenly regressed a few years in age to a time before his last few growth spurts.

    All that strangeness put a strange shine on everything to the young dragon’s eyes, turning the world fresh and new, even down to the most mundane of details, and as he drew in another deep sniff of the cold, piney air, Harry smiled a reptilian sort of grin. He had a full belly from the previous night’s feast, a new place to explore, and his centaur damsel at his side: food, fun, and good company. This was the life. The only thing that could make it better was more of the same.

    His grin dimmed slightly at the thought. More company in particular would have been nice, and not only from his human damsel who’d opted to stay home. For instance, after hearing the initial exploration would be conducted on foot, his professor friends had all begged off on the expedition, opting instead to pass the time in the village.

    The party from Hogwarts had brought brooms along, but the locals had advised in the strongest possible terms against using them while within Confederate borders. Technically, the Interdiction had only ever been intended to interfere with teleportation-type magical transportation methods, but while not intentional, its effects on broom travel were still quite effective. The same magical structures that so effectively curtailed portkeys and apparations often interfered with the automated low-level guidance systems that kept a typical broom flying straight and level, leaving it to the flyer to adjust as needed to the constantly changing set of errors. As a result, flying under the Interdiction required constant attention and excellent reflexes.

    Admittedly, failing to adjust probably wouldn’t kill the wizard riding it, but that was more of a testament to wizards’ general durability than a safety endorsement. Those who didn’t manage to stay airborne when their broom suddenly decided that ‘straight ahead’ was in fact somewhere off to the right and ‘up’ was straight through a nearby hillside still generally managed to slow down enough to make the impact wizard-survivable. However, ‘wizard-survivable’ was a significantly poorer outcome than the Hogwarts contingent were willing to risk without very good reason, and without their brooms, Harry’s wizard friends felt understandably less than keen at the prospect of keeping up with Harry for any length of time on a hike through the surrounding mountains. That had reduced the expedition to the young dragon himself and his damsel, alongside half a dozen soldiers from the local militia.

    Of course, like most limitations, this one had its own benefits, and Harry had learned many things on the trail. Perhaps chief among those was that Toh Yah hadn’t been joking about the Confederacy’s physical conditioning regimen. The militiamen were keeping up easily through the broken terrain surrounding the alpine village, despite the blistering pace Harry had unintentionally set.

    The young dragon had not been in a hurry, traveling at a walk, darting about here and there to examine all and sundry as young boys were wont to do, but progressing at a leisurely pace overall. No, the issue was rather his gait. The young dragon tended to walk on his wing-knuckles when the situation permitted. Attached to the strongest set of muscles in his body, they made for easy locomotion and kept his more dexterous fore-paws free for more specialized tasks like picking up the occasional interesting-looking boulder to take a closer look or helping his centaur damsel over a particularly rough patch of terrain. The fact remained, however, that Harry’s wingspan was half again his own nearly sixty-foot length, and even folded back on themselves, those great wings made for a very long stride.

    As a result, they had covered a little over fifteen miles in four hours, starting by climbing over the ridge to the south of the village, and then circling counterclockwise roughly three miles out. Fifteen miles in four hours might not seem like too impressive a pace — little more than a moderate jog, really — until one realized that over the course of that fifteen miles, the broken alpine terrain had risen and fallen repeatedly, covering nearly three miles of vertical distance. They had ascended snow-capped ridges and navigated boulder-strewn trackless forested slopes, and the Salish militiamen as fresh as the minute they had set out. In fact, the only one who seemed to be having any trouble was Suze, who despite being well used to navigating such terrain, still struggled to adapt to the thin air. The lowest valleys they had so far traversed still lay more than a thousand feet higher than the highest peaks around the Black Woods.

    That fifteen miles had taken them about two-thirds of the way around their circuit, and they were now about halfway up the western ridge of that same steep-sided valley Snape had driven up the previous day when Harry suddenly stopped.

    “What do you see, Harry Potter?” the leader of the local contingent of the Salish Commons militia asked when it became apparent that the young dragon had noticed something in the distance rather than simply found another neat-looking rock or interestingly-shaped tree.

    Harry’s great green eyes narrowed as he peered ahead, seemingly looking through the mountainside on which they stood.

    “I think I see something that way,” he gestured with his snout off to the southwest. “It’s faint, though… probably ‘cause there’s a lot of rock in the way.”

    “Perhaps we should get a better view?” the man suggested, gesturing to the snow-capped crest or the ridge.

    Behind them, Suze let out a quiet groan, eliciting smugly amused smirks from the rest of the soldiers behind her. Those smirks vanished as soon as the centaur maiden turned her head to shoot them a challenging glare. This was far from the first time that suggestion had been made, and it had quickly become apparent to everyone who was in the better condition.

    “That makes sense,” Harry agreed and immediately put words into action, oblivious to the byplay behind him.

    The climb was a steep one, particularly near the crest where the lingering half-melted snow and the steep terrain made footing treacherous. It proved to be a bit too much for Suze, prompting Harry to carry her up the last hundred or so feet. The locals had no such difficulties, which left them already at the ridge crest and shielding their eyes from the glare of the sun off the brilliantly white snow as the young dragon arrived.

    As he carefully set a mildly pouting Suze down on the crusty snow, Harry turned to look across the alpine valley in the direction he had been facing earlier. He immediately flinched, reflexively raising a wing to shield his eyes, though for a very different reason than his human companions.

    “Yep! That’s definitely it,” Harry hissed, squinting against the glare as he gave it another tentative look. “Right over there!” he pointed with the tip of the wing he had raised to shield his eyes. “It’s as bright as Stenness!”

    The scout leader made his way over to the dragon’s side in an effort to line up his view with the direction indicated, a region just south of the main bulk of the Seven Sisters. Unfortunately, Harry’s wing tip was hardly the most precise of pointers.

    “Can you be any more specific?” the man asked. “Your wing tip covers five… maybe six square miles at this distance.”

    “Sorry, but I can’t see hardly anything anymore. It’s just all one big, bright blob right now,” Harry gave an apologetic shrug with his eyes screwed tightly shut. “I’ll need Mr. Flitwick to cast that sensory attenuation charm on me again so I can see through the glare.”

    “I see,” the man acknowledged with a grunt. He turned to the south which led down a significantly shallower slope than the one they had justascended. “Come then, the best path back to the village is this way.”

    Harry gave a pained nod and turned to stumble off in the indicated direction, gently guided by a concerned Suze. Behind him, the remainder of the scout group lingered, waiting for the now half-blind dragon to gain enough distance to become less of a navigational hazard.

    “Isn’t that where that one lake is?” one of the other scouts asked, shielding his eyes with one hand as he looked out in the direction the dragon had indicated.

    “You mean that one right over there,” another asked, indicating a thin glimmer of reflected sunlight quite nearly centered in the area the dragon had indicated. “The one chock full of snow melt so cold it’s barely liquid?”

    “Yeah, that’s the one…” the first scout trailed off thoughtfully before he chuckled. “Man, wouldn’t it be horrible if that stone ring we’re looking for ended up flooding and it’s sitting on the bottom?”

    The entire patrol fell silent for one long moment until the first man answered his own question, his tone one of horrified realization.

    “We're going to end up swimming in that, aren't we?”

    He was answered by a chorus of affirmative groans.

    Late the next morning, after another much slower-paced hike leading a now-deliberately mostly-blinded dragon and his half-goblin associate, those words proved horribly prophetic.

    The water was even colder than they had imagined.

    5.6.9 Resolve

    At his desk, Clyde Evans snapped open the newly arrived copy of the Prophet as was his habit. Context tended to help him make connections in his investigations. When his eyes fell on the leading headline, he froze.

    “What the hell?”

    He reread the headline to make sure he had understood it correctly.

    When the bold print refused to change to something more reasonable, Clyde hurriedly skimmed the associated article, angrily tearing open the paper when he reached the jump.

    “Where did they get…” the young analyst muttered as he continued to read. “They couldn’t have… this stuff’s all classified… recent too! Someone had to have talked; I mean, I was working with some of this just…”

    “…yesterday!” he gasped.

    Tossing the paper down on the desk, he rummaged through his stack of recent case files, searching for a particular folder. Finding it, he slapped it down on the desk for reference and turned back to the article to review it again in detail, cross-checking against the file as he did so. A few minutes later, he slumped back, sporting a thousand-yard stare.

    It was his fault!

    It was the only reasonable conclusion to draw. Everything in the article had been covered in the first three pages of the case folder which he had found, mysteriously opened to page three when he had returned with his meal. He had been the leak… not intentionally, but what did intention matter in the face of consequences? Clyde’s error had cost his team the element of surprise, which meant that he might well have personally bungled the most important investigation of the decade… quite possibly the most important of the century. Worse yet was what it might cost those poor people they’d been helping.

    Clyde shuddered. It simply didn’t bear thinking about.

    There was no excuse. There couldn’t be! How could he possibly bring himself to tell the Director… to tell everyone? There was no way he could make this right! Clyde looked up from his desk and quailed. The proud figure of the DMLE head stood in full view, even now overseeing the bustling activity of the office floor with a small, fierce smile on her face, obviously quite please with how the investigation was progressing.

    She was going to be so disappointed in him. Clyde hung his head. How could he have been so stupid? He knew better than to…

    Wait! His head shot up as he desperately seized on that new thought. He did know better, so it couldn’t have been his fault! There was no way to really know what had happened, after all; maybe he had been mistaken. He suspected, admittedly strongly, but suspicion and knowing were two very different things. Working in Investigations driven that truth home quickly. The canteen had been empty, and there had been hundreds of copies of that information floating about the Department recently. There was no way to say for certain that the leak had originated with him. Maybe it was all a coincidence… that was certainly enough to cast a reasonable doubt. If he just assumed that to be the case and stayed quiet, then he would be free and clear.

    No one would ever have to know.

    As he watched, the Director stopped behind one of Clyde’s coworkers, leaning over to see something on the man’s desk and engaging in a short conversation before clapping an encouraging hand on the man’s shoulder and moving on. The man, for his part, straightened and returned to his work with renewed vigor.

    No, that was wrong.

    The young man sighed, the tightness in his throat turning the sound into a low keen. Even if no one else ever found out, Clyde Evans would know, and he knew instinctively that his nascent self-respect would not survive that knowing. That he had damaged the investigation was bad enough; withholding information and standing by as the Department wasted already scarce resources on a pointless internal affairs investigation would be even worse.

    He had to stand tall and face the music.

    Blinking away tears, Clyde’s expression firmed and he grabbed the offending copy of the Prophet. Swallowing nervously one last time, he screwed his courage up to the sticking point and stood. It was his fault, and he would face the consequences. If it cost him his job, even something worse, then so be it. It was the right thing to do.

    Clyde Evans could accept nothing less.

    5.6.10 Complications

    “Director.”

    Amelia’s thoughts jarred to a halt as she heard a strained voice calling for her attention and looked up. It was one of her junior analysts — her eyes narrowed momentarily… Evans, that was the boy’s name! — one of the multitude of good men who had been pulling extra shifts over the past week, fighting the good fight.

    He sounded like he was on the verge of tears.

    “What is it, Evans?” she turned to face him with a concerned frown.

    “I’m sorry, Ma’am, it… it’s my fault,” Evans apologized, clutching a crumpled mass of paper in both hands. “I... I was just trying to get more done! I didn’t think...”

    “Steady, Evans,” the Director said evenly. “What is your fault?”

    By way of answer, he unfolded the crumpled paper in his hands, revealing it to be a copy of the Daily Prophet emblazoned with the bold headline, “NOBLE HOUSE GUTTED IN DMLE RAID” over a picture of the burned-out hulk of Crabbe Manor.

    An icy knot of foreboding formed in Amelia’s gut.

    “I was making good progress yesterday, and I got hungry, but I didn’t want to lose my train of thought, so I took the file with me to the canteen,” her analyst explained, words tumbling over each other as though he just couldn’t hold them back anymore now that he’d begun. “I… I thought the canteen was empty! I set it down just long enough to get my food, but… well, I came back to the table and the file was open to page three. At the time, I thought I’d thrown it down on the table too hard or something and it fell open, but everything in the article was on the first three pages of that file. I…” his voice quieted as his gaze fell to the floor, “I can only think that someone must have come in and read it while I wasn’t looking.”

    The icy knot grew several sizes and turned leaden, Amelia’s mind already spinning off through the myriad ramifications of that breach of information security. It would be nigh impossible to spin the situation in such a way as to allay suspicions among their targets now, not with real, verifiable data out there. The honeymoon was over; now their targets would know they were coming. Strategies would have to shift… but despite that new urgency, there was a more immediate matter to attend to. No matter how brilliant the strategy, Amelia would never be able to carry it out without her few good men, and one of those few good men stood before her on the verge of destroying himself with guilt.

    “You did the right thing, Evans,” she said, meeting her young subordinate’s eye, her countenance the very model of steady assurance. Not one iota of the struggle necessary to keep her voice level made its way into her voice.

    “But the investigation…” the boy interrupted, only to fall silent when she stopped him by clapping a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

    “Not that,” Amelia shook her head. “I am going to tell you this once, and I need you to listen carefully.”

    The analyst nodded morosely, still looking to be tearing himself apart over his lapse, on the verge of collapsing under the weight of guilt.

    “You screwed up — I’m the last person who’s going to argue with you on that front — and it is going to cost us in a big way.,” Amelia acknowledged bluntly, sugarcoating nothing, but then she continued. “However, as soon as you realized what had happened, you did everything you could to make up for it. You saved us diverting resources we don’t have to look for a mole that isn’t there. You saved your coworkers from wasting time and morale wondering which of their friends turned traitor, because none of them did.”

    “You made a mistake, but after you realized your mistake you handled everything right. You made the best of a bad situation, Evans,” she deliberately caught his eye. “Do you understand?”

    Evans nodded.

    “And can I trust that you will never make that same mistake again?” she cocked an eyebrow.

    The young man nodded again, hard enough that he looked ready to give himself a neck injury. At the same time, he straightened straightened with an almost audible snap.

    “Then I will consider this matter dealt with,” Amelia nodded sharply, “as should you.”

    She paused for a moment.

    “That guilt you’re feeling won’t go away on account of a few words, Evans,” she continued quietly. “I know that from personal experience. Acknowledge it, learn from it, draw motivation from it, but do not wallow in it. It is neither deserved nor productive, and quite frankly, we don’t have time. I need you on the job, giving your best. Can I count on you for that?”

    “Yes, Ma’am!” Evans snapped to attention, eyes now burning with resolve.

    “Good man,” she clapped him on the shoulder. “Now get moving!”

    The youngster left, a new determination lending purpose to his step. It wouldn’t last forever, eventually those doubts would seep back in, but it would do for now. As for the future… well, Amelia had given the boy the tools he would need to deal with the guilt. It would be up to him to use them properly. With that, she turned back to the room at large.

    Now to deal with the broader consequences.

    “Your attention, please!” she called out in a voice pitched to carry throughout the room.

    When the bustle died down, Amelia continued, “It has come to my attention that we have had a leak. News of our investigation has hit the Prophet.”

    The crowd murmured angrily.

    “The one responsible came to me as soon as he realized what had happened,” she continued evenly. “One of your younger colleagues took his work with him to a seemingly empty canteen, and some dastard managed to read a few pages while he was away getting his food, going on to have those ill-gotten findings published.”

    Amelia paused momentarily to let that sink in, watching the reactions of the crowd.

    “Admittedly, it was a stupid mistake on your colleague’s part,” she continued when she judged the mood to have progressed to where she wanted it, “yet it was just that, a mistake. We should all be willing to forgive his poor judgment so long as it is not repeated.”

    And, just as she had intended, with those few words, the crowd’s anger shifted. It did not disperse, rather its focus changed from one of their own to the mysterious spy who had taken advantage of him. Properly directed, anger could be quite the motivational tool.

    Waste not, want not and all that.

    “I remind everyone that, as per Department policy, classified information must not be removed from the secure offices,” Amelia continued. “Either bring your food back to your desk or order in.”

    “And speaking of ordering in,” she continued with a wry smile, “we should all expect to do a lot of that in the near future. We were already on the clock, but it just started ticking a hell of a lot faster. They know we’re coming for them now, boys; keep that in mind and focus on the leads that promise to pay off fastest. Intel will spoil quickly.”

    “I am counting on you all,” Amelia deliberately met the gaze of several in the crowd in turn. “More importantly, so are all those poor bastards we’ve been pulling out of these damned places.”

    A wave of solemn nods answered that grim reminder.

    “Now see it done.”

    And with that, her people got back to work with a new urgency about them.

    They would need it.

    5.6.11 Eviction

    “Keep it movin’, lads!” the supervisor called out as he paced the floor, overseeing the rapid emptying of the facility. “We need to be out of here and into the new facility by tomorrow morning!”

    Behind the man and out of his sight, Phil rolled his eyes, his hand moving in a mocking pantomime of an endlessly nagging mouth behind the busybody manager’s back and forcing Mike McDonald to suppress an amused smile lest he give the game away. Tempting as it might be to mock the insufferable man to his face, both Mike and his junior coworker knew better than to laugh where the vindictive little shit might hear.

    Of course, they also knew better than to slack off where he might see, so they got back to work, joining the remainder of the work crew hauling crate after crate of cargo to the most recent of the procession of Happy Elf cargo vans that had been contracted to help move the place.

    The decision to relocate had been an abrupt one, announced just that morning. A rather haggard looking man had stormed in that morning and made a bee-line for the supervisor’s office brandishing what had looked to be a crumpled copy of the Daily Prophet in one white-knuckled hand. Shortly thereafter, their annoying supervisor had emerged looking more worried than Mikey had ever seen him and announced the move.

    No one on the warehouse floor was knew what had prompted the sudden change, nor had anyone really speculated, not after the tin-pot dictator of their warehouse had come down hard on the first few to do so. Neither had anyone yet had the opportunity to read the paper to see what might have prompted the reaction. Of course at the end of the day, no one on the warehouse floor really cared all that much.

    Loading crates was loading crates, no matter how you sliced it. With the floo network their commute would change not at all, so what did it matter which particular warehouse they were loading them in?

    5.6.12 Arts and crafts

    A small area of the alpine Salish village up near the edge of the tree line and hidden from view by a turn in the roughly u-shaped valley had been set aside long ago for the more noisome trades, and over time it had become the artisan’s district. It was there that Harry had spent the better part of the last week, and now he could be found bent over a borrowed workbench in the local jewelry smith’s outdoor work area, a tiny blue wisp of flame hovering over the workbench’s surface before him. The flame was generated by a specialized adaptation of the usual magical stove runes — Harry had made it a point to check when he was first introduced to the clever little device — and it served as an ideal heat source for fine metalworking, providing intense localized flame without tying up a hand holding a wand.

    The young dragon-in-human-form was currently engaged in just such a task, carefully holding a small loop of wire to the flame with one hand, his fingers far closer to the heat source than any human would tolerate. In his other hand, he held a silvery brazing rod. Flux melted then boiled as the thin material came to temperature until quite suddenly the tip of the brazing rod melted and was drawn into the narrow gap by the action of the boiling flux and its own surface tension, sealing the ends of the silver wire together into an unbroken ring.

    Harry smiled as he watched; that never got old.

    Then he grimaced as a large drop of excess molten metal slid down the arc of the wire and onto his thumb and he realized he hadn’t pulled the brazing rod away fast enough. Setting the rod aside, Harry brought the wire to his lips and licked the still-molten excess clean with a hum. Flux and cadmium-laced silver made for an interesting flavor.

    Not bad, bit too expensive for regular consumption though.

    The young dragon-in-human-form sat back and lifted the work for a closer inspection, and as he did so, a collection of identical links fell from his hand to hang loosely from this latest link in the chain. It didn’t look like much at the moment, thick, stubby links dull and partially blackened with oxidation. Later though, when properly twisted and filed into shape that should all fade away, and the chain would look like single unbroken band of mirror-polished silver. It was a popular style among the locals, and as soon as he had encountered it, Harry had been smitten by the way the deceptively solid-looking metal draped and flowed like fine silk.

    Given his druthers, it was inevitable that the young dragon would find an excuse to learn how to make such himself, and he had quickly settled on the task of his human damsel’s marking torc as his project of choice. Technically, such torcs were supposed to be thick, semi-rigid collars, but Harry figured as it would be close enough to get the point across… as long as he substituted silver for the locals’ preferred copper. Copper had an entirely different meaning in the language of marking torcs back in Britain, one which would give almost precisely the impression he had been trying to avoid in the first place.

    That said, working with silver and working with copper were quite similar, and it had not taken the young dragon long to arrange for instruction with one of the local craftsmen, one who had also been willing to lend the use of a workspace and tools as well as materials… for a fair price. That arrangement had led ultimately to his current circumstance. He had made predictably good progress at the task… predictably good, of course, because the young dragon tended to do quite well at most anything he put his mind to, given sufficient interest to keep him on task and sufficient time to throw at it, and he had surely had a surfeit of free time.

    After that first exploratory hike, Harry had made one more trip with the team from the local militia, this time accompanied by his charms professor to provide sensory suppression, in order to pin down the precise location of the stone ring. He had found it easily enough on the bed of a rather refreshingly brisk alpine lake, buried under a dozen meters of water, mud, and loose rock that did absolutely nothing to hide it from his eyes. He had pointed it out, then waded out far enough to scratch away the lake bed and expose one of the plinths, then he and Mr. Flitwick, along with the rest of his friends from Hogwarts had been brushed aside and told to wait while the locals took over.

    As Harry understood it, the reasoning had something to do with provincial parks and the non-magical government paying unreasonably close attention to such, though Mr. Snape had had some other theories about posturing and face-saving or some such. It had all seemed rather silly to Harry. Digging a hole was digging a hole, right? What could possibly be so complicated about that?

    Of course, when he had asked, the local headman had been quick to justify the decision in great detail, making all sorts of very serious noises about measurable hydrologic impacts and catchment areas and various other bits and bobs which had to be mitigated or hidden lest the nonmagicals realize something unusual was afoot and poke official noses into things the Salish would rather not have official noses poked into. The man had droned on until eventually Harry had nodded and politely thanked him for his time before wandering off to find something more interesting to do.

    Predictably, the young dragon’s ‘something more interesting’ had turned out to be quite the journey. By sunset on that first day, the young dragon had already explored the entirety of the village. By mid-morning the next, he was fully fluent in the local language — including several of the parent dialects that had merged over the years to create the current local creole — and had met and befriended most of the local children in the process. By mid-afternoon, his playmates had been called away for their physical training — that legendary endurance didn’t just happen by itself, after all — and a parting comment from one of them, the son of the local blacksmith, had led Harry to the artisan’s quarter. Between the variety of craftsmen and the novelty of their methods, that had proven to be a real treasure trove of diversions for the young dragon, things that could actually keep his attention for a time. The young dragon had been spending the majority of his days there ever since.

    Chain inspected, the young dragon-in-human-form returned it to the workbench surface and began the process of twisting the next link into shape. He was nowhere near as fast as his instructor at the process, who was able to do each link in one deft movement even while holding a conversation. Chains were finicky work, and Harry still had to think his way through the geometry each time. At least it was something to keep him busy… for a few more days, at least.

    If the preparations took longer than that… well, he had some ideas; though the next project on his list lacked the convenient portability of his current one. He was also of mixed mind on whether to make it himself or to commission the work done. It was always nice to learn a new skill, but that would probably take longer than he’d be here to learn properly, and he really wanted one.

    They looked so cool

    Almost involuntarily, the pair of green eyes flicked upward to steal a glance at the forty-foot tall totem pole that marked the jeweler’s place of business.

    Maybe he’d do both.

    5.6.13 New developments

    “Report,” Kingsley Shacklebolt ordered as he approached the guarded door.

    The senior auror had cleared his designated set of rooms and had been awaiting the usual “all clear” signal when the leader of Team 2 had sent an urgent summons.

    “Sir,” the auror gestured to the room he was guarding. “You can see for yourself.”

    As Shacklebolt rounded the jamb, the reasons for his auror’s concern became obvious. In the middle of the room — the facility’s main office, as their intelligence had led them to believe — the rest of the fire team stood watch over the room’s unconscious former occupants. There were half a dozen, a few more than would normally be expected in the offices, but reasonable had the raid interrupted a staff meeting or some such. No, the worrying bit was the rest of the office.

    The entire room was in disarray… disarray that had nothing to do with the raid. This was the sort of scene that would have come later, after the building was secured for the evidence teams. Filing cabinets stood open, half-emptied. Moving boxes littered the room in various states of fullness. The rest of the room was a storm of paper: paper on the desks yet to be packed, paper on the floor spilled in haste, and even paper spilling out of boxes that had been dropped when the office workers had been stunned.

    “Damn,” the Shacklebolt cursed, “they’re already on the move.”

    The schedule was already set, but…

    “Hand this mess off to the support team as quickly as possible,” the big man growled, turning to his men, who snapped to attention. “I’ll check with central command for our next assignment.”

    …such plans were always subject to revision.

    “We’re doing another run today.”

    5.6.14 Sweet interlude

    Miles away in both distance and mood, a pair of just barely teenaged girls sat at a table just outside Diagon Alley’s premiere ice cream shop with sugary treats in hand, giggling happily at something or other. It was a sweet sight in more ways than one, enough to bring smiles to the faces of passers-by, even in a city with the generally dour disposition of London.

    “You’re right, Su,” Hermione smiled at the girl beside her, a smile marred only by the slight smear of light pink ice cream marking her lips. “It was worth branching out!”

    The daughter of two dentists, ice cream had been a rare indulgence for much of Hermione’s life, and she tended to stick to what she knew lest she end up wasting one of her infrequent opportunities on something less than worthwhile. For the bushy-haired girl, that meant chocolate after her initial introduction to a rather delicious example of the breed at the ice cream shop near her parents’ clinic in Crawley. She had never felt the need to stray away from the familiar bliss over into the dubiously pink tub of strawberry or the suspiciously green pistachio… not with a sure thing close at hand. However, since ice cream had become a daily affair during her visits with Su Li, the bushy-haired girl had finally permitted herself to be pushed out of her comfort zone… to excellent effect, as it had turned out.

    “When have I ever steered you wrong?” her petite companion demanded, a playfully feigned expression outrage painted over her porcelain features.

    It held for just a few moments before both girls dissolved into giggles once more.

    “No,” the frizzy-haired girl admitted when she had recovered, “no, you haven’t.”

    And that was the honest truth, Hermione mused, thinking back on the past week as she took another lick at her ice cream. Su Li had been a constant support ever since that first morning, offering comfort, companionship, and advice while asking nothing in return. The smaller girl had been a good friend to her, even more than Susan and Hannah. The pair of Hufflepuffs, while enthusiastically friendly, simply had not had the staying power of Su Li.

    It was not that Hermione didn’t appreciate their efforts — she most assuredly did — but after about a week, the pair’s visits had simply stopped visiting. Susan’s auntie had dropped by once with a quick apology on her niece's behalf, proferring the excuse that Department business had picked up too much for her to spare the time to bring them, but Hermione knew an excuse when she heard one… and that was okay, honestly! She had known from the beginning that Susan and Hannah had only been there because of their mutual friendship with Harry, and keeping up for even a week was going above and beyond the call of duty as far as Hermione was concerned. The girls were good people, and they had done right by her and by Harry, and she wouldn’t hear anyone say differently! Looking back on it now, the bushy-haired girl shuddered to think on how much of a mess she would have been if not for that intervention during those first dark days.

    Su, though… Su Li had been a much needed constant for Hermione. The smaller girl was always there for her, ready and willing to lend an ear, advice… even a shoulder to cry on when the situation called for it. After a week of close association, Hermione was as close to Su Li as she had ever been to Abigail. By the time Harry finally returned, she would likely be even closer.

    Hermione smiled brightly, not at all displeased at the thought. It was good to to know that she still had a girl-friend; she had feared for the worst when the implications of Abigail’s graduation had finally hit home after the older girl finished her NEWTs. Now, all that remained was to wait for Harry to return and her parents to heal up; then it would be almost like none of that horrible business with those terrible people had ever happened.

    Once that happened, everything would be okay again.

    5.6.15 All-Terrain

    Harry swayed in his seat with the motion of the Winnebago as its enchantments contorted the vehicle oddly to make the transit around a particularly rough patch. It wouldn’t be long now before they arrived, the trackless alpine wilderness or no.

    The young dragon’s currently human face was set in an atypically pensive expression, echoing those of the Hogwarts professors as they went on their way to their final destination. Suze had stayed back in the village, not having much to offer but moral support which she had already passed on with a hug that morning. The ride was not a quiet one in any absolute sense, what with the roar of the diesel engine and the crunches, thuds, and occasional squeals of the tires as they crossed the decidedly less than ideal terrain, yet from a relative perspective it was silent as a tomb. The first long leg of their road trip had seen the motorhome filled with conversation, idle or otherwise, often shouted over the road noise. Now, barely a thousand yards from their goal, the entire party was mute, too wrapped up in their own thoughts to make conversation.

    They had been preparing for this off and on for months now, and showtime had finally arrived. The Salish had assured them that the location was ready, that the ring had been uncovered and the site secured from prying eyes.

    It was time, and there was really nothing left to be said.

    5.6.16 Ancient encounter

    Cold wind whistled and snapped about the low, twisted alpine vegetation that managed to cling to life in the nooks and crannies of the barren rocky shore of the small lake situated high on the eastern shoulder of the Seven Sisters. Across the water, barely a thousand feet away, the great white bulk of the easternmost of the Sisters blazed under the morning sun as it towered two thousand feet nearly straight up from the surface of the water, itself already the better part of a mile above sea level.

    It was a beautiful place, but it was a harsh, unwelcoming sort of beauty. Cold, difficult to get to, and just as difficult to move around in once you were there. It was the sort of place that civilization tended to forget, writing it off as more trouble than it was worth and leaving it to its own devices but for the very occasional particularly dedicated hiker or naturalist.

    The battered yellow form of a heavy bulldozer sitting quiescent on the lake-shore therefore looked quite out of place, as did the earthen cofferdam extending out into the lake and the large, keyhole-shaped bite it took out of the frigid waters. The flaming cairns of the ward anchors and the two-dozen swarthy, black-haired men busily swarming about the circle of standing stones embedded in the newly-exposed lake-bed completed the peculiar scene.

    Thanks to the blanket of concealment charms that nestled into the complicated web of enchantments anchored by those familiar cairns, the scene was oddly silent, with nary a murmur to compete with the moan and shriek of the ever-present wind. Thus, the sound of the powerful diesel engine that powered the Winnebago drew quite a bit of attention when its growled challenge rang out over the high mountain pass, and the busy Salish research and construction crews looked up from their various tasks to greet the new arrivals.

    Heavy tires rolled to a stop on smooth gravel near the path down into the cofferdam, and the faithful Cummins engine rumbled to a stop as the foreign specialists finally arrived at the end of their multi-week long, nearly seven thousand mile journey. As the British contingent piled out of the vehicle, they were greeted by the Salish foreman.

    “Good to finally get you lot onsite,” the man greeted Dumbledore with a welcoming nod. “I’m looking forward to seeing this job done. The sooner we finish here, the sooner I can get back down to the coast where it’s warm.” He shivered, “’s too damned cold!”

    A wizard in his late eighties — just old enough for a few strands of white beginning to start to mingle with his otherwise uniformly black shock of hair — the foreman was an experienced contractor who had specialized in semi-aquatic construction all along the Pacific coast for many decades. The work was mostly on the non-magical side of things, to be honest, though he did take the occasional magical job when the opportunity arose. Subtle use of magic had always ensured that his jobs were delivered on-budget and that his firm’s perfect safety record stretched back decades, both of which made his services quite sought-after in the industry.

    Of course, on the non-magical side of things, his projects almost always came in well under-budget, not that he made a production of it. After all, magic was what kept his costs so low, and he couldn’t exactly give his non-magical employers an accurate assessment of that… what with the Silence and all. Bidding that low without a plausible explanation would have gotten him laughed out of negotiations. No, he’d had no choice but to reluctantly pocket the excess from those fat, juicy public works contracts, for Confederate security; it was his patriotic duty! And if fulfilling his solemn duty to his tribe and nation just happened to make both him and his men quite rich in the process… well that was a hardship he would just have to endure.

    Terrible shame, that.

    “I am quite pleased to be here, as well,” the elderly Headmaster agreed. “When we spoke earlier in the week, I was under the impression that we would be here for nearly another month.”

    “You can thank your Mr. Potter for that,” he nodded to the youngster in question, who had just reverted to his natural form, now dwarfing the motorhome from which he had just emerged. “If not for his help flying that bulldozer up from the highway, it would have taken another month, easy.”

    “Ah, well, I shall have to remember to thank him, then,” his long white beard bobbed as he nodded. “Well, I suppose all that remains is to get to work.”

    With that, Albus turned and put word into action alongside the rest of his subordinates, who set about their various tasks with vigor. After Stonehenge, they knew their business.

    Most of the preparations took surprisingly little time, less time than it took to wire up a dragon with thaumic field sensors, as it turned out. So it was that everyone had managed to gather around Harry as Filius and Poppy affixed the last of his new and improved sensor harness. Hopefully this one had been hardened enough to survive intact… or at least intact enough. They still had only the vaguest idea of what the dragon was actually doing during these events.

    “Right, then,” the young dragon nodded firmly as soon as Madam Pomfrey pronounced him ready to go. “Guess this is it. It’s the one marked in orange paint, right?”

    “It is, indeed, Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore confirmed.

    With that, Harry nodded and turned to walk down into the cofferdam keeping the lake at bay, only to pause, whipping his head around to face the Winnebago when its large cargo hatch slammed shut with a loud bang. The dragon was not the only one to be startled, though he was the only one who could turn his head a full one-hundred and eighty degrees without shifting his footing. The humans had to settle for whirling around at the sound barely half a dozen yards behind them.

    When they did, they were met with an odd sight. A very memorable sort of man leaned against the Winnebago… a very memorable man who had managed to cross the barren rocky expanse of the shallow alpine valley unseen by any of the three-dozen or so experienced eyes present, a barren expanse which had been scoured clean of any appreciable cover for hundreds of yards in every direction by tens of millions of years of wind and ice.

    It was enough to set everyone ill at ease.

    “Ha! Still got it!” the stranger crowed with a completely unplaceable accent, seemingly delighted at the effect. “About time you kids showed up.”

    He was tall and slender, with blood-red hair, green eyes, very noticeably pointy ears, and dressed vaguely like a stereotypical cowboy. That was odd enough, but perhaps the most unusual fashion choice was the stark white paint that caked every exposed inch of his face, except for the bold black diamond painted over his left eye.

    “And who,” Dumbledore asked after a glance at the Salish foreman made it apparent that the locals were just as confused as he was, “might you be?”

    “That’d be telling, wouldn’t it?” the painted man chided, before proceeding to ignore the question. “I’d been wondering who bled off Avebury and Stonehenge.”

    The elder wizard frowned.

    How did this man know about those? Well, perhaps not so much that they happened — the events mentioned had been anything but subtle — but the question remained: how had this stranger fingered them as the ones responsible? And, perhaps more importantly, how had he tracked them here after doing so?

    As Dumbledore scrambled to concoct an approach to handle this new unknown, the dragon in the group proceeded to calmly and forthrightly spoil those nascent plans with a calm, forthright admission.

    “That’d be me.”

    Dumbledore hung his head with a hiss of exasperation.

    “What the frag did you do that for, kid?” the peculiar redhead demanded.

    Albus was tempted to ask the same question.

    “The first, at least,” Dumbledore interjected instead, hoping to gain at least some modicum of influence over the conversation, “was a fortunate accident.”

    Fortunate?” the man echoed, raising an incredulous eyebrow, painted face making the mundane expression look quite exotic. “Either you’re crazy, a fool, or you know something I don’t… and my money is not on the last.”

    Dumbledore winced when he saw Mr. Potter visibly bristle and shift his footing to properly face the newcomer. The young dragon never had taken well to people disparaging his friends.

    “Whatever you people think you’re playing at, either you’ve no idea of the ramifications, or you’re being manipulated by something that should not exist,” the man continued, seemingly unbothered by the visibly irritable dragon. “Those grand loci were rigged up to keep the Horrors out of the world. The longer they stay closed, the better.”

    Again, Albus opened his mouth to explain. Again, Harry beat him to the punch.

    “And the longer they stay closed,” the young dragon snarled, glaring a challenge at the man, “the bigger the explosion when they burst.”

    What?” the strangely accented voice snapped. Green eyes narrowed dangerously in that painted face as the strange man straightened from where he had been leaning casually against the motorhome. “What do you mean, ‘when they burst’?”

    “Are you familiar with arithmancy and thaumatic physics, whoever you are?” Sinestra suddenly interjected herself into the conversation.

    The man turned to face her, raising a painted eyebrow questioningly in a markedly Snape-ish way. In lieu of explanation, she dug out a copy of their calculations and handed it to him.

    “Parts of this are in Nick Flamel’s handwriting, I’d know it anywhere,” the man remarked as he gave the document a quick perusal, causing Albus’ eyes to snap open in surprise even as the newcomer dubiously reviewed the notes. “Hmm. Powerful release.” He tapped the paper thoughtfully before looking up. “Explosive?”

    “Have you ever heard of Krakatoa?” Dumbledore asked.

    “Volcano. Big one,” a painted eyebrow rose as the green eye under it speared the wizards with a questioning look. “Locus?”

    “Indeed,” Snape confirmed.

    “...frag. Rock and a hard place, huh?” The man shook his head and handed the notes back to Sinestra. “Never ends, does it?”

    He closed those green eyes and sighed, leaving the mountainside silent but for the whine of the wind.

    “I’ll see you kids around,” he continued a few long moments later. “Just remember: you’ll be helping me clear up the mess that’ll come with the magic being let back into the world…”

    “…or if you don’t, you’ll wish you had.”

    On that ominous note, the man abruptly vanished between one heartbeat and the next, prompting a ragged collection of startled oaths from the humans and leaving the now empty ground to take the baleful glare of the dragon in his stead.

    For his part, Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed with suspicion as he made his way over said empty ground surprisingly quickly for a man his age. On arrival he peered carefully at the stony ground for a moment before removing his spectacles and giving them a quick tap with his wand. Replacing them, he once again examined the place the man had stood.

    “That was not apparation,” the elderly wizard said slowly, frowning as he continued to examine the place the strange man had stood, “nor was it the activation of a portkey.”

    “Then what was it?” the head contractor demanded. “If there is a way around the Interdiction, then the Council must be informed!”

    “I have no...” Albus cut himself off as his eyes narrowed. “No… this residual is… I think I remember...”

    “Well?”

    “An... illusion, I believe?” the elder wizard ventured uncertainly. “If I am interpreting this correctly, it is a glamour cast in the ancient manner… that is, the methods in common use prior to the advent of modern wands…” he trailed off before continuing, his voice firm. “I shall have to consult my library to be certain; those methods have not been used in millennia.”

    “I must say, I am rather more concerned by these Horrors he mentioned,” Filius interjected. “What do you think he could have meant?”

    “Indeed, that did sound quite concerning,” Albus agreed, straightening from his examination of the magical traces that had been left on the rocky ground. “I wonder myself. Perhaps...”

    “I would say that is something to look into in the future,” Snape ventured. “For now, we have more important things to which to attend.”

    “Truly?” the half-goblin asked. “He sounded quite concerned about them, what could…”

    “The nexus?” Snape interjected.

    “Oh, yes,” the diminutive man agreed, a sheepish tone in his voice. “I suppose that is more urgent, isn’t it?”

    “Indeed,” Minerva agreed, speaking up for the first time. The transfiguration mistress nodded to her student, “Mr. Potter, if you would?”

    “Right!” the dragon agreed with a firm nod of his own. “That’s what we’re here for.”

    With that, the young dragon turned back to his appointed task, descending into the cofferdam with great purposeful strides. He quickly covered the distance and drew to a stop next to the control stone. Examining it carefully, he breathed deeply of the cold mountain air before lifting another dagger-like lancet like the one he had used so many months ago on the Salisbury plain.

    A sharp thrust and a slight wince had sizzling, white-hot blood welling up around the already half-melted blade. That blood had just begun to form a glowing, incandescent pool on the young dragon’s scaly palm when Harry slammed it against the ancient stone.

    Just as it had at Stonehenge, magically charged blood contacted the stone responsible for discharging the ancient device. Just as it had at Stonehenge, that blood forged a connection, sending a signal. And again, just as it had at Stonehenge, the ancient device did as it was designed, discharging the accumulated energy of millennia through that newly-forged connection, lighting up the space between the dragon’s palm and the bloody stone with a light brighter than the noon-time sun.

    Then, quite unlike it had at Stonehenge, right before Harry’s eyes — and those of every living thing within a mile and a half — the world exploded.

    5.6.17 Tea time

    “…nothing then?” the goblin slumped despondently. “Right, well thank you for your time.”

    A murmur issued from the black plastic receiver of the payphone, one of a small bank of such set off to the side of the small wizarding coffee shop. The cafe was a favorite of his, making liberal use of expanded spaces to nestle unnoticed into the small space between Marine Drive and the Spanish Banks, just up the road from the University of British Columbia.

    “No, it’s no trouble. I understand,” the Gringotts rep assured his contact. “It’s a maze out there in the mountains.”

    Another murmured response.

    “Of course, of course,” the goblin nodded. “Thank you again!”

    With that, the goblin set the phone back on the hook and sat back in his chair. Reaching over to the nearby table, he retrieved his still steaming cup of tea, relishing the warmth. The Vancouver weather might not get too cold in the winter, but neither did it get too warm in the summer, and even on the beach in midsummer, a hot cup of tea was a welcome addition. It was all the more so when one had spent all day sitting next to a phone, as he had for the last week and change.

    A combination of smokey, bitter, and sour washed over his tongue as he took a sip of the still nearly boiling beverage, and the goblin sighed in contentment, ignoring the look of disgusted awe directed his way by the witch behind the counter who seemed to be amazed he was actually drinking the brew she had made at his instruction. It was no goblin tea, but one couldn’t really expect goblin tea out in the hinterlands of a Vancouver coffee shop, even a wizarding one… there weren’t enough goblins in the whole of North America to make such profitable. Nonetheless, he had managed to concoct a halfway decent substitute from the ingredients available.

    It began with a robust portion of lapsang souchong, vigorously boiled in a roughly equal volume of lightly salted water — preferably in an untinned copper kettle, though the witch had not had one available — alongside a single lemon, diced with rind. After fifteen minutes, one pressed the resulting mash through a strainer and dissolving a touch of alum to taste. All the sugar from the lemon juice made the resulting brew far too sweet, but the fragrant notes of pitch and turpentine from the pinewood-smoked tea leaves, the bitterness of over-brewed tea and lemon rind, and the mild acidity of the lemon juice combined to produce something vaguely reminiscent of the genuine article.

    It was a much needed comfort in these trying times.

    After his predictably disastrous meeting with the government liaison in Seattle, he had been forced to resort to his plan C. With access to neither a detailed itinerary nor the sophisticated tracking apparatus of the Confederate government, he had been reduced to methodically working his way through his entire contact list of customers and business associates spread over the entirety of British Columbia. Hopefully, one or another of them might have seen the group pass through.

    As he took another sip, the goblin’s beady black eyes turned to the large picture window off to the side which framed the picturesque view of the Burrard Inlet and the forested bulk of Cypress Mountain beyond, its top shrouded in clouds.

    Honestly, tedious as the calls were they were hardly the most trying of tasks; in fact, he really ought to be making them more regularly. The Bank had many customers across the Confederacy, and he was the only point of contact for those in the western third of the continent. Between the heavy customer load and the far-flung geographic region, he often went over a year without speaking to some of them. This recent spate of calls was actually doing wonders for his customer engagement metrics, and he was seriously entertaining the possibility of making it a quarterly event going forward.

    Ancillary benefits aside, the telephone marathon had been an exercise in frustration for his current purpose. Not a single one of his contacts had heard anything of the group from England… though to be fair, he had only managed to go through the first third of his address book so far. It had been slow going; for some reason, people seemed reluctant to answer unsolicited calls from the bank’s representative. He chuckled quietly between sips of tea. He supposed it made a certain sort of sense; that sort of call rarely heralded good news in the normal course of things.

    Still, there was nothing to do but to keep at it.

    He had just turned back and picked up the receiver to do just that when he froze, petrified, as the world around him rang like a bell. It had been an utterly massive magical discharge, well beyond anything he had felt before… beyond anything he had even imagined possible. The handset dropped with a plastic clatter as the goblin surged to his feet, spinning to look at the witch behind the counter. He then followed her wide-eyed gaze to the window and froze again.

    There, beyond the beach where the throngs of non-magicals carried on, unaware of the magical shockwave that had just swept through the city, a jet of magical discharge rose high enough to be seen above the clouds shrouding the mountain peak across the strait and bright enough to be visible in broad daylight.

    A few long moments later, the non-magical beach goers slowly started to look up and point as they noticed the distant light show, a clawed, khaki-skinned hand fumbled blindly for the phone handset as its slack-jawed owner sank back down onto his chair. With trembling fingers, he began to pick out a different number than he had intended to dial a moment earlier. By the time he had finished, a little more than a minute and a half after the initial shockwave, the earth trembled ever so slightly as the physical impact of whatever magical occurrence had just taken place propagated far enough to make themselves felt in Vancouver.

    “Employee Number 594301, emergency report,” he stated as soon as the call connected, still feeling numb. “There has been an incident in British Columbia...”

    The Brethren had to be informed.

    5.6.18 Slow stirrings

    In a well-hidden place many hundreds of miles away, an immense eye opened and flicked about, groggily examining its surroundings.

    “There it is again,” an incredibly deep voice rumbled in a rolling language not heard anywhere else in thousands of years. “What in the Hells is causing that abominable racket?”

    A few moments passed without reply before the owner of the eye dismissed the peculiar feeling with a shake of its titanic head, gave a gargantuan yawn, and went back to sleep. It was still far too exhausted to worry about earth-shaking bangs, but it was beginning to suspect that they had some significance. As it drifted off, it noticed one other unusual thing…

    It was not quite as tired as it had been the last time.

    5.6.19 Punch drunk

    Cold waters swirled and crashed, now thick with mud and silt. Below, another great eye snapped open and a leviathan surged up from the depths, breaking the surface with a great crashing of water. Its great fanged maw gaped wide and a muddy torrent issued forth, accompanied by a great tearing roar, only to be repeated several more times in quick succession.

    “Ow…” Harry hissed after he recovered from his coughing fit and worked to catch his breath. “That was way worse than Stonehenge.”

    A few moments later, the young dragon had collected himself enough to limp back to shore through the now shoulder-deep ice-cold mud.

    Technically speaking, the drain had been successful. Harry had absorbed the vast majority of the discharge without issue… well, without serious issue. He did feel as though he was stretched as tight as a piano wire, but the young dragon knew from experience that was nothing to worry about; it would pass with time as his body adjusted. No harm, no foul.

    No, the problem had been that tiny fraction he hadn’t absorbed. Proportionally tiny it might have been, but given the sheer scale involved, that tiny fraction was still a great deal of energy by any sane measure. That fraction had been enough to send a miles-wide flare shooting thousands of miles into the sky. That fraction had been enough to shake the earth over five-hundred miles away. And, perhaps most importantly for the dragon at the heart of it all, that fraction had been enough to collapse every enchantment the Salish had placed on the ring…

    …enchantments like those which had kept the hastily constructed earthen cofferdam stable…

    …the catastrophic failure of which had led to Harry, still dazed from absorbing the discharge, being first blindsided by one twenty-foot wall of mud and gravel moving as fast as the weight of the lake could push it, and then sucker punched by another from the opposite direction as the other side of the cofferdam collapsed in turn. Sturdy the young dragon might have been, but being sucker-punched by a collapsing dam was enough to knock even Harry for a loop.

    Coming to entirely submerged in ice-cold mud had not helped matters.

    As he waded on, Harry looked ahead to the shore and frowned at what he saw.

    “Hey, are you guys okay?”

    5.6.20 Aftermath

    As he swam back towards consciousness, Snape’s first thought was to wonder what he had been chewing on that had left his mouth full of copper and acid. His second was that it must be a potion, and his third was to wonder what potion he could have possibly brewed using mountain sorrel and human blood.

    Then the pain hit.

    The potions master let out a pained hiss as he shakily levered himself up from the rocky ground, pausing to spit out a mouthful of bloody, mangled plant material — presumably the sorrel he had tasted — and a few sharp bits which, according to a quick survey with his tongue, were most likely teeth.

    Which of course, raised the question of just what had hit him; had someone used a planter as a weapon of opportunity? During his long years as a double agent, Snape had made many mistakes, quite a few of which had led to someone taking a swing at him. He’d been hit with spells, fists, and brass knuckles… even with a sock full of knuts on one memorable occasion, but the dark man could not once recall having been hit with a planter before. How on earth could they have lifted such a thing? Had he done something to offend Hagrid, or perhaps that wretched lizard…

    Oh.

    At that point, it all came rushing back: the long drive, the ascent into the mountains, the preparations, the arrival of the mysterious stranger and his abrupt departure, and finally… ah, yes. Mr. Potter had slapped his bloody hand down on the rock, and then the world had exploded… not literally, given he was currently alive to think about it, but everything had gone white, he had felt a great force throw him back off his feet, and then he could remember nothing else.

    He nodded. Best to find out what was going on.

    To that end, he painfully struggled to his feet, moving slowly and cautiously as he felt out his movements for injuries that stood out from the general haze of pain. Several minutes later he was standing, admittedly a tad unsteadily, having determined that his missing teeth were most likely the worst of his injuries. The rest was a mass of bruises, scrapes, and pulled muscles, overall nothing worse than could be expected from a particularly rough quidditch match, though he was not looking forward to regrowing those teeth. Skelegrow was bad enough when taken for bone injuries. At least then it could be swallowed and washed down immediately. Regrowing teeth required topical application, and that meant holding the wretched stuff in one’s mouth for hours on end.

    Still, it was better than trying to chew around the gaps in his teeth, he supposed…

    …marginally…

    …maybe.

    Snape started to shake his head slightly, before the pain made him think better of it. Instead, he turned the motion into a smooth scan of the area. Albus sat upright on a small boulder, seemingly little worse for wear other than the gravel he was picking out of his now rather dingy beard. Filius already showed signs of having healed some of his own injuries and was now helping some of their less fortunate colleagues. Minerva was doing much the same, seeming to have come out unscathed, most likely due to the remnants of a snap-transfigured wall a little to her left, and the rest of the Hogwarts contingent seemed to be in much the same boat as Snape himself. Everyone he could see was at least moving, though the Healers would be rather busy when they made it back to the village.

    The locals had fared much the same. Most of the contract crew looked to have been standing behind the heavy bulk of the bulldozer, and judging by the positioning, several of the militia contingent had coincidentally been standing behind Minerva and her wall. One of these, an officer if he recalled correctly, was staring straight up into the sky, wide-eyed and oblivious to the rest of the world. Following the man’s gaze, Snape’s much abused jaw dropped as well.

    Above them hung the rapidly fading remains of the largest magical flare he had ever seen, so big it seemed to blot out the sky.

    That was…

    It was not so much that the flare had formed that was so unbelievable; most any magical discharge would emit light as a waste product, particularly poorly directed ones. It was the reason that most spells glowed in transit. It’s size and longevity, though… Such flares were transient by their very nature, and the fact that this one had lingered as long as it had, even though it was visibly fading before his eyes, was a testament to just how much energy had been involved in its creation.

    “Hey, are you guys okay?”

    Mr. Potter’s shout broke the potions master out of his shock, and he turned to see the dragon limping painfully back to shore, a concerned look on his reptilian face.

    “I am mostly sound,” he reported, similar calls echoing from all about.

    “Oh, good!” the dragon heaved a great sigh of relief. “Um, so what happ…”

    “No time!” the Salish officers who had been looking up so intently a few moments ago interrupted sharply, motioning upwards at the rapidly fading column of magical light. “The Sleepers can’t possibly have missed that, and they’ll be scrambling something out of Comox to get a better look, probably an Aurora. Concealment wards didn’t survive, so we need to wipe the evidence and get under cover of the village wards before it gets here.”

    “How long?” Dumbledore asked gravely, his serious tone at odds with his actions he shook his beard this way and that to remove the last of the debris it had picked up.

    “Comox is on Vancouver Island, so it would take…” the man trailed off squinting thoughtfully as he worked through the math in his head, “…cut that in half that for good measure just in case they redirect a craft that was already in the air, so call it half an hour…”

    He trailed off again, this time turning to shoot a horrified look over the great scar in the landscape that had come about due both to their preparations and to the unexpectedly energetic discharge.

    “Half an hour!” he gasped. “How are we going to hide this in half an hour?”

    “Perhaps if we act quickly, we can reestablish the concealment charms,” Filius offered helpfully as he finished setting Septima back to rights with a repair charm to her robes.

    “Not in this background count, we’re not,” one of the Salish contractors chimed in, his own wand already in hand. “No new ward is going to settle aound here for at least a month… not after that.”

    “Um, I can carry the bulldozer back,” Harry offered gamely, rolling his forward pair of shoulders with a slight wince. “I mean, that’s the really obvious bit, right?”

    “Not the only one, but it is a start,” the officer agreed with a nod. “Please do.”

    “I shall prepare our vehicle for departure,” Snape volunteered, turning to the Winnebago even as the dragon moved off to his task. He received another absent nod from the officer who had already turned back to the rest of the mess. After a moment’s thought the man let out a blustery sigh.

    “No help for it, then,” he muttered just loud enough for Snape to hear before raising his voice. “Men, we need to get this land smoothed enough to look relatively normal from the air! Wands out, and get to work!”

    With a tired groan, the men got to work, and while the Hogwarts contingent were not technically under his command, most of them pitched in to help.

    As he approached the vehicle, Snape noticed the skid marks from where it had had slid back half a dozen feet in the commotion. It also, he noted as he walked an inspection loop, had a cracked lens on the driver’s side headlight, and every window on that side — which had been facing the lake when he parked — had shattered, though the safety film had held the shards in place. In hindsight, he probably should have parked behind cover, but at least it seemed to be functional… or at least, as functional as its owner, he thought with a wince as he stepped up into the vehicle and the movement revealed yet another muscle pull he hadn’t noticed. Thankfully, the engine roared to life without incident when he turned the key, and a bit of tentative experimentation proved the wheels and drive train to have remained intact.

    She was still mobile, which was a relief. The diagnostic lights also showed the enchantments to have survived intact, which was even more of one. Apparently, he had parked far enough away for that, at least.

    He left the engine running just in case the original start had been a fluke and set off at a limping jog to share the good news. He arrived only to find Albus staring thoughtfully at the snowy mountains as everyone else worked around him.

    “Albus,” he reported, “the vehicle is intact, including the enchantments.”

    “The concealment ones as well?” the elder wizard asked.

    At Snape’s nod, Albus continued, “Good, very good. That will buy us a few more minutes onsite.”

    With that, he lapsed back into his contemplation, frowning thoughtfully.

    Snape frowned.

    “Sir, are you not going to assist with the cleanup?”

    The Headmaster didn’t acknowledge him, instead mouthing something under his breath as if trying to work something out.

    “Sir?”

    Still no response.

    When Albus refused to respond a third time, Snape shrugged and turned to assist himself, only to stop two steps later when the old wizard barked a command.

    “Severus, get everyone back to the vehicle!”

    “Sir?”

    “Get everyone ready to go,” he repeated. “I have an idea.”

    With that, the old man drew his wand and began waving it and muttering lowly, still staring intently at the mountainside. The potions master shrugged and set about collecting everyone and explaining the situation. When he felt the magic gathering around Dumbledore, he redoubled his pace.

    Nearly twenty minutes later, everyone had piled into the Winnebago, filling it completely for the first time in its existence, and Snape had turned it around so it was ready to go at a moment’s notice. Still Albus stood where he had been, both wand and lips moving incessantly.

    “When is he going to finish?” the militia officer demanded, standing at Snape’s shoulder, hands clenching nervously. “We’re almost out of time!”

    “I cannot say,” the potions master replied irritably. “As I said before, Albus did not explain to me what he was about, and…”

    The potions master cut off as the feel of the magic came to a crescendo and then died out entirely. Albus turned and sprinted for the Winnebago, a tight smile on his face.

    “Drive!” he snapped as soon as he stepped in the door. “We have little time.”

    Severus knew when to argue, and he knew that this was not one of those times. The Winnebago was up to speed before Albus slouched tiredly into a seat.

    “What did you do?” the officer demanded. “We have to go back! The Silence! We can’t leave so much evidence for…”

    He was stuck dumb by the sound of a sharp retort, low enough to be just on the edge of hearing but loud enough to echo off the surrounding peaks. A great and terrible ripping sound followed shortly thereafter, and the man turned to the window just in time to see the entire east face of the mountain, the easternmost of the Seven Sisters, shuddering and shedding great skeins of snow that raced down towards the lake and the traces they had left behind.

    “Severus, head up and over the ridge,” the Headmaster of Hogwarts advised. “We will not have time to travel back through the valley.”

    The Salish officer turned, face full of horrified awe.

    “An avalanche?”

    A white beard shifted slightly as it concealed a smirk.

    “Not precisely.”

    As the Winnebago began to ascend to back of the ridge that separated them from the village, its passengers watched, a murmur of horrified awe passing through the cabin as the main mass of tens of thousands of tons of snow and ice tumbled down the mountainside, a wall of roiling white death sweeping over the lake and the entire depression it had occupied faster than a man could run.

    Then even that quiet murmur died as they saw what followed.

    With a great tearing groan, the entire southeast face of the peak slumped, sliding several dozen meters down before its bottom edge hit a change in slope and the entire mass began to pivot under its new momentum. Slowly, ponderously, the great slab of granite tilted a few degrees past vertical before crumbling under its own weight and tumbling down, burying all evidence of their recent activities under thirty million tons of rock, ice, and snow.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2021
  30. Thrans

    Thrans If specified, you can replace this.

    Joined:
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    "Gee-Whiz Dumbledore, how are we going to hide what we did?"

    “Never fear, I have a cunning plan!”

    “Some arcane magic? A massive illusion?”

    “I’ll drop a mountain on it."
     
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