A/N: Only one month this time, I think.
Irish Wizarding Gazette
DRAGON ON TOP OF MOUNTAIN ACCUSED OF TAX EVASION
The dragon who lives in the cave on the top of Mt Dweomdale has recently come under fire due to an anonymously-penned letter, purported to have been written by three prominent Ministry taxpeople, who claimed that the dragon has used various shell corporations to cheat the Ministry out of approximately forty thousand Galleons over the past ten years. The dragon, when asked to comment on the allegations, was seemingly insulted and affronted, calling the authors of the letter "the redistributionist knights of yore, reincarnated into bureaucratic busybodies", emphasising its continual investments into local Irish businesses and the magical community as a whole amounting to twenty million gold coins as of today, and its "positive role" as a "stimulator of economic growth".
The dragon made further comments, suggesting that if business conditions became unfavourable, it would "withdraw investment" and "eat everyone".
THE NORTH TOWER, HOGWARTS, SOMEWHERE – 26 AUGUST, 1995
In the Divination classroom, a boy with gray-brown hair and a woman with coke-bottle glasses faced fifty cups of tea, all recently drained.
"Oh dear. This has never happened before."
"What hasn't happened before?"
"The Chudley Cannons will win 60-2 against the Wigtown Wanderers in the Quidditch Northwestern Regional Semi-Finals. It's a shame I'm banned from all of the betting clubs," she remarked, with a hint of wistfulness.
"What about my future career?"
"Oh, I suppose you could interpret it that way, too," Professor Trelawney coughed. She tapped her wand to a sheet of parchment, and the tea pattern quickly inked itself in, dot by dot. "Take this tea-pattern to the Ministry Office of Statistics, they'll process it," she said, handing it to him.
"And what am I . . . how am I supposed to get there?"
"Puddlejumping, but – oh, the caretakers will have fixed the leaky fountain by now, you'd better use the Hedge."
"The Hedge?" Evidently Professor Trelawney wasn't as perceptive as she'd appeared, or she was leaving implicit unanswered questions in all of her answers as some sort of incomprehensible game.
"You'll find it in the gardens that you saw when you came in with Professor Flitwick."
" . . . I had a fair bit of trouble with finding breakfast so I doubt I'll be able to make my way outside without directions."
The Divination Professor seemed to lose interest, turning back to her study of the tea leaves. "Just turn eight lefts, that usually does it."
Ozland turned to leave, stumbled over an uneven bit of carpet, and then turned back. "Hold on, I forgot to ask – er, no, I asked but I don't think I got the answer I was looking for – "
"An accident from a few years ago when Lord Riddley – the Rituals and DADA Professor at the time – covered for Pomona for a Seventh Year Herbology class."
"No, look, I'll be more clear – "
"Lean back against it while whispering 'Ministry Office of Statistics Core', but make sure to say 'Core', or else it might take you to one of the non-Core universes on the Registrar and you'll living the rest of your life in a lower reality without realising it. It's happened before," she added, shrugging.
After turning eight lefts and crossing a drawbridge that didn't go over anything so far as he could tell, he wandered through the garden (which was quite lovely) and came to the Hedge. Ozland hadn't encountered many menacing hedges in his life, but this was certainly one of them. It stood twenty feet high, and the leaves were sharp as an overused simile. They weren't dark leaves either – not dark at all, but an infinitely more dangerous-looking shade of milky green.
All in all, it was the sort of hedge you'd expect to see growing around the home of a one-eyed man who nobody had ever seen except briefly as a window silhouette during a lightning storm after accidentally throwing a frisbee into his backyard at night.
Some hedges said things like 'don't lean against me, I have pollen and prickles', while this hedge was quite clearly saying: 'don't lean against me, or else.'
There was something vaguely discomforting about the idea that it could send him to another universe. He'd go back to Hogwarts and everyone would be part-Neanderthal and he probably wouldn't realise anything was wrong until the Core Ministry issued a missing persons notice except that it'd be too late since he'd already had three children and been expelled from Stanford after publishing a doctoral thesis entitled 'A Novel Means of Reversing Cryptographic Transformations of Names of God'.
"Ministry Office of Statistics Core," he murmured, resigned, and leant back into the Hedge, which quite readily gave way. Branches closed around his field of vision. Hogwarts became fragments of architecture, only visible as gaps between the leaves.
The time Ozland spent inside the Hedge was an eternity, made all the more disquieting by the constant wriggling and squirming of the branches, shuffling his body to some unseen destination. He had the unshakeable feeling that the Hedge was being tender and careful with him, like child hugging a teddy-bear on the verge of falling apart, or a very big person hugging a very smaller person while trying not to shatter any of their bones. At one point, he heard the distinctive sounds of a motorway and the honking of a horn, and the skeletal branches in the Hedge quickly tugged him upward, after which the motorway sounds became softer and disappeared. It was all mostly dark, except for a few sprinklings of light – white, blue, and sometimes green and orange, which allowed him to see apples attached to some of the branches, but that didn't last for very long before he was squeezed out from a potted plant into a humming, thrumming room.
For the Office of Statistics, it didn't look too busy. The humming, thrumming room was bare save for a bored-looking clerk sitting at a mahogany desk, on top of which perched a little box with hints of cogs and wheels poking out, from which all the humming and thrumming was originating. It was also rather small – a tad larger than a work cubicle – and filled with pipes, all of which fed into the little box.
"How may I help you?" The clerk's nose was buried in a book, and accordingly the words came out as muffled and all jammed together, as if they were a super-word in some language whose vocabulary consisted entirely of perfunctory phrases.
Ozland swallowed and waved about the speckled parchment. "It's a tea-pattern, to do with careers." He stopped, and started again. "Professor Trelawney said I should come here."
Apparently this was enough for the clerk to make sense of, for he took the parchment from Ozland, rolled it up, tied a blue ribbon around it, and fed it into a hole in the machine.
Maybe he was imagining it, but Ozland thought he could hear a whirring sound above the mechanical din, and all of a sudden, the machine spat out a long string of paper. The clerk promptly took the paper, unhooked what looked like a metal plunger from the back of the machine and suckered it to his lips.
"Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33, request for tea-reading interpretation, subsection: career orientation. Message is as follows: Twenty two point five, sixty-three point zero, ninety-eight point two, seven point zero, three point two eight nine, one hundred and nine point three. End." The office-clerk spoke, reading off the paper. Each word had a garbled reverb, as if it was bouncing around between two sheets of scrunched-up aluminium foil.
Soon enough, a crisp female voice came back, coming from every direction, like an airport announcement. "Head of Computation, message to Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33. Reply is as follows, in ranked order: one, prophecy reinterpretation, two, land expansion, three, foreign relations office. End."
"Got that?" the clerk asked, turning back to his book.
"So those are the jobs I've been assigned?"
Eyebrows arched. "Heavens, no. Those are the jobs you'll end up doing."
"Then what's the point of all of this, then?"
"So," the clerk said, slowly, "you can prepare to do them while you're at Hogwarts . . . unless you're an Underperson?"
"No – "
"Oh, good," the clerk visibly relaxed, "some of them figured out how to undo the Foreign Accent Jinx, and killed their counterparts in the Core to take their place. Awful shit. Muggleborn, then?"
"It's rather complicated, but hold up – if I study prophecy reinterpretation at Hogwarts and I wouldn't have studied it otherwise, isn't the, er, tea reading causing what it's supposed to predict in the first place?"
"Well," the office-wizard said, not seeming to give the matter much thought, "everything has to be caused by something."
"Well – "
"So really, if you don't end up working in the Department of Mysteries, then what made the tea-reading say you would work there in the first place? It's a logical contradiction, innit? Can't happen."
At Ozland's thoughtful silence, he went back to his book.
"Er, sorry to trouble you again – but how might I get back to Hogwarts?"
"And how am I supposed to know that?"
"I thought you might, that's all."
The clerk sighed, pulled the metal plunger out again, and placed it to his lips. "Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33, request for information, subsection: general. Message is as follows: how might a pesky Hogwarts student get back to Hogwarts?"
Half a minute passed. "Head of Computation, message to Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33. Reply is as follows: and how am I supposed to know that? End."
"Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33, general reply. Message is as follows: I thought you might, that's all. No worries. End."
"Head of Computation, message to Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33. Reply is as follows: I'll have to ask the Department of Transportation. End."
The tubes were silent for a while, before the same voice piped up again. "Head of Computation, message to Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33. Message is as follows: Department of Transportation wants to know whether the pesky Hogwarts student knows how to ride a dragon, please reply. End."
"Well," said the clerk, "do you?"
"No," Ozland replied patiently, "of course I fucking don't."
"No need to get shirty – "
"I swear to fucking Matchwell, half of the time I spend here is using some nutty way of moving from – "
"Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33, general reply. Reply is as follows: No, he doesn't know how to ride a dragon."
" – one place to another. And how long is this going to take?"
"Shouldn't be too long," the clerk said pleasantly, flipping over to another page. "You know, the Ministry used to do so many pointless, counterproductive, useless things before Minister Tesla's reforms – now, we do them twenty percent faster."
A rumbling came through the tubes, heralding a message. "Head of Computation, message to Office of Statistics, Cubicle 33. Message is as follows: Department of Transportation says 'Go out the door and turn eight lefts.' End."
Ozland held up his finger, open-mouthed, and then went out the door.
They had filtered, one by one, into the expansive room in Hogwarts' south-west tower. Was it the room where Peeves threw pineapple cakes at a visiting Soviet delegation in 1956? Hermione wasn't sure, her brain was a little scattered today.
It couldn't help but be scattered, she reminisced – if she'd tried to make sense of the entire magical world at first glance, her brain wouldn't just be scattered; instead, little chunks of it would be landing on Neptune just about now.
For a long time, there was an uncomfortable silence in the circle of Muggleborns, and then a boy walked in, grinning uneasily. Althea Golledge, who, along with Penelope Clearwater, was sitting comfortably in the centre of the circle, cleared her throat – a rather rough, alarming sound. Hermione only knew her and Penelope's names because she'd politely pressed Professor McGonagall for every possible detail beforehand.
"Introductions, I think, would be appropriate. I'm Althea Golledge," she began, flatly. "I work in the Department of Mysteries as a project manager and I can't say any more than that."
"My name is Penelope Clearwater. I graduated last year," Penelope murmured, "desk clerk at the Ministry."
The uneasily-grinning boy introduced himself as Terry Boot, without elaboration.
Kevin Entwhistle just said his name quickly and quietly, his eyes darting about the room, as if waiting for someone to challenge him on the fact.
"Yosif Almazbekov," volunteered someone she couldn't see. "If you're thinking about my name, I just came here a few days ago from Kyrgyzstan. I'm looking forward to studying at Hogwarts and it's good to see my fellow students," he added, softly. Terry stared oddly at him.
"Ozland Cunningham," another boy said, and then paused, as if considering how to construct a particularly delicate sentence. "Both of my parents lived in Britain and were magical, but they died during the War and put me in the care of a Muggle couple in New Zealand. I . . . am involved in paragovernmental affairs."
She wondered what he'd left out. He'd definitely left something out. Nobody paused that long without leaving something out.
Everyone was looking at her now. "Hermione Granger," she said, her throat suddenly dry. "I'm ... well," you'll all get to know me soon enough and I'd prefer not to box myself in by summarising who I am in a handful of words, she wanted to say, but, after swallowing nervously, she finally managed to say: "I'm from Heathgate and I was studying to be a dentist before I got my acceptance letter, but I don't think I'll be doing that now."
Althea chuckled, no one else did.
The last person who'd spoken was on the opposite side of the circle to Hermione and –
As she looked at that last person, three thoughts, in rapid succession, passed through her head.
The first was: isn't he the one who fixed my pneumatic modulator?
The second was: oh, I remember, his name was Harry Evans-Verres.
Her heart skipped a beat.
The third wasn't a thought so much as the surprised 'oh!' of a sudden connection that her brain had made – the connection in this case being that the person who she'd gone to, to get a motorcycle part repaired, also defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named as a baby.
She kept quiet, wondering who else had figured it out.
There was a fourth thought, more of a subconscious voice, reprimanding her for not paying more attention.
"Oh, right," the ender-of-the-Wizarding-War said, almost absently, "Harry, pleased to make your acquaintances – Hermione, Ozland, Yosif, Kevin, Terry, Penelope, Althea." He nodded to everyone as he said their names
"Harry who?" asked Golledge, with a hint of impatience.
As he reached the drawbridge, Dumbledore's phoenix-Patronus had told him to go to the third room on the corridor on the third floor near the south-west tower. Ozland had asked, almost sarcastically, whether he should turn eight lefts to get there, and the phoenix had said:
"I see you're getting the hang of it."
And then it winked.
Sitting in that room, it suddenly occurred to Ozland that maybe the Patronus had winked, rather than Dumbledore.
" . . . I'm looking forward to studying at Hogwarts and it's good to see my fellow students."
People were looking at him now. Oh, so they were going counter-clockwise?
"Ozland Cunningham," he said, immediately, and then stopped to think about how he would introduce himself. How had everyone else done it? Maybe, given how often this sort of thing was happening, he would do well to work out some sort of schema and prepare various introductions for different situations. He'd never needed to introduce himself before.
A long pause. "Both of my parents lived in Britain and were magical, but they died during the War and put me in the care of a Muggle couple in New Zealand. I . . . am involved in paragovernmental affairs."
There. He'd paused just long enough to create intrigue.
"Hermione Granger," said a girl, presumably Hermione Granger, who looked about his age – definitely younger than Penelope and Althea. "I'm ... well," she seemed flustered, "I'm from Heathgate and I was studying to be a dentist before I got my acceptance letter, but I don't think I'll be doing that now."
"Oh, right," muttered the boy next to him, "Harry, pleased to make your acquaintances – Hermione, Ozland, Yosif, Kevin, Terry, Penelope, Althea."
"Just Harry," said the boy.
"What do you mean, 'Just Harry'?" said Althea.
"Oh, I see where the confusion is coming from," Harry said, helpfully, "my family name is spelt with silent letters. Only mute Dutch people can hear it."
If this was intended to provoke some further reaction, it failed, for Althea only shook her head. "N'importe quois. You're probably all wondering why we're here today. Unless someone has already figured it out – ?"
"We're all Muggleborns," Hermione said.
"Not all of you," Althea responded readily, "no, all of you are entering into your Fifth Year with no prior knowledge of magic. To call that a disadvantage is a catastrophic understatement. A good half of you," she said, "will fail. No, allow me to amend that – unless you are exceptional, you will fail." She stared around the room, meeting everyone eye-to-eye. "Once you fail, you will be moved back a year. Once you fail that year, you will be moved back another year. There are four successive years for you to fail in, and each year you are moved back into will be more and more embarrassing than the last."
"That is," Penelope continued, "if you don't support each other. If you support each other, you might all be able to scrape a passing grade, and er, avoid getting picked on. I didn't have anyone to support me – I was, ah, I was the only Muggleborn in my year. I had to learn how to defend myself, but, well, defensive magic hasn't ever been my strong suit," she laughed uncertainly, "so I just holed up in the Ravenclaw Library." She seemed to shift in tone, and was deadly serious all of a sudden. "Don't end up in Slytherin. Ideally you want to be in Hufflepuff or with the Gryffindors, Ravenclaw as a third best. Also if you get injured, go to Madam Pomfrey immediately and don't be afraid to mention names. Dumbledore and McGonagall are also good people to go to, but they're both really busy. Just keep your head down and avoid trouble, try and earn House points but don't look like a teacher's pet while you're doing it."
"And if you all end up in different Houses, the most important thing is to stick together," Althea said. "It might sound cliché, it might sound uninspiring, but unless you want to go back to being a goddamned dentist, you're going to have to do it."
There was a collective murmur of agreement. Hermione looked affronted.
"Which brings me to the real reason why the Headmaster keeps organising these little pep-talks – you'll all need to get to know one another. I need a fucking smoke," said Althea abruptly, "ask Penelope if you have any questions."
A long silence ensued.
"It's always hard to start off a conversation organically," said Harry, "so let me try at it, and if I don't succeed, we'll go around clockwise with everyone giving their best conversational prompt: Hermione, do I know you from somewhere?"
Hermione, do I know you from somewhere?
The problem was, of course, that he did. Hermione knew full-well that he'd heard her doing an Estuary accent and pretending to be an older motorcyclist on a single night in February, about two years ago.
The second problem was that she hadn't expected him to recognise her. Unless she was overthinking it and Harry had genuinely made a mistake ...
No, it seemed an unlikely sort of question to ask.
Oh damn, if she thought for any longer it would look like –
"I don't think so," she said, furrowing her brow, "I know you from 'Rise and Fall' and 'A Muggleborn Guide', but I don't think we've ever met in person."
Harry closed his eyes and snapped his fingers. Something about the motion made her wary. "I've heard your voice before."
Damn, damn, damn. That was the problem with being clever and mysterious – people tended to remember you. "Oh! Do you listen to the radio?"
"Sometimes," Harry said, neutrally.
"The BBC interviewed our school in year eight," should she go for generalities or specifics? she'd already established that she had a good memory – so probably specifics, "it was about the IRA bombings. I talked about it, and the whole 'candid mainstream-but-insightful political opinion from a little girl' thing probably pulled a few heartstrings and they wrote my parents, asking permission to rebroadcast it a few times."
"That might've been it. Ah," Harry raised his eyebrows, and then lowered them, "I was going to bring up the Republican motorcycle bombings in Sussex from earlier this week, but the IRA doesn't make for lighthearted conversation. Maybe we should move onto something else." His face was blank.
"Quite," Hermione said, her mouth dry. "Ozland?"
"Yes?" He wasn't that loud, she noticed, but his voice carried like a wineglass struck in a crowded dining room.
"Harry suggested that we go around clockwise, each giving our best conversational prompts until something stuck," she explained, desperate to move the conversation as far away as possible from anything related to the 1993 Negaloth Bombings.
"Oh." The boy tapped his index finger on his knee, as if he were discreetly communicating a signal in morse. "What's your superpower, then, Hermione?"
"Superpower," Penelope snorted, shaking her head, "unstructured magic, you mean."
"Er," she said, panicking, "it's a power, maybe, not a superpower, though. I can," her voice wasn't stuck in her throat, but little pieces of it were escaping and making weird warbling sounds, "I can make it so people don't notice me. I'm not invisible when I do it, I can still see my reflection in mirrors, but when I do it, it's impossible to notice me." And I don't show up on security footage, either, but that seems like a silly thing to say. For all she knew, she was drugged up in a government black-site where they were interrogating her before breaking apart her psyche and reassembling her into a British super-spy, or a human WMD – or maybe they would just slice up her brain. It was a miracle, really, that it hadn't happened already – if someone was less-than-discreet about their unstructured magic and the Obliviation Squad was too late, well, that person would be screwed, to say the least.
"I can fix things," Harry murmured. "The first time it happened was with my parents' wedding bowl. I wished it unbroken, and the pieces snapped cleanly back together. I genuinely thought I was hallucinating, but I wasn't. Once I'd realised that I could, I did all the usual things – run experiments, try to figure out where the limits were, find applications. You'd think," he sighed, and there was an almost palpable edge of frustration in the sigh, "that there'd be something clever you could do with it. I decided I would find something clever, make millions of pounds, conquer the universe," he looked utterly serious, but then he broke out into a good-natured smile, as if to suggest he'd been joking – of course he'd been joking – who the heck wanted to conquer the universe, anyhow?
He stopped. "My plan, the plan I drew up when I was twelve, was this: I would set up a repair shop, put it in the papers, and every night, I would come up with ten brilliant ideas and try out every single one of them, until I found some unconventional way to use my power that worked, and then I would shut down the shop and go on to more pressing issues, such as solving world hunger and ending poverty by Tuesday. And, well," he shrugged, "what can I say? I'm still running that shop."
"The Repairing Charm?" said Yosif.
"Something deeper than the Repairing Charm, I think. The Repairing Charm returns things to their original states. My power is different. I can fix things into shapes they weren't in originally – ye gods, Penelope, you're not holding out on any more sensible names for it, are you? Power?"
"Apart from unstructured magic?"
"It doesn't work well, does it?" Ozland remarked. "My unstructured magic waxes by the hour. It's like saying benzoylmethylecgonine when you mean coke. What we're really looking for is something proper and sensible-sounding that rolls off your tongue, too."
"It's rubbish," Terry said, clearly wanting to throw in his opinion. "Our magic isn't unstructured at all."
"It's unstructured compared to rituals, wand-magic, runes, divination, and just about every other field of magic," Hermione said.
"Or at least, to whatever Ministry busybody invented the term." Harry frowned. "Probably the brilliant sod who came up with the idea of naming a national exam after a nocturnal bird."
"Dwaemer," said Penelope suddenly. "In 'Taxonomica', Pongosthus divided up magic into eight fields: ritual magic, spell magic, life magic, rune magic, divination magic, artecraft magic, psychic magic, and dwaemer. Dwaemer was everything that hadn't been studied and couldn't be studied. Unconscious, deep, direct magic. Magic without an intermediary, without steps or rules or laws. It's the Old English word for magic, I think."
"Dwaemer," Hermione echoed, without thinking.
"Dwaemer," said Harry, "that fits. You know what, I thought we could do with some rebranding."
"Rebranding?" Ozland said, looking intrigued.
"Sure." He leaned back. "There's no rule against secret societies in Hogwarts, is there?"
Hermione mentally looked through the Hogwarts Rules and came up with nothing. She shook her head.
"Picture this: dark cowls, secret hand signals, spells that look a lot more powerful than they actually are, whispered rumours, blood seeping out from under doors, mystic chants – "
"I feel like I should be doing something about this," said Penelope, not quite under her breath.
"Intimidation isn't just a tool of the powerful," Harry stated. "In the sixties, the Black Panthers wanted to do something about the police randomly terrorising the ghettos. So whenever a police vehicle left the station, they followed in another car, ready with their guns. It worked: when the Panthers were around, the police were too intimidated to do anything. The Panthers could never have confronted every law enforcement agency in the United States head-on – there was an asymmetry in firepower. But what they did understand early on, was that the problem of the police keeping black communities in constant terror couldn't be rectified through superior firepower, but through superior intimidation-power."
"That intimidation-power is backed by fire-power, though," said Ozland, although he was nodding.
"Sure. But if every firearm owned by the police in the United States disappeared for five minutes, for those five minutes the police would still be scary."
"Because they would have tanks. And helicopters."
"Because they would have their glimmering police-badges, their guns in the holsters, their trudgeons, their 'stay calm, mam', their blue uniforms, their white skin, even. They're all symbols of intimidation, of power – symbols that people learn to respect. Pavlovian social cues. Take an ordinary person and decorate him with those symbols, and people still respect him. Maybe he'll even start thinking and acting like an officer. It's all about these," Harry's face went intense, "these unconscious pathways – heuristics – carved out in people's minds that we can manipulate, reconstruct – reversing the direction of intimidation."
Terry frowned. "You were talking about this like it's a war."
"It's helpful to think about it that way. In wars, you have to identify your enemies, your allies, your resources, your constraints, your modes of attack and defense, your higher-level strategies – in other words, muddled thinking won't do. It means you're forced to think clearly, to think about how to win."
Hermione considered this. "What should we call it though? The Muggleborn Dawn?"
"Muggle Struggle?" Ozland suggested.
"No!" Harry looked perplexed. "We're making a secret society not a guerilla army, for heaven's sake. Oh, I see the irony now. Very funny."
"The Syndicate of Esteemed Professionals," Ozland fired off.
"Eighth Echo of the Atlantean Mountain-Crystal," followed Hermione.
Terry had an intense look of thought etched across his face. "Jazuul!" he burst out, triumphantly.
"Too mafia, too Illuminati – Terry, I'm not even sure what you were going for there but it doesn't work. I was more thinking . . . the Bayesian Conspiracy."
"That's a silly name," said Hermione.
"No, it isn't! Look, I'll explain, Bayes was – "
"I know who Bayes was," she said, in what she hoped was a patient tone, "it just doesn't work."
"It's a perfect name. It's literally the guy who formalised an equation for updating beliefs with new information, and then 'conspiracy' slapped onto the end. Progress married to tradition. Openness behind closed doors. Scientific practice fused to ancient lore."
"People won't get it," she said.
"People aren't supposed to get it, and if they open up a book and enlighten – heh – themselves, then all the better."
"The Pentagonal Order," Ozland began tentatively, "the Pentagonal Order of Dwaemercrafters."
"Why pentagonal?" she asked.
"I don't know, something about . . . not being able to tile properly? Look, are we trying to find meaningful names or ones that sound good?"
"The Order of the Midnight Sun," said Kevin, very quietly. "No, hold on, that doesn't make any sense."
"Something with templars in it," suggested Terry.
"The Cabal," Yosif said, simply.
"I like it," admitted Harry. "I really like it. But it needs more."
"The Fifth Cabal," Yosif said. "Then there's the implication that there was a Fourth Cabal before us and we can make up some nonsense about what happened to them."
"I think we're aiming for the wrong thing here," said Ozland slowly. "I think we ought to try for something menacing, but surreal. Like 'The Cult of the Chilled Apricots', or 'Dumbledore's Tantric Love Goblins'."
"The Committee For Eating The Universe," said Harry.
"The Circle of the Eternal Sunshine God," said Hermione, surprising even herself. "I like that one."
"Why," Penelope began, sensibly, "don't you just make six of them and run one secret society each?"
Everyone went silent at this unexpected stroke of genius.
Terry scratched his head. "What, with one member in each? I suppose it'd be secret, but not much of a society."
"No, all of you would be in all of them, but you'd each be the leader of one."
Harry was grinning now. It made Hermione faintly worried. "Why stop at six? I can run two secret societies. Can't everyone else?"
Terry looked horrified. "You're mad. This is all mad. I don't know why it never occurred to me until just now, but all of this is mad and I don't want any part in it."
"Penelope said it best," Harry said, grinning wider than ever, "new students need to stick together."
"I – "
"I'm pretty bloody sure she didn't mean make a bloody cult with shawls! Right, Penelope?"
"Er . . . "
"So, what you're saying is, you don't want to be in the secret clubs all the rest of the Muggleborns are in?" Ozland said, straightfaced.
Terry suddenly looked uncertain. "Um."
"Maybe," said Harry, "you ought to get over your childish antipathy towards shawls. Shawls are a venerable institution of old, you know."
"Hey, it's not the shawls that're the issue here," Terry waved his hands about, "it's, you know, the whole aesthetic associated with shawls. It's silly, if you ask me."
"And ties are just weird pieces of cloth," Harry said, and there was delight in his eyes, "but by the number of businesspeople who wear them, you wouldn't think that, would you?"
"Hold on just one minute," Ozland continued, without giving a chance for Terry to respond, "you're saying a bearded man whisked you away to an invisible dimension inside Britain where he told you you'd been accepted into a school of magic, and now you're inside the school of magic, which is a castle surrounded by forest, and now that we started discussing shawls, now you're saying it's all mad?"
"Do we really have to use shawls?"
"Intimidation-power, not fire-power," said Harry. "Alright, I'm claiming the Committee For Eating The Universe."
Something uneasy was bubbling up inside her. "The Circle of the Eternal Sunshine God for me," said Hermione.
Yosif tilted his head. "The Communist Party of Hogwarts." (Terry snorted.)
"Um," said Ozland, "I'll lead the Invisible Syndicate."
"The Dwaemercrafters Cabal," said Terry.
Kevin shrunk. "I – I don't know. I don't think I want to lead a secret society."
"You have to make a secret society to be in the Secret Society Secret Society," Harry explained. "Otherwise it wouldn't work."
"What Secret Society Secret – " said Terry, who promptly shut-up mid-sentence.
"Oh, alright, then." Kevin sounded oddly breathless. "I'll call it . . . the Secret Police."
The name gave her a strange, heavy sense of foreboding.
"That," said Harry, "is a name worthy of the S.S.S.S. Welcome aboard, Kevin."
"Oh," said Penelope, "I'm not a part of this, am I?"
Harry looked at her sadly. "No, sorry. But if you're in Hogwarts anytime, you're free to join our secret meetings." He paused, pretending to read off of an invisible sheet of paper. "Next on the agenda: what's our secret goal?"
"Hold on, I thought we weren't actually a secret society – " said Terry.
Harry cut him off. "Times have changed, and we must change with the times. The past is ashes and dust, the future stands before us, bright and glorious – "
"The past was four minutes ago – "
"I think we should overthrow the Ministry," Ozland proclaimed, completely seriously.
Hermione opened her mouth, and closed it. "I think we should work within the Ministry to reform it into something better."
"I agree," Yosif said, surprising her. "It's what we did after the 1948 Open-Up Policy. We slowly bought out British and American companies and sabotaged them by organisational reforms. Rearranging departments to cause infighting, assigning employees to the least-optimal jobs, creating new and riskier financial instruments that chained into one another, collecting blackmail material and publishing it to Western audiences to undermine their trust in their own leadership, moving equipment to within Soviet borders . . . it's much more subtle, too."
"Nice infodump. We don't have the resources of the Soviet Union, though," said Harry. "And they still took twenty years."
"We may not be the Soviet Union, but the Ministry isn't the United States, either," remarked Yosif.
"The Ministry isn't going to collapse from inefficiency," Ozland added. "It thrives off of inefficiency. It exists to be inefficient. Ron's dad says there's a drywall regulatory commission for the Office of Self-Referential Office Names – they employ forty people, praise be Matchwell. Overthrowing a government is just reforming it very, very quickly, anyhow."
"The last time someone tried to overthrow the Ministry, a quarter of wizarding Britain died," said Penelope. A hush followed her remark.
"Then we'll do it better. A bloodless coup," Ozland said, heedlessly. "We'll just Imperius all the most important people and see what happens from there."
"The Office of Internal Security runs regular sweeps for mental magics," Hermione countered. "And I doubt any of us could pull off the Imperius Curse. What kind of awful security would the Ministry have to have for a group of teenagers to be able to infiltrate it, anyway?"
"I think we really need a . . . " Ozland wasn't pausing, he was obviously trying to say something but for whatever reason, he couldn't say it. His demeanour became calculating. "Imagine a box that, when opened, prevented all secrets spoken in its vicinity from being spoken about outside of those who had heard it initially. Wouldn't that be something?"
"Oh, a Secret Box, you mean?" asked Penelope.
"Yes," Ozland said, seeming relieved. "Does anyone know where to buy a Secret Box?"
"I don't intend to overthrow, dehegemonise, or conduct a protracted struggle against the Ministry or any of its affiliates," said Harry, suddenly. "All discussion on my part is purely hypothetical and in the interest of helping the Ministry establish better security protocols. I won't ever involve myself in an anti-Ministry organisation, anything I say to the contrary following or preceding this statement is in pure jest." And then, in a lighter tone: "Hermione, why don't you tell us about Veritaserum?"
She was confused. "It's a potion which forces the drinker to tell the truth. One drop – oh, I see. Um, one drop makes the drinker more truthful, but doesn't compel them. Two drops makes them tell the truth, but gives them leeway in which parts of it they disclose. Three drops makes them spill out the entire truth. The truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole truth. Also, what Harry said. The Ministry is great, yaddah yaddah."
Ozland looked contemplative, and then the same thought struck him, too – she could see it. "I don't intend to do any of those things either. I, too, discuss these matters in jest."
Penelope caught on soon afterward. "As a Ministry employee and a respectable witch who has listened to their conversation so far, I believe that neither Harry, Hermione Granger, nor Ozland Cunningham are the sort of people who would do illegal things like overthrowing the Ministry or wanting to overthrow the Ministry in the first place."
Terry was utterly confused. "What what what?"
Yosif smiled wanly. "I concur with Penelope's observations and believe that everything that has been said so far is true and authentic. I, similarly, have no wish to undermine the unquestionable authority of the Ministry of Magic and strongly condemn those who do. All hail the Ministry."
"All hail the Ministry," Kevin repeated.
"Can someone tell me what the hell is going on?"
Everyone looked at each other uneasily. Harry spoke first. "Say someone had to testify under Veritaserum about a conversation. Maybe the interrogator is asking about what people said – "
"What, so you're only saying all of this so if the Ministry hauls us in – "
"Shut up," suggested Ozland. "Shut up right now or I'll tear your guts out, tie them into a pretzel, and put them back inside your body." It was an absurd and heavy-handed threat, but there was something intimidating about the way he spoke that made Hermione think he'd find something else less absurd but just as painful and do that instead. Seeing her stare at him, she could have sworn he winked, but when she looked again, there was no trace of levity in his face.
Terry paled. "Oh. What I was going to say was: so you're only saying all of this so if the Ministry hauls us in . . . "
"So if the good and fine Ministry brings us in for questioning for whatever reason, we will be able to be perfectly truthful with them," Harry continued, smoothly. "Yes, Ozland, I'll see if I can get myself a Secret Box for my own purposes as a private citizen, as is my right under Ministry law, which it is very important not to break. On a totally unrelated note, perhaps we should arrange for lessons in Occlumency, which assists with protecting against mental intrusion."
"That's a good idea," Ozland said stiltedly. "In the meanwhile, we should focus on the real purpose of the Secret Society Secret Society, which is to amend Wizengamot law, allowing Muggleborn students to enroll in Hogwarts in their First Year."
"Yes, the real purpose," she muttered.
Ozland leant forward. "The whole business with estranged wizards – and witches," he corrected himself, "I'm not sure if there's a gender-neutral word in common use – "
"Mages," Hermione said without thinking.
"Mages," Ozland acknowledged, "the whole business with estranged mages – that's the term for it, I remember now – starting in Fifth Year, it's bullshit, isn't it? What the hell was the Wizengamot thinking when they made that policy?"
By the vigorous nods from around the circle, this seemed to be a very popular sentiment.
"Bullshit," Terry Boot said, recovering quickly from his earlier terror. He repeated 'bullshit' a few more times, turning it into a gloomy mantra. "You heard Al," (he's calling Althea 'Al'?, Hermione thought, incredulously) "how could anyone be expected to catch up with four years worth of magic?"
"That's the point," Harry said, "we're not supposed to be able to. It's obvious from a game-theoretic standpoint." He opened his mouth, as if he was about to continue, but seemed to consciously stop himself, to think for a moment. "There's a book in the Hogwarts Library in the north-north-west shelf," he started. "It lists each result for each exam for every student before 1977. Now," he held up his hand in a conciliatory gesture, "I haven't gone through the whole thing myself. But, Jorgan Perrault did, and wrote a paper on his findings – and this is the exact number – he found that Muggleborns score an average of 5.4 points higher on exams. Once you remove Muggle Studies from the dataset, it comes down to 2.2 points. Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to why I'm bringing this up?"
"What," Terry said, "you thinking the Wibblegambit, er, Wizardgimblet – ah, fuck it, one made-up word is as good as another – you think they deliberately crippled – "
"Is it because we have more of a motivation to study?" Penelope said. "We don't have any property or connections or wealth in the wizarding world, so that means Muggleborns compensate through working harder . . . ?" she trailed off.
Harry held up a finger. "Perrault suggested a few reasons why that might be the case, including that, but it's not why I'm mentioning the study. The Perrault study caused a major internal rift within, well, calling them the anti-Muggleborn faction would be reductionist, but they don't have a name for themselves – for that matter, I don't think they don't even think of themselves as a faction, really," he added, pensively, "but anyhow, it caused a fair deal of trouble for them, challenging ideological preconceptions and whatnot. It was impossible for any sane person to reject the paper as Muggleborn propaganda. Perrault was a pureblood and even he was surprised by his own findings, and it's based in data that just about anyone can access. The Perrault study was undeniable. They didn't want to change their maps, so they changed the territory."
This remark received many confused looks.
Harry shook his head, as if remonstrating himself. "They had a belief, which was that Muggleborns are inferior in terms of magical performance to purebloods due to the impurity of their bloodlines, and a reality that didn't fit. So they changed reality so it did."
The room was quiet for a moment as everybody absorbed the implications of what Harry had said.
"That's brilliant, really," Ozland said. "And I suppose it didn't need any grand conspiracy either, just rich toffs deciding to vote in favour to spite Dumbledore and his people, I'd think."
Hermione heard the click of a mechanical stopwatch. Harry held it up by its chain and examined it. "Fifteen minutes of conversation without a single awkward pause," he said. "My fault for bringing up something so esoteric. Alright, let's go around. Kevin?"
Terry also passed.
"Ozland, you said you were involved in paragovernmental affairs."
"I wanted to follow up on that, too," Harry admitted. "It sounded very plot-hook-y."
"What's there to say?"
"You know," Harry said, "which paragovernment. In what way you're involved. Those sort of things."
"Um. Is anyone here an Unorthdoxist?"
Harry's eyes shone with suppressed amusement. He held up a finger. "Oh, no. This is perfect. Don't tell me. You unintentionally used dwaemer once and people thought it was a miracle and now you're some sort of Messianic politico-religious figure."
"You really figured all of that out from a single question?"
"No, your face was on the Express the other day and the article went into it. The rest is just familiarity with literary tropes – I couldn't put my finger on it until you asked."
"For the benefit of the people who haven't read that particular issue of the Express," Hermione said (and there was a little part of her that was ashamed to admit she hadn't read something), "who is Ozland, exactly?"
"He's the leader of a cult-mafia-junta thing," said Harry, looking absolutely overjoyed for some reason, "produces half the illegal drugs in the Pacific, major black market trafficker, massacres and tortures his opponents, has nuclear weapons, brainwashes his people with quack religious doctrine. At least, that's what the Express thinks. Ozland, care to comment?"
"I wouldn't expect anyone living in the opulent metropole of Britain to understand." Ozland stared off distantly, over her head. She knew it was theatre, but it didn't make it any less effective. "The Celestian Unorthodox Church fills social voids. As a spiritual organisation, we provide hope to the hopeless. As a paragovernment, we create order out of disorder. As a network of public and private enterprises, we give the needy what they need. Drugs? Caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco are drugs, sure-as-hell, and I don't see any moral outrage directed at coffee beans. Legality isn't morality, Harry.
"Human trafficking? We help people get from A to B. We're an intercontinental bus service, making safe passage for families crossing oceans to get one step closer to their dreams. We oil the machine of demand and supply and assist with economic recovery. Brainwashing? In our schools, we provide a free education not only in science and mathematics, but in love, kindness, and respect. Is any of that so bad?"
"And nuclear weapons?" Hermione asked.
"I think every country deserves the right to its own sovereignty, Hermione. Conventional militaries are expensive. Wouldn't you rather that money be spent on helping the poor and treating the ill? Without a nuclear-response system, every nation is a sitting duck, ready to be shot down by the British Empire."
"Massacring and torturing your opponents, then?"
"Puerile war-propaganda. We work with our opponents. We believe in synthesis, not antithesis. In diplomacy, the Church builds bridges, not bombs."
Hermione sat back. There was something oddly enthralling about seeing the truth spun so boldly. "You really are . . . wow."
"I know," Ozland smiled thinly, "I'm not that persuasive when you put me on the spot, though. All of those things are things I've had to respond to over the years, so I suppose you could say it's a prepared spiel."
"Do you believe it?" Penelope questioned.
"I don't know. It's not really that important."
Althea strutted into the room. "Meet-and-greet is over, folks. Hermione, Harry, Terry, Kevin, if you run, you'll be able to catch the eleven o'clock from Hogsmeade to King's Cross. Yosif, the Hedge should take you to the Kirghiz Embassy. Ozland, Professor McGonagall's office, ASAP."
"So," said Harry. "Mind telling me the truth?"
Messing around with gravity was the final middle-finger that wizarding Britain had delivered to the mundane universe. Sure, the Levitation Charm had been around since the mid-sixteenth century at the very latest (U. Pin-de-Éare, 'Conquering Gravity'), but actually changing the direction and magnitude of gravity within a given space hadn't been perfected until 1956. Maybe, Hermione thought, the gravityless nature of the corridor of the train wasn't just a pointless gimmick, but had some sort of indecipherable reasoning behind it.
The compartment was rather large, and since Harry had insisted that Terry and Kevin find a different compartment, it was much too large for comfort with only the two of them sitting there.
All of these thoughts flashed through her head as she opened her mouth.
"Well," she said, "that would take a very long time, Harry Potter."
THE DEPARTMENT OF MYSTERIES – FEBRUARY 2, 1931
There was a centre, there was always a centre.
The Head Unspeakable watched, distantly, as molten stone sloughed off onto the floor. A powerful ritual had been conducted here. An imperfect ritual, evidently. The floor itself looked as if some malevolent god had taken an eggbeater to the granite foundations. It still swirled subtly, never quite settling, like a cyclone.
And in the eye of the cyclone . . .
The Head Unspeakable had a staff. All wizards who mattered a damn had staffs, even if they denied it. His looked a bit like a totem pole with a thousand intricate, monstrous faces etched in. It gleamed with gold.
The Head Unspeakable used the staff to prod the head of Reginald Rookwood, who was lying, face-down, in the centre.
Rookwood groaned. He turned over. He blinked three times, and then jumped a bit when he saw the Head Unspeakable looming over him.
"What," said the Head Unspeakable, "were you trying to do?"
"Um," said Reginald, "promise you won't get angry?"
LEVEL MINUS TWENTY-EIGHT – TWENTY YEARS LATER
"As you can see," the Unspeakable explained as they came down the spiral staircase, "the leylines are humming along quite nicely. New ones are opening up every day."
"Ah, these must be the special leylines," Dumbledore said.
"How do you mean, sir?"
"These leylines glow brightly, emerging from a single point," continued Dumbledore, kindly. "They must be very special leylines, indeed, to diverge so much from their cousins, who are nigh imperceptible to the unaided eye, only trace the contours of the Earth, and can be passed through without harm – unlike these, I hear."
"Of course," replied the Unspeakable, hoping that his voice wasn't wavering, "naturally. Ah, very well-observed, sir. These are artificial leylines, after all. A different beast entirely."
There was a cracking sound. Before he could react, a triangular fragment of reality flew at them. The Unspeakable ducked. Dumbledore caught it between thumb and forefinger.
The Unspeakable turned, aghast, seeing the hole it had left behind. Violent, golden light spilled out into the room. Dumbledore walked forward to the hole, and neatly plugged it up.
His face was grim. "A different beast entirely," he said. "The Head Unspeakable and I have many things to discuss, it seems."