AUTHOR'S NOTE:: You know how sometimes chapters just write themselves? This was not one of those chapters. Still, here we are. Welcome to all the new readers and thank you for all the lovely reviews! Send in more if you A) are an Alizor, B) are against the Wand Ban, or C) just want to support this story! Or, you know, any old reason furhter down the alphabet. And now, the main event!
Chapter LXXVI: Shabang!
The voices went on and grew louder with every passing moment. Hermione could make out words now — not English, and she didn't catch the whole sentences, but it was speech alright…
"…gruh… roglestrom nonvolarg weezarg-…!…"
"…grak! Hak rack gronok snoksnargk!… gr…k…"
…and on second thought, she did recognize the language.
That was Algezorgok. The sister language to Gobledigook, spoken by the Alizors of Tomberag, the savage subterranean creatures who dwelled in Tomberag, beneath the Forbidden Forest. Hermione knew them well. She had encountered them back in Third Year, and been force to teach their king, Tolgar, some magic, though she had also deluded him about the true nature of most dangerous spells, only correctly teaching him spells such as the Wand-Lighting Charm. Through a bout of bad luck, Hermione and her friends had only escaped the Forest at the cost of leaving Neville Longbottom's wand in the hands of the Alizor King.
In hindsight, she should have been more concerned about that.
She really, really—
"SHA-BANG!", shouted one of the voices below her, and—
—and the black stones which had tiled the floor of the Chamber of Secrets for over nine centuries exploded upwards below her in an explosion of crackling white-hot light. Her body was thrown upwards by the blast, and even before she could process the information, she felt that several stones had hit her back and legs, and that the crackling light was hot, hot, burning—
—then she realized just how high she had been blown by the explosion—she was already injured—no, no, no! happy thought, happy thought, she must fly, fly—but what was happy about this? and the pain—
—too late. She crashlanded, a limp and painful mess.
Not quite as painful, though, as it should have been if she'd hit the ruined stone floor. She mentally shook herself, and realized that as luck would have it, she had fallen back onto an Alizor, likely the one who had cast that explosion spell in the first place and then climbed into the Chamber through the hole he had created.
She tried to catch her breath and was appalled by the ragged sound of it. How badly was she hurt? Her left hand (her right still held her wand) felt at her back. She mostly felt bare skin with a few ragged remains of her robes, and what damaged skin too — but it was skin — her body was already repairing itself. How much of it was a witch's natural resilience, and how much was the Acromantula blood running through her veins, she could not say. It was hardly the time to think too hard about these things.
She considered trying to stand, but a discordant chorus of rough male voices still coming from below indicated that there were many other Alizors, and they were no doubt going to follow the first one soon enough.
Trick #1 of being a snake when there are bigger and fiercer things about: play dead.
Soon enough, three, five, nine more helmeted, dirt-covered, pointy-nosed heads with small gleaming eyes and big toothy mouths poked up from the gash in the floor of the Chamber created by the first Alizor with… what, exactly? She had certainly taught no such spell to the Alizor King, but even more worryingly, it didn't look like any curse she knew. What kind of incantation was 'Shabang', anyway?
As they came into full view, it became clear that they were soldiers, outfitted for war and marching like it. They wore crudely-chiseled, but undoubtedly sturdy armor on their persons, where the Alizors she'd known hadn't worn any real clothing to speak of, let alone breastplates; at their belt were what looked like large daggers but must have seemed proportionally, like reasonably-sized cutlasses to the stout little humanoids.
And most strikingly, each man held in his hand a sharpened stick, almost identical to a wizard's wand, though the make was obviously less precise than what Ollivander had to offer. Some of the Alizors' wands were finer than others, which Hermione supposed make sense — whichever of their ranks had learned to make them must have improved with practice, but that was no reason to throw away the earlier prototypes, so long as they were functional.
At any rate, the nine Alizors moved with astonishing synchronicity as they took in the Chamber of Secrets. One tried to reach for an artifact — the Triad Jewel — but another barked an order, and this was enough for the wayward one to resume standing at attention. Having ascertained that there was a way upwards to the surface, the apparent leader said something else in Alizor-speech and the eight others immediately glommed onto the uneven walls and began climbing them with the lizard-like agility of beings who had spent their entire lives in caves and tunnels. Within instants, they were up the shaft and out in the arena above.
Hermione could only imagine the audience's reaction. No doubt most would assume this was simply another phase in the Task, albeit a rather unexpected one. If she had her Hogwarts curricula straight, there was a fair chance that whoever hadn't taken the Care of Magical Creatures didn't even know that Alizors existed — they were a fairly obscure race in the grand scheme of things, compared to the likes of Goblins or even Sphinxes.
Well, she couldn't well take that lying down.
Yet she had little choice but to keep lying down, absolutely still, for the moment, because the tenth Alizor, the Sergeant, or Lieutenant, or whatever he called himself, had yet to follow his men up to the surface. He was, instead, staring suspiciously at—
—well, at first, Hermione thought he was staring at her, which gave her quite a pang in the heart, but she quickly realized that he was staring at the Alizor she had knocked out by falling on top of him.
The Sergeant finally ambled closer to the two sprawled body, hers and the soldiers, and bent down to get a closer look, no doubt meaning to ascertain the state of his comrade, and, if possible, wake him up so that he wouldn't miss the whole glorious battle between Alizorkind and Wizardkind.
Hermione saw her chance, took it—and, when the Sergeant's face got close enough to hers, poked him in the eye.
He recoiled with a roar, and she took the opportunity to fire a Stunner at him. It him squarely, but he appeared mostly unaffected, so she fired another, which made his knees wobble a little. Not having all the time in the world, she topped it off with "Petrificus Totalus". The Alizor froze in such an unnatural stance that it toppled like a badly-made tin soldier and fell backwards into the hole in the ground.
At last, Hermione dared to get up. To her relief, she could do so without much trouble; she still had some bruising and scratches on her back and thighs, but nothing at all serious. She inspected the body of the Alizor who had been serving as her extremely grimy pillow. He didn't seem too badly hurt.
Which, honestly, was a problem.
After relieving him of his pseudo-wand, Hermione hit him with another Body-Bind Curse and kicked him into the chasm to follow his superior. He disappeared into the dark hole and hit the bottom with a most satisfying (but not too dangerous-sounding) noise.
"…and stay down," she shouted after him, though it was probably superfluous.
She fashioned herself another protective sphere and steered it upwards to chase after the other Alizors. She emerged out of the cave and into the light to find the Alizor platoon had not gotten yet very far, nor indeed hindered by any wizard; they were struggling to stay upright as they covered their eyes with their clawed hands.
Of course… The sunlight… Subterranean creatures such as these weren't used to it. Stupid King, Hermione thought, he can learn wandlore, but thinking of a nightly attack? Way beyond him. At least it meant they hadn't yet noticed she was back.
…what were the Alizors doing now? They pointed their makeshift wands at pebbles, and barked words — no, incantations — in their language as they waved the sticks.
The Alizors… the Alizors were now wearing sunglasses.
Not quite sunglasses; the roundels of tinted glasses had no rim, no branches — the Alizors merely stuck them in their large eye socket, where they remained stuck thanks to the layer of mud covering every inch of the Alizors' elephant-like skin. But the effect was every bit as ludicrous as if the invaders had suddenly put on shades. Not that it wasn't a very practical solution to their problem.
It also, Hermione reflected, spoke volumes about the level to which the Alizors, through sheer trial and error it seemed, had mastered magic once they had had access to a wand. She still disagreed with the Wand Ban morally, mind, but she could now see, with more clarity than the books she'd read on Wizarding History had ever managed, just how strategically vital it was to the continued Pax Romana enforced by Wizardkind over their nonhuman neighbors.
And there was more.
Now that they were able to take in their surroundings, the Alizors realized that they were, in fact, in the middle of an arena full of Dragons. Yet they did not appear cowed. One of their number simply took a few steps back and shouted a question into the mouth of the pit. Hermione opened the Babblebook, and saw that he was calling for his lieutenant. There was, of course, no answer. But then, after a moment's hesitation, the Alizor said something else.
Hermione blinked several times at the Babblebook, and even gave it an experimental tap from the tip of her wand, worried that its vocabulary charm banks might be malfunctioning.
But the words remained the same.
'Alright, I'm taking command,' the Alizor had said. So far so expected. But then: 'Come on up, you lot! And make it snappy!'
A strangled squeak escaped from Hermione's constricting throat. There were more?! …How many? Her gaze turned to the stands; she had flown high enough that she was about halfway between them and the ground, and so she could clearly see most of the audience. As she had predicted, most were puzzled, but nowhere near as worried as the situation warranted.
On the Judges' Stand, Albus was struggling to get a good view of the situation, blocked from stepping closer to the edge by none other than Professor Umbridge, whose hysterical shrieks of 'Kill them! Kill them!' were audible even from where Hermione was standing. Madame Maxime had risen to her full height and seemed frozen in shock. As for Gellert… he seemed as though he desperately wanted to do something but wasn't sure if that was okay in his legally awkward position.
Eventually, Dumbledore managed to push Umbridge aside, and came to the front of the stand. He leant down, looking the Alizors' new de-facto leader in the eyes even at such distance — it was a skill that came naturally to old teachers, he'd told Hermione once.
"Jark! Argh yeck ingrhuckksh ab-weezarghzz?" he said in what was clearly Algezorgok, though Dumbledore, even now, couldn't force his voice to become as roaring and coarse as an Alizor's, nor abandon the soothing cadence of his spoken English.
Hermione looked down at the Babble-book to check what her friend and mentor had said, though she could guess.
'Speak! What do the Alizors want with us Wizards?"
The chief Alizor stood there, searching for his words, while more and more of his kind spilled out of the gap in the Earth and massed themselves behind him. All of them bore crude wands identical to the one Hermione had already examined. She noticed none of them looked female — it might have been too much to expect Alizors to be any less sexist than Goblins, she realized. Although it could just as well be that there were Alizor women among the soldiers, and they simply lacked most secondary sexual characteristics known to humans.
But good God, there were many of them. A quick head-count of the pointed helmets yielded… a hundred? More perhaps. Certainly no less.
Finally the chief Alizor spoke, and Hermione realized that the reason he'd been so long choosing his words was that he meant to say it in English. Horrible, broken, Alizor English. But, of course, she couldn't blame it on this particular Alizor, in particular. If it was the King who had taught his troops, it was hardly their fault; in fact, she had little doubt that the old tyrant wouldn't have looked kindly upon a subject of his speaking English better than he did.
"No need, you weezargh of speaking bad our tongue!" crowed the Alizor. "We learn you, like you our tongue learned has! Harh! But what want? What with weezarghz wants?…" He paused, for dramatic effect, then raised a fist and shouted: "WAR!"
Dumbledore stilled. The four Aurors surrounding the Judges' Stand — there were two Hermione didn't know, but the others, the ones closer to Dumbledore's size of the box than Umbridge's, were clearly Shacklebolt and Tonks — advanced, but Dumbledore stopped them with a gesture and said to them:
"No, may yet be reasoned with."
He then fished around in one of his big, bright yellow coat's purple-trimmed pockets and withdrew a small bag — no, a mokeskin pouch — and from its dimensionally transcendental contents, a fully functioning broomstick.
"I say!" said Umbridge. "Headmaster! You cannot — you can't just —"
Dumbledore's wand twitched, and Umbridge suddenly lost her voice. Still fuming, she gestured silently at Dumbledore before turning to Barty Crouch Snr., putting a hand on each of his bandaged shoulder and shaking him back and forth as if to help him understanding the inaudible words pouring out from her pink-lipstick-caked mouth. The human mummy let her do so and, when she finally stopped, gave her a sort of helpless shrug and an incomprehensible mumble.
By then, Professor Dumbledore had landed. In what Hermione guessed to be an intentional show of power, he had done so a few feet away from one of the Dragons — only the Romanian Longhorn, granted, but it was still a sight — and he patted its muzzle reassuringly before striding closer to the horde of Alizors.
Hermione knew the face he was making: it was that of the stern but fair teacher, the kind of face he wore when he was trying to say: 'you are in the wrong, but as I am a kind old man, I may yet be persuaded not to punish you, if you say sorry'.
He outstretched his arm, but, she noticed, with the Elder Wand still held firmly in his right hand — this made him look rather like a conductor just before the orchestra started playing. No music came, though; just words.
"Alizors," said Albus, "I shall not claim ignorance of the many reasons your people may have to want to rise up against Wizardkind. I wish that I could tell you that you are wrong, and that we are right; that I could proclaim our innocence and your wickedness; that I could say there is nothing for this war to avenge. But I cannot."
The Alizors looked at him curiously, but didn't seem moved by his words, one way or the other. Perhaps only the leader understood English, Hermione realized. Though the leader's face was just as unreadable.
"And I wish," the sorcerer continued, "that I could, in good faith, say there is nothing for Alizorkind to gain if this war of which you dream is successful, that I could insist that there is nothing for you to conquer. But here you stand, among the rocks and the beasts, while we mages stand on high…" He gestured at the floating stand, at the mass of the flying Castle Hogwarts overhead, "And the shadow of the very bastion of our power hovers over you, quite literally. To say your lot is fair would be untrue, and to say you have nothing to gain would be a crime."
Again Dumbledore paused. His wand didn't leave his right hand, but he extended the left towards the Alizors, as if asking any one of them to take it.
"So I am reduced to what you would call a threat," he said in a methodically pained tone, not insincere as such, but measured and practiced all the same, "though I mean it only as a warning from a man who wishes things were not so. I do not know what magics you have discovered, and I would love nothing more but to study them even as I taught you the magics we have devised."
He certainly wasn't lying there at least. Hermione herself was itching to learn more about the strange new spells and incantations the Alizors had worked out based on her incomplete lessons, and Albus was much more of a magical scholar than she ever was.
"But whatever you have learned in a few months, however wonderful," Dumbledore exhorted them, "cannot possibly stand against the ten thousand wizards encircling you now. Attack, and you will be slaughtered. Others have tried before you… your brothers the Goblins… and I know you think yourselves better than them, as they think themselves better than you, but just think. Six thousand able-bodied Goblins took part in the last Goblin rebellion, all of them armed with illegal wands, just as you are. They had been planning it for ten years, and they were not so foolish to start their attack from a low ground encircled by a mass of wizards, six Dragons, and, if I may say so, any man of power equal to my own."
He paused again, and stated the obvious.
He gave his audience another heavy look; he glanced up at Hermione in her bubble, who, taken a little bit aback, forced herself to give him a reassuring smile, though she knew the second she plastered it on her face that it probably didn't look all that convincing.
"I say, do not die for a hopeless cause, when it may yet be won in less brutal ways," Dumbledore concluded. "Give me those wands, those marvelous creations of yours; for safekeeping, shall we say, for I promise I shall give them back to you, in time; because as long as you hold them, the law being the law, your ownership of them spells your doom. Give me the wands, and I shall bring a thousand more back to you, with no blood spilt. That is my offer to your people… as the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot… and as as close to a friend as your people ever had among wizards. What say you?"
Dumbledore said at last.
The Alizor Leader, his expression still blank, raised his wand, held it towards Dumbledore. Was he casting, or…? Dumbledore reached forward just an inch, hesitant; his hand opened itself just a little more—
The Alizor then jerked his wand forwards as if stabbing someone, and shouted: