The United Confederation of People With Too Much Time On Their Hands
The War of the Worlds
We present for your perusal, the account of two underage students of magic as they encounter visitors from another world. Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, neither a stranger to adversity, face a new challenge from beyond the sphere of Earth. This account chronicles their survival from the beginning of the invasion, until however it ends.
A few things to keep in mind: the plot relies heavily on substance from the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them also by JK Rowling. This is the book, not the movie of the same name, which describes many of the magical creatures in the Wizarding World, some of which are not seen in the Harry Potter novels.
This world was being watched, keenly and closely by intelligences greater than human's yet as mortal as their own. As people busied themselves with their various concerns, they were studied as clinically as a scientist with a magnifying glass might scrutinize the insects swarming in the underbrush. With the same blissful ignorance as a beetle pushing its ball of dung, people went about their business, made plans, and fought in wars, unaware that across the gulf of space, intellects vast, cool, and unsympathetic regarded this planet with envious eyes, and slowly, surely drew their plans against us.
Harry Potter was unlike other boys. He disliked summer vacation and would have preferred to be back at school where he could do his summer homework in peace. He could also perform acts of magic that violated the immutable laws of physics, but that was more common than the other two. At present, he was seated at his desk in his bedroom, trying to finish his essay for Care of Magical Creatures. It was taught by his friend, Rubeus Hagrid, whom Harry had expunged the criminal record of by killing a giant snake, and in his estimation that disqualified Hagrid from giving him any homework ever. Never the less, he reviewed his work so far.
"Chizpurfles," read Harry aloud, allowing himself a small chuckle at the name, "Are magical parasites, measuring one-twentieth of an inch long, that resemble..."
He consulted the illustration in his copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, that depicted what appeared to be the terrifying offspring of a flea and a crab.
"…crustaceans." Harry continued. "They are attracted to sources of magic and are commonly found in the feathers of Augreys, Fwoopers, and Griffons. Chizpurfles feed upon magical items, such as wands, by gnawing through to the magical core. They also gorge themselves on the remnants of potions in improperly sanitized cauldrons."
Harry consulted the illustration of the Chizpurfle again and admitted privately to himself that he had been too hard on Snape, who insisted on rigorous cleaning after every Potions lesson.
Next, Harry consulted the letter sitting on the edge of his desk from his friend, Hermione Granger. After exhausting his textbook of information on Chizpurfles, he had written to his two friends, Ron and Hermione, for any information they had. Ron had grown up in a magical family and had a more innate knowledge of magical things. Hermione just knew everything, as a matter of policy. Ron, for his part, had sent an account of the time his twin brothers, Fred and George, had bred thousands of Chizpurfles and dumped them into their other brother's, Percy's, room. They story was entertaining, even after several re-reads, but provided nothing of academic value. Hermione had remembered a lesson on Chizpurfles from her short stint in Muggle Studies.
"Chizpurfles are also attracted to electricity, and are frequently the culprit of malfunctions in muggle technology." Harry continued. "In the early days of the muggle discovery of electricity and their experiments to harness it as a source of power, Chizpurfles were the cause of numerous setbacks. Muggles were, and still are, unaware of the existence of Chizpurfles, and fortunately by extension magic. Though they were unaware of the cause of the problem, they learned that certain types of circuits were less prone to failure, as were wires that used certain kinds of insulators. Unknowingly, in a move that was more natural selection than innovation, they had created built in countermeasures against Chizpurfles, and muggle technology to this day is based on those original designs, passing down the immunity across generations of inventions."
Setting his quill down, he picked up a measuring tape and laid it against what he'd just written. He found he'd managed to squeeze three inches out of that. Only two feet, nine inches left. He leaned back in his chair and groaned. He had picked Chizpurfles because they had seemed easy. They were easy; that was the problem. You could explain everything about them in two paragraphs.
Giving the rest of the essay up as a bad job, he got up and headed downstairs. Th usual détente at Number 4 Privet Drive was that Harry avoided the Dursleys and the Dursleys ignored Harry. In service to this, he only came out of his room for food and relief, and even then when the Dursley's wouldn't notice him. Right now, his Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would be locked in front of the tube for the evening news, so he could safely sneak out the front door for a stroll. He made his way quietly downstairs, avoiding the squeaky step and was nearly at the door when he heard a snatch of the news broadcast that completely captured his attention.
"The top story tonight is meteorites that have fallen near major cities all over the world," said an anchor.
Harry stopped in his tracks and turned towards the telly. He didn't remember a lot of his pre-magical education, and his astronomy classes at Hogwarts didn't bother with stellar precipitation, but he knew that meteors aiming themselves in mass numbers wasn't normal fare. He walked into the living room for a better view, hoping the anchor was exaggerating to drum up interest.
"Starting last night at Midnight, local time, a meteor made impact in Woking, 40 Kilometers from London." The screen changed to a video of a crater in what looked to be a local park. Crowds of looky-loos were clustering around it, trying to peek inside. "While not unusual in itself for meteorites to fall in developed areas, the Woking meteorite was joined in the following hours by other objects falling near Paris and Berlin. As the night continued across the globe, there were more impacts as the clocks struck midnight local time everywhere from Moscow to New York."
The anchor continued, but Harry wasn't listening. He was focused on the footage from Woking. Specifically, a girl standing on the edge of the crater. A girl he knew well. A girl with bushy, brown hair.
Harry knocked on the front door of a three-story house that would have made Vernon and Petunia Dursley seethe with jealousy. Apparently, dentists did quite well for themselves. The door was opened to reveal a head of bushy brown hair and an expression of surprise.
"Harry!" Hermione cried, flinging her arms around him. "What are you doing here?"
"I saw you on the evening news," said Harry, returning the hug.
"So you came here to see if I was being attacked by Martians?" asked Hermione, smiling as she pulled away.
"Is that where they're from?" Harry asked, following her inside.
"There is no 'they'," said Hermione, leading him to a dining room, on which she had created a nest of books and parchment. "They're just meteorites. Hapless stones that fell to earth."
"And they just happened to all fall near big cities?" said Harry incredulously.
"There are big cities everywhere," pointed out Hermione. "You could throw ten darts at a map and they'd all land near a big city. News stations were just trying to drive up viewership by spinning it as a possible invasion."
She handed Harry a newspaper, which Harry could tell was Muggle by the rigid stillness of the photographs. The headline read 'No Sign of Life in Craters'.
"I was there, as you know," Hermione continued. "The crater is just a few streets over in the park. It's empty; just a big divot."
"How could it be empty?" asked Harry. "Where'd the meteorite go? Did it walk away?"
Hermione giggled. "It probably disintegrated when it hit the ground. Like a cosmic snowball."
Harry released the tension he had been holding inside him. The threat of alien invasion had seemed so real moments ago. Harry's ability to be reasonably skeptical had been irreparably damaged years ago when a giant had walked into his room and told him that magic was real and he could do it. The evidence the anchor had presented had made it seem so certain. Now, Hermione was here with her comforting rebuttal. In the absence of fear, Harry now felt embarrassed.
"Er, right then," said Harry, not sure how to properly egress after coming to her house uninvited for the stupidest reason imaginable. "I'll just—"
"Harry," she stopped him with a hand on his arm. "You don't have to go."
He looked at her and she blushed, which made him blush, and there was an escalating blushing loop.
"You could stay here the night," she said. "In the guest room. And tomorrow morning we can go see the crater."
"Oh, um," Harry started. "What about your parents?"
"They're… in Wales this week," she said, looking away. "But they wouldn't mind, I'm sure."
Harry didn't bring up the fact that her rapidly intensifying blush was calling her a liar. They spent the rest of the evening talking about summer homework. Hermione had finished all of hers, naturally. Harry had finished his essay on Chizpurfles, in the sense that he had fully described Chizpurfles.
The next morning saw Harry and Hermione making their way to the park. The light of dawn was barely coloring the sky, but the park was already so full of people a cat couldn't slink through.
"I don't think I'll get a chance to see it," lamented Harry as he and Hermione walked the perimeter of the park.
"You aren't missing much," Hermione consoled him. "It's basically a big dirt funnel."
"Wow," said Harry, feigning enthusiasm, "That sounds amazing! Too bad I didn't bring my Firebolt. We could fly over the crowd and see it."
"The Royal Astronomical Society would get a kick out of that," said Hermione.
"They're here?" asked Harry.
"Yeah," said Hermione, pointing to a line of utility vans they were passing. "Been here since the impact. It's not often that meteorites land this conveniently."
The crowd didn't thin out as the morning wore on. If possible, it became more dense. Definitely more noisy. The summer sun climbed higher and they bought a lemonade from an enterprising young man who set up a stand near the park. They also passed a gentleman carrying a sign saying 'The End is Neigh', which Hermione said would be a good name for a racing thestral. By high noon, the crowd was bigger and louder than ever, and the day hotter, so they decided to head back to Hermione's home. Harry had a vague idea that they could spend the rest of the day adding some length to his Care of Magical Creatures essay, probably after changing the topic to Chimera.
"Sorry you didn't get to see any Martians," said Hermione as they walked up the street.
"Now that the danger is passed," said Harry, "I'm a little sorry, too."
"Would have been something," admitted Hermione, as a man ran past her from the way they came, "to see something from out of this world."
"I guess there are enough strange things in this world to keep us busy," said Harry, watching two women run past up the street. "Giant snakes that can kill you with a glance, giant spiders that can kill you with… themselves. I wonder if Mars has any creatures like that."
"Probably not," said Hermione, "The surface of mars is a wasteland. Anything still alive there would… be…"
She trailed off, looking around, as people were now running past them in droves. They were, Harry noted, coming from the park. Automatically, he reached out for Hermione and they both quickened their pace.
"What's going on?" Hermione called out into the crowd around them.
"It's moving!" someone shouted back.
"What!" Hermione yelled. "There was nothing there!"
"It burrowed into the ground!" someone else responded. "That's why there was nothing in the crater; it burrowed into the ground!"
Further questions were prevented by the earthquake. Harry had felt an earthquake before, the Bishop's Castle Quake had shook all of the British Isles the year before he had attended Hogwarts. He remembered feeling off balance, like he was standing in a truck that moved suddenly. This was not like that. He felt like something gigantic had grabbed him and was shaking him. He couldn't remain standing; he settled for holding on tightly to Hermione and screaming. In spite of the confusion, he could make out something large and dark coming up out of the landscape. Then, as suddenly as it started, the convulsions stopped.
A few people, Harry included, kept screaming for a few seconds, then stopped in embarrassment. He and Hermione picked themselves up and looked around. Everyone else had fallen to the ground, along with a few of the houses. Harry could only hope they were empty when they collapsed. The most shocking after effect was hanging in the air over the park, still divesting itself of bits of rock and dirt.
It looked, Harry thought, almost like a jellyfish. There was a bulbous main body and hundreds of tentacles hanging from the bottom, but that was where the similarity to anything known ended. Looking at it was not enough to determine what it was made of. The main body seemed to bow and flex like flesh, but was completely transparent. The mystery of what it could be made of was nothing compared to the mystery of what was inside of it. Clouds and burst of a dozen different colors ebbed, flowed, and danced within it. Underneath, opalescent tentacles of various lengths and thickness hung and drifted lazily. Where the sunlight hit them, they threw rainbows. Harry's appreciation of its beauty was undercut by the terror inspired by its size. He could not assign a number to its dimensions, but he could tell it could easily eat Hogwarts Castle and still be hungry. While it was devouring Hogwarts, one of its tentacles could reach out and smite the furthest cottage of Hogsmeade Village.
A foreboding feeling in Harry's gut was telling him to flee, so he grabbed Hermione and ran. They weaved their way through the crowd, some of whom were staring up in awed fascination, others were of the same mind as Harry and were running away, so as to be fascinated from a safe distance. They hadn't even gotten twenty paces when the first crash fell. Harry saw out of his peripheral vision one of the opalescent tentacles smashing a line of houses a street away. He felt the tremor after he heard it, and stumbled to keep his balance while running. In the distance, he heard the sound of more destruction . He imagined that the Martian Medusa, spreading out its tentacles in all directions, laying waste to everything within its considerable reach.
Harry and Hermione pelted down the street, hoping they could get out of range before one of the innumerable tentacles came down upon them. The only time they had any concern besides running faster is when a kid in front of them was knocked over. Harry and Hermione both reached down and picked him up so vigorously that for a few seconds his legs were paddling air.
Eventually, Harry's head cleared of the adrenaline high. He began to feel the soreness of his legs, the burning of his lungs, and he realized the sounds of destruction were more distant. Chancing a glance behind him, the Martian Medusa had disappeared behind a dust cloud of its own making. Hermione, apparently, was also feeling the pain, and had slowed down, though they were both still running, moving at a pace with the crowd around them that flowed down the street like a rushing river. They were surrounded by people, some were screaming, some crying, and all of them focused on running away. A nonagenarian was going down the road at an impressive clip.
"What was that?!" Harry asked through ragged breaths.
"How should I know?!" answered Hermione.
"You know everything!" Harry retorted.
"Not this!" said Hermione.
"How did you not notice that thing when it crashed next to your house?!" Harry asked.
"It wasn't that big when it crashed!" said Hermione.
"So, what?" asked Harry. "A larva crashed in the park, burrowed it's way underground, and, consuming whatever resources were around it, grew into that?!"
Hermione was pensive for a moment. "Good an explanation as any."
"Good," agreed Harry, "so, next question: what the f—"
"Harry!" Hermione snapped.
Harry looked down between them were they were still holding either arm of the kid.
"What are we going to do now?" Harry amended.
"Keep running?" Hermione suggested. "but to where?"
"'To' isn't important," said Harry, "focus on the 'from'. It's behind us right now, and after it's finished eating Woking it'll probably move onto London, so we absolutely don't want to go there. Where does this road lead?"
Hermione looked around and found a road sign. "London," she said.
"God D—!" Harry looked down at the kid again and clenched his jaw. "Ok, new plan. We go to London."
"You just said—" started Hermione.
"We go to the Leaky Cauldron," Harry continued. "Then, we floo to the Burrow. That's in Devon, kilometers in the other direction."
"Good plan," said Hermione. "Um, what do we do with him?" she asked, looking down at the kid.
"Well," said Harry, "I guess we take him with us for now. Unless you know a spell to find a lost kids parents in a fleeing crowd."
"I do not," Hermione admitted. "What's your name, anyway?"
The boy hiccupped. "Ian," he said. Harry recognized him as the lad who had set up the lemonade stand.
"Ok, Ian," said Hermione. "We'll be taking you with us until…" she surveyed the foreseeable future in front of her and lost confidence in how to end the sentence. "…until all this is cleared up."
"And we find your parents," added Harry.
"Exactly," agreed Hermione.
"Who are fine," added Harry.
The crowd they were in continued to move at a speed heretofore undocumented in pedestrian traffic. It was an eight hour walk from Woking to London, but Harry and Hermione made the trip in three hours. For the last leg of it, Ian lost his steam and had to ride on Harry's shoulders. As they neared the city, the urgency of the crowd diminished as fear of death succumbed to exhaustion. The Martian Medusa had been steadily shrinking into the distance all afternoon. Harry was sure it would have made haste to London, but it seemed content for now to harass the suburbs.
Soldiers and police officers started appearing on the sides of the road, waving people along and giving instructions over megaphones. From them, Harry gathered that the people in charge had also guessed that London was the main target and were evacuating the city. They would be redirected north at the next junction before the bridge into London. Harry was mulling over ways to sneak past the soldiers guarding the bridge when he was distracted by the roar of jet engines.
He looked up, careful not to spill Ian, in time to see several echelons of fighter planes flying overhead toward the Martian Medusa. He joined the crowd in giving a huge cheer. Harry had not ever been particularly patriotic, but just now felt especially fond of Her Majesty's Air Force. He wondered what kind of defense the Ministry for Magic was mounting. Perhaps they'd get to Diagon Alley to find a regiment of wizards forming, ready to assault the invaders on broomsticks and dragon mounts.
Next to him Hermione was engaged with a man trying to fix his portable radio.
"There's nothing you can do, love," said the man. "The batteries are dead."
"Just let me try," she said, taking it from him. she turned away from him slightly, whipped out her wand and gave it a tap, whispering something Harry couldn't hear. The radio crackled to life.
"…have just confirmed with the Royal Astronomical Society that the invaders are from Mars. The landings are commensurate with previously unidentified eruptions on the surface of Mars, now postulated to be launchings. Gigantic, jellyfish-like machines have been confirmed attacking, at present, at least seventeen different countries all over the world… strike that, eighteen… nineteen different countries. In the United Kingdom, the Medusa is between Woking and London, gradually making its way to the latter. Civil and military authorities have evacuated London, and anyone within city limits is advised to…"
The broadcast went on, and more people crowded around the radio's owner. If he had any suspicions about the young lady who had magically brought his radio back to life, they were quashed by other concerns. Harry and Hermione were pushed away from the radio by the clustering crowd.
"So, they're machines?" Harry asked. "But they can't be. Machines don't grow in size."
"Maybe these do," said Hermione. "The Martians could have created technology that's complex enough to grow and develop like an organism."
"Let's hope it can die like one," said Harry.
They had less trouble getting across the bridge than Harry thought. The soldiers were occupied with getting as many people to safety as possible. Chasing after individuals who were willing to submit themselves to natural selection wasn't a priority.
Despite having been to London very seldom, Harry was unnerved to see it empty. He could hear his footsteps echoing off the buildings around him. A few confused strays wandered between abandoned cars.
Unfortunately, the same vacancy was present when they entered the Leaky Cauldron.
"Hello?" Hermione called, as she looked behind the bar.
Harry, dropped Ian down in a booth seat and sat himself down, taking off his shoes and massaging his feet.
"There's no one here," said Hermione, putting down three bottles of butterbeer. "And I can't find any floo powder."
Harry groaned, then whipped out his wand. "Accio floo powder." They waited for a second, but nothing came flying at them.
"It's ok," said Harry, "we'll get help in Diagon Alley." He made to stand up but fell back into his seat. "After I get feeling back in my legs."
Diagon Alley was no more obliging than the rest of London and just as deserted.
"They must have evacuated," said Hermione, unnecessarily. "I guess it was too much to hope that they'd mount a defense of a muggle city."
"What's a muggle?" asked Ian.
Their explanation and violation of the International Statute of Secrecy was interrupted by the door of Wiseacre's bursting open and Mundungus Fletcher stumbling out with a rucksack.
"Potter," he said by way of greeting. "What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" Harry responded.
"Getting an evacuation discount," said Mundungus, shamelessly. "When they scarpered, they had to leave behind a tonne of stuff." He gave his bag a shake. "The ministry's abandoned London and they're setting up headquarters at Hogwarts castle. Seeing as London is about to be leveled by a giant squid. Speaking of which…"
"Well, can you give us—" Mundungus Apparated away. "—A ride."
"How did he do that?" asked Ian.
Following a brief explanation of the existence of magic and the sheepish admission that it wasn't as practically helpful as most people fantasized, they searched Diagon Alley for a modicum of floo powder.
"This isn't working," said Hermione after the fifth store turned up empty. "At this rate we'll still be scraping fireplaces when the first tentacle strikes."
"And the Quidditch supply store has no brooms left," said Harry, "so we can't fly away." He thought longingly of the Firebolt sitting uselessly in, or possibly obliterated in the remains of, Privet Drive. "We'll have to start running on foot."
"Ok, but we don't know how long we'll be on the run for," said Hermione. "We should get some supplies."
Using the Flourish and Blotts as their base of operation, which was Hermione's preference, they split up and combed the remains of Diagon Alley for anything they could use. Hermione found some changes of clothes and a wireless radio at the second-hand store. Harry found a tent and various camping supplies. Hermione, true to form, attempted to pack her own library. Ian was delighted to watch the huge pile of supplies disappear into small rucksacks.
They pelted out of Diagon Alley as the sun was setting and headed due north. Hermione made them stopped at a corner store to pick up some food and she also found a book of maps for the UK. By the time they were out of the city, night had fully fallen and the Martian Medusa was looming close. It shown brightly in the darkness, lit by some inborn fire, and was more beautiful and horrifying than ever.
"I guess the fighter jets didn't have much of an effect," observed Hermione.
"I think I can see why," said Harry.
The lights of the city glimmered in the absence of people. Every building, every street lamp, shining in the dark, but some were going out. Starting from the side of the city closest to the Martian Medusa, the lights began to fade, and the darkness spread across the horizon. Harry knew that if he was sitting on his Firebolt far above the city, he would see the darkness, spreading out like an ink stain on parchment with the Martian Medusa at the center, feeding the blackness. Harry also knew that as it was with the lights so it was with appliances, computers, cars, and aeroplanes. Slowly, and unstoppably, the muggles were being pushed back to the middle ages. And not a one of them knew how to start a fire.
Ian, for the fifth time in so many minutes, reported that he was tired. Harry sympathized; he was tired, too. He had full faith that Hermione was tired, if her swiftly declining posture was anything to go by. She was being very stoic about it, but keeping a stiff upper lip only had so much utility after your skeleton gave out.
They had all been walking away from London since they saw the Martian Medusa descended upon it and cracked the sky scrapers with its whip-like tentacles. It was disturbing to see the pinnacle of human technology and architecture be cut down like blades of grass before a scythe.
The sun was rising now, and the fires of London were a distant smoke cloud on the Horizon. The Martian Medusa was completely unseen. It was very unhurried in its destructive duty. Hermione had posed two theories to explain this. The first was more optimistic and was favored by Harry: that the Martians had underestimated the effects of the greater gravity on the comparatively larger planet Earth, and their machines were only able to move slowly under the weight. The second was more horrifying an was actually believed by Harry: that the Martians had taken a complete inventory of the capacity of the human race, its military, its technology, and the people, to mount an effective defense and compared it to their own power, and had determined that there was no need to hurry.
"I'm tired," repeated Ian.
Harry, who had, as they all had, been awake and walking since morning of the day before, couldn't mount a rebuttal. It was harder to power through the exhaustion without the specter of death clearly visible on the horizon.
"We should stop," Harry conceded.
"I'll look for somewhere to pitch the tent," said Hermione, sounding relieved.
"Sod that, we'll sleep in one of them," said Harry, pointing to a village coming up the road.
They hadn't met any evacuees since they left London. All of the crowds were either well ahead of them or taking a different road. The towns and villages they had walked through during the night had all been abandoned, and there was every reason to expect that the village ahead was populated by vacant and comfy beds, possibly with a selection of scones in the kitchen for when they woke up.
They walked into the village and continued down the high street until they came to a house that looked large enough to have at least two bedrooms. Harry reached for the gate, but was interrupted by an old man with a rifle.
"Don't move!" he yelled, coming around a corner behind them.
Harry moved in front of Hermione and Ian. Hermione used the cover to pull her wand out.
"I'm sorry!" yelled Harry, "we didn't—"
"Don't move!" the man yelled again. "You're one step away from a land mine!"
The three of them froze. Harry willed himself, unsuccessfully, to levitate.
"Just walk towards me," said the old man, lowering his rifle. "you'll be fine."
They walked towards him, stepping as daintily as possible.
"You all came from London?" the man asked as he walked them towards the town hall. "Haven't seen any more evacuees since yesterday."
"We got kind of a late start," said Hermione. "What are you doing here?"
"We decided to stay behind," said the old man.
Before Harry could ask who he meant by 'We', the old man opened the door of the town hall to reveal a dozen or so pensioners working at cross purposes.
"Oh," said a plump woman, who reminded Harry very strongly of Molly Weasley. "You poor dears, let's get some breakfast in you."
In a few minutes, they were all seated at a long table. Harry, Hermione, and Ian ate while they old man, who introduced himself as Miles, explained what they were doing there.
"We got the order to evacuate yesterday afternoon when the news came down that there was some kind of space-monster eating Woking," said Miles. "They sent a bus to the pensioners home to take us all to Liverpool."
"Liverpool?" asked Hermione.
"That's where they're setting up a refugee camp," said one of the ladies. "They're shipping everyone to Ireland from there. There's nothing attacking Ireland."
"Anyway," continued Miles, "They told us to get on the bus, and we said 'sod that, use it for the kiddies that have been walking all the way from London'."
"But now you're stuck here," observed Harry. "Aren't you worried the Martians will come?"
"What are they gonna do?" asked a rail-thin lady further down the table. "Cut short our young lives?"
There were laughs around the table from everyone over seventy.
"Ever since the village was abandoned, we've been booby-trapping all the buildings," said Miles. "We've been co-opting everything in the village that could possibly explode, from kerosene to paraffin, and turning the houses into ordinances."
"I worked at a munitions plant during the war," said a short woman across from them. "If one of them tentacles even brushes up against a house it's going to get more than it bargained for."
"I don't think that will stop it," said Hermione dubiously.
"It won't," admitted Miles.
Harry couldn't follow their logic. Giving up your bus to children was noble, but refusing to evacuate all together just so you can get some pot-shots at an alien juggernaut was merely suicidal.
"Look," said Harry. "You can still get out of here." A plan was fomenting in his mind. It involved a fairly direct violation of the International Statute of Secrecy and some spells he was unsure of how to work, but it was better than nothing. "The thing is…well, we're wizards."
"Yeah, I know," said Miles, spooning in a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
"We could get you to… what?"
"How did you know?" asked Hermione alarmed. "And I mean both about magic and us having it."
"It'd be pretty strange for you both to be carrying wands if you weren't wizards," said Miles.
Both Harry and Hermione glanced down at their pockets were each had a foot long wand sticking out conspicuously.
"So, how'd you know about magic?" asked Hermione. "Are you a squib?"
"What the sod's a squib?" asked Miles.
"A person with wizard parents but no magic," answered Harry automatically.
"That's a thing?" asked a bald man down the table. "Rotten luck that would be."
"I would be so bitter," admitted the short woman.
"Then how do you all know about magic?" asked Hermione.
"You live long enough, and eventually you'll see something magical," said Miles. "A dragon flying overhead, a biting doorknob taking a snap at you, and the wizards that come around to wipe memories don't get everybody. You all aren't nearly as good at being covert as you'd like to believe."
"Did you think no one would notice an entire street was just missing in the middle of London?" asked the rail thin woman. "With real estate prices being what they are, people keep track of every cobblestone."
"I take your various points," said Harry. "But my point is, we can get you out of here on a flying carpet."
"Thanks, but no thanks," said Miles. "We want to get some shots in at that jellyfish." There were mutterings of agreement all around the table.
"But you can't win," said Hermione standing up. "We saw that thing cut down high rises like paper!"
The lady next to her put a consoling hand on Hermione's arm.
"It's not about winning," she said. "Right now, they're evacuating everyone to Ireland, and they need as much time as possible. We might only be able to slow the Martians down, and even then, only by a second, but that's a second they wouldn't have otherwise."
"It must seem strange to a young person," said Miles. "You've got your whole life ahead of you. Well, we've got our whole life behind us. If we live through this, we'll probably just die of something embarrassing next month. We'd rather go down fighting monsters for Queen and Country."
"For Queen and Country!" they all echoed around the table.
After that, they insisted that Harry, Hermione, and Ian tuck in for a kip. After the best sleep Harry could ever remember having, which unfortunately only lasted five hours, he was shaken awake and lead to the front door of the town hall.
"We found these for you," said Miles with a flourish, indicating three bicycles. "This will cut down your commute to the Liverpool refugee camp."
"Cool!" shouted Ian, jumping on the smallest one.
"You want to use your magic to help someone," said Miles to Harry and Hermione. "Go to the refugee camps. Help the evacuation, do whatever you can to save as many as you can."
"We'll do what we can," promised Harry. "Except…" he trailed away.
"What?" asked Miles.
"I don't know how to ride a bike," Harry admitted.
A few minutes later, Harry was pedaling tremulously out of the village, flanked by Hermione and Ian, who occasionally pushed him back upright. The pensioners waved goodbye, thanking Hermione for the tractor she had transfigured into a trebuchet.
The Liverpool Refugee Camp was mass of tents, lean-tos, and blankets stuffed between every house and building like fat clogging an artery, extending as far west as Manchester and as far south as Stafford, which was where Harry, Hermione, and Ian were currently walking. They had abandoned the bikes after there wasn't enough road to ride on any more. Every flat surface for miles around, including all the roads and the roofs of buildings, had been populated by the various shelters people had been able to construct as they waited to board the ships making a constant circuit between the ports of Liverpool and Dublin.
The weather in Britain had no sympathy for the plight of the masses and it hadn't put off raining. People huddled in tents, under tarps that they worked together to hold up, under trees that didn't do much more than slow down the water, and some just stood there in the deluge accepting their fate of being wet. Some kind-hearted souls had thrown open their doors to the teaming refuse. Other, less charitable individuals, stood at their windows, weapons clearly visible.
Harry, Hermione, and Ian wove their way through the make-shift city with no clear idea of where they were trying to go. Harry was just responding to the vague instinct that they should keep moving. After half an hour walking through the crowd, they walked passed a more substantial tent that looked more like a burlap house. People in army uniforms walked in and out of one of the flaps. Off to the side, there was a large pot set up and cadets were ladling out broth to a long line of waiting people. Some of the waiting crowd didn't have bowls, and held mugs, vases, and one woman appeared to be holding a newspaper folded into a rough basin.
"This is heart-breaking," said Hermione.
Harry agreed. He'd never seen desolation like this. It was possible that this had not happened before in Britain. No one had any frame of reference for what was happening; they didn't know what to do or where to turn. At most, some of them might have been camping before. Harry was as lost as the rest of them. He racked his brains for a spell he could use to ease their plight, but years of lessons making tea timers tap-dance, turning mice into snuffboxes, or making potions to turn toads into tadpoles had no application here. What he really wanted was a spell to summon one of his professors. He had never previously been a fan of authority, but now yearned for someone more qualified to tell him what he was supposed to do.
Hermione, who, as a matter of policy, was supposed to know everything, was also out of ideas.
"Let's stop here," said Harry, as they came across an unoccupied step at someone's front door. They sat down, sandwiching Ian between them, and enjoyed being off their feet for a while.
"What do we do?" asked Hermione, stretching her legs out in front of her. "Do we wait here? Find a boat? Keep moving?"
"We've already run halfway across Britain," said Harry, rubbing his legs. "If we don't pace ourselves, we're going to run out of country."
"Isn't there something you can do?" asked Ian. They looked at him inquisitively. "Can't you use magic to get these people out of here? Or make them food? Or stop it raining?"
"Um, no," said Harry. "Or…Hermione?"
Hermione, grateful to be back in her element of being pedantic, answered: "Magic can't change the weather. There are spells that can transport people, but it can be dangerous moving a lot of them at once, especially since we don't have a safe place we know we can send them. Since food is the first of the five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration, it can't be created magically."
"Oh, of course," said Ian moodily. "Gamp's Law, completely forgot."
"Although," Hermione said contemplatively, "If you have food, you can increase the quantity of it."
"So," said Harry, following that line of thought. "If we had a pot full of stew, we could ladle it out and just refill it every time we ran low?"
"Sure, stew," said Hermione. "Possibly with some mashed potatoes, buttered carrots, and some pudding for afters."
"Create a supply of clean water to drink," added Harry. "That's easy."
"We'd need some place to work from," said Hermione, looking around. "A kitchen to get things ready, and serve people out of."
"Well," began Harry in a deflated voice, "I don't know where—"
They all jumped off the stoop and looked behind them. Through the glass in the door behind them, they could see a man brandishing a rifle.
"Get away from my 'ouse," he shouted, "Ya useless squatters!"
"I found a place," said Harry, pulling out his wand.
The rain stopped in the early evening, just in time for the sun to be too low to dry anything. None of the refugees were looking forward to the night. Even the ones that had a tent to sleep in would be woken up in the night by hunger and every small noise. The power failures were cutting off the flow of news and they didn't know where the Martian Medusa was and if it was moving toward them. The first sign they would have that the invader was upon them would be a scream in the night from someone who saw it on the horizon, and they all listened and watched carefully.
When the refugees weren't concerned with the existential extraterrestrial threat, they were occupied with hunger and thirst. There hadn't been running water in the city all day, not counting the rain, various puddles, and the salty water of the River Mersey. The Army had done their best to set up kitchens around the various camps and neighborhoods, but they had too little for too many.
The section of the refugee camp that was previously the neighborhood of Stafford was just as plagued with fear and want as anywhere, and one particular street had the extra burden of an unfriendly and well-armed homeowner. It was therefore, a great surprise to the neighborhood when the house of this homeowner threw open its kitchen window to reveal a bushy-haired young lady.
"Anyone who wants food," she cried out, "come and get it!"
Everyone was skeptical, but a handful were more hungry than skeptical and walked up tentatively to the kitchen window. As the first person approached, the lady handed down a bowl of food and an empty mug. They were told they could fill the mug from the spigot on the side of the house. They were initially confused by this, as they hadn't seen a spigot on the house before, but found it was there as advertised and issued a supply of clean, cool water. At this point, everyone else's skepticism faded like frost in the desert and a line formed going down the street.
The people further down the line didn't expect to get much, not out of such a small kitchen, and when food was so sparse. However, food was doled out without interruption long into the night in large portions. The spigot was similarly obliging. People that had already eaten came to fill canteens and the soldiers from the medical tent filled a few buckets. Despite the lack of running water, the spigot seemed to be fed by a cistern that never ran dry.
Later in the evening, a radio was set up in a different window, tuned to the BBC World Service and brought the refugees long awaited news. None of it was particularly good news, but it was still an improvement over ignorance. If any of the gathered crowd were suspicious that the radio was functioning in the absence of power, or that the sound could be heard clearly, even at a sizable distance, no one voiced their suspicions.
Thus, the refugees of that street slept better that night, with full bellies, and news playing in the background.
The house was cramped, cluttered, untidy, and smelled strongly of, among other things, tobacco. The vermin were so well established that they had annual elections. The owner, who's name they hadn't bothered to ask, was sitting in an armchair in the corner, looking blissful and vacant.
Harry and Hermione were purging the bedroom while Ian took a shower. The house was less messy than it had been, as they had transfigured much of the brick-a-brack the owner had hoarded into mugs and bowls to serve supper. They were now doing a more thorough cleaning of the bedroom before they went down for the night, ridding the room of the more offensive odors and parasitic lifeforms.
"I think that's as clean as we can get it for now," said Hermione. "Unless you want to get a match."
"Could be worse," said Harry. "We could be in sleeping bags on pavement." He pushed down on the mattress experimentally. "Pavement might actually be softer. And smell better. Lucky me, huh?"
"What do you mean?" asked Hermione.
"Well," said Harry, "I'll be in a sleeping bag in the kitchen, while you and Ian take the bed."
"Don't be daft," said Hermione. "We can all fit."
"Maybe," said Harry, "But I didn't pack any pajamas. I'll be sleeping in the buff."
Hermione blushed and mumbled: "I didn't think of that. So will I, I guess." Then she cleared her throat and spoke more confidently. "But you should still sleep with me. Us. You should sleep with us."
Now it was Harry's turn to blush.
"It'll be safer if we stay together," Hermione continued. "And you'll be more comfortable." She poked the mattress. "Possibly."
Harry was skeptical of her reasoning. The lie about the mattress being comfortable aside, he wasn't sure it was safer either. Hermione might consider him trustworthy, and for the most part he was, but he had one traitorous organ that was bound to give away some untrustworthy thoughts.
While Harry showered, Hermione made a circuit of the house's doors and windows, ensuring any uninvited visitors in the night would suddenly find themselves covered in painful stings. When they finally convened in the bedroom, they all fell asleep the second they became horizontal, with not a carnal thought to be found.
They rose three days earlier than they would have liked. Despite having nothing to do but wait, the refugee camp became active and loud in the pre-dawn light. Ian was untroubled by the growing din and left to sleep on. Harry and Hermione performed their ablutions, fed and watered the owner, who was still blissed out, then got to work.
Harry recharged the radio and set it up in the window, where an audience was already waiting. Once the BBC was broadcasting, he went to refill the house's water tank. Hermione was making breakfast in the kitchen. Food charms were more complicated than refilling water, so she was better equipped to the task. She was only just now starting to appreciate Molly Weasley's magical skill now that she was struggling with something as simple as bulk scrambled eggs. Eventually, the food was ready and they began handing it out the window again, where the line formed with no hesitation.
Thus they spent the morning doling out food while listening to the radio in the background, along with gossip from the crowd.
The Martian Medusa, which they had all been fleeing from, had not moved from London, despite there being scarcely anything left to destroy. This was the case all over the world, where the various invaders had destroyed the nearest city and been quite content to stay there. None of the experts consulted could do more than guess why, though the most frequently voiced theory was that they had exhausted their fuel supply in their first act of destruction and were now recharging. This torpor, whatever the cause, was of no advantage to the resisting forces. A large exclusion zone still surrounded the Martian Medusa, knocking out any technology that used so much as a sparkplug. Missiles fired at them died in mid-air. Satellites passing overhead destabilized and fell out of orbit.
The Army, not to be thwarted by something as trivial as being shunted back to the colonial era, had gathered up whatever artillery didn't require electricity. Some enterprising soldiers had removed WWI cannons from museums and were improvising ordinances. They had been successful in landing hits on the invader, but hadn't done any visible damage, and after one or two firings were swatted down by a tentacle. There was some speculation that, eventually, when any consideration of collateral damage was moot, fission weapons would be deployed, though no one spoke of this with much hope.
The gossip from the harbor was more encouraging. The initial evacuation was manned by navy vessels, but volunteers had also answered the call to duty. Everything from fishing trawlers to cruise ships were pulling into the port at Liverpool and taking away shiploads of refugees. Ships had come from as far away as Norway and Iceland, bringing essential supplies, doctors, and other volunteers. It was heartening that when things were at their worst, the people were at their best. If this was to be the final chapter of humanity, then by God, they were going out as humans, not beasts.
The line outside the window slowly shrank as everyone within walking distance was fed. Hermione set up her literary nest at the kitchen table while Harry and Ian cleaned up. Hermione had her own radio tuned to the Wizarding Wireless Network. The wizarding news had much less to report than the muggle news. They were just now picking up on the fact that the invaders were from Mars. Some wizarding authorities on astronomy were being interviewed, but were of little educational value. There were some authorities on Magizoology speculating on the nature, and critically the weaknesses, of the Martian Medusa. From this, Harry gathered, they thought the Martian Medusa was fauna rather than machine.
"Do you think they're right?" asked Harry, sitting down across from Hermione.
"No," answered Hermione, looking up from the book she was reading. "About what?"
"That the thing is an animal," clarified Harry, "Not a machine, like the muggles think."
Hermione pondered this.
"If there were animals like that on Mars," she said with the air of someone thinking out loud, "we would have seen them. They'd be visible with our telescopes, or seen by one of the satellites we've sent to Mars. So, if they are animals, they must have been created; designed for the express purpose of coming here across the gulf of space, growing underground, and then destroying us."
"That makes them sound like both animal and machine," said Harry.
"Yes, that could be it," said Hermione. "An animal is a collection of millions of microscopic cells working in concert. If you could make a machine as small and complex as a cell, and compel them to work to a common purpose, you'd have a machine like an animal. A machine that could grow by consuming the resources around it, that could repair itself, that could move quickly and gracefully. But it would not be like an animal. The cells could be made of metals, and all the tissues they comprised would be impregnable. It's blood could be electricity. It's food could be solar energy."
"It won't get a lot of mileage out of solar energy," said Ian.
"It won't?" asked Hermione, coming out of her deliberation.
"Nah," said Ian. "There's a reason trees don't move around a lot. On top of that, it's been cloudy all week."
Hermione looked outside where the iron, grey British skies were unbroken by a single sunbeam. Both she and Harry drew more comfort from this than was strictly wise, given their lack of information.
The Wizarding Wireless Network did have one useful nugget of information. Every Witch and Wizard was being advised to come to Hogwarts, which was being set up as a refuge and fortified as a bastion.
"We can make the trip in six days," said Hermione consulting her book of maps, "depending on how often we break to camp."
"You know where Hogwarts is?" asked Harry.
"What?" asked Hermione, looking incredulous. "Of course I…!" she stopped and her facial expression sunk into grave disappointment. "So, this whole time, you've been living at Hogwarts, most of the year, for years, and you haven't been able to find it on a map."
"Er…" started Harry. "So, six days on foot seems like a long time."
"My feet hurt just hearing it," said Ian.
"If we could find the tracks that lead to Hogsmeade station," Hermione, successfully distracted, continued, "That would make the trip easier. Certainly flatter."
"Why don't we take a boat?" asked Ian.
"Because Hogwarts is in the mountains," said Hermione. "They're the brown lumpy things and here's the sea; the blue wavy thing."
"Ok, Mindy Mercator," Ian said, irritably, grabbing a pencil and writing on her map. "Well the blue wavy thing cuts a loch into your brown lumpy things here, and that's only fifty kilometers away from Hogbone—"
"Hogwarts," corrected Hermione.
"And said blue wavy thing," continued Ian, "Extends all the way down here to where we are—" He drew a line from Scotland, down through the Irish Sea, to Liverpool. "—The taupe flats."
He slammed down the pencil dramatically to Hermione's stunned silence. Harry tried to hide his grin. Seeing Hermione being taken down a peg was as rare and wonderous as a solar eclipse.
"Well," said Hermione sheepishly. "We could do that." She paused to revile the taste of humility in her mouth. "And it would be faster. Admittedly, I don't know that much about sailing, but I do know it's faster than walking."
"And softer," added Harry.
"But you can't drown walking," pointed out Hermione. "And none of us are really sure how to navigate at sea. There aren't any road signs or landmarks. We could wash up on the shores of Tahiti."
Harry and Ian looked at her, unperturbed. She reviewed her previous statement in her head and wasn't convinced by her own argument. It was thus they decided to pursue sailing.
The first major obstacle was their significant lack of boat, the remedy for which was to go to the harbor and look around. Harry volunteered to go to the shore and report back. He came back ten minutes after setting out, saying he'd gotten all of two streets away before becoming completely lost in the crowded camp. It was clear that if any of them left the house for a significant distance, they would never be able to find their way back. The thought of losing Hermione or Ian had suddenly, terribly opened up a bottomless pit in Harry's stomach and he flatly refused to leave them again.
That evening, they served dinner again. When that was over, they refilled the water tank, took the enchantment off the owner, and left the house together. Moving around in the refugee camp was easier at night when people were sleeping. The vein-thin streets were less crowded. They traveled single file, with Harry in front and Hermione bringing up the rear, Ian protectively sandwiched between them. The streets of Liverpool, already challenging, were unnavigable when filled with tents and other barriers. Fortunately, they only needed to continue heading Northwest. The Sea is not difficult to find; any given drop of water left to its own devices would find it eventually.
After a few hours navigating the byways of the camp and sometimes climbing over buildings in their way, they reached the coast. The light of the moon formed a street of sapphires on the water's surface. They had come out where the mouth of the River Mersey formed a muddy bay. None of the ships transporting refugees came this far inland normally, but a few ships that were in need of refueling or repairs sat waiting for either. Hermione's plan was simple: find a ship, boat, or buoyant platform that had been abandoned because it was beyond the hope of muggle repair and repair it magically. Unfortunately a plan being simple isn't the same as being easy. Building a pyramid is simple, it's just a glorified rock pile, but the simplicity doesn't make the rocks weigh any less.
The first difficult part was finding an abandoned boat. While there were no shortage of critically damaged boats in the various marinas, no one was about to abandon them. These sundry vessels were in such poor condition before the invasion that it had not been economical to enact any repairs. Now, these skeletal ships, some with more hole than hull, were swarmed over by determined mechanics. The immediate pressure of necessity had sharpened their ingenuity and hardened their resolve.
It was not until dusk of that day that they found a derelict canal barge that, based on appearance, had originally been constructed out of rust. It was beached on a mud bank, along with other edifices that could only be described as scrap metal. It was not a nice location, but it was vacant, except for the occasional welder wandering in to cut out a panel of iron for his own project, so two people using magic wouldn't be noticed. Next to the barge, they pitched their tent for the first time.
For the fourth time that night, Ian walked the perimeter of the tent, then came back inside. Once inside, he looked around the canvas equivalent of a two bedroom flat.
"How?" he asked again.
"Magic," said Hermione. "It's called an Undetectable Extension Charm."
"It still weirds me out, too," confessed Harry from the kitchen, where he was preparing supper.
They all sat around the table for dinner, where they divided their time between eating and going over a diagram of the barge that Hermione had drawn.
"We need to seal up all the holes, obviously," she said, pointing out its swiss-cheese like chassis. "That's easy to do. Just cut off some metal from a different wreck and merge it on. You remember Merging in Transfiguration?"
Harry nodded. It had been one of the easier lessons. At the time, they had done it with bits of fabric. Metal was going to be a different, heavier story.
"After we make sure it can float," continued Hermione, "We just need to make a propeller and rudder."
"And find an engine," said Ian. "Unless you can make those, too."
"I cannot," admitted Hermione unconcernedly, "but we can cast a spinning charm on the propeller when we want it to go. When that's ready, we just pitch the tent on the barge and we're ready to go. How we find our way from there is another matter."
Harry looked over at Hermione's guidebook where Ian had drawn their route. The lines of pencil glided past a lot of convoluted coastlines and between several islands that would look imperceptibly different when they were just chunks of land on the horizon. He thought longingly of the helpful self-explanatory map he had left behind in Little Whinging, along with his Firebolt. In recalling this, two thoughts occurred to him. The first one, making the barge fly, he dismissed quickly. The second, he brought up.
"Can we make a map like the Marauder's Map?" he asked Hermione. "So we can see ourselves on the map?"
She looked at Harry, then down at the map. She stared at it hard, as if she was hoping it would crack under the pressure.
"Yes," she said slowly. "It's simple to track just one person. The problem is making a map of that size… the calculations would have to be very exact. A difference of even half a degree, over that distance, we could end up in—"
"Tahiti?" suggested Ian. They all got a good laugh out of that, and some of the tension was displaced.
Despite having been awake a very long time, none of them were tired, and they spent the remainder of the night patching up the barge while the radio gave news reports in the background. The Martian Medusa still hadn't moved, and now was being rained on continuously by the largest thunderstorm Britain had seen all year. Harry hoped they were scared of thunder.
Harry got the knack of Merging quickly. The canal barge was only slightly bigger than a van and by dawn it was clear he'd be able to finish it on his own. Hermione pealed away from construction to begin work on their magical SatNav. Ian, who until the sun had risen had been holding the torch so the wizards could see what they were doing, was without a task in the morning sun, so he went into the tent for a lie down.
Around noon, the patch job was done and Harry immediately felt tiredness drop onto him. On the way in, he passed Ian running out.
"He wanted to help," said Hermione as Harry came in. "I told him to find a propeller on one of the derelicts. It'll be easier than making one from scratch."
Harry looked over the piles of crumpled papers that surrounded her, some of which were gently smoking. The map clearly wasn't going well.
"Why don't you take a nap?" asked Harry. "Being tired can't be helping."
"No," said Hermione. "I won't be able to close my eyes until I finish this. I'm the same way with essays."
"So, that's it," said Harry. "All this time I thought you were a good student, and you were just a slave to compulsion."
Hermione threw one of the smoking paper wads at him.
He multiplied a plate of biscuits and a pot of cocoa for her, then he went into one of the bedrooms for a kip.
Harry was woken up by firm shaking.
"What?!" he sat up quickly, nearly knocking into Hermione's head.
Hermione was holding the radio, out of which was coming a familiar, susurrating voice.
"Witches and Wizards of Britain," said Voldemort. "The time has come for us to emerge from hiding. The muggles now face a threat to which they are unequal. Their cities are falling apart and they are fleeing like rats. Tonight, I and my loyal followers will slay the beast. The Muggles will see us as their saviors and they will submit to us as their rightful rulers. Then, all of our fellow magical people will rise up, lay waste to their own invaders, and claim their place in dominance of muggles. The era of muggles is over! The era of hiding is over! The Wizarding World begins now!"
"Guys?" They heard Ian call from outside. Hermione quickly switched off the radio. Harry got out of bed, that was when he realized he had grabbed Hermione's hand during the broadcast.
Ian had found a propeller. Harry and Hermione had acted glad at the news, but neither was a good actor, so Ian knew something was up. As they worked together to transfer it onto the barge, Harry wondered what tonight would bring. It would be decisive, no matter what. Either the Martians would be defeated or Voldemort would be killed. Either the Wizards would rise up and subjugate Muggles, or all humans, as equals, were going to die. It was depressing that safety and democracy was an either/or scenario. It was simply a mercy that the two baddies weren't forming a coalition.
By early evening, there wasn't much left to do. The barge was fully assembled, the tent was secured on the deck. The map still needed work, but Harry barely understood how it worked, and couldn't guess how to help. Hermione kept working on the map while Harry went along the hull of the boat and enchanted it with the Impervious Charm for added protection.
"We should give her a name," said Ian, from where he sat on the deck.
"Should we?" asked Harry.
"It's bad luck for a boat not to have a name," said Ian.
"You believe that?" Harry asked.
"No," said Ian, "but up until a few days ago, I didn't believe in magic either."
Harry couldn't fault that logic, nor did he know if luck was a real thing that he just hadn't studied yet at Hogwarts. On that basis, painting some letters on the side of a floating platform was as good a precaution as any.
"What should we name her?" he asked.
"Tahiti," Ian answered.
"Perfect," said Harry, "Colovaria!" His wand tip glowed white and he traced the letters on the side of the barge.
The sun was setting and as the light retreated, the storm clouds rolled in from the south. The thunderstorm that had been reported in London was moving towards them.
"I guess we'll be testing if the tent is waterproof," said Harry, looking towards the storm.
"Better we find out now than later," said Hermione, coming to stand next to him. "We'll have to wait until it passes. This barge would cap-size in a light breeze. It would still float, but it would be bad news for the tent."
"How's the map going?" Harry asked.
"As good as it's going to get," said Hermione. "The only way to test it is the hard way."
"That's how we do everything," said Harry, nudging her affectionately.
"That's how you and Ron do everything," corrected Hermione, nudging him back. The next time she spoke was more somber. "Do you think they made it? The Weasleys."
"Yeah," said Harry. "It hasn't gone near Devon. They probably Apparated to Hogwarts days ago. As long as Mr. Weasley didn't try and get a closer look at the thing to see if it runs on 'ekeltricity'."
They had a laugh at this and stood outside until Ian called them in for dinner. As they sat down to eat, the first drops began hitting the tent. A few minutes of steady escalation later and it sounded like they had pitched the tent under a waterfall. Fortunately, the tent didn't have any leaks.
"I wonder how Voldemort's attack is going," Hermione mused as they listened to the deluge.
"If he decides to take a rain check, I'll understand," said Harry. "It's really coming down out there. I hope everyone's found somewhere to shelter." He remembered the people he saw the other day, forced to stand out in the rain.
"I don't think a lot of them did," said Ian, who was sitting closer to the tent flap.
"Why?" asked Hermione.
"I can hear them screaming from here," said Ian.
"Oh," said Hermione, and then, "Screaming?" She and Harry stood up and ran to the tent flap. With a wave of his wand, Harry projected an Umbrella charm above him which protected him as he stepped outside. He could hear the screaming faintly, but unmistakably over the pouring rain, and he could also see why. The density of the rain obscured his view. The nearest street, that they could read the signs on by day, was completely invisible now. However, the giant figure in the sky, lit by some inborn fire, was recognizable even in the storm.
"How did it get here?!" cried Hermione. "It was in London this afternoon!"
That was when they saw the lightning strikes. They came frequent and fast, and they all hit the Martian Medusa. It came to Harry in one of those flashes. They had been right when they guessed that it wasn't moving because it was low on fuel. Whatever energy it had brought with it had been exhausted by the time it reached London. As the progenitors of humanity had learned to turn wood into fire, so had the Martians discovered a way to catalyze storms and harvest the lightning. The monster, glutted on an unlimited supply of power, was able to fly across the country, and continue its campaign of destruction.
"We have to get out of here!" Yelled Hermione. "Out to sea before it gets any closer!"
"You said that we'd cap-size in this weather," said Harry.
She pointed at the Martian Medusa. "I choose cap-sizing!"
Fully convinced by her argument, Harry jumped down off the deck. He splashed, sank slightly into the mud, then turned around and began pushing the barge out. The rain had done a good job of making the mud bank slick, and it moved without too much trouble. There was a splash next to him and he turned to see Ian pushing alongside him.
"Where's Hermione?" Harry asked.
"She's packing up the rucksacks," Ian answered. "She said we need to be able to grab everything when the barge cap-sizes."
"If the barge cap-sizes," implored Harry.
After a few steps they were in water up to their ankles and the barge was moving weightlessly on the surface of the water. Harry jumped up first, then pulled Ian up after him.
"Rotos," said Harry, and the propeller started spinning, kicking up froth and spray. The Barge jerked forward, nearly sending Harry and Ian back into the water. Harry grabbed the tiller and steered. In the rain, he couldn't see where he was going and the thing he needed to go toward couldn't be seen.
"Ian," said Harry, "go stand on the prow and tell me if I'm about to hit anything. Hermione!"
"Yes," she said, poking her head out of the tent.
"I need you to give me directions," he said.
She nodded and ducked back inside. He heard a dragging sound within and a moment later Hermione was back at the tent flap, the table with the map next to her.
"We need to head West to clear the bay," said Hermione.
"Left or right?" said Harry.
"Hard left," she clarified.
Harry swung the tiller and the barge leaned as it turned. He straightened back out after what he judged to be a ninety degree turn.
"Boat in front of us!" Harry heard Ian yell from the prow. "Slight right!"
He adjusted the tiller, and a few seconds later, they glided past a larger boat.
Whatever boats and ships that were being repaired were being launched. The crews had decided to take their chances with the ships as is. Some of them were moving very slowly. One of them was moving fast, unfortunately the direction it was traveling was down.
They continued navigating through the crowded waters, with Ian yelling warnings, Hermione giving directions, and Harry steering. They seemed to move painfully slowly as the Martian Medusa grew larger behind them and the sounds of screaming rose. Suddenly, as if they were gliding over a threshold the water became turbulent. Harry found himself struggling to stand straight. They had departed the protection of the river mouth and were in the open sea, being tossed around by the waves during a storm.
"Ian!" Harry yelled, "Get in the tent. Hermione! Transfigure something into a lifejacket and put it on Ian. Then you. Then me."
Having no experience sailing, the same sailing on the ocean, and equal amounts sailing in rough waters; he was learning on a trial-and-error basis. After a few attempts he learned that he was safer when he steered with the waves. The next few hours were spent fighting with the tiller to keep the barge straight. The wind was at their back, coming from the Martians' storm, which was fine with Harry, whether it was pushing them towards Scotland, Ireland, or Tahiti.
Hermione offered to take over, which Harry refused. He was exhausted to be sure, but he felt a sense of dread at the mere thought of letting go of the tiller. He trusted Hermione with his life, but for now, he would rather hold onto it himself.
Hour by hour, the rain thinned, the waves shrank, and the storm became something on the horizon. Eventually, the rising sun was visible over the dark clouds. Hermione came out of the tent and threatened to stun him if he didn't get some rest. After a perfunctory lesson about what little he now knew about steering, and a few more threats of stunning, he climbed into the tent.
Inside, their three rucksacks were stacked right by the tent flap. Ian was sitting on the ground next to them looking tense. He and Hermione had clearly been sitting right next to the exit all night, ready to leap into action if the barge flipped. Harry went into one of the bedrooms and grabbed as much bedding as he could carry. He carried them out, and made a nest next to the tent flap. Laying down, he pulled Ian into his chest and held him snuggly.
"Get some sleep, Ian," he whispered into the boys hair.
"What if the barge flips?" Ian asked tremulously.
"Then I'll catch you," said Harry, and they both drifted off.
Harry slept like a baby; he woke up at the slightest noise and cried. Every slight rock of the barge caused a panic, wondering if this was the wave that was going to tip them over. By noon, he had given sleep up as a bad job all together and, gently disentangling himself from Ian, volunteered to take over for Hermione. She sent him back inside with instructions to make lunch.
The kitchen, which was in fact a few meters away from the tent flap, was too far away when one weighted the risk of suddenly being underwater. For the same reason of sudden and involuntary submersion, Harry didn't want to have the rucksacks open for longer than necessary. Preparing lunch was done by making a few fast swipes into his bag and making due with whatever he came up with. In the end, Hermione was served a hot tin of baked beans, which she took gratefully, then made a joke about how "It's a good thing we're outside and it's windy". Either from the stress or the novelty of Hermione making such a remark, Harry laughed for a good four minutes.
Besides the constant fear and accompanying stress of cap-sizing, the trip was without significant events. Harry and Hermione traded off the duty of steering occasionally. Whoever wasn't steering would prepare food, sleep, or check the map to issue a course correction. The weather shifted between rain and beating sunlight in the day. Night was frigid when it wasn't frigid and raining. By the second morning, Harry was starting to regret they hadn't just tried walking. Then again, with his luck, they'd have probably run into something horrible on land as well. And their feet would hurt.
It was, therefore a relief, when their odyssey ended. Dawn of the second morning revealed islands jutting up sharply out of the water. They glided between them, the breaks between the islands becoming fewer and smaller until they were sailing between mountain ranges. Hermione announced that they were in Loch Linnhe in North Scotland. There was nothing left to do but follow it inland as far as it would go.
They ran it aground on a rocky beach. Ian was the first one to jump off, carrying all the bags at once. He lay down on the hard earth and enjoyed the sensation of not moving while Hermione and Harry broke down the tent. Once the tent was packed up, they all stood on the beach ready to hike on, but taking one last moment with Tahiti.
"I kinda feel like we should say a few words," said Hermione.
"Well, she's not dead," said Harry.
"But we won't see her again," said Hermione, "and she is the only reason we got out alive."
"Of course we'll see her again," said Harry. "We'll come get her after this is all over."
"Really?" asked Ian.
"Yeah," said Harry. "We'll fix her up really good, put an anti-cap-sizing charm on her, and sail to Tahiti. Lord knows we'll need a vacation."
"Yeah," Hermione agreed. She reached out and patted the hull of the barge. "See you soon."
Harry and Ian mimicked her gesture and they all set off up the mountain.
Hermione, having the map, led them. She was pretty sure they had found the right loch, and working from that, they could find Hogwarts. She was trying her best to orient herself based on landmarks, matching mountains on the map with the ones she could see in the distance, trying to confirm where they were. She was less than confident in the results and proceeded to navigate by dead reckoning.
Harry, for the first time in days, found his mind unoccupied by anything more complicated than putting one foot in front of the other, and was thinking about more abstract and distant things. He wondered who had one the battle between Voldemort and the Martian Medusa. Voldemort would be the ideal winner. He was bad, but not omnicidal. When they arrived at Hogwarts, would Draco Malfoy be throwing a raucous party to celebrate the ultimate triumph of his ideals? Would he, Harry, have to admit, based on the physical evidence, that Wizard domination was superior? He reasoned that he wouldn't, for no other reason that, for reasons known only to himself, killing Harry was Voldemort's priority 1a. Voldemort, or more likely one of his followers, would also make sport of killing Hermione and Ian.
If Voldemort had been slain by the Martian Medusa, their eventual death was equally certain. When you gamed it all out, there weren't really any good choices. Maybe they should just turn around and sail to Tahiti, make the most of whatever time was left.
Finally, he wondered why the Martian's had come in the first place. Their technology was clearly superior to anything they had on Earth, possibly including magic. Presumably they could make anything, so what was here that they wanted? Besides for all the humans to be dead. Maybe that was it. It was just sport. After all, people, armed with weapons that beasts could never understand or defend against, hunt animals, which neither pose a threat nor fill a need for food. Perhaps, to a more advanced civilization, invading a planet was good fun.
"I think we should camp here," Hermione said, stopping.
Harry had no reason or inclination to disagree, so he began unpacking. The tent was much more comfortable now without fear of drowning. They relished freely moving about, and even using the bathroom with a closed door. They put more effort into dinner than they had since they left Liverpool, including a dietary inadvisable amount of dessert.
As they finished supper and cleaned, they sat around the table and stared at the silent radio. Turning it on now would only bring bad news one way or the other. Hermione, undyingly curious and not a Gryffindor for nothing, was the one to turn it on.
"The Wizard styling himself as Lord Voldemort," said the anchor, "along with many of his followers, perished in their attempt to defeat the invaders from Mars. The Martians are moving North, on what ministry officials believe to be a course for Hogwarts. At their current speed, they should arrive within the next few days…"
There was more, but it passed through Harry's brain without leaving a trace of information. Ian went into one of the bedrooms without a word. Hermione was the next one to get up, going into the other bedroom. It was a few moments later that Harry switched of the radio and got up. As he headed towards the bedrooms, Hermione's door cracked open.
"Who do you want to sleep with?" she asked him.
The bedroom was pitch dark. Harry could hear the low moan of the wind outside, feel the sheets on his skin, and the warmth of Hermione radiating next to him. They were both lying on their backs, ramrod straight, the space between them narrow, but meaningfully vacant. Neither had moved since they climbed into the bed.
"Do you…" Harry started, his voice dying in his throat. He rallied his courage and plowed on. "Do you want me to make love to you?" he asked.
"Yes," Hermione answered. "Do you want to make love to me?"
"Yes," Harry answered.
Logistically, it was all worked out. The problem, for Harry at least, that there were some questions still hanging. Did she want to have sex with someone because they were all probably going to die and she wanted the experience? Or did she want them to perform an act of love together?
As a teenage boy, Harry wanted to have sex, that part wasn't a big ask. He did want to have sex with Hermione, as she was physically attractive and also a woman. But he wasn't sure if that kind of relationship was something he wanted with Hermione, be it romantic, friends with benefits, or whatever. He knew he loved Hermione. The possibility of being in a more intimate relationship with her wasn't objectionable. There were all these little doubts of 'what if it ruins our friendship', 'what if it doesn't work out', and finally 'what if it means more to me than it means to her'.
These doubts shyly disappeared when Hermione took his hand and placed it on her naked stomach. His thumb traced a circle around her naval and the feel of her skin filled his veins with fire.
"Do you…have…any sexual experience?" she asked.
"Percy," Harry answered.
"What," she said. It was nominally a question, but her tone clearly stated that she wanted to un-know what she had just learned.
"The Dursleys, they never talked to me about sex," Harry began to explain. "When Percy found out, he took me aside and told me… everything."
"…everything?" asked Hermione.
"Yeah," confirmed Harry. "With diagrams and charts."
Hermione was dead quiet.
"But I've never…actually… been…intimate with anyone," Harry finished. He realized then that he should have just said that part first and the other part never.
"Me neither," said Hermione. She moved his hand up her body. Harry stopped breathing. His heart might have also stopped beating. His brain definitely stopped…whatever it was brains did. His instincts were in charge now.
Ian woke up, alone in his bed. He got dressed and stepped out into he main area where Harry and Hermione were already seated eating breakfast. They both wished him 'good morning' as he sat down and started serving himself bacon and eggs.
"How'd you sleep?" asked Hermione.
"You mean, did I hear both of you through the canvas walls this tent is made of?" asked Ian. "Yes, I did. Including the bit about Percy."
Harry and Hermione buried their faces in their hands and didn't speak through the rest of breakfast. The silence continued as they broke down the tent, and it last for hours into their hike. Hermione walked well ahead of Harry and Ian, who made no attempt to close the distance.
"Do you love her?" Ian asked Harry.
"Yes," Harry answered without hesitation.
"Like, love love her?" Ian pressed.
"I dunno," said Harry. "Maybe." And after some reflection: "Probably."
"She loves you," said Ian, confidently.
"She does now," said Harry, "while my only competition is you."
"That's how you know it's love," said Ian. "I'm way cuter than you."
They continued talking like that for the rest of the afternoon, even closing the distance with Hermione and including her in the banter.
It was as the sun was getting low that they saw their first meaningful landmark.
"It's a road!" said Hermione, unnecessarily as they stepped onto the wide and gravely path.
"Where does it lead?" asked Harry. He couldn't see anything in the distance where the road wound away into the hills.
"Does it matter?" asked Ian, who was already walking down the beaten path.
"No," admitted Hermione. "When we get to a town or village I'll finally know where we are and how to get to Hogwarts."
"If it leads to Hogsmeade you can skip that step," said Harry.
"True," said Hermione.
After a few hours, Harry was willing to bet that the road, contrary to all tenets of civil engineering, didn't actually lead anywhere. He wasn't proven wrong until they rounded the foothills of a mountain and he saw cottages in the distance.
"Finally," breathed Harry.
"Finally what?" asked Ian.
Harry looked at him dubiously. "Finally we've come to a town."
"What town?" asked Ian. "the road comes to a dead end."
Harry looked ahead. The road clearly continued, and there were clearly houses.
"It's Hogsmeade!" cried Hermione, who started running.
"How do you know?" asked Harry running after her. Personally, he didn't know Hogsmeade well enough to recognize it at a distance.
"Ian can't see it!" said Hermione. "It means the town has anti-muggle charms on it!"
"Oh!" said Harry, then stopped. "Will Ian be safe?"
"Yeah," said Ian, "Will Ian be safe?"
Ian, it turned out, was fine. He described it as stepping through a curtain. One minute he was staring at a lonely hillock, then he stepped across an invisible line and saw the village of Hogsmeade in front of him. The village was entirely deserted, which Harry had never seen and was quite put off by. The absence was explained by various poster tacked up on the buildings saying that everyone should proceed up the hill to Hogwarts castle. At the end of the high street, the castle came into view, but the would-be comforting sight of the place he had always thought of as home set Harry further on edge.
In preparation for the unwelcome visitors, every wizard in Britain had cast protective enchantments around the castle. They were so dense and powerful that they distorted the air and it was as if they were looking at Hogwarts through a pane of poorly made glass which bent the castle into weird and unnatural shapes.
No sooner had they come into view of the castle than a woman appeared next to them with a 'pop'. Ian jumped back behind Harry.
"Mrs. Finnegan?" said Hermione. When she did, Harry recognized the sandy-haired woman he had seen at the Quidditch World Cup.
Mrs. Finnegan's face fell as she took them in.
"Have you seen my Seamus?" she asked.
"No," said Hermione, "We haven't seen anyone in days."
"I see," she said, taking a ragged breath. "Come on then." She held her hands out and Harry and Hermione each took one, then both in turn grabbed Ian. That same moment, after another pop, they Apparated at the gates of Hogwarts. Ian stumbled away and vomited. Without another word, Mrs. Finnegan turned and walked into the gates.
They followed her inside and, as they did passed a man at a desk with a large ledger.
"Welcome," he said. "Names?" When he actually looked up and saw the scar, his whole demeanor changed. "Ah, it's you." He picked up a small bell on the table and gave it a ring. With a pop, a House Elf appeared next to him.
"Yes," the House Elf said in a squeaky voice.
"Can everyone just appear anywhere?" asked Ian. "And why weren't we doing it?"
"Tell Dumbledore that Potter is here," said the registrar, while writing in his ledger. "And who might you two be?" he asked as the elf disappeared.
There was a storm of cracks as a whole crowd of people Apparated in front of them. The first person introduced herself by hugging him so hard he shrunk significantly in volume.
"Harry dear!" Mrs. Weasley said. "We knew we'd see you again! And Hermione!" she moved on, but Harry didn't have a chance to reinflate his lungs before Sirius was upon him.
"Where were you?" Sirius asked. "Well, doesn't matter. You're here now." He finally stepped back and Harry saw the rest of the crowd. Lupin was there, so was Mr. Weasley, Tonks, with Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore standing farther back. Dumbledore, never a spring chicken, looked older than ever.
They walked up to the castle, Sirius and Mrs. Weasley hovering close, and explained to each other what had been going on. The castle was more full than Harry had ever seen it. Hogwarts had, in response to the emergency, converted to a hotel. Every room from the towers down to the dungeon had been filled with cots, bunkbeds, and hammocks. Every witch and wizard in Britain had come here for shelter. Well, almost every witch and wizard.
"Most of the muggle-born students are missing," said Lupin, sadly. "When this all started they didn't have access to the floo network or anything else. Dumbledore rallied all the professors and as many volunteers as he could to go the houses of every muggle-born student, but a lot of them had already left."
Harry's mind went to Colin and Dennis Creevy, and his year-mate Dean Thomas.
"What about Seamus?" asked Hermione. "Why isn't he here?"
"He was," said Lupin. "The Finnegans arrived a few days ago. When Seamus heard that Dean Thomas was missing, he went right back out again."
Harry looked to Hermione at this, she looked back at him.
"Ron's been trying to do the same to find you," said Sirius. "He, the Twins, Ginny keep trying to sneak out."
As he said the name, there was a tumble of footsteps coming to them from down the stairs.
They were swamped by a tide of gingers. Ron was upon them first, grabbing one in each arm and hugging them tightly. Harry hugged him back just as enthusiastically. Then Fred and George grabbed them from either side. Then Ginny. Even Percy joined in.
They were borne by the tide of Weasleys, each of them concurrently asking different questions. They were guided up several floors and down the Muggle Studies corridor to one of the smaller classrooms.
"This is our room," said Ron. "We're a large family, so we don't have to share. Well, except for your family."
"My what?" asked Harry as they went inside.
There were no desks in the classroom, probably transfigured into the bunks and other furniture that filled the room now. Seated around a table were the last three people Harry expected. Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley Dursley all rose as Harry entered. They stood staring dumbfounded at each other while everyone else filed in.
"When I first got word of the disaster," said Dumbledore behind Harry, "your home was the first place I went. I missed you, of course, but evacuated your relatives."
"Right," said Harry, "er, thanks."
A silence stretched on uncomfortably.
"We brought your stuff," said Dudley, finally, gesturing toward a trunk in the corner. "And your owl."
"Hedwig?" asked Harry, feeling a relief he didn't realize he'd been craving.
"Yeah," said Dudley. "She's out right now, but she flies up here at night." Harry saw the open cage standing by the open window.
"Good," said Harry. "Um, this is Hermione. And Ian."
"Hi," they both said.
"So," said Ian, for whom the awkwardness was a complete mystery. "Where do we sleep?"
The Weasleys had been keeping beds ready for Harry and Hermione. Room was made for Ian without much fuss. Mrs. Weasley brought food up from the kitchens, enough to be buried in, and they ate while the Weasleys filled them in.
"We struck out for Hogwarts the day that thing attacked London," said Ginny. "We were lucky. The Floo Network broke down shortly after we arrived. It's based out of the Ministry for Magic in London, so when that was destroyed, well…"
"The Ministry is based here now, though," said Ron. "Fudge is still Minister, technically, but Dumbledore is in charge. They've got a radio station set up in the Divination tower to get the word out that we're all supposed to meet up here. He also sends out patrols to see if they can find anyone, like the muggle-born students."
"What happened to Voldemort?" asked Harry.
No one at the table so much as blinked at the name. He wasn't worth the fear anymore.
"He gathered together all his followers and they attacked it while it was over Liverpool," said Bill.
"We must have just missed them," said Hermione dryly.
"No survivors," Bill continued. "According to Voldemort they attacked on brooms—"
"Wait," said Harry, "I thought there weren't any survivors."
"There weren't," said Charlie. "Voldemort's body was destroyed. Again. His soul is still here. Dumbledore rigged up something so they can talk."
Glossing over this weirdness, Bill continued. "They attacked on brooms, and they managed to get pretty close, but none of the spells they cast did any damage that they could see. And eventually the thing noticed they were there and tried to swat at them with it's tentacles. The brooms were too maneuverable though, so it couldn't hit them. Then… well, they died."
"Did you skip a part?" asked Harry.
"That's all he could tell us," said Mr. Weasley. "One moment he was flying through tentacles, the next he was no more than a ghost."
"And running back to Dumbledore like a kicked dog," said Fred.
"Did anyone else see what happened?" asked Hermione.
"Not that we know of," said Mr. Weasley. "We went to Liverpool… well, where Liverpool was, the next day. We didn't find any survivors, no one to tell us anything."
"So, it has some other kind of weapon," mused Harry. "That kills instantly, too quick to be seen. Or dodged."
"But then, why hasn't it been using that the whole time?" asked Ian. "Why bother wrecking things with it's tentacles when it can just shoot us with Death Rays?"
"Maybe people aren't its target," said Hermione. "Maybe they were always after the cities. If you want to exterminate ants, you don't squash them all individually. You destroy the nest. Cities are the focal point of our resources and infrastructure. People can evacuate, but without a permanent settlement, or things like farms and hospitals, they would all start to… die off. Never mind putting up an effective resistance; it would be an uphill battle just to find food."
"It still seems like a lot of trouble," said Ian. "They could have just, dropped nuclear warheads on us from space."
"Maybe they're planning on moving in," said Harry. "The rest of the Martians are going to come over and set up here once humanity is gone. They wouldn't want a bunch of radiation everywhere. If they wanted a planet that was dead and barren, they would just stay on Mars."
They continued to postulate and discus further into the night. As Dudley had promised, Hedwig came after the sunset, after which she refused to leave Harry's shoulder. As everyone settled in for bed, Harry and Hermione instead decided to take a walk. The halls were less busy at night. They meandered with no particular destination in mind.
Occasionally they bumped into people they knew. They met the Patil family as they were walking down the charms corridor, who were sharing a room with the Goldsteins. They received a pleasant shock when they met the Creevey Brothers. Colin and Dennis had, between the two of them, gotten their family to Hogwarts. Harry was so relieved to see Colin alive that he kissed him on the mouth.
They saw Draco Malfoy, staring out of a window morosely. They knew from the Weasleys that his father, Lucius Malfoy, had perished in Voldemort's failed attack. Hermione offered her condolences to him. Draco, his face looking uncharacteristically soft in the absence of a sneer, thanked her, then, surprisingly, asked about Hermione's own parents. Hermione shared that she had been separated from her parents, but knew them to be far out of the way of the path of destruction. Draco, not done being out of character, seemed glad that they were alright and wished them to be reunited soon. They walked on, pondering on the cataclysmic changes that the invaders had wrought to the landscape.
The final meeting that night was at the top of the Astronomy Tower. A new, gigantic telescope had been installed and was trained on the red planet, in case it had any other surprises. There was another telescope directed at the southern horizon, from which, if it was to come their way, the Martian Medusa would approach. It was on the top of this tower that Albus Dumbledore had come to brood. There was a green, glowing crystal ball floating next to him.
"Ah, hello Harry," Dumbledore greeted. "And you Ms. Granger." His eyes darted down to where their hands were joined, but he didn't remark on them. "I was just ruminating on our situation with Voldemort."
They crystal ball turned and Harry saw Voldemort's face formed of green vapor looking at them. "Good evening," he said in a voice that seemed to come out of a deep hole.
Harry and Hermione nodded hello.
"Can you see it?" asked Harry, gesturing at the telescope that was pointed south.
"It's not close," said Dumbledore. The word 'yet' hung unspoken at the end of his sentence. "It is heading north, but there are two muggle cities between us and it. Both evacuated. If it decides to stop there, that will buy us more time. We have fortified our location with various concealment charms. It may never notice us at all."
His words were optimistic, but his tone was not.
"I've just received word from Durmstrang," he continued. "I thought if Hogwarts was to be lost, we could escape further north. They denied my request."
"How could they?" said Hermione, incensed.
"They had good reason," said Dumbledore passively. "A different Martian craft is approaching them from the East. They're in as much danger as we are."
It had slipped Harry's mind that there were more of those things all over the planet. Being reminded did nothing for his mood.
"What about Beauxbaton?" Harry asked.
"From them I've heard nothing," said Dumbledore. "Neither from the ministries for Iceland, nor Canada. We can safely assume the worst."
They were quiet for a while, until Harry could put off the inevitable question no longer.
"If it comes here, what will we do?" Harry asked.
"I have many ideas," said Dumbledore. "And I don't have confidence in any of them."
Harry and Hermione left after that exchange.
"I can't believe it's going to end like this," said Hermione. "After everything we did to get here, it was all for nothing. That barge, all that food we made for the refugees, bringing Ian here. And we're still going to die here. All for nothing."
"I don't think so," said Harry. "Those refugees didn't have to suffer hunger. Ian got more time. The barge…" he paused. "The barge I could have done without. I got to make love to a beautiful woman." Hermione snorted. "I think it all mattered. We're going to die, but we were always going to die. Well, you might not have."
"Me?" asked Hermione.
"I figured you'd make a Philosopher's Stone eventually," said Harry offhandedly. "But the rest of us were always going to die. All we could do was use our time the best we could. I think we did our best. Well, except for the barge, but no one is perfect."
Harry was awoken by the sound of people cheering. He jackknifed up in bed, narrowly missing braining himself on the bunk above him and looked around the converted classroom. The Dursleys, plus Ian, were sitting at the table playing dominos and looking just as startled as he was. He hastily jammed himself in some clothes and, pants on backwards, went to investigate.
The only place in the castle that could hold a crowd was the Great Hall, presumably that's where the cheering came from. On the stairs and in the hallways on his way, he passed people who looked just as clueless as to the cause of the ruckus, muttering urgently to each other. Some of them tried to stop Harry to ask him what had happened. The atmosphere changed drastically once he reached the first floor. People were laughing, crying, dancing, hugging, kissing, singing, and various combinations thereof.
He tried to find a friendly face to pump for information. Pushing his way through the jubilant crowd, he caught site of a familiar stuffed vulture perched on a hat. Its wearer, Augusta Longbottom, was jumping up and down in a jubilant if undignified manner.
"Um, Ms. Longbottom?" he tapped her shoulder.
"Harry, my boy!" Ms. Longbottom gripped him in a one-armed hug with force unexpected from a rail-thin old lady. "Have you heard?"
"No, tell me," said Harry.
"The news just came through on the Muggle radio," she said. "The Muggle Studies professor has been keeping it set up because that's the only working source of news. They just broadcast that two of the Martians were destroyed."
Harry suddenly felt like he was fifty feet in the air. "Really?"
"One in Brazil and one in China," said Ms. Longbottom. From the direction of the Great Hall, another cheer erupted with a force to rattle the teeth. "Ah, sounds like another one!"
"But how?" said Harry. The British Martian Medusa was still bearing down on them and he would love to add its carcass to the pile.
"They don't know," said Ms. Longbottom. "They both just… collapsed."
Harry didn't believe it. It was contrary to all he'd seen so far. They had crossed the gulf of space, grown larger than any building, laid waste to cities, killed the most powerful dark wizard who ever lived. Granted, he had done that last one himself a few times, but still…
He was deprived of any more of the scant information she had by the voice of Albus Dumbledore. It came to Harry and everyone else magically, as clearly as if Dumbledore was standing at arm's reach.
"The Martian Medusa is visible in the distance," Dumbledore said. "It is coming towards Hogwarts. Take shelter or flee as you are able. Anyone wishing to fight should join me on the towers and ramparts."
With an audible crack, Ms. Longbottom's mood fell from jubilant to morose. "Can't have anything nice," she said, pulling out her wand and stalking up the nearest staircase.
Harry, fighting against a torrent of panicking people, made his way back to the Weasley's room. He got there to find the Dursley's huddled together, looking terrified. Dudley had Ian's smaller body clutched in his lap.
"Are we gonna die?" asked Ian.
"Not while I'm here you won't," said Harry, he kissed the top of Ian's head and put his pants on the right way while he waited for the others to arrive.
Hermione, Percy, and Bill arrived simultaneously coming from the library. The rest of the family, Remus, and Lupin arrived over the next few seconds. The last to arrive was Charlie, who had been on the grounds helping Hagrid with the panicking Centaurs.
"Ok," said Mr. Weasley. "There's a Terrace on the floor above us. It faces south. It's a good place for us to defend from. Ginny, Ron, Harry, Hermione, take the Muggles to the dungeons and shelter there.
"Bugger that," they said.
"We're fighting, too," said Harry. "Ginny can take them down."
"Hey!" she said.
"Then she can come back up," Harry amended.
"Thank you," she said.
Molly Weasley looked like she was about to lecture them, so they dodged around her and out the door.
They ran up to the next floor, Molly Weasley's shrill voice following close behind them. They came out onto a terrace into bright sunlight. Harry had expected the Martian Medusa come bring its usual entourage of rain and lightning. He walked up to the parapet and looked into the distance to see the gigantic form on the horizon, gradually growing as it came closer.
"I've never seen it before," said Ron, next to them.
"We have," said Harry. "Twice."
"And it didn't look like that," finished Hermione.
It was the same size and shape as it had been, but the light from with was faded, the bright colors had darkened, the opalescent tentacles had turned chalky.
"It looks…" started Harry, but the sentence was too ludicrous to finish.
"Sick," finished Hermione.
Harry thought about the defeated Martians they just got word of; the ones that had perished with no explanation besides a shrug and a 'why not'. He was seized by an insane impulse to investigate and ran back their room. He burst in and dashed to his trunk the Dursleys had brought with them.
"What are you doing?" asked Hermione from the door. In his haste, he hadn't noticed her following him.
"I need to get closer," he said, finding and extracting his Firebolt. He made sure the window was open and straddled his broom. Rather than point out the shortsighted and dangerous nature of his plan, Hermione got on behind him, securing her arms around his waist.
They zoomed out the window and toward the Martian Medusa. Harry was fairly sure he heard McGonagall behind them screaming 'POTTER!'. They were upon the Martian Medusa and circling it in a matter of seconds. It didn't appear to notice them. No tentacles took swipes at them, and they weren't struck dead by invisible death rays. Up close, the individual clouds of color could be seen in greater detail. It reminded Harry of the pictures he'd seen of nebulae. It must have been something beautiful to behold when it first arrived, but now the light and colors were fading. They seemed to be shrinking and flickering before his eyes.
He guided his broom down on top of the main body of the craft. It was so large that they could stand on the top without worrying about sliding down the side. They alighted on top and found the surface as unyielding as stone, yet it was still undulating in gentle, giant waves, like a colossal water bed. Besides the undulating motion, Harry felt smaller tremors passing up through his legs from the body, as if the thing was shivering. He knelt down and placed his hand flat against crystalline surface. It felt like scales to the touch and slightly warm from the morning sun.
There was something else though. Something grainy, and crawling. Then he saw small dots moving around on the back of his hand. He stood up and held his hand up to inspect it. Tiny, painfully tiny things were crawling on his skin, barely perceptible to touch. He squinted at them, willed his vision to be more precise, and then saw shapes that he recognized. Shapes he knew well, for he had studied them exhaustively. He held his hand out to Hermione, and when she saw it understanding an awe spread across her face.
Then, without any preamble, the shivering of the Martian Medusa stopped. Harry wasn't sure what it meant, but Harry's instincts grabbed Hermione and secured the broom between his legs. At the same time he lifted off, the body they had been standing on started falling down. As Harry and Hermione rose higher they had a comprehensive view of the Martian craft falling to Earth. Whatever force that held it aloft had failed. Its tonnage hit the earth with such force that they saw the ground ripple and even though they were hundreds of meters in the air, they felt the tremor.
Nestled in its dust cloud, the jet black body of the once colorful and beautiful terror lay motionless, and the last gray flicker of light within died.
From his vantage point on the Astronomy Tower, Dumbledore watched the craft fall to earth. The tower shook and swayed from the force of the impact. There was total silence. Then there was wild cheering. Professors McGonagall and Snape were jumping and cheering. Professor Sprout was weeping, though not as much as Minister Fudge. Dumbledore kept his eyes trained on the fallen carcass, focusing on a dot in the sky which crew bigger as it approached. As Harry and Hermione on the Firebolt became clearly visible to everyone, the crowd broke into fresh cheers and applause. Dumbledore and his colleagues stepped back to give them space to land.
"What happened?" asked Dumbledore as they dismounted the Firebolt.
In answer, Hermione handed him a stoppered phial. Dumbledore held it up and he, and all those gathered, leaned in to inspect the contents. At first glance, it was empty. This was mostly the case, save for a few infinitesimal dots that were scuttling around on the glass.
"What are they?" asked Fudge, squinting.
"Chizpurfles," said Harry.
"Chizpurfles?" asked Fudge. "Those bugs that eat magic?"
"Magic," confirmed Harry. "But they've also been known to eat electricity. And destroy the things that use both."
As it had with Harry and Hermione, understanding came upon the gathered witches and wizards like a flood bursting from a dam.
The Chizpurfles were a well known pest among wizards, who took steps to limit their numbers. They were totally unknown to muggles, who had never the less been building all their electronics defensively against them, for no other reason than experience told them that certain configurations were prone to mystery failures and other configurations were more reliable. These strategies had kept the Chizpurlfes at bay, then the Martians had attacked.
The first link in the chain of their undoing had been the sabotage of muggle electricity. When the power failed in the wake of the Martian Medusa, the Chizpurfles had been deprived of what sustenance they had, and began looking for a new source of nourishment. The only detectable source of power for kilometers was the invaders' craft.
It may have infested by any number of roving Chizpurfles. It may have been found by only one. It may have contracted them at any point during it's rampage. But at that point, it was doomed.
Chizpurfles were unknown to Martians. The architects of the craft had not designed any feature to resist them. So, the Chizpurlfes swarmed and multiplied on the surface of the Martian Medusa, an unlimited supply of sustenance at their disposal. They were like dessert plants, adapted to life in an unforgiving wasteland, transplanted to lush riverside. They had, as they spread out across the surface, found some way to get inside the craft, some infinitesimal chink in the armor or minor gap made by a moving plate, and once inside, the feast they thought they'd found was merely the appetizer for what lay within. Like bacteria profusing a defenseless host, they fed, multiplied, consumed, and eventually destroyed.
The knowledge came too late for action. The wizards of Britain fielded the idea of cultivating the Chizpurfles and seeding the remaining craft with them, but the Chizpurfles were ahead of them. The three invaders that had fallen earlier were quickly followed by their comrades all over the world. Every hour for the rest of the day bought news that more Martian craft had fallen, with no help from anyone else. The final craft to fall was in the Philippines. It drifted off course on it's way to Manilla and collapsed into the bay before it could reach the city.
The human race, united first by a common threat and then by a shared victory, celebrated at a duration and intensity unequaled in recorded history. To those who knew nothing of Chizpurfles, the 'how's and 'why's of the Martian's downfall were unimportant details, to be investigated in the future they were now confident in having. The present was for partying. The people of Hogwarts were no exception. Butterbeer was poured out in rivers. Music filled every hallway right down to the Chamber of Secrets. One of the towers collapsed from the force of the dancing. Harry made love to Hermione several more times. They dimly recalled a third person joining in at one point, but such was their inebriation that neither could say whom.
In truth, the Martians had not done much damage. Dozen of cities had been destroyed and millions of people killed, but this was nothing to the thousands of cities still standing and the billions of people still alive. The Martian craft were totally defeated, their masters on a distant planet, growing more distant by millions of miles every day as the opposition of Mars ended.
The carcasses of the invaders were descended upon by scientists and engineers, like vultures at a feast. They began what was both a dissection and mining operation. They had anticipated an interior layout like an earth ship, with engines, different rooms, sections dedicated to specific functions, and the Martian crew, perhaps still living and barricaded inside, perhaps lying dead at the helm. Instead, they found under a meter thick outer shell was a homogenous crystalline structure. Biologists compared it to the structure of a brain, only the neurons were the size of spider webs. The final shock was that, even though they excavated the entirely of the craft, there were no Martian pilots.
The Medusa's were sufficiently complex enough to think and operate on their own power. The Martians sent them ahead of their own arrival on Earth to exterminate any pesky humans that would resist their colonization.
This was a blow to the anthropologists and diplomats who hoped to gain some insight into the Martian culture. It was certainly a disappointment to those in the military who hoped to gain some tactical information. Whatever disappointment these groups suffered was nothing compared to the invigoration of the engineers. The opportunity to study such a sublime machine, to even be able to reverse engineer a fraction of it, would advance technology by decades. Harnessing the means to grow a gigantic automaton meant that they could easily replace the cities that had been destroyed, even improve upon them.
However, harnessing this technology, rebuilding the cities with it, was a distant dream, and it would come too late for the millions of displaced refugees around the world, and as the current opposition of Mars ended, the next one approached. Knowing this, others made their own plans to bring relief to he beleaguered, and prepare their world for whatever was to come.
Not even a week after the fall of the Martian Medusa, Minister Fudge, Albus Dumbledore, and their respective retinues marched down from Hogwarts Castle to Hagrid's hut, where one of the school carriages was being loaded up with crates by various red-heads.
"The nodes, girl," Dumbledore heard the echoing voice of Voldemort, "expand the nodes."
"I am expanding the nodes," he heard Hermione answer. "I don't want the sides of the carriage to split."
"The containment will hold for twice this expansion," Voldemort countered. "Be brave, Gryffindor."
As Dumbledore got closer, he saw Fred and George Weasley carrying in a box that was longer than the carriage. From this he gathered that Voldemort was giving instructions to make the interior expand to cavernous proportions. Harry stepped out of the carriage, consulting a checklist.
"Mr. Potter," said Fudge, bustling up him. "Look, we heard what you're planning and it's just not on. I understand you want to help, but this is just not on."
"I, on the other hand," cut in Professor McGonagall, "have heard nothing. Explain yourself, Potter."
"We're bringing supplies to the refugee camps," said Harry. "Food, water, shelter, clothing. We can replicate them magically as needed. We'll be feeding them as well as healing the sick and injured. Eventually, we'll be able to help them rebuild real houses and anything else they might need."
"Yes, yes," blustered Fudge. "It's all very noble, but you can't just go into a crowd of muggles and start doing such obvious magic. We have to maintain the International Statute of Secrecy."
"What we do won't violate the International Statue of Secrecy," said Harry confidently.
"You can't be sure—" started Fudge.
"Because we're going to tell them," finished Harry.
"that you won't… wait, what?" said Fudge.
"We're going to tell them everything," said Harry. "Magic, Wizards, Dragons, all of it."
"You…you…" Fudge sputtered.
"Potter," said McGonagall softly as Fudge fell off his axis. "Our secrecy is the only thing that protects us—"
"From what?" asked Harry, "From what I can see, the only thing it's protected us from is accountability. We've had good fun baiting muggles; some of us killed them for sport. Then when they could have used some magical help we were no where to be found. We retreated to our castle. And what good did our secrets do then? That thing was headed right for us. If it had lasted another few minutes…" he trailed off and let their imaginations do the rest.
"That's… all very true," McGonagall admitted. "But you can't make a decision with such large implications without first—"
"The next opposition of Mars is two years away," Hermione interrupted the professor, a first for her. "We will need every second of that time to prepare. Working separately from the Muggles didn't work; we were both whipped out; helpless."
"Very true," said Voldemort, his crystal ball drifting out of the carriage. Being killed a second time had done wonders for his humility.
"But now we know their weakness," Fudge rallied. "We just need to cultivate a reserve of Chizpurfles—"
"And if they've learned from this failure and the next wave is Chizpurfle proof?" asked Hermione. "Or if they just decide to bombard us with orbital missiles? If we're going to have any chance of surviving the next opposition, we'll have to work together. Starting yesterday."
Fudge sputtered for a little longer, trying to get a handle on the conversation, failed, and finally resorted to brute strength.
"I forbid it!" he spat. "I am the Minister for Magic and I forbid it! Aurors, arrest these people!"
No one moved.
Fudge looked around helplessly, then reached for his own wand. A few seconds later he was face-planted in the grass, unconscious, and the loading of the carriage continued.
"I'm coming with you," said Mrs. Finnegan. "I'm done waiting around for my Seamus. I'll have a better chance finding him out there." She climbed into the carriage.
"I want to come, too," said Ian, who had arrived, accompanied by the Dursleys. "I can help."
"Not… yet," Hermione qualified. "We don't know how dangerous it'll be at first. You can come once we're settled."
"But—" Ian started to object.
"Don't worry," said Harry. "They'll still be plenty of work waiting for you. We won't finish it all before you get there." He knelt down and took Ian's face in his hands. "We'll put your picture up in the camps and try and find your parents. Then, when things quiet down, we can all take that trip to Tahiti."
Ian gulped and nodded.
"My family will take care of you," said Harry. His unpleasant childhood flashed briefly before his eyes, and he looked up to where the Dursleys were standing. "You will, won't you?"
"Yes, of course," said Vernon. Dudley nodded. He had, despite a lifelong pattern, been quite nice to Ian. This whole event had forged some strange alliances.
After a few more preparations, and the name 'Tahiti II' had been painted on the side of the carriage, they were ready to leave. The entirety of the Weasley family was on board, with Charlie sitting on the roof, holding the reigns that led to two thestrals. Harry, Hermione, Mrs. Finnegan, Remus, and Sirius completed the crew. When Dobby heard about the mission of mercy, he had packed his various socks and come on board as well. Voldemort had volunteered to join them, but Dumbledore vetoed the idea.
"This is a two way mirror," said Sirius, handing a thin parcel to Dumbledore. "We'll use it to keep in touch with you."
"Or we'll send Hedwig," said Harry. "You want to come? We could probably find some use for you."
Dumbledore chuckled at this. "I believe I can do more good here," he waved his hand at the Hogwarts grounds were the rest of the school carriages were parked at intervals. Harry's idea had caught on with a sympathetic populace, and various witches and wizards were enchanting and loading the carriages, preparing to go to the various refugee camps set up around the UK. Voldemort was floating around giving out pointers for optimizing the undetectable extension charm, eager to earn enough goodwill to petition being released from the paperweight he was trapped in.
"This rabble needs someone to keep it organized," Dumbledore continued. "But I hope to join you in the field soon. And I will make ready to liaise with the Muggle Ministry, whenever they wish to talk."
After a final goodbye, Harry and Sirius boarded the carriage. Voldemort had, for once, used his magical knowledge productively. The carriage was as spacious and comfortable as any cruise ship. There were cabins for various purposes from potion mixing, to individual quarters. It had enough supplies in storage to sustain hundreds for weeks, even before magical duplication.
As Harry reached his and Hermione's cabin, he heard Charlie's magically transmitted voice.
"We're taking off," Charlie said. "Brace yourself."
There was a slight jostle as Harry sat down at the table across from Hermione, who was already ensconced in her nest of books.
"We can still go to the refugee camp in Wales," said Harry. "Find your parents."
The day before, they had sent Hedwig to deliver a letter to the Grangers, hoping that whatever magic which had thus far always enabled her to find the addressee worked during this crisis.
"The radio reports that the camps in Dublin are the most in need," Hermione said, without looking up. "And we'll be in a good place there to help them search for survivors in Liverpool. Professor Burbage is taking a carriage to Wales; once both of us are established and I get the hang of Apparating, I can go back and forth easily."
"We can take the Firebolt," suggested Harry. "The minute we hear anything, or when we get an answer from Hedwig.
"Right," said Hermione, looking up finally, a sad smile on her lips. "I'm not worried. I know I'll see them again soon."
Harry, who detected a lie of sorts, didn't comment, instead, reached out and took her hand. None of them knew what they'd discover going forward. The future, always difficult to predict, had gone completely off the rails. All they could do was the next right thing. All they had was each other. That was enough.