HARRY POTTER AND THE ETERNAL BOUNDARY
A Harry Potter / Planescape crossover
This story and all original materials are © 2012 Rick Summon.
Harry Potter and all related materials are © and ® J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros.
Dungeons and Dragons, Planescape, and all related materials are © and ® Wizards of the Coast.
Pathfinder and all related materials are © and ® Paizo Publishing.
Planescape: Torment and all related materials are © and ® Black Isle Studios.
So, I established all those rules at the beginning of the last chapter, but I still haven't answered the original question yet. Would Umbridge survive if Phoebe cast a lightning bolt at her or not?
To answer this question, we need to know Umbridge's hit points, and for that, we need to know her level and Constitution score. In order for her to get a job at the Ministry, one assumes she had to graduate from Hogwarts, so she must be at least 7th level. But, she's clearly not very powerful as evidenced by the fact that she could not dispel Fred and George's pranks in Order of the Phoenix. However, I'll be generous and say Umbridge is an 8th-level wandmage. She's a middle-aged human whom no one could confuse with an athlete, so I'll say her Constitution is an average 11. Based on this information, Umbridge has 38 hit points. Now for the violence.
Phoebe is a 10th-level spellcaster, so a lightning bolt cast by her would inflict 10d6 damage; this means we roll 10 six-sided dice and add them up. Umbridge gets a Reflex saving throw to attempt to reduce this damage by half. I'll say her Dexterity is also 11, so her Reflex bonus is +2. Lightning bolt is a 3rd-level spell and Phoebe's Intelligence is 24 (+7 bonus), so the saving throw DC is 10 + 3 + 7 = 20. Umbridge must roll an 18 or better to succeed; she has a 15% chance to do so. If she does, the lightning bolt cannot inflict more than 30 damage, and, therefore, cannot kill Umbridge by itself.
If she fails the saving throw, you might assume that the bolt must inflict 38 damage to kill her. Not quite. At 0 hit points, a character is ready to collapse; at -1 hit point, she's unconscious and dying. To be dead, Umbridge must have negative hit points equal to her Constitution score; therefore, the bolt must inflict 49 damage to kill her instantly. But let's not quibble over a few hit points here; assume she's standing on the edge of a lava pit or something and falls right in if the bolt knocks her unconscious. For that, the lightning bolt must inflict at least 39 damage.
So, what's the probability of rolling a total of 39 or higher on 10 six-sided dice? Well, that's easy. Everyone knows it's the sum as p goes from 39 to 60 and k goes from 0 to (p-10)/6 rounded down of (-1)^k times the binomial coefficient of (10, k) times the binomial coefficient of (p-6k-1, 9) divided by 60,466,176. But if you're not a member of the Fraternity of Order, then trust me when I say it's 26.1%.
Finally, we just need to multiply that by the 85% chance of failing the saving throw for a Total Death Probability™ (TDP™) of 22.2%! There you have it!
(If she survives, we'll probably dump her in the lava pit anyway, but we'll give her a chance to beg for mercy first. It's only fair.)
There are worlds beyond the world that you know.
Other universes, dimensions — the Planes of Existence.
From the Sevenfold Heavens to the Nine Pits of Hell;
From the Endless Waters to the Silvery Void;
From the perfect Order to the howling Chaos to the limits of reality itself — and beyond.
At the center of them all lies Sigil, the City of Doors, where belief has the power to control… the Planescape.
Chapter 8: Love, Sex, Intelligence
As he waited, Harry sipped his tea and relaxed in his chair, which was, indeed, very comfortable. After a few minutes of wriggling his toes on the carpet, he saw movement on the staircase at the back of the room. As Hermione and Ginny emerged, Harry suddenly felt very grateful he was wearing glasses to keep his eyeballs from popping out of their sockets.
Hermione's outfit consisted of purple strips of cloth attached to her neck which crossed over her chest and wrapped around her hips and thighs. Ginny's ensemble was much the same, but in a deep red color that matched her hair. While Hermione looked as if she was fighting the urge to cover herself, Ginny had a lively bounce in her step as if she suddenly felt lighter without the burden of clothing.
At that thought, Harry blushed and swallowed heavily. He realized he'd almost never seen either of the girls before without long-sleeved jumpers, long pants or skirts, or school robes; after all, the climate at Hogwarts wasn't exactly favorable for beachwear. As such, he'd never noticed before just how… fit… Ginny was. If there'd been an ounce of misplaced fat on her, the barely-there outfit would have made it obvious; yet, try as he might, Harry couldn't find even one such bulge. There were, however, two bulges on her chest that seemed to draw his eyes like magnets.
Blimey… no wonder Dean Thomas is going out with her! As his eyes drifted back to Ginny's chest, Harry laughed to himself as he remembered the little girl he'd rescued from the Chamber of Secrets. I think those prove she's not a little girl anymore. It's a good thing Ron doesn't know Legilimency or I'd be a dead man!
As Harry tore his eyes away from Ginny to glance at Ron, he could see that his friend's attention seemed to be focused on other matters… namely, the two lumps of matter attached to Hermione's chest. Bloody hell, mate; if that doesn't convince you to ask her out, nothing will!
An idea suddenly occurred to Harry as to why Hermione seemed nervous while Ginny did not. Despite being younger, Ginny had already gone out on dates with two boys (though, despite what Ron seemed to think, not at the same time). Apart from her brief — and, thanks to Ron, eventful — appearance at the Yule Ball with Viktor Krum, Hermione had never gone out on a date before and wasn't used to the idea that boys might actually find her attractive.
Harry smiled as he realized why Grace had dared Hermione to wear the outfit. Despite her nervousness, Hermione really wanted Ron to find her attractive — and, based on his reaction, she definitely didn't disappoint. Harry had to admit Ginny certainly wasn't disappointing him either, though he figured it was probably for the best that she already had a boyfriend. Otherwise, he didn't think he could resist the temptation to ask her out himself — and he wasn't sure he wanted to know how Ron would react to that.
He briefly wondered how Grace had managed to figure this out despite only having met them a few minutes ago. He then smiled at the thought that his friends' mutual attraction was blindingly obvious to everyone in the planes except them. But, judging by the fact that Ron and Hermione's faces were now as red as Ron's hair… Harry guessed that there were no longer any exceptions to this rule.
As the girls stood in front of the group, Ginny did a little pirouette while Hermione folded her arms over her chest. Ginny frowned, then smacked her friend lightly on the arm. "Hermione, don't be shy. You're a Gryffindor, remember? You have nothing to fear."
Hermione smiled nervously, then held out her arms and turned around slowly. As she turned back to face Ron, her voice trembled. "W-Well? H-How do we look?"
Harry deliberately fixed his gaze on Hermione's eyes, then Ginny's. "Hermione… Ginny… both of you look gorgeous."
Ginny's grin widened while Hermione's blush deepened. Ron jerked his eyes up at Hermione and stammered. "Y-Yeah, Hermione! I've never seen you look so… so… great!"
Hermione's nervousness seemed to disappear abruptly as she frowned at Ron's awkward phrasing. James, however, was quick to intervene. "Ron meant to say that, of course, you've always looked great; he simply lacks the words to describe how the sight of your flawless skin astounds him."
"Yeah!" exclaimed Ron. "Yeah, that's right! You've always looked like that, Hermione! Of course!"
Hermione laughed as the tension seemed to melt away from her body. "Ron, I sincerely doubt I've ever looked quite like this before in my life. I mean, I've never even worn a two-piece bathing suit before!"
She paused. "Now that I think about it, there really isn't much difference between this and a bathing suit anyway. I guess it was pretty silly of me to get all worked up about it."
Grace smiled at her. "Not at all. It's only natural to be nervous when trying something new. The only question is whether or not you will let that stop you."
Hermione nodded firmly. "You're right. I was nervous, but I did it." She paused. "But, er… what do we do now?"
"Well, now that you two are dressed for the part," said Grace, "I thought it might be nice for you to experience what we do here first-hand."
"If I might venture a suggestion?" said James. "Mr. Weasley is said to be quite proficient at chess. Perhaps Miss Granger might do him the honour of putting his abilities to the test." He frowned slightly and shook his head. "Ah, no, that won't work; I'm afraid we don't have enough time for them to play a full game."
"Not to worry," said Grace. She gestured to her left. "Hermione, you and Ron can go to Room #3 over there. There's a chess set in the chest next to the table, as well as a book that lists famous chess endgames. Perhaps one of those would be appropriate for your remaining time. Ginny, you and Harry can go to Room #6 and engage in a bit of lively debate."
Ginny frowned slightly. "Debate? Well, what would we debate about?"
"Well… how about the house elf issue?" said Harry. "It's probably better for us to debate it since Hermione's a little too involved in that topic."
"Well, of course I'm involved, Harry," said Hermione, "and you should be too! House elves are people; they don't deserve to be treated like slaves!" She paused, then laughed. "But, you're right. Whenever Ron and I 'discuss' that, it always turns into a shouting match. Maybe you two will be able to give the topic the dignified debate it deserves."
"Yeah, better you than me, mate," said Ron.
"Better?" Hermione raised her eyebrows. "We'll see who's better when I beat you at our little game."
"Oh, come on, Hermione; you've never been able to beat me at chess before!"
Hermione grinned wickedly. "Oh, but this time, I think I might have an additional… advantage." She turned around slowly, giving Ron a good view of her backside. "Let's find out if Grace's theory is correct, shall we?"
Ron swallowed hard. "Er… hey, wait a minute. Is Lessia still in the bath?"
"Oh, yes," said Ginny, "and she looks like she couldn't be happier. I only hope she doesn't fall asleep in there and drown."
"She won't drown," said Hermione. "That tub has a place for her head that prevents it from sliding down. If she does fall asleep, the only thing she'll have to worry about is looking like a prune."
"Oh, that won't be a problem either," said Grace. "We mix an alchemical solution with the bathwater specifically to prevent that from happening."
"Wow, you really think of everything," said Ginny. "It's too bad we didn't have time for a bath as well."
"Well, this place isn't really set up as a bathhouse," replied Grace. "If you're looking for that, may I suggest an establishment in the Guildhall Ward known as 'The Other Place'. I'm sure Mr. Black is familiar with it."
"Quite so," said James. "They don't just offer baths there, but a full range of massages and herbal treatments for the hair and skin. We'll have to schedule an appointment on your next trip here. Believe me, you won't regret it."
"Is that the place where you stole the rich kid's clothes?" asked Tonks.
"No, I would never have gotten away with that there; they have better security."
Hermione frowned. "You stole someone's clothes?"
"When I was ten, my dear," replied James. "The statute of limitations has long since expired. And don't worry; that won't happen here either, so you needn't fear for your modesty when we leave."
Hermione laughed. "If I wore this outside, I'd freeze before I had time to worry about modesty!" She shivered. "Goodness, I feel cold just thinking about it!"
"Well, it's a good thing you weren't here a few years ago," said Grace. "The Tempus Sigilian once published an article about my establishment which not only brought in many new customers, but also sparked an inexplicable fashion trend. Upper-class women in this ward and elsewhere began wearing such outfits as their everyday attire."
"That's mental!" said Ginny. "How did they avoid freezing?"
"Some of them wore cloaks when they were actually outside. Others simply pretended not to be cold as long as they could, then ducked into buildings and warmed themselves when they thought no one was looking."
Hermione smiled and shook her head. "Somehow I doubt that particular fashion trend lasted very long."
"Mercifully, it did not," replied Grace, "though it wasn't because of the cold. My girls' outfits are professionally designed to allow proper fit. Back then, many women bought inferior copies of those designs, which had an unfortunate tendency to, shall we say, slip."
Tonks laughed. "Merlin's beard! So, where do you get official Brothel wear around here?"
"A tailor named Goncalves makes them; his shop is only a few blocks from here. If you're interested, tell him I sent you; he'll give you 10% off his usual rate."
"Thank the Powers that Lessia didn't hear you say that," said Zanton. "She'd be halfway to the shop before you finished the sentence."
Grace smiled. "Yes, she is quite a fashion enthusiast, isn't she?"
"Everyone needs a vice," said James, "and that one's fairly harmless as long as you're rich. But, let's not delay our Brothelettes any longer." He glanced at Hermione and Ginny. "It's time for you two to get to work! You've got customers waiting!"
Ginny took Harry's hand. "Well, come on, customer. Let's stop waiting and get to debating!"
As Hermione and Ron walked away to begin their game, Harry and Ginny went to Room #6 and closed the door. Inside was a small wooden table covered with a red velvet cloth as well as two comfortable-looking chairs. Ginny sat down, folded her arms on the table in front of her, and smiled.
"Well, Harry, why don't you start. Tell me why you think house elves should be freed."
Harry sat down across from her. "Well… I guess because they're people. It's just wrong to keep a person as your slave. I mean, the Muggles abolished slavery in England in the early 19th century, and, since then, every other country has done so as well. Why should the wizarding world remain so far behind the times?"
Ginny nodded. "That's all well and good when you're talking about humans, but house-elves are different. They may be people, but they're not human."
"That doesn't make them any less than us."
Ginny held up her hand. "I didn't say that. What I'm saying is that they're different from humans; they think differently than we do. Hermione doesn't get that; she thinks she's William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln rolled up into one."
She smiled at Harry's surprised expression. "Yes, Harry, I actually went to a Muggle library and read about the history of slavery after Hermione pestered me to join SPEW for the umpteenth time. I figured books would be the best way to understand where she was coming from. I mean, I hate to say Hermione 'means well,' because that sounds like a backhanded insult, but she — and you — weren't raised in the wizarding culture. The relationship between a house-elf and a wizarding family is nothing like the slavery Muggles used to practise."
"Yeah, but, how can you say that, knowing what the Malfoys used to do to Dobby? I mean, they forced him to iron his hands as a punishment!"
"See, Harry, that's exactly what I'm talking about! The only elves you know — apart from Phoebe, I suppose — are Dobby and Winky, both of whom come from abusive families. Oh, and, of course, there's Kreacher, who's been alone in that house for years with no one but a horrible painting for company. They're not exactly what you would call normal examples. I mean, of course it's wrong for wizards to abuse and degrade their elves, but that's not the way the relationship is supposed to work. Would you think it was wrong for a Muggle to have a butler or a maid?"
"But, Ginny, butlers and maids get paid. If they don't like their employer, they can quit."
"But an elf does get a reward for his service, even if it's not in the form of gold. House-elves bond themselves to wizards because the bond sustains and strengthens their magic."
Harry blinked in surprise. "What? I never knew that."
Ginny sighed. "You didn't know because that's not something Hogwarts teaches. It's the sort of thing wizarding families teach their children."
"Well, why doesn't Hogwarts teach that? They know perfectly well not every student is a pureblood."
"Harry, come on. Why do you think?"
Harry sighed. "Because pureblood supremacists like Malfoy don't want them to."
"Of course not. They don't want half-bloods and Muggle-borns to know about wizarding culture because it makes it easier for them to look down on you."
Harry smiled. "So, they want to keep us Clueless, huh?"
Ginny laughed. "Exactly. I mean, it works the other way around as well. I read things in that library that astounded me, things I'd never heard of before in my life. Now, why doesn't Muggle Studies teach us any of that? Same reason. Wizards are awesome, Muggles stink, and no one should ever learn anything that makes them question that."
"Wow, Ginny; it sounds like you're pretty passionate about this issue."
"Yeah, I guess our debate has changed direction, now, hasn't it?" She paused. "I mean, take Dad, for example. He always says he wants to know more about Muggles, but what has he actually done? If his fondest dream is to learn what holds airplanes up, why doesn't he just go the library and read about it?"
"Well, I tried, but, as it turns out, most Muggles don't know what holds airplanes up, either. I mean, the books I read either said such-and-such explanation is wrong without really explaining the right answer, or they were filled with squiggly lines and Greek letters that must be the Muggle equivalent of ancient runes or something."
Ginny laughed. "What I'm saying is, wizards either pride themselves on not knowing about Muggles, or, like Dad, pride themselves on what little they do know without actually knowing how little that is. Does that make sense?"
Harry smiled. "I think so. Essentially, you're saying the Statute of Secrecy shouldn't work both ways."
"Exactly! There is no reason wizards can't learn to integrate more effectively into Muggle society! That would not only soften the prejudice against Muggles and Muggle-borns in wizarding society, but it would also improve our ability to keep magic a secret. I mean, you've seen what some of those old purebloods wear when they're trying to go 'undercover'! If more wizards knew about something as basic as ordinary Muggle clothes, it would be a lot easier for them to avoid standing out."
Ginny sighed. "The problem is, I don't know if we're even going to have that chance with the Death Eaters doing their damndest to expose us! The last time, the Muggles could explain away magical deaths as a gas explosion or something, but the Death Eaters are going farther than they ever did before. They sent a giant to attack a Muggle town, for heaven's sake! Do you have any idea how hard it was for the Ministry to cover that up? And you know the DEs are just getting started. What will happen when a Dark Mark appears above Buckingham Palace?"
Harry shook his head. "Voldemort's not going to do anything that obvious. Attacks like the giant are just so he can run the Ministry ragged. He knows they'll be forced to use all their resources to maintain secrecy, so they won't have anyone left to go on the offensive."
"But my point is that if things keep going as they have, even all the Ministry's resources won't be enough. And, don't forget, the Muggle Prime Minister already knows what's really going on. No Prime Minister has ever tried to reveal the wizarding world before because everyone would think he was barking mad. But, if strange things keep happening that the Ministry can't cover up… it might not stay that way for long."
Harry sat back in his chair and took a deep breath. "And then it's back to the bad old days of witch hunts."
"Yeah, only this time, it would be a whole lot worse. If there's one thing I've learned about Muggle history, it's that they're always building newer and deadlier weapons. And what do we have? The same old wands we've had for thousands of years."
Harry paused as he contemplated the idea. "Blimey, Ginny. And I thought Voldemort was already depressing enough."
She reached across the table and grasped his hand. "Well, just because it could happen that way doesn't mean it will. Don't forget; we've got new friends now that Voldemort knows absolutely nothing about."
Harry chuckled ruefully. "That's assuming Snape doesn't tell him all about them right after the meeting tonight."
Ginny smiled. "Come on, Harry. We all know Snape's a right git in the classroom; there's not a single non-Slytherin in Hogwarts who would deny it. But Dumbledore wouldn't allow him into the meeting if he wasn't absolutely sure Snape was on our side."
"Yeah, that's what everyone keeps telling me. But if Snape's really good enough to fool Voldemort, then why couldn't he be good enough to fool Dumbledore? I mean, Barty Crouch did it; why couldn't Snape do just as well?"
"Look, Harry; do you really think that thought has never crossed Dumbledore's mind? I mean, he is the most brilliant wizard in the world; I'm sure he's well aware of any tricks Snape might use against him. With Crouch, Dumbledore never had any reason to suspect him; if he had, he could have dispelled Crouch's Polyjuice disguise with a flick of his wand. As for Voldemort, well… you should know better than anyone that, despite his power, he doesn't really have a lot of common sense."
Harry laughed. "Of course not; common sense is for commoners! He's the 'Dark Lord', after all. And, you know, I think that has to be his greatest weakness; he puts his ego first, no matter what. I mean… why else would Crouch have spent the entire school year plotting to have me win the Triwizard Tournament when he could've just, I dunno, slipped some poison into my pumpkin juice? Because Voldemort didn't just want me dead; he wanted to make a big show out of it."
He paused. "Remember how he turned the Triwizard Cup into a Portkey? It took me to the graveyard, but it also took me back. I always wondered why he did that; I mean, it's not like he wanted me to escape. But, you know what? It actually makes sense if it was meant to have been part of the show! At the height of the Tournament, with the entire wizarding world watching, Voldemort would've appeared in front of everyone with my lifeless body in front of him and the Triwizard Cup held high in triumph!"
Harry clapped his hands together. "Wow. That would have been like something right out of a movie! It's too bad I had to live and spoil all the fun!" He paused, then smiled sheepishly at Ginny. "Oh, er, I don't know if you're familiar with…"
Ginny sighed. "Yes, Harry, I know what a movie is. I have actually discussed the Muggle world with Hermione before." She shook her head. "Ron, on the other hand, just wants to discuss homework with her. I mean, seriously; when is he going to come to his senses and ask her out?"
Harry smiled. "I think that's exactly what Grace is setting him up for."
"Yeah, well, he'd better do it soon, or she'll slip away from him. Viktor Krum isn't the only boy in the world who finds her attractive." Ginny frowned, then regarded him with a questioning look.
Harry laughed. "Well, of course I find Hermione attractive! In that outfit, a bloke would have to be blind not to! It's just…"
He sighed. "I think of her like my big sister, you know? I mean, I won't say the thought of dating her has never crossed my mind, but I just can't see that working out between us. I get the feeling that if we actually went out, we'd just be going through the motions and playing things safe. There wouldn't be that… passion there, you know? I just can't see myself trying to sweep her off her feet."
"Not even with your broom, Harry?" said Ginny teasingly.
"Ginny, if I took her up on my Firebolt and did even half the moves I usually do in Quidditch, she'd be screaming, 'Help! Put me down! Are you trying to kill us? This is insane!'"
Both of them broke out in laughter. After a few moments, Ginny restrained herself. "We're being horrible, aren't we? Laughing about Hermione behind her back."
"Yeah, we really shouldn't do that; it's not very nice."
The two of them were silent for a moment, then broke out laughing again. As Harry calmed down, he grinned at Ginny. "Blimey, this is turning out to be quite the debate, isn't it?"
Ginny returned his grin. "Yeah, I can see why the customers here enjoy it so much."
Harry paused. "So, what are we debating now, anyway?"
"How wizards can have better relations with Muggles."
"Oh, right. So, assuming we defeat Voldemort and live to tell about it, how do you propose we improve wizard/Muggle relations?"
"Actually, I think we should ask our new friends about that."
Harry frowned in confusion. "But how would they know anything about it? Phoebe just arrived on Earth, what, a couple of weeks ago?"
Ginny smiled. "And, in that time, she seems to have learned more about Muggles than most wizards do in their whole lives. She can dress like a Muggle, she knows how to use a telephone… remember that time Ron tried to call you at the Dursleys?"
Harry chuckled. "Yeah, that didn't work out so well. I agree, though; Phoebe doesn't seem like she'd make that kind of mistake. I mean, if there's something she doesn't know, she can just ask Wendy about it. But, that's not something most wizards can do; at least, not legally. It would strain the limits of the Statute of Secrecy if a wizard just asked a Muggle how to use a telephone."
"But, Harry, there are Muggles who are legally allowed to know about the wizarding world. In fact, I'm sure you can think of two of them right now."
Harry snapped his fingers. "Of course. Hermione's parents!" He paused. "You know, I just realized I don't even know their names. How weird is that? I've been best friends with Hermione for five years and I never even asked!"
Ginny laughed. "Well, fortunately, I did; their names are John and Frances. And I think it would be perfect if Mum and Dad would ask them over for dinner."
As Harry started to reply, she held up her hand. "I know what you're going to say; it's not safe right now, especially with this prediction about Ron being attacked. But, honestly, Harry; are Hermione's parents really any safer at home? The Ministry knows where they live, which means the Death Eaters could easily find them. And what better targets than the defenceless parents of a Muggle-born?"
Harry sighed. "You're right. But what can they do? There's really nowhere in Britain where they'd be safe. Maybe they should flee the country and move to… I dunno, Australia?" He chuckled. "Or, why stop there? They could just move right into Lessia's warehouse!"
Ginny smiled and shook her head. "Somehow, I doubt they'd prefer that last option, though I'm sure the gnomes would be happy to oblige. But, our friends really are planning to protect Wendy and her flat. Maybe they can find a way to protect the Grangers as well."
"I hope so, though I'm beginning to have my doubts about how safe this place is. I mean, a gang of murderers throwing firebombs in a restaurant? An Anarchist releasing poison gas in a government building?"
"Yeah, but did you forget? Those people are all dead. In this town, the authorities can actually stop criminals like that." Ginny chuckled ruefully. "No offense to Tonks, but the only Death Eaters the Aurors have arrested so far are the ones we fought in the Department of Mysteries! Oh, and, of course, the ones Celeste and Phoebe just happened to bump into at the Leaky Cauldron. I mean, Celeste wrestled a werewolf to the ground with her bare hands! Heck, if that's what law enforcement in Sigil is like, I'd feel safer moving here myself!"
Harry and Ginny laughed.
"All right, then," said Harry. "So, we agree that we should ask our new friends about better relations with the Muggles and how to protect Hermione's parents."
"Great! And, since it was my idea, I win the debate!"
"I don't think you're meant to win or lose these debates, Ginny; they're just for fun."
"Yeah, right. You're only saying that because you lost."
The two of them laughed again.
"Wow," said Harry. "That really was fun. I guess there's something to this intellectual lust thing after all."
Ginny grinned. "Well, I've got to admit, you went through the whole debate without once staring at my breasts. Pretty impressive."
Harry's gaze reflexively dropped to Ginny's chest; he quickly looked back up at her face and blushed. She chuckled. "Harry, relax; I wouldn't have worn this outfit if I didn't want you to at least check out my assets. Grace was right; a girl doesn't want to be treated as an object, but she does want boys to find her attractive now and again."
"Yeah, but… should you really be doing that for me? I mean, you are going out with Dean Thomas, right?"
"Oh, my God. Poor Dean would faint if he saw me in this outfit; not to mention that Ron would punch his lights out. But I know you're a perfect gentleman, Harry, and there's nothing wrong with a little harmless flirting with a friend."
"Right! Er… with a friend! Of course."
Ginny chuckled and shook her head. "Harry, we really need to work on your girl skills. This year, you're going to find yourself a real girlfriend at Hogwarts."
"Hey! Cho was my girlfriend, wasn't she?"
"She liked you, Harry, but she really just wanted someone to comfort her after losing Cedric. I believe the technical term for that is a 'rebound relationship.' You don't want to be someone for your girlfriend to fall back on; you need to be number one in her eyes."
"Hmmm…" Harry smiled at Ginny. "I don't suppose you have any suggestions?"
"Well…" Ginny sighed. "The problem is that all the girls at school want to go out with the Boy-Who-Lived. You need to find someone who likes you just as Harry."
"Yeah, you're right; a girl like that would be hard to find at Hogwarts. Maybe I should date a Muggle instead."
Ginny clapped her hands. "There you go! Now, that's exactly what you need! You should go out there, find yourself a nice Muggle girl, and snog her senseless!"
Harry laughed. "I guess that's one way to improve wizard/Muggle relations!"
He stood up. "I think our time is almost up. You should probably get dressed and get ready to go."
Ginny also stood. "All right. Let's see if my brother managed to avoid getting distracted."
As the two of them emerged from the room, they were greeted by the enthusiastic sound of James's voice. "Ah! Our debaters return! I trust you had sufficient time for a meeting of the minds?"
"Something like that," said Ginny. "Our brains got a bit of exercise, at least."
"Splendid!" exclaimed James. "It would seem our time here was well-spent." He glanced at Grace. "Not that it could ever be otherwise, of course."
Grace smiled. "Of course. And what do you think, Harry?"
"Well… I don't think I've ever really had a chance to just talk with Ginny like that before. She had some very good ideas that I'll really have to think about."
"Excellent," said Grace. "New ideas are the beginning of all wisdom."
She glanced at Room #3. "It looks like your friends are still playing." She turned to James. "Shall I go and retrieve them?"
James checked his pocketwatch. "If you could please let them know they have five more minutes."
Ginny frowned slightly as she looked around the room. "Lessia's not back up yet?"
Zanton sighed. "She's probably asleep. Ginny, if you wouldn't mind going down there and waking her up?"
"Oh, sure!" said Ginny. She went to the back of the room and disappeared down the staircase.
James smiled at Harry and leaned back in his chair. "Poor Lessia. She should really just go back home and rest, but I know she'll insist on coming with us. The Skyleaf clan must be represented and all that. I just hope she can hold out long enough to get to Chirper's; after that, a pint of dwarven coffee should perk her up."
Zanton shook his head. "She's been getting far too little rest lately. If she's not out working all night, she's out at the pubs drinking and carousing."
"James, stop that. I'm worried about her health, not her morals."
James shrugged. "I know, but you're not going to get anywhere by nagging her. She's an Indep; she'll resist you purely on principle."
"Well, then, you should persuade her to get some rest and come to Earth tomorrow instead of tonight," said Zanton. "I could carry her back to the warehouse and wait there until you return from Chirper's."
James's eyes widened in mock surprise. "Why, then, I'd be the only one left! You wouldn't leave me alone with these people, would you?"
"For their sake, I probably shouldn't," replied Zanton. "You've already talked them half to death; if I leave, you'll finish them off."
James laughed. "Well, then, it's a good thing we'll be rejoining Phoebe at the courthouse. Not to worry, my friends; she'll won't let me rattle my bone-box too much."
After about two minutes, Ron and Hermione emerged from Room #3 with smiles on their faces. Ron turned to Harry and raised his hands in a victory gesture.
"The winner, and still chess champion of Hogwarts… Ronald Weasley!"
Harry laughed. "Good for you, mate! I guess you didn't get distracted after all." He grinned at Hermione.
She chuckled. "No, I'm impressed; Ron actually managed to defy the stereotype."
"Well, it wasn't easy, mate," said Ron. "Hermione is the smartest girl in Hogwarts, after all." He smiled at her. "But, for this game, it's probably a good thing she lost. The book said a famous chess master beat something called an 'illithid' to prove he was smarter. The illithid agreed, then — get this — ate his brain! Ewww!"
"He may have been smart, but he certainly wasn't wise," said Zanton. "Illithids are creatures who derive sustenance from the brains of intelligent beings. Proving that you're smart to one of them is the same as proving that you're tasty."
James smiled at Hermione's worried expression. "Don't worry, Hermione; you have nothing to fear on that score. The only illithid I know of in Sigil is a member of the Fraternity of Order, and if Phoebe doesn't have to worry about her brain being eaten, no one does."
He gestured at the staircase in the back of the room. "Well, you'd better get dressed; we'll need to get going shortly. Ginny's already down there; hopefully, she'll have dragged Lessia out of the tub by now."
"I knew she'd fall asleep in there," said Hermione. "Is she really going to be able to come to the meeting tonight?"
Zanton shook his head. "No, I'm taking her back to the warehouse to rest. She can hardly help us explain things if she's yawning with every sentence."
Hermione nodded, then disappeared down the rear staircase. After a short time, a fully dressed Ginny emerged, accompanied by a very tired-looking Lessia. The gnome girl's hair was damp and unbraided, and her light blue tunic was not tucked into her dark green pants. Ginny was carrying Lessia's backpack on one arm while helping her up the stairs with the other.
After she finished climbing the staircase, Lessia yawned and shook her head as if to clear it. "Whew! You know, if I'd just stayed awake, I could've kept going without too much trouble. But, if you fall asleep and then have to wake up right away, it's just…"
She shook her head again. "I don't know if coffee's even going to be enough. James, do we have any of that elixir or extract or whatever that was?"
Zanton knelt down beside her. "Lessia, you're in no condition to assist us right now. Let me take you back to your room at the warehouse so you can rest."
"No, I can't," protested Lessia weakly. "I have to be there tonight to represent the company."
James smiled. "You have to be awake to do that, you know… unless you want me to do that ventriloquist act again." He spoke in a high-pitched voice and opened and closed his left hand as if it were a mouth. "Hello, everyone! I'm Lessia Skyleaf! I'm not awake right now, so I couldn't stop my friends from dressing me in this adorable — "
"All right!" She sighed. "I swear, you lose one sodding bet..."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled with amusement. "There's no need for any of you to go out of your way. I can Apparate her back to the warehouse and return here forthwith."
James raised his eyebrows. "And you'll still be able to do that again with us as well?"
"Hmmm." He shrugged. "Well, I guess that's why you're the headmaster."
"You'll have to reappear just outside the front door, though," said Lessia. "The warehouse is too big to ward it all against teleportation, but if you just pop in there without warning, the guards will shoot you on sight."
"Well! I shall endeavour to be precise, then." Dumbledore held out his hand to Lessia. "Shall we, my dear?"
"Wait," interrupted Ginny. "Do you want your backpack back?"
"No, that's fine," said Lessia. "One of you can hold onto it. It's still got all your stuff in it anyway."
Dumbledore smiled. "Very well, then. If you'll just take my hand, we'll be off."
Lessia yawned. "Sounds good to me."
She reached up and grasped Dumbledore's left hand. In an instant, the two of them looked as if they'd been twisted into a knot which spun around and shrank until it vanished completely with a loud pop.
Grace raised her eyebrows. "Interesting. That doesn't resemble any form of teleportation I'm familiar with."
"I haven't seen its like either," said Zanton. "I wonder what Phoebe will make of it."
After a short wait, another knot appeared and untwisted itself into Professor Dumbledore. "Well, I've seen Miss Skyleaf safely to the warehouse door. I do hope she feels better after a nice, long rest."
"Excellent!" said James. "Now we just need to wait for Hermione to get dressed and we'll be on our way. Ginny, could I have the backpack, please?" After she handed it to him, James reached inside and began removing coats and shoes. James put on his cloak, then placed his arm through the backpack's tiny strap. In an instant, the backpack grew to an appropriate size as James finished putting it on.
"It adjusts itself to fit you?" said Ron. "Cool!"
"Most wearable magical items do," said James, "though armour is something of an exception. Lessia's armour, for instance, would adjust to fit another gnome, but it wouldn't be able to fit you or me. There's a technical reason for that; something about how the protective properties of armour limit its flexibility. I'm sure Phoebe could explain it, but I wouldn't advise asking unless you've got nothing else to do for the next two days."
Hermione emerged from the rear staircase wearing her jeans and jumper. As she approached the group, James tossed her shoes and coat to her, then attached his rapier and whip to his belt.
"All right, then! Looks like it's time for us to go. Now, don't put your shoes on until you get to the entranceway; we don't want to defeat the purpose of taking them off in the first place."
James turned to Grace. "Mistress Grace, your hospitality has, once again, been outstanding. I'm sure our new friends here feel the same way."
"Oh, yes," said Dumbledore. "I must say, I look forward to returning here soon. Once I've had a chance to learn more about the relevant local issues, I hope you'll do me the honour of a debate sometime."
Grace smiled. "I would be happy to, Professor."
Ginny glanced at Hermione, then smiled at Grace. "Mistress Grace, Hermione and I would like to thank you for a most… educational experience."
Hermione laughed. "Yes, it definitely taught me a few things. Thank you."
James cast a glance at Harry and Ron, then turned back to Grace. "It looks as if the boys are a bit too tongue-tied to give you a proper farewell, so, on their behalf, I would thank you for providing them with the opportunity for extended practical observation of the integument and pectoral structure of the female adolescent humanoid."
Grace laughed. "That's not quite what I mean by the concept of intellectual lust."
"Hmmm. And here I thought it meant being married to a Guvner."
"Good day, Mistress Grace," said Zanton. "May your path lead you ever to the Source."
"I would gladly follow that path," said Grace, "if only my senses could perceive it."
Zanton laughed. "Well, I commend you for your loyalty to your faction, at least. Until next time."
Grace bowed politely. "Good day."
As the group was putting on their shoes and coats in the entranceway, Zanton smiled at Harry's questioning expression. "Grace and I have a friendly rivalry going on between our two factions. I keep trying to persuade her that the Believers of the Source is a far more appropriate faction for her than the Sensates, and she always finds a way to decline with wit and politeness. The unimaginable things she has endured in her life, and the astounding success she has achieved — not in spite of this, but because of this — is at the very core of what my faction is about."
He shrugged. "The Sensates? They can tell you the intricate details of the flavour of a glass of wine."
"Ah, but that would be very useful information if the glass of wine has been poisoned," said James. "And, since tanar'ri are immune to poison, inviting Grace the Sensate to dinner would give one a distinct advantage."
"True," replied Zanton, "but that's hardly significant enough to form the foundation for one's entire philosophy of life."
James grinned. "Are we debating? I don't think we're properly attired."
Once everyone was finished getting ready, the group left the Brothel and stood on the street outside; Dumbledore turned to address them.
"All right, then. If my students would please join hands with each other and myself, we can Apparate to the square outside the courthouse at once. Miss Tonks, I trust you'll be able to handle the two gentlemen?"
Tonks smiled. "Oh, I don't think anyone can handle Mr. Black, but I'm sure I can manage to Apparate him."
James laughed. "We've only first met such a short time ago, and, yet, you know me so well."
Harry grasped Dumbledore's and Ginny's hands while the others took their positions. He suddenly felt as if he was being squeezed through a long, thin tube while spinning. Thankfully, the sensation only lasted a few seconds before the group reappeared in the courthouse square.
Harry took a deep breath and shook his head to clear it; Hermione was also doing the same. "Well," she said, "that was… rather disorienting. Is that how Apparition always feels, Professor?"
"Not quite, Miss Granger," said Dumbledore. "I'm afraid the disorientation is more intense with more people. Once you obtain your own license, you should find solo Apparition to be rather more pleasant."
Harry chuckled. "I'm only worried that we'll have to do that again right after we eat! I don't think Lessia would be happy if we got sick on the floor of her warehouse."
"Perhaps you'd better off travelling with Phoebe for the return trip," said Zanton. "I assure you, her method of teleportation is rather less twisted."
James chuckled. "Yes, it is a rather unique experience, is it not?" He turned to Tonks. "No offense, my lady."
Tonks laughed. "None taken. If you do it enough times, you'll get used to it eventually."
"Ah! Rather like getting arrested. Not that I'd know."
James checked his pocketwatch. "Well, how about that; we're two minutes early! Looks like time is on my side today." He glanced at the courthouse. "Phoebe should be coming out those doors any second now as it'll take her about a minute to walk over here."
"Is she seriously timing this down to the second?" asked Harry.
James smiled. "Of course! For a native of the clockwork plane of Mechanus, timing is everything."
As predicted, Harry soon saw a figure leaving the courthouse and crossing the square. Once she reached James, she gave him a warm hug.
"Looks like you're right on time, my dear, as always," said James.
Phoebe grinned. "But of course." She looked at the group, then frowned in confusion. "Where's Lessia?"
"She was too tired to continue," said Zanton, "so Professor Dumbledore teleported her back to the warehouse to rest. His method of teleportation seems quite different from yours, so I'm sure you'll want to study that later."
"Oh, I already saw the Professor do that once, though, admittedly, not up close. I'm sure I'll soon have plenty of opportunities to see it again and again."
Phoebe turned to Dumbledore. "Well, Professor, you'll be pleased to know that I had a chance to talk with my student. He said his father's coming to Sigil on a business trip in ten days, and there shouldn't be any problems having his mother accompany him."
"Splendid!" said Dumbledore. "What is your student's name, by the way?"
"It's Timothy Jacynth," replied Phoebe. "He's nineteen years old and is rapidly becoming a proficient wizard. His father, Penrose, is a merchant who specialises in rare spell components, so his business often brings him to Sigil. His mother, Miranda, is a priestess who lives just outside a town called Hardby on a Material world called Oerth. I've never met her, but Timothy's told me all about her. I'm sure she'll be able to help you, or, at least, point us in the right direction."
Dumbledore nodded. "I look forward to meeting her."
Phoebe smiled, then turned to James. "Oh, and I picked up my new rank insignia. I did that last so as few people as possible would realize that I'd been promoted." She gestured at two pins attached to her shirt. On her left breast was the dagger-and-flame symbol on the courthouse which Harry presumed was the symbol of the Fraternity of Order; on her right was a five-pointed star with a small ruby mounted in the lower left-hand point.
Hermione examined the pins closely. "So, if there are five points, does that mean there are five ranks?"
"That's right," said Phoebe. "Bureau Chiefs are ranked from B5, which is my rank, to B1, the rank held by the chiefs of the five Star Bureaus. Below us are the Administrators, ranked from A10 to A1; their insignia is a triangle that gets filled in with tiny semi-precious gems as they advance. The lowest-ranking Guvners are called Aides; they only wear the faction symbol by itself."
"So, what does the, er… faction leader wear?" asked Ron.
"He's called the factol, Ron," replied Phoebe, "and, usually, he just wears the faction insignia. I mean, there's only one factol, so he doesn't need anything special to identify himself to other Guvners. On formal occasions, he wears a fur-trimmed robe and carries a jewelled sceptre as his badge of office."
"Most factions have a similar hierarchy," said James. "A factol on top, two tiers of ranks in the middle, and a bunch of peasants at the bottom that everyone else enjoys giving orders to. And, the thing is, they willingly embrace such indignity in hopes of being promoted so they can one day treat others like peasants."
"Since when have I ever treated an Aide like a peasant?" said Phoebe. "For that matter, when did Zeck ever treat me that way when I was an Aide?"
"Zeck wanted your people's firearms technology," replied James, "so he had to be nice to ensure you'd cooperate." He snapped his fingers. "And… oh, yes, there was that little incident right after you arrived that got you a medal for 'Meritorious Service to the Law.'"
Phoebe frowned and clenched her fists. "Have you been telling that story again? How many people did I shoot this time? Two hundred?"
"Relax, Phoebe," said Zanton. "This time, I kept the discussion to the facts."
Phoebe sighed. "Thank the Powers."
"Why do I get the impression you really don't like that newspaper article James wrote?" said Tonks.
Phoebe smiled and shook her head. "Well, you know, every couple has personality conflicts sometimes. Despite the fact that we're from opposing factions, we don't have nearly as many conflicts as most people would think. But, there are still some things that cause us to collide head-on, and that… is one of them."
She paused. "I suppose it's because that event is so emotionally significant for both of us. For me, it was my first battle and my first date! For James, it was meeting the woman he was going to marry — "
"And watching her nearly getting herself killed!" interrupted James.
"Yes, that's true," said Phoebe. "But would I have done it any differently? No. I mean, of course I didn't want to be killed; not just for myself, but for my parents' sake as well. When I left my home for Sigil, everyone thought my parents' little construct project was a failure; they said I wouldn't last a week. If I'd have been killed, forty-two years of research and development would've been dumped into the sewer and no one would've respected my parents for centuries. But, when the battle was over, I thought that would be it; the pressure would be off and I could go back to being a normal Guvner."
"In other words, you would've willingly been a peasant," said James. "You see? Even if I was right for the wrong reasons, I was right."
"What kind of Anarchist looks down on the peasants?" said Hermione. "Shouldn't you be all about the freedom of the common man?"
"Of course," said James. "If someone is born a serf and had no choice in the matter, then he is clearly one of the oppressed and must be freed. But someone who binds himself to a faction, not out of duress, but by choice? How can you free someone who wants to be a slave?"
"Yeah, Hermione," said Ron with a smug expression on his face. "How can SPEW do that?"
Hermione frowned. "Mr. Black, when we get to the meeting tonight, I am going to tell you all about house-elves. If you're looking for oppression, just wait until I describe how shamefully these innocent beings are treated by wizards!"
Ginny smiled. "And I'll describe how the issue isn't quite as black and white as Hermione paints it. Maybe we could have… a debate?"
Hermione laughed. "I walked right into that one, didn't I? Should we both put on those outfits again?"
"Why not? If we're going to have a serious debate, we should at least dress like professionals."
Both girls laughed; Phoebe turned to James and sighed. "You took them to the Brothel? James, why do you always do this? Mrs. Weasley trusted me with her children; what is she going to say when she finds out where they've been?"
James assumed an expression of feigned innocence. "Why should there be a problem taking them to a location that Professor Dumbledore himself approved of?"
"Indeed," said Dumbledore. "Ms. Black, there's no reason to be alarmed. I assure you that nothing improper took place."
"Yes, but is Mrs. Weasley going to think so?" Phoebe shook her head. "I know I've mentioned how certain words mean different things on Earth and the planes, but, somehow, I don't think that 'brothel' is one of them. In this specific case, it does, but how am I supposed to explain that to somebody's mother?"
"Then don't use the word," said James. "Honestly. Professor Dumbledore said it was similar to a type of establishment on Earth called a geisha house; just tell her that."
"Oh, all right. If the Professor says so." Dumbledore nodded; Phoebe paused. "Actually, my student, Miho, also told me the same thing after she went there, though she said that, in her country, women were required to cover up."
Hermione blinked in surprise. "You have a student named Miho who knows what a geisha house is? I… don't suppose you could tell me where she's from?"
"She's originally from a nation called Rokugan on a Material world like yours," replied Phoebe. "Her people refer to their world as Ningen-dō, the Human Realm. Does that sound familiar?"
"Well, no," said Hermione. "It's just that geisha houses are found in a country on Earth called Japan, and 'Miho' sounds like a Japanese name. Before, I would have thought that was just a coincidence, but together with that whole thing about the Norse gods, I suppose it can't be, can it?"
"Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that," said Zanton. "Apparently, the Asgardian pantheon is known on Earth; Hermione recognized them when we were talking to Black Marian."
"I see," said Phoebe. "One more thing to look into, I suppose."
"And, with that," said James, "I think we should proceed to Chirper's before these two overwhelm us with their intellectual lust."
Tonks laughed. "Yeah, next time, Phoebe and I should wear those outfits!"
Phoebe smiled. "I've tried that before, and I think it looks silly. I just don't see the point in wearing the minimum clothing possible to avoid getting arrested."
"And, knowing the Guvners, there must be a law somewhere that specifies the precise details," said James. He clapped his hands together. "But enough of that. Let's be on our way before the food gets cold!"
Yes, this story has Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny as couples. I know, I know; how utterly conventional. Don't get me wrong; some of my favorite stories are Harry/Hermione ships. The problem is, those stories almost always include Evil™ Dumbledore who's been stealing from Harry's vault to pay Evil™ Ginny to enslave Harry with love potions, and this story requires that those two be of good alignment. I'm afraid it simply wouldn't do for Celeste to be morally obliged to kill them. :)
If you have a copy of Planescape: Torment, then you can easily find out what the Brothel girls' outfits look like; just look up "Upper-Class Townie, Female" and you'll see a picture. For some bizarre reason, every woman in the game dresses like this — including a sixty-year-old Guvner judge. (You don't want to know where she keeps her gavel.)
In the next chapter, The Big Meeting™ takes place, though it may take more than one chapter to complete. Rather than writing yet another chapter about their visit to Chirper's, I'll simply have Harry and company describe it at the meeting. I mean, I thought I was only going to write one chapter between Chapter 5 and the meeting! I did… then it was too long for one chapter… then it was too long for two. Now I understand how Peter Jackson must have felt when writing the script for The Hobbit.
PJ: OK, if Deathly Hallows can have two movies, then so can The Hobbit. That gives me room to put in the White Council… and Radagast. Yeah! The fans are always speculating about him on the Internet. But all we know is that he's "The Brown" and likes animals. How can we build on that?
Stoned Intern: Duuude, what if Radagast rode a sled pulled by, like, giant bunnies! And… and what if he totally found out that Sauron was back by, like, poking a hedgehog!
PJ: Dude, that is awesome! Someone give this guy a raise! We need to put out a trailer with that in it right now!
Non-Stoned Intern: Sir, I'm not sure the budget for two movies can handle giant bunnies.
PJ: All right, then; we'll do three! I mean, I already did one trilogy, right?
NSI: Sir, have you actually seen the books of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings placed side-by-side? Isn't one of them… how shall I say this… somewhat larger than the other?
PJ: Yeah, but I had to cut all that stuff out of Lord of the Rings! For the Hobbit Part III, we can finally tell the untold story of how Lobelia Sackville-Baggins stole Bilbo's silver spoons!
But, however long it takes to complete this meeting… and it will be completed… then, immediately afterwards, at long last… Sirius and the mysterious villain from the Prologue will finally show their faces on Earth!