"The world is round, Milo," Hannah explained wearily.
"Shut the front door!" Milo exclaimed, nearly dropping his chalk.
It was Friday evening in an empty classroom. This castle was enormous—Milo wasn't convinced that the interior occupied the same physical space as the exterior—and there tended to be dozens of rooms not currently in use. He liked to move around, switching rooms from time to time, to throw off any potential spies and assassins.
His current secret room was full of chalkboards covered in mathematical equations, diagrams, and maps of England—the kind that crazy people on TV have, that are covered in brightly-coloured strings of yarn for no obvious reason. There were stacks of thousands and thousands of maps, some with accurate latitude and longitude, and others unironically labelled 'Here be Dragons.' It was, in short, perfect for Milo's needs.
"How can the world be both limitless and round?" Milo asked, convinced he'd scored a point. "Answer that."
"It's not limitless," Hannah sighed, rubbing a pair of fingers into her forehead.
"But look at the edges of this map," Milo protested, pointing at a yellowed map that still had Prussia on it. "See? Oceans on either end. Who knows what's across them—that's the point! The DM—that is to say, the Divine Mapper—can just bolt on an extra continent for the next adventure with some scrap paper and sellotape."
"The world is round, like a ball," Hannah explained, mounting what she considered to be a heroic effort to maintain patience. "Those oceans are the same, see how they're labelled—okay, well, this map just says "Fathomless Blue Yonder," but you'll see the newer ones agree that both edges are the Pacific. See where it says "Pacific" in plain English? If you go off one end, you come back around the other."
"That… makes this more complicated than I'd first believed," Milo admitted.
His plan had been so simple to start. Circle Dance, a third-level Divination spell, told you the exact direction (but not distance) to any one person that you named and had met before. Back home, it was common practice to use two castings of Circle Dance, cast in different locations, to triangulate the exact current location of your target. All you'd need is a bit of math, typically handled by a Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) check. For added convenience, with a Familiar in five feet—as Mordenkainen was, currently—the spell would affect both of them, preventing the need to waste a second spell slot, though due to the extremely short distance between them, the math was done with a very large number of digits after the decimal point.
"You don't have a spell to do math for you?" Hannah asked. "You've got one to illegally copy textbooks. How is that possible?"
"If someone made one, they never published it," Milo said glumly. "You'd be surprised how rarely this comes up. Don't you guys have one?"
"We usually leave this sort of thing to the Muggles," Hannah admitted. "Actually, you know who would be great at this sort of thing—"
"We can do this without her help," Milo interrupted. "I just have to buckle down and make a skill check."
Milo rolled up his sleeves, strode purposefully up to the chalkboard, and drew a circle. He held the chalk in the air, staring at the circle for a moment, then, for good measure, added 'X =' next to it.
"You're just being stubborn," Hannah said. "This is important enough that we should suck it up and—"
"I've got this," Milo said, narrowing his eyes, then fell silent.
Minutes rolled by, with Milo standing perfectly unmoving, chalk hovering a millimeter above the board.
"We can't take any chances with this," Hannah said. "Get the equation wrong and we'll storm into the flat of some random bystander."
After a total lack of response, she waved a hand in front of his eyes. "Miiiiilo?" she asked, but he remained seemingly-catatonic. He was barely breathing.
Sighing, she sat down on a desk counter and waited.
After precisely twenty minutes of inactivity, Milo wrote an address, a floor, and a room number.
"Ye of little faith," he smirked. "Taking twenty solves all problems magical and mathematical. You could call me a—"
Hannah sighed. "Don't say 'mathmagician.'"
"—mathmagician. Let's rock and roll."
Fiona clutched the scrap of parchment, her sweat making the ink run. She was an hour from the nearest road, and her bad leg ached from the hike. Eventually, she found the rock described, which was the only feature distinguishing this sheep pasture from the dozen or so she'd passed along the way. They were in Weatherwax country, and boy was it boring. The rock itself was huge, sitting smack dab in the middle of the grassy field as if God had shaken it out of His holy sandal, then forgotten about it.
The whole while, she couldn't shake the feeling that she was being…
An enormous black dog stood silhouetted on the hill against the setting sun, staring right at her, which was just about the creepiest thing she'd ever seen.
Keeping the dog in the corner of her eye, Fiona felt about the rock for the promised opening. Though they were on the other side of the country, this rock, exactly like the last one, de-materialized as she touched it. It was like one of those frustrating illusions, where the tacky fruit hat turned into a duck or whatever, depending on how you squinted at it. She could still see the rock, and it wasn't exactly transparent, but she could, just as clearly, see the tunnel heading down into the ground.
Her feet found simple wooden slats spiked into the earth that formed a crude staircase as she descended. She had to stoop, which her leg did not like, as the ceiling got lower and lower. It wasn't long before she had to fish a torch out of her pocket. It was one of those tiny ones, barely larger than the nine-volt battery that powered it, that lit up a room like a second sun but died practically as soon as you'd hit the button.
The room she illuminated was the twin of the one outside Bristol, complete with the medieval weaponry hanging on the walls. She found, and promptly collapsed onto, a crude wooden chair identical to the last one.
She wondered if this was what getting old felt like. It seemed like just a few days ago, she was a bright-eyed rookie, ready and eager to tackle the wrongs of the world. There had been such a clear line between right and wrong, then.
There was still wrong, that's for sure, and it was as clear as it had ever been. More so, now, that the gang she was after wore Hallowe'en masks and robes. It was the right that seemed ever-more amorphous.
What was she doing out here? Where had it all gone wrong? She has no job, no money, no family, no future. Most of her old classmates had kids by now, but what about her? A bum leg, a vendetta against evil, and a crappy torch?
She bent down to rub her aching leg when she noticed, blocking the only tunnel out, was the enormous black dog.
Reminding herself that, since monsters were in fact real and that this might well be a killer demon-dog doing the will of an evil shaman or something, she snatched the first thing off the weapon rack behind her that she saw—a five-foot pole with a razor-sharp spike-and-crescent-blade-shaped-blade-thingy on the end.
"Back off," she snapped at the animal, pointing the bizarre blade of the polearm at it. She glanced back at the weapon rack to see if there was anything a little less ridiculous on the menu, and when she looked back, the dog was gone.
In its place was a man who looked just about how her leg felt. He had long, dirty black hair with a piece of white sheep's wool stuck in it, and wore tattered old robes. Oddly, he looked almost exactly how Fiona had always pictured Aragorn when the hobbits first met him, though she wasn't sure if that was good new or not. Was it 'looked foul but felt fair,' or 'looked fair but felt foul?' How did smelling foul factor into the algorithm?
"I know you," Fiona said slowly, keeping the blade as steady as she could; an awkward maneuver given the torch she was also trying to balance. "You're Sirius Black. An escaped killer." She'd read about him in the Daily Prophet; allegedly, he was in cahoots with Milo, though she found that singularly unlikely. "You'll find I won't go down as easily as those bystanders in '87."
Sirius face turned stony. "I see," he said.
Just keep him talking, Fiona thought. He wasn't holding a wand, so she'd have a second or two of warning while he drew, twiddled it about, and muttered a spell before she died. Though, as he apparently could turn into a giant dog, he might not need a spell to kill her. Judging by movie standards, which was all she had to go on at this point, going full werewolf would take several seconds at least, and she felt no compulsion to sit around like a Sailor Moon villain during a lengthy transformation sequence. She didn't know what being stuck with a stupid-looking polearm while undergoing massive physical change would do to a person, but she hoped it wouldn't be good. All she had to do was buy enough time for reinforcements to arrive—they were already several minutes overdue.
Thirteen year olds, she reminded herself. That was her rescue plan. Children. Good God, what was she doing?
"Did Malfoy send you to finish me off?" she asked. "Is that why he sprung you from Alcatraz?"
"Azkaban," Sirius corrected flatly. "Where, it should be mentioned, they sent me without a trial."
Fiona frowned, and inadvertently lowered her blade-on-a-stick. "You're lying," she said, offended at the very idea of such a breach of due process. "Magical Britain is still Britain, and not even those nutters would do that."
"The star witness was Cornelius Fudge," Sirius explained.
Ah, so he's insane. She tried to imagine a murderer claiming that Margaret Thatcher had personally framed him for murder, and had to fight the urge to laugh.
"That's pretty unlucky," Fiona said, carefully watching her tone. "The Minister for Magic himself? That's a raw deal, any way you look at it."
"You think I'm crazy. I'm not crazy," Sirius snarled, taking a half-step forwards.
Fiona flinched, raising the blade to throat-height. "Back off," she snapped. "These are my only clothes, and I don't want to have to spend all night scrubbing arterial spray out of them."
Sirius froze. "Who are you?"
"Fiona!" the scandelized voice of a young boy came from the entrance. "Drop the guisarme! He's on our side! And with -4 to hit, you're better off using your bare hands!"
Fiona looked over Sirius's shoulder to see Milo and Hannah staring at them, horrified.
Slowly, she laid the weapon—the guisarme—on the table, watching Sirius closely as she did, ready to snatch it back up if need be.
"Fiona, this is Sirius Black," Milo explained rapidly. "An innocent man who took the fall for a crime he didn't commit—a classic hero backstory. Sirius, this is Fiona Smythe, the only Muggle to ever go toe-to-toe with Death Eaters and come out on top."
"Why would someone frame you?" Fiona asked suspiciously. "I've seen a lot of perps claim they've been framed over the years, and you know how many were on the level? Not one. Framing a person takes way more effort and planning than most criminals are capable of."
"These were no ordinary criminals," Sirius said. "They'd just murdered Lily and James Potter and needed to cover their tracks. They thought they were moments away from seizing power nationwide."
"Fine," Fiona said, deciding it wasn't worth arguing the point. "Even if that's true, why are you working with Milo? What does any of this have to do with you? You broke out of wizard prison; you should be halfway to Mallorca by now."
"Not until I finish what I started," Sirius said. "War's not over yet."
Fiona glanced at Milo. "Uh, this guy seems a little… unstable. Do we really need him?"
"He's our ride," Hannah interjected. "He can Apparate, and we can't."
"Time is short," Milo added. "We need to work together, don't you understand? There's four of us, now—and with you, we finally have a tank. This is practically a balanced party, for once! Four's the perfect number for fighting evil."
Fiona looked at his earnest, face and considered this barmy idea for a long moment. The balance of probability said she was already insane anyway, so why not add a werewolf into the mix? Besides, she was tired of going it alone. The weight of responsibility accumulated over the last year was slowly killing her, and at this point, she'd take any help she could get.
"Sure, what the Hell," she said eventually. "What have I got to lose? So, how does this work? Do we all just say 'Scotty, four for transport' and then zip away?"
"We'll Side-Along Apparate," Sirius said. "Stay close. Milo, where are we going?"
"23 Church Lane, ten feet three inches off the ground—the second storey," Milo said. "Godric's Hollow." He moved up next to Sirius and placed a hand on his arm. A second later, a huge rat scurried out of one of Milo's belt pouches and sat on Sirius' shoulder. Hannah was next also touching Sirius's arm, and Fiona reluctantly followed suit.
"Godric's Hollow, eh?" Sirius said in a voice so low it was almost a growl. "Fitting."
"We should teleport a little ways away, surveil the area, then plan a multi-pronged—"
"Nah," Sirius interrupted. That's when things got very strange.
It felt a little like someone grabbed Fiona's nose and pulled it backwards through her head, turning her entirely inside-out.
Alecto Carrow woke to the sound of breaking glass. She snatched the wand from under her pillow and climbed out of bed.
She knew, sooner or later, that it would come to this. She'd left a lot of enemies behind her over the years, and it was only a matter of time before one of them took matters into their own hands.
What she didn't know was who was making their move. The Order of the Phoenix was long since scattered to the winds, and the DMLE was in Lucius' pocket. Unless it was Lucius himself, coming to silence a loose end? Or Bellatrix, trying to whittle away Lucius's supporters?
Of course, it might just be her idiot brother coming home worse for drink, but she couldn't take that chance. Alecto pressed her back against the wall by the door, wand held at the ready, waiting for the attacker to enter.
The doorknob turned, and Alecto raised her wand. It was almost completely dark save for faint moonlight coming through the open windows, but her eyes had largely adapted to the night, and at this range she wouldn't need much in the way of aim. The door opened a crack. She decided to show some restraint and use a Stunner to get answers out of the intruder later.
The world went white as something akin to the Hogwarts Express smashed her head against the partially-open door. She slid to the ground to find herself pinned by a massive black animal. How had it got in? She'd watched the only door. Unless it had somehow climbed two floors of wall outside and entered through a window, but she'd never even heard of a dog doing something like that.
She spotted her wand on the carpet ahead of her, and struggled against the animal to reach it. Its claws raked her arm, but she managed to touch it with the tips of her fingers.
Almost there, she thought frantically. Then I can kill this mutt and get some answers.
Her fingers closed around the base of the wand. She raised it, mustering up the hatred for a Killing Curse—
Her wand was gone, replaced by hundreds of splinters up and down her arm.
"Sirius!" a woman shouted. "Enough!"
The dog backed off of her, and rough hands grabbed her by the neck of her nightgown. A moment later, she was slammed back against the wall, face-to-face with that Muggle woman.
"You're nicked," Fiona spat. Alecto struggled futilely, but was spun around and pressed face-first into the wall. A moment later, something cold and metallic clamped around her wrists.
Fiona tossed the handcuffed witch into the cave's only chair.
"You're under arrest for…" she hesitated. What, exactly, was the crime associated with dressing up in masks and using magic to overthrow the government? "Oh, what the Hell. Treason. You're under arrest for suspicion of high treason."
"Wh-what?!" the woman scoffed. "You have no authority over me! You're just a Muggle!"
Fiona grinned an evil grin. "And you're a British citizen who's levied war against the Crown."
"What crown? Whose crown? What madness is this?" Alecto's eyes were wild. She looked around the room, seeing Sirius, Hannah, and finally, Milo. "You! I should have known you had a part in this! Everything that goes wrong in the world has your touch of madness."
"Flattery will get you nowhere," Milo said.
Alecto turned to Sirius. "Black! Get me out of this! Why would you fight on the side of those who unjustly threw you in Azkaban? Don't you want revenge? The Dark Lord would welcome you by his side in a heartbeat. Kill these fools and end this farce!"
Sirius cleaned his ear with his finger. "I seem to have gone spontaneously deaf," he said. "Oh dear."
"I suppose this is the point I should mention that you're entitled to legal counsel," Fiona said reluctantly. "We can wait and get a lawyer in here to represent you."
"And leave my fate in the hands of a common Muggle?" Alecto said, looking scandalized. "I think not."
Fiona pulled out a notebook and a cheap blue pen, narrating as she wrote. "The… suspect… waived… her right… to legal representation. Great, moving on.. oh, right—the charges." She leaned down to look the witch in the eye. "Treason is the only crime I'm aware of that still carries the death penalty in the United Kingdom," she said. "Traditionally, the punishment was executed—pardon the expression—by means of being dragged behind a horse, disemboweled, beheaded, and chopped into quarters. I'm unclear of the order of operations, there, but I'd personally opt to begin with the beheading."
The blood drained from Alecto's face.
"Don't worry," Fiona said. "They'd never do that to you, of course. The punishment for women, naturally, was to be burned at the stake like a witch. Pardon the expression."
To Fiona's surprise, Alecto's eyes lit up. "At the stake, you say?"
Hannah coughed. "Sorry to interrupt, Ms. Smythe, but you might want to know that we learned in History of Magic last year that you can't actually burn witches."
"Naturally not," Fiona said. "We're a civilized society, now. No judge in the land would sentence someone to burning."
"Oh, I wouldn't know anything about that," Hannah said. "I just meant that there's a simple charm from old witch hunting days to protect from just such a threat."
"No kidding?" Fiona said, her momentum totally thrown. "Wait, do you mean to tell me that the old medieval witch hunts actually caught witches? That they weren't just a bunch of angry mobs going around executing helpless women based on nothing more than suspicion, xenophobia, ageism, and sexism? That the only thing preventing them from working was that the witches were immune to fire?! That rather than 'dangerous and extra-judiciary mob justice,' the phrase 'witch-hunt' should mean 'it all would have worked except that they hadn't invented the guillotine yet?'"
"Erm, I suppose," Hannah said. "A lot of innocent Muggle women were burned under suspicion of witchcraft."
"Bet they would have appreciated a fireproof charm right around then," Fiona muttered. "Typical." She rounded on Alecto. "Don't think that you can magic your way out of this one, though," she said. "They changed the punishment to hanging, so unless you've got a Vertebrate-to-Steel Charm as well, you're clear out of luck."
This was true, though Fiona didn't mention that this hadn't been carried out since the Second World War. She doubted any modern judge would sentence someone to be hanged in this day and age, as any lawyer would have told Alecto.
"H-hanging?" Alecto quailed, confirming no such charm existed. "Barbarian! You—you have no proof!"
"Uhhhh," Fiona said sarcastically, "oh, no! Proof! I completely forgot about to get any of that—except, oh, waitaminute, the sworn testimony and contemporaneous notes of police sergeant, you ruddy idiot. Plus mountains of physical evidence you and your gang left behind back in the 80s. Unless you used a spell that erase your fingerprints each and every time you killed some hapless Muggle? What about DNA evidence—do you even know what that is? No? I didn't think so. I've got dozens of coppers lined up that are just itching to solve a few cold-case murders you committed in your stupid war."
"My friends will decorate your courthouse with the judge's entrails before it gets that far," Alecto growled, blatantly seeking refuge in sheer bluster. "You have no idea who you're dealing with, Muggle. Let me go now and I'll ensure you're awarded a quick death."
"They'd have to go through me," Milo said. "Remember what happened when you and 'your friends' tried your hands against me in the Gryffindor Common Room? Oh—unrelatedly, did I mention that I can find you anywhere you are in the world, in the work of a moment?"
Alecto looked a little shaken, but said nothing.
"For something as high-profile as a treason case, Muggle security will be out in force. I don't remember it, but I'm sure you do—you remember what happened to your brother when my colleague put a bullet in his leg? There's more where that came from."
Alecto scoffed, mustering up a bit of bravado. "We massacred your best, Muggle. We'll do it again."
Hannah coughed. "Ms. Smythe can correct me if I'm wrong, but I saw an article in the Guardian that said there was over a hundred thousand police officers in the country."
"A hundred… thousand…" Alecto croaked.
"Your voice will be hoarse and your wand arm will have carpal tunnel before you kill us all," Fiona said smugly.
"'Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon,'" Hannah quoted sagely. "You know, I'm starting to think the school motto wasn't talking about dragons at all, but Muggles."
"Oh, Merlin," Alecto whispered dejectedly. "I'm going to be hanged."
"Weeeerrrrrrlllll," Fiona mused. "There might be an alternative."
Alecto looked up hopefully.
"See, the thing is, much as I'd love to see you go to the gallows," Fiona said, "I don't actually care one way or the other about you, per se. You're nobody. But, see, if you could provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person of greater importance…"
"Say, Lucius Malfoy, for example," Hannah added helpfully.
"…then I think I can persuade my comrades to look the other way, just this once, to the treason. Maybe we can stick lesser charges like conspiracy or assault."
"So I wouldn't be hanged?" Alecto asked hopefully.
"Nah. A token prison sentence and maybe some community service," Fiona said breezily.
"What do you need me to do?" Alecto asked, finally broken.
Fiona grinned wickedly.
"Have you ever heard of the Muggle phrase, 'to wear a wire?'"