Pairing[s]: Harry/Draco and others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 3100 words
Summary: To generalise is to be an idiot. To particularise is the alone distinction of merit. General knowledges are those knowledges that idiots possess. [William Blake]
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Interregnum - Chapter 04
"Training exercises." Draco sank the blue and stood at the far end of the table, staring at the maroon solid, which was nowhere near a pocket.
"Yes! Remember when those planes hit New York two years ago?"
"How could I forget? You had conspiracy theories coming out of every orifice for a year," said Draco, and took a shot. The maroon rolled towards the far right pocket and stopped just short of it. "I suppose I ought to prepare for another year's worth of frantic speculation now."
Blaise gave him a withering look. "I don't understand how you can be such a cold fish about it. And this isn't a conspiracy theory. Anyway," he barrelled on, ignoring Draco's eye-roll, "The planes that hit New York ought to have been shot down long before they got close enough, but there were planned simulations of the exact same scenario -- planes flying into buildings -- happening at the same time and the fighter pilots thought that the alerts about the real planes were part of a training exercise."
"Uh huh," said Draco, who had already heard that in several variations, always delivered with that same feverish glint in Blaise's eyes. Draco would never understand this infatuation with Muggle politics. "It's your shot."
Blaise leaned over the table, clearly no longer interested in the game, and shot at Draco's maroon instead of one of his own. "Even people in the know can't tell simulation from the real thing, so how would Shacklebolt know the difference?"
"How would Shacklebolt know something was going on with the Muggle military in the first place?" asked Draco, potting the maroon.
"He must have some kind of eavesdropping device," said Blaise.
Draco smirked. "Plus an underground lair and a cape, am I right?"
Blaise leaned his cue against the wall and crossed his arms. "Well, how do you think he knew something was going on?"
"I don't know and I don't care," declared Draco. "Middle left." He aimed at the eight ball, which had begun revolving slowly in one place. "Track," he said, and shot. The eight ball attempted to escape into the wrong pocket, but the cue ball smacked it, hard, and chased it in zigzag patterns across the table. The balls still in play clamoured in tiny voices, some shouting encouragement at the eight ball, others cursing at the cue ball. "I think," he said, watching the endgame unfold, "You're giving Shacklebolt far too much credit. I'm willing to bet that he blundered into this whole mess just as he's blundering about now, trying to do damage control."
Finally, the eight ball rolled into the middle left pocket with a sigh of resignation.
"It doesn't fit," said Blaise. "The Prophet has a dozen theories, the Muggles are being told three different stories, and some of the things I heard at the pub are downright bizarre -- some people are even saying Lord Voldemort is involved."
Draco flinched inwardly. "That proves nothing except for an excellently functioning rumour mill," he said.
"No, but if Shackleblot were blundering about, don't you think it would be more obvious? You're the first person to suggest general ineptitude, actually."
"So what is he trying to cover up?" asked Draco with a sigh. Clearly Blaise was not even going to acknowledge that he'd lost yet another game of billiards. It was not a fun way to win.
"That he broke the Statute of Secrecy for no good reason," said Blaise with an air of an adult talking to a small child. "He thought there had been a nuclear strike, but there hadn't been. Eva says there would've been more damage if nuclear bombs really exploded somewhere above those cities."
"Foreigners," said Draco, scoffing. "Don't you understand? It doesn't matter why he says he broke the Statute of Secrecy. Whether or not he tries to cover it up is immaterial. There will be people who'll support him even if he declares that he did it as a joke, and there'll be people who oppose him even if he shows that wizardkind would have perished if he hadn't broken the Statute."
"Well, of course there will be," said Blaise, clearly affronted. "But I'd say the balance would tilt heavily towards opposition if there's a cover-up."
"I don't know if it would," said Draco. "Wizards aren't Muggles, in case you've forgotten. And what does it matter to you if there's opposition against the Minister?"
"That," said Blaise with a predatory grin, "is a very good question."
The owl looked unfamiliar, and Neville accepted its missive with some trepidation: unexpected news generally meant bad news. The owl remained on the windowsill, its round yellow eyes unblinking. Waiting for a response.
Neville moved to his writing desk and sat down, unrolling the parchment.
request the honour of your presence
at the marriage of their daughter
Patrick Sebastian Vaisey
at the Bulstrode Mansion
Saturday, the second of August
Seven o'clock in the evening.
At the bottom of the parchment was affixed a small card marked "For Return Owl". On it were three empty check boxes, next to the words Attending, Attending with Guest: ____________________ (name of Guest), and Not Attending.
Neville blinked at it all, nonplussed. He turned the parchment over, but the name and address were his. Not a mistake, then, and not bad news, either. Patrick Vaisey's mother was Frank Longbottom's younger sister, Patricia, who had married Tristan Vaisey against her mother's wishes, causing a further chill in an already-splintered family. Neville had never had much to do with his Slytherin cousin, and an invitation to Patrick's wedding was certainly not something he had ever expected to receive.
Between starting his teaching career, the school year running into July because of the Hufflepuffs getting locked inside their common room for a week and then the same happening to the Slytherins, the Muggle bomb attack, and now this completely out-of-the-blue wedding invitation, it was turning out to be the most bizarre year in Neville's life.
There was a knock on his bedroom door, and Augusta Longbottom entered without bothering to wait for a reply. She, too, held a cream-coloured piece of parchment. A twin of the owl on Neville's windowsill fluttered in after Gran.
"Got one too, did you?" asked Gran. "I think you ought to take Hannah Abbott. She's a very nice girl."
Neville stared at her, deciding not to point out that he hadn't spoken to Hannah Abbott in years. "We're going?"
"Don't be silly; of course we're going. It's not every day that one of my grandsons gets married. Though you really ought to have been the first."
Neville rolled his eyes a little. "It's rather short notice, isn't it?" He glanced at the Herbology Today calendar on his desk. "Less than three weeks."
"Patricia had always lacked discipline," said Gran. "I'm not surprised her son's no different."
Neville decided not to enlighten her that if anyone was responsible for the short notice, it would more likely be Millicent Bulstrode than her future husband. "I don't even know what to get them," he said instead. "I've met Patrick all of ten times, and I can't say I was ever friends with, um, Millicent." Come to think of it, it was surprising that the vain, fussy Patrick would marry someone as, well, homely as Millicent, rich parents or no. Maybe Neville had judged him too harshly.
"I'm sure they'll have left lists with Diagon Alley proprietors," said Gran, waving her invitation dismissively. "I'm having tea with Eva this afternoon at The Garden; I'll go early and stop into a few shops. Though if Aurelius's daughter is anything like him, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not better off asking in Knockturn Alley." She lowered the parchment and tilted her head. "Why don't you come, too? Eva would be delighted to meet you."
Hermione sat in the War Office, staring at the wall map. In her hands she held the Transsieve, which was now equipped with a little lever that could switch between Magic and Muggle. As she had suspected, the Transsieve worked far more reliably with magical communications -- she was able to listen to Floo conversations without static or interruptions, just by focussing her attention on the intercepted signal with the Transsieve in her hands.
She had never wanted to create such a thing -- it was invasive, and about as filthy as the taboo on Voldemort's name, back in the war. Worked on the same principle, too, but Hermione didn't have to like it. She certainly wouldn't tell anyone about it, which was a clear benefit to being an Unspeakable -- she didn't have to tell anyone anything. Not that she did not trust Kingsley, but he was still the head of Britain's magical government, and some things were just too dangerous for a government to have. But more offensive to her was the idea that someone had found a way to sabotage her Conference Globes.
The dot in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean began to glow green, and Hermione flipped the Transsieve switch to Magic. It wasn't the same as eavesdropping. She wouldn't listen any further once she knew that the use was authorised, and no state secrets would be spoken during the initiation stage.
The Conference Host -- who sounded like Hermione trapped in a large metallic vault -- spoke. "Initiating Conference LV-X-422. Initiating party, please state your name and affiliation."
There was a loud bang, a crash, and a shout, that of a young child. Voices murmured over the child's, and there were footsteps. Finally, a deep male voice said, "Steven Farson, Secretary of Magic of the Wizarding United States of America."
"Thank you. Please state your password for this week."
"Thank you. Receiving party, please state your name and affiliation."
"Aleksey Stashevski, Minister for Magic of Wizarding Russia." The man's English was heavily accented.
"Thank you. Please state your password for this week."
Hermione put the Transsieve down and flicked the tiny switch back to Muggle. Fifth conference this week, and still no unauthorised uses. Perhaps Farson had lied to Kingsley last week, after the Sweepers had picked up unscheduled activity. Maybe he had been talking to Russia, but just didn't want Kingsley to know. Britain was quickly becoming something of a pariah on the wizarding political arena due to the breach of the Statute of Secrecy. It wasn't fair. Kingsley's quick reaction had prevented what could've been a horrific and ultimately pointless Muggle war. Why did no one see that?
"Welcome to Boulder." Andrew Biggs, Harry's American partner, extended a thin, sun-darkened hand.
They shook. "Thanks," said Harry. "Wish I could've visited under different circumstances."
Biggs grinned. "Nah, you wouldn't want to visit here under different circumstances. Fort Lauderdale, maybe, or Seattle, or New York. Much more fun."
Harry looked around at the enormous office, with desks standing in no discernible pattern and not a cubicle in sight. "I don't know," he said. "This is fun, compared to what I'm used to."
"Oh, sorry about the mess. Everyone's been jumpy since the attack, and then word came down from New York that you were coming..."
"No, no," said Harry, and gestured at a parchment-strewn desk. "I rather like things this way."
A harried-looking wizard appeared in the chair behind the desk Harry was pointing at, grabbed a sheaf of parchment from the pile, and disappeared again.
"Don't forget to write," murmured Biggs under his breath, caught Harry's eye, and grinned. "I think we'd better get to work."
Harry followed him into an office deeper in the building and gave a start when he took in the walls, which looked rather like those in the Lovegoods' kitchen, painted with flowers in bright primary colours. The room's fourth wall was all glass, through which bright sunlight streamed into the office, so intensive that there were no shadows there at all.
"Sorry about this," said Biggs, taking a seat by a wide, narrow table in the middle of the office. "Short notice and all that, the only place I could book for us was the interrogation room."
Harry sat down opposite Biggs and placed his briefcase on top of the table. "This is an interrogation room?" he asked. "Very... unconventional."
"Oh yeah, I forgot. You guys still use the chains-and-dungeons method," said Biggs cheerfully. "We prefer to put people at ease. Our Mediwizards found -- in the fifties -- that it's more difficult for a perp to resist Veritaserum if he's nice and relaxed."
"I read about that," said Harry, thinking back to his training. "But our Mediwizards dismissed the studies as inconclusive."
"I think it has to do with psychology, myself," said Biggs, placing his briefcase next to Harry's. "Nothing magical. Inconclusive or not, it does work. In this room, Veritaserum makes 'em sing like canaries. Makes our work more efficient."
Harry didn't want to get into a discussion of Occlumency just then, so he merely grunted noncommittally. "Speaking of work, have you got any suspects lined up?"
"No," said Biggs with a frown. "Fourteen soldiers dead, ten of them ballistics experts. It's a serious blow to the non-magical military, considering they train maybe five or six of those every five years or so. A lot of what they know is top secret. Real messy, this whole thing."
"No wizards have been implicated?"
"None so far. We've taken statements from families and pretty much everyone the dead soldiers have interacted with -- that we know of -- in the past month, but no leads. Of course, we have to be extra careful with the non-magicals, so it's slow going. We're bound to find something eventually."
Non-magical. Biggs had used the expression twice now. "Is that the American term for Muggles, then? Non-magical?" Harry had heard nothing about it in his security briefing.
"It's not really a term," said Biggs."We call them non-magicals if we have to distinguish, but generally they're just people." He looked at Harry for a moment. "There was a lot of resentment about the term "Muggle" on the part of wizards from non-magical families back in the sixties. It led to civil unrest, a lot of unauthorised magic use in the streets -- none of it large-scale, and mostly assumed to be part of the hippie movement by the non-magicals." Harry, who had never studied the American magical community in any great depth, was momentarily speechless. Biggs wore a wistful expression. "I met my wife during a street rally, so it wasn't all bad, I guess."
Harry looked at him. "You were... there?" Biggs did appear older than him, but maybe by five years, maximum ten. Not nearly old enough to have been an adult during the 1960s.
"Anti-Aging Serums," said Biggs, noting Harry's appraising look. "You haven't heard of them?"
"Oh," said Harry. "Yeah, but they're illegal." The Ministry's list of Class C Non-Tradeable Substances didn't even bother listing the different varieties of Anti-Aging Potions; there was just a blanket ban on them throughout wizarding Britain.
"Not here," said Biggs, chuckling. "There are some wizards who refuse to use them, but everyone else does. It's not just about looks, if that's what you're thinking. Anti-Aging Serums don't just make you look young, like those poisons the non-magicals use. They actually transform your body to be young."
"What about cheating Mother Nature?" asked Harry. He rarely gave aging any thought, and the whole conversation was suffusing him with vague discomfort.
Biggs shrugged. "I figure we cheat Mother Nature already every time we use a Summoning Charm. Don't know about you, but I'd hate to come face to face with a Dark wizard and have my reflexes fail. Which they really should, at least some of the time. I'm eighty-nine."
"Holy shit!" said Harry, feeling rather absurdly that he ought to have shown Biggs more respect, somehow. "Aren't there side effects?"
"Some," said Biggs. He didn't elaborate, and Harry felt like it would be too personal to ask. He would soon need a mental briefcase for all the mental notes he was making, and they had barely discussed the reason Harry was here.
"I wish they'd have told me these things before I came over," said Harry, sighing.
"Well, your guys don't know much about us," said Biggs. "Just like we don't know much about you. It's always been that way, though."
"Yeah," said Harry. He was the first Auror in two centuries to visit America on official business. "A shame, really," he said, to be polite.
"Damned shame," agreed Biggs.
Harry stared at a red flower on the wall, thinking hard. They'd thought the Americans had not protected their Muggles' nuclear assets, but that had been an assumption. Judging how little he -- and Kingsley, evidently -- knew of the Americans, couldn't it be possible that they'd assumed wrong? "You do protect your Muggles' nuclear arsenal, don't you?"
"Of course we do," said Biggs. "I have no idea how; it's done by the boys and girls up in Special Division."
Harry frowned, his heart beating very fast. Could it be as easy as that? "So... how were the protective enchantments broken?"
"No one knows," said Biggs. The first thing Secretary Farson did was personally interrogate each one of them under Veritaserum. Not one had been Imperiused, Confunded, fed illicit potions. Nothing. Unless someone's created an untraceable spell, they're all clean."
"What if someone did create an untraceable spell?" asked Harry, grasping at straws now.
"Then we'd have a bigger problem on our hands than this," said Biggs, unsmiling. "A bad guy with that much magical power..."
"True," conceded Harry. Even Voldemort hadn't been powerful enough to invert magic. "But someone did find out about the protection on the Colorado bombs and took it off. How?"
"I have no idea, but it wasn't those kids. The testing was more of a precaution, though -- if you can't resist the Imperius Curse or less powerful forms of compulsion, you'll never be Special Division. Like I said, they're clean."
Harry leaned forward, struck by an idea. "Are they all alive?"
"What do you mean?"
"Has anyone from Special Division died recently?"