On Archive of Our Own
On Twisting the Hellmouth
X: Too Many Veelas
"We've completed the vault check," said Bill Weasley, laying a report on Tonguetongs' desk.
Tonguetongs looked up from the file he was reading. "And?"
"We found Dark traces, but no Dark artifacts with anything like the thaumic signature you described. There was one, almost certainly, the traces are too strong for anything else, but it was removed from the bank within the last week or so."
"Where was it stored?"
"The LeStrange vault, as you suggested. The vault was visited by Narcissa Malfoy on Friday, nobody else has opened it recently."
"How did she access the vault?"
"She had the key and a letter of authorization with the LeStrange seal. The seal can only be applied by one of the senior members of the family; beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. The Probity Probe team detected a strong Dark spike as she was leaving, but their job is to check incoming customers, not outgoing."
"So it's been there for at least a couple of months, we only started probing then."
"Several years at least. If I had to make an estimate I'd say at least ten, more like fifteen to twenty."
"So... placed there before the end of the war, I'd imagine. What else can you tell me? What shape and size is it?"
"Something small enough for one woman to carry, beyond that your guess is as good as mine. It was probably in a partially shielded container, a treated mokeskin bag or something of the sort, you really wouldn't want to carry something like that in your bare hands, and with the levels of dark magic we detected it would be almost impossible to manipulate its size or weight."
"Find out who escorted her to the vault and see what they remember. Is all of that in here?" Tonguetongs gestured at the report.
"Yes sir. If I can make a suggestion, it might be worth looking inside the vault."
"Is there anything else in there on the prohibited list?"
"Not that I can detect from outside. But we're probably missing low-level items, the taint is drowning them out."
"In that case leave it for now, test again in a few weeks; if anyone opens the vault we'll get a better reading, but our customers pay for security and confidentiality, we can't break either just because there might be something dark in a vault that we can't detect from outside."
"Let me know if you learn anything more." Tonguetongs returned to his reading, and Bill went off to check the records of Narcissa's visit.
Once he'd finished with the file Tonguetongs went down to the vaults and took a complex route of tunnels to the basement of the tallest office block in that part of London, which the Goblins had secretly owned since 1975. If it was ever necessary to abandon the Bank they planned to evacuate through Muggle areas, the last place wizards would be likely to look for them, collapsing the vaults behind them. It would wreck the wizards' economy, but he didn't necessarily see that as a disadvantage.
The route to their base on one of the supposedly unoccupied floors bypassed Muggle lifts and stairs, using concealed passages in the building's service core. His office there was spartan, built for efficiency in an emergency, but had a few Muggle tools impossible in the Alley. He wrote a brief covering note and began to fax it, and the report, to Paris.
"The more I think about the Ministry of Magic, the more I'm convinced it's a cargo cult," said Hermione.
"A what?" asked Harry.
"Ron, apologies in advance; you're going to find this offensive."
"I'm beyond finding excuses for the Ministry. Tell us."
"Okay, cargo cults have been around for a long time, but a lot of the modern ones started in the forties, during the second world war. Ron, that was the Muggle war that was mixed up with Grindlewald's war. As part of it both sides began to build military bases on a lot of islands in the Pacific, starting with airstrips... landing places for aeroplanes... on islands where the natives were pretty much in the stone age. And then planes started landing, and the natives saw them unloading food, and tools, and guns, and lots of other things they wanted. And some of them got the idea that the planes were being sent by the gods and that the Japanese and Americans were using magical rituals to make them land and steal the cargo from the natives. So they decided that if they made a good enough copy of a landing strip and the structures that went with it they might be able to fool the gods into giving them the cargo instead."
"What's that got to do with the Ministry?"
"Well... I can't help feeling that when the wizards started hiding some of them had a look at how Muggle governments seemed to work and said 'we can do that' without bothering to find out what the checks and balances were, and built a copy that sort of worked without most of the supporting structure that goes into a real government. Because there's no way a real government goes that crazy that fast."
"You're sort of right," said Ron. "But there's a reason for it. It ought to be in the History of Magic course but you know how useless that is. Dad told us about it. What happened was that the Wizengamut lost a lot of people in Grindlewald's war, and some of the old ruling families just died out completely, or were absorbed by relatives. It ended up with there being a lot fewer seats and everybody doing multiple jobs to keep it going, like Dumbledore. So after that war they tried to expand again, but a lot of the people who came in weren't really up to much, so the power tended to concentrate with the people who could get things done. And of course it all went to hell again when Vold.. Riddle came along. A lot more families gone, more incompetence generally, and people like Fudge and Umbitch get power because there's nobody really competent to oppose them."
"He's right," said Diana. "In the twenties and thirties the Wizengamut was about twice the size and seemed to be a lot less... ah... stupid. The same thing happened to a lesser extent in the rest of Europe, there was a long period of reconstruction after Grindlewald's war, the big difference was that Riddle never got very far outside the UK. There were a few Death Eater sympathizers but he never had the same sort of power base he had in Britain."
"Why was that?" asked Harry.
Ron grinned. "Too many Veelas. They've married into a lot of families in Europe, it's hard to be really fanatical about pure blood when your granny isn't exactly human. Trouble is that most of them don't like the British climate, so far as I know Fleur is about the only one our side of the Channel."
"That's as good an explanation as any," said Diana. "There are other reasons, of course, but basically Britain was unlucky."
"So how did Grindlewald gain power in the first place?"
"He was a different sort of fanatic, Harry," said Hermione. "He wanted to rule the muggles and end the Statute of Secrecy completely. It was all supposed to be benevolent, for the greater good, but it was soon obvious that it was just an excuse to seize power and control people. It could never have ended well."
"Okay, so the way we get a stable government in Britain is to import more Veelas. Nice idea, Ron, but I really can't see most of the girls from Hogwarts going for the idea. Too much competition."
"I think the priority is to get rid of Riddle," said Diana, "We can worry about effective government later. Let's focus on..." Diana paused, listening to something they couldn't hear. "Excuse me a moment." She went out of the room. As she opened the door they heard a faint warbling noise.
"What was that about?" asked Ron.
"Sounds like a fax machine," said Hermione. At Ron's look of incomprehension she added "A way to send written messages by telephone."
"How do they get them through the wires?"
Hermione was still trying to explain when Diana came back. "We have a problem. The Goblins have finished checking their vaults, and I think that Voldemort may know we destroyed his horcrux. We destroyed it on Thursday, Narcissa Malfoy removed something really Dark from the LeStrange vault on Friday morning, probably another horcrux. It could be a coincidence, but I doubt it."
"Which one did he know about? The locket, or the one in my head?"
"It could be either or both."
"Wait a minute," said Hermione, "that can't be right. We know Snape saw Riddle on Saturday morning, he took him the message Harry sent. He doesn't seem to have done anything unusual while Snape was there, and Snape and Dumbledore were taken by surprise when Harry told them the one in his head was gone. If Riddle knew he would have probably called all of the Death Eaters in on Friday to question them, and he didn't. You saw Snape on Saturday afternoon, did he mention anything like that?"
"No, and I used my lasso to check his intentions; he wasn't hiding anything."
"Must be a coincidence," said Ron. "Or something warned them, a prophecy maybe."
"It's always possible, but there isn't much we can do about it if that's the case."
Harry touched the remnant of his scar. "Or he needed it for some other reason. You said they were getting ready for some sort of demonic ceremony when you were watching Malfoy Manor, could it be related to that?"
Hermione's eyes widened. "I think I know what it is. We think Vol... Riddle, damn it... put a horcrux into his snake, right? It's his familiar, stronger and more intelligent than any snake should be, and at least five times the size any venomous snake should be. If his current body is ever killed he'll take over in that form and carry on. Okay, that's bad... but what if he was able to do the same thing to a demon, transfer a horcrux to it and make its body his?"
"Ron, language! Sorry Diana."
"I've heard worse, Hermione. And you're right, it does seem like the sort of thing Riddle would try. Demons are effectively immortal and incredibly powerful, if he can somehow bind one to his will long enough to transfer the horcrux then... well, as Ron said, we're fucked."
Harry rubbed his forehead again. "Then we're just going to have to stop him."
John Constantine finished his translation of the symbols Diana had provided and wondered if there was any point blagging a plane ride to somewhere well out of the line of fire. It was a while since he'd visited Nepal. He lit another cigatette, inhaled deeply, and stubbed it out, then flipped it onto a map of Britain. It bounced twice then landed tip down in Wiltshire and started to burn. He gave it a few seconds then lifted it off and blew out the smouldering paper. There was a neat hole in the paper, centred on Malfoy Intrinsica.
"Bollocks." He picked up the phone and dialed Paris, and went to look out of the window as he waited for Diana to pick up. Across the road half a dozen people were waiting for a bus, unaware of what fate might have in store for them.
"Princess... yeah, it's John... okay, yeah, I've finished the translation. They're going to try to summon Akrasiel... No, you probably haven't heard of him... No, he isn't a demon exactly, he's a Fallen Archangel. Best known as Raguel, the Archangel of Divine Vengeance. He isn't in the Bible, except for the Book of Enoch, and that doesn't even say he Fell... Thing is that isn't his name any more, it was taken from him when he fell, so there's no way to control him. If Tommy-boy tries his ritual he'll have more trouble than he can possibly handle... No, there are lots of other names he's used, but I wouldn't bother trying to memorize them. None of them work, except maybe to get his attention."
He listened as Diana explained Hermione's guess. "Christ... yeah, that sounds bloody plausible. The bastard probably has the name Akrasiel and thinks it's all he needs, he's certainly arrogant enough... Okay. Okay, yeah, I'll see you in a few days. Let me know what you'll need, I'll do my best to help."
He finished the call and hung up, then lit another cigarette. "Oh well, no point giving up now."
"Those'll kill you in the end." He spun round, and saw Death sitting on the table where he'd left the map.
"You ought to know."
"Actually I don't. That's my brother's job, not mine. I just pick up the pieces after things end."
"Fair point. Well, I'm still alive, so far as I know. What can I do for you?"
"Nothing, really. I was in the area and thought I'd say 'hi.' Considering what's probably going to be happening next week, there may not be time to talk much if we meet again."
"Got any helpful hints?"
"Not really. It sounds like you've already covered the basics. Want to get coffee?"
"Don't know about you, but I could murder a curry."
Death hopped down from the table. "Isn't that supposed to be my line?"
"Couldn't resist it. No? Okay, coffee it is."
Notes: Akrasiel is mentioned as the Archangel of Divine Vengeance (with several other names and roles) in the Book of Enoch but does not appear elsewhere in the Bible. His Fallen status is my idea, for the purposes of this story. The curry line is from Terry Pratchett's Mort (1987).
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