On Archive of Our Own
On Twisting the Hellmouth
XII: Hissing Sid
When Travers arrived at the Ministry his secretary brought in his usual cup of tea and cauldron cake, and said "Did you hear about Umbridge, sir?"
"Don't you mean 'Senior Undersecretary Umbridge?'"
"Not any more."
Travers smiled. "What happened?"
"Some sort of nervous breakdown last night. Snapped her wand and started screaming her head off, the security guards found her in her office trying to gouge her own eyes out with the remains of the wand. She's in the violent ward at Saint Mungos."
"Who's taking over her post?"
"Well... most people seem to think you are."
"Oh! Well, send some flowers to her, nothing too expensive, and keep your fingers crossed. If I get promoted I'll still need a good secretary, and I think that post is a couple points higher on the pay scale."
"You might want to think twice about the flowers. Seems they found some papers while they were cleaning up the mess, she was a half-blood. There were a few rumours, but no proof until now."
"I always thought there was something off about her. Right, forget the flowers. No, on second thoughts treat yourself to some, or a box of chocolates or something, and charge it to my expense account as 'entertainment.'"
"Thank you, sir. Do you still want me to call in a Snatcher team for a briefing?"
"Hmm... no, leave it for now, it was some damn-fool idea Umbridge had, if she was secretly a half-blood there's no telling what she was really up to, and the Snatchers are doing good work in the field. I need to review all of my contacts with her, make sure that she wasn't working against me or the Dark Lord."
"I'll start looking out the paperwork, there are probably memos and other papers that are relevant. I should have a report by the end of the afternoon."
Harry buttered a croissant and said "Okay, I think we've got to face facts. Dumbledore's portrait is off its head."
Hermione looked up from her breakfast. "I think it was a stupid plan too, but it might have worked if... well, if you still had a horcrux in your head, and if Dumbledore had been right about how the Elder Wand works, and nothing whatever went wrong including your death and resurrection. We still don't know that he was wrong, of course, though I think we can definitely say the wand causes insanity."
"I don't get why he isn't adapting to things going wrong."
"He's a portrait," said Ron, putting aside the Prophet's chess problem, "what did you expect?"
"What you get is Dumbledore's personality when it was painted," said Hermione, "which was obviously well after he got the Elder Wand. When you talk to it you get a response, but after a few hours it reverts back to the default setting. Oh, it probably remembers what you tell it, to some extent, but it has to be reminded repeatedly. It's like an advanced version of ELIZA."
"Not who, it's 'What'; it's a computer program... um, a machine that imitates people a little, Ron. It takes what people tell it and quotes bits of it back to them, so that it sounds like they're having a meaningful conversation. But at the end of the day you're mostly talking to a set of preset responses and a fixed recording of his personality."
Harry rubbed the fading remnant of his scar. "Great. So it's still obsessing with the original plan, which doesn't have a hope of working, and now Riddle's using the Elder Wand so I can't even pull off the brother wand core trick any more. He had some of my blood in his body, but that was more than two years ago. By now his body will have replaced it."
"It's probably a magical connection, not simple biology. I really doubt it's very strong though, or even Riddle wouldn't have risked using it when the blood of anyone who regarded him as an enemy would have worked. That's most of magical Britain!"
"It's best that we know now," said Diana. "Things would be far worse if we thought Dumbledore's plan was worth pursuing. Now we know that we need to find our own way to defeat Riddle. And I think that Severus has finally admitted that he can't follow Dumbledore's plan blindly, he'll be looking into alternatives."
"Let's hope he doesn't decide to go back to serving Riddle," said Harry. "I wouldn't put it past him."
"I don't think so. He hates Riddle, if anything I'm worried that he may try an assassination attempt on his own; I don't think he'd succeed and it would remove our only access to Riddle's camp. You're contacting him again tonight?"
"I said tonight if we could, but maybe we should leave it until tomorrow night. That gives him more time to come up with something, and we can say that we had to move camp or something. I don't want him to realise we're just sitting in your basement. If you're wrong about him that could be very nasty."
"You're probably right."
"That reminds me," said Hermione, "I wanted to ask you something. You were around during Grindlewald's rise to power, weren't you?"
Diana nodded. "Yes, for some of it. Why?"
"Well... You must have known that he was pretty much immune to bullets, there was at least one assassination attempt with muggle weapons."
"Two, and several magical attacks."
"Wait a minute," said Harry. "You knew that, you know that guns aren't much good against wizards, but you still asked us about them?"
"Yes. And now you're wondering why I asked, I'd imagine."
"Pretty much, yes."
"Why do you think? No prompting him, either of you."
"Um... you wanted to be sure that we knew what we were doing?"
"Exactly right. I need to work with people I can trust, not cowboys. You showed me again that you've thought it through, at least to the extent of researching your enemy and knowing things that probably won't work."
"Okay. Any more tests coming up?"
"They wouldn't be much of a test if I warned you, now would they?"
"Oh Merlin," said Ron. He imitated Moody: "Constant vigilance!"
Diana stared at him for a moment and shook her head.
"Moving on," Hermione said hastily, "I'm going to need your help enchanting the bludgers, Harry."
"Because if we cast some of the spells in Parseltongue they'll be a lot harder to break. Riddle can probably do it, but if things get sufficiently chaotic it may take him a while to think of it."
"I'm not a Parselmouth any more, that was part of the horcrux."
"Are you sure?" asked Diana.
"Well, it stands to reason."
"I don't think it necessarily follows," said Hermione. "It'd be like learning another language, it becomes part of the speech centre of your brain. Maybe the horcrux is where it originally came from, but I can't see it vanishing completely after so many years."
Ron scribbled on a paper napkin for a few seconds, and handed Harry a badly drawn picture of a curled-up snake. "Try talking to this, mate."
"Seriously? Okay..." He stared at the picture. "Hello, snake. See, nothing."
"Harry, mate, you were hissing."
"Merlin! Let's try that again... Open the Chamber of Secrets!"
"Well, you hissed something again, I don't claim to understand it."
"Let me try something," said Hermione, standing up and walking a few feet from the table and waved her wand in a sweeping curve. "Serpentsortia!" A red and brown snake about four feet long materialised at the end of her wand, dropped to the floor, and squirmed toward Harry.
"Merlin, give me some warning next time! Stop, go to sleep." The snake formed a coil and stopped moving.
"Finite Incantatem!" The snake vanished. "What did you tell it to do?"
"Stop and go to sleep."
"There you go then. Congratulations, you're still Hissing Sid." At Ron's confused look she added "Sorry, obscure Muggle reference, don't worry about it."
"Okay... I suppose, provided there isn't a bit of the horcrux left in me. But you could have done something a little less drastic. What if it bit me?"
"I'm not an idiot, Harry, I visualised a corn snake when I cast the spell, they're harmless."
"I didn't know you could do that."
"I'm surprised you haven't read up on snakes and snake magic," said Hermione. "You have a really unusual talent, I would have thought it would be a good idea to be able to tell your asp from your... damn it, can't think of a good snake name that rhythms with elbow!"
"El boa?" suggested Ron. They stared at him. "Didn't the snake you told us about have a Spanish accent? The one you let loose in the zoo?"
"Mexican," said Harry, "and it was all in my head anyway, we were both speaking Parseltongue."
"That kills that joke..."
"If you're thinking about languages I'd imagine you know how to modify the bludgers," said Diana. "How much progress have you made?"
"I've worked out how to get through the protective enchantments," said Hermione, "the ones that are supposed to stop tampering, and I've got a good idea of the spells we need to cast. If we take it slowly and carefully I'll have them ready for the new spells tomorrow morning."
"We've got time, I can't realistically see us travelling before the weekend."
"Why so long?"
"I paid for the passports yesterday morning, we ought to have confirmation that the names and numbers are safe to use some time today or tomorrow, and the actual passports on Thursday or Friday. As soon as we know the passport details are safe I'll see about booking tickets. Ideally I'd like to arrive at the same time as a lot of other passengers so that we aren't too noticeable. On Friday and Saturday most travellers are headed the other way, we might attract attention, so Sunday afternoon would be the best time. That's when a lot of people return from holidays and shopping trips to France, and it will give us all of Monday and Tuesday morning and afternoon to get into position."
"That doesn't leave much time if anything goes wrong."
"Then we'll have to make sure it doesn't."
After her last class of the day Luna Lovegood took a walk in the grounds, apparently wandering aimlessly, gathering some flowers and mushrooms which she braided into her hair. When she neared the Whomping Willow she looked around to make sure that nobody was watching, then used a long stick to press a knot near the base. The branches moved to one side and the roots slid apart, revealing a low-ceilinged tunnel which she quickly entered. The roots waited for her to pass then closed behind her, as she cast Lumos to light her way. She was most of the way to Hogsmeade when she heard Crucio! and collapsed in pain.
When she looked up Alecto Carrow was standing over her, wand raised. "So, my pretty, you thought you'd play truant, did you? Well, you've made a bad mistake." She cackled for a moment. "You're outside the school grounds now, which means that you're fair game. Petrificus Totalus!"
Luna's arms and legs snapped together. Carrow studied her for a moment, then vanished Luna's robes and tie, leaving the skirt, blouse and cardigan she wore underneath. Another spell tore her clothes and dirtied her skin and hair. "There we are, now, the very picture of a mudblood on the run, all ready for the Snatchers. They'll want to know where you stole your magic, I'd imagine." She pretended to listen, but Luna couldn't say anything. "Cat got your tongue? Oh yes, nearly forgot." She picked up Luna's wand, snapped it, watched as the core burned away, then tucked it into Luna's cardigan pocket. Luna glared at her as Carrow waved her wand again. "Locomotor!" Luna's body rose a few inches into the air, and followed Carrow along the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack. As she floated her eys gradually shifted colour; one silver-grey, the other green.
John listened to the phone and swore, adding "Pick up, you git..."
At his third attempt there was an answer. "Blood speaking."
"Hello, Jason, this is John Constantine. Can you spare a couple of minutes?"
"No, but I'm sure you won't let that stop you."
"Know what Akrasiel is up to these days?"
"Akrasiel? Decomposing, I'd imagine."
"Well, subliming into the ether, whatever you want to call it. He's gone, anyway."
"For want of a better word. Unless someone with sufficient power feels like reshaping him again he's gone."
"What killed him?"
"Michael, allegedly. As I understand it, Akrasiel exceeded his authority, Lucifer got annnoyed and removed his protection, and Akrasiel lost the subsequent argument. Michael ended the problem permanently."
"That's odd. Any idea why someone would try to summon him now?"
"Ignorance, I'd imagine."
"Okay... hypothetically, if a really evil wizard tries the rite for summoning him at the next full moon, what sort of rabbit are they likely to pull out of the hat?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. Since he isn't around they'd either get nothing or someone else in the vengeance business. Or a random demon that feels like a free ride to Earth, of course."
"One moment... Etrigan suggests that you consider the date very carefully."
"I'd imagine that there may be some especial astrological or magical significance, beyond a mere full moon. And... ah, Etrigan is laughing at me."
"Any idea why?"
"When he's in this sort of mood there's no talking to him. We're obviously missing something important."
"Talk to Lucifer. He may be willing to confirm the story, or have some suggestions."
"Thanks. I'll give it a try."
Notes: For story purposes Harry retained the Parselmouth ability after the horcrux was removed. There is nothing in the novels to contradict this, although J.K. Rowling has since stated that he lost it.
Captain Beaky & His Band (Not Forgetting Hissing Sid!!!) was the title given to two albums of poetry by Jeremy Lloyd, set to music by Jim Parker and recited by various British celebrities, released in 1977 and 1980.
The demon Etrigan is a prisoner in Jason Blood's body in DC and Vertigo comics.
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