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Chapter 4: Synergy
By the time they arrived at the library, they could barely see Hermione's head over the pile of books. She looked up, beaming, from a translation of a German work on magical law enforcement.
"It's amazing! There are spells you can use to create a sigil -- a calligromancy character -- without using paper. With the right spell, you can just -- " She waved her wand as though it were a quill -- "write it on the air. What we saw on the cabinet was a simple explosion, but on the other side of the room I found one that was more subtle -- it causes a slow swelling of the joints, so after a week or two the victim begins to experience something similar to arthritis."
She paused, blinking. "Which they've been having an epidemic of at the Ministry." She began to scrabble for another book, mumbling to herself.
"Iubo, 'Mione," Malfoy said.
Harry stared at him, shocked -- it was the spell you used to bring a dog to heel -- but Hermione laughed and said, "All right, you're right. I'm getting off on a tangent."
McGonagall read the scroll over Hermione's shoulder. "This is very well done, Hermione."
She beamed. "The problem," she said, "is that we still can't make a sigil visible unless we already know it's there. I suppose we could just walk around doing an abstrusi at random objects until we -- "
Harry frowned. "Hermione, there's another gris-gris I once learned to avenge a murder, and the Orisha use it even when they don't know who the murderer is."
She was right there with him. "So elements of that sort of magic might let us act on any enchantments in an area ..." She flipped open Endor's Metamagics, and in an instant she had forgotten they were there.
It took her all the next day to break down the potion and identify which ingredients were critical (ginger and cornmeal, as it happened), and most of another day, in close collaboration with Professor Aerie, to figure out exactly what the potion did and then develop a way to do the same thing with a spell.
"It's the same process we used for Remus' monthly Contraluna spell," McGonagall told Harry as they watched the two of them at work, "because no one but Severus could make a reliable Wolfsbane potion."
"I told you Hogwarts could be restored to its former glory as a research institution, Kitty," Malfoy said.
"Don't call me Kitty, wretched boy," she said fondly.
The students were still having an enormous slumber party in the Slytherin common room. Having been informed of the new developments, they were very careful not to touch anything, but the teachers who took it in turns to chaperone them reported that on the whole they seemed to see the unmining of Hogwarts as a holiday.
At last, after dinner on the second night, Hermione called them all together in the staff common room to test the new spell. "I'm not yet sure of the spell radius," she said. "It might cover the whole room or only a few feet around me." Then she dripped a few drops of sour-smelling oil on a candle -- "Harry's contribution," she said, "and it turns out you can't dispense with it" -- and pronounced a few words in what sounded like a mixture of Latin and French. Harry closed his eyes.
When he opened them, he thought at first that the candle had gone out. Then he saw that it was only that the room was so bright with enchantments.
There were fine lines around all the doors and windows. "Hogwarts security spells," McGonagall murmured. And there was a delicate tracery over McGonagall's tartan hat, for which she offered no explanation.
In the hall they could see faint glows from some of the sealed-off areas. When they went to the outer door, they could see light as far as the Whomping Willow.
"I'm surprised every student in the castle isn't running to us for explanation," McGonagall said.
"It's the scent of the candle that allows us to see these," Hermione said. "When it goes out, they'll fade away."
"What's that one?" Harry pointed to a knot of enchantment on the door of one of the unused suites. Hermione's eyes widened.
"Ooh, Harry. That's a pain spell. It's a complicated one, too. See the knots? Each of those is a separate spell, and the spikes are 'If' clauses ... I can take it apart, but it will probably take five or six iterations of the Exstinguo spell, each with the appropriate noun, you know. I mean, it's not as though you can take on the entire conglomeration of knots in a single spell ..."
Malfoy raised his wand. Harry, feeling suddenly competitive, lifted the quill he was holding.
The entire tracery winked out.
After a moment's pause, Hermione said, "How long have you two been spelling synergistically?"
At their blank looks, she rolled her eyes: "You know. Where a spell you do together is more than twice as powerful as if you'd done it separately. Honestly! You'd think neither of you had read a book since you left school."
Malfoy looked nervously at Harry. "Probably purely accidental."
"A fluke, yeah --"
"Try it now," Hermione suggested.
Malfoy sighed and picked up his wand with the air of one humoring a silly whim. "Very well, then -- Potter, shall we summon a glass of water?"
Harry shrugged and readied his wand.
After a moment, Hermione looked up, wiping water off her face. The entire tabletop was drenched, and there was a sizable puddle on the floor.
"Not a fluke, then," Malfoy said blandly.
"But don't you see!" Hermione was twitching with excitement. "If you two have spell synergy, you can clean up these enchantments in a fraction of the time."
Harry glanced at Malfoy, who looked as if he was feeling dismayed too.
"The faster the cleanup, the fewer students will get hurt," McGonagall said. "Do you two know everything you need to know about the spell? Hermione, how quickly can you train them to interpret the sigils? And we'll need to set up tests to see if anyone else on the staff can spell synergistically."
"I'll start tonight," she said, beaming.
Harry shrugged at Malfoy. "I suppose we're the cleanup crew now."
"Oh, good," Malfoy said. "My CV needed some high-level management experience."
"Weasley and Weasley, five," Malfoy said.
"Which is better than either of you did with anyone else," Hermione said, making a note. "All right, you two are a team."
It seemed as though they'd been testing for hours, two by two, trying to identify pairs who could spell synergistically, with long gaps while Hermione looked up each sigil in her book and made sure they didn't take on anything they couldn't identify. Nearly every pair did better together than separately, but the improvement was usually small -- three or four knots with a single spell, perhaps. Only Harry and Malfoy seemed to be able to unravel an entire set of curses at once.
Charlie and Sofia went over to where McGonagall had set up a map of the school on one of the library walls, and Harry could hear them debating the relative urgency of the west and south wings of classrooms. Little by little the map was filling with color as each pair was assigned an area to unmine.
All but Harry and Malfoy, whose skills were to be put to work immediately unspelling the areas that posed the most danger to students. Except that "immediately" apparently meant "after wasting hours in the most boring way possible," because Malfoy seemed to feel that Hermione couldn't possibly manage the testing without his help. So while team after team went out to do something useful, Harry was stuck here in the common room, watching Remus Lupin pair up with all the remaining teachers to unspell an unused storage closet.
"Nodum exstinguo." Remus' hoarse voice.
"Nodum exstinguo." Michelle Verte's nearly inaudible murmur.
"Beauty and the Beast, four," Malfoy said, and Hermione wrote it down.
"We'll start with the Slytherin dormitory," Malfoy said. The testing was finished at last, and no one remained in the library but Malfoy, Harry, and McGonagall.
Naturally. Whatever was best for Slytherin. "I think the dining hall is more critical," Harry said stiffly.
"Oh, certainly, let's ignore the fact that the entire student population is now sleeping in Slytherin."
"Come now," McGonagall said impatiently. "A dozen of these curses could have been triggered while you two stood here bickering like schoolboys. Why not start where you are?"
So, rather sullenly, Harry dressed the candle and lighted it, and Malfoy murmured the revealing spell.
It was easy to recognize the Hogwarts security spells and the ones that kept the younger students out of the restricted section. Harry noted with curiosity that a number of books had their own protective spells, including several of the ones Hermione had piled on the table.
"There," Malfoy said, and Harry looked and saw a row of small knots around the edge of one of the little-used tables. He flipped through Hermione's pages.
"Pain -- no, wait, paralysis."
"Looks like an explosion to me."
"Did you even look at the picture? Explosions have that vertical line that runs into the --"
"Let me see the scroll, you stupid --"
"It's right here, a perfect likeness for anyone who isn't too --"
There was a hiss, and the tracery disappeared. Harry turned and saw that the candle had burned out.
"Lovely," he said. "A whole candle wasted because you're so stubborn." He thumped the second candle down on the table and shook entirely too much oil over it.
"Fine, you --" Malfoy broke off to sneeze. The smell of the oil was making Harry's eyes water, too. "You can have it your way, if you're so bloody certain."
But they turned out to be explosion spells after all.
"Wait." Malfoy pushed Harry's hand down so that his wand pointed at the floor rather than at the knot.
"What?" Malfoy's fingers were cold. Harry irritably shook his hand free. "What is the matter with you?"
"Are you insane? You can't unspell a spell you can't read."
"Sure I can. Watch me."
"Potter." Malfoy shoved Harry's wand hand down again. "Don't you see the 'if' clause? Are you blind?"
"Yeah, I see it. So what?"
"So for all we know, it says 'If knot unspelled' like that one in the library. Commit suicide on your own time, please, and leave me out of it."
"If we unspell it, it might go off. If one of the kids trips it, it will go off," Harry said. "But trust a Slytherin to save his own skin and risk somebody else's."
"Trust a Gryffindor to risk everybody's skin rather than take the time to think about what he's doing for a change," Malfoy said. "Look, we'll just do this --" A mutter and a showy little wand flourish, and he put up a spell barrier around the mine. "There. Now the poor little Hufflepuffs can use their common room again. And we can leave that one alone until we understand it. Unless that concept is too difficult for you to understand."
Harry pointed his wand at the next set of knots. "All right. Can we do this, or are you afraid of this one, too?"
Malfoy consulted Hermione's scroll. "That one's a paranoia spell. We've done those before. Ready?"
"Nodu'stinguo -- oh, hells." Malfoy hit the floor, rolling, just as a large chunk of plaster fell with a loud crunch on the spot where he had been standing.
Harry looked up at the hole in the ceiling. "I, uh, think we may have overlooked an 'if' clause."
"As the poets of your adopted country would have it: No shit."
Harry flung himself into a couch in the staff common room. Every muscle in his body ached.
Across from him, Malfoy laid his head against the back of the chair and groaned. There was still plaster dust in his eyebrows. His skin was faintly shiny with sweat, and his long hair was limp and bedraggled. He'd probably be mortified if he knew how filthy he was, but Harry didn't even have the energy to mock him for it.
More than anything, Harry wanted to fly -- fast and aimless, just turning loops in the air until he could stop thinking for a while and just be. But all he could see in the future was more sigils, more Malfoy, more falling plaster. More little failures.
He was almost nodding off when Hermione arrived. "There you are!" she said. "You've missed lunch." She sat down next to Harry and brushed something out of his hair. "How much did you get done?"
"Two bedrooms and the common room in Hufflepuff," Harry said.
"Hey, it's hard work," Harry said, stung. "You try it for a while."
Hermione patted him. "I don't mean -- but why? You two can take out a whole mine with one spell."
"If we can figure out what it is," Malfoy said faintly. "And if it doesn't set off a cascade of new spells as soon as we touch it. And if it allows itself to be touched and doesn't disappear as soon as a wand is pointed at it. And if it doesn't knock a chunk of the ceiling down on our heads."
Without raising his head from the back of the chair, he turned it to look at Hermione. "Don't worry. We left a lot of the trickier ones for you."
"Oh, dear," Hermione said. "It sounds as though this is going to be more difficult than we expected."
"You've always had such a talent for understatement," Malfoy said.
"Well, if you can't do any more spell work today, why don't you come to the Ministry with me, Harry? I'm about to floo over to train some unspelling teams." She knocked Malfoy's hand away from her plate of apple slices. "Neville'd be thrilled to see you. He asks about you all the time."
Dear Harry, Neville's first letter had begun. After the big state funerals, the women from Gran's wyvern-breeding group sent me scrolls and scrolls of their memories of Gran and my mum and dad. Made me cry my head off, of course, but it really helped. So I thought that since Dumbledore --
Harry had dropped the letter and left it where it fell. "I don't think so," he said to Hermione. "Tell him I said hello, though."
She drew a breath, undoubtedly to tell him that she saw right through him, and Malfoy put a hand on her arm, diverting her attention back to himself, as usual. Harry clenched his teeth.
"Well, all right, if you're sure. Here, Draco, you finish these." She handed the plate of apples to Malfoy, then dipped a pinch of floo powder out of an urn decorated with skeletons dancing at a masquerade, and Harry heard her saying, "Ministry of Magic," as she stepped into the fireplace.
"Never still, is she?" Malfoy said lazily. The fondness in his tone made Harry's lip curl. "Care for some?" He pushed the plate toward Harry.
"You should have gone with her," Harry said. "Two of you might enjoy a nice little date away from school."
Malfoy looked at him blankly, and then smiled. "A date?"
Harry frowned, puzzled. "What?" He was a little insulted on Hermione's behalf. "She's not good enough for you?'
"Far too good for me, actually, if goodness were the issue," Malfoy said, still smiling. As Harry went on frowning, Malfoy's smile faded a bit. "You mean to tell me that all this time you've been thinking I was straight? My goodness, Potter," he went on in an exaggerated version of his usual drawl, "which stereotype did I miss?"
Harry could feel that he was staring, but he couldn't quite stop.
"Sorry," Malfoy said, not sounding especially sorry. "Didn't mean to shock your delicate sensibilities."
"No, it's ... it's no big deal," Harry said a bit numbly. "I just wish you'd told me."
"What?" Malfoy looked like he couldn't decide whether to be angry or amused. "When I was twelve and I had that dream about Oliver Wood? Perhaps I should have ducked out of the Wizard Protection Program long enough to drop you a little update on my love life. Or at that first banquet, when you were glaring at me as though I had a Dementor under my cloak."
He put Hermione's plate down on the chair and stood up. "Don't worry, Potter," he said over his shoulder. "I certainly have no designs on your virtue."
"I wasn't worried," Harry said stiffly as Malfoy swept out of the room.
Harry watched the door swing shut behind him, too tired even to be properly angry. If he were in Florida, he could go lie in the sun, and maybe Kat would come out and tell him stupid jokes until he laughed, and maybe Sunday would come out and just sit silently beside him and make him calm without even trying. And maybe the ocean would come and wash him away.
And that ... was just about enough self-indulgence. He stood up and headed for his rooms for a nap.
On to Chapter 5
Back to Chapter 3
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