A Big, Beastly, Problem
Somewhere in England, Summer 2010
"How come wizard-only communities are always at the back end of nowhere?" Hermione wanted to know.
"Be a bit hard to have one in the middle of Manchester!" Ron pointed out. "Bloody Hell, this place looks like a bomb hit it!"
Nesselby-in-the-Woods actually looked as if it had been on the receiving end of a rather extended visit by Goerings' Luftwaffe, only several decades late. A great many of the buildings had been totally flattened, and there wasn't a single one that wasn't damaged. Smoke still rose from some of them.
"If I didn't know better," Hermione told her husband, "I'd say this was a mass Death-Eater attack! Dark magic certainly, which explains why you're here, darling, but why me?"
"Because the reports say that this was out of the ordinary." Ron said. "And you're the only person anyone knows of who's read every book in the library at Hogwarts!"
"Not all of them." Hermione answered. "I only skimmed the Necronomicon, and I didn't read any of the sex-magic ones. Didn't need to, we were dating by the time I got round to them, so I already knew everything!
"These buildings, or what's left of them, look medieval!"
"Probably not like that inside." Ron told her. "But this village was abandoned by the muggles in the 14th Century, because of the Plague. Wizards from the area moved in because it was easier than trying to explain why they and their families weren't getting ill."
"Makes sense." Hermione allowed. "Ah! Here come the locals!"
The Mayor of the village, Theobald Entwhistle, was a sturdy, middle-aged wizard with a bald head and a thick black beard. He had a few bruises and a slight limp, but beyond that seemed reasonably sound.
"You'll be the people from the Ministry?" He asked.
"Yeah." Ron replied. "Ron Weasley, Senior Auror. This is my better half, Hermione, who's consulting on the case."
"The Ron and Hermione Weasley?" Theobald asked.
"In the house." Ron told him. "Available for weddings, christenings and bar mitzvahs."
"And anything else with free food." Hermione added. "So what happened here?"
"A Golem." Theobald told them. "Not a regular Golem. Clay job, fired and glazed, about twenty, twenty-five feet tall. Appeared just outside the village with an almighty boom and set about wrecking the place. Not just stamping and punching, it was blasting some kind of orange lightning out of its mouth every so often as well.
"We tried to fight it, but none of our magic seemed to touch it. It seemed to go out of its way to avoid hurting people, it just attacked buildings. Then it just vanished again, like disapparation, big boom. But it left this behind."
It was a roll of parchment, which Ron took.
"High-quality." He said. "Heavy and supple, expensive. Wrong colour to be British-made, too creamy." He unrolled it. "Purple ink!" He cleared his throat and read:
Wizards and witches of Nesselby-in-the-Woods, greetings from your Khan!
You will by now have learned the futility of resisting the power of my servant. Rebuild quickly and well, for in three moons he will return for my due tribute.
That tribute will be one tithe of all income and produce. One healthy and attractive virgin witch for my harem, properly bejewelled and arrayed. Ten healthy and strong young wizards, without wands, for my army. Such tribute to be collected yearly upon the due date.
My servant will also bring with him a list of the laws I require you to live under. They are few and just, and in matters they do not touch on, you may live as you see fit.
Fear this and obey!
Temujin, Ka-Khan, Dei potestis in Terra.
"Thinks highly of himself!" Ron remarked. "What d'you make of the writing, pet?"
Hermione studied the letter. "If he wrote this himself, then he's well-educated, strong-willed, determined but not young." She said. "The hand's bold and fluent, easily-readable. The English is also fluent, if a bit archaic in places -'properly bejewelled and arrayed' is a bit 18th Century -but that might be an affectation. On the other hand, using 'tithe' instead of 'tenth' or even 'ten per cent' makes that less likely. Not many people know what a tithe is, these days, and he wouldn't pose at the risk of misunderstanding. Not if the man matches his writing, anyway.
"Mr Entwhistle, are you sure this was a Golem and not a mech? A mech is..."
"We're isolated, not ignorant!" Theobald interrupted. "We know what a mech is. There's a UNIT testing ground just outside the woods here, the kids like to go and watch. This wasn't one of theirs. In fact, if it had stayed around, I was thinking of going to them to ask for help!
"I mean, Statute of Secrecy and all, but peoples' lives might have been in danger!"
"Under the circumstances, I wouldn't have blamed you!" Ron said. "Though the Wizengamot might not have agreed!
"Anyway, if this bloke is a man of his word, you won't have to worry for another three months. But just in case, I'll have some of our people stationed here for the time being.
"We'll get back to the Ministry and do some digging!"
"Before you go," Theobald said, "my granddaughter..."
Signing Chocolate Frog cards had become a part of their lives.
"Golems." Hermione said. "Odd. Very odd. Old Middle Eastern magic. Made its way to Europe with Jewish wizards in the Diaspora, but nobody much uses it nowadays."
"Any reason?" Ron asked.
"Quite a few." Hermione allowed. "It's difficult magic for one thing. It's time-consuming, you have to be good with your hands, which a lot of wizards aren't, and if you don't get the spell exactly right, they either don't work at all, or they can go rogue very easily.
"You can make them out of all sorts of materials, but the most common one is fired or baked clay. It's stronger than wood or bone and lighter and easier to work than stone. You can make them out of metal, but that's expensive and again, you need to be a skilled smith. There was an ancient Greek wizard called Daedalus who made one from bronze -that was a giant one as well. You can make iron ones, but they don't work often or well because it's old magic, and iron is very resistant to older spells.
"Wizards - usually Jewish ones - in some parts of Europe used to make golems to protect their communities. Not from wizards, any competent wizard can Transfigure a clay Golem into a teapot or something, but from muggles. But by the end of the 19th Century, muggle weapons had become so powerful that Golems weren't much use any more. They can't stand up to cannon, grenades or machine-gun fire."
"But these ones are resistant to magic." Ron noted. "It can't be the charm Fred and George worked out years ago. They could never make that work on anything bigger than a person. What else is magic-proof?"
"Anything with a strong enough magnetic field can deflect spells." Hermione pointed out. "That was the problem with iron before -it's magnetic.
"Also, we've had no end of complaints from Swiss wizards about everyday spells going wrong or not working too close to that CERN place. Too much magic can bugger up technology, so possibly the reverse is true. Too much high tech messes up magic."
"So that's why you thought it might be a mech." Ron said. "I did wonder.
"Daikaiju." Hermione replied.
"Bless you!" Ron responded.
"No, you plonker!" She said with a grin. "Daikaiju, what does the Western press call them...Titans! The giant monsters like Godzilla or Rodan!"
"Oh, the Noble Beasts." Ron said. "I don't see the connection."
"Neither do I." Hermione admitted. "But you did ask about anything that can resist magic.
"I'm more interested in the person who wrote this note. The name - Temujin - it rings a faint bell..."
"It was the birth-name of Genghis Khan." Ron told her. "I just recalled. The other stuff - Ka-Khan means Great Khan and the Latin is 'Power of God on Earth' - were titles he picked up along the way."
"It's usually me who reels things off like that!" Hermione noted.
"Military history." Ron explained. "History of Magic never did anything for me, but muggle military history is really interesting."
"Um." Hermione said. "Your dubious tastes in reading aside, Genghis Khan was no wizard, though he might have employed a few since this was before the Statute. I wonder if he had, or has, any wizard descendants?"
"No idea." Ron told her. "I've been reading up on his campaigns, not his family life!
"But I know somebody who could give us a clue. Your Sandra."
"Oh, dear." Hermione said. "Are we going to have to visit my chaotic cousin? I'll need some paracetamol!"
"She says," Ron pointed out, "that you're too picky to live with!"
"You shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition." Hermione reminded him.
The Reverend Doctor Sandra Granger-Whitson had brown eyes, bushy brown hair, slightly prominent front teeth and was highly intelligent. There all resemblance between the cousins ended. Sandra was tall and athletic, in contrast to the fine-boned Hermione, and lived her life in a spontaneous, randomised fashion that gave her slightly OCD cousin the heebie-jeebies.
As Ron and Hermione approached the front door of the rambling Vicarage, Sandra flung it open wide. She was barefoot, wearing worn leggings and a baggy, faded, tie-dyed t-shirt. Her hair was loose, she had on long, dangly earrings of a kind Hermione could never have tolerated for everyday wear, a small wooden cross hung on a leather thong round her neck, there were about a dozen thin bangles round her left wrist and on her right forearm was a wonderfully delicate tattoo of a butterfly. Sandra flung herself at them with a squeal of delight, hugging them both hard.
"Hermi!" She said. "The Wicked Witch of the Home Counties in person! And the hunktastic hubby, too! Hi Ronnie! Come in, come in, come in! I felt you coming, so I put the kettle on! Peter's at work and David's at nursery till lunchtime, so we can have a good natter! Mind the Duplo on the carpet! Go into the workroom, I'll bring the coffee through!"
They made their way through a bright, toy-littered living room into the equally airy room Sandra used as an office. Like Hermiones' workroom at home, it was lined with bookshelves, but where Hermiones' books were rigidly sorted, Sandras' were shoved on the shelves higgledy-piggledy. Ron and Hermione sat down on the two battered but comfortable armchairs that flanked a coffee-table. Opposite them was Sandras' desk, littered with papers and a laptop.
"Here we are!" Sandra came through and plopped two mugs of coffee and an open half-packet of chocolate digestives on the table between them. She put her own coffee down on the desk and tossed the tray onto a pile of books that stood nearby, before she sat down. Ron chuckled to himself at Hermiones' expression, thinking about how his wife would have used matching mugs, carefully placed on coasters and a plate of precisely-arranged biscuits. His mug was clearly intended for a devotee of Everton Association Football Club, Hermiones' was adorned with large smiley faces and Sandras' announced in brightly-coloured letters that "Jesus loves coffee, too!"
Sandra picked up a silver box from the desk and began to roll a cigarette.
"Sandra!" Hermione said in a pained voice.
"I'll open a window." Her cousin suited the action to the word. "And don't worry! I don't smoke around David! Only in here during the day, and he knows he's not allowed in here!"
"I don't suppose," Hermione said after sipping her coffee, "that there's any hope of this being decaff?"
"None whatever." Sandra replied. "But it is brown sugar, demerara. But you didn't come here to discuss my bad habits, or for spiritual guidance, so what's the story, morning glory?"
Sandra was one of a few select members of Hermiones' family who knew about the magical world. This was partly because, despite their differing styles, the two had always been close, but also because Sandra was herself unusual. Not a witch in any sense, but a low-level mutant, a psyker whose highly-developed intuition and empathy served her well in her chosen vocation. She had known there was something different about Hermione even before the Hogwarts letter had arrived, so it would have been both pointless and unkind to hide it from her.
However, it was her other expertise they were after today. Sandras' PhD was in history, and her thesis had been on the genealogy of historical figures - ancestors and descendants.
"Genghis Khan." Hermione said. "Is it possible he had any descendants who were wizards?"
Sandra frowned slightly. "More than possible." She said. "It's actually quite likely! Just a sec..."
She got up and went over to a bookshelf, ran her finger along the spines of the books until she came to a large volume which she brought back to her desk.
"There was a genetic study done about three years ago that found a common set of markers on the Y chromosome of some populations. The markers seem to originate in, and follow the progress of, the Mongol Empire, so seem to be connected to Genghis Khan and his family. They did their sums, and it seems that about half a percent of men worldwide might well be descended from the Khan or his family. Now, given that Hermi tells me about three percent of the human population is magical, and that includes a lot of half-bloods and muggle-borns, there must be some overlap there. Especially since the percentage of wizards is pretty consistent all over the world."
"Well, that makes sense." Hermione noted. "But if they had to do a study to find that out, it means that most of the men who carry those genes don't realise it. We were thinking more of somebody who is either a direct descendant, or at least aware of the ancestry?"
"Ohhh, well that's a bit more difficult!" Sandra said. "Temujin - that was his real name, means 'blacksmith' or something like that - had about eleven wives and no end of concubines. He was pretty prolific, it seems, and his male descendants equally so. His grandson, Kublai Khan, for instance, had twenty legitimate sons and who knows how many by concubines!
"Saying that, some loony turned up in New York in the 1930s, claiming to be Shiwan Khan, a direct descendant of the Great Khan. He tried to hold the city to ransom with some sort of crude nuclear bomb, but he got taken down by a vigilante called The Shadow. Was The Shadow one of yours?"
"No." Ron told her. "They did think he might be, and MACUSA and the FBS went berserk trying to find out, because of the Rappaport Laws. If he'd been a wizard, they'd have found him. As it was, they put him down as some kind of metahuman or mutant, though the Japanese and Chinese Ministries thought he might have been a rogue shaolin or ninja."
"Um. Well, anyway, a few years ago, some documents were found in the Cranston Collection -which was a lot of art, antiques, books and general stuff left to Harvard by one of their alumni." Sandra revealed. "These particular ones I got sent copies of, because they purported to be the line of descent from Genghis Khan to Shiwan Khan. I mean, obviously, they aren't necessarily accurate, but some of the older original documents are the right age and in the right script and language. So while we can't prove them true, we can't prove them false, either.
"What they do show is that Shiwan had a twin brother named Subudai who 'was taken to the Monastery of the Five Dragons' at the age of eleven. There are assorted Buddhist monasteries all over that part of the world, and a lot of them aren't on any records. Might be something you could follow up from your side?"
"It very well might!" Hermione said. "Thanks ever so much, Sandra!
"Now, how are Peter and David doing?"
Ron took another biscuit and settled in for the long haul.
"The Monastery of the Five Dragons is the magical school for Mongolia." Hermione told Ron as they began the drive back to London. "So we know this Subudai Khan must be a wizard. If it is him, he'd be what, about a hundred and ten years old by now? Hardly in his dotage, but it might explain the archaic language.
"I'll check with the Monastery when we get back to the office..."
Rons' mirror was vibrating and chiming urgently.
"Get that, will you, love?" He asked her.
She took the mirror, opened it and said "Ron Weasleys' mirror...Yes he's here, but he's driving at the minute...Oh! OK, we'll get there as fast as we can!" She closed the mirror. "There's another attack happening. Two Golems, this time. Place on the coast called Eldercoombe.
Ron glanced at the extra dials on the dashboard. "Road's clear." He said. "We can be there in ten minutes if you do the Disillusionment."
"Ok!" Hermione cast the charm. Ron put the car into sixth gear and as it rose above the treetops, he swung the wheel hard over and floored the accelerator!
Eldercoombe, so called because in Ages past Elven ships out of Eressea had sometimes landed there, nestled between two headlands. It had a safe harbour, sheltering a few fishing boats, two jetties, and a crescent of white beach below a cluster of houses, shops and workshops. It was one of the oldest wizard settlements in the UK and was currently in the process of being trashed by a pair of gigantic figures.
"That's not right!" Hermione exclaimed. "Those things must be a hundred and fifty feet tall! Golems don't grow! And there's two of them!"
"Improved models, maybe?" Ron wondered. "Hmm. Both clay - terracotta, looks like, but glazed. Wonder if it's the glaze that blocks magic? Orange eyes. That breath-weapon seems to just make things collapse, rather than explode or catch fire..."
He was piloting the car in circles around the Golems, who took no more notice of it then a human might of a fly - less, because they didn't even try to swat it. Then Hermione glanced seawards, and gave a little cry.
There was a moil in the water offshore. A rapidly moving patch of disturbed water driving fast toward the land. Under the surface, a blue light began to pulse.
"I'm getting us to that headland." Ron decided. "There's nothing we can do now except watch!"
They'd seen the news bulletins and documentaries, but it was still a surprise when the blunt-snouted head broke the surface.
"Godzilla?" Hermione said. "This isn't his territory! I was expecting Behemoth!"
"Maybe he's having a day off." Ron replied. "Do monsters cover for each other?
"Is it me, or do they recognise him?"
Hermione realised Ron was right. Even before Godzilla had uttered his screeching challenge, the two Golems had begun to make their way toward him. They seemed to be moving and acting with more focus, more intention, than they had shown before. They were only half his size, but there were two of them, and as they approached they split to flank him.
But for all his size, Godzilla was fast, closing with the one to his right and delivering a mighty blow. The Golem was sent flying to sprawl in the sand. But then the other one emitted orange lightning from its mouth, bowling Godzilla over. The Titan lifted his head and fired his own blue energy beam. striking the Golem squarely in the chest. Chunks of clay scattered in all directions, and orange light began to pulse from the shattered chest of the fallen Golem. But then the other one was there, kneeling beside its fallen ally. There was a deafening boom, and they were gone!
Godzilla screeched again, but this time with a note of frustration. He turned back to the sea, then seemed to hesitate, casting around himself as if listening for something.
"Err, Ron, he's looking right at us!" Hermione said with less than her usual confidence. "And now he's coming over here!"
"Don't move!" Ron ordered. "And don't panic! We couldn't outrun him, and the Noble Beasts have never harmed wizards. Not intentionally. Except one."
"Not helping." Hermione muttered, as she seized his hand and held on tight.
Because of their elevated position, Godzilla only had to bend slightly to lean over them, which he now did. He sniffed them twice, causing Hermiones' hair to escape its clasp and blow wildly about. Then he lowered his head a little more and stared fixedly at them for a few moments.
"What...?" Hermione began.
"Sh!" Ron interrupted her. "I think he's trying to tell us something!"
"What, that little Jimmy's trapped in the old mine?" She replied waspishly.
"Look at his eyes!" Ron commanded.
She knew better than to argue when he used that tone, so she looked. The eyes were human oval, not animal round, with well-defined white, iris and pupil. The iris was a fiery orange, the pupil also round, not the slit she expected. There was intelligence behind those eyes. Not human, but close. There was an urgency in them, a concern, and a simmering anger.
"What is it, big fellow?" Ron was murmuring. "What do you need from us?"
Godzilla huffed, it felt like frustration or impatience.
"Phew!" Hermione complained. "Somebody get him a tanker of Listerine! I like fish, but there's limits!"
"What did you expect his breath to smell of?" Ron snorted. "Cheese and biscuits?"
Godzilla stood upright, then flung his head back and emitted another cry. Not his usual roar, but a clear, almost tuneful, warbling sound. Then he turned and headed out to sea.
"For some reason, I thought it would smell like fire and brimstone." Hermione said. "But then he's not a dragon, is he?
"You're right, though. I think he was trying to communicate with us. But we don't have the tech Monarch or the PDRC have. Wonder what that last noise was?"
"Some kind of signal?" Ron wondered. "There were words in it, I'd swear!"
It came suddenly, from behind and above. A huge shadow fell over them, then Hermione was surrounded by thousands of motes of blue and green light. They danced and swirled around her, hypnotic, disorienting. She lost her grip on Ron, stumbled a few paces, then went to her knees. For a moment, she thought she might pass out, but then there was a gust of wind, and it all vanished.
It took a few seconds for Hermiones' head to clear, but once it did, she realised she was alone! Ron was gone! For a moment, she simply stared. Then a look of grim determination settled on her face, and she made for the car.
It was a long time since Hermione had had any doubts about her husbands' capabilities. Two years ago, she had stood in her parents' front garden and watched Ron shatter a Daleks' armour with a single spell, leaving the obscene thing inside vulnerable to her Killing Curse. Whoever had kidnapped Ron was in the worst trouble imaginable!
But that didn't matter. In the past, he'd always come for her. From their first year at Hogwarts, and the Troll in the toilets, to Malfoy Manor when Bellatrix was torturing her. Well, this time, she was coming for him! Even if all she would need to do was clean up the mess he'd made!
Only one person would have kidnapped Ron, and if this Temujin thought he could hide from Hermione Weasley, he had another think coming!