A Big, Beastly, Problem
Ron came out of his dazed condition to find himself flying rapidly over the clouds. Through occasional gaps, he caught glimpses of the sea. He should have been freezing cold, but his back was pressed against something warm and covered with bristly fur. He was being held firmly, but not too tightly, by things that felt like thick, strong branches, covered with the same rough coating. He craned his neck to look around, but all he managed to see were a pair of huge, iridescent, blue-green wings. Still, it was enough for him to guess what had happened. Why it had was another matter!
After an indeterminate time - he was being held too firmly to see his watch - they swooped down through the clouds to see an island ahead. Bleak grey cliffs rising out of the waves to support a grassy area about the size of two Quidditch pitches. The massive form of Godzilla was visible, apparently pacing in quick, impatient circles. A warbling cry came from somewhere above and in front of Ron. Godzilla stopped pacing, looked up and answered in the same way.
A few moments later, Ron was gently set down, and was finally able to see his captor. It was, as he had suspected, a gigantic adult moth, who now flew over and hovered in front of Godzilla. Clearly some sort of conversation was taking place, but apart from the fact that it deeply concerned both Titans, Ron had no idea what it was about. Then the moth flew over and settled in front of him, cocking its head to turn one blue, glowing, compound eye directly on him.
Then he heard a voice in his head, a soft soprano of great gentleness.
Do you know me, Magic-Man?
"You're Mothra." He replied.
I am. She who you call Queen of the Noble Beasts. Since our making by the Lady Yavanna in the Long-Ago Time, my husband and I, along with our allies, have maintained the Balance of the Earth.
"He's your husband?" Ron asked. "Sorry! Didn't mean to sound rude, but..."
Godzillas' snort was clearly one of amusement, while the sensation in Rons' head was of silvery laughter.
The Not-Magic-Men call it 'symbiosis', but that concept does not include love. Mothra told him gently. They learn of us, but slowly, and will understand better in time. The Wise Traveller was right when he warned us not to destroy them. They grow up slowly, but will be great in time. You Magic-Men respected us, but never sought us out. Now we seek you out, in time of peril.
One of your kind meddles with what he does not understand. He brings the rebirth of the Great Menace, the Star-Born. This cannot now be prevented, but destruction of all can be. For this we need your help, Magic-Man.
"You've got it, of course!" Ron promised. "Call me Ron, by the way."
Then listen well, Ron-By-The-Way, for we must do much and travel far and fast!
Hermione had driven home, changed her clothes, asked her mother to mind the kids, then Flooed straight to the Ministry of Magic, where she stormed directly into the office of the Head of the Auror Department.
"Harry, I need your help!" She said briskly.
"Hello, Hermione, yes I'm fine, how are you?" Harry Potter replied. "What can I do for you?"
"You can stop fucking about and help me find Ron!" She snapped. "He's been kidnapped!"
"Oh." Harry replied, taken aback as much by her unaccustomed language as by the news. "Shit. Why? By who?"
"By whom!" Hermione corrected automatically. "He calls himself Temujin, but I think his real name is Subudai Khan. He's a Mongolian wizard. I need to find out about him and where he might be, quick!"
"Definitely!" Harry was flicking through the card index on his desk. "When are we going to get some bloody computers in this place?" He grumbled. "Here we are!"
He took a card out of the index, then pulled a roll of parchment out of a desk drawer. As he spread it on the desk, Hermione could see that it had been pre-written and formally illuminated. Harry filled in a couple of blank spots, signed it on the bottom, rolled and sealed it.
"Boswell!" He called. A uniformed House-elf appeared beside him with a boom. "Yes, Mr Potter?"
Harry handed him the scroll. "Mongolian Minister of Magic, fully urgent." He said.
"Yes, sir!" Boswell said, and vanished with another boom.
During her research into House-elves, Hermione had eventually discovered that their magic was incredibly powerful, but that they could only use it to benefit others, never themselves. It seemed they had once been a selfish and corrupt race, until a Blue Wizard had put a geas on them. She knew that Boswell would deliver the message, whatever anyone did to try and stop him.
"That was a warrant giving you full access and authority." Harry told her. "Technically, I should've got Kingsley to sign it off, but it seems that a reputation that starts with 'Master of Death' means people don't argue with you!"
"Funny." She said. "From what I've heard, your reputation starts and ends with 'bloody-minded maverick with an itchy wand hand'! Still, I'll take what I can get!"
"There's a difference between my reputation and your opinion, luv." He shot back. He scribbled a note on a sheet of green paper, folded it deftly and tossed it into the air, where it flew gracefully into the unlit fireplace and up the chimney.
"You'll want to go to the Five Dragons first, of course." He said. "I know you well enough to know that's where you'll start. The Grand Lama will be expecting you. That note was to the International Floo Room, they'll be waiting for you there.
"Now you'd best get going, before anything happens!"
"I'm sure Ron will be all right." Hermione said.
"I know he will." Harry replied. "But we still haven't found all of the last bloke who pissed my brother-in-law off! We think his spleen is in orbit somewhere, but God only knows where his kidneys ended up!"
Hermione giggled, blew him a kiss and left.
The Grand Lama of the Monastery of the Five Dragons was a short, rather rotund, elderly man who greeted Hermione with gentle courtesy and evident pleasure.
"We rarely have visitors." He said. "Even more rarely ones so distinguished in magical scholarship! It is a shame that your errand is urgent, many of our students would wish to sit at your feet. Perhaps another time?
"The information you require -the school records of Subudai Khan -are in my office. He is remembered as an excellent student in many subjects, but one who failed to acquire the serenity of spirit we strive to achieve in our wizards. There are also the records of his later career, such as they are, which our Minister has kindly sent at the request of your Head of Aurors. A person, I gather, of formidable reputation?"
"They call him the Master of Death." Hermione admitted.
"Remarkable!" The Grand Lama replied. "Though the Ministers' note made mention only of a 'bloody-minded maverick with an itchy wand hand'. I will leave you to your research, and will have tea and food sent in. The strong spirit thrives on challenge, but the body requires sustenance."
Subudai Khan, Hermione discovered, had been a brilliant student in some fields, but less successful in others. He had been Sorted into the House Ao Shun, the Black Dragon of the North and Winter, a House noted for pride and aggression. Subudai had excelled in duelling, Transfiguration, and in both Defence Against and Practise of the Dark Arts. His disciplinary record showed him to be thin-skinned and combative if he deemed himself challenged or insulted. Many teachers noted his pride in his ancestry and descent from the Great Khan, and that many of the fights he had been in stemmed from this attitude.
The Ministry records were more patchy. Subudai had worked as an Auror for a while, but had combined an unnecessary brutality in his methods with a transparent attempt to build a power-base among a cabal of like-minded wizards. He had been dismissed, and had dropped out of sight while travelling in the Middle East. In the 1940s, he had re-emerged, calling himself Temujin and advocating the 'greater good' ideology developed in Europe by Grindelwald. He had been arrested and sent to the ancient Wizard prison in Bhutan, a place that had been guarded by the same wizarding family, the al-Ghul, for millennia. Released some ten years ago, he had dropped off the grid again.
But there had been a recent sighting, perhaps six months ago, in the Khentii mountains. Intrigued, Hermione set out to find the Grand Lama.
"But of course!" He replied to her question. "Those are the mountains where the Great Khan was born! What more natural, if Subudai wishes to rebuild his ancestors' empire, than to begin where he began?"
"Makes sense." Hermione allowed. "But why attack England?"
"Again, if I wished to build an empire, then I should want my warriors to be of the people who founded and ruled the greatest empire in history." The Lama pointed out. "Not the Mongols, not China, not Rome herself, created an empire to match the British at their greatest!"
"Not exactly flattering, but understandable." Hermione admitted. "I don't suppose you can tell or show me exactly where the original Temujin was born?"
"Wizard history recalls what muggle history often forgets." He told her. "I can make you a portkey to the very place. Do you wish for any of my tulku to accompany you?"
Hermione shook her head. "I don't want to put anyone in harms' way. Besides, if he did kidnap Ron, he's already history. Or geography. Probably both."
The plateau was high, windswept and bare except for some tough, scrubby grass. It occurred to Hermione that anyone born here was likely to be a tough cookie, warlike enough to conquer most of Asia! It was also bloody freezing, she noted. The Lama had provided her with a suitable outer garment. Hermione had ethical objections to wearing fur, and this particular item was a more than a little whiffy, but she was grateful for it, nevertheless.
The portkey had brought her to a safe distance from her final destination, but she was sure it was the right one. The two towering Golems were something of a giveaway, as was the large -very large - fire that seemed to be burning nearby. She approached cautiously, and was soon able to make out a yurt pitched nearby; she wondered if it was as primitive inside as it looked outside.
Then she saw the man. He was standing near the fire-pit, in front of a small table, apparently watching something in the fire. He was wearing heavy, Eastern-style wizard robes in yellow cloth trimmed with black fur and embroidered with black dragons. The hair that fell halfway down his back was also black, but streaked with grey. As Hermione crept toward him, he abruptly turned to face her.
His face was square, harsh-planed, Mongol-flat with penetrating dark eyes and a sensual but firm mouth. He wore a long, slightly- straggling beard, and what Harry would call a 'Fu Manchu' moustache, both black but grey-streaked.
"Put away your wand, Madame." The voice was deep and rich. "Even if you were to prove a match for me, you could not defeat my servants, here!"
Hermione was under no illusions about her skills as a duellist, two sessions with Ginny had removed any she might have had. "You overthink things, 'Mione." Ginny had said. "That's why I keep kicking your arse!" So she lowered her wand. But she had seen what was in the fire-pit, and began racking her brains for a spell or charm that could quench the flames quickly or completely enough.
"You are admiring my handiwork, I see." The man went on. "Soon his firing will be complete, and he will rise to join his brothers! All that is needed is the sacred word, there!"
He pointed to the table, where a small tablet of stone stood ready, inscribed with the Hebrew word 'emet'.
"He's smaller than the others." Hermione said.
"He will grow." Was the reply. "His brothers grew in size and power when the second one emerged from the flames. When the third rises, they will increase again.
"But I am remiss. My name is Temujin. What noble lady do I have the honour of addressing?"
"I'm Hermione Weasley." She told him. "And I'm here for my husband!"
Temujin bowed. "I am honoured." He said. "I know of you, of course, your wisdom and counsel will be most valuable in the times to come. Sadly, I do not know the whereabouts of your husband. But be assured that when the time comes, he will serve under your brother-in-law, Harry Potter, as a general, just as the Master of Death himself will serve me as one of my khans."
"Ah! So it's the old conquer the world scenario, is it?" Hermione asked, with not a little irony.
"Conquer!" Temujin seemed surprised. "Not conquer! There will be no conquest, no Imperial peace, no Pax Romana or Pax Britannica. My khans and I shall make war on each others' domains as men play chess. Those who do well will rise, those who fail will die. The race will regain its vigour!"
"Sorry, what?" Hermione said. "Making war into a sport will be good for us?"
"But of course!" Temujin said. "Do you not see it, or will you not? Humanity has become slothful and greedy. You tell your children "You can be whatever you want to be!" Your children listen, and obey. Some become ravening wolves, preying on all in their path. Others become vultures, gorging on the destruction the wolves leave behind. The rest become cattle, following those who fatten their bodies, who steal the nourishment intended for their children and then slaughter them.
"This is your civilisation! My way is the way of the barbarian. The way of the harsh life, where loyalty to the tribe is the price of survival. The way of conflict, where the means of life must be wrested from and defended against all others. The way of duty, where we raise our sons to be warriors and our daughters to be the wives and mothers of warriors.
"Two years ago, a black evil descended from the stars upon us, and what happened? Did the men of Earth rise up as one to defend their wives, their homes, their children? No, they cowered in their homes and waited for rescue. They allowed other men to defend their wives, and yet still claim the right to be husbands. They have shown themselves base and cowardly, yet still claim the right to raise children and speak their opinions.
"No more! Under my rule, all peoples, of whatever colour, or faith, be they wizard, muggle or mutant, will stand or fall by their own merit. By strength, by skill, by intellect, by whatever they can bring to the good of their tribe. The weak shall no longer be cosseted, the selfish no longer indulged..."
"And you got him monologuing!" The familiar voice made Hermiones' heart leap.
Temujin spun to face Ron, who stood there grinning. Grinning like a wolf. Hermione noted, enviously, that he'd managed to equip himself with some very high-quality cold weather gear
"If you knew my wife," Ron went on, "you'd've realised that she only ever lets anyone else get a word in edgeways if she's planning something. Usually, she does the right thing, but today I had to interrupt before she did something wrong."
"What do you mean?" Hermione demanded.
"You were going to put that fire out." Ron told her. "But what we actually need to do is this!"
With a flick of his wand, he levitated the stone tablet over to the fire-pit, and dropped it onto the forehead of the third Golem.
"NO!" Temujin yelled. "He is not ready, he will not have his full strength!"
"That's sort of the idea." Ron said. "Here we go! You might want to step back a bit!"
The third Golem was rising from the pit. He differed from the others, Hermione noted. the colour and texture of his surface was different, and the glaze looked wet and slippery, rather than hard and shiny.
Nevertheless, he was growing fast, as were the two others, who had fixed their eyes on him. By the time he reached them, all of them stood some three hundred feet tall. Then they were standing side by side, the newest in the centre, and they began to flow into each other, becoming a mass of pulsing flesh with three heads and twelve limbs. As the humans watched, the eight inner limbs merged, arm with arm and leg with leg, becoming four powerful, clawed legs. The creature dropped to all fours, and as it did so, the two outer legs became a pair of whip-like tails, while the arms turned into vast, bat-like wings. Three necks sprouted up, the blunt Golem heads flowing into sharp-snouted dragon heads. The clay solidified into scaly flesh. The three heads bellowed triumph to the skies.
"The Star-Born." Ron announced.
"King Ghidorah." Hermione breathed. "How...?"
"Long story." He told her. "Now, Temujin, do you see what you were about to do?"
"I was about to commit a folly." The old wizard allowed. "The very folly, it seems, that you have committed for me!"
"Not quite." Ron said. "By accelerating the process, I've given them a chance!"
"Given who a chance?" Temujin asked.
But Hermione had spotted something else. They now stood in the eye of a great whirlwind that centred on Ghidorah. But something was looming through the clouds behind Ron, something as large as the dragon.
"Ron!" She called. "What's that behind you?"
Ron glanced over his shoulder, then turned back with a grin. "Just my emotional support animal!" He said, as the mighty Godzilla came into the eye and uttered his screeching challenge.
Temujin was staring in shock. Ron caught Hermiones' eye, and she disarmed the would-be khan with a flick of her wand. Ron stepped forward and his sledgehammer fist stretched Temujin on the ground, out cold. Ron pointed. "Get to that ridge! We can't do anything here!" He picked up the fallen Temujin without apparent effort, slung him over one shoulder and disapparated.
From here, they watched as Godzilla charged down on his old foe. It seemed that Ghidorah had been distracted by the enjoyment of his rebirth, as Godzilla ducked beneath the heads and began to slash and claw at the dragons' chest, just below the base of the central neck. Ghidorah staggered back a few paces, then dug his back feet in and lashed out with his fore-claws, pushing Godzilla back. All three heads spouted orange lightning, but only one hit home. It was still enough to throw Godzilla back and knock him down. Ghidorah dropped to all fours and prepared to charge, but a vast, winged shape dropped out of the clouds above and fastened razor-sharp talons into his back.
"That's Rodan!" Hermione exclaimed. "I thought he and Godzilla...?"
"They don't always see eye-to-eye," Ron told her, "but they're on the same side!"
Ghidorah reared up with an ear-splitting scream, and they could see the wound, like a crack pulsing orange, in his chest. Then he dropped to all fours again, and spread his wings. Two mighty down beats sent him hundreds of feet up, then he flipped himself over and dropped, crushing Rodan under his bulk. Not that he was unscathed himself. As he dragged himself up again, there were deep wounds on his back, again, in the centre. A thought began to grow in Hermiones' mind, but was interrupted by a deep-throated roar from just below them. A new element had entered the fray in the form of a gigantic gorilla who now bounded toward Ghidorah, rolling and jinking to avoid the darting heads.
"I didn't realise Kong was that big!" Hermione said.
"That was in the 1920s." Ron pointed out. "He's grown up since!"
King Kong, once Godzillas' arch-rival, now his staunchest ally, seized the base of Ghidorah's middle neck in one great hand and lifted the beast off his forelegs. Then with his free hand he sent a series of thundering punches into the wounded area of the chest.
"They're all attacking the part made from the last Golem!" Hermione said. "The one you activated before it was finished! It's a weak spot!"
"Bit slow today, pet." Ron commented.
"Sandras' coffee." She grumbled. "I'm still on a caffeine high. Can't think straight! Caffeine affects the brain, so it wouldn't bother you!"
Ghidorah, unaccustomed to this kind of relentless, organised attack, and equally unused to being unable to assert dominance over lesser Titans, took a few seconds to adjust. Then with a screech of rage, he grabbed Kong with all three heads and hurled him away. The great ape rolled and bounced, coming up on his feet, apparently little the worse for wear, but the wound in Ghidorahs' chest was now the centre of a network of spreading cracks. In the meantime, Kongs' attack had given Rodan time to recover, and to rocket up into the clouds above, where they could see his great shadow circling. Godzilla was also back on his feet. Ghidorah now had to keep one head focused on each opponent, and was clearly aware that, were he to attack any one of them, the other two would be on him!
"It's a stand-off." Ron observed. "All depends on who loses patience first!"
Then Mothra streaked out of the clouds to hover above Ghidorah. Beams of blue-green light flowed out of her wings to bathe the dragon, seeming to have the same effect on him as they had had on Ron and Hermione. Ghidorah seemed dazed, disoriented. He stumbled, almost lost his footing. Godzilla bellowed and several things happened at once.
Mothra darted away. From above, Rodan stooped on Ghidorahs' left-hand neck, sinking his talons in just behind the head and attacking the base of the skull with his beak. Kong bounded forward and leapt onto the right-hand neck, wrapping his mighty arms round it in a deadly stranglehold. Godzilla charged. Sluggishly, Ghidorah struck with his central head but Godzilla grabbed it and with a combination of claw and tooth tore it from the neck and tossed it away. The decapitated neck began to thrash around, a membrane closed over the wound and then began to pulse and bulge.
"Is he growing a new head?" Ron asked.
"He can do that." Hermione said. "But it takes a while, and it looks like that's going to be too long!"
Godzilla had renewed the attack on the chest, alternately pounding and clawing, tearing away chunks of flesh until the rib-cage was exposed. With a titanic wrench, he pulled the breast-bone away to reveal a glowing, throbbing, orange heart. By this time, the left head had been almost severed by Rodans' attacks while the right hung limp, eyes bulging and tongue lolling, in Kongs' grasp. But the new central head was bursting out of the sac it had been growing in.
Godzilla bellowed again, and Rodan began to back-wing, still gripping one neck, while Kong hauled on the other, like some gruesome tug-of-war. At the same time, Godzillas' spine-plates glowed, and blue-white fire blasted out of his mouth to play over the exposed heart. Ghidorahs' only living head was unable to do anything but scream in agony as his heart shrivelled and blackened.
The end came quickly. The blackened heart dropped out of the chest, the torso split in two and what had been King Ghidorah became, with a sudden cracking and crumbling, a pile of clay fragments, among which were two still-beating hearts. Godzilla stamped down on the burned third heart, and it shattered. The other two swiftly crystallised, their beating turning to a pulsing orange glow.
Godzilla roared his triumph, Rodan screamed and Kong beat his chest, adding his own roar. Mothra flew out of the dying whirlwind to flutter in circles over them, warbling joyously. Ron punched the air and said "Yess!" Temujin, who had recovered consciousness, simply stared. Hermione said "Shit!"
Then Rodan dipped his head to the others before taking off and speeding away. Kong stepped forward and picked up one of the crystal hearts, nodded to Godzilla as one professional might to another and made off. Mothra fluttered over and settled part-way up the ridge, her head level with the three humans. After a moment, Ron said. "Any time!"
"She's talking to you?" Hermione exclaimed. "How? What? Why can't I hear her? Is it Legilemency? Telepathy? Doesn't she like women? Is it just me? What's going on? What have you got that I haven't?"
"She's like that." Ron said to Mothra. "Anything she doesn't understand, she's like a terrier. She'll be on at me for days, then she'll go and study up and come back with a hundred more questions. She's great!"
Hermione suddenly giggled. Godzilla had come up, carrying the last crystal, and was giving Ron a look that could only be described as sympathetic.
Ron sighed, then said to Mothra. "You know where to find me!"
Then there were only the three humans. Hermione walked up to Ron and hugged him tight for several minutes, he hugged her back equally firmly.
"I came here to rescue you!" She told him. "Well, actually I came to rescue whoever had been stupid enough to kidnap you!"
"Instead, you get a ringside seat at the tag-match of the century!" Ron said.
"You certainly know how to entertain a girl!" She replied, and kissed him.
A little while later, Ron looked down at Temujin and said "Thought you'd've done a runner by now!"
"You underestimate yourselves." Temujin replied. "Not only did your wife send my wand into the fire, but you struck me with such force that I am unsure that my legs will support me even now!"
"Fair enough." Ron said. "I'm thinking that you managed to figure out what was happening?"
"The stones of power." Temujin said. "They were his hearts, yes?"
Ron nodded. "Best I can make out from what Mothra told me, when the Daleks attacked in 08, they let the fields down on Monster Island so the Titans there could escape or go and fight. Godzilla and the others went to the mainland to fight. Ghidorah went off by himself and got ambushed over the ocean by a Dalek battle group. They blew him up and his hearts got thrown into the water.
"Now if those hearts aren't in his body, they crystallise. If all three are close enough together, and if they get hot enough, they can gather stuff from around them and reform Ghidorah. But they were scattered and deep underwater, so the other Noble Beasts thought he was gone forever. But then you got hold of them. How?"
"The Deep Ones." Temujin said. "Since the Atlanteans defeated them, they will bargain with anyone to recover certain artefacts they gave to their human followers. In exchange for some golden trinkets, they gave me the three stones. I had no idea what they were, but I could feel the power they held!
"It was then I conceived the idea of the Golems. Powerful, indestructible, ideal harbingers of my new Empire! How could I know that my plan was exactly what was needed to restore King Ghidorah?"
"It probably wasn't your idea." Hermione told him. "Ghidorah comes from space. Nobody knows who created him, or why, or what his capabilities are. It might be that you were caught up in some kind of fail-safe programme."
"Mothra didn't know, either." Ron said. "But we worked out that if we could activate the final Golem before it was fully completed, it would leave a weak spot in Ghidorah that would make at least one of his hearts vulnerable. Usually, you can't get at them without killing him first, he's too tough, and once he's dead, the hearts crystallise and can't be destroyed. But this time, they managed it.
"One heart's been destroyed. Godzilla will take one to the deepest part of the ocean, where only he can go. Kong? Well the Earth is riddled with tunnels, and the Beasts know them all. Kong will take his to the deepest, furthest corner of the deepest, furthest cave and then forget where he put it. With any luck, Ghidorah will never be able to reform.
"But as for you, Great Khan, Power of God on Earth, you're coming back to face the music!"
"Bhutan again, I suppose?" Temujin said, climbing unsteadily to his feet.
"No," Hermione told him. " you committed the offences in the UK, so it'll be New Azkaban. No more Dementors, you'll be glad to hear. Just mug after mug of nice, brown, Indian tea with lots of milk and sugar!"
He gave her a pained look. "I'd almost rather have the Dementors!"
"Going back via the Monastery?" Ron asked. "Only the sooner you give that coat back, the better! Love you to bits, pet, but it's making my eyes water whenever I get close to you!"
"Try wearing the thing!" Hermione told him. "By the way, where did you lay your hands on all that high-end winter kit?"
"Mothra did some shoplifting." Ron said. "Literally. She brought the whole shop. I left some money in the till and told her to put the shop back where she found it. Should be OK."
"Kingsley," Hermione opined, "is going to have a fit!"
"Why?" Ron asked. "It wasn't me, guv, it was the giant moth!"