Today's Character Sheet: myth-weavers com/sheetview php?sheetid=576619

Chapter Four: Railroading

The northern England countryside sped past them at a phenomenal speed as the Hogwarts Express once again vindicated Milo's growing feelings of the inadequacy of magic. Sure, it couldn't beat a Phantom Horse, but how many Phantom Horses would it take to carry this many students?

They were missing something. Something important. Milo could feel it in his bones.

o—o

Considering Fiona's typical lack of tact and headstrong approach to policing, it was little wonder that, once the replacement monitor arrived five weeks after a junkie smashed up the last one, she was once again writing a report on the Machine. Now that she'd figured out how to disable caps lock (she was the first in the station to do so; it had been on since it first arrived in June), she was considering herself quite computer literate. She'd developed a few other tricks as well, such
as the discovery that WordStar did not need to be re-installed with every use, and using the
control key to copy and paste text. This saved her a significant amount of time, as the police reports re-used quite a lot of the same content, such as headers, footers, signatures, etc.

It was during one such minor act of self-plagiarism that Fiona noticed something disturbing. While altering the body of the text of last week's report to apply to her most recent incident (involving a minor and Illegal Possession of Indelible Markers), she realized that her old report had a few inconsistencies with her memory. There were a few hints here and there—misplaced commas, different sentence constructions, and, of course, the fact that it was, when you really got down to it, completely different and physically impossible.

"What the bloody hell!?"

o—o

"Tell me everything you know about Gilded Roy Law Cart," Milo said.

"Well," Harry said, "Hermione here could go on at length about the subject, or you could just do your trick on his books."

"Oh, right." He fished out his half of the reading list from his Belt, and borrowed the other half from Ron (the Pen of Plagiarism +5 was still working quietly in the corner on copying the rest). "Scholar's Touch." He tapped each of the seven assigned Lockhart books in quick succession, rapidly absorbing their content. Milo paused as he processed the data.

"Well?" Ron pressed. "Anything?"

"Hmmm..." Harry and Ron leaned in, and Hermione, despite herself, began to look somewhat interested. "Interesting. In Wandering with Werewolves, he says that his ideal birthday present would be harmony between all magic and non-magic peoples..."

"And?" Ron asked.

"Nothing," Milo shrugged. "Pet project."

"Oh. Anything else?"

"Hard to say," Milo said. "There's a lot of rubbish in here."

"Hey!" Hermione interjected. "Gilderoy Lockhart is considered one of the greatest, and most courageous, wizards of our time!"

"Curious," Milo mused. "Considering he was in Ravenclaw."

"A person can be both intelligent and brave!" Hermione was indignant. "Being in one house doesn't mean a person can't also have characteristics associated with one or more of the others."

"Relax, Hermione," Harry said. "We all know that's true. You're living proof."

Hermione looked mollified—somewhat, anyway.

"What I meant is that it's odd," Milo clarified, "that a person who is now renowned largely for their bravery would have been sorted into a house that takes those who explicitly value intelligence over bravery."

Hermione shrugged. "It's probably just because action and adventure makes a better story than, say, cutting-edge research, no matter how earthshaking, so that's what we hear about."

"Could be..." Milo felt as though they'd almost hit something key, but barely missed it. "Okay, so maybe old Kilroy is largely irrelevant. What else have we got?"

o—o

Fiona had just re-read the bit about the rubbery tentacles for the seventh time, then, because seven was a magic number, read it again. Couldn't be too careful.

At first, she'd suspected some kind of prank. Maybe one of the other officers had messed around with her files.

But it couldn't have been that. She was the first to handle the computer since the new monitor was put in—except for the tech people, of course. But they didn't have the password to actually use the Machine, which theoretically kept personal information about officers and suspects not generally available to the public (of course, nobody actually used the Machine, so there was little of such information, and in any case, the password was "PASSWORD").

Aside from that, it felt right. Fiona hated trusting her gut feeling over facts, but there was something... familiar about the report. It was almost as if she could remember remembering the events, but couldn't remember the events themselves. Every time she tried, she found herself inexplicably remembering an urgent appointment with the Inspector.

Indeed, she suddenly found herself halfway to the hallway, just going to meet him about... something.

o—o

"Anyone hear of any other new faculty?" No-one had. "Mysterious prison breakouts? Ominous noises at night? Dark rumours? Inexplicable deaths?" Similarly, nothing.

"Maybe we really will have a normal year," Harry said. "Maybe everything will be okay."

o—o

Lucius Malfoy was in the dangerous position of a man who had everything. And a man who has everything has nowhere left to go but down.

"I still don't see why we didn't just nab him over the summer, bring him here and switch them. It's been a year; she must've had enough time by now," Amycus Carrow said. "The primary objective was a failure, but there's no reason to think the secondary won't be a success." Lucius marked him for the next unpleasant duty that came up.

"We've been over this," Lucius sighed. "The Order had him well protected."

"Well, I for one am not afraid of a stay-at-home mom, her moronic husband, and a bunch of schoolteachers," said Alecto Carrow irritably. "We could have taken them."

"And then what?" Lucius said wearily. "Need I remind you that, the last time you met, the subject in question managed to destroy your wand? In any case, it would have blown our cover. That idiot Fudge doesn't, and can't, know that we're still operating as a group."

"But we aren't, are we?" Amycus Carrow pressed. "Operating. What have we actually done? That boy ran off, and we've just been sitting on our thumbs for six months. And now he's in Dumbledore's grasp once more."

"He'd never left it, Amycus. Trust me; Dumbledore had that boy under lock and key, even if it didn't look it."

"Was he, now? So, how, if he was under Dumbledore's lock and key, he ended up in the hands of the Muggles?" Alecto had the look of a person who had planned this conversation out in advance. Lucius realized he was treading on dangerous ground.

"There is a difference between keeping a person in and keeping people out—"

"Is there?" Amycus interjected. "Because it seems to me as though the Muggles managed to do by accident what you're so afraid of."

Everyone went silent.

"What are you suggesting, Amycus?" Lucius asked coldly. He leaned forward, and used the movement to hide the fact that he loosened his sleeve, ready to draw the wand he had hidden up it. He had another like it on his left, one down the back of his neck, and one strapped to each leg. He'd learned his lesson.

The necessity of subtlety entirely seemed to escape their grasp. Of course even the Muggles could pull off a simple abduction. But to do so without stirring suspicion requires all the delicacy and tact of plucking the sole egg from a Hippogriff's nest.

"Nothing, Lucius," Amycus said, backing down somewhat. "Just frustration caused by the heat." Lucius decided not to point out the fact that it was, in fact, quite cool in his council chamber. Despite the late summer heat, there were charms keeping temperature fluctuations to a minimum. Amycus deliberately chose a thin excuse, and the others would notice it. Still, Lucius's position was tenuous enough as it was. He needed to give them something to do other than fight him, or worse: discover his secret. He didn't want the Dark Lord to return. Things were better now.

It frustrated him to no end that they failed to see what he did. They'd already won—or, at least, the Malfoys had won. There was hardly a department, bureau, or branch of the Ministry that wasn't under his control to one extent or another. He had had influence in every major economic institution and guild, save Gringotts. But then, nobody had any influence over Gringotts. That was the point. Cornelius Fudge may be the Minister for Magic, and Dumbledore may be the Supreme Mugwump and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, but he, Lucius Malfoy, was really in charge of Magical Britain. But they couldn't get over the fact that the Dark Lord was dead, and that mudbloods roamed freely. Lucius hated Muggleborns as much as the next man—well, generally more than the next man, except in this particular company—but couldn't they see that they were going about it the wrong way? The solution wasn't torture and murder. It was much more insidious.

The solution, of course, was bureaucracy. Lucius could—generally—block the hiring and promotions of mudbloods and their sympathizers. On average. Arthur Weasley was evidence of that. Give him ten years, and there wouldn't be a single mudblood heading any department, and simple nepotism would do the rest. In fifty years there wouldn't be one in the Ministry. In a hundred, they'd all be living in ghettoes—not because they were ordered to, but because they couldn't afford anything better. Another generation and they wouldn't be able to afford wands. And he could do what the Dark Lord never could—ensure a successor. The Dark Lord's movement died with him, but there would be a Malfoy guiding British politics and economics for generations.

But people like the Carrows and the Lestranges could never think that way, and, as much as Lucius hated it, he needed these people to maintain his position. He was backed into a corner.

Powerful men backed into a corner did dangerous things.

Lucius told them what to do.

Even the Carrows were surprised.

o—o

Fiona wrapped her arms around herself, shaking gently. She'd been the one to write the report, and she'd somehow forgotten about it—no. She hadn't just forgotten about it, another memory had replaced it. Her memories for that exact date and time were different and incompatible. That didn't necessarily mean that what she'd written was the truth, and that she'd apprehended a dangerous and violent child armed with supernatural forces, however.

But if she was wrong... why was her memory altered? Who would do that? Who could do that? MI5?

She hadn't been drugged—she'd taken a blood test that very day. Her memories told her it was to make sure she hadn't come into contact with anything dangerous in the drug den she'd raided, but her report said it was to see if the entire event hadn't been brought about by a hallucinogen. Worrisomely, her being sent to the medic—and the fact that she'd written the report on the Machine—implied that she'd told the Inspector, who hadn't liked it. Was his memory altered too? Or was he the one who'd done it?

Either way, the test had cleared her... maybe. Assuming she'd actually taken it, and the medic's report hadn't been tampered with.

One thing she knew—the more people she told about this, the greater the chance that whoever had done this would come back and do it again. Last time they'd tried to destroy the computer evidence—the monitor had been smashed apart that day. It had always seemed weird to her that the violent criminal resisting arrest had somehow made his way into the computer lab. They'd mistaken the monitor for the entire computer. It was an easy mistake to make—Hollywood did it all the time, and in any case, who knew anything about computers?

Anything she did, anyone she spoke to, could trigger whoever had done this to come back and do it again. She'd have to take precautions.

"It isn't paranoia if there really is a conspiracy," Fiona muttered to herself.

o—o

"Here's something," Milo said. "Harry—what exactly were you doing when I came to rescue you last month? No, wait... what were you doing several hours before." He had to find out what had triggered his drop out of the timeskip.

"Dunno... Vernon was shouting at me because of Hedwig, who had woken up and was making noise."

"Wait, wait, wait," Milo interrupted. "Who the hell is Hedwig?"

Harry blinked.

"My best and first friend," Harry said. "My pet owl that I got at Diagon Alley? She was a gift from Hagrid. I've told you about her before."

"No, I don't think you have. It would have been in the plot somewhere."

"I have."

"Well, excuse me if I don't remember the name and backstory of every familiar in the party."

"Anyway... the Muggles were being rude, so I said, 'you forgot the magic word' when my aunt asked me to pass something, then they shouted at me more, then..."

"Let me guess—your mind started wandering, longing for school and adventure and friends? Mixed with a bit of recap of what happened last year?"

"Well, yeah. I was bored."

"Dammit," Milo muttered. "It was just the adventure introduction. By the DM."

"DM?" Hermione asked.

"Descriptive Monologue."

"Ah."

o—o

"Right, Crabbe, Goyle," Draco Malfoy said to his... friends? Henchmen? Minions? Minions. "This year, we need to take revenge on Milo for last year."

"You mean when he floored the lot of us, boss?"

"Yeah, you mean when he knocked our teeth in, boss?"

"Tooth! There was only one tooth kicked in!" Draco said, indignantly. "And yes—for that humiliation." When Draco had confronted them in Diagon Alley, he'd been bluffing. He had no plan.

But that was three weeks ago.

"So what's the plan, boss?"

"Yeah, what's the scheme, boss?"

"Well, we've learned the impracticality of what one might call the direct approach—"

"Because we'll get the rest of our teeth kicked in, boss?"

"Yeah, because we'll die of internal bleeding, boss?"

"Yes, now shut up. But. He has weak spots, points of vulnerability—"

"What's the difference between a weak spot and a point of vulnerability, boss?"

"Yeah, what's—"

"Shut. Up. Only one of you needs to ask the question! And there's no difference! I was employing a rhetorical device! Repeating the same thing slightly differently was the only way anything would penetrate your thick skull! Anyway—"

"So which weak spot do we clobber, boss?"

"Yeah, boss, the kneecaps or—"

"Do not finish that sentence, Crabbe." Draco sighed. His father didn't have difficulty dealing with minions. He just told them what to do, and they did it. He'd best just cut to the Snitch, then, and skip the patter. "I'm saying we go for the damn rat."

o—o

"Well, that solves the Mystery of the Timeskip," Milo said. "Unfortunately, solving mysteries is just making the matter worse."

"How so?" Hermione asked.

"We should be opening possible plotlines, not closing them!" Milo was sweating. "Hooks! We need hooks!"

"Just relax," Hermione said. "You don't know there's something malicious happening."

"Yes I do!"

"How?"

"There always is!" Milo insisted, becoming increasingly aggravated. Failure to catch the foreshadowing now would inevitably make things much difficult later on.

"No, there isn't," Hermione reasoned. "We went six months without problem. Remember? You even aced the Transfiguration final."

"Still wondering how you did that," Ron muttered. "You never did tell us."

"I skipped through six months without problem!" Couldn't they see? There was always a plot to kill him, to frame him, to capture him, to kill the king, to kidnap the princess, to destroy the world, to achieve immortality, to summon fell demons from the Abyss... always. That wasn't paranoia, that was fact—if there wasn't something horrible going on, he'd simply timeskip through it.

He wasn't timeskipping now. On the other hand... on the other hand, he'd been wrong in July. Maybe he was wrong this time, to... maybe he wasn't in a timeskip simply to establish character?

If so... Milo's Optimizer hindbrain started revving up. If so, there is a distinct and tangible way that I can capitalize on this time.

"Have I ever told any of you how I was picked on by the other kids?"

Inwardly, Milo grinned. Roleplaying XP. Easy money.

o—o—o—o

Snape set down the owl letter, thinking very carefully. It wasn't every day that Lucius Malfoy asked him to brew a potion, but then, it wasn't exactly rare, either. The Potions Master's talents were hardly a secret, and he did occasionally get requests from wizards and witches for particularly a difficult brew.

But this situation was different. In those cases, Snape could always refuse, saying that the potion was too dangerous, or even illegal (or simply that brewing it would get in the way of teaching). But with the Malfoys... without blowing his cover as a Death Eater, he'd have no choice but to comply.

Normally this wasn't a problem, and he'd have a bottle of, say, Veritaserum or an antidote in the mail as soon as it could be brewed. Normally, the uses of such a potion in the hands of Lucius Malfoy would be relatively harmless, or, at least, harmless enough to warrant complying to maintain his cover. But this particular potion, and in such a volume...

Half a gallon of Polyjuice, at maximum potency, was enough to keep someone continuously disguised for a little over a month. There was little doubt that this was part of a larger plot, and, more than likely, it wouldn't be to blackmail some minor government official. This was something sinister—and Snape suspected it was no coincidence that the letter arrived on the first day of term.

Snape hurriedly composed a letter to Dumbledore.

o—o—o—o

"...and that's how I first learned magic, and managed to become a Wizard despite being several years under the minimum starting age."

"Clever," Harry said.

"Indeed," said Hermione. "That was a brilliant workaround, I must say."

"I was always rather proud of it," said Milo, which was true, though he was more proud of the 400 XP he'd just earned. He wondered if he could always earn roleplaying XP offstage during a timeskip, because, if so, he could be suplexing Kord, the god of strength, before the year was out—assuming he did nothing but talk about his feelings.

"Oh, there's the castle," Ron said, glancing out the window. "We should probably change into our robes before we get there."

"Best hurry," Harry suggested. "We left it late because of Milo's gripping tale."

"Speaking of our robes," Milo said, "I've got something for you guys."

"Oh?" Hermione asked curiously.

"We seem to get into trouble of a rather... physical nature fairly frequently."

"That's one way to put it," said Ron. "I've still got the scars."

"Right. To mitigate this problem somewhat, I've made four sets of robes similar to mine."

"We're wearing uniforms, mate," Ron said. "Of course they're similar to yours."

"I meant magically similar."

"Oh. That makes much more sense."

"Anyway," Milo said, passing out the robes he was keeping in his belt. "They're like a scaled-back version of my robes. You obviously wouldn't benefit from the bonus mine gives me to Conjuration spells, so I just made ones with the armour bonus. Now, I'm not really sure how an AC bonus will affect you three, because I'm not completely certain you have an AC. However it works, though, your uniforms are now the defensive equivalent of a solid steel plate. Won't do anything against magic, of course, but it'll do wonders against pointy things." When it came down to it, they were just Bracers of Armour +4, but took the torso body slot instead.

"Brilliant," Ron said. "With one of these, I can finally tell Malfoy what I really think of him... with my fists."

"That last bit was implied," Hermione said. "You really didn't need to clarify."

"And it'll help in case I get caught by a stray bludger!" added Harry. "For a while, anyway." Harry was keenly aware that his ankles were already starting to peek out from under his usual uniform.

"Oh, like all magic gear, it'll resize to fit," said Milo. "Theoretically, it'll last forever. As an added perk, they've got holy symbols of nearly every deity I could think of stitched on them—in black. They may be invisible, but they're still there. Any vampires that come near are in for a nasty shock." He'd retrofitted his own robes with them, as well. Making something count as a holy symbol came with multiple perks and no downsides, so there was little reason not to.

Hermione frowned.

"If they're not as good as the one you're wearing," she said slowly, "why did you make four? There's only three of us."

"Oh, you know... just in case," he said evasively.

"Right," Hermione said skeptically. She looked like she was going to say more, but was cut off by the train's horn and the screech of brakes as the Hogwarts Express came to a stop at its destination.

It was with some trepidation that Milo stood to exit their vehicle. This wasn't the first time he'd entered a potentially dangerous situation without any idea what to expect, but he had a... well, a feeling. A sense of dread. It was hard to explain, as it lay outside of his two usual methods of prediction—magic and metagaming. They were comfortable, reliable. They could be analyzed.

This was... fluff. Fluff implied interference from the DM (the Destiny Manipulator). Despite the best attempts of gods and PCs, it was the DM that had the final say.

As Milo took his first step on the worn stone platform of the Hogwarts Express's final and only station, he hoped fervently that any perceived symbolism was purely coincidental.

o—o—o—o—o—o—o

Author's Notes: Hilariously, considering Fiona's first section, I just edited out a number of weird formatting issues caused by copy-pasting.

D&D Tip: Complete Scoundrel's Nimble Charge skill trick (CS 83,87) allows you to charge or run over "a difficult surface" without needing to make a Balance check once per encounter. Consult your DM for the limits of that ability, but by a strict (ie, unrealistic) reading of the rule, it lets you run across clouds (DC 120) once a combat at level 2.

Under more realistic interpretations, you can still do really, really cool things with 100% reliability, such as charge across ropes, rigging, and (with Tumble) the weapons of your enemies. Combine with a Grapple-Firing Crossbow for extreme awesome.

Happy gaming, folks!