Utilitarian Priorities Again
Wolfsbane, Devil’s Snare, Venomous Tentacula, Jumanjian Plot Kudzu, EclipseIvy, Spiky Ivy, Writhing Ivy, Screechsnaps, Puffapods, Saint Etheldreda’sFlytraps, Bubotubers, Ultraviolets, Mandrakes – mostly Mandrakes. The Hogwartsgreenhouse was filled to the brim with exotic magical plants, many of whichrefused to stay silent, ever, and it consequently felt like the busiest andmost crowded section of the school, even though, at present, it contained onlytwo members of the animal kingdom - both humans.
Pomona Sprout, the Herbology Professor at Hogwarts, was not having a very goodday. The most obvious manifestation of her not-very-good day had been when,during a fourth year Gryffindor class, a student had deigned to spell her namein small flaming letters, and rearrange them into a rude phrase. Pomona hateddisrespect, nearly as much as she hated fire (seeing as it was the naturalenemy of so many plants). But that incident (which had fortunately at leastled to several students receiving detention) had merely been symptomatic of alarger-scale issue, wherein the public knowledge of her unwitting involvementin last year’s evil subplot had led the school to see her in a different light– particularly now that new, more blatant evil was afoot, and it wasconvenient, at least for the sake of a joke, to suggest that she might be atool of darkness again. She wasn’t. Pomona Sprout was perhaps the singleperson at Hogwarts least involved in an evil plot.
Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres, the Chief Warlock, didn’t think he was havinga very good day either, though the truth was that his problems were ultimatelymuch less significant than those of Professor Sprout. After more than a yearin the wizarding world, he had finally come up with a magical “cheat” that,though not quite an instant path to godhood, was still a damn sight morepowerful than anything of its type that had previously existed. Unfortunately,this year was full of distractions: Bellatrix stirring up international crapand continuing to evade capture, Slytherin’s Monster causing political dramaright around Harry’s own home, the Anti-Patronus doing Harry-didn’t-even-know-what-but-it-sounded-very-bad… Why was Slytherin’s Monster alive, anyway?Hadn’t Voldemort heavily implied he’d killed it?
Maybe that was a ruse, just to keep Harry away from the Chamber. Harry hadbeen looking for the Chamber ever since it had become a looming threat toHogwarts students, but he had had little luck. It had been easy to find secretpassageways hidden from the ninety nine percent of Hogwarts students whoweren’t Parselmouths; in fact, Voldemort had showed him one such passagewaylast year. But that was just the thing - they were easy to find, they wereempty, and they were interconnected; they permeated the school, and werenearly as large. They connected with each other in no coherent way;occasionally there was a dangerous trap, or a cryptic device that certainlydid something, but Harry didn’t know what that something was. What therewasn’t, as far as Harry could tell, was Slytherin’s Monster, or a Chamber tocontain it. Not that he’d explored enough of the labyrinth to really say thatwith a firm conviction. Harry had only penetrated the first layer ofSlytherin’s security, and he knew it.
On top of all of these externalities, there were two inherent problems withHarry’s new ascension idea: if the method ceased to be a secret, thenmurdering Harry suddenly became a much more attractive proposition for theworld at large. And once the process was initiated, it would be very difficultnot to expose what he had done, at least to those immediately around him.Therefore, it was only really appropriate for either an emergency (akin to TheNight Of The Thirty-Seven, though it wouldn’t have worked in a circumstancequite that constrained) or an about-to-dominate-the-world-anyway endgame.There was another problem with Harry’s idea, but it was a very minor one, andhe was working on it at the moment.
“Hello, Professor Sprout,” said Harry. She looked up from the Mandrake she wasattending to and turned around.
“Oh, hello, Harry,” said Professor Sprout.
“Attending to the Mandrakes?” said Harry.
“Yes,” said Professor Sprout. “The new batch are in their critical window.”
“Ah,” said Harry. “For… Felix Felicis, right?”
“Right,” said Professor Sprout, and something golden sprayed out of anatomizer in her hand into the pot. Harry silently allowed her to work,speaking up only when she seemed to be at a stopping point.
“I thought that potion was so broken when I heard about it the first time,”said Harry.
“Come again?” said Professor Sprout.
“I mean…” said Harry. “I thought my understanding of it was too good to betrue. And it was, because I’d misunderstood it.”
“As many have,” said Professor Sprout.
“It tries to give you what you want, but it doesn’t actually know what youwant,” said Harry. “It’s not very smart, and it’s not good at modeling thedesires of organisms that are.”
“Not a problem with Mandrake saplings,” said Professor Sprout. “Bless theirlittle hearts. The Felix makes them smarter if you give it to them whenthey’re growing, but they’re still just plants.”
“And when they’re smarter, they’re suitable for the Potion of Reanimation,”said Harry.
“Precisely, Harry,” said Professor Sprout. She didn’t generally refer to herstudents by their first names, but Harry, being who he was, had a differentstatus altogether.
“I can still hear some of them screaming instead of babbling, though,” saidHarry. The babbling ones actually unnerved Harry more than the screaming ones,because, their vocalizations formed real words and sometimes even phrases. Itwas probably just a Markov chain, but still…
“Don’t remind me,” said Professor Sprout. “Those are the ones I failed toproperly administer the potion to. Total waste. Perfectly ordinary Mandrakesthat are perfectly unsuitable for reviving the petrified. I’ll have to putthem down before their screams become dangerous to humans. I mean, not thatthe other ones are surviving either; I’ll have to chop them up. And even thesmartest Mandrakes scream when they’re being killed.” The Herbology Professorjust laughed, and Harry decided not to model the mental processes that led tothe laughter.
“Theoretically, because of how Felix Felicis works, any Mandrake _could_emerge from their critical window in the state of heightened intelligence,”said Harry. “It’s just an infinitesimally small chance.” Professor Sproutstopped to consider this before accepting that it was essentially correct.
“Yes,” said Professor Sprout. “The Felix just ensures it.”
“Got it,” said Harry. Harry weighed the value of the Mandrakes’ lives with thevalue of his petrified classmates, before recoiling in horror – of course hisclassmates were more valuable. The Mandrakes were more intelligent than youraverage plant, but were easily less developed than a variety of animals Harrywould’ve sacrificed to save human lives without even blinking. They were onlymarginally more ethically significant than an embryo. “I actually had adifferent question I came here to ask you.”
“Ask away,” said Professor Sprout.
“How would I purchase industrial quantities of Screechsnap Sap?” said Harry.
“Come again?” said Professor Sprout. “I understand that you want to know aboutpurchasing Screechsnap Sap, correct? But there was something I was missing.”
“Industrial quantities?” said Harry, and Professor Sprout seemed puzzled.Harry reminded himself that the concept of “industrial quantities” would beforeign to a wizard; mass-production was a little-known secret among them.“How would I buy it in bulk?”
“I can’t imagine what you’d want it for,” said Professor Sprout, “but Slug& Jiggers Apothecary is your best bet, seeing as it’s a potion ingredient.They might not have as much as you want in stock, depending on how absurdyou’re currently feeling, but you could always place an order with them. AtHogwarts we harvest our own sap, but we only make as much as we need year-to-year.”
“Thank you,” said Harry. “That’s much more helpful than what ProfessorSlughorn said.” If Professor Slughorn really wanted Harry to join his ‘SlugClub’, he’d have to do a lot better than answering Harry’s questions with“Professor Sprout could probably give you a better answer”.
“You’re welcome,” said Professor Sprout. “Are you going now? I really need toget back to work; this stockpile is critically important for preserving theintegrity of Hogwarts’ student body. I’m sure Headmistress McGonagall told youas well.”
“Indeed she did,” said Harry, “and indeed I am. Going. Goodbye!”
“Goodbye,” said Professor Sprout. Harry left, walking past a Mandrake that hadjust discovered a novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem, a Mandrake wedding,and a heated Mandrake debate on whether humans were an intelligent species ora mysterious force of nature.
A noise that was high and low all at once in pitch, like a bullet ricochetingoff of a drum at a near-flat angle, but deafeningly loud, shook Hogwarts’campus in the dark of the night. Accompanying it was a bright white beam oflight, about as thick as a dinner plate, which suddenly burst out of theground near the greenhouse and pierced the heavens. The beam persisted, and itgave off a quieter, but still awful, hum, and many were awoken, but many stilldecided to try to sleep.
A few moments later, a second, identical noise, alongside a second, identicalbeam, in a slightly different location. The ambient hum was twice as loud,now, and Headmistress McGonagall had already climbed out of bed and begun torush downstairs. Her Time-Turner was jammed, a clear sign to her that Time wasitself implicated in whatever was happening.
A third beam, and it was now geometrically obvious that the beams thus farassembled formed three of the four corners of a rectangle that would enclosethe greenhouse. Harry, too, was now stirred, and his path downstairs wouldsoon merge with Minerva’s. Each was occupied with a slew of barely-coherentPatronus messages.
The fourth and final beam knocked everyone down; its volume was not somethingone could account for. The new ambient noise, too, was far greater than asimple quadrupled form of the first ambient noise phase - for the spacebetween the beams was now filled in with a translucent but distinctly visiblefield swimming with electric yellow “veins”. Anything and anyone in thegreenhouse was trapped.
The Headmistress screamed upon seeing Pomona Sprout inside the field, poundingon its perimeter with her fists, pleading unhearable. Still, she rallied allof the staff she had summoned to cast every spell they knew at the strange,unknown enchantment, to hopefully break it. Even Harry was brought in to casthis Patronus. But it could not penetrate the arcane shield, which simplyabsorbed many general use offensive spells Harry had never even previouslyheard of. Professor Columbus cast something that formed enormous sphericalsponges in mid-air, that drew magic away from constructs around them beforevanishing, but it had no visible effect. Worse still, the silhouette in thegreenhouse was moving…
It was a figure shrouded in magical smoke; its movements were more like abanshee than a human, and even many professors would later swear it was anInferius. It projected Fiendfyre from its arms, which grew to consume and meltthe greenhouse. And it dragged Pomona Sprout into the blaze, to hasten herend. The Headmistress was running out of breath to scream with, but manyothers, who were trickling out of the castle to see the commotion up close,were only beginning.
There was a magical burst (slightly muffled, as Harry vaguely recognized) anda sizeable percentage of Hogwarts’ student body became able to see Thestrals.
In the mangled wreckage of the greenhouse, the dark figure bent down,obsessively stroked the ashes as if they were its lover, and finally stood.The Fiendfyre had mostly died down, except for a few small pockets immediatelyto the figure’s sides. It mechanically waved at the terrorized crowd, and theflames surged up around it; when they puffed out of existence seconds later,so too had the figure.
About a minute later, the protective field vanished - but there wasimmediately a muffled explosion that caved in the ground on which thegreenhouse had stood, and Professor Flitwick sustained a broken bone. So endedthe assault. The scene was roped off and thoroughly analyzed; several thingsof note were discovered. First, and a foregone conclusion, Professor Sprout’scharred body. Second, a series of unusual, unknown magical artifacts - fourstone discs that had clearly been used to generate the protective field, andone complex, multicolored widget, towards the center of the scene, with theletters “NB” carved into it but its purpose otherwise unknown. Third,something that the Aurors all nearly missed, but was of great interest toHarry. Fourth, absolutely no plants, none at all - at least none that werealive. Fifth, a message scrawled in the ashes: “YOU WILL BE PERMITTED TO GROWMANDRAKES WHEN THE INTERDICT IS ENDED”. (This was foolish, explained theHeadmistress, not only because there was no way to end the Interdict ofMerlin, but because Hogwarts was obviously not the only site working toprepare Potions of Reanimation.)
Five suspects were investigated. Hermione Granger was investigated first onthe basis of her phoenix and its abilities resembling the mysterious figure’sdisappearance from the area, but it was quickly determined that phoenixes andFiendfyre were mutually exclusive magical instruments; the same person couldnot wield both (and, in fact her phoenix was now in hiding as it was nowconsidered vulnerable to attack). Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres identifiedan artifact at the scene as stolen from the Time Room at the Department ofMysteries, used to prevent Time-Turner-based examination of the attack. GinnyWeasley failed to show up promptly when summoned, but her alibi, that she wasusing the restroom at the time, and was only vaguely aware that a calamity wasoccurring, ultimately proved sufficient. Gilderoy Lockhart was detainedbecause he was the Defense Professor, but no one could think of any otherreason to suspect him. And Lesath Lestrange, who was not by any means the Heirof Slytherin, was held for questioning, owing largely to unrelated matters,though his location was unaccounted for during the incident. He was suspendedfrom all classes indefinitely, on the request of Miss Tracey Davis. Followingthe public execution of Pomona Sprout, Lesath Lestrange was the onlyindividual made to suffer consequences.
“And make no mistake about it,” said Hermione. “If Hogwarts hadn’t needed sobadly to punish somebody, then Lesath Lestrange would still be alive.”
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