Monday, October 29, 2018

Secret Edict Seventeen

The knock came against the great oak door, once, then again.  Not demanding, not a hammering, but precise and clear.  A polite, clear request.

The old woman roused herself from a half slumber.  A guest?  But none was expected.  Everything was such a mess.  She was such a mess.  She sighed, and spoke a word over her unbrushed and thinning hair.   It sorted itself into a semblance of order as she heaved her old bones upright.

"Who is it," she said, just loudly enough that the door could hear.

"Director Hermione Granger-Weasley, of the Ministry of Magic," thrummed the door, officiously.

The woman's eyes brightened with pleasure.

"Well, let her in!"

The door complied with equal pleasure, opening in a single well oiled motion, proudly unsqueaking.

A trim and neatly dressed woman in early middle age entered, her all-business demeanor slightly subverted by a barely controlled storm of grey and chestnut hair.

"Minerva," she said, with a soft smile. She approached, and took the old woman's proffered hand as she struggled to rise.  "It's been too long.  And please, sit, sit."

McGonagall returned the smile, and eased herself back down into her chair.  Hermione settled into onto the ottoman that had helpfully crawled up behind her.   The retired professor clapped her hands gently, and whispered a word, and a tea service floated across the room, the tray heaped with jellied biscuits and magically fresh scones.  A cup of perfect Earl Grey settled in on a side table.

"Would you care for some, my dear?"

"Yes, but not quite yet."

"Oh, Hermione.  It has indeed been too long.  How are you?"  Her eyes leapt to Hermione's hair.  "I mean, other than you all of a sudden going rather impressively grey."

Hermione gave a short snort at the familiar, friendly poke.  "Things are well.  And we shall talk, we shall, but..."

The old woman's lips pursed.  "A business call, is it?  Ministry business?"

"Only partially.  But yes, yes it is."

McGonagall laughed.  "Right to the point as always.  I'd expect nothing less.  We can talk pleasantries later, I suppose.  And it's nice to know my old bones are still useful to the Ministry.  You will stay for tea after, won't you?  Gryffinsrest is lovely, but, well.  One grows weary of being alone."

"Of course, Minerva.  That's mostly why I'm here.  For tea, and for you.  But business before pleasure."

Before McGonagall could reply, Hermione continued.  "I've been reviewing the Wizarding War Archives.  Part of a larger research project, of course.  The history I'm working on, you know, the one I mentioned the last time I was here.   I came across something, well, something that you did while working with the Ministry when you were part of that effort.  The files are incomplete, and it''s troubling me."  An uncharacteristic hesitancy entered her voice.  ""

"Well, out with it, my dear."

"What do you know about Secret Edict Seventeen?  I'd always wondered, you know, why it was that everyone wouldn't speak his name during his initial rise.  I mean, there was the fear, and I understood that.  But it seemed too...neat.  Too consistent.  Too accepted as the way things needed to be.  Must not be named?  But why?  Why did everyone just not say it, for so very long?

And then I stumbled across it in the archives, in the files of the Special Circumstance Team of the Ministry.  SE17.   Utterly secret, of course.  Only two dozen wizards appear to even have known of its existence.  The records, just fragments.  Most of them destroyed."

The old woman's voice, a firm whisper.  "SE17: Of Deepest Secret.  A Semiotic Dweomer, Contramaleficent, Antidynamus, Silentium, Polis Pacebis."

"You helped write it?"

"Yes, my dear.  Yes I did.  That's why my name is on it."

"And Secret Edit Seventeen was the real reason none of us could bring ourselves to speak his name, not until Harry started doing it?"


Hermione leaned in closer.  "But why?"

"There came a point, my dear, when we realized that it was necessary.  We had no choice."

"I'm not sure I'm following, Minerva."

"It was at the height of his rise, you know, before that moment when he failed to kill Harry.  Before his curse rebounded and struck him down.  He was everywhere.  Every single page of the Daily Prophet, his name, his leering, confident face, his confident, lying words.  And if it wasn't about some horrid thing he'd done or said, it was an earnest writer or commentator reflecting on it or lamenting it or in full fledged panic about it.

Even the Quibbler, my gracious, he was even there, mixed amongst all the delightful Lovegood silliness.  His name, carried by every owl, spoken of in every tavern, souring the froth of a first year's first taste of butterbeer.  His name, whispered and shouted and muttered until it was all you could think about.  All you could dream about.

And with the endless repetition, there was the fear.  It was palpable, that fear, among those of us who knew what he was and could become, and fear became the curse itself.  Among the Death Eaters, the name was power, pure power.  It affirmed them, told them they were important, sang to them a dark song, a song that tore at everything the Wizarding world was and had been, and put their hatred up in its place.

For months, my dear, months, it grew.  Until, finally, some of us working with the Ministry realize that it was..."

Hermione settled back, her head nodding slowly.

"A spell.  His name was a spell."

McGonagall's eyes twinkled behind the thick crystal depth of her lenses, a flicker of a prim smile on her thinning lips.  "Precisely.  Nice to see your years in Ministry bureaucracy haven't dulled your lovely mind, Hermione.  His name itself was a subtle spell, one no-one at the Ministry was ever able to replicate or grasp.  I was part of the team that found it, that worked to break it, and...well...we just couldn't."

"But a Secret Edict?  Minerva, shouldn't we have been told?  Why hide it?"

McGonagall sighed, a gentle deflation of her age-slightened frame.

"Of course, ideally, yes, people should have been told.  Flitwick argued for more openness, because of course he did.  Filius was such an idealist, even more so than most Ravenclaws.  His goblin side, no doubt.  But  In the end we realized that it could not be so.  His spell was crafted against such countermeasures.

Do not think of X, we would say, because X is a secret dark curse blighting your soul, we would say.  'His name is a spell, one that builds his power each time you speak it,' the Prophet would publish.  'Beware!'  And everyone would know it...and we would only have made it worse." 

"Worse?"   Hermione frowned.  "How?"

"The minds of muggles...forgive me, dear...and wizards are not so different.  Telling everyone not to think the word of his name...the word of the spell...would only magnify the collective incantation.  Experiments at the Ministry confirmed it. "

"Like saying, don't think of a Nimbus 5500," said Hermione, softly.  "And all you can think of, at that moment, is..."

"Is this year's most excellent broom," finished McGonagall.  "Yes.  That's quite it.  It's a spell that preys on that same basic weakness of the human mind, our fundamental reliance on the symbols that both represent reality and allow wizards to cast the spells that shape it."

"And so the Edict was meant to quiet things?  To weaken the fear?  To still the power that the endless cycling of his name-spell gave him?"

McGonegal sighed again.  "That was the Ministry's intent.  SE17 wasn't just a regulation, of course, or even a law.  It was a spell in its own right.  Complex and deep, and one that required a dozen of us to cast."  She paused, considering something.

"I had my part, of course, particularly as the Ministry came to the decision to cast it.  But the design of it, the intricacies of the casting?   That was mostly Severus.  I'm not quite sure if it worked. But for a while, it seemed to make a difference.  His face, gone from the Prophet.  The Quibbler, back to babbling about oddities.  Evil things happened, but his name wasn't bound to them.  Talk grew less.  For a while, it weakened him.  People felt, well, almost normal again.  Even with all of the terrible things going on."

"And then he made the mistake of trying to kill Lily's little baby boy.  He didn't make many mistakes then, my dear.  I'd like to think that our dulling his power blinded him to his inevitable failure.  To the trap he was setting for himself and his blighted, fragmented soul.  Perhaps, in a small way, it helped."  She paused.  Hermione sat still, watching her.

"Perhaps," said Hermione, breaking the silence.

The old professor cupped her tea in the papery flesh of her hands, feeling the warmth of the Earl Grey within.  She sipped it, and gave a short exhalation of pleasure.

"Oh, that's nice."

Hermione's lips pursed, puzzling over something, her mind busy beneath her partially contained mop of graying frizz.


"Yes, my dear?"

"We haven't used his name, not once, this entire conversation."

The old woman raised her chin.  Lowering her glasses, she narrowed her eyes and gave Hermione a piercing look, one which sparked and danced with a lingering fire.

"No, my dear.  No.  We have not."