Murder Aforethought

Halloween, 1981

Godric’s Hollow, West Country, England

“Get Harry!” James shouted to his wife as he faced the man framed by the doorway, crackling clouds throwing light behind him.

Voldemort had finally come, the thing the Potters feared more than anything else.

Good thing they’d also planned for it. Peter may have been under the Fidelis charm, but that had it’s limits. The small, perpetually frightened man could, through the charm withstand grave torment, and never a word of the secret would be forced from his lips.

Fear of torture has always been just as, if not more, effective than the torture itself.

Lily ran into her small son’s room and swept him up. She turned, quailing for only a moment as her heart climbed up her throat in fear for her husband–but they had their plan.

In the small house’s entryway, James deftly blocked the first sickly green ray with the small cabinet that sat by the door, shedding keys and coins as it rose under direction of his wand. The might of the ray splintered it to bits as Lily’s hand grasped a large duffle bag kept under Harry’s crib and she disappeared with a loud pop.

James smiled, just a small curve, as he knew his wife was safely away.

“AVADA-” Voldemort began.

“ACCIO BUGOUT!” James shouted.

As the murderous lich finished his incantation, a large aluminium-framed backpack rose behind him and flew towards James, knocking the death-dealing just enough that the ray veered from it’s target and bit into the wooden paneling as James reached out and closed his hand around the backpack’s handle on top.

A tremendous shout of rage went up in two places simultaneously that night.

Voldemort’s thin voice shattered windows and mirrors in Godric’s Hollow as his magic was involuntarily channeled through it–a lack of control he’d not shown since he was a small child. “Four times!” he shouted to his greasy-haired companion–who was silently grateful Lily had survived and that he himself was so skilled at occlumency.

Lily fell to her knees clutching her small son as James appeared behind her shouting his rage in a voice continuing from Godric’s Hollow.

“WE WERE BETRAYED!” the black-haired man shouted, instinctively covering his wife and son and scanning for further threats.

Sirius rushed to their sides, wand ready, “Prongs!” he called, “Are you all alright?”

James fumed, but, satisfied that he was, for the moment, safe, tucked his wand away and turned gently to look at Lily and Harry. Lily nodded and stood with her husband’s hand spotting her. “We’re alright. Your plan kept us safe.”

Sirius dropped his wand as he pulled the three of them into a relieved embrace. “Mooney,” he hissed.

James shook his head, “No, he didn’t know. Remus didn’t betray us tonight…”

Worm…” the men snarled as one, as a crack echoed in the small headquarters. They rushed to the room where their childhood tagalong friend slept, to find it empty.

A disheveled man ran into the room, hyper-aware, keeping his distance from his friends and the small child. “What’s going on?” Remus asked.

“Remus, shouldn’t you be in your room? Locked?” Lily asked.

The man waved the concern off, “It-it’s passed,” he shuddered. “I-I’m fine. What’s going on?”

“Peter betrayed us,” Sirius fumed, “betrayed them.”

Remus closed to the darker haired man who was still pacing, long black coat swinging as he did. “Trust me now, Padfoot?”

Sirius looked his friend–his lover–deep in the eyes, and raised his hand to the man’s cheek, “yes,” he whispered as he pulled him into his arms.

“Is everyone alright?” a firm, kindly voice called from the entryway of the Order’s refuge.

“We’re in Peter’s room!” Sirius called out. The long-bearded owner of the kindly voice stepped into the doorway.

“And where is Peter?” Dumbledore asked of the old friends. “Am I to understand something has happened that you call him by his given name, Sirius?”

Sirius only nodded.

“Peter betrayed the Fidelis,” James said.

Dumbledore sighed and closed his eyes, “I had hopes for that man. But his fear was simply too great.”

Basically, someone on Tumblr hypothesizing a version of Harry Potter where Voldemort had gone after the Longbottoms instead of the Potters got me thinking “What if Rowling had sorted her magic system out before writing the first book?” So this is an AU fic where the Potters had portkeys prepared in the event they were betrayed. I could write more, but I do need to head out for class.

Divisions of creatures– race, species, breed and fantasy

Fantasy works often deal with a number of sentient creatures, ranging from subtly to overtly distinct from humans. The classics are elves, dwarves, orcs, and usually at least one flavour of small humanoid, typically at least goblin, and occasionally something more like a typical human, just in miniature, variously called hobbits, halflings, gnomes, boggles, fae, changelings, or the like.

Thanks to the influence of Tolkien which touches all western fantasy works–even when a concerted effort to avoid its influence is made–these are typically called races. It was the 30s, Tolkien was a product of his time, and race wasn’t such a problematic term.

The problem with the term race is that it is now recognized to mean virtually nothing. It is a social construct made to categorize groups of humans with similar pigmentation, hair texture and bone structure. If you take a person who has dark skin, and a person with light skin, they are still genetically identical save for a handful of alleles. If you were to take the ruddiest skinned “white” man, and the lightest skinned “black” man, the white man would actually be darker than the black man, but their respective “races” would still consider them to be “white” and “black” (social prejudices aside).

The clear alternative term is species. This has other problems. The first is that, to the lay person, things are different species if they cannot produce fertile offspring together. A horse and a donkey can produce a mule, but mules are sterile. This makes the term less than ideal in fantasy because humans can often produce fertile offspring with, at least, elves and orcs. Sometimes they can produce fertile offspring with giants or ogres or trolls even. It depends on the setting.

So if humans can produce children with elves and orcs, then maybe race, or better– due to lack of social baggage–breed, works, right?

Well, no.

The problem is that a human can have a child with an elf, and that same human can have a child with an orc, but the orc and elf cannot, typically, breed with one another. I think this would be false in Tolkien, actually, because, if I recall correctly, the orcs were corrupted elves, I’m not sure (I never actually read the Lord of the Rings books in their entirety).

The other issue is that, ok, sure, elves and orcs can be easily said to be breeds of humans, and if you want, you can say that they can interbreed with one another as well so as to fix that problem. But what about elementals or dragons? In at least Dungeons and Dragons, it’s possible for creatures which are sentient collections of pure elemental energy to impregnate a human, or an elf, or dwarf, or whatever else and produce a viable offspring. In a lot of fiction where dragons are themselves sentient, they can do likewise.

It’s really hard (though admittedly not impossible) to say with a straight face that humans, elves, dwarves and orcs are genetically related to dragons. It is fully within the author’s power to say that the sentient races are descended from dragons, and sometimes this tack is taken.

The best solution, at least for the direct problem of elves, orcs and humans, is found in calling Humanoid a ring species, and then terming the individual types breeds, or even races. A ring species is basically a group of closely related populations of a single species. Each population can interbreed with one or more others, but there are some which it cannot. In the given circumstance basically you’d have the populations Orcs, Humans, Elves. Humans are closely related to both Orcs and Elves, and thus can interbreed with both, but Elves and Orcs are too distantly related to interbreed. This could become more of a web-species if additional populations were added which could interbreed with humans, but not others.

There is one final problem with the use of the term species in fantasy.

Eventually you will want characters to talk about these classification in story/world. While it’s fine for erudite wizards or technomages or fantasy anthropologists to use the term species, it’s just weird to here tribal, berserker-focused cultures use the term. Even more so for, say, goblins. But that’s easily dealt with. A berserker can say race or clan, and people should be capable of understanding that that is just the way his culture expresses the idea. A goblin probably says clan, and probably uses the term for both actual family-related groups of people and in place of species.

The other problem is certain magical creatures demonstrably and drastically unrelated to the humanoid species being able to produce half-dragons and fire elemental humanoids and such. That’s, well, magic. Lame cop out I know, but it’s the easiest solution.