"Australia … bloody hell!" muttered Santa, before rebuking himself for the lapse in taste. But then he recalled the implications of what he had just learned and sighed audibly: "Bloody hell indeed!"
He looked again at the order. It was hard to believe. The full powers! The fury! The Wrath!
He stood before the double-glazed floor-to-ceiling windows that surrounded his massive office occupying the entire top floor of the Panopticon Centre, the headquarters of ClausCorp. Outside lay the limitless white expanses of the North Pole.
And beyond that he could see the entire world. All the cities of the globe were open to his vision. He had merely to wish to see a place and the Panopticon loomed invisibly above it, opening up every nook and cranny for his inspection. The hidden-most corners of every soul were laid bare to his gaze. Entire nations could be judged.
And now it was Australia's turn.
Irrevocable. Absolute. Inscrutable. Unquestionable. Santa knew well the nature of these judgments. And he knew his duty. Steeling himself, he pressed the button on the intercom to the outer office: "Send in Count Odious," he ordered. Straightening up and vainly trying to suck in his ample belly, he awaited his dreaded guest.
How was it, he wondered moments later, that such a chill could enter a room? But now Count Odious stood before him: a tall, gaunt figure wearing an elegant black suit, a crisp white shirt, a Slytherin House tie, and a black pearl pin. Bowing formally, he took the seat offered. It was time for business.
"My dear Claus, it is so kind of you to see me at such a busy time. So many lovely presents, so much to do." He smiled thinly. "It must be wonderful to be able to reward so much …" he struggled with the word, "… niceness".
Santa waved away the ill-meant compliment and fixed Odious with a severe gaze that few people ever saw on the old man's face.
"I think, Count, that we can forget the niceties. I cannot say that I agree with or even understand a decision like this," he gestured at the file he had received that morning. "But if it has to be done then I need your help and that of your minions. My elves, you know," he shrugged, "they build toys. They know little of the Wrath. I'm afraid that thousands of traumatized elves will be of little value in this exercise."
"Of course", replied the Count with an oily confidence and reassuring tone that only increased the chill. "Just as you have spent centuries rewarding good behaviour, so have I spent millennia inflicting punishment upon the wicked. Believe me when I say, it will be a pleasure!"
Santa sat quietly, trying to comprehend the enthusiasm with which Odious embraced his task.
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