24 April 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Four: Established Patterns May Have Little Predictive Value





Chapter Four: Established Patterns May Have Little Predictive Value


The family of Nikitas Seyhan had spent generations in the Taurus Mountains at Külek Boğazı, watching the pass through the peaks from among the rocky crags. It was harsh and cold at Külek Boğazı, and there were few Muggles (or, as Nikitas knew them, “Μύγαλοι”) around. The Seyhans and the few nearby families had very specific concerns, such as caring for the kneazles, ensuring there would be sufficient food, and guarding against giants. They did not live glamorous lives, and had little contact with the outside world.

In a world where every witch and wizard can Floo and Apparate and portkey and Vanish on a moment’s whim, this isolation might seem strange -- if not downright stupid. “Why,” we might ask, “do these foolish people not just travel to a nearby city and catch up on some of the modern advances?”

The Seyhans would have stood to gain a great deal, had they educated themselves. There were numerous simple spells that would improve the Seyhan lifestyle. Uncle Alexis would not have to spend night after night resealing the kneazle pens if he just knew a few simple wards: he could sleep the dark hours away in peace after a simple Duro turned the walls into stone (let’s see a kneazle try to get out of that!). And Nikitas himself would have found life much more pleasant with the trivial spell of Lumos -- no more glowstones, just a simple light. Lumos had been known in Cappadocia for two hundred years by now… get off your κώλος and go learn something, Seyhans!

A more careful person, of course, might point out that all the magical forms of travel would require enormous and risky investments of time and money. Should one of the Seyhans attempt to locate the nearest wizarding town, far away, based on rumor from Uncle Alexis and an old book? And once there, do they beg in their mangled Greek (and no Arabic or Turkish, so good luck there!) to be given resources and a whole magical education for free?

Yes, it is possible that Nikitas Seyhan and his family might have improved their situation. You might mock them for their failure. But it would have been difficult and dangerous for them to make the attempt, and it is better to light a candle than curse their darkness, you incredibly insensitive ass.

Anyway, the facts are this: Nikitas Seyhan was only vaguely aware of requirements for secrecy, the presence of a larger magical world, and the existence of the Exarchate of Cappadocia. And so it was somewhat bewildering when he was arrested by a team of three wizards and witches (a team that might be called an “auror trio” in Britain) on charges of breaking Clause 73 of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.

We will dispense with the Greek and move forward in translation, but the conversation went something like this:

AUROR #1: [Bursts through the door, wand raised. Protective amulets drip from his modern robes] Attention!

NIKITAS: [Strangled surprise]

AUROR #1 [Sternly repeating himself] Attention!

AUROR #2: [Entering behind him] What is it?

AUROR #1: They are not coming to attention.

AUROR #2: Attention!

UNCLE ALEXIS: What?

AUROR #1: You see?

NIKITAS: Who are you? What do you want?

AUROR #1: Finally! Barely makes sense, though. 'You want what it?' Idiots.

AUROR #2: We want you to come to attention.

NIKITAS: What?

UNCLE ALEXIS: What?

AUROR #1: Be quiet, at least, if you won’t act properly. Which one of you is in supposed to be in charge of the kneazles? You are in violation of Clause 73 of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, as written and empowered by the righteous and good Strategos of the Exarchate.

NIKITAS: What?

UNCLE ALEXIS: What?

AUROR #3: Enough of this. It doesn't matter, let's just get it done. They don't even understand. Stun that one and let's go.


And they took Nikitas Seyhan, and accused him of allowing a kneazle to break loose and run free in Çiftehan, where dozens of Muggles had the chance to observe the bizarre, catlike creature. This particular kneazle was a big red one, knee-high, with long and drooping ears and a brownish streak on its back, and the Seyhans had certainly been aware that it had gotten free. They’d been counting on its long whiskers and significant meat, and had been saddened on its escape (and, they thought, his inevitable snowbound death).

Nikitas never really understood the proceedings. Every aspect of the trial was beyond his comprehension. Frightened and confused, he shut down, rather than risk making things worse for himself (or harming his family further). This was viewed as stubbornness or defiance or stupidity. A man shouted at him from a high seat in a room that was warm and close, and he sat as still as a stone. Nikitas had no wealth or power. He was not related to anyone important, and he had no allies who could cause any trouble. His only protection was a system of justice that had seen no major reforms in a hundred years. Naturally, his fate was sealed.

It was a big red wax seal. It was affixed to Nikitas' death warrant.

The investigation and verdict were all technically true and in keeping with the law, and it would be false comfort to tell oneself that the only thing at work was the corruption of the ignorant. There had been moments of real compassion. One sakellarios had even spent a few precious minutes reaching out to the magistrate involved, to ask for leniency. But there were good and solid reasons that ensured Nikitas' verdict.

For one:

Honoured delegates of this Confederation of Wizards, even the Supreme Mugwump can attest to these numbers, as he has verified them himself! The noble Exarchate of Cappadocia has enforced the Statute with extreme zeal, even going so far as to condemn these three prisoners to harsh sentences in the last five years! We take it more seriously than most, and so it is flatly ignorant to suggest that the son of our righteous and good Strategos would receive anything but strict scrutiny! Those who would make such accusations in these hallowed halls would be well-advised to look to their own affairs, and abandon such calumnies!

For another:

These look just like the real cards, see? Look at the picture, see the good movement? Fudge is doing the same gesture on his card, the exact same way. I took this myself and made my own copies. Didn't even take that long. We can do this for all of them. I'll wrap them up for you, here hand me that. Heh, look at that donkey in the paper. Face like my ass. Twelve years, they gave him. Did you hear the one about the Arab who got twenty years, and when he got out, all he remembered was his mother-in-law's name? Hahaha! Yeah, mine too. No, give that here, wrap it tight.

So it goes. The road to Hell is paved with reasonable responses to individual incentives.

Nikitas went to Göreme. The Dementors would feed on him. They had to be kept quiet, but hungry. The Cypriots had been making noise lately, and war might be on the horizon.

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

It is dark. A man is speaking, hoarsely.

“Όχι... όχι... όχι… όχι… όχι…”

It has been twelve years.

“Σκότωσε με ... σκοτώσεις ... σκοτώσεις ... σκοτώσει εμένα...”

He knows how long it has been. They feed him at intervals, and the knowledge of the passing time is one of the things that stays in his head. He knows that many things did not stay in his head. Monsters are eating him. They are eating him.

He rasps again.

“Όχι... όχι... όχι… όχι… όχι… σκοτώσει εμένα...”

It is dark. Monsters are eating him. He knows there are other things besides the dark and the monsters. There is also coldness, and stone, and metal, and footsteps, and the wooden platters stacked into a short pile that slowly melt into a grey puddle in the corner. Is there ever anything in the platters? He can’t remember. They decay in only a few days, and there must be a reason that the people bring them to him and then stack them there, but he can't remember what it is.

“Σκότωσε με ... σκοτώσεις ... σκοτώσεις ... σκοτώσει εμένα...”

He used to say different things, he knows. He can’t remember what they were. It doesn’t matter. He only has these now. He says them.

“Όχι... όχι... όχι… όχι… όχι…”

It is dark. Monsters are eating him. He speaks when he can. When he has the strength. It is a request. Maybe they will do it. Maybe if he asks.

“Όχι... όχι... όχι… σκοτώσεις... σκοτώσει εμένα...”

No… no… no… kill me… kill me…

Twelve years with no changes that he can remember. He knows there might have been changes that he has forgotten, and he knows that he has forgotten so many other things as well. He can't remember what he has lost, though.

It is dark. Monsters are-

What? What? There is a loud noise. It is so loud. It’s like the world is shaking in the hands of some great deity. Everything shakes, and the rocks underneath him rear up and shift. One slides out of the wall, and then another. The second one lands on his hand. It is very heavy, and he chokes on his own breath. It hurts.

A little time passes, and then there is more shaking. The stones beneath him jump and he is thrown around. He doesn’t move very far, because his hand is still pinned. His hand hurts very much, now, but that doesn't matter. It is just pain. It doesn't matter, because it is still dark, and he can feel that there are monsters near. And they are eating him.

More time passes. He says nothing now. He is waiting to find out what will happen. There is something in him, like waiting for something that is not pain. He can’t say what that might be. But he is waiting.

There is a change, now. Something else is different. He is still exhausted and cold and in tremendous pain, but that does not matter because something is different. For so long, for so many years, there was a presence in his chest and head. It was a strong but gentle hand, holding him close, cradling him into an intimate embrace and lavishing him with long, tender, toothy kisses that scraped his soul. Splinters came away from his raggedness. They were prised free and consumed and savored. He had lost bits of himself.

That touch is gone.

It is hard to understand, since there is nothing to which he can compare it. There had been the touch of bony hatred, as there always had been, and then it was gone. It is still gone. And he knows that. He knows that it is gone and he is not being eaten. He isn't forgetting.

He was being eaten, and now he is not. Existence has been upended: the unstoppable flow of life, which moved from one pain into a worse pain, has reversed itself. He cannot feel surprise. There is not enough left of him to feel surprise. He is stripped and broken, the marrow licked clean from his soul. Whatever is left cannot quite grasp this event. A law of life has upended. He is not being eaten.

Time passes. He does not reckon it. He is waiting. Could he move, if he wished it? It does not matter, since he does not wish it. He lies there, hand crushed, and waits. Such a curious thing, to know and remember that a good thing has happened to him. He has a bruised and shallow mind, and cannot hold much more than this marvel. A good thing has happened. He is not being eaten.

He hears voices. The door to his cell opens, and with it comes light. It is warm and yellow, and he feels it on his skin. A woman has the light. It is coming from her wand. He sees the woman. She is beautiful. He has nothing to which he can compare her, but she is beautiful. She has a tight smile on her face, and she has brown hair that falls in curls to her shoulders. She says something, though it is nonsense to him, and her voice is music.

More people are behind her, speaking more nonsense. He does not move very much. He watches the woman. The others are also beautiful, but they are not like her. She moves to him, and he feels her push open his jaw and place something soft in his mouth. It is sweet -- he knows it, though he cannot remember it. He stares at her. She touches his cheek, frowning, and then gently strokes his throat. He swallows. Sweetness.

At some point, the others had moved the stone off of his hand, and had done things to him. The pain is gone from it, although it had never mattered very much. It had only been pain. He is not being eaten, and what else could matter but that?

Then there is a sound of metal -- Ker-chak! -- and sudden darkness.

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

Pip had been an auror for only a year, so he knew very much how lucky he was to be assigned to the Tower. His mother had wept with pride when he’d told her… not even cried a little, but out-and-out bawled. He hadn’t even known what to do, so he just stood next to her and patted her on the back, and said, “Now Mum… now Mum…”

She had turned and clung to him and wailed out something about being so proud of him, and how he would be working with the most important man in the world, and how his father would have been so proud had he not been killed for trying to protect his students, and how Pip was turning out just like him and it was wonderful. Finally she had just clutched him close and said, “Dear Phillip, dear dear dear Phillip, I am so… oh, dear Phillip!”

He knew that she had never been happy these last six months. She was scared for him. He’d been on the three-week Nurmengard rotation. Now he’d be in the guarded clinic compound that was almost literally the safest place on the entire planet, located in an impregnable school and staffed with the best healers history had ever known. The whole situation was basically a mother’s dream. She might actually have dreamed this, come to think of it.

Not that he hadn’t earned it, mind you. He had worked himself like a shaggy bobbin to get his NEWTs, pullingfour Os and an E (stupid Herbology). Pip hadn’t rested on his laurels -- two tries to get into the training program! -- but had done a proper Hufflepuff and slaved away until he thought his wand-waving fingers would fall off.

Hard work had paid off. All those hours twiddling away with Transfiguration had gotten him noticed, pulled off assignment and put in the Tower. Younger than anyone else, as far as he knew, and wasn’t that quite the thing! Every auror here had to be particularly expert at Transfiguration, and he’d been one of Professor McGonagall's star students thanks to many late nights and strained nerves, but this did her proud. He’d owled her his gratitude (it was proper strange he couldn’t just pop down to the rest of Hogwarts to tell her in person, but rules was rules).

He’d make the most of it, now that he was here. He’d put in the hours again, and eventually he’d get noticed by Mr. Diggory or Mad-Eye or even Madame Bones.

Pip stood sharply next to the Tower entrance, doing his best to look both intimidating and invisible. His companion on this shift, J.C., was managing both effortlessly. He could learn a lot from her, really. How in Merlin’s name did she achieve that look of fierce attention and profound boredom? It seemed like a contradiction in terms.

A steady flow of healers and their levitating subjects flowed in and out of the Tower’s entrance, a simple golden doorway. Fairly quiet day, so far.

“Hello?” A man and woman stepped hesitantly through the entrance, peering about curiously. Pip’s wand was already in his hand, but a look through the passage behind them showed that the aurors on guard were holding up today’s handsign. All was well. Pip glanced at J.C., and she just jerked her head at the visitors.

“Hello, sir, ma’am.” Pip said, brightly. “I hope that your trip was pleasant, and that the security precautions didn’t overly inconvenience you.”

The woman gave him a chilly glare (odd bird… skinny and pale), but the man smiled good-naturedly and said, “Oh, it was a bit inconvenient, but I suppose it’s all understandable, isn’t it?” He was a short and lumpy-looking fellow, with thick black hair that sat in random licks along his oily scalp. Nice enough, though.

“Yes, sir. That’s why we aurors are about. The Ministry has assigned us to keep an eye on the Tower and make sure that the important work here is not interrupted. Not a wisp of air gets in without our say-so, sir.” Pip was justifiably proud… and it couldn’t hurt to emphasize the security. Reputation could be the most useful shield of all, as Madame Bones frequently said.

“I’m sure, I’m sure,” the man said, looking around. He didn’t sound convinced. They’d just gone through the main entrance of the Tower, from the Receiving Room in the upper bounds of Hogwarts. Perhaps he hadn’t seen enough to be impressed, or maybe he was just a gorky little fellow who didn’t know enough to be properly awed.

Travel to the Tower was an exceedingly simple matter for the large population that it served these days: touch any Safety Pole or break any Safety Stick, and you went right to the Receiving Room. It was a safe and smooth trip, since the devices were crafted by the most skilled enchanters available on the planet, but it also left you unconscious. If you were conscious on your arrival, which sometimes happened through the usual magical quirks (werewolves and anyone with giantish blood were, for whatever reason, immune to the Stupefy laid on the devices) then a friendly team of aurors would assist you with that difficulty. Bottled swarms of chizpurfles and a few dozen Dark Detectors aided the defense team.

Thus far, though, none of the more esoteric precautions had ever seen any use, and they were not widely known. A few werewolves and one half-giant had needed manual stunning and Obliviation, but really it was only Mad-Eye Moody himself who had really tested the matter. He made a habit of trying to break into the Tower and assassinate Mr. Potter. He made an attempt on every odd-numbered day. Security was very high on odd-numbered days, and extremely high on even-numbered days (“This’ll be the one!”).

This gentleman, then, had really just touched a portkey, been Stunned into unconsciousness, and then woken up after a friendly and professional auror had scanned and tested him two or three dozen times. He just didn’t know enough to be impressed. The only really visible security would have been the Thieves’ Downfall in the passage from the Receiving Room.

“You have a meeting, sir?” There were often meetings, and often with the most important of people. It was rare for visitors to be complete strangers. Many Ministry officials came for advice and assistance, though the Tower wasn’t actually an official part of the government, and the healers and “scientists” were all well-known (though frequently checked).

The man smiled again. “Ah, yes. I am Councilor Reginald Black-Horse Hig. This is Councilor Limpel Tineagar. We are here on business for the Council of Westphalia.”

Pip looked over at J.C. She had a mirror in front of her, and she was reviewing its display. After a few minutes, she looked up at Pip and nodded. He turned back to the visitors, and said, “Right this way, sir.”

As the three moved down the quadrangular halls, Pip gave the most cursory of tours, out of courtesy. His mother had raised him properly, and she had always said, “Be nice to everyone, since you don’t know who can help you later.” And of course, it could only help the Tower himself when it came to meeting with these two. If they were allowed to be here, then it could only be assumed that it was permissible to see a bit around. Might as well show off the amazing work being done. Nowhere else in the world was there so much magical might and ingenuity, except maybe the Ministry of Magic.

“Mr. Potter’s meeting room is just down here, sir. A lot of interesting work being done on the way, though.” Passing a wide side passage, Pip gestured at it. “That’s the Conjuration Conjunction… they’re working on pushing the limits of Gamp’s Law, figuring out the exact point at which something can’t be conjured.” Pip understood the basic idea, although he’d also overheard complete gibberish like “isolating variables” and “conceptual limitation.” But whatever their silly jargon, it would be ruddy useful to be able to conjure up a glass of firewhiskey whenever you wanted!

“And here’s the Extension Establishment. They’re doing amazing things with boxes that are bigger on the inside.” Although, for whatever reason, their main activity seemed to be making thinner and taller extended spaces. A cute bloke who worked there sometimes stopped to chat with Pip, and apparently had been very excited that they’d refined the Undetectable Extension Charm to create a small box which had internal dimensions that were too narrow to even fit your hand but as tall as a building. Might be useful to hold a lot of parchment, Pip supposed.

The last department they passed on their way to the meeting room had an open door. Pip and the two Americans could see inside briefly as they walked by, and Mr. Hig jerked to a stop. Inside, two goblins were dipping golden gauntlets into vats of bubbling black liquid, holding their faces back to keep their long noses away from the rising fumes. There was a stench of sulfur, but it didn’t seem to bother the diminutive, well-dressed goblins.

Mr. Hig spoke, saying with surprise, “There are goblins here.”

“Yes, sir,” Pip said. “There are twenty or twenty-two who work in Material Methods. But if you’ll come right this way…?” The two Americans followed him, Mr. Hig frowning fiercely. Did he not like goblins? Not that Pip really blamed him. All sorts of goblins and centaurs and veela and hags and house-elves had sent emissaries or representatives or the like. Merfolk had even visited, in big glass tanks of water. It made Pip uneasy, perhaps because he’d always been afraid he wouldn’t be able to hack it as an auror, and that he’d end up working in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures (not that he had anything against them… times had changed, and everyone deserved respect, he reminded himself).

As they arrived at the meeting room, Pip showed them in. Mr. Potter was already in the room, and he approached them. His hair was back in a ponytail, and his robes were formal but unmarked. Mr. Potter’s closet doubtless had much more impressive regalia -- Wizengamot robes, the robes of a Hogwarts professor, whatever a “scientist” wore -- but he generally wore either these plain robes or his Muggle clothing. Mr. Potter gestured at Pip when he was leaving, indicating he should stay. Pip stood along the wall, opposite from the other auror on guard and inwardly glowed. He was getting noticed!

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Councilor Hig.” Mr. Potter said. The two men shook hands. “And you, Councilor Tineagar.” He shook hands with her as well. They walked together to the meeting room table, and Mr. Potter sat in his usual spot, in front of a few folders and parchments.

“Yes… so, here we are again.” Mr. Hig said, settling into his chair.

Mr. Potter looked surprised at the greeting. To Pip, who had spent a great deal time around Mr. Potter these past few weeks and who was now quite proud of how well he knew the Tower, the expression looked slightly too pronounced. Mr. Potter was wearing his emotions openly, even exaggerating them a bit. “I am not sure that anyone has been in quite this situation, actually, Councilor. We agree on almost everything, and yet we seem to find ourselves in opposition on some small matters. It’s why I was so eager to meet with you.”

Mr. Hig leaned back in his chair, speaking pleasantly but breezily. “I think you might overestimate how much we have in common, if I can be frank, Mr. Potter.”

Mr. Potter smiled. It didn’t touch his eyes. “Councilor, you have spent years working for the protection of Muggles, goblins, and every other sentient creature. That has not gone unnoticed, and you have made many powerful enemies, both here and in the States. You wouldn’t have worked so hard and sacrificed so much unless you clearly believed in the cause. You must know, at this point, that I do, too. Can we not count that as a point in common?”

“We both do say the same things on that score,” Mr. Hig agreed. “In fact, I went to visit several of my allies in Britain earlier today, and I found one of them many years younger, and all of them speaking so highly of you that one might have thought you were Merlin reborn.”

“I hope I haven’t stepped on your toes. But our research here, and the programs we offer in tandem with the Treaty, give us quite a bit of persuasive power. What matters is not who gets it done, but that it gets done, correct?”

Mr. Hig shrugged carelessly. “Yes. But to get down to brass tacks, I have noticed that some of the things you’ve been getting done have been a bit unusual.”

“Unusual?” Mr. Potter asked, raising his eyebrows.

“‘The Center for Applied Thinking.’ ‘The Hinton Foundation.’ ‘The Southern Wetland Preservation Society.’ ‘Habitat for Humanity.’ ‘The Trevor Project.’ ‘The Union of Concerned Scientists.’” Mr. Hig said, then waited. The silence stretched long. Mr. Potter’s expression didn’t change. He folded his hands quietly in front of himself and said nothing. Finally, Mr. Hig added, “I’ll say it, then. These are just a few of the organizations in which you’ve recently bought a leather-lunged voice.”

“And if I had? How would you possibly object to charity?” Mr. Potter asked. His voice was even, but there was a hint of wry amusement.

“These donations come from a single hidden hand, but I know that it is indeed you. Your face is all the confirmation I need. You are buying influence among the Muggles. You are buying people.” Mr. Hig was speaking with sharper words now. Pip listened and watched, fascinated. This was going to be just like one of the stories!

Mr. Potter shook his head. “Then perhaps you have a point of difference here, indeed, since I happen to believe that charitable giving is a worthy pursuit, if you have the means.”

Mr. Hig smiled now, rough black stubble surrounding the expression on his unshaven mouth. “What a remarkably noncommittal statement. Maybe we should turn then to your moves in the trade of magical items?” This next suggestion -- accusation? -- came with a renewed sharpness to his tone.

Mr. Potter smiled, now. It was open and friendly, and his body language shifted to accompany it as he spread his hands before him. “Maybe we can return to that, later? I’d prefer we speak of our political goals, where we might find fewer disagreements. Some people who study these matters have found that it is easier to be pleasant and reach an accord once two parties have addressed matters of common ground. If we begin with these small matters where we disagree, then we-”

“They are not small,” Mr. Hig said, cutting Mr. Potter off.

Pip was astonished that he’d ever thought this nasty little man was pleasant.

“This is your government, and everyone knows that. If you do not actually run it, you own it in all but name. Every major political opponent you have ever faced in Britain is now dead or in hiding,” Mr. Hig said. “And that government has not just doubled inspections of magical trade, it’s increased them tenfold! The pace of international trade between the Americas and Britain has crawled to a halt! Many powerful wizards and witches in the Council have their money in such ventures, and you are aiming to gradually strangle them into penury. We are known for our magical devices, just as Egypt is known for its alchemy and Britain is known for its culture of wandwork. In other words, you’re trying to diminish our greatest strength, while your own thrives. It is a crude and ineffective move, but that doesn’t make it any less intrusive. You’re expanding and want to clear the way, and I have caught you clear at it. The question is only: what do you want? Do you wish to dominate us, or do you intend to own the Americas right out?”

Mr. Potter’s smile grew wider. “Ah. Well, if we must.” He opened the folder on the table before him. “It does occur to me that I heard that some businesses have been having trouble in the Americas, lately. Let me name some companies, just so I know we’re speaking of the same ones? ‘Queevel’s Quills?’ ‘Musical Merchandising Unlimited?’ ‘Erato Publishing?’” With each name, he turned a sheet of parchment. Mr. Hig’s expression had become a bit fixed.

“These companies,” Mr. Potter continued, “all have something in common. They’re all yours, and they’re all being held up with inspections, lately. You presented a general problem, but really this complaint was tailored to your own needs, not that of your nation.”

“Not one fleck of gold has-” Mr. Hig started, in indignant response.

Mr. Potter continued as if he hadn’t heard. “Not that you own them, or anything so crude. But it has been observed by some friends of mine that they take your orders. I don’t know if it’s a favor-based economy, or what.”

Mr. Hig snorted in derision. “Is that all? I assure you, that while business may look simple to someone who does nothing but meddle in politics and bizarre researches all day, there’s such a thing as working in concert for the benefit of all.”

“Councilor,” said Mr. Potter, “the only things working in concert are the Quotes Quills produced by Mr. Queevel at your direction. Each one has a hidden Protean Charm on it. I can only assume that the other ends of those Charms are linked to quills under your management. Every British wizard or witch -- anyone in the world, in fact -- who buys one of these quills is producing a secret, remote copy of every letter, every receipt, and every love note they compose.”

“Nonsense,” Mr. Hig replied, his lips pressed tight.

“Musical Merchandising Unlimited, on the other hand, makes generally dreadful novelties for different musical acts. I have seen one such novelty… a plate with the promotional image of the group ‘The Weird Sisters.’ It’s a cute device… you sing the first half of a lyric, and the plate sings back the second half of the line, with music. Rather annoying unless you’re a teenaged witch, of course, but even more annoying is the fact that the Open Ears Charm that’s necessary for the plate to function never seems to turn off. Oddly, it seems as though the plate is always listening, and broadcasting the conversations it hears to someone else’s ears. Hard to detect. Useful, though, if you’re the sort of person who values information.”

Mr. Hig said nothing, now. Ms. Tineagar was trying hard not to react. Her jaw was taut with anger.

“Erato Publishing makes books. Mostly short ones about famous wizards from around the world. There’s one about Gilderoy Lockhart, for example. I think I have it somewhere in the office. Well-written, especially the action sequences. When Lockhart fought the vampires, my heart was in my throat.” Mr. Potter’s dry tone of voice made that seem unlikely to Pip. “There’s even an extensive little quiz in the back. You fill it in, and it uses numerology on your name and the personality questions to tell you just how much you’re like Lockhart. Are you 90% similar to the vampire vanquisher? Or just 15%? Curiously, though, the enchantment seems to be recording all of the answers and names somewhere, although it’s devilishly hard to trace exactly where.”

Mr. Potter closed the folder in front of him, and continued, his voice turning cold. “Mr. Hig, when you entered, you said we’d met before. That’s clearly not true. If we’d ever met, you never would have kept trying this sort of thing once you knew I was in charge.” He tapped the folder with his index finger.

There was another long silence. At length, Mr. Hig’s face, which had stiffened and become slightly red to match his plum-like nose, relaxed. He glanced over at Ms. Tineagar, then back at Mr. Potter. Finally, he spoke.

“Oh, I know you. I know you to your core,” Mr. Hig said, leaning forward, his dark eyes glittering. “For I have listened.

“I have heard of a baby whose parents were murdered, and who was famous from infancy for having defeated one of the greatest Dark Lords of history. How did he do it? Why, his mother’s love protected him. How curious that the mothers of Timothy Ghent, Salubria Sintheread, and Geoffrey Bones did not love their children. Lord Voldemort had no trouble with them, or their babies. What unloving and unnatural mothers.

“I have heard of a child who acted and spoke as an adult, and who knew eldritch magics that were not only beyond his age, but beyond any other wizard in known history. This child’s words and confrontations are chronicled in significant detail, often verbatim, by newspapers and books. This child even led armies in play-acting fights with the tactical skill and clever Muggle tricks that might be expected from someone who had lived much longer than he. This child even frightened DementorsI might think these incidents and events exaggerated, had I not examined many of the events myself with the aid of significant monies and a Pensieve.

“I have heard of the tragic death of one of this boy’s early rivals, a young girl who had dared defeat him in those play-acting battles and who had dared excel beyond him in scholarly pursuits. She had tragically died a most terrible death, you see, a victim of that same Dark Lord whom he had defeated as an infant, and who had apparently returned.

“I have heard that this boy was also present during a confused and unwitnessed later incident in Azkaban, when the most abhorrent and evil of that Dark Lord’s servants was taken from that prison -- again, with no witnesses ever actually seeing that Dark Lord, who escaped while aided by a Muggle device of considerable scientific advancement. The Dark Lord was not known to have ever used such devices before that time, interestingly, nor known to have had any power over Dementors. And Bellatrix Black… why, she has vanished as completely as if she were dead in a ditch.

“I have heard that this young man was present at some amazing confrontation on a dark night, resulting in the mass murder of some of the most powerful witches and wizards in Britain as well as a Hogwarts professor and leaving behind gruesome severed hands, said to be those of that Dark Lord, and many unidentifiable ashes. So many obstacles vanished for the young man that night, including Lucius Malfoy… and Albus Dumbledore, one of the greatest heroes of this or any age. And his rival reappeared, returned from the dead and now become one of his stoutest allies.

“I have heard that the young man’s rival has the ability to command and destroy Dementors, those darkest of creatures and powerful weapons under the control of others. And that she went to Azkaban at his bidding after the Ministry of Magic balked at his orders to shut down the prison and release the criminals. His rival defeated every auror, destroyed every Dementor, freed every criminal remaining, and razed that prison to sand and ashes. And now she and her army of fanatics act as a law unto themselves, and none can stand against them.

“I have heard the rumors that this young man has, in the years since, shown the power to heal injuries beyond the capabilities of St. Mungo’s or the Russell Center. Lycanthropy, vampirism, missing limbs, and the darkest of curses. What is more, the young man and his healers have the power to grant new youth, a skill beyond that of any other. It is an amazing new method of Transfiguration, I hear, and one of his most prominent healers took an Unbreakable Vow in public to attest that it could not be copied beyond the walls of the Tower. This has not prevented some hushed-up tragedies around the world, as others attempt to emulate the young man nonetheless… all unsuccessfully.

“I have heard that this young man is the secret ruler of Britain, controlling through proxies the proceedings of the Wizengamot, the lesser courts of inquiry, and every action of the Ministry of Magic. The streets are filled with those who are newly young or newly healed, and all of them changed in body and spirit -- remade into new people -- and all of them eager to assist this young man in any way they can. This young man has changed his country, and is now working to extend his reach in countries around the world.

“I have heard that no fewer than eighteen individuals have died within the Tower. They were not severely injured, not mortally wounded, not on the brink of death. I have read testimony and seen with my own eyes the memories that show at least eighteen people dying here and passing beyond the Veil. And yet those people were returned from death and restored to life, and they walk the world, youthful once again and completely healthy. Remade. Something only whispered about in the darkest of rituals. And my goodness, do they speak highly of the Tower and his kindness. They’d do anything for him.”

“I have heard so much more. So very much more. And it puzzles me that so many seem so deaf.”

Throughout it all, Mr. Potter sat silent and stone-faced, listening carefully. Word piled upon word, and accusation upon accusation. Pip could barely believe what he was hearing at this point, Merlin knows… it was outright insanity. Every little fact and weird thing was being spun around on its rear. This American was playing it all up so that it seemed like Mr. Potter was evil, rather than the greatest hero since… well, since Merlin! Pip felt like he was going mad. He knew better than to twitch a muscle. This was craziness and rudeness, but not violence. The other one -- Ms. Tineagar -- seemed almost as shocked as Pip, gaping at her companion.

Pip felt sick to his stomach, as though someone had grabbed his guts and wrenched them with a nasty tug. The most honoured man in Britain -- probably the world!-- and this hairy slug was saying he was Dark? He wanted to grab the idiot and shake him and tell him, Listen, you bloody fool, this fellow here has saved more lives than anyone else in history!

The worst of it was that it made sense, for a second, when he heard it. For just a moment, he’d believed the American, because when all the facts were twisted like that, it fit. It was like a line drawing he’d once seen. At first, it had looked like a snake, sinuous body twisting and mouth gaping. But other people saw a phoenix, swirling in fire with feathers spread. And the funny thing was that if you looked at the drawing the right way and thought about it the right way, you could make yourself see the phoenix.

But it was crazy. Pip was an auror, trained and trialed -- though new -- and he knew a great deal about Dark Lords. They ruled with pain and terror, and they couldn’t help but look the part. Dark rituals corrupted your soul even as they gave you power. It was one of the fundamental laws of magic: as above, so below.

Trolls and Dementors and flesh-eating slugs were all vicious creatures, and they took pleasure in causing pain as they acted out their natural urges. And sure enough, they were ugly and foul to the eye; the thick mucus of a flesh-eating slug was a pallid yellow that stank like spoiled meat, and you knew in an instant that it was dangerous. Other beings, like giants, were crude and angry but not obviously malicious, and so they were unpleasant and fearsome but not as hideous in appearance.

Pip wasn’t stupid, of course. There were a lot of perfectly nice people who smelled or who were ugly. But you simply couldn’t get away with Dark Magic without it affecting your looks or your aura. You-Know-Who was proof enough of that: pale and noseless and gaunt, as Pip had heard. Harry Potter, on the other hand, was a normal-looking bloke in dark robes, his hair tied back to expose the famous scar. He had glasses, and green eyes. And he was the Tower: Pip had personally seen him heal dozens of people, and not a single person whose life was saved by anyone in the facility left without a smile and a kind word from Mr. Potter.

“And so,” Mr. Hig said, settling back in his chair once more, “you can see that I have been listening, and that I know you very well indeed. You have overplayed your hand -- you have been too provincial. If one is caught up in all the drama of it, it might slip by. But over the sea, we have enough perspective to see the full picture. And every single bit of evidence, every jot and tittle, points to one conclusion. And now that I can look into your eyes, I can see it confirmed. I can see the coldness that I saw once before, one foggy night in Nottingham. It is the coldness of an evil soul.

“You are subtle, but not subtle enough, and now you are undone. I have taken precautions before coming, and soon the whole world will stand against you. For I know you well.


“Lord Voldemort, you are discovered.”









Ich möchte meine Stimme wie ein Tuch

hinwerfen über deines Todes Scherben
und zerrn an ihr, bis sie in Fetzen geht,
und alles, was ich sage, müßte so
zerlumpt in dieser Stimme gehn und frieren;
blieb es beim Klagen. Doch jetzt klag ich an:
den Einen nicht, der dich aus dir zurückzog,
(ich find ihn nicht heraus, er ist wie alle)
doch alle klag ich in ihm an: den Mann.

I would swirl out my voice like a wide cloth
to cover the shards of your death
and then rend it until it was torn to shreds,
and everything I'd say from then on would
wear, shivering, the tatters of this voice;
if lament were enough. But now also I indict:
not him who wrenched you back out of yourself,
(I can't find him, he's like all the others)
but, in him, I accuse them all: all men.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke

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