30 May 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Nine: Boxes

Significant Digits, Chapter Nine: Boxes

And what are you saying, when you take your parents or grandparents to be “restored” or “rejuvenated,” or whatever euphemism we are using this week?  You are saying this:
“Grandmother, come here.  You are old and show your wisdom on your face, and that is not allowed.  You have scars from your battles, and they are not allowed.  You have rough edges and a special crinkle at the corner of your eyes, and they are not allowed.  You disagree with the Tower and the tyrants who control us, and that is not allowed.  Come here, so that we can make you into one of the dolls.  We will change your face.  We will change your eyes.  We will change your mind.”
And when “grandmother” comes back to you, she will be changed indeed!  She will be young and new... and she will be ready to swear fealty to the House of Potter.
No one knows what really happens when you send someone to the Tower, but there are dark whispers of the real truth.  We are fed obvious lies about a new form of magic and an impregnable clinic and happy, bouncing babies restored to their mother’s breast.  But snap that stick and all we know is that you are made unconscious and obliviated, and they send someone home who is different in ways both large and small.  No matter why they go - “rejuvenation,” spattergroit, or a broken bone: they come back different.  They don’t remember some special memories that you’d shared; they have different habits and mannerisms; you catch them with odd looks on their face.
Is the Tower changing people to suit himself, or are the people of Britain being replaced with some new creation?  Only the Tower can say, but his grip is tightening over the country and magical peoples everywhere.

Excerpt from “Stop the Changes,” by Draco Malfoy
Unbreakable Honour
Vol 4 (1999), Issue 7


“This lovely has the Pentium III processor, brand new to us this month.  Five hundred megahertz of processing power in here.  That’s going to do just about anything you could want, especially if you have cable or DSL in here.  And it’s bloody cheap -- just 1,500 pounds.  Usually for a processor this top of the line, we’d be talking two thousand or more on top of the cost of the rest of the PC.  The video quality on this is amazing, and so are the graphics on your games.”  Troy patted the cardboard box, fondly.  He knew what this guy wanted out of a computer… the same thing all of these blokes wanted out of a computer, suddenly.  They saw on the nightly news about the evil of the World Wide Web, and they wanted a piece of it.

Mr. Spoo squinted at the specifications on the side of the box.  Troy could see that the young man had been on a bit of a spending spree.  There were similar sorts of boxes stacked everywhere, labeled variously as: STUART AC/4232, Fisher SENTRON ARGUS@, HONDA EB3000C, and many others.  An odd assortment of things, some of which Troy had never even heard.  He did recognise the generators and portable breaker boxes, since the sides of their containers had little diagrams and descriptions.  He even knew what the Netwell Foam was - soundproofing melamine, like his mate Sammy had in the studio.  But he couldn’t even guess what an “ILX Lightwave TD6000” was.  What kind of lab was this place?

More than a dozen serious-looking men and women were going around the dozens of boxes, checking things off lists, and having hushed conversations.  A blonde woman was supervising the process, when she wasn’t staring absently at the wall.  But it seemed like they were in some strange castle, all solid grey stone and flickering mounted lights -- wait, were those shrouded torches? -- and why would you ever want to set up a lab here?  Was it some military thing with the SAS or something?  Funny, he couldn’t actually recall the route they took to get here…

“Looks good,” Mr. Spoo said, jerking Troy’s attention back to the young man, who had quite a distinctive scar on his forehead.  “Do you have twenty in stock?  With peripherals?”

Troy smiled widely.  “I can do.  And free delivery, as well, if you’d like.”

Mr. Spoo shook his head.  “No, thank you though.  Our lab here is a high-security facility.  We’ll pick them up from you.  Do you need a cheque on deposit?”


Harry was trying to put the situation with Hermione out of his mind, since he’d already decided that he was not going to be able to force his thoughts into any sort of useful pattern.  Something about the Vow made it too easy for his mind to start moving in circles when it came to her, and he would find himself obsessively thinking the same few things over and over.  It was like when he’d had those internal dialogues with mental models of different personalities, and he’d go around and around the same topic, wittily arguing with himself.  In a situation like this, he’d already considered his options and made his decision, and further dwelling on it was an unhealthy choice unless he got new information.

To help him take his mind off it, he was planning the next phase of his fortress.  Even better, he was planning where to put the computer.  He was already elbow-deep into the box, pulling out the manuals and papers that were packed with it like hors d'oeuvres.  He’d read every scrap of paper, soon enough.  Because finally, finally, finally: electricity!

Harry had struggled with understanding the way magic interfered with electricity, right from the start.  The presence of any spell or ward carried with it a variety of electromagnetic effects: visible light, radio waves, and even hard radiation.  There didn’t seem to be any discernable pattern to the wavelength produced by an effect - mobiliarbus produced a burst of microwave radiation, while the seemingly similar mobilicorpus produced a steady pulse of low-frequency radio.

There might be some uniting schema behind the phenomenon, but research had been slow.  At first, he’d set up separate labs in Aberdeen to try to measure and record data, but the logistics were frustrating.  The labs had to be designed with almost no warding, since spells cast over an area released a continuous diffuse interference -- no amount of RF shielding or Faraday caging could help.  But personnel with even the limited combination of scientific and magical knowledge necessary for the work were few at that time, and even fewer were trustworthy and powerful enough to operate without protective wards.  Harry had to prioritize.

Once Lovegood had joined the steady stream of students in the Hogwarts’ Science Program, he’d been able to delegate to her.  She’d easily absorbed the two-year course of magical study that Harry and Minerva had put in place, and had moved on to the two years of scientific method and rationality with astonishing ability.  Her upbringing probably had much to do with that skill: she’d been raised to be open to every new idea, even the outlandish ones.  Much of science is the willingness to follow the data wherever it goes, and Lovegood had no attachment to convention.

Her fearlessness had been invaluable to Harry, since she happily agreed to one particular tack he’d suggested: an investigation into Devil’s Snare and how it lived without sunlight.  Many witches and wizards would have hesitated before working with the dangerous plant, but Lovegood had just absently agreed.

Much of the lifecycle of Devil’s Snare made sense.  It instinctively moved to snare and strangle anything that came into its reach, animated by a series of tough fibres running through each tendril that had supernatural powers of motion.  After it had strangled or crushed its prey -- typically small animals or larger insects -- it dropped them.  The corpses decomposed to provide valuable nutrients that the Snare needed in abundance.

The thing that didn’t make sense, though, was that it was a leafy plant that hated light!  Leaves were often adapted by nature into traps or weapons or protection, but there didn’t seem to be any reason at all for a plant that primarily grew in caves to have leaves.

Harry had made two guesses: first of all, that the leaves must gather something, if not light.  Otherwise the most successful Devil’s Snare would be the varieties that had few or no leaves, and evolution would have already eliminated them.  Secondly, since Devil’s Snare lived almost exclusively in magical gardens or magical areas like the caves in the Forbidden Forest, it must require ambient magic to survive.

It had taken Lovegood only a year to demonstrate Devil’s Snare’s powers of absorption, and only two years of magically-enhanced breeding before she and her team in the Hall of Science had produced a variant that was motionless and had a voracious appetite for background magical energy.

Devil’s Snare had replaced photosynthesis with thaumosynthesis.  It ate magic, perhaps the same way chizpurfles did, and a dense mass of the plant would finally allow for the possibility of shielding electronics from ambient magics and their electromagnetic havoc.

And that meant that Harry could finally build the lab of his dreams.  Shell corporations under his control made dozens and dozens of purchases -- everything he couldn’t Transfigure -- and he spent hours on the wonderful tricky problems entailed in dovetailing magic and technology.  Designing the Tower had been delightful from the beginning, when he’d sat down with a pencil and graph paper to replace the ruins left by his own folly.  It was like being a boy of six again, creating the layout for his “dream lab” (no, Ms. Blaire, I will not design a “dream treehouse,” thank you very much). But now the problem had challenges and joys on an entirely new scale. He'd bought his own mass spectrometers!

Harry already had almost everything in place.  Soundproofing panels on wooden supports helped support and protect the thick mass of “Lovegood Leaf” (as he was calling the modified Devil’s Snare) around the walls and ceiling of the long Pairing Partnership room.  More Lovegood Leaf was under his feet, separated by corrugated metal, and the doors fitting into the entryways were backed with trellises, thick with plant matter.  Magical air-conditioning units, buried in the walls and surrounded by their own masses of vines, vented fresh and cool air throughout the room, which would otherwise be musty with the smell of the Leaf.

The overall effect was a little unsettling, since even the modified Devil’s Snare still occasionally twitched and rustled on the door trellises, but it was mostly insulated and sealed out of sight.  Once every few weeks, they’d have to turn everything off and Scourgify away leaf litter from behind paneling, but Harry was very proud, nonetheless.

And a computer!

Before Harry had first gone off to Hogwarts -- that is, the last time he had lived with his parents -- his father had kept a computer in the study.  It was something to be treated Seriously because it was a Considerable Responsibility, but Harry had spent some happy hours using the cutting-edge Windows 3.0 and even playing around with the more exciting commands of MS-DOS, the command-line which seemed to have a dangerous and sweeping finality to it.

Since then… well, there had been magic.  Events had gotten out of control with a greater swiftness than even Harry could have imagined, and as it turned out, he’d left his Muggle life forever one morning at a London train station.  He’d promised Mum that he’d never let magic come between them, that day… but it had.  That hadn’t been an unbreakable promise.  It should have been, if there were any mercy in the world.  But it hadn’t been.

After a while, Harry realized that he’d stopped unpacking the computer, and that he was ignoring the gray plastic-and-metal device nestled within the cardboard.  The manuals and warranties sat in a pile on the desk, unread.  The joy had gone out of it, suddenly.

He sat back into the chair, sighing.  This was unfair.  It was childish and stupid to think that, but his brain had that silly inbuilt programming that demanded equal treatment relative to his peers.  It even applied those demands to an impersonal fate.  It had not been fair that he’d had to shut his parents out of his life, but life wasn’t fair.

Harry needed to talk to someone intelligent.  Not Hermione, and he’d already given Moody a new face and body only this morning, so Harry wouldn’t see him until tomorrow (although Moody was a six-year-old girl this time, so Harry wasn’t exactly sure about the appropriate pronoun).

At length, he finally sighed and rose to his feet, and went off to Room 101.  He’d been spending more and more of his free time there, lately, even though that time had been getting shorter and shorter with the increasing numbers of the French using their new Safety Poles.  And since the British goblins had agreed to put one in Ackle, too, he was soon going to be even busier.

But he really did need to talk sometimes, and there were occasions when he needed the advice of someone who was completely brilliant and utterly without scruples.

Voldemort might be a monster, but he was a valuable one.  And a tame one.

Getting into Room 101 was not easy, especially since Harry hadn’t been able to get any help in setting up the security system.  Even though Hermione and Amelia knew about it, Harry had been insistent on setting up the protocols himself, without benefit of Hermione’s brilliance or Amelia’s staggering depth of magical knowledge.  In theory, they probably would have agreed to be Obliviated afterwards… but Harry had shied away from the prospect of erasing any parts of their memories.  He was sure there were some clever tricks that they could have devised to eliminate the more tedious aspects of his security precautions.

As it was, it took about ten minutes to get inside, including five minutes of simply sitting still and waiting.  But eventually, he stepped through the portal into Room 101.  Then he walked down the stairs, into the small stone room that held only two small wooden stools and a shiny black box.

It always surprised Harry, looking back with hindsight, just how stupid he had been.  There had been a time when he’d thought it was a good long-term plan to keep Voldemort Transfigured into a stone on his ring.  Even now, the stupidity of his thirteen-year-old self boggled the mind.  Eventually, Moody and Amelia and he had gotten together and concluded that it was just not a good plan to keep the most dangerous Dark Lord of all time in temporary stasis right next to his mortal enemy and the most powerful magical devices of their knowledge.  Apparent Obliviation, Transfiguration sickness, and missing hands were all well and good, but it was just a foolish risk when they had such incomplete knowledge of the villain’s plans and failsafes (all accomplices being dead or vanished).  One bad afternoon might have meant the end of the world.

Even their second system had turned out to have a single unexpected flaw, and it had almost meant disaster.  Only the barest of chances had kept Voldemort from escaping, clad in a new body.  Walpurgisnacht.

Thus: the box and Room 101 and the new Tower.  The best fortress and best prison that Harry and Moody could design.  It was, as far as Harry knew, the most secure location conceivable.

Harry sat down on one stool, looking at the box.  He still couldn’t decide if it was stupid to store valuables in an obviously fancy box, or if it served as an important warning and double-bluff.  Regardless, the box was impressive.  Its sides were a shiny and sheer black, but every so often a shudder of russet-red would flicker in an intricate tracery across the flat planes of its sides, fading in the blink of an eye.  The lock was heavy and ornate, with a circular indentation instead of a keyhole.

The box had no name, as far as Harry was aware, and it was a physical symbol of the insanity of trying to govern magical Britain.

He had asked for assistance from Amelia -- he said he needed a way to safely store something that could not, under any circumstances, be stolen.  She had gone to work on his behalf, and produced a solution in only a few days.

That solution had been annoying beyond belief, though, because apparently some of the Unspeakables had just disappeared into a vault in the Department of Magical Mysteries, and returned with this unbreachable magic box.

Everyone involved had patiently endured Harry’s angry fit, as he lectured them:
about how it was impossible to plan security if there were secret loopholes in every passage;
about how he couldn’t make optimal decisions if there were magical items of incredible power that no one had bothered to tell him about;
and about how it was insane for things to be so convenient that there just happened to be a device that fit his needs at the moment.

Anyone who had spent more than a day around Harry had gotten used to the occasional lecture.

Hermione had finally reminded Harry, in her own kind way:
that secure planning meant knowing your knowledge was imperfect;
that there was never going to be any useful list of all powerful magics because that list would be astonishingly dangerous;
and that the universe was not always as convenient as a story, but sometimes it was.

Anyone who had spent more than a day around Harry was profoundly grateful for Hermione’s presence.

Voldemort was returned to his human form, Stupefied a few dozen times (with Moody casting a ceaseless stream of more-inventive and debilitating curses), and then his consciousness was transferred neatly into the soft fibrous tissues of several Turkmenian Mandrakes.  Surprisingly, transferring a wizard’s mind into a plant operated on well-established “Dark” magical principles of golem-creation or imprisonment, and Harry was actually able to just look most of the procedure up in different books he’d requisitioned.

Then it was into the box, and Harry took that alone into Room 101.

“Boy, you are a fool.”

Harry’s mind immediately returned to the present.  The voice was familiar, in a painful way.  Harry had been gradually growing used to it, as they talked for long hours, but it was still hard to hear.  Not the actual voice itself, which was an undifferentiated male one of no particular import.  But the tone…

Curt.  Cold.  And… well, not confident, exactly.  Instead, there was an icy and thoughtful certainty behind the words that made confidence seem like the emotion of a lesser being.  That tone didn’t evoke a hateful enemy that might cut your throat: it was the indifferent knife in the enemy’s hand, to which your blood had no meaning at all.

“You’re getting your memories back, Professor,” Harry said.  He’d noticed small hints in their last conversation… troubled pauses and halting answers as they discussed the potential political moves in the Sawad.  He honestly wasn’t sure how he should feel about the development.  He’d known it was possible, with the twin changes of a Horcrux 2.0 resurrection and a transfer into a lump of plant matter.  And it made Voldemort much more valuable.  They’d had many long discussions, and he’d enjoyed having someone with whom to discuss his plans and designs, during those frequent times when Hermione was busy out in the world.  And while even a Voldemort almost bereft of personal memories was still brilliant and inventive, a Voldemort with the experience of age and the lore of Salazar Slytherin was an infinitely better resource.

And infinitely more dangerous.

“Last week,” came the voice from the box.  Possibly a lie.

There was a long pause, then the voice came again, asking cooly, “The Ritual of the Sibyl?”

“Yes, Professor,” Harry said.  Their voices sounded loud in the small stone room.  “I was not lying before.  I am sorry… truly sorry… that things had to end up this way.  But I will not let you out, even now.  Especially now.”

“Boy… you think me your enemy.  You think you have won, and that I am your pet monster, kept in your pocket, and that you have defeated the whole of my designs.”  The contempt was palpable, and it hinted at the subtlety that had laid plans within plans within plans.

It had been years, and Harry could no longer be really called a “boy.”  But the epithet was meant to diminish him, not describe him… and perhaps Voldemort was having difficulty truly understanding the passage of time.  There hadn’t appeared to be any cognitive impairment, but Harry’s tests had been crude.

“Tell me how that is wrong, Professor… tell me how I have been stupid.”  Harry leaned forward on the stool, resting his elbows on his knees.  “Because as near as I can tell, you are in a box, while I am saving the world.  Ultimately, intelligence means winning, and I have won.”

“Have you, now?”  Harry could hear extraordinary bitterness in Voldemort’s tone.  Hm, what were the constraints on the sounds a magical artificial voice could produce, with no physical limitations like diaphragm or larynx?  Harry would have to check and ensure that it stayed within a certain decibel level to prevent both subliminal messages and auditory attack.  Constant vigilance.

“You think so much of your achievements, in these past few years?”  Voldemort said.  “I remember everything you told me, when my mind was dim and shrouded, when I was new to my prison here.  I know your position, and I am oh so aware of my own.  But know this: but for a single stroke of intelligence at the cusp of matters, one graveyard night, all has gone according to my will.  I have shaped you, prepared all things, and set every event in motion.”  Though deprived of the power of Parseltongue in this form, Voldemort nonetheless practically hissed in spite.  “I told you as much, told you exactly what I would do -- told you how you would be brought to power. This is not a story, and can you possibly think that events have come to resemble my proposed plan in every detail by purest chance?  You are a fool, and you never would think more than two steps ahead.”

Voldemort was nothing more than a voice from a box, but the Dark Lord used every ounce of wit and acid that he had, and his bitter words were thick with derision at Harry’s ingratitude.  “You still think me your enemy, even though you sit on the throne I built.”


Harry raised his eyebrows in mild surprise.  He frowned, and shook his head.  “Professor, you can’t really think I’m this stupid.  You can’t goad me into forgetting the graveyard, or Hermione’s death.  What, will you pretend that you intended events to turn out this way?  That you were just testing me, and in the end you would have relented?  Or will you try to convince me that this your plan, all along - to be stuffed into a plant in a box?”

“Potter, prophecy spoke of you as the one who might end the world.”  Ice and bile in the voice, and disappointment.  “All of my ends have been directed at preventing that.  No plan or goal matters beyond it -- could matter beyond it.  It seems I may have failed.  But if I am to fail, I cannot accept that my brightest student is still so stupid that he cannot see the plain truth even after it has been told to him!  Think about what would have happened, had you not interfered.  Remember what I once told you, from a hospital bed.”

Harry remembered the moment well.  After the trip to Azkaban.  After he had first begun to doubt, and had demanded an explanation.  His beloved professor had explained to him a plan to seek power: "You are kidnapped from Hogwartss to public location, many witnesssess, wardss keep out protectorss. Dark Lord announcess that he hass at long lasst regained physical form, after wandering as sspirit for yearss; ssayss that he hass gained sstill greater power, not even you can sstop him now. Offerss to let you duel. You casst guardian Charm, Dark Lord laughss at you, ssayss he iss not life-eater. Casstss Killing Cursse at you, you block, watcherss ssee Dark Lord explode -"

“And you thought,” Harry said, now openly mocking, “that I would think Hermione’s life was an acceptable sacrifice.  You with your notoriously poor judgment of people.  No, of course not… you had planned all along to bring her back to life in that graveyard, just stripped of her magic.  Or will you claim that you knew that I would be able to grant her true resurrection, somehow?”  His voice rose in contempt, now.  Had he been so stupid, as a boy, to be fooled by this?  Was it simply the power differential that had made Voldemort so convincing?

If this conversation had occurred under different circumstances, this would be the moment when “Professor Quirrell” would have done some extremely impressive bit of magic, or brought the weight of his authority and the respect Harry held for him to bear in some other way.  How often had the clever Professor brushed off requests for explanation or guidance with a skillful bluff?  It seemed so transparent, now.

There was a very long, quiet moment.  Harry rose to his feet and turned away from the box.  How sad and small and stupid this all seemed.  There was a time when he could have wept at the betrayal he’d endured, but now he just wanted to reach back in time and slap his past self for being so short-sighted.

Voldemort had wanted to prevent the prophesied end of the world, Harry knew.  That had been his most important goal.  But he had also wanted a companion.   Even after the events of Godric’s Hollow, when the Dark Lord’s hubris had almost been his undoing, he continued to feel that need and to harbor the idea that any real companion would need to be forged by fire into a truly worthy adversary and ally.  Voldemort desired an equal, uncompromised by any ethical nonsense.

So he had put Harry into the crucible.  Classes, mentoring, wargames, and death.  Voldemort had put fire to Harry until the boy glowed with rage and pain, and had worked to give him a new form with careful and cool hammer blows.  To Voldemort, ethics were dross.  He had wished to burn them out.

The journey to Azkaban had not only freed Bellatrix, but also tested Harry.  Actually freeing someone from Azkaban would never have required Harry’s Patronus or the absurd risks they underwent that night -- that was just a convenient excuse that allowed Voldemort to put the boy in the forge.

If you really had wanted to free someone from Azkaban, after all, you wouldn’t risk yourself.  You just used the Cruciatus Curse on an auror at his home to find out which Azkaban guards were corrupt, wiped the memory of your source, and then held the family of one of the corrupt aurors for prisoner and demanded a Death Doll be exchanged with one of the prisoners.  Voldemort had probably done it repeatedly, over the years.

But Harry had failed that test.  He’d valued an auror’s life -- not just intellectually, but on such an instinctual level that his Patronus had stepped in front of a Killing Curse.  So Voldemort had murdered Hermione, to push the boy beyond his limits.

Voldemort had smuggled in a monster, disabled every device and craft, and arranged matters in such a way that Harry would fail to save Hermione, but would come close enough to blame himself.  Indeed, there was every reason to think that Harry had also been intended to fail in that combat, and that “Professor Quirrell” would arrive in a blaze of cursed fire just in time to save the boy - and just too late to save the boy’s dearest friend.

Harry turned back to Voldemort, now, and spat a question, “Professor, now that all your plans are exposed and open to me, tell me: when exactly did you decide that I was no longer worthwhile?  You became oh-so-terribly sick in June of that year -- was it then?  Or was it after you had to stop a centaur from murdering me -- was that when I became too great a risk?”

The Boy-Who-Lived, who had torn possibility to pieces to snatch back his friend from death, who was now the Tower, who bestrode the narrow world like a colossus, glared at a shiny black box, and his eyes burned with a betrayal that seemed undiminished by the years.

“Or was it, as I suspect, when we spoke in the forest one night after you murdered Hermione, and you discovered that I had not learned the proper lesson you wished to teach me?  When you learned that I still held human life as a positive good in my utility function?”

"If it were you who had been killed by that troll, it would not even occur to Hermione Granger to do as you are doing for her! It would not occur to Draco Malfoy, nor to Neville Longbottom, nor to McGonagall or any of your precious friends! There is not one person in this world who would return to you the care that you are showing her! So why? Why do it, Mr. Potter?" There was a strange, wild desperation in that voice. "Why be the only one in the world who goes to such lengths to keep up the pretense, when none of them will ever do the same for you?"

And there was still silence for a while yet.  After long moments, Voldemort spoke again.

“You are right.”  There was a long pause, and then a repetition… as though in astonishment.  “You… are right.”

Harry blinked.

“I do value the world, and I did fear you… feared what I had created.  I do not pretend to care about human life for its own sake, since almost all of these loathsome idiots have no purpose or worth to their mewling lives.  Nor do I pretend to care about Ms. Granger, who has the same inane affection for fools that you retain despite my best efforts.  As though human life, of itself, is somehow an inherent good... as though we were children in a moralist’s tale!”  Somehow, entirely without any physicality, the words evoked contemptuous spittle.  “But I do not apologize for seeking to preserve this world as a whole, even though it would seem I am yet at your mercy, boy.  Remember the Vow you swore on my compulsion -- no Vow to serve me or my interests, though that was within my power to demand.”

“Is this where you repent, and seek redemption?  Where I release you, as long as you take a Vow of my own design?” Harry asked.  He honestly was amused, and rather incredulous.

“No, Potter,” said Voldemort scornfully.  A brief pattern of red light flickered across the surface of the box, and was gone.  “You have locked me back in hell, and you have left me my mind, and I expect you know the consequences of those actions.”

“Indeed, Professor.  You are a threat… to me and to the whole world.  I could not release you, even if I wished it.  And I do not wish it.”  Harry rose from his seat, and walked away.  This had not been the intelligent conversation he’d sought, but it had certainly been distracting enough.  He had a computer to set up, though.  “I’ll be back in a few days.”

“Potter!”  The outcry was sharp, and had an edge of wildness to it.

“Yes, Professor?”


“Professor, I know that this is torture for you.  I’m working on a way to get you some entertainment… something to listen to and think about.  I do not want anyone to suffer… not even you.”

Still silence.

Eventually, Harry mounted the stairs, and left.

Since the professional wars --
Corpse and carrion
Paling in rain --
The wolf has died out

In Ireland. The packs
Scoured parkland and moor
Till a Quaker buck and his dogs
Killed the last one

In some scraggy waste of Kildare.
The wolfhound was crossed
With inferior strains,
Forests coopered to wine casks.

Rain on the roof to-night
Sogs turf-banks and heather,
Sets glinting outcrops
Of basalt and granite,

Drips to the moss of bare boughs.
The old dens are soaking.
The pads are lost or
Retrieved by small vermin

The glisten and scut.
Nothing is panting, lolling,
Vapouring. The tongue's
Leashed in my throat.

      -- Seamus Heaney

22 May 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Eight: Morse Four

Significant Digits, Chapter Eight: Morse Four

May 1st, 1238 C.E.
7:34 p.m.
Cottage of Ignotus and Cadmus Peverell, Sontag, Britain
Here translated into modern English vernacular and stripped of the lies of idiots.

“Antioch will not accept this,” said Cadmus, leaning back in his chair.  He was huge and hairy.  Sitting there with no shirt, the light of the fire made the blonde hairs on his arms and shoulders and chest glint as if they were golden wires.  He clasped his hands over his big belly, and made a deep sound of discontent at the thought of his brother’s anger.

“He’ll have to accept it,” Ignotus said from the hearth, where he was sitting on a small stool.  “He has no choice.  We’ve done our best.”

“He’ll be upset, and it will turn to fighting.  It always does.”  Cadmus wasn’t afraid, but it tore at his heart when he had to fight with his older brother.  By tacit agreement, they didn’t use wands, and the bruises and breaks were quick to heal… but he knew their mother would have wept to see it.

“Antioch only lashes out when he thinks he can change things with his fists.  But nothing can change magic itself.  Or at least, we can’t.  Too much has been lost to us; too much lore has been forgotten.  A perfect cloak cannot exist.  To try to make one would kill the enchanter, and I have no wish to die.”  Ignotus stared into the flames, his eyes distant as he spoke.  “And if he tries to hurt you again, I’ll leave.”

“That would make him happy,” Cadmus said, bitterly.  And indeed, years ago he and Antioch had come to blows over Ignotus’ presence.

“Once, perhaps.  Not now.  He knows that he could do little without me.”  Ignotus was not boasting.  It was nothing but the truth to say that he was the greatest wizard in Britain.  The research of the two Peverell brothers had been fruitless until they were joined by Ignotus Hand.

Cadmus was silent for a time, and the two men stared into the fire.  At length, the bigger fellow said, “You think we are in the latter days of the world.”

“The middling days, yes.  Our power wanes.”

“Because the eastern ley has been lost, and the goblins have dared to take up arms, and the Cup of Midnight has broken?  There have always been problems, and now is no different.  Do not be so dour.”

Ignotus wrapped his arms around his knees, and leaned down to rest his cheek on them.  He was all folded up, and he looked weary.  “Merlin damned us.  Merlin has damned all the generations of men to come.  All our lore is a fraction of the knowledge of our fathers, and so it has been now for five centuries.”

“He had no choice… the world was doomed, else.  You know the stories.  And we have made great discoveries.  The Spirit Stone-”  Cadmus protested.

“-Is but a pallid imitation of what the elders of Atlantis could do, without even a wand,” Ignotus said.  He no longer sounded bitter.  Only wistful.

“You think Antioch’s quest is impossible.  You don’t think we will reach the other side of death.”

“No.  I don’t think we will.”

“Prophecies cannot be wrong.”

“They can be misunderstood.”

“Then what do we do?”  Cadmus asked, and Ignotus could hear the sympathy in his voice.

“I will go to the halls of the Council.  I will lay down words and ask them to be sealed by stone and rod.  We have been clipped by the Interdict, but there will be a time when wizards will defeat those bonds.  Merlin failed in that much, at least, just as they of Atlantis failed before him.  There is ruin in the future, and so it must be that men will rise again.”

“What will you lay down?”

“I will lay down the path of one of the prophecies, as best we can figure, and tell them to seek the ‘scorpion and archer, locked beyond return.’  I will tell them that ‘by this path shall death be defeated.’ “  Ignotus’ voice seemed to dim the flames, as though they were oppressed by the weight of the future yet to come.  “And then I will come back here and we will return to work, together.  And we will quarrel with your brother in the evenings, because he will insist on thestral hair even though it will not lie in warp with unicorn hair and other such foolishness, and you and he will fight and make up and fight and make up.  And in time we will die.  And the world will continue to lessen.”

Cadmus rubbed his belly thoughtfully.  “We will be together, though?”

“Yes.  We will be together.”

“Then everything will be all right.”

“I think it will.”


September 3rd, 1941
4:00 p.m.
Slytherin Boys’ Dormitory, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland
Diary entry.

It’s not that I can’t win, but that I don’t know how clever to be.  My opponent is an unknown quantity… what level is he playing at?  When he lays a trap for me, is it a simple trick, or is he lying in wait for me to make the obvious evasion?  If I decline to address the trap out of caution, am I passing up a chance for swift and conclusive victory?  If I devise strategies to bring him into the fold with subtlety and poisonous gambits, am I wasting time and effort on a simpleton who could be broken with only a moment’s work?  Imbecile or genius, marvel or moron?

I cannot abide chess, really.  Why is it necessary?  It is like a hall of mirrors, down which I see only my own reflection.  Again and always, I am the only real player.  It is monstrously boring.  I know that this fellow will turn out to be another disappointment… easily conquered once understood.  I do not know why I bother with the advertisement.  I do not know why I bother with this game.  I do not know why I bother

Boring boring boring Even boring to write about All all boring

As though I were crushing underfoot Sometimes some fun in it at the start, crackle crunch and all that, bright feathers blood, aesthetic and visceral but no effort and no challenge Make a game of it Make art of it Do anything But it’s just boring and boring I hate it

I need an opponent.  Even at the risk of defeat, I want someone to match me.  To strain and gamble and push myself against.  Not this hill of ants that is this wretched globe.  Someone with whom I wouldn’t need to hold back or create a challenge.  Someone to match with the fulness of my wits.  Someone


March 12th, 1999
8:29 p.m.
Franklin’s Nez, Tidewater, Boston

Hermione discussed what she knew about bombs with Hig and Tineagar for almost an hour.  It was nothing that even cursory research wouldn’t have revealed, but it would have been stupid not to take advantage of this opportunity to build more trust.  She ignored her unsettled stomach and the whirl of her thoughts, and patiently explained the basics of chemical reactions.

The instant Hig and Tineagar left her alone with Charlevoix and Esther, though, Hermione turned to Charlevoix and said (calmly, calmly, there are eyes and ears on us still), “I was thinking about what you said before, and I think you were right.  Would you please use the Knuts and call everyone to Powis, and then bring them all here?  Use one of the spare portkeys.”

Charlevoix showed no surprise, and did not protest that she’d never suggested any such thing.  She simply nodded, and asked, “Everyone?”

“Everyone who isn’t caring for the Göreme victims, I think,” Hermione said.  Without another word, Charlevoix obeyed.  Before she’d even walked out of Franklin’s Nez, she had her enchanted Knut in her hand and was squeezing it.  Hermione felt the sister Knut in her pocket start to grow warm.  Turning to Esther, she reached into her pocket and drew out a small mirror, handing it to the other witch.  “Please contact Harry and ask him to get us whatever he’s developed for the gauntlets.  Securely, if he can.”

Esther nodded and took the mirror, walking to one of the Pensieve alcoves for marginally better privacy.  Hermione knew she could do it herself, but she couldn’t face the prospect of talking to Harry.

She hoped she was wrong, and that this was all some terrible mistake or strange coincidence.  That was still possible.  No, it was probably even likely.  What was more probable -- that she had badly misunderstood some gambit or improbable chance, or that Harry was being evil?


March 12th, 1999
8:45 p.m.
Alþing of the Mystical and Benevolent Council of Westphalia, Tidewater, Boston

Hig leaned forward, squinting.  This was clever.  He usually played three or four games concurrently with different people, but this current correspondence game had all of his attention.  His opponent was employing the Sicilian, but every move they’d made since fianchettoing their bishop had been an innovation, and the pawn storm was exhilerating.  It was either crazy or brilliant -- the game of someone with an unconventional mind.  Hig could already see the flaws, of course… he was going to crush this dilettante without too much trouble.  Let this opponent make any choice he wish, conventional or no: their wildness didn’t matter when all roads led to Hig’s desire.

He glanced at the level in the water clock.  Not much time remained before he should return to work, although his dinner still sat untouched on his desk.  So much to do, with the British in town and the bombing.  Priorities, though… feeding his wits came first.  Delightful!


March 12th, 1999
9:15 p.m.
Franklin’s Nez, Tidewater, Boston

“Harry sent these, and said you and Esther knew how to use them,” Tonks said, putting a double handful of small metal boxes on the table, each one perhaps the size of a die.  The chargers for the gauntlets.  “So what’s up?  I guess this is all hush-hush, but I thought this was supposed to be a pretty easy little jaunt for you out here -- smile at the locals, wave your hands majestically, and all that.  Harry was sitting in some new garden he’s just had planted, and he wouldn’t say what went wrong.  Distracted by his new topiaries, I guess.”

“It got complicated, and Harry doesn’t know,” Hermione said.  “Well, he might have guessed,” she added, “but I couldn’t tell him anything.”

“Did he do something stupid?  I mean, besides growing that ponytail?” Tonks said, her eyes turning violet with delight at the possibility of intrigue.

“Maybe.  Tell me if I’m going crazy,” Hermione said, sighing.  Tonks could be trusted in every way, and she would think independently about this.  Not that the other Returned weren’t also independent and intelligent, but they trusted Hermione with an absoluteness that brooked no disagreement about her moral or tactical decisions: they simply did not question her.  When the group had formed, in those terrible months early in 1993, she had thought it was a coping mechanism -- looking to their savior for some shred of certainty in an empty world.  But enough time had passed… she knew that she was their lodestone, and that she always would be.  Tonks was more normal, and not so awestruck, though she was still extraordinarily dedicated.  She had joined the Returned as a pure volunteer, untouched by Dementors yet driven to a strange passionate hatred for the creatures that Hermione had only otherwise seen in Harry.

When she joined the Returned, Tonks had told Hermione that she’d visited the ruins of Azkaban in December, after Hermione had riven it to rubble, and she had taken the time to carefully spit in the ruins.  Well, not spit, exactly.

“You’re going crazy.  But we already knew that when you turned Cedric down,” Tonks said, leaning down enough to roll one of the chargers around with a click-click-click of metal on wood.

Hermione smiled, even as she reached down and carefully took the charger away before any accident could happen.  “No, seriously.”

Tonks sat in the chair across from Hermione, and raised her eyebrows.  She waggled her wand, and together the two of them began to cast.  Thirty seconds later, they were alone in a blue haze and presumably had at least some level of privacy.  Unless the chairs were enchanted, but probably even Hig wouldn’t have gone that far in order to eavesdrop.

Hermione frowned.

Once they were both standing and the chairs were gone (you’re welcome, Alastor), she sighed and began.  After briefly relating some of the most important facts, she moved on to describing her conclusions.  Her voice became a little more hesitant… she hoped Tonks would point out some huge and stupid flaw in her thinking.

“One of the first things I noticed when Charlevoix, Esther, and I went to look at the place of the bombing was that there was soot everywhere, but the rest of the mess had been cleaned up.  It was pretty obvious that it had been Scourgified, but quickly -- before the soot had settled from the explosion and before anyone was even allowed to investigate.”

“So something valuable in there, then.  Private letters?” Tonks asked, her eyebrows greening as they rose in a question.

Hermione shook her head.  “Those are sent right to their recipient, just like at Hogwarts or the Ministry.  No, this was a sorting room for the information they get from their spying networks.  They have the Quotes Quills that make copies, the band memorabilia that listens to conversations, the stuffed griffon heads that report how often they hear specific words, and other things.  That’s a lot of parchment, and they need people to sort out the garbage from the useful information.”

Tonks made a face.  “Wonder what they have of mine.”

“Anyway, I also saw a big pot of Floo powder on top of one of the fireplaces in there.  That is pretty normal in a lot of places, but not somewhere with a pair of Flounders.”

“They’re probably bugged, too.”

“Hm… I hadn’t thought of that,” Hermione said, pausing.  She thought for a moment.  “But if they were, I’m not sure it changes my thinking.  Anyway, I wasn’t sure if that was just because someone was using the Floo after the bombing, so I managed to get them to show me a memory from one of the two sisters who were there first… Cynthia or Sybil Vane, not sure which one.”

“Are they important?  Is there a clue there?” Tonks asked.

“Just bystanders, I think.  Maybe they’ll provide a clue in the end, but they don’t seem involved right now, at least,” Hermione said.

“So you think someone Flooed out after the explosion, leaving the pot of powder behind -- since you can’t take Floo powder through the fire -- which means… someone was stealing something, or escaping, or covering up a personal murder, or something,” Tonks said.

“Well, Councilor Tineagar asked me to think about who benefits from this.  She was implying that we benefit, since some in America are going to move towards us as a way to posture against the Malfoys.  I wasn’t sure that Magical America would be so quick to lose their head over a single act of terrorism, but Tineagar did have a point.”

“But we didn’t do it,” Tonks said.  “So was it the Westphalians?  Did they bomb themselves?  They didn’t really lose anything or anyone important, did they?  And I bet they’re ruthless enough to sacrifice one of their own for this.  Or was it just Narcissa Malfoy starting some new phase… remember we almost got blown up not too long ago!”  Tonks threw up her hands, exasperated.  “Who even knows?!  This is crazy!”

“Well, wait,” Hermione said.  “It could definitely just be a blunder or miscalculation, or something gone wrong.  But-”

“Maybe the Malfoys wanted to destroy something that was intercepted!” Tonks interrupted, as the idea struck her.  “A spy-center… a conversation that was overheard, revealing their plans?  No, this guy who was killed wasn’t the final destination for that stuff, right… you said he’d been there only two years.  And he wouldn’t be the only one doing this… no, that doesn’t make sense, sorry.  But maybe this interrupted the spying?”

Hermione shook her head.  “I doubt it.  If you were managing their network, wouldn’t an attack on one of your employees be exactly the sort of thing for which you’d plan?  I bet they had things in place, and didn’t miss a step.  Councilor Hig is short-sighted about a lot of things-” Like even the most rudimentary sense of ethics in pursuit of his goals.  “-but he’s serious about information.”

“So what, then?” Tonks said, a trifle impatiently.

“First of all, I think someone was sending parchments out of that room.  That’s why the pot of Floo powder was there: so someone could pass documents.  You can’t do that with a Floo Flounder.  Things they wanted, or that they didn’t want anyone else to know.  So one possibility is that Tarleton was doing this, and whoever controlled him wanted to get rid of him.  He could have been blackmailed, or he could have been a plant from the start.”

Tonks nodded, slowly.  “Okay... That does make sense.   And that could have been either one of the Westphalians or the Malfoys doing that.“

“Tineagar mentioned that she thought this seemed sloppy for a Malfoy.  That’s true, and it’s something to take into consideration.  Bombs are messy and uncertain, and if Tarleton had lived or someone else had opened it or it had gone off early or anything else, it would have left Narcissa and Draco’s intentions exposed.”

“The Westphalians, then.”  Tonks’ eyes flashed red.  “Then they blame it on us, by making it an obvious sham?”  She paused a moment.  “No… all of the same problems.  Plus, there’s no one but the Malfoys who have ever used Muggle devices like a bomb.”

“There’s one other person famous for such tricks,” Hermione said, heavily.

Tonk’s expression told the story of her thoughts.  A moment of puzzlement, her full lips pursing.  Then her eyes widened a bit, and her brow knit.  And as she calmed and started to think about the prospect, her face relaxed and her complexion went peaches-and-cream.

“No,” Tonks said, after a while.  “I see your thinking, but no.  Harry would never just kill someone like that.  And it would be too obvious… he’s been ranting about ‘owling a hand grenade’ for years as his metaphor for blatant security holes… remember when Mad-Eye shouted at him to stop publicizing the possibility?  To wrap up the attack he’s known to have conceived in the colors of his public enemy and strike at the organization that stood in the way of the Statute?  It’s like a big sign reading, ‘Harry did this.’ “

“Level and levels,” Hermione said.  Nothing more seemed necessary; after a moment, Tonks gave a single short nod of her head in acknowledgment of the point.

“But the murder?  Even if Tarleton was Dark in some way, I just can’t see this.  I saw Harry give instructions to some of the staff in Material Methods once, and he told them that the first rule, above all, was that no enemy could die -- that a ten percent chance of death was still too high, since it meant that a weapon would kill one out of every ten people.”  She gestured at the chargers.  “The gauntlets were all developed that way!  And remember early on, in the first Tower, when we were developing the Safety Poles, and Harry told that auror, whatshername, J.C. Kraeme, our saying?  ‘Save one life, and it is as though you have saved the whole world?’  That was his thought!”

Tonks crossed her arms, and shook her head, hair streaking with black.  “I’m glad you called me here, because you’re right… you are being crazy.”

Hermione thought for a moment about how to phrase her response.  Even with Tonks, information hygiene: there was only so much she should say.  “Tonks, the spells Harry and I laid over the Tower-”

Tonks was already covering her ears.  “Oh Merlin, don’t tell me about them, I’ll want to try it and I’ll turn myself into a pudding or something!”

“No, no,” Hermione said, smiling again despite everything, and putting her hand on Tonks’ arm.  “I’m not going to tell you any dreadful transfiguration secrets.  But I can safely say that the spells would allow Harry to perfectly fake a corpse, the same way he perfectly heals people.”

“Oh,” Tonks said, calming somewhat.  She’d probably been thinking of the hoary old tale of warning that so many magical parents told their children, to drum into them how dangerous it could be to innovate or to imitate those who were cleverer than yourself: Rochelle the Ravenclaw, who tried to turn her cat into a dragon, and ended up turning herself into a troll (“Oh Kitty Kitty you are smaller yet, but oh Kitty Kitty you look so tasty!”).

“That makes sense,” she said.  “Well then, o Goddess, what do we do?”

Hermione ignored the nickname, since she knew Tonks would just use it more if she protested.  “Well, we have a few possible theories, and we’re not sure which one is correct.  So we need to eliminate them.  Investigate.  Experiment.  We send some people to check out Tarleton’s background, as best we can, and see if he was just an actor all along or if he started behaving oddly.  We send some people to look into the friend who was hired at the same time as him, if possible.  And whatever else we think of, that we can safely do.  I’ll speak to the Westphalians -- these inquiries make sense if we really do think it’s Malfoy, and I think I can sell that.”

“Got it,” Tonks said, nodding.  “Esther will go with you.  Simon and Charlevoix will look into Tarleton.  Susie and Hyori will check out the friend.  Jessie is taking care of a couple of the Cappadocians, and Urg wasn’t able to come.”

“And you?” Hermione asked.

“I think there are a few things I can do to help everyone.”  Tonks said, and grinned toothily.  But before dropping the wards and spells around them, she paused with a doubt, and her grin faded.  “But what if someone just left that pot of Floo powder sitting on the mantel, just… by accident?  Like maybe it was just a coincidence?  What if this is less complicated than we think, with all these deductions and guesses all in a flurry?” Tonks asked.  “Or even worse, what if it was Harry… do you really want to push this investigation so hard that you, um, win?  And have to face him?”

Hermione sighed.  “We’re investigating our friend’s possible involvement in a bombing, or maybe even two bombings.  What investigation needs dedication more?  I’d like ‘losing.’ ”

And it seemed to me that there were fires
Flying til dawn without number,
And I never found out things -- those
Strange eyes of his -- what colour?

Everything trembling and singing and
Were you my enemy or my friend,
Winter was it or summer?

      -- Anna Akhmatova

15 May 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Seven: Aitiai, Diaphorai, and Alethestate Prophasis

Significant Digits, Chapter Seven: Aitiai, Diaphorai, and Alethestate Prophasis

Þis man, clepid Mundre of the Brook, seiden to Merlin, “How shal we stopje þis end?”
And Merlin ondswered in his drede, “Þat we may not come to the fate of Atlantis, which has passed out of þis world to nouȝt, I shall seal alle away.  Ac even þis lechecrafte, pestilence and blessyng both, shall not suffice.  Manne moste wax in kunnynge.”  And whanne þei hadden herd the princeps incantatorum speke þus, þei were trublid.

                 Harry Lowe, The Transmygracioun, passus duodecimus


“Tarleton had been here two years.  He was a smart boy, and he had ambitious plans,” Councilor Tineagar said, as they approached the door to the mailroom.  “I didn’t know him well, but I did have several occasions to speak with him in his role as clerk.  He wanted to be nominated as Councilor someday.”

“Every loss is a tragedy, but particularly someone with a bright future ahead of them.  How long does that sort of advancement usually take, if you’ll forgive my ignorance?” Hermione asked, following her.  Charlevoix and Esther trailed them both.

“Usually a score of years,” Tineagar said, “but he wanted to achieve a nomination within his first decade at the Council.  That would be unusual, but not impossible.”  She pushed open the door.  “Tarleton had promise, and his murder is a terrible thing.”

The mailroom of the Council of Westphalia was a blackened ruin.  Hermione looked around.  It was rather like a puzzle.  Those lattices of metal wire, crumpled and torn, must have once been owl cages.  And that meant that the crooked metal poles had been owl perches, where they waited for immediate replies.  Two fireplaces were mostly undamaged, although the Floo Flounders next to them were both destroyed.  The Flounders were like small bellows on the floor, which dispensed a set amount of Floo powder.  It was slightly safer and considerably cleaner than using manual pinches of the stuff, especially for children and the elderly.  It was also more convenient, since you didn’t need to keep a stock in the house.  You couldn’t do the fancy tricks with them, like tossing a whole handful of powder on the fire and using it for communications, but how often did you really need such a silly means of communication? Hermione wanted one, herself.

Hermione took a step into the room.  The stone underfoot had been swept clean or Scourgified, since there was no broken glass and little rubble.  Hopefully someone had examined it first, although she doubted it.  There was no forensic instinct in the magical world -- just a general sense that the untidiness should be immediately fixed.  For generations, careful cleanliness had been one of the things that distinguished wizardkind from the rest of humanity, and so it was still a deeply-abiding tradition.

Well, that was okay.  She had never expected to just walk in and discover some hidden clue, anyway.

“Someone else saw the package as it was delivered, I suppose?”  Hermione asked, stepping further into the room and examining the floor.  It was scorched, but less than she might have imagined.  One area in particular was quite blackened.

“Yes,” Tineagar said, stepping in after her and standing just to one side of the door.  “That’s how we know it was from Narcissa Malfoy, that vile imperialist bitch.”  Hermione glanced back at Tineagar, and saw the American witch’s face was angry.  Upset at the loss, or upset at the affront?

“And you know the Malfoys?  Did you know Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa’s husband?”  Hermione asked, gently.

“We exchanged curses, upon a time.”

Hermione nodded.  Tineagar had been one of those sent from abroad during Grindelwald’s War and the Wizarding War.  “Even before that, though, Lucius was a problem.  For thirty years, he controlled a majority of the British delegation to the Confederation, and they were a constant thorn in our side as we tried to scale back some of the restrictions on Squibs and Beings.  For years, it was the Americas and the Ten Thousand against the European coalition when it came to the emancipation movement, fighting over the votes of the delegates from Africa, the islands, and the Sawad.  Malfoy helped keep most of Europe united around the status quo.  He’s the reason why it was legal to hunt merfolk for so many years.”  Even nearly a decade after the man’s death, Hermione could hear the anger in Tineagar’s voice.

“Matters are different, now,” Hermione suggested.  She did not mention the awkward fact that the vote for an International Statute for Health and Life had also failed, in large part thanks to the opposition of that same American-Eastern bloc.  But the Confederation had dismembered a dozen international restrictions on Squibs and Beings, so there had been some progress in the right direction.  Harry had even, at Hermione’s urging, begun planning out a campaign to give different Beings seats in the Confederation itself, although that wasn’t yet public knowledge.

“Yes… the, ah, incidents of 1992 and the establishment of the Tower changed the positions of many Things.  Egypt and Kenya, for example, switched their votes on the merfolk issue right after it became apparent that there were going to be no more bribes.”

Hermione bent to one knee, tracing a finger through the light layer of soot on the floor.  “I’m not sure if we should be happy that their true position is the moral one, or unhappy that money could change their minds so readily.”

Tineagar crossed her arms, and just made an inarticulate murmur of assent.  Hermione turned her full attention to the crime scene.

Observations first.  No theories, no guesses, no imagination.  What do I see?

Owl cages and owl perch over there… some long tables, mostly undamaged… one table in pieces and quite blackened… floor has a settled layer of soot on it and a small amount of loose debris… large numbers of empty and unmarked cubbyholes along another wall… ceiling seems mostly unmarked, although it was hard to say if the grey stone had been made dingy... some sort of dried brownish stains over in one corner, looked like blood… fireplaces undamaged but Floo Flounders destroyed… various supplies still in evidence with stacks of parchment, bottles of ink, and a pot of Floo powder on one fireplace mantle… the destroyed cages and perches for the owls were also sooty but otherwise unsoiled…

“Almost done?” Tineagar said from behind her.  The American witch was clearly unhappy that Harry had requested Hermione’s presence with such vigor, or that her fellow Councilors had agreed to the gesture.  Or maybe she (and they) had assumed it would just be a token visit.  “Not much to see, I’m afraid.”

Hermione looked back at the American, whose pinched face looked displeased.  “There’s quite a lot, actually.”

Tineagar shook her head.  “We’ve already done all the searching that can be done.  Scrying, spell-trace, all the usual.  But we found no surprises.  No destructive spells were cast here, and no one Apparated or portkeyed out after the attack.  You can see the Flounders were destroyed.  This damn Muggle device had no magic at all… it was like a Dungbomb, but with fire and force.  For now, we’re calling it a Blastbomb.”

I’ll just write that down with my Writingpencil on this Parchmentnote, Hermione could hear Harry say in her head.

“Did you go back further and check?”  A question that was vague nonsense unless you already knew about Time-Turners.  Hermione assumed that Tineagar was aware of them, given the rather nauseating amount of information that Hig and his allies commanded, but information hygiene was an important habit.

Tineagar shook her head.  “We’re time-locked here.  It’s not to prevent this sort of thing, actually.  I’m not sure if you ever heard of Albrecht Perel?”  Hermione shook her head.  Tineagar continued. “Well, in the sixties, there was one particular wizard who would go back an hour in time whenever he wished to prepare for a difficult turn of debate.  When challenged on any point of rhetoric, he would spend an hour revising his speech, mustering supporters, and extracting relevant promises from allies.  The end result was that he would smash through his agenda every time, since everyone was already committed to supporting it and the opposing arguments had already been defeated.  When others started trying to do the same thing, then the stakes went up… participants were going back in time over and over, to try to out-prepare with information from the future.  As I understand it, the transcripts from such meetings stopped making sense… just a jumble of foregone conclusions describing rhetorical battles that had only existed in implication.  One of our seers went mad, screaming about a loop with only one side.”

Tineagar grimaced, her upper lip hunching near her narrow nose.  “Eventually, Albrecht tried to break the stalemate by going back six hours, then having an assistant try to take his notes back another six hours to conduct an opinion poll.  Albrecht, the assistant, and three bystanders were all wiped from existence like a smear of ketchup… and we locked time in the Alþing.  That is the purpose of that precaution… to guard the sacred integrity of debate.”

“Not the worst reason I’ve ever heard,” Hermione commented, walking over to the long tables on the other side of the room, which probably would normally have been in the center of the mailroom.

“Found anything of interest yet, Ms. Granger?”  Tineagar asked.  “While I appreciate your efforts in this, especially since it was one of Britain’s radicals at fault, I’m not sure there’s anything for you here.”

There was a significant edge of suspicion in Tineagar’s voice.  Is there any way to reassure her that I’m not here to spy on them, but to look into this bombing?  They must think I just want to snoop.  Hermione couldn’t think of anything.  She’d certainly been whisked here without much of an opportunity to look around, and the passage of air along the hall had suggested that at least a few of the walls had been illusory.  And while her reputation was impressive, there probably wasn’t anything to suggest to the Councilor that Hermione would have better powers of investigation than what they could have mustered already.

“I’m not sure yet.  I think it’s important to just look at everything and ask questions and think a bit, first, before you try to start figuring things out,” Hermione said, touching the table in front of her.  It had nothing on it but a light coating of more soot.  Not scorched… it looked like the settled soot from smoke.  They came in here and cleaned this place immediately, otherwise the Scourgifies would have carried all of this away.  But if this Tarleton had only been working here for two years, then he wouldn’t have been entrusted with anything all that secret.

A mailroom that was filled with material sensitive enough to scour away before the smoke had even settled but which was unimportant enough for a relatively new employee to handle?

That didn’t make any sense.

I notice I am confused.

Ah.  I see.

“Some things here don’t make sense.  And that’s because this was not a mailroom for ordinary correspondence,” Hermione said, turning to face Tineagar.  “It was a processing center for intelligence.”

The other witch didn’t seem to understand, so Hermione clarified using more specific language.  She kept her voice pleasantly neutral.  “Councilor Hig and several others here at the Westphalian Council have numerous information-gathering devices, all over the world.  This was one of the places where you sorted through some of that information… parchments people were writing that looked important, conversations that sounded interesting.”  Hermione thought for a second, then amended, “Or at least, Tarleton’s job was something to do with that.  He could also have been payroll for them, or something.”

Tineagar’s face soured.  “Ms. Granger, this was a mailroom, and I’ll thank you not to make a joke out of the death of one of ours.”

“If I had to guess, I’d say that probably the second or third thing that your people did in here was to clear away all the parchments and letters, right?  Run in and see what happened, check to see if you can help Tarleton, and then go through here with a Gathering Charm and Scourgify right away.  That’s why everything is still covered with soot and these little flakes of ash, even though all the paper and detritus from the blast is gone.  But Tarleton had only worked here for a couple of years.  If the parchments coming through here were that important that they needed to be cleared away immediately, before anyone could see or steal them in the confusion, then he wouldn’t be allowed to see them.”

Hermione pointed at the wall of cubby holes, then at the ruined owl cages.  “A lot of information was coming in and out of here, to be sure.  But highly confidential owls go right to their recipient, not to a room like this.  At the Ministry back home, this sort of room is for processing and sorting generic inquiries or complaints… nothing you’d want to obliterate immediately.”

She turned back to Tineagar.  “But the Council does have something that the Ministry doesn’t have… many ways of gathering information that produce a flood of parchment.  Shopping lists, fan mail, and conversations about tea -- plus the occasional important letter about a secret plot.  So why have a low-level employee sort through secret parchments?  Well, when you have a thousand secret parchments a day, you have to use low-level employees.  They’re just instructed to sort through and kick anything that looks important upstairs.”

Tineagar was shaking her head.  “None of this is important, even if it were true.  You’re not here to seek out the way the Council operates or to spy on us.”  Her voice was tight with anger and what may have been apprehension.

“I’m not here to spy on you, you’re right,” Hermione agreed.  “And I’m sorry if it seems like I’m getting into your business.”  She approached Tineagar, her steps light but her eyes intent.  “But just this month, a bomb much like this one nearly killed me.  It sat in a satchel as close to me as you are now, and if I’d been a few seconds slower…”  She gestured at the scorched floor.

The American frowned again, and spoke with acid tones.  “Yes, I read about that.  As I recall from the papers, the Malfoy faction has been giving you quite a lot of trouble.”

“Ever since 1993.  They’ve been underground for six years, and we’ve had disappearances over that time as others have joined them.  Narcissa and Draco are clever and resourceful… they’ve broken into Gringotts and they’ve burgled the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry, and I never would have thought either of those things were possible.  And they’ve never stopped trying to bolster their support… publishing newsletters, threatening Beings, and generally being a dangerous nuisance.  It’s been hard for us all to handle.”  Hermione felt her voice become a little strained as she spoke.

She dangled from the edge of the roof, her shoulder aching and her wrist caught tight in the grip of a white-haired boy.  "He's going to come help me, but first he's going to Luminos both of us, there's no way he wouldn't. You have to let me go.  Do it, do it, Draco, do it, you can beat him yourself we have to win Draco!"

Hermione blinked rapidly for a moment.  “So quite a lot of trouble, yes.”

“And how many friends have you lost?” Tineagar asked, glancing pointedly at the corner, toward the brownish stains.  She clearly knew the answer.

“Some people injured and many scared, but this is the first time they’ve actually taken a life,” Hermione admitted.  “They had never even tried anything like this until this month, with their attempt on Harry and me in London.  I was -- am -- surprised that they’ve resorted to this.  I thought that Draco had become a different person than the boy his father raised.  I honestly could barely believe that he could have wanted to take the life of any bystander.”  Much less my life.

“It is indeed very unlike what I know about the Malfoy clan’s behavior.  Lucius would never have resorted to something this crude, or this pointless, as abhorrent as he was.  This murder seems to serve no purpose except to terrorize us.”  The last sentence was heavy with meaning.

Does she mean... ugh!

“Indeed,” Hermione said.  “It is a vicious and violent crime, and you will be driven straight into the arms of Harry Potter and the Treaty for Health and Life, especially since he also attempted to attack me.  We have the same enemy, let’s fall into each other’s embrace.”  She was disgusted, and let it show as she glared at Tineagar.

She thinks this that Harry or I arranged this and the other bombing attempt, to try to make a common enemy (the thirty-fourth strategem of Zhuge Liang, her brain automatically supplied: Inflict Injury on Oneself to Gain the Enemy’s Trust).  But if we intended that, would we be this stupid about it?

“Maybe you’re not so crude, either,” Tineagar grudged.  “But then what was the point of this?  I see no reason to murder a promising young clerk, no matter what parchments were here.  There’s no political power to be gained by this… no one has been intimidated or frightened in the slightest.  The witches and wizards of the Council are mostly made of stout stuff, but even the cowards would be ashamed to yield in the face of such an obvious tactic.  If a vote were held on your treaty today, the results would be the same as yesterday.”

Tineagar stepped to the door and through it.  Charlevoix and Esther peered from either side of the frame into the room, to check on their leader.  They had remained so utterly silent that Hermione had almost forgotten they were waiting.  She smiled at them both a bit wryly, then looked back to Tineagar.  “Councilor, I have the same questions.  Let us work through them together.  Cui bono?

“ ‘Who benefits?’ “ Tineagar asked.  “Only the Tower, I should think.  At least some of magical America will reflexively side with him against his known enemy and the purported attacker, Narcissa Malfoy.”  She halted in the hall.  Maybe just being in that room made her uncomfortable.  Not because of Tarleton’s fate, but because of what it implied about her own vulnerability.  That would be normal.

“Granted.  But that’s what the Tower himself would call a ‘first-level deception.’  And you’ve met Harry… can you honestly say that he would be this dumb or this sloppy?  If he was planning some sort of bombing campaign, then I can assure you that there would be no clumsy casualties and you would not be able to figure out his plot this easily.”  Realizing what she was saying, Hermione quickly went on.  “But even more to the point: Harry’s entire goal in life is to stop people from dying.  If you only knew how greatly he cares for every human life, you could never think this of him.”

“Then you think this is a second-level deception?  We are meant to suspect the Tower, by the bomber’s design?  That seems too cute by far.  And given that the Tower is as subtle as you say, the natural conclusion is that this is a third-level deception, is it not?”  Tineagar shook her head, and then started off down the hall, leading the way once more.  Hermione followed, and behind them both followed the two Returned.

This woman contradicts everything you say.  “Then let’s get more information.  Can I examine the body?  Bombs are made of specific kinds of chemicals and metal shells, and sometimes certain principles of science can be used to trace their origins.”

“The family has claimed it.  His identity was verified down to the curve of his soul by his friend and fellow clerk, hired at the same time and intimately familiar with the boy - not someone who could be fooled.  It was not a death doll or any other simulacrum.”  Tineagar turned a corner in the corridor, around to… another featureless corridor of grey stone.  Why were so many magical headquarters built of grey stone?  Was that material particularly easy to ward, or was it just the lingering effects of medieval architectural trends?

“Curve of his soul?”  Hermione said.

“It’s just a saying from a story here.  We’re sure it was Tarleton, and his body is gone.”

“Hm.  I wonder… who was first into the room, after explosion?  Is that something you can tell me?”

Tineagar paused for a moment to glance back at her, then continued on.  “Two witches named Sybil and Cynthia were first, one after the other.  They work in another mailroom, nearby.”

“Is it possible to view their memory of what they first saw?”  Hermione asked, hopefully.  “There might be a clue that was wiped away.”  And I noticed something, and I need to confirm it.

The American came to a full stop, and turned around.  She was tall and thin, and she drew herself up to her full height.  Her voice was arch with irritation.  “I am not going to drag one of those poor girls out of their home after they just saw their co-worker murdered yesterday, and ask her to dwell on that memory.”

Hermione folded her arms and looked up at Tineagar.  Behind her, she could hear Esther shift slightly in place.  Ever-ready Esther.  “Councilor, a man is dead, and you’re still worried about what I might see.”  She raised her voice to speak over Tineagar’s immediate protests, continuing, “I know this is upsetting, but the Muggles have discovered a principle as inviolable as Gamp’s Law.  It’s called Lorcard’s Principle, and it says that every contact leaves a trace.  Your fingertips leave behind oil or tiny skin flakes on whatever they touch.  A bludger leaves a small fibre of leather when it hits a player.”  In point of fact, certain impervious magical substances left no trace that could be discovered, but that could itself be revealing.

Tineagar had subsided somewhat, but she was still scowling.  “A clever criminal leaves no clues.  And what do you expect to see… a scrap of cloth caught in the package, which turns out to be from my sleeve?”

Hermione blinked rapidly for a moment in surprise.  Oh.  Was Tineagar now worried that she thought it was a false-flag attack by the Council?  She’d missed that.  Maybe her scornful words had been too effective, earlier.

“No,” she said to the American.  “It honestly never occurred to me that you or Councilor Hig could have had anything to do with that.  Now that you mention it, though, it becomes obvious that there probably is at least one Councilor who might benefit by this.  Sorry, I’ve been too focused on things from my perspective… foolish of me.”

Hermione met Tineagar’s gaze, and weighted her expression with every ounce of conviction that was within her.  This woman must know and believe that we are allies in this.  Hermione’s eyes had a message.  It was a message that had won over countless others to her cause, and helped inspire a dozen to devote themselves wholly to her command.   That message was I am become the world, destroyer of Death.  Join me.

“A man was murdered here,” Hermione said.  “Let’s find his killer and punish them, and use every scrap of resources at our command to make that happen.”


Thanks to security concerns and personnel issues that Hermione could completely understand, Hermione, Charlevoix, and Esther were sent to wait at Franklin’s Nez, a tavern popular with magical Boston.  It was a homey place of whitewashed brick walls, heavy oaken tables, and enormous mugs of butterbeer.  It also did a side business in recreational Pensieve-use, or “bobbing.”  It was an expensive form of entertainment -- a Galleon per go -- because Pensieves were expensive and worthwhile memories even moreso.  Hermione assumed that there were probably more illicit versions of the same sort of establishment, that catered to less wholesome demands than memories of skydiving or fighting a giant.  There was at least one such place in Britain, or so she’d guess from a sign in Knockturn Alley (“Billie’s Bobbing Bubbies”).

She drank her butterbeer and spoke quietly with her Returned.  She avoided talking about the investigation -- prying ears everywhere -- and they didn’t speak very much about the States or the Americas, either.  Hermione knew that it made Esther uncomfortable.  She’d been born in Texas, but remembered little that was pleasant about her former home.

They spoke about magical theory, instead.  Charlevoix was interested and Hermione loved discussing the recent research, and it was something to take Esther’s mind off of their surroundings.

“It is insulting, though -- rude, you know? -- to say that these things are not branches of magic,” Charlevoix said, shaking her head.  Her accent put a French edge on every sibilant sound.  “Herbology and magizoology… this must make so many angry.  It is something I cannot understand.”  The witch absently plucked at the silver necklace around her throat with her ruined fingertips.

“I heard that Lord Longbottom introduced a resolution to ban pink in the Wizengamot, as revenge,” Esther said.

“Neville definitely didn’t do that!  But you’re right, I think it irritated a lot of people.  Umbridge’s paper might not even have been worth publishing, since it was just sort of a reclassification of things, rather than anything backed up by experimentation.”  Hermione shrugged.  “But that’s where the Tower School’s thoughts are, these days, along with the Unspeakables working with them.”  The fact that people routinely used “Tower” as an all-inclusive term to refer to the school of higher learning, the medical clinic and research center, or Harry himself, could be annoyingly ambiguous, but everyone made do.

“I don’t see the point,” Esther replied.  She sounded a bit distracted.

“If all magic is essentially just enchantment or transfiguration, with everything else just being the exploration of some property of already-existing objects like the stars or plants, then we might be actually getting closer to figuring out how magic works at its basics.  How does the brain combine with some physical manipulation of the environment to cause changes... even ones that violate physical laws of Muggle science?  And it’s rather clever to think of potions as just a form of enchantment.”  Hermione smiled in spite of her efforts to remain calm.  While Umbridge’s paper had been more of an act of provocation than a usual advance, the whole topic was fascinating.  She actually knew Harry had gone even further, and was talking about possible theories for a single magical interaction at the heart of everything.  It was all fluff and science fiction right now, of course, until they could support any of it with evidence.

She wondered for a moment about Harry.  What was he doing now, trapped in the Tower?  Trapped into being the Tower?  Making someone’s healing permanent?  Working on the slice-boxes?  He seemed to spend more time these days in private, from what she’d seen.  Perhaps too much, since she’d noticed him looking a trifle haggard at times.  He’d changed.

From behind Hermione, there was a thump and a whoosh of warm air.  She saw Esther tense, and Charlevoix raised her eyebrows.  Hermione turned to see Councilor Tineagar approaching them, accompanied by a sweaty-looking man with black hair who was certainly Councilor Hig.  Hig looked flustered and unhappy, but he still smiled when he saw Hermione.

“This must be the Goddess I’ve heard so much about! Your patron swore up and down that you would set my mind at ease about any doubts I might still have about him.  It’s a pleasure.  I’m Reginald Black-Horse Hig.”  Hermione rose from her seat with a motion as fluid as sublimation itself, shaking the man’s hand.  His face was stubbled with coarse black bristles… he must have been too busy to shave.  Not surprising, with recent events.

“I’m sorry we have to meet under these circumstances.”  She gestured at her two companions, who had risen from their seats, as well.  “Councilor, this is Odette Charlevoix and Esther Price, two friends of mine.”

Hig was a smart man, Hermione noted.  He didn’t ask any of the questions that he must have had for the legendary Returned, but simply gave slight bows to the two women.  Harry had been impressed with Hig, even as he described the man as “badly needing to read Montesquieu and Orwell if he was going to have any hope at all.”

“So you think you can figure out some clues that we could not, Limpel says.  Certainly recent advances in transfiguration from the Tower show that Muggle science can bring benefits I’d never have imagined.  So we brought something for you, as you requested.”  Hig gestured at Tineagar, and the witch produced a phial that glowed a faint silver.  Her face was still sour.  “I’ll be interested to learn what good you think this might do.”

“I am skeptical,” said Tineagar, as she offered the phial.  “But I learned a long time ago that others may see things I do not, and I admit you’ve not yet given me any reason to distrust you.”

“My mother taught me to check in every crevice and corner before giving up.  I hope I don’t disappoint,” Hermione said.  It had been a lesson in flossing, but it was still good advice.  She accepted the phial without further ado, and the entire group moved to one of the two smaller adjacent chambers, in which stood a Pensieve.

She poured the memory into the waters of the device.  Thick white vapor welled up, and images began to swirl in the Pensieve.  She dipped in her face.

The scene was chaotic from the moment it began, confused and cloudy in the way of any Pensieve view constructed from only one participant’s memories.  A pair of women, faded and ghostly like overexposed film, ran down a hall of the Alþing towards a door.  Black smoke was pouring out from under the door into the hall, but the women ran towards it anyway.  One of them -- Sybil or Cynthia, Hermione didn’t know -- snatched open the door and ran into the smoke.  Hermione’s Pensieve-self was swept forward into the billows of blackness, and for a moment she could see nothing.  But then she saw the first woman running in towards a mutilated body, bloody and blackened and lying in one corner.  The other just froze in her tracks and began screaming.  Owls were streaming out the open door, leaving behind their ruined cages.  Many lay dead.  Hermione had a long moment, then, when her Pensieve-self could turn in place and look closely around the room.  Some spots were indistinct or faded into nothing, but a majority of the room was visible.  There were some additional clues about the bomb -- useful things to tell the Americans, at any rate.  She could see a metal cap lying near the blasted table where the bomb had been opened, first off… this had been a bomb sealed into a pipe.  Any Muggleborn Brit who paid attention to the news knew something about that, so Hermione at least knew the basic concept.  The only other fragment she noticed was a brownish metal thing with two little wires sticking out of it.  She didn’t recognize it, but it was something to note.

She paused and to stare at the detail she’d noticed earlier.  It was the same.  And the implications, when she reasoned through it...  Her stomach turned, and she felt sick.

With a mental and physical effort, she pushed herself out of the memory, and straightened up from the Pensieve.  She stood blinking for a second, then looked at Hig and Tineagar, who were standing by, impatiently.

“That was… terrible to see, Councilors.  I’m…”  She felt ill, and she paused for a second, staring at the floor.  Esther was at her side in a moment, one arm slightly extended in case her Goddess needed help.  “I’m sorry that happened to you and yours.  I’m sorry that… happened at all.”

“Ms. Granger, are you all right?”  Tineagar asked, gently.  Seeing Hermione’s reaction must have driven some sympathy in her.  “Let’s go back and you can have a seat.  I watched that myself, and you’re right… it is terrible to see.  We need drinks, I think.  Many drinks.”

“Yes,” Hermione said, taking Esther’s hand in her own.  “But there is at least some good news.  I can tell you some things about the device, I think.  I think it was a thing called a ‘pipe bomb’... an amateur device.”

But in her head, even as she spoke, all she could think was: Oh, Harry… no…


Note: You possess all necessary information to solve the puzzle.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles
more so they're all different sexes.
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist
Cell meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per
ticket a ticket costs a nickle and the speeches were free
everybody was angelic and sentimental
about the workers it was all so sincere you
have no idea what a good thing the party was
in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a
real mensch Mother Bloor the Silk-strikers'
Ewig-Weibliche made me cry once I saw the
Yiddish orator Israel Amter plain. Everybody
must have been a spy.
America you don't really want to go to war.
      -- Allen Ginsberg