06 June 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Ten: What Is Beautiful Is Good



Significant Digits, Chapter Ten: What Is Beautiful Is Good


Suppose a person to make all kinds of figures of gold and to be always remodeling each form into all the rest; somebody points to one of them and asks what it is.

By far the safest and truest answer is, 'That is gold,' and not to call the triangle or any other figures which are formed in the gold 'these things,' as though they had existence, since they are in process of change while he is making the assertion, but if the questioner be willing to take the safe and indefinite expression, 'such stuff,' we should be satisfied.

And the same argument applies to the universal nature which receives all bodies--that must be always called the same, for, inasmuch as she always receives all things, she never departs at all from her own nature and never, in any way or at any time, assumes a form like that of any of the things which enter into her; she is the natural recipient of all impressions, and is stirred and informed by them, and appears different from time to time by reason of them.

But the forms which enter into and go out of her are the likenesses of eternal realities modeled after their patterns in a wonderful and mysterious manner, which we will hereafter investigate.

For the present we have only to conceive of three natures: first, that which is in process of generation; secondly, that in which the generation takes place; and thirdly, that of which the thing generated is a resemblance naturally produced.

 -Plato, Timaeus

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

Notice of Alterations in Practical Enforcement of the Guidelines for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans in the Environs of Magical Britain
Ministry of Magic
September 2nd, 1994

This notice is to inform the public that the duly elected Government of Magical Britain has determined that all Veela, Centaurs, Merfolk, Goblins, Vampires, Hags, and Elves (hereafter Non-Violent Beings) within the environs of Magical Britain shall henceforth be held responsible for both the spirit and the letter of the Guidelines for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans, as established by Minister Muldoon and revised by Minister Stump.  These Guidelines state without qualification that Beings have  “sufficient intelligence to understand the laws of the magical community,” and specifies that they shall “bear part of the responsibility in shaping those laws.”  Non-Violent Beings shall henceforth be given opportunity to fulfill this duty.

Accordingly, measures will soon be taken by the Being Department, formerly a division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, to liaise with representatives of different Being communities within the boundaries of Britain and begin the process of establishing formal guidelines as to the governance of those communities, and the procedures by which they will be represented by Tribunes of the Wizengamot.  Inquiries regarding this process should be directed to the Being Division at the Ministry of Magic.  Inquiries regarding the rights and responsibilities of a Tribune may be answered by reference to the Suffrage Decree of 1993 (Three Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Session); further inquiries should be directed to the office of the Chief Warlock at the Ministry of Magic.   Every attempt will be made to contact every sizeable grouping of the designated Non-Violent Beings and establish some system by which the franchise may be extended to them in an orderly manner.

Public postings of this notice shall be on display in the following locations: the Ministry of Magic, Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, Hogsmeade, Godric’s Hollow, Dublin, Helga's Roost, Ackle and Curd, the Hogwarts kitchens and all Noble House manors, the Nutcombe Society, and the Salor Sprig in the Forbidden Forest of Hogwarts.
Chatterlings with readings of this notice will be posted in the Black Lake and Loch Lomond.

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

March 13th, 1999
A small trunk, Tidewater, Boston

Now we find ourselves in a curious space, somewhere in the magical suburb of Boston known as Tidewater.  This place is a small room with wooden paneling, warmly lit by smokeless candles.  A large wooden table dominates the room, along with the chairs that surround it.  A half-dozen gadgets sit in the center of the table: those wonderful but unreliable Dark Detectors.  A trio of oval mirrors, mounted irregularly and filled with the indistinct faces of baleful foes.  A brightly-painted red-and-white top, trembling in place every few moments.  A mouthful of teeth, yellowed with age, set in a neat row on a metal stand.  There’s even a rare and unusual Aeolian Warp, a wooden sphere which made a constant but nearly inaudible whistle, powered by the presence of nearby life.  Dark Detectors can be fooled, but it takes some trouble.  There’s no good reason not to have them around.

With the amount of warding on this small room, one would honestly expect some sort of change in the atmosphere.  But there is no hum of power or staleness to the air -- no goosebumps on your arm.  To the mundane observer, there is nothing to show that every inch of this room is thick with wards to prevent eavesdropping or intrusion.

Perhaps we should say a word about this room, the Mobile Mary.

Now, it has to be admitted that Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres has many clever ideas.  We might not say it in front of him, since it would be awkward, but he is an ocean away: we can safely praise him without risking an uncomfortable silence.  Even if Harry had spent his life in the Muggle world, it seems certain that his erudition, creativity, unorthodox approaches, and critical thinking would have led to some considerable accomplishments and innovative notions.  But in addition to his native ability and the intellectual powers carved into him by a certain Dark Lord, Harry has also been able to wield the might of a whole worldwide Muggle civilization.  So he has many clever ideas.

Not all of his ideas work, and not all of his scoffing is well-founded.  For every instance in which he has thought to put a protective covering around a Time-Turner, there has been another occasion on which he went crashing full-tilt into Chesterton’s Fence -- so to speak -- and looked quite silly.  Chesterton’s Fence is a useful principle suggesting that if you do not understand the purpose of something that seems useless or wrong or insane, you should probably take the time to find out the intentions behind it.  It is unlikely that the thing in question happened by chance, after all.  Harry has a hard time with this principle.

There are spells which create insects or birds or snakes, for example.  And there are other spells which duplicate anything they touch at a frenetic rate.  So why not, young Harry asked in his second year, combine these two principles to make a shield of living and expanding life to block the Killing Curse?  Avada Kedavra cannot be blocked, but it does stop when it hits anything with a brain (tests are ongoing about how many ganglia are needed before a creature counts as having a “brain,” but progress is slow: it’s hard to hate fruit flies).  So block the unblockable curse with a shield of tiny brains!

But of course, this doesn’t work, because conjured creatures do not count as living for any magical purpose.  And after Madame Bones and the hulking blonde woman named Alastor Moody had stopped laughing, they explained that neither they nor their predecessors in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement were quite so stupid as to miss that one.  In fact, almost a hundred years ago the DMLE had devoted the efforts of a dozen aurors to trying to Transfigure living brain tissue as a shield; far more practical and in line with dueling tactics than a shield-swarm of birds, but it didn’t work, either.  Abandoned in 1930.  So: a cute idea with the salamanders, young Harry, but no.

All that having been said, nonetheless Harry often does have clever ideas.  The Mobile Mary is one of them -- a permanently secure meeting room that can be carried around with you.  The Returned have used it on occasion, when they might be observed and when there were enough of them to make it worthwhile.  We can probably credit this particular bit of inventiveness to the Muggle spirit of entrepreneurship; wizards and witches are used to the same age-old buildings and communities and fortresses, and are perhaps too accustomed to living in a lesser age of magic.

This particular Mobile Mary has a metallic scent of sweat and excitement that the Fresh Air Charm can’t quite overcome with its light minty breeze.  Five witches, one wizard, and a goblin are all sitting at the table: Hermione, Susie, Hyori, Simon, Esther, Charlevoix, and Urg.  All of them but one have a dullness to their gaze -- not tired or even sad, but broken in a way not easily mended.  Still, they are calm and pleasant as they all discuss the findings of their investigations of the bombing murder of one Tarleton Gest.

As you remember, Susie and Hyori had gone to investigate the victim’s friend, Bill Kemp, the young man who had identified the body and who had been hired with him.  Susie is a dark-haired and voluptuous woman, a hundred years of age and thirty years by appearance, who was once given two years in Azkaban for the unlicensed production of portkeys and trafficking in fraudulent potions.  It was an unjustly harsh sentence.  Hyori, on the other hand, a slight woman of Korean descent with long bangs before her eyes, was imprisoned for murder aforethought.  The justice of that is in dispute.  Both ladies are members of the Returned, servants of Hermione Atrytone.

Observe.

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

“There was nothing out of the ordinary about Kemp,” Susie said.  Hermione listened, leaning her chin on one hand.  “Perfectly normal fellow, although not very polite.  Could do with a bath or with a better quality of tobacco, perhaps.”

“Stank,” agreed Hyori, flatly.

“I went to that skeevy little potion shop here and bought a few bottles, and then knocked on his door as though to sell them,” Susie said.  She rummaged around inside of one pocket of her robes to produce two bottles of sparkling amber-coloured Diamondraught, clanking them onto the table in front of her.  “Used to do that sort of thing quite often, as a decent cover.  No go, but Hyori was able to nip around back and check for wards.”

“None,” affirmed Hyori.  She gave a little shake of her head to clear the tips of her hair from her eyelashes.

Susie nodded.  “I chatted him up, standing a bit away since he smelled quite unpleasant.  But nothing seemed off.  We watched for a few hours, but there doesn’t seem to be anything there.”

“Sorry,” Hyori said, shrugging.

“Thank you, ladies.  Do you think we should keep eyes on him?” Hermione asked.  She didn’t have many people to spare, but she desperately wanted to solve this conclusively.  The possibilities were so unsettling -- even the possibility that Harry… well, she wanted this matter investigated to a certainty, anyway.

“Doesn’t seem worth it,” Susie said, looking thoughtful.  “He’d remember a luscious bint like me, and Hyori, you, Charlevoix, and Urg stand out too much, and Esther is famous here.  That would just leave Simon or Tonks, and I think we’d best have them with us if we get into a spot.  Plus, it’s not like he’s going anywhere, so if we need to do, we can pop on back and get on him.  He’s got a job and all, and if it’s someone all Polyjuiced they’ll probably keep their cover if they think they got away with it.  So all’s said and done, no, I think we’d best leave him be and get on with it.”

Hermione looked at Hyori, who said nothing and only shook her head in agreement with her talkative companion.

“What did the Council say?” asked Urg.  The warrior-goblin had a strong Gobbledegook accent, his native tongue putting a guttural rattle on the velar consonant sounds at the start of “what” and “council.”  It was mildly distracting, but they were all used to it.  He had only arrived an hour before the meeting, but they’d already caught him up.

“The main person in charge there, Councilor Hig, seemed okay with all this.  He seems… well, he seems like he’s on our side, frankly,” Hermione said, pursing her lips.

Simon and Urg both started to speak at once, and there was a moment of politeness as they each paused.  Simon continued, after a second, and said, “But the Americas helped kill the Statute when we tried to put it through!”  The big Scot was irritated.  All of the Returned had taken that defeat badly.   It had no provisions against torture or Dementors, per se, but it would have been a step forward to their worldwide elimination.  Not one more minute.

“Things change,” Hermione replied.  “From what I understand, he didn’t trust Harry--”  There were glances around the table among the rest at that statement; the Returned didn’t trust the Tower very much, either.  “--and he misunderstood what we do.  But Harry said something that convinced them to reconsider him, and as for me... having met with him and Councilor Tineagar twice now, and spent some time speaking with each of them, I think they’re coming around.”  Esther, who had gone along with her to the Alþing, nodded.

She didn’t say anything about her supernatural aura, which they all already knew might have had something to do with Hig’s warming attitude towards the Tower and Goddess.  There were defenses and alarms that experienced wizards could deploy to stop the influence of Veela or Hags, but there was no known way to defend yourself from the air of innocence and trust exuded by unicorns and Hermione alone.  Unicorns had simply never been weaponized effectively or frequently, and so there had never been cause.  It made her more persuasive, because people let down their instinctive defenses… she liked to think it made them more open to reason, and that it was only a supernatural equivalent to dressing well or wearing pleasant scents.  It was the halo effect.

It was an old theory, and some psychologists (Dion, Berscheid, and Walster, her brain automatically supplied) had done detailed studies of the effect as far back as 1972, so it was old hat to Muggle science.  Test subjects were told that their perceptiveness was being measured, and shown photographs that ranged in attractiveness.  They were asked to rate the subjects of the photos in a wide variety of personality traits, based on nothing more than the pictures.  In that study, and many replications along different lines, people had demonstrated a remarkable willingness to judge the virtue, intelligence, and sociability of complete strangers based entirely on their appearance -- and pretty people were often judged to be good, smart, and pleasant.  The fairness of the halo effect was harder to untangle (maybe pretty people really did tend to be more pleasant, since people were more likely to be nice to them?) but it was hard to ignore its existence.  Especially since Hermione’s halo effect was super-charged.  She always felt a little guilty about it, but she would have felt more guilty if she hadn’t used it.

Hermione absently twirled her wand over her knuckles, twitching her fingers minutely to make it spin and dance, as she turned back to Urg and added, “I believe that representatives from Ackle might also have had something to do with his attitude… it is known that Hig stopped in Gringotts while he was in London, and I would bet he’s taken steps to verify the good things he’s been hearing about our work with Beings.”  Hearing from his global network of information-filching devices, she thought with annoyance.  I wonder how he listens in on the merfolk or the centaurs?  Are there magical microphone fish?  The Protean Charm doesn’t work within extended spaces like the Mobile Mary, but there doesn’t seem to be any range limit otherwise, but those Beings don’t buy much of anything… what would he bug?

Urg nodded in satisfaction.  A goblin with a wand… he was a living symbol of the progress they had made, although he virtually never used it.

“Simon, Charlevoix?”  Hermione asked.  They had gone to investigate Tarleton’s boarding house.

“The family had already cleaned out the boy’s room,” Simon said.  “It looked like an anchorite’s cell by the time we got there.  We spoke to the landlord and neighbors, and some friends.  Seems like he was just like the friend -- nothing out of the ordinary about him.  They’d both left school only a few years ago, spent some time abroad on holiday -- the Caucasus, I think they said -- and found a job with the Council when they came back.  We didn’t go speak to the family… it felt like it would have been too much.”  Simon was a thick man, with a chest like a barrel and curly black hair.  His eyes looked tired and flat, as though a twinkle had been weighed down by sorrow, pressed out of existence like a stray spark.

Looking at Simon, Hermione felt a twinge as she wondered what might have been, if he hadn’t been an alcoholic, or if the wizarding world took that sort of thing seriously, or if he hadn’t lost his temper in the Wizengamot.  Oh Simon, my Simon… what were you like?  Were you a roaring and jolly man?  Did you kiss your mum on the cheek, every time you saw her?  Did you catch up a small dog in those big hands, petting its head with one thumb as you drank a cuppa in the morning?

“You did the right thing, Simon,” Hermione said.  He looked back at her, and nodded, eyes flat.  Charlevoix sat quietly, and seemed to have nothing to add when Hermione glanced at her.

“Well, that leaves us nowhere,” Hermione continued with a sigh.  “We should plan our second round of investigation… where can we best devote our resources?  Let’s list all the possibilities and try to be creative with our options, before we decide on any plan.”  She pulled out a notebook and pencil from a pocket of her robes, flipping to a fresh sheet.  “As near as I can see, there are a few ways we can look at this.  We can go back to the Alþing and take a look at the bombing scene, and see if maybe we missed any pieces of the bomb on the first pass.  We might be able to trace that back to its origin.  I can review the memory of the bombing, as well, if Tineagar will let me.”  She started making a list, pencil scratching on the paper with a comforting sound of industriousness.  “We can approach Tarleton’s family, and look into his background a little more -- maybe even examine his ashes.  We can see about whether or not Hig might let us look at some of their intelligence from conversations nearby… maybe they have it sorted geographically or something.”  She paused.  “He might not want us to do that, so we should also consider other options there.”

She wrote quickly.  The Returned were all silent, so she encouraged them, glancing up with a warm smile of fondness.  “Come on, everyone.  Don’t worry about whether or not your ideas seem good or bad or silly or impossible, we’re just coming up with all the options we can.  I know that you c-can--”

A quiet bubbling sound inside of her mind interrupted Hermione, and she stuttered over the last word.  It was the soft fizz of freshly-poured butterbeer, and not unpleasant.  She put down her pencil and reached inside of her robes again, pulling out her pocket mirror.  She held it up in front of her, saying, “Hello?”  Just like answering a telephone, if a phone could ring inside your head.

An image of Tonks appeared.  Well, the chin of Tonks.  “Lemon sherbert, let me in!” she said, chirpily.

Hermione looked at Esther and nodded, and the American hopped up from her seat and went to the door, opening it.  Tonks tripped in, smiling, her hair multicolored and her features in their typical arrangement.  Probably not her native appearance, but it was the face she usually wore.

“Did I arrive at a good dramatic moment?”  Tonks asked.  “Were you breaking something and shouting about how we hadn’t found anything, and shaking your fist at the sky?”

Hermione rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair.  “Did you find anything on your mysterious mission, which was doubtless silly and reckless?”

“I never get to make surprise entrances with all our security,” Tonks said with a huff as she sat in one of the chairs and slumped forward onto the table, dramatically.  She was in a flagrantly good mood, and so she’d clearly found something.  “I’m going to start eating six meals a day until I gain enough weight to do a good Simon, and then I’ll surprise you.”

“Tonks.”  Hermione said, her mouth twisting into a smile despite herself.

“Well-o, well-o… I guess I did find something,” Tonks said, tilting her head to the side to lie flat on the table, and examining the nails of one hand as they grew a centimeter.  “I mean, if you’re interested in secret mysterious meetings.”

Hermione waited, patiently, the smile still on her face.  Hyori crossed her arms, scowling.

“I followed everyone around,” Tonks said, “And just watched for the people who were following you lot.  Madame Bones always says that ‘watching someone is a message to itself,’ and so I watched for whoever else was watching.  Once I found which of you had two people following you, instead of just one, I knew where to look more closely.”

“...since you knew it wasn’t just the Council following that person,” Hermione said, slowly.  Tonks nodded vigorously.  “But how did you know the Council didn’t just have extra people watching one pair of us, for whatever reason?”

Tonks looked enormously pleased with herself, and Hermione knew she’d been waiting for that question.  The metamorphmagus smiled and said, “The shoes.  Almost no one ever remembers to disguise their shoes properly when they’re out and about, being all secret and spying.  It’s one of the things you only notice when you’re always looking at people to copy bits of them, like me.  So when I saw one of the two spies in a pair of Twilfitt and Tattings’ court shoes, I knew something odd was up.”

Hermione was impressed.  A bit thin, but a clever way to find a new lead.  Didn’t I read that in something about the Cold War?  Either way, I’ll have to remember this.  Well, of course she’d remember it, since Tonks was going to revel in this triumph for months.

“After that,” Tonks said, “it was easy enough to follow that guy back to a little rough alley, somewhere near the docks.  I don’t know exactly where, but I marked it down.  And he went into a dingy little pub, and I went in after him, and saw him go into a back room behind a curtain.  I could only get a peek into the room, but I could see what was what, right enough.  Fancy door, giant gold doorknob, and three pedestals with fiddly things on them.  Textbook secret entrance.”

Oh.  Disappointing.  “Tonks, we’re in Tidewater.  The base rate for secret entrances -- I mean, given where we are, any secret entrance is more likely to go to some club, or a Westphalian hideout, or even just a creepy place for randy old men.”

“That curtain you go through?” Tonks said.  “Green and silver, decorated with a snake.”

Still not solid.  A little sloppy.  But suspicious.  How do we go in?  It’d be quiet to go in alone, or with just one person.  No, that’s silly.  If it’s not the Malfoy group, if it’s just a nogtail-fighting ring, then there’s no loss in going in force.  And if it is the Malfoys -- why hang up a sign advertising your secret hideout? -- then it’s probably a trap (definitely a trap) so it makes even more sense to go in force.

“Tonks, take us.  Charlevoix, contact Harry.  Tell him everything we’ve done, and where we’re going.  Everyone else: gauntlets on.  If this isn’t nothing, then it’s probably a trap.”  If Harry is behind this, and he probably isn’t, then he already knows about this place.  If he isn’t involved, then it’d be stupid not to have told him that we were doing a Light Brigade charge into a probable trap.

They all stood up.  Almost as one, they reached into robes or pouches and withdrew a golden metal gauntlet; Urg withdrew two.  The gauntlets seemed to have no angles to them, except along the ridges of the knuckles; the metal of their composition was so shiny that it seemed to defy brute existence.  They were loaded, the small boxes of their chargers embedded into the sockets in a line along the back of the hand.  Their fit was impossibly perfect, and they flashed with imminent puissance.

“Save one life,” Urg rattled.  They marched out the door.










秋風の
鑓戸の口や
とがり声

Рiping autumn wind
blows with wild piercing voice
through the sliding door

      -- Basho

1 comment:

  1. Quirrell is the one who said that the killing curse works on anything with a brain. McGonagall and Moody both said that the killing curse strikes at the soul, and this is likely what most everyone else believes. With that in mind, using transfigured brain matter to block the killing curse doesn't seem like something they would think to try or expect to work. To them, the reason why transfigured brain matter and magically created animals don't block the killing curse is obvious; it takes more than common magic to create something with a soul.

    ReplyDelete