11 July 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirteen: Pip's Day Out



Significant Digits, Chapter Thirteen: Pip's Day Out


GRANGER ON AMERICAN TOUR: ‘A LOVELY HOLIDAY IN THE STATES’
- Daily Prophet headline for March 14th, 1999

STATES IN TREATY TALKS
- Daily Prophet headline for March 16th, 1999

LONDON EUPHORIC RING EXPOSED
- Daily Prophet headline for March 17th, 1999

LINNAEAN LUNACY: LOVEGOOD ACCUSED OF SMUGGLING 4X BEASTS
- Daily Prophet headline for March 20th, 1999

TREATY FAILS IN USA: RISING SUPPORT FOR ‘HONOURABLE’
- Daily Prophet headline for March 30th, 1999

AFRICAN SWEEP: NIGERIA, FREE STATES IN TREATY
- Daily Prophet headline for April 1st, 1999

BULSTRODE ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH DIAGON BOMBING
- Daily Prophet headline for April 2nd, 1999

BULSTRODE GOES BEFORE WIZENGAMOT: CARROW: ‘SHALLOW POLITICAL PLOY’
- Daily Prophet headline for April 3rd, 1999

BULSTRODE RELEASED: N’GOMA: ‘KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT ANYTHING.’
- Daily Prophet headline for April 4th, 1999

TOWER TO OPEN FOR SQUIBS
- Daily Prophet headline for April 5th, 1999

TREATY SURPRISE: WESTPHALIA REOPENS ISSUE WITH NEW DEMANDS
- Daily Prophet headline for April 6th, 1999

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

April 7th, 1999
5:30 a.m.
Outskirts of Curd, Tipperary, Ireland

Pip kept up a quick step as he walked down the winding path that led to Curd.  He tried to look smart, with his head high and shoulders back.  He was a representative of the Government of magical Britain and of the Tower, and he had to look the part.  Considering how busy things were going to be back at the Tower, he should thank his lucky stars to be out on delivery duty, anyway.

He’d been here before, on similar errands.  The cobblestone path was not very well-maintained, since it was only used by the relatively few wizards and witches who visited the city.  You weren’t allowed to Apparate or fly directly into Curd; you had to go to a “welcome platform” (a cleared dirt area a half-mile away from the city) and then walk down the “welcome path” (on which rough cobblestones you might stub your toe) through the “welcome gate” (which crawled with wards and precautions).  Considering the names of everything, he thought sourly, it wasn’t very ruddy welcoming at all.

There was a chill in the air at this early hour.  It felt pleasant on Pip’s face, since it didn’t touch the rest of him thanks to a Warming Charm.  It reminded him of something he could remember his dad liked to say, quoting from a book and tugging on his beard with solemnity: “There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.”  Pip felt vaguely guilty at the thought.  He’d never been much for reading, and particularly not Muggle books.  He really should try to read something this month -- a real book, not just The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle.  Wasn’t there a new Lockhart out?  He’d liked the vampire one.

Curd lay before him -- the town of towers.  Low sandstone buildings with sloping walls were all topped with at least one conical tower.  None of the towers were very high.  Pip supposed that was probably because the gobbies couldn’t build Floo networks, and it would be a bother to go up and down a lot of stairs.  Maybe that would change, soon.

Pip sighed as he marched down the path.  The town looked like it had been made out of a child’s toy blocks.

A few minutes along, he was finally nearing the outskirts.  He passed a pair of guards sitting in a small pavilion next to the welcome gate, and nodded to them with great dignity as he passed through.  The two goblins were armored in silver plate: cuirass, cuisses, and vambraces.  They didn’t wear any helmets, so he could see them grin horribly at him.  Their short spears sat on a rack nearby, but they didn’t even bother to get up.  Maybe they recognized him -- Pip had a bit of trouble telling goblins apart (except for Podrut in Material Methods, who had a distinctive notch in his right ear), but the goblins never seemed to have the same problem with humans.

Wait, should he have said something to them?  He’d just nodded to them and hadn’t said anything.  They hadn’t looked bothered, though.  Just bored.  But he didn’t want them to think he was rude, or that the Tower was rude, or anything.  J.C. had said that goblins valued truth more than anything, and that they were suspicious of politeness, but Pip thought that was probably just something they wanted everyone to think.  It probably made people trust Gringott’s more.  Although J.C. did seem like she would know, as a senior auror -- she was all sharp edges and grimness.  Plus he’d heard that she had some gobbie blood.  But that might just be one of the rumors probies passed around during training, on account of her wide mouth and the largish ears that poked out of her curly black hair, and because she was so skinny.  It could be true, but there were rumors like that about everyone who was even a little different.  Tall people had giantish ancestry, pretty people had veela ancestry, people with bad teeth had mermish ancestry… Silly, really.  When he’d been stationed in Nurmengard, there had been a German auror with really red hair, and he’d heard someone whisper with complete seriousness that she had phoenix ancestry, which didn’t even make any sense.  That would have meant that someone had been with a phoenix at some point, and then… what, hatched a baby with it?  It was as silly and weird as when people said that the Goddess had unicorn ancestry.

Oh, Merlin.  He’d forgotten about the guards.  Well, he’d gone way too far to turn back and say anything now.

Pip stepped off the welcome path onto the large flagstones of Curd’s streets.  An extremely obese goblin man wheeling a little cart squinted at him suspiciously, but said nothing.  Not a friendly lot, here.

Okay, so let’s see… he needed to go down this street, and then left at the bronze statue of the angry goblin with his fist raised (Crad the Callow, Pip thought it was), then another left at the town market, and then straight on to the Burgod Bur.  That was where they put up notices and delivered regulations, and Pip had a stack of them.

Goblin names were a nightmare, really.  He didn’t know how they kept it sorted out.  Curd’s government was in the Burgod Bur, while Ackle’s was in the Urgod Ur, and if you confused those they thought it was really funny even though they sounded almost identical to humans.  And they kept using the same names with no surname: the Chief Goldsmith of Gringotts right now was Haddad, not to be confused with Haddad the Silent or Haddad the Hallowed from goblin history (wait, was it Hodrod the Hallowed?).  And all the buildings were called things like Poddle Pol, Sugworn Sug, Togrigworn Tog, and whatnot.  Impossible to keep them straight!  He knew that the way place-name syllables were repeated meant something about the purpose of the building, but he’d never been much for Gobbledegook.  It all just sounded silly to him, instead… like the babbling of a baby.

Pip followed the street, glancing around as he walked.  Part of the reason they did this by hand, instead of by owl, was that it gave them a chance to take a look at things.  Tourism in Curd or Ackle was discouraged, and so the only way to keep tabs on the goblins was with regular official visits.  Pip knew that they’d been a lot more intrusive in the past, with wizarding inspectors and regulators and so on, always barging in on the gobbies and making sure everything was on the up-and-up.  That made sense to him, since every witch and wizard knew how violent they could be.  But that had all been scaled back over the past few years -- partly as part of the new cooperative arrangements that the Ministry had made (putting the Tribunes in the Wizengamot), and partly because so many government employees had been sacked.

All the layoffs had brought down Minister for Magic Junius Simplewort Smith (although thankfully not Senior Undersecretary Weasley, who Pip thought was a good bloke), but no one was hired back, even under new Minister for Magic Carmel N’goma.  Even if the Ministry wanted to start poking their noses into goblin business all the time, like they used to do, they probably wouldn’t have the staff.  The sacked inspectors and bureaucrats had all been offered training and loans to start new businesses, and most everyone had moved on with their lives (well, except for those who had started supporting the Malfoys).

The statue of Crad the Callow was in sight, and Pip walked past it and turned left.  He wasn’t sure why ol’ Crad had a statue -- the inscription was in Gobbledegook -- but he assumed it was probably because of some rebellion or another.  Professor Binns had droned on for hours about the rebellions, when Pip was in school.

Pip turned left again once he reached the market, which was almost deserted at this hour.  The handful of vendors pulling canvas covers off of their carts and tables paid him no mind except for an occasional glare.  Honestly, Pip couldn’t help but think gobbies were an ungrateful lot.  Goblins controlled a third of the money in the entire country through Gringotts (which bank they’d taken from wizards only a century and a half ago), and he knew they used that power all the time to help themselves out.  Further, the Wand Ban had been repealed, and now they were allowed to legally buy and use wands.  They’d even been given a seat on the Wizengamot with that Suffrage Decree, six years ago!  You’d think they’d show a little gratitude towards wizards and witches, these days, considering what had been done for them.

The Burgod Bur wasn’t very impressive… just another sandstone building with slotted windows and a tower.  There was Gobbledegook carved in above the door, and a pair of guards, but it was otherwise indistinguishable from most other Curdish buildings.  It’s odd… Gringotts was a beautiful building of white marble, with Greek columns and bronze doors and glittering lamps.  But Curd and Ackle were both very plain places.  Pip did have to admit that he’d seen very little of the two goblin settlements, but even with his limited perspective, there was a clear disjunction between them and the bank.

Pip gave the armored guards a nod as he walked in.  These were more attentive, but they just nodded their helmeted heads in return.  They were each armed with fancy golden partisans which probably had long names and thousand-year-histories, and which probably cost ten times as much as Pip’s house.

A goblin in a dapper black suit stood just inside the Burgod Bur, and stepped forward as Pip approached.  Pip thought he recognized the goblin, but it was hard to be sure...  He hesitated slightly, then risked a greeting:  “Hullo, Nagrod.”

The goblin smiled toothily and bowed slightly.  “Auror Pirrip.  What a surprise to see you!”  Almost certainly a lie -- Nagrod was very good at his job.  Pip wasn’t entirely sure what that job actually was, but it was bloody well clear at this point that some large part of it involved knowing the name, purpose, history, and shoe size of every visitor to Curd.

“Well, they need someone to plod on out with these things,” Pip said.  He unbuckled the slicebox at his belt and reached inside, pulling out a sheaf of parchment.  “A new decree from the Wizengamot and a new rejuvenation policy from the Tower.”

“Ah, the two pillars of your society, handing down rules to us,” Nagrod said, managing to sound completely neutral.  “May I ask?”

Pip handed the sheaf over to the goblin.  “The new decree is not very interesting.  Guess that’s both bad news and good news.  It’s just about extending the Floo Network.”

Until recently, the Government had always declined to put the settlements of any Beings on the network, but they’d decided to reverse that policy and offer the services of the Floo Network Authority to anyone who requested it, Beings included.  Here in Curd, that meant they could connect with places like Dublin or Helga’s Roost, if they so desired.  That might make travel to England somewhat easier, since they could Floo to Dublin and then buy a portkey.

“Must have been quite the stir in Ackle over this, though,” Nagrod said, taking the parchments.  “Will the heirs of Togrod Teulu be putting themselves one fireplace away from the Ministry, I wonder?”

Pip didn’t venture a comment on that, since that sounded like gobbie politics.  He buckled the slicebox back on his belt, instead, fixing the thin wooden box back in place.  It had been his suggestion to use them for carrying parchment.  Well, not so much his deliberate suggestion… he’d just assumed that was their purpose, and so he’d asked for one at the DMLE when they gave him this assignment, yesterday.  Chief Auror Diggory hadn’t known what he was talking about, but Pip had gone back to the Tower and asked around, and Mr. Potter himself had been delighted by the idea.  He’d called them an unintentional byproduct of testing, and said that they had loads of the useless things, and that Pip was a genius.  Pip had told his mother about it, and she’d baked him a Whirlibird Cake to celebrate.

Nagrod glanced over the first few sheets, before looking back up.  The goblin’s long nose was crooked at the arch, and looked more like a hawk’s beak than a nose.  He blinked owlishly for a moment, then asked Pip, “And what news from the Tower?”

“Even less exciting for you, I’m afraid.  They’re opening up rejuvenation to Muggles.  Direct relatives and Squibs and all that.”  Pip shrugged.

This would be big news in London, Godric’s Hollow, and other human settlements… but less so for Beings, who were already enjoying the benefits of rejuvenation and Safety Poles.  Madame Bones had put precautions in place to make sure everything went in an orderly fashion; there were going to be special groups of aurors stationed at the Poles, in addition to the normal pairs of clinic workers who manned those stations, to make sure that the Tower didn’t get mobbed as it first opened its doors to Muggles.  It was still only a small fraction of Muggles, but there was always a rush whenever any new group was allowed to rejuvenate.  When British merfolk signed on to the Treaty for Health and Life in late 1997, Pip had heard that they were shipping in water tanks of old and sick and dying half-people from the Black Lake and Loch Lomond for a solid two days.  Before his time in the Tower, of course, but the other aurors talked about it (mostly because of the smell).

“This will be a busy day for you, then,” Nagrod said.  He lowered the sheaf of papers, after looking carefully for any surprises.  “What is a ‘direct relative,’ though?  Mother, brother, uncle, grandfather, cousin, brother-in-law, second cousin twice removed… you will be having many arguments about this.”

“Not me… at least, not today,” Pip said, brightly.  “I’m out on delivery, all day.  Here, Dublin, and Helga’s Roost, then over to Godric’s Hollow and Ackle and down to Wales and all over London.”  His list of destinations was a long one… these decrees went out to every sizeable community in Britain.  “And anyway, they spell out who’s eligible, but they’re usually really soft about that kind of thing.  Anyone who’s seriously hurt… they whisk them right in, as fast as they can.”
“Really..?  How interesting… say, where else are you heading, today?” Nagrod said, thoughtfully.  Pip didn’t like where this was going, and he’d spent enough time here.  He still had that bloody long walk back to the  “welcome platform.”  And honestly, what sort of question was that?  Was Nagrod trying to chat him up?

Pip briefly considered what that would be like, and then cleared his throat loudly.  “Yes, well, I better be going.  You’ll put those up, will you?”  he said, uncomfortably.

“It would be my pleasure, Auror Pip,” Nagrod said, smiling widely.  Sharp little teeth shone whitely from behind thick little lips.

Pip nodded firmly and -- he hoped -- professionally, and got out of there.  Today was going to be a long day, full of cryptic conversations, he could tell already.

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

April 7th, 1999
3:01 p.m.
Diagon Alley, London, England

“Three Galleons, young man.  Final offer.  That’s a great deal of money for just a few minutes of discomfort,” said Jerina.  “You won’t even feel it… it’ll be numb as a stone.  Then a very quick turn of the knife, and it’ll be done in moments.  Two spells later, you’ll be walking out of here just as you came in, only with quite a bit more coin.  Likho will be right here… she’ll watch and make sure it’s done right.  And this knife is as sharp as a razor.”

“No, thank you, ma’am,” Pip said, as pleasantly and courteously as possible under the circumstances.  One did not trifle with a hag, even a Nutcombe hag.  Even if you were an auror and you were there on official business.  No trifling.  “I apologize, but I think it would make me uncomfortable, and I must decline.”

“It’s a waste, is all,” said Jerina, sadly.  “Young fellow like you, athletic type… good calves.  Firm and lean.  Four Galleons.”

“Jerina,” said Likho, warningly.  The elder hag stood nearby, arms crossed.  Stout almost to the point of obesity, with a spine that twisted into a hump and greyish skin, Likho was firm with her flock.  Two long yellow teeth jutted up past her stern lips.

Jerina grimaced, scrunching up her wart-covered face in suffering.

Pip had seen a play once about an Italian named Ugolino.  The leading actor had torn at his clothes and howled at the sky and beat the ground with his fists.  He had wept until his eyes looked raw and his mouth was a round “O” of unhappiness.  And yet there was far more pain in Jerina’s expression right at this moment, twisted in agony and need, as she begged to be allowed to eat his flesh.

He almost agreed, just to give her some relief.

“Jerina…” Likho repeated, and the younger hag turned away, slamming her fists down against her legs.  Jerina stalked away, out of the parlor and out of sight.  Pip didn’t permit himself a sigh or a change in posture, but kept a pleasant smile stiffly pasted on his mouth.  His cheeks hurt from maintaining it.

Likho watched Jerina go, then turned to Pip.  “I apologize, Auror Pirrip.  She is young, and it is difficult.”

“I understand, ma’am, and accept your apology,” he said.  Did that sound false?  Damn it, Pip… Be sincere be sincere be sincere be sincere…  “I hope that Miss Jerina soon feels better.”

Likho nodded absently, turning to look back at where Jerina had gone.  The older hag’s eyes were a tawny and beautiful gold, quite out of keeping with the rest of her physical hideousness.  Pip had read that a hag’s eyes were always blood-red -- like Jerina’s -- but he supposed that the effect must be a result of Likho’s abstinence from human meat.  She was famously self-controlled, which was why she led the Nutcombe Society.

“Tell me, Auror Pirrip, about the Tower,” Likho said to him.  “Tell me about the man.  I’ve met him, twice, but only on formal occasions.  What sort of man is he?”

Pip thought carefully -- very carefully -- for a moment, then said, “Well, ma’am, he’s very strange… very much in his own head.  He makes jokes that no one understands, like calling aurors ‘red shirts.’  And I think he’s a little lonely.  But maybe that’s like most people in power.”  He considered for another long moment.  He didn’t want to give a bad impression of Mr. Potter.  But neither was he going to lie or dissemble.  Not here.  No trifling.  “I think probably the most important thing about him is that he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Likho nodded, and Pip got the impression that she was no longer paying attention.  Hags could see things that no one else could see.  It wasn’t the future, exactly…  They just seemed to reach bizarre and inexplicable conclusions -- some of which ended up being eerily efficacious, while others... well, one famous hag had insisted that she was meant to be married to a teenage boy that she’d just met.  That had made headlines for weeks.

Honoria Nutcombe herself would only ever say that they could “see all the things that were real.”  Pip wasn’t enough of a scholar to know what that meant, so he only abided by Madame Bones’ advice to the Shichinin, which he’d overheard last year: “When dealing with a hag, gentlemen, be scrupulously polite and expeditiously brief.”

These hags, at least, were trying to be civilized.  He didn’t know what they ate, when they couldn’t get someone to agree to sell them a bit of themselves, but it seemed quite difficult for them.  Maybe they didn’t really have to eat at all.  Pip had no interest in loitering about to find out.

After a bit, Likho spoke up again, asking, “And does he know the cause of the narrowing?”

Pip had not the smallest idea what that might mean, and so he erred on the side of caution.  “I don’t know, ma’am.”

“Very well.  Thank you, then, Auror Pirrip.  Good afternoon.”

All day like this, Pip thought glumly, as he bowed slightly and left the Nutcombe Society.  His smile was still plastered on his face.  He’d already been to Curd, Dublin, Helga’s Roost, and Godric’s Hollow, and at every stop there was someone asking him things that were entirely unanswerable about recent events or the Tower or rejuvenation, asking about things that their seers or oneiromancers or neladoracht had told them.

Maybe there was a reason Diggory kept sending him on these assignments.

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

April 7th, 1999
3:04 p.m.
Salor Sprig, The Forbidden Forest, Scotland

“No, sir, I don’t know what the meaning of ‘is,’ is,” Pip said, patiently.  “Just the usual meaning, I suppose.”

Roonwit rumbled deep in his chest and struck the dirt with an idle hoof.  “What is usual to me may not be usual to you, human.  The subordination of the rigor of definition to the glib gesturing towards ‘usual’ -- by which you mean, ‘custom;’ the humbling of writing beneath a speech dreaming its plenitude; such are the gestures required by an onto-theology determining the archaeological and eschatological meaning of being as presence, as parousia, as life without difference: another name for death, historical metonymy where God's name holds death in check. That is why, if this movement begins its era in the form of Platonism, it ends in infinitist metaphysics.  If we follow your feeble logic where it will, there is no end to our questioning -- we’ll never really communicate, since we’ll never know what a word truly means.”  He gestured with an immense spear at the sky, as though waving the needle point at the futility of language.

“Roonwit, you are speaking in deliberately difficult language, and that is why you are not really communicating,” said Cloudbirth, who was standing nearby.  He clopped over, flanks shining in the sun overhead.  “Just speak clearly, and trust that you will make your point.  Don’t try to hide in jargon like the Fontainebleau.”

Pip nodded gratefully at Cloudbirth, but the centaur wasn’t done.  Cloudbirth went on, and his dangerous, flashing eye cut off Pip before he could speak, “The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom: Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.”

“Is there anyone else I can speak to, sir?” Pip asked, politely.

“Elder Glenstorm!” called Roonwit, gesturing across the clearing at a centaur who was standing next to one of the rough bark shacks that were the only buildings at the Salor Sprig.  The named centaur looked up from his book, startled, and put it carefully on a shelf within one of the shacks, and trotted over.  He took a wide berth around the center of the grassy clearing, where the sacred sapling grew.

“Afternoon,” Glenstorm said.  He was a blue roan, with broad sides of a dusty grey.  A longbow was slung across his human torso, and a quiver of arrows swung along his equine shoulder, kept from abrading with an oilcloth.  “Are you two foals harassing this young human?”

“Elder Glenstorm has a smooth mouth, and much experience speaking with humans,” said Cloudbirth, kindly.  “We learn to think first, and it is only with time that we develop concision.”

“Thank y--” began Pip, but Cloudbirth wasn’t finished.

“We do our best, of course,” continued Cloudbirth, “but some of the humans from your Ministry have given very unbalanced accounts of our aim, as though the wine which is the reward of all our labors was the anguish and bewilderment of a human.  We merely follow a general rule: in all activities of mind which favor our cause of wisdom, encourage oneself to be un-selfconscious and to concentrate on that object, but in all other activities bend the mind back on itself and fix the attention inward.  It is the best way to restrain our native temperaments.”

“Enough, enough,” murmured Glenstorm.  Cloudbirth frowned and thumped the ground.  The elder centaur turned to Pip.  “It is unwise to come to the Salor Sprig without good cause, auror.  Matters between our peoples have much improved, of late, but cross half a distance and half yet remains.”

Oh, Merlin.

“I would like to post these two announcements.  One is from the Ministry, and one is from the Tower,” Pip said, remaining as calm as he was able.  “I don’t think either of them affect your people very much.”

“We will be the judge of that,” said Glenstorm, curtly.  At least he was brief.  Pip handed the sheaf of parchment up to the elder centaur, happy to be rid of his charge and eager to be gone.

“Yes, well,” Pip said, backing up, “Please do.”  One never really recognized just how ruddy big a horse-man could be until you were standing uncomfortably in the middle of three of them.

“More to do with wizard kin than the people,” Glenstorm said to Roonwit, after scanning the sheaf of parchment.  “The auror is quite right.  I will speak to the other elders about this, but I see nothing to intrude upon us, here.  We will be able to keep our hands clean.  Firenze is wrong, again.”

Roonwit hefted his spear in one hand and transferred it to the other, as if impatient with it.  Pip wasn’t exactly sure if Roonwit was a posted guard here, or just carrying the spear for protection or a ceremony or… some other unknowable mysterious centaur purpose.  They were proper weird.  They were an exceedingly private and outrageously proud people, only sending out rare emissaries to wizardkind when they felt forced to do so.  Not a single one had consented to be rejuvenated or even healed by the Tower, despite the Salor Sprig’s Safety Pole.

Pip’s Head of House back in school, Severus Snape, had once spoken of centaurs in the common room, when a plot was being hatched to get rid of Professor Trelawney (who was widely believed to favor Gryffindor students).  She was high-strung, and three enterprising Slytherins had plotted to start leaving her notes in her own handwriting (as best they could manage it) informing her that she’d been Obliviated, and telling her about all sorts of terrible things that she’d witnessed important people doing.  Snape had discovered the plot, and while he approved of this plan in terms of conception and cleverness (not that he could ever have actually countenanced such actions against a fellow professor) he had been merciless in mocking their next step: to invite a centaur to teach in Trelawney’s place, once she’d been stuffed into St. Mungo’s.  Pip was unclear on the purpose of that replacement, but he thought it had been rooted in a basic assumption that the centaur would fail so badly they’d just eliminate Divination altogether.

Snape had said that centaurs were monstrously jealous of their privacy: they spent their lives in pursuit of philosophy, divination, and medicine -- three practices that inherently involved interacting with strangers -- and yet still worked tirelessly to isolate themselves from the unwashed masses.  Any centaur who deigned to accept a teaching assignment at Hogwarts would be beaten and cast out from his people.  “No member of that race,” Snape had sneered, “would pay a permanent price for a temporary position.  They are self-involved, not outright imbecilic.”

Pip sometimes thought that the Sorting Hat had been wrong, putting him in Slytherin.

Roonwit spoke again, gruffly.  “My apologies to you, auror, if I was too obscure.  The pursuit of meaning is an important one, but I have been perhaps too-long devoted to the contemplation of signifier and signified.  It is a matter of great importance to me… it is immortality.”

“Metaphorically, you mean,” replied Cloudbirth.  “Such a conceit can’t give any real guidance to action… What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all?”

“Not at all!  True immortality… and it is inherent in every sign!” said Roonwit.  “Every sign, linguistic or nonlinguistic, spoken or written, as a small or large unity, can be cited, put between quotation marks; thereby it can break with every given context, and engender infinitely new contexts in an absolutely nonsaturable fashion. This does not suppose that the mark is valid outside its context, but on the contrary that there are only contexts without any center of absolute anchoring. This citationality, duplication, or duplicity, this iterability of the mark is not an accident or anomaly, but is that normal or abnormal without which a mark could no longer even have a so-called ‘normal’ functioning. What would a mark be that one could not cite? And whose origin could not be lost on the way?  It would be an immortal sign, alive because an end cannot approach that which does not have a beginning.”

Pip must have been revealing too much on his face -- or maybe Glenstorm really was just more thoughtful than the other centaurs -- because the elder centaur waved him on, signaling that he could leave.

He was starting to understand why he had the full sweep of messenger duty today, and not a more experienced auror.  The goblins were strange, but fine.  He’d be happy to keep going back to Curd and Ackle, like he had before.  Even the Nutcombe Society was only unnerving and dangerous.

But this…

Whoever regularly brought messages to the Salor Sprig deserved a promotion and a crate of firewhiskey.

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

April 7th, 1999
7:28 p.m.
The Receiving Room, Hogwarts, Scotland

When Pip got back to the Tower after his very long day (fourteen different places!), people were arriving in the Receiving Room at the rate of seven or eight people a minute, and all the receiving aurors looked ragged.  The foreigners looked worst of all -- Pip supposed that they had fewer people on their team to relieve them, but were still expected to put in their fair share.

The elderly and injured and diseased appeared, spinning in from a sideways that was always orthogonal to the viewer, and coming to a rest softly.  Usually, they still glowed a faint red from the stunning effect of the trip.  As they arrived, one of the aurors would examine them for a second, and then a pair would get to work scanning and dispelling.  After years of practice -- including other mad days like today -- most of the sizeable contingent of receiving aurors were old hands at the work, and patients were either wheeled in through the golden entrance to the Tower or moved into an adjacent room for other assistance or questioning.

The on-site workers at the Safety Poles usually did a decent job of triage, and kept back those who didn’t actually need the Tower’s assistance, but those facilities -- some of which were growing to be full-fledged hospitals to rival St. Mungo’s, squatting protectively around their individual Safety Poles -- weren’t perfect.  And almost a third of all visitors traveled via Safety Stick instead, directly from their homes or work.  Some of them were only panicking, some of them only needed first aid, and many had just made a mistake with the Safety Stick.  A surprising number of children thought “running safety” was just a lark.

On a day like today, with Muggles and Squibs arriving… well, who knew how many things had gone wrong today?  Pip knew that the Obliviator Squad had been expanded and was scheduled to work around the clock for the next two weeks, until they’d worked out all the kinks in the system.  Even everyone in the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol had been scheduled for extra shifts, filling in for aurors as guards at Howard.  It was incredibly hectic.

Auror Kwannon saw Pip arrive.  She looked exhausted, her almond eyes heavy-lidded and face drawn.  She was probably on her second or third straight shift, he thought, and brimming with tea to keep her sharp.

“Do you want me to spell you for a bit, Hedley?” he asked her, stepping over a merwoman as another auror put a poultice of sullyflower to the being’s gills, so the stunned creature could breathe.  There were several people in odd Muggle clothes on gurneys nearby - Muggles or Squibs.

Kwannon shook her head.  “Go report to Kraeme.  I’m fine.”  She paused.  “Wait, this just came in,” she said, pulling a sealed parchment from her belt.  “You’ll save me a trip… give it to the Tower.”

Some people were made of bloody iron, Pip reflected.  He nodded respectfully, taking the parchment, and walked through the golden portal into the Tower, moving briskly through the Thieves’ Downfall.

Britain, Italy, Germany, Norden, France, the Free States, Nigeria, and half a dozen more states… their dying and desperately diseased streamed into the Tower all around Pip.  He was back in the beating heart of the world once more.  His chest swelled with pride, though he knew that was silly.  He was just a small part of it.  But to be here, now… being sent personally on missions for the Tower!

The clinic was bursting, Pip could see from his brief glance inside.  Temporary bunks had been set up along the walls to accommodate those patients who had been healed and were just waiting on their dismissal, each one tagged with labels indicating time and healer.  The special ward had been reclaimed for general use -- apparently lycanthropes and vampires were being asked to come in another day.  The discharge ward was a madhouse, as the Obliviators had set up shop in one corner and were carefully keeping tabs on all the Muggles, double-checking with the arithmancers on duty throughout the Tower to make sure no one fell through the cracks.

Pip headed down the corridors away from the hellacious racket, past the Conjuration Conjunction, the Extension Establishment, and Material Methods.  J.C. wasn’t in the meeting room, so he went down another corridor to Pairing Partnership.  That was where the Tower had been spending a lot of time over the past few weeks, and J.C. Kraeme was probably with him.

“J.C.?” he asked, as he entered the Pairing Partnership.  The Lovegood Leaf rustled as he opened and closed the door.  There was a hum and a whirring in the room, which was filled with all sorts of esoteric Muggle equipment, but it wasn’t very loud, and J.C. noticed him immediately.  She was standing next to the Tower, who was on a computer (as usual).  Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge were also present, fiddling with odd objects.

As Pip approached Mr. Potter and J.C., he glanced at the screen, but the glowing text was written in a kind of code to hide its meaning:

else if(state==ENDQUOTE) {
       state=QUOTE;
       eeg_data[j][k++] = csv_line[i];

“Pirrip.  Any problems today?” J.C. asked, her voice sharp.  Her mess of black curls didn’t hide the grim intensity of her scrutiny.  She was one of the old breed, like Kwannon… before the ranks of the aurors doubled in 1996.  Mr. Potter didn’t look up -- he just kept manipulating the computer’s keys.  He was wearing Muggle clothing -- a brown suit.  Very handsome, even with the ponytail.

“Not a one,” Pip said, brightly.

Mr. Potter leaned back in his seat, and swiveled to face Pip.  “What did the centaurs have to say?”

“I wasn’t sure about most of it, sir.  A lot of arguing over how things were said.  But there was an elder there who could talk straight, and he was just happy that the new Tower rules for rejuvenation weren’t going to ‘intrude’ on them,” Pip said.

Mr. Potter smiled coldly.  “Ah, yes.  They keep their hands off of me and mine as much as they can.  They don’t want to be involved, since they fear some sort of moral Anns test.  In their minds, they’re not morally culpable for outcomes, as long as they remain uninvolved.  An odd sort of moral calculus, but that’s one of the flaws of deontology.”

Oh, good, this again.  At least I’m used to him saying impenetrable things.

“They get what they deserve, though… nasty creatures are sentencing themselves to their own punishment,” said Miss Umbridge.  It was odd to see her, here… one of the only middle-aged people who worked in the Tower or with the Unspeakables who hadn’t been rejuvenated.  She was plump and shiny and unpleasant, wearing a fluffy pink cardigan.

“There’s probably a better explanation,” Miss Lovegood said.  The blonde witch had an odd-looking bonnet in her hands.  “Blibbering Humdingers, rampant gum disease, a sustained private propaganda campaign… could be anything.”  She paused.  “Although the last one of those is most likely.”

“What on earth is a Blibbering Humdinger?” asked Miss Umbridge, with a sweetness that covered her contempt with a thin layer of syrupy falseness.

“It’s a dreadful Dark creature that infects you when you’re young,” Miss Lovegood replied, turning back to the Muggle-made bonnet in her hands and fixing a metal wire into it.  She sounded vague and airy.  “It can control your behavior.  Its life-cycle involves small animals, and so when the Humdinger takes over, it makes you unbearable to be around for other people.  So you spend your time around small animals, instead.”

Miss Umbridge snorted derisively and shook her head.

“You haven’t been rejuvenated, though, Dolores,” said Mr. Potter, swiveling his chair to face her, now.  He was grinning at what Miss Lovegood had said.  “Aren’t you sentencing yourself to the same fate as the centaurs, eventually?”

“Well,” Miss Umbridge said, pursing her lips.  “I just haven’t done it yet.  I’m quite young and in vigorous health.  And I’m not entirely sure about the whole thing, anyway.  I don’t think it’s been thought through…”  She paused, nervously.  “That is to say, I’m just waiting.”

“You have proven to be invaluable, Dolores, so please don’t wait forever.  You remind me of a certain journal editor I once knew, although you are less particular about the color of ink.”  Mr. Potter said, and smiled affectionately.  He turned to Pip.  “Mr. Pirrip -- sorry, do you mind if I call you ‘Pip?’ “

Pip felt such a warm glow of pride that it threatened to stifle him, but he managed to say, “Please do, sir.”

“Pip, have you heard anyone talking about the ‘Three’ today?  Or about new and powerful magic they’ve seen?  A new sort of Dark Mark, that wipes memories?  You get along very well with everyone, and people talk around you… did you hear anything like that?”

“The ‘Three,’ sir?”  Pip scratched his head.  “I’m not sure… you mean the Shichinin?”

“No, not Neville and the twins,” Harry said, shaking his head.  He grinned again.  “Although that would be a particularly terrifying possibility.  Just keep your ears open, will you?”

Pip nodded, puzzled.  “Yes, sir.”  He started, remembering.  “Oh, sir, Auror Kwannon gave me this for you.”

J.C. scowled ferociously at Pip as he handed over the sealed parchment.  The Tower took it and broke the seal, scanning the contents rapidly.  “Cappadocia and the Sawad appear to be in secret negotiations over a treaty,” he mused.  “It’ll be in the Prophet tomorrow.”

Miss Lovegood looked up, surprise wiping away her dreamy expression.  “They’re joining the Treaty!  That’s wonderful, Harry!  And… surprising!”

“A Treaty of Independence,” said Mr. Potter.  “With the Malfoys’ organization.  They’re enlisting with the Honourable.”  He handed the missive to Miss Lovegood, and Miss Umbridge crowded next to her to read it, as well.

“What does this mean, sir?”  asked Pip.  He felt a small twinge of fear in his guts, but it was overwhelmed by awe and joy at his place in things.

“I’m not sure,”  said the Tower, and fell silent.

It was by far the scariest thing Pip had seen all day.

≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

NOTE:  This is the end of Arc 1 of “Significant Digits.”  The next chapter will go up in two weeks.  It will be a flashback chapter, prior to the start of Arc 2.

It will be called “Azkaban.”



3 comments:

  1. > Even everyone in the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol had been scheduled for extra shifts, filling in for aurors as guards at Howard.

    Is "Howard" supposed to be "Hogwarts"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, Howard is the new prison that replaced Azkaban.

      Delete
  2. It's kind of weird that centaurs, so isolated and excluded, speak modern English. It's weird that they don't refer to their own philosophies and greats that is common in our own discussions of that nature, where we might refer to Plato and sophism you might expect similar references

    ReplyDelete