01 August 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Fifteen: Brute Existent



Significant Digits, Chapter Fifteen: Brute Existent


Wiglaf maðelode, Wihstanes sunu:
“Oft sceall eorl monig anes willan
wræc adreogan, swa us geworden is.
Ne meahton we gelæran leofne þeoden,
rices hyrde, ræd ænigne,
þæt he ne grette gold-weard þone,
lete hyne licgean, þær he longe wæs,
wicum wunian oð woruld-ende;
heold on heah gesceap.

Wiglad, son of Weohstan, spoke:
“Often when one man follows his own will
many are hurt.  This happened to us.
Nothing we advised could ever convince
the prince we loved, our land’s guardian,
not to vex the custodian of the gold,
let him lie where he was long accustomed,
lurk there under earth until the end of the world.
He held to his high destiny.

Beowulf


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

From the desk of the Tower Clinic Ombudsman:

To Whom It May Concern:

I would like to register an official complaint regarding the behavior of Owen Wilifred, a healer in your employ whom I had the misfortune to encounter this past October.  I raise bicorn for a living, and do it better than anyone else in the Hollow.  Even the Jugsons bought extract from me exclusively, and I daresay their Polyjuice and Waggum Potions lasted a fair bit longer than they’d have done if they’d bought off of old Weatherbee.  But when I was a younger man, I was stabbed through the hand by one of the beasts.  St. Mungo’s mucked up the healing charm, and it’s ached every winter since.  So I was pleased to hear about the rejuvenation up at the Tower that the Boy-Who-Lived was offering.

I went to the Godric’s Hollow Safety Pole and had myself checked out by the folks there, and then touched the thing and winked right out.  Next thing I know, I’m on a bed and this squirrely-looking bloke is sitting there and watching me.  He and another fellow ask me a whole mess of queer questions and put me through my paces on my history, and then they start poking me.  I had brought a portrait of mine that’s very well-done, good light and a good movement on it, but they barely glanced at it.  They just babbled some nonsense.  I checked my pockets before I went in, and it’s a good thing, because I found a Galleon on the floor under me, that they’d arranged to have fall there so they could get it later.  I wasn’t born yesterday, nor the day before, and I know a proper swindle when I see it.  I wouldn’t have minded paying, which is why I brought the money, but I can’t stand a swindle.  This Wilifred (I got his name before I left) wouldn’t knock off the trick he was talking about… this whole German swindle of “the beat ease.”  He made me sit while he put his wand to my chest and did not do a bloody thing!  I am no fool, and I know well enough that I’m not as hale as a young man.  But slowing down a bit and getting glasses is normal, and I’ve always been a bit thin.  It was the insult I resent!  Mr. Wilifred didn’t proper respect me, and I haven’t spent fifty years building up the best bicorn in Britain just for some young swindler to try to pull the wool over my eyes.  He was softening me up and would’ve asked for the deed to me house in return if he hadn’t seen I wasn’t going for it.

I got my Galleon back, shook Mr. Potter’s hand, and got out of there.  And never you mind the money, and I am sure full grateful about the hand, which is much better.  Having that pain away has quickened my step, I’ll tell you.  But I would like to complain in full about Mr. Wilifred, who you should sack right away.  The lad is a swindler.

Sincerely,
Ymir Ytterbar
Ytterbar’s Bicorn


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

If the Tower has done the world any favors, it might be in uniting so many against him.  By attempting to remake everything in his own cruel image, Harry Potter has made allies of enemies and friends of foes.  And what is more, he has done this throughout the whole world.  The ranks of those who sympathize with the global resistance to his tyranny -- a group that is now known as the “Honourable,” I admit with a blush -- come from every walk of life.

In Britain, those who defended the traditional rule of noble houses are joined with those who advocated for Muggle-style elected houses… for neither party could accept a brash new boy-dictator, whose claim to power lies only in force.

In the Orient, those who have railed against the traditional British leadership in the Confederation are joined with those sought closer alliance with it, since the strength of British dominance in that body is irrelevant if the dominance is founded on intimidation and bloodshed.

In the Americas, the outright violence done by Harry Potter with a Muggle weapon in an attack on an old institution -- an attack falsely done in my name, though no one can name why I would do this! -- will bring together Americans of every stripe, rebelling against their Imperiused leadership.

Unless someone stops the Tower, then he will soon rule the whole world, crushing it in the grip of the porcelain automatons that replace those poor victims who go to be “rejuvenated.”  Independence should be no threat to anyone… anyone who does not plan to rule the world as its master, that is.

Excerpt from “Needful Allies,” by Draco Malfoy
Unbreakable Honour
Vol 4 (1999), Issue 10


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

“Everyone’s here, so I think we can get started,” said Harry, as Diggory briskly walked in, a manila folder in hand.  Auror Kwannon followed him, a stack of parchments in her arms.

The Chief Auror and Head of the DMLE, who was late, smiled and shrugged as he sat down at the meeting table.  “Sorry, everyone.  Emergencies today… two attempts on the Unspeakables, yesterday and today.  Someone tried to Imperius Geraldine, and we discovered an outstanding theft from the vaults.  Anyone have a copy of the agenda?”

Harry nodded, and slid a parchment over to him.  “I can help you on the theft, I think… but we’ll get to that one later.”

Harry had found that it was important to have an agenda and stick to it -- no chit-chat or the like -- otherwise these meetings sprawled out of control, and nothing got done.  A high-level meeting was seldom the best place for open discussion or brainstorming solutions; they were for sharing information and making decisions.

Administrative skills were a bigger part of his life than he’d ever thought they would be.  He had four regular meetings a week -- a faculty meeting with the Tower School of Doubt, a meeting with the heads of research (not all of them… the twenty-five departments were consolidated into four different groups), a meeting with the Tower clinic healers and aurors (technically it was the John Snow Center for Medicine, but not even Harry used that name at this point), and this one: the meeting with Magical Britain’s Powers That Be.

And none of those even touched his other ventures, such as managing his money and charities (his current assets were now equivalent to those of a small country, quite literally), or teaching, or other pet projects.  And the time he didn’t spend doing that he was spending with Hermione or the Shichinin or Moody.

For someone who’d spent most of their boyhood in a relatively solitary and frustrated existence, he’d somehow transformed into a man who spent most of his life managing people.  It would be so much easier if they would just do what he said… he could do ten times as much if he didn’t have to argue… so many more people could be saved...

That’s a Voldemort thought, he considered.  Short-sighted and stupid.  Whatever benefits in efficiency and speed I might gain, I would lose the benefit of other people’s ideas and opinions if began to command rather than manage… and the entire point of our increasing democratic reforms, with the Tribunes and so on, is to employ the wisdom of crowds while providing more opportunities for outliers in achievement to rise in station.  And if you’re going to build a merit-based democracy, you’d better start at home.

Harry looked around the table.  Cedric Diggory and Hedley Kwannon for the DMLE, Amelia Bones for the Wizengamot and Confederation, Percy Weasley for the Ministry, Simon Smith for the Returned (since Hermione was busy), Haddad and Podrut for the goblins (and a general outsider perspective), and Mafalda Hopkirk for the Unspeakables.  They’d need to get someone from the Council over here, soon, to speak for Hig.

“Percy, would you start us off?” Harry said, glancing at the serious-looked redhead.

Weasley cleared his throat and glanced down at the parchment in front of him before beginning.

“We’ve gotten a few of the integration facilities in operation already.  The logistics weren’t very difficult, thanks to the help of some people from the Obliviator squads.  They have a lot of experience in sanitizing contact between the two worlds.”  He glanced down at the parchment in front of him.  “I promoted Klaus Gage to head of one of the squads, based on his performance.  I think it might make sense to have that squad start to specialize in deliberate contact, like these facilities.”  Weasley looked up at Harry again, questioningly.  “Since I assume we’ll be scaling this up in the future…?”

Harry nodded.  “Yes.  Make a note, though… we need a better name for the program.  ‘Integration facility’ makes us sound like we’re… I don’t know, Morlocks or something.  These are restaurants and movie theatres.”  His hair was loose, and he pushed it back behind his ears absent-mindedly as he spoke.

“Music should be the next, I think, Mr. Weasley” said Mafalda Hopkirk, and the Senior Undersecretary nodded respectfully.  The Venerable Unspeakable looked to be a voluptuous twenty years old, but still managed an air of authority when she spoke.  It must be an acquired skill or habit, Harry reflected, since -- according to most standards -- her appearance no longer matched her gravitas.  Ample décolletage, obvious youth, and big innocent blue eyes… but when she snapped at her subordinates, they jumped to obey like she was Merwyn the Malicious.  It would probably be too much to hope that basic expectations had actually changed… that the society of Magical Britain had really begun to adjust to rejuvenation in a fundamental way.  That would come in time.

“For right now, both restaurants and the theatre are losing money, hand over fist.  Only moderate patronage, but high costs for wages, security, and so on.  But we expected that.”  Weasley glanced at his notes again.  “Oh, yes, one thing that should help is that Sylvia de Kamp just did a feature on Siegfried’s for American Mage, and The Daily Prophet will be carrying it, as well.  Apparently she was astonished, and she spends a thousand words in rapture over her ‘adventurous Muggle dining experience.’ ”

“I went there,” Chief Goldsmith Haddad said.  “Had some beef.  Quite tasty, I must say.”  Everyone at the table generally understood that this was both explicit approval of the restaurant and implicit approval of its inclusive policies towards potential patrons.  Veauregard’s Victuals, the leading fine dining establishment in Diagon Alley, did not permit goblins or any other Beings on the premises (except for the house elves that prepared the food).

Bones said nothing, but her lips grew tight.  That discomfort wasn’t unexpected, after having spent so much time with her.  Even people we like and admire are products of their environment.  It doesn’t matter if she particularly likes the idea, as long as she intellectually accepts and agrees not to oppose the mingling of wizards and Beings.  Many people have racist grandparents, but that doesn’t make the grandparents bad people unless they’re actively doing racist things -- at least when we’re speaking about “bad” and “good” in terms of preference utilitarianism.  Having irrational or evil instincts or subconscious beliefs doesn’t make you irrational or evil, if you don’t act on them.

In fact, he considered, her beliefs might make Amelia a particularly good person.  She’s uncomfortable with some of the more personal aspects of this equality movement, like the idea of her niece dining at the same table as a goblin, or bringing them into the government and working with them so closely, but she overrules her baser instinct and does the right thing anyway.  She might always be awkward around Haddad, Podrut, Urg, or the others, but she’s being as good as she can be.

“Moving on,” said Weasley, “I am unhappy to report that an envoy from the Strategos of Cappadocia paid me a visit last week, demanding I put him on the schedule for Minister N’Goma.  I obliged, of course, but discussed the purpose of his visit a bit.”

Simon Smith, a fleshy Scot and one of Hermione’s Returned, leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table.  He looked evenly at Weasley with flat brown eyes, emotional but somehow hollow, and said evenly, “Nikitas Seyhan.”

“Of course it’s bloody well Nikitas Seyhan,” snapped Bones at the same time Weasley, more mildly, said “Yes, that’s--”

There was a brief pause as each waited for the other to continue.  Bones crossed her arms and only frowned.  With her tight brown bun, it made her look severe.  Weasley continued, his mouth twisting slightly in amusement at her outburst.

“Yes, the Seyhan fellow.  He broke the Statute of Secrecy, they claim, and they’re arguing that we’re in violation of the Statute if we don’t return him home, to be punished in accordance with Clauses 74, 75, and 76.”

Harry didn’t know the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in detail; he glanced at Bones and Haddad in succession to invite their interpretation.  Bones had decades of experience in its international application, and Haddad was a trained lawyer with almost as much knowledge of how the Confederation acted to enforce it.

They glanced at each other, and Haddad spoke up.  He tapped a finger thoughtfully on the table.  “Probably a good case for it.  You’re -- we’re -- sheltering Seyhan, and his sentence wasn’t finished.  It is a way for the Independents to attack under cover of law.  I suppose that Germany or Norden could have made the same complaints at any time, but… well, Cappadocia was the first overtly disagreeable place that the Returned have struck.”

“Surely we have the votes to simply ignore them… Madame Bones?” said Diggory.  “Could we win an arbitration vote in the Confederation?”

“Easily,” said Bones.  “But it would cost us in public perception… particularly in the Ten Thousand.  The Westphalians will use it against us to demand even more concessions.  And it might complicate matters with Kenya… after the Free States and Nigeria joined the Treaty for Health and Life, Kenya opened up a dialogue on the quiet with one of our Confederation delegates, looking for, ah, ‘considerations.’  But major controversy or the appearance of lawlessness might drive them away.  They wouldn’t join the Independents, I don’t think, but… well, it would be a setback.”

The Treaty of Independence was still limited in its scope to a handful of states, fortunately:  Cappadocia, Caucasus, most of the Sawad, and Russia.  It was an idea borrowed from Muggle politics -- actually, borrowed from Harry himself, in terms of the Cold War.

In the early days, when Draco had been working on planning for the future with Harry and Hermione, Harry had once floated the idea of including a mutual-defense pact in the Treaty for Health and Life -- a way to dramatically raise the stakes in case of potential conflict.  Now the Honourable were using it to set a tone of heroic defiance and to unite opposition to the Health and Life programmes.  It had given the Council of Westphalia -- or their puppets in the American governments, anyway -- even more leverage in the ongoing negotiations, since it provided a viable alternative to what might otherwise seem an inevitable eventual outcome.

“Seyhan is at Powis?”  Harry asked Simon.  The Returned nodded.  “How would Hermione feel about returning him to Cappadocia, if necessary?  Their Dementors are gone… he would presumably be going into their normal prison.”

“If he chooses to go, he may.  But we won’t return him against his will.”  Simon said.  He didn’t emphasize his words or raise his voice.  This was an old problem that had started the moment Azkaban fell: Hermione believed the Dementation was punishment enough for any conceivable crime, and had unilaterally declared that those who had come back from that hell would always have a place with her.

It wasn’t that Harry disagreed about Azkaban or the Dementors, of course: they had been vile beyond words, and no one -- literally no one -- deserved to be tortured to death in that way.  He’d agreed unhesitatingly to her declaration.  The ones she’d personally rescued had mostly been institutionalized, except for Odette Charlevoix, and many of those who had been transferred to Britain’s remaining prison, the Howard House of Reform, had simply served out their relatively short sentences and had gone free without controversy.  Others, though… well, Simon himself, for example, was a convicted murderer… but once he’d regained enough sanity to function, he’d walked free, and joined the newly-formed Returned.

In the months afterward, they’d taken a beating in public opinion for freeing so many criminals.  Some people, like Walden Macnair, had been apparent successes -- Macnair lived a quiet life enchanting broomsticks, now -- but others had returned to fraud, robbery… or worse activities.

After a time, Harry had proposed new trials and mundane prisons for people like Charlevoix and Simon.  Hermione had flatly rejected it, even after Harry pointed out that every month that this cost them in advancing their plans, politically, was another month during which people would die.

“It would save lives,” Harry said. “It’s cold, I know, but if giving Seyhan back to Cappadocia would improve our image with Kenya and the Ten Thousands, and speed things up with the American states, that’s… hundreds of lives.”  He did some rough calculations in his head.  Seventy thousand wizards or so in the United States… death rate per year in magical societies in the developed world was usually about four deaths a year for every thousand people...  “In the United States alone, a wizard or witch dies... something like every other day.  Every day matters.”

“Every person matters,” Simon replied.  But he wasn’t really arguing, since he would never countermand Hermione.  Like the rest of the Returned, he would have cut off his hands if she’d told him to.  Harry would have to wait to speak to her directly, if he wanted to change her mind.  Not that it would do much good.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

“Imagine if you had to choose between someone being tortured for fifty years,” Harry said to Hermione.  “Or a billion people getting a dust speck in their eye for a second, irritating them for an instant.  No, not a billion… a googol people getting a dust speck.  That’s--”

“Ten with a hundred zeroes after it,” Hermione interrupted.  “And you want me to choose which of those would be the better outcome?”

“Yes.  You have to weigh the aggregate discomfort of so many against the torture of one.  If a googol isn’t enough, make it a googolplex… ten to the googol power people.”

“There aren’t a googolplex of atoms in the galaxy, I wouldn’t think, much less a googolplex of people,” Hermione said, thoughtfully.

“Yes, but it’s a number so big that it makes us confront our scope insensitivity.  You don’t picture an individual or even a crowd… you think about the numbers rationally, instead.  A staggering amount of minute pains outweighs the suffering of any one person.”

“Careful, Harry.  You could justify a lot with that reasoning.  And the answer is no.  Charlevoix is going back to France, to visit her children.  They want to see her, and she’s going to try to find some connection to them… maybe recover some memories of them, if possible.  She’ll be meeting with people in their Ministry of Magic, too… might help with getting them to join the Treaty, someday.”

“We could wait for her to come back.  And it would be a fair trial.”

“That will be her choice.  She’ll have a place with me, otherwise, until she chooses to go.  She’s paid any debt she might possibly owe the world… find another human sacrifice.”


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

“Fine,” Harry said to Simon, sighing.  “I’ll revisit this with the lady herself.”

“We should muddy the waters, so it doesn’t seem clear-cut,” said Bones.  “Give us something to talk about for our own part, when they bring this up.  The son of the Strategos of Cappadocia was accused of breaking the Statute about a decade ago, as I recall… maybe that will work well.”

“Sir?  Sorry to interrupt,” came a voice at the door.  It was Auror Pip, pushing a hand truck.  Standing upright on the truck and being wheeled along, frozen in place and stunned, was a thin-faced older man.  Balding, but with great muttonchop whiskers.  The man’s face was frozen in a snarl, and his fingers were still curled around a now-absent wand, caught in the act of casting.  There was a large bloodstain, still wet, on the man’s thigh.

“That’s Moody, yes,” Harry said, smiling.  “Good work.”

Pip grinned -- he’d gotten Mad-Eye Moody!  Most of the Tower aurors had already done so -- J.C. had gotten him eight times, now -- but this was his first Moody.  He drew his wand and dispelled the Stunning Hex.   Pip couldn’t wait to tell his mum.

Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody’s arms relaxed, and he worked his jaw experimentally for a moment.  “Hell.  This one got me?”  His disguise -- if a Transfigured body could be said to be a disguise -- was a good one.  He’d given Harry some pictures and instructions yesterday: this was another lycanthrope, but with space for a secret wand inside the thigh.  A combination of prior attempts.  Lycanthropes were still immune to the automatic stunning effect on the Safety Poles and Safety Sticks, so Moody had tried them for his intrusion attempts before, and he’d taken the Ultimate Ulna idea from Hermione.

“Yes, sir,” said Pip, brightly.  He smiled broadly and nodded to Harry, and left the room to return to his post.

“So, Alastor… Pip stunned you, this time,” Bones said.  The young-looking witch was working to keep a straight face.  “My, my.”

Moody shuffled over to a chair and sat in it, gingerly, as if his bones hurt.  “Didn’t put much planning into this one… just standard… keep them on their toes,” he said, in a hoarse voice.  He shot Diggory a purposeful glance when he opened his mouth to speak.  The Chief Auror thought better of it… though he couldn’t stop from smiling.  Everyone sat politely for a moment longer, while Moody sorted himself out.

“Well then, Mr. Moody,” said Weasley.  “We were just discussing the possibility of returning Nikitas Seyhan to Cappadocia, since they’re making a bit of a fuss about it at the Confederation.  Mr. Smith here, however, indicates that this won’t be happening, so Madame Bones prop--”

“Pfah,” snorted Moody.  “You’re all as sharp as blind-worms.  Me sitting here like this, and you’re worried about having to hand over a fugitive?”

Harry smiled suddenly, and leaned forward.  “But if he minds?”

“How long was he there?”  Moody asked.

“Oh!  Yes!” said Bones, smiling as well.  “Er… he was in Göreme for twelve years, I believe.”

“Then any happy associations he had are long gone,” replied Moody, “so I doubt he’ll protest… if he’s even fit to protest about anything at all, after twelve years.”

Harry glanced around the table, noting some expressions of puzzlement and some smiles at the solution.  He explained, “Moody is suggesting we simply change his face and say that we’ve lost track of him.”

“Or, better yet,” said Diggory, “hand over a fake corpse.”

“The Optimates of the Eleusinian Mysteries once did that,” said Haddad, in his accented English. “During the Social War… back when death dolls were undetectable.  Wanted to keep the Muggles of the Latin provinces in check, and so they made a big show of parading some heroic wizard corpses all through the city.  The actual wizards, still quite alive, attacked Paeligni.  Didn’t succeed -- oppression seldom succeeds in the long run -- but a clever trick.”

Harry frowned at the goblin, and Mafalda Hopkirk broke her silence to mutter, “Subtle.”

There was an awkward pause.

“Anyway, let’s get some sort of plan in place there.  Moody, you’ll handle it?”  Harry said, glancing over at today’s Moody.  The balding lycanthrope nodded, looking irritable.  “Whatever we do,” Harry continued, “I do think it’s time to begin putting some distance between the Tower and the Returned.”

Diggory nodded in approval.  “You’re anticipating more confrontation, and you want Ms. Granger to be able to act with a free hand.”  It was widely rumored that Cedric Diggory was infatuated with the Goddess, and had made several attempts to ask her out.  Harry wondered if that might affect his judgment, but he still seemed to be thinking straight when it came to Hermione and the Returned.

“Yes, I think--”  But Harry broke off what he was saying when Diggory and Kwannon, followed a second later by Moody and Smith, leapt out of their seats, springing to the two doors into the meeting room.  Diggory and Kwannon went to one, while Moody and Smith went to the other.  They’d slammed and secured and warded the doors in a matter of moments, and continued to cast wards as the other wizards and witches in the room -- slower to react, and not privy to the signal that had alerted Diggory and Kwannon -- joined them and began casting.  Harry got out of his seat and drew his wand, but remained away from the doors.

The spells were already thick within the Tower, and there was only so much more magical security that could be had, and so it was only a few minutes before the aurors, Smith, Bones, and Weasley were assuming battle positions, standing in spots staggered around the room, in a pattern designed to avoid most effective area spells.  Diggory felt free to pull out his auror mirror, then, and bubble the guards on the inner door.  He held the mirror so that most of the people in the room could see it.

“Kraeme, report.”

Auror J.C. Kraeme’s face appeared in the mirror.  She looked calm.  “Intrusion in the Receiving Room, sir.  We’ve sealed the Tower entrance, and no attempt has been made on it.  They’re still fighting -- we can hear it from here.”

“Put the bubbler on a chair or something, J.C.,” said Diggory.  “Leave it open, so we know what’s going on, but keep your eyes on that door.”

The perspective of the bubbler -- which looked like nothing so much as one of the small mirrored compacts that Muggles use for makeup -- shifted and moved around, and finally settled at a level that looked waist-high to Auror Kraeme and Auror Pip, the entrance guards.  It showed the entrance to the Tower, but the golden door had been completed obscured by a huge and heavy-looking silver plate, ornately decorated, that had been rolled into a frame in front of the entrance.  Harry glanced over at Podrut, and smiled despite the tension to see the obvious pride on the goblin’s face.  He’d made the security hatch.

Everyone waited, tensely.  Moody stood in a corner, his wand pointed towards one of the doors... and towards everyone else in the room (“I know a traitor will eliminate the biggest threats first, and you’re the best avenue of attack,” is how he had once explained it, after he and Harry had gone into lockdown earlier this month, during a similar alert, and Moody had spent the entire time with his wand pointed at Harry.)

“Quiet out there, now,” commented Pip, glancing back at the mirror.  Kraeme quieted him with a harsh glance.

They had to wait.  Very few methods of communication were possible between the Tower and the outside world.  It was a security precaution, but it made moments like this one particularly tense.

After another ten minutes or so, a pattern of knocks was audible on the silver plate.  Kraeme nodded to Pip, who approached it, and knocked several times.  There were two knocks in response, and Pip visibly brightened.  “It’s correct,” he reported to the senior auror, and she grunted in affirmation and turned towards the mirror for orders.  “Today’s pattern, sir.”

“Open it up,” replied Diggory.  Pip nodded, and reached for the heavy latch that held the plate in place.  Harry was going to agree and congratulate the two door guards on their caution, but found himself unable to say that -- as though the words simply did not exist in English to express any such sentiment.

“Wait!”  he choked out, instead.  Pip’s hand froze on the gleaming metal handle.

Harry turned to Moody, who had his wand pointing at him.  “Moody, how often are the knocks changed?”

“Every month,” said Moody.  “I wanted every week, but training has gotten lax, and they kept mucking it up.”

True, thought Harry, remembering.  Cedric had complained that the Tower security was so redundant and required so many different, frequently-changing protocols, that they were spending entire days each month sorting through false positives.  Security protocols were an investment like anything else, and there were diminishing returns.  The fact that there seemed to be some sort of problem -- since Harry’s Unbreakable Vow wouldn’t let him agree to opening the door -- didn’t necessarily prove Cedric wrong, either.  After all, Moody still hadn’t been able to get inside, and he’d been very motivated to embarrass Cedric and prove his point.

“And was it changed after the lockdown earlier this month -- that time when you spent twenty minutes menacing me?” asked Harry, raising his eyebrows.  He pulled a stretchy hair-tie from one pocket as he spoke, and put his hair in a ponytail.

“No,” said Diggory, heavily, looking embarrassed.  Auror Kwannon, standing near the door with him, looked pale.

Moody had a fierce look of triumph on his muttonchopp-whiskered face.   “And here you were, all excited about Pip stunning me.”

“Not now, Alastor,” snapped Bones.  Her attention was still fixed on the bubbler.

“Sir?”  asked Auror Kraeme.

“Just a moment, J.C.  I’ll send my Patronus.”  Diggory replied.  “Expecto Patronum!

A silvery bat flapped into existence, shedding argent light on the tense faces within the meeting room.  “Go and speak to Harry Madagascar in the Receiving Room, and ask him what is going on.”

There was another long minute, then the bat swung back into the room, and spoke in the high-pitched voice of Auror Madagascar, “We gave the correct knock, Mr. Diggory, I’m sure of it.  The situation is under control.”

“Bear back the words, ‘Monkey monkey monkey,’ ” said Diggory to his Patronus.

“I like bananas, dress me like a doll,” replied Madagascar, after the glowing bat had made the trip and returned.  It was the correct response.

Diggory looked to Harry, who nodded in approval, then he turned to the bubbler.  “Open it up, Pirrip.”  There was still a risk, given the mistake in operational security this month, but the Thief’s Downfall before the Tower entrance and the exceptional magical defenses of the facility were more than enough of a margin of safety.

Everyone relaxed a little, only to tense up again in a moment, as another sharp report came through the bubbler.

“There are prisoners!” said Kraeme.  “And they’re students!”



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