29 August 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Nineteen: Gholas




Significant Digits, Chapter Nineteen: Gholas


The Guild navigators, gifted with limited prescience, had made the fatal decision: they’d chosen always the clear, safe course that leads ever downward into stagnation.
--Frank Herbert, Dune


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Innervate.  Innervate.”

Lawrence Bradwian and Annabeth Dankgesang slumped onto the chairs that had been set behind them, their rigid bodies relaxing.  “Just relax a moment, children,” Harry said, from where he sat at the meeting table.  “You’re in the Tower, but you’re fine.  You were just stunned.”

He glanced up at them, then returned his gaze to the book open before him.  He turned a page, slowly, and his unoccupied fingers fiddled with the end of his ponytail, where it lay over his shoulder to curl under his chin.  Auror Kwannon stood behind and to one side of the pair of students, watching them as she put away her wand.

“Feeling all right, Mr. Bradwian?”  The boy nodded.  He was an athletic boy, with striking features… perhaps Middle Eastern descent?  Close-cut black hair clung in curls to his head, and his eyes were a mellow brown.  Harry thought he remembered the boy’s mother was from the Sawad.  

“And you, Miss…?”  Harry said, looking to the other student.  She was a small girl, with black skin and tightly-twisted, short dreadlocks.  She seemed very calm.

She cleared her throat, but spoke clearly, “Annabeth Dankesang.”

“Well then, Mr. Bradwian… Ms. Dankesang…. I am Dean of the Science Program here at Hogwarts, Harry Potter-Evans-Verres.  I don’t believe we’ve had occasion to meet,” said Harry, glancing back down at his book.  He could hear the breath catch in Lawrence’s throat at the introduction.  Harry looked up again.  “You brought your classmate here… Samuel Meroveni-Bowles.”

Lawrence nodded, collecting himself, and he looked concerned, pursing his lips and raising his eyebrows.  “Yes, sir.  He fell after Div and P, and... it was bad, sir.  I didn’t think we could… well, Madame Pomfrey is wonderful, but like the song says, ‘when in doubt, stick it out.’ ”  The boy was quoting a promotional jingle the Tower had used a few years ago.  “Is Sammy all right?”

“Oh, yes,” said Harry.  He watched the two children closely as he turned another page of his book, adding, “In fact, he’s already back in his own bed in Ravenclaw Tower.”

He could see the small muscles in the boy’s cheeks flex as his jaw tightened.  Annabeth did better, but her eyes opened wide despite her best efforts.

“You might be wondering why I wanted to speak to you, Lawrence and Annabeth.  The reason is actually a bit embarrassing… it’s been brought to my attention over the past hour that you did me quite a good turn last year, and I never thanked you.  I would have done so if I’d known, of course,” Harry said.  He turned his head so that his ponytail would slip off his shoulder, out of sight behind him.  “I had a question, first, though.”

“Of course, sir,” said Annabeth.

“Well, then… I suppose I’ll start off by saying that I don’t believe in cruelty, so we’ll just out with it now: you’re pinched.  Caught.  Discovered.  I have had people toy with me too often when they had some small measure of power over me, often in the form of information I needed, and so I don’t have much liking for it.  So it’s best you know straightaway.  I’ll give you a moment to think about that and decide if you believe me.”  Harry looked back down at the book and read the page before him as the seconds passed, stretching uncomfortably.  After a minute, he finally looked up again.  The two students were sitting still, hands folded in their laps.  Lawrence looked like was trying to swallow with a dry mouth.

“I must confess that you will feel quite stupid, very shortly.  I’m sorry about that,” said Harry.  “But before we get there, my question: why in Merlin’s name did you think it would be okay to badly injure -- very nearly kill -- your classmate, just to get what you want?”  He paused, and clucked his tongue thoughtfully.  “Or maybe: why did you think I would think that was okay?  Surely you at least considered your plan might go wrong?  Didn’t you stop to think of the possible consequences?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, sir,” said Lawrence.  His voice warbled on the second word, and he looked worried.

Wise not to try to appear calm, little Larry, nor indignant.  But an innocent student would just be confused.  Maybe it’s because people worry so much about being caught for the things we’ve really done that we tend to be completely baffled by false accusation.

“Auror Kwannon, how many people are stepped-down in the clinic right now, in hold?”  Harry said, turning to her and leaning to rest his chin on one hand.

Kwannon reached into her pocket and pulled out a small brown abacus, identical to the one on the table.  She consulted it for a moment.  “Four, sir.  Not too many in Receiving or being treated, either.  Slow day.”

Harry turned and looked steadily at the students once more.  Annabeth’s mouth had opened slightly and Lawrence looked nauseous, as if he’d been kicked in the stomach.  Harry supplemented the effect by shoving one of the parchments in front of him towards the pair, with its decoded -- and obviously false -- message.

T H E C U P I S N O T E N O U G H W E M U S T A D D T O O U R C O L L E C T I O N I B E L I E V E T H A T M A N Y I T E M S O F G R E A T P O W E R A R E H E L D I N T H E T O W E R P R E P A R E T H E P L A N W E S P O K E A B O U T B E F O R E A N D W E W I L L C O M M U N I C A T E W I T H T H E A B A C U S

The abacuses were used in the clinic to track the flow of patients.  Harry waited a moment for the magnitude of their mistake to sink into the pair.

“You had some clever ideas.  But while the tactics were clever, the strategy didn’t really make much sense,” Harry continued.  “You were operating at an information deficit, and you knew that, and still didn’t account for it.”

“But if the abacus is…”  Annabeth said, brow furrowing.  Harry was able to watch her as her thoughts progressed, and he wondered if this was what it had been like to deal with himself as a child… cleverness and innovation trapped inside of a fishbowl-sized world, unable to grasp the limits of their perspective and experience.  When you can only see a handful of moving parts, the machine of the world looked so simple and easy to manipulate.  He remembered his stumbling horror when he’d been given occasion to see the workings laid bare, in all their complexity and danger.

“Yes, you understand, I see,” said Harry.  Lawrence’s pallor looked distinctly yellowish, but he still seemed more confused than horrified.  Slower on the uptake.  Harry addressed himself to Annabeth, who was clearly the brains of the operation (such as that might be) and the leader of the duo.  “So then: it seems as though you attempted to murder young Sammy, with whom you’ve had some problems in the past.  You’ve been stunned for about five hours, now, and I had a chance to speak to your victim, your Headmistress, and Director Diggory of the DMLE.”

Harry closed the book, a little more forcefully than necessary.  “When I was your age, I took it as a great offense that no one did me the courtesy of dealing with me directly unless I forced the issue.  So then, let me be direct: you have been idiots on a scale that you cannot yet fully appreciate.  Not only was your plan unlikely to work, you thought it was wise to try to use it to frame a classmate -- a boy who has been involved in some dark dealings indeed with the rest of his family, some of whom were expelled for their pains, but who didn’t do anything wrong here.”

He stood now, rising and placing both palms on the table in front of him, looking down on the two students with cold green eyes.  “You are said to be ‘Silver Slytherins,’ but I wonder if that little faction of Draco’s has turned out to mean anything at all in his absence.  He told me, once, that it was about the purity of truth -- that he’d learned that truth was the most important thing, even when plotting, since if you didn’t know the reality of the world then you couldn’t affect it, no matter how brilliantly effective your plans might otherwise be.  That’s why you need both instrumental rationality -- acting based on truth -- and epistemic rationality -- knowing what is true.  They are both necessary if you want things to happen as you desire.”

Lawrence had rallied, now.  Harry imagined the boy forcing down his nausea and searching for an escape.  The boy forced himself upright in the chair and thrust out his chin, saying, “But that’s the very reason why we acted… we knew the truth, and wanted to act on it.  The Meroveni-Bowles are no good and--”

“And you wanted to make your enemy pay for something, even if you couldn’t make him pay for his real crimes.  What was it that he’d done, exactly, Mr. Bradwian?” said Harry, and now his voice was as cold as his eyes.

“He and his family tried to kill Turm, just because they were ashamed of what their father had done -- because they were ashamed of their half-brother.  They tried to kill him,” said Lawrence.  The boy rose up slightly out of his seat as he spoke, taking strength from his indignation.  “They stole potion ingredients from Hogwarts, from Professor Slughorn’s stores and the greenhouses, so that they could supply Ragged Rooncrown and his Euphoric distribution in Knockturn Alley!  They tried to steal Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup from Smith Manor -- and that’s wrong, even if it turns out you did it, sir!  And Sammy tried to kill me in a duel when Annabeth and I stopped the Meroveni-Bowles!  His sister and brother were expelled, but he managed to get out of all the trouble for everything, just because they took the blame!”  Now he was standing, and Harry noticed that Lawrence was actually his same height, so that Harry had to stand up straight and stop leaning on the table in order to look the boy in the eyes.  Maybe he should make himself taller.  Auror Kwannon had moved to one side and drawn her wand, clearing her line of sight, though her wand remained casually at her side.

Lawrence was incensed now, having worked himself up into enough outrage to serve as a shield from his shock and fear.  The boy’s clear young eyes were narrowed in anger.  He lifted a finger and jabbed it in Harry’s direction.  “And Sammy was never going to die, since I was waiting at the bottom of the stairs to catch him with Wingardium Leviosa.  No one saw that, but veritaserum can prove it.”  He lowered his hand.  “I stopped him from falling so fast, and I saved his life.  But he needed to pay for what he’s done.  I wasn’t doing anything but justice.”

“Samuel Meroveni-Bowles comes from an unpleasant family, but he has not, to my knowledge, done anything more than get dragged along with his older brother and sister and be bullied into helping them occasionally.  Questioning under veritaserum revealed a scared boy in a bad clan trying to muddle his way through… rather a different picture than you’d paint in defense of your actions.  The child has not earned a brutal beating and near-death experience, even if you managed to stop yourself short of giving him an execution.”  Harry looked at Lawrence, coldly and with clear contempt.  Annabeth had leaned forward and buried her face in her hands, and was crying quietly.  “You are badly in need of a lesson on losing… a lesson I once had to learn, as it happens, but one which I have no time to teach at the moment.”

Harry pushed back his chair and walked to the end of the table, where two wands were sitting.  He picked up Lawrence’s in one hand, then looked back at its owner.  “To your great good fortune, Prior Incantato showed that you did help arrest the vicious fall that you caused.  And to your even greater fortune, no lasting harm appears to have been done.  Sammy doesn’t remember anything.  But you are a thuggish young pair, and stupid.  You have brutalized a boy in an act of vigilantism because you were sure he was guilty though you had no proof -- the swan song of so many thugs, who always manage to make themselves the true hero or victim.”

Lawrence sagged back into his chair, his bravado evaporating like the bluff that it was.  He stared ahead of himself, and Harry knew that consequences and dread were playing out in his head.

“You have been bullies -- stupid ones.  You have brought shame to your families and your House and to whatever the Silver Slytherins might be, these days, besides a fashionable social club.  I want you to understand that, Lawrence and Annabeth.  Where you’re going, you will need that understanding.  You will need that lesson to make you strong.”

Annabeth began crying even harder, her shoulders shaking, and Lawrence slumped forward, gripping the arms of his chair spasmodically.  He looked about ready to cry.  Harry waited.  Not to be cruel, but because he knew from experience that it was very difficult to change who you were.  They needed to sit there with bile rising in their throats, tears burning hotly in their eyes, seeing their entire futures burning around them… and they needed to know that they weren’t being oppressed.

Harry knew that it was a difficult thing to realize that you’d never really been the hero, all along -- to know that you were some form of lesser villain, deluded and stupid in your villainy -- somehow even less than the honest evil, since you rewarded yourself with misplaced righteousness.  Let them see the tears of their mothers waiting in the future, the bitter scorn of Headmistress McGonagall, the tall walls of Howard Prison.

“You will need that lesson, because you are going to help me with something,” Harry said.  “The world is changing quickly these days, and a great many very smart people have convinced me that my previous strategy hasn’t been working…. so you are going to help me with a new one.”

“One constrains the partner’s choice by constraining one’s own behavior,” Schelling had written in The Strategy of Conflict.  “The object is to set up for one’s self and communicate persuasively to the other play a mode of behavior (including conditional responses to the other’s behavior) that leaves the other a simple maximization problem whose solution for him is the optimum for one’s self, and to destroy the other’s ability to do the same.”

In other words, strategically limit one’s own courses of action to only allow for the ones you prefer, so your enemy must either allow you to move unmolested, or else move against you in one of the styles you’ve chosen for them -- since by limiting your own available responses, you’ve limited their ability to provoke you to unfavorable action.

“You are going to join the Honourable, Lawrence and Annabeth,” Harry said.  He dropped Lawrence’s wand on the table.  “It was you two who helped my people discover where the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff was being stored, secretly mewed up in Hepzibah Smith’s house after her death, so I know you can be of some use.  And perhaps now you understand your weaknesses in terms of strategy.  And maybe in time, you might even understand the value of life and the price of pain, and why I have dedicated my existence to preserving the one and preventing the other.”

“We can’t be spies,” Lawrence said, dully.  He turned to stare at Harry.  “I’m only fifteen.”

“I have good reason to think that your ages will help make you excellent spies, in this case, Mr. Bradwian.  I have a plot in mind to improve the world, or at least one small corner of it, and you are an absolutely necessary part of that,” said Harry.  The Dean of the Science Program returned to his seat, where the book he’d been reading lay on the table in front of him.  “I will give you instructions on how to get started.  We will not be meeting for a while, I’m afraid.  Pip will be in touch, though.”  Harry picked up the book again, and opened it back to the page where he’d left off.  “I’m not asking, of course.  But I don’t see how my little plot could work without you, and with your callous stupidity and violence you’ve forfeited a great deal.”  He looked down at the page, and resumed reading.  “I think one day you’ll understand, if it’s any consolation.  Goodbye.”

Kwannon stepped forward, now, gesturing at Lawrence to get up.  The boy did, as slowly and gingerly as if he were afraid of breaking something.  He gently put a hand under Annabeth’s elbow, and guided her to her feet, as well.  She didn’t stop crying, keeping her face hidden.  The auror escorted the children out of the room, pausing only to collect their wands.

Harry returned to God-Emperor of Dune, and read quietly for some time.


2 comments:

  1. Got to say the first thing they spoke about Dean Potter I wondered why Harry would go by the name of Dean. I did not expect hogwarts to be a university in terminology but the tower makes sense

    ReplyDelete
  2. He is Mary-Sju now, having thecharacter like Solomon+Budda, he is only 18 y. old :D

    ReplyDelete