08 August 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Sixteen: Protagonists



Significant Digits, Chapter Sixteen: Protagonists


Excerpt from a speech given on the floor of the Council of Westphalia by Reg Hig:

This is not the ideal world, witches and wizards of the Council.  In the ideal world, we would not be concerned about getting the best deal… we would be the ones setting the terms.  In the ideal world, Merlin would never have used force to master magic-kind in every state and nation, and placed us all under ten generations of British dominance.  In the ideal world, this Council would not even be necessary, and our purpose -- the protection of the rights of every people -- every people, I say, Councilor Strongbound, goblins and centaurs included! -- would be a fait accompli.

But we don’t live in that ideal world.  We live in this world, and if we wish to responsibly advise the leaders of the Americas, we must view the world with clear eyes.  It’s not enough to see the world as it should be… we must also see how it is.  If your wand is broken, no amount of wishing and bloviating will make it work… you must fix it, and only then can you curse your enemies!

We have all seen terrible things, and fought terrible villains.  I remember the fires of Grindelwald’s scum, and the green light of Voldemort’s death-dealing.  This is a fight that is no less serious, and it needs serious people.  It needs people who can act with a free hand.

I urge this Council to vote in favor of the proposal, and empower our negotiators… let them have the power to strike and relent as necessary, rather than hobbling them with intercontinental shackles.  Let us take this moment and seize our opportunities!  Let us arm our negotiators with a sword, so they may strike down our foes and cut through our shackles!  I urge you all: vote in favor!


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Lawrence Ludwig Bradwian was special.  He’d been special almost from the moment he was born.  His great-aunt Corliss had been both a seer and a famous Keeper for the Wimbourne Wasps, and at the moment that Ludwig was born, she had fallen from her broom in a trance -- letting the Quaffle through the goal -- and had prophesied that a child of her family had been born who would “ bring down a great house in a time of endless strife, when all the worlds narrow to two.”  The goal was more widely reported than the prophecy, since it was the Chudley Cannons’ first goal of the season, but nonetheless everyone knew that Lawrence was a child of destiny.

Perhaps because of this special destiny, Lawrence grew up to be a confident boy.  He had a poise about him that translated into natural leadership.  Not many children had his sort of self-awareness, or his willingness to stand out from the crowd.  It’s often a sign of a difficult home life -- even of abuse.  Lawrence had a perfectly happy home life, on the other hand, except for the fact that he was continually made aware of the grand future that lay before him.  The prophecy was vague, but phrased so powerfully that everyone knew Lawrence would leave his mark on the world.

In 1995, he was sorted into Slytherin, and embarked on quite a career of adventure as one of the first Silver Slytherins.  They were a new breed, with new heroes: the few Slytherin aurors like Andromeda Tonks; Draco Malfoy and Narcissa Malfoy; Head of House Horace Slughorn; and businessmen like Perigold Pucey.  They took their lead in school from upperclassman Blaise Zabini, who proudly said that they were the truly pure in ambition.

“Ambition believes in things that work, above everything else,” Zabini said, standing dramatically in front of a window.  “Blood purity, studying, science, or pickles… it doesn’t matter.  Ambition is about success.”

Lawrence agreed.

In his first year, Lawrence single-handedly helped rescue a half-giant named Turm, who had taken refuge in the Forbidden Forest to escape his human relatives, the Meroveni-Bowles.  They were purebloods with a mother who was famously opposed to the Treaty for Health and Life, and couldn't abide the shame.  Turm had thought he would be safe within the wards of the school, in the dangerous depths of the woods, but there had been six Meroveni-Bowles children at Hogwarts, and they had been planning to murder their half-brother.  Lawrence had saved Turm from an elaborate series of traps constructed in the Forest, although he’d been unable to prove to the Headmistress that the Meroveni-Bowles -- siblings from a respected and wealthy Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw family -- were at fault.

In his second year, Lawrence and his friend Annabeth Dankgesang solved the mystery of the Shrieking Shack.  They discovered a secret passageway under the Whomping Willow that led all the way from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade, and found out that the famously “haunted” house was inhabited only by Euphorics, who spread rumors about gruesome murders and vicious ghosts to discourage visitors from intruding on their operation.  Minister for Magic Scrimgeour had personally congratulated Lawrence and Annabeth for helping break up the largest elixir distribution ring in the country.  Unfortunately, Lawrence had also made an enemy of Sammy Meroveni-Bowles, a boy in their own year who Lawrence suspected might have been involved in smuggling supplies.

In his third year, Lawrence and Annabeth met and befriended Nearly-Headless Nick, one of the ghosts of Hogwarts, and he had told them of the Deluminator, an artifact created by Albus Dumbledore and stored in the Room of Requirement.  Seeking out the Room of Requirement, they found the Deluminator -- and a meeting of the Meroveni-Bowles, who were planning to steal Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup from Smith Manor.  Lawrence and Annabeth foiled the burglary and exposed the Meroveni-Bowles, leading to the two oldest children being expelled and the rest of them closely watched.  The dramatic duel with Sammy Meroveni-Bowles had ended in a stalemate, that night, but at least he would be on a short leash from then on.  Unfortunately, during the night of excitement and intrigue, the Cup was still stolen… and no one knew who did it!

Was it Lawrence’s special destiny that led him to such adventures -- was being a child of prophecy some sort of special invisible mark, that made trouble seek out the young do-gooder?  Or had that fate just made into him the sort of person who wasn’t afraid to investigate the ample mysteries and intricate plots of the world’s foremost school of magic?  It’s hard to say.  But it was Lawrence’s fourth year, now, and everyone was holding their breath to see what was going to happen -- and whether or not Lawrence and Annabeth’s friendship would blossom into something more.

At the moment, the pair were in the Slytherin common room, and Annabeth was attempting to discern the secrets of their only clue to the Caper of the Cup: a small wooden abacus the size of her palm, dropped by a shadowy figure last year after an exciting chase and brief scuffle in Smith Manor.

“I think it’s enchanted,” Annabeth said, touching one of the wooden beads gently.  She was a slight girl, her hair in neat dreadlocks, and her lips pursed in concentration.  “I think it’s the Protean Charm.”

“Difficult magic.  Hard to do, and bloody expensive to hire,” Lawrence said.  He eyed the abacus warily.  “Any way to trace the other things linked to it?”

“No,” said Annabeth.  “Or, at least, I don’t know how.”  She set the abacus down on the table in front of them, sighing.

“I’m sure I’ve seen one of these before…” said Lawrence.  He closed his eyes, trying to let his mind free-associate and chase down the memory.  Annabeth watched him thoughtfully, letting her eyes linger on his olive skin and the sharp planes of his face.  She glanced away when he opened his eyes, grinning.  “I’ve got it!  Remember when Blaise brought that Silver who works in the Tower to speak to us?  Auror Pirrip?  And he came to talk to us about true ambition and all that… and his friend waited for him?”

Annabeth’s eyes widened.  “Yes… oh, Merlin, you’re right!  He bumped into the other auror with him, whatsherface, when they were leaving, and she dropped something!  She got so angry at him and said all those words that we went to look up in the library, right after!  I think it was one of these!”

“An auror device, then?  Just for Tower aurors?  Or something else entirely?” said Lawrence, narrowing his eyes and squinting at the small brown device.  The little abacus had five rows of ten beads.  They were stiff and not easy to move by mistake.  The device looked unused, but enchanted objects often looked new even after a century of use.

“Easy enough to eliminate a few ‘hypotheses,’ ” Annabeth said, smiling.  Lawrence grinned.  Neither of them had joined the Science Program -- it limited your career options too much, since taking the extra, unorthodox classes made it harder to get your N.E.W.T.s in traditional subjects -- but they’d both taken Muggle Studies and knew the basics.  Annabeth would have been a natural at science.


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HYPOTHESIS 1: ALL AURORS

Annabeth got into position at the entrance to the History of Magic classroom.  Professor Palma de Mallorca wasn’t inside -- they’d already checked -- so she was able to stand just outside the door within the alcove, out of sight.  She got the abacus out, holding it in her palm.  Then she looked down the corridor.  Lawrence was there, sitting on a windowsill, a book in his lap.  He was watching a pair of aurors stationed at the end of the hall: one of the dozen that were situated in various places in Hogwarts.  He looked at Annabeth, and she nodded.  He fixed his eyes on the aurors, and then nodded in his own turn.

Annabeth flicked three of the beads in the top row to one side.  Somewhere, all the abacuses linked by the Protean Charm to this one mimicked its movements.  It was a way to signal, and even if they didn’t know the appropriate messages or code, they did know that the recipients would need to look at their own copies.  The little abacuses were too small and fiddly to interpret by feel.

Lawrence kept a careful watch on the aurors at the end of the hall, but they didn’t change their behavior at all.  They just kept quietly chatting, their hands folded casually into their sleeves.  They weren’t on very high alert -- despite the supposed necessity of their presence, thanks to the existence of the Tower, they seldom had much to do.  There were rumors that patients had escaped the Receiving Room and gone running around the school, but no one had ever actually seen such a thing first-hand, as far as Lawrence could discover.  He wasn’t sure he believed it.  No one even really knew where the Receiving Room actually was in the school, for that matter (except the professors and aurors, he supposed).  So far as he could actually verify, the only thing the aurors ever did was occasionally act to break up a fight or stop some bullying.

After as much as ten minutes had passed, Lawrence looked over at Annabeth and shook his head.  No luck.


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HYPOTHESIS 2: TOWER AURORS

“What if they use Legilimency on me?” asked Lawrence, nervously.  “They’ll know I’m lying… they’ll know everything.”  He glanced at his robes.  “They might just guess from how much I’m sweating!”

“Just… try to be casual!  They distribute Safety Sticks to like… a thousand countries these days!  That Receiving Room must be busting, and no one’s going to want to chat.  Plus, Gregorius’ cousin Lammie went on a lark, and he says that all that happened was that they owled Lammie’s parents.”  Annabeth said, shrugging.  “You’ll be fine!”

“It knocks you out, you know… they might find the abacus while I’m unconscious,” Lawrence said, shifting in his seat.  “I wish we could figure out some way to do it with both of us, like last time.  It’d be okay--”  He cut himself off before he could finish the sentence with “if you were there.”  He blushed.

Annabeth was blushing now, too, although it wasn’t as noticeable.  She looked away and said hurriedly, with a smile, “Look just do it, you big kneazle!”

Lawrence stared at the Safety Stick in his hands and gulped… but anything was better than being right here, right now.  It was too… too much.  He snapped the Safety Stick with one strong thumb.  There was a moment of wrenching force around his middle, and then darkness.

He awoke to a sudden unveiling of consciousness, as though a black curtain had been lifted from his awareness.  There was no grogginess, and Lawrence was familiar enough with the process to expect the stunning (everyone knew the procedure to go to the Tower, since it was part of the first lectures on safety, and Lawrence’s uncle had been rejuvenated), but it was still disorienting.

“Hello, son,” said a young-looking witch, who was standing next to him.  He was lying down on one of the cots.  Lawrence became aware that she was holding his hand, and it twitched involuntarily.  The witch just went on smiling pleasantly, and spoke again.  “It’s okay, you’re in the Tower.  We couldn’t find anything wrong with your ABCs, and you don’t seem to be hurt… can you tell me what’s wrong?”  She was extremely nice and extremely firm in a way that tolerated no dissembling.  Her white robes were neat and trim, and her features were firm -- snub nose, red hair, freckles, and sharp gaze.

“Oh Merlin… I’m in the Tower?!”  Lawrence said.  He was feeling a little panicky at the prospect of being caught, and so this performance didn’t take much pretending.  “But I didn’t… oh, no!  I’m so sorry… I had a Stick in my rear pocket!  Annabeth shoved me... “  He trailed off, letting the lie fade on his lips.  He sat up and swiveled his legs off the cot, and buried his face in his hands, releasing the healer’s hand.  The contact was making him uncomfortable, as though she could tell his true thoughts by touch.

“I see... “ said the healer.  Her voice was neutral, in the way of someone reserving judgment without wishing to give offense.  This must happen all of the time, and Lawrence was pretty young… she probably saw children doing this for fun, just for the experience of it, all the time.  “Well, this is very serious, you know that, right?  There are six people who spent quite a while scanning and working to help you, and they could have been helping people who really needed it.  Sick people, injured people, or dying people.  I see you’re a Hogwarts student… what’s your name?”

“Lawrence Bradwian,” he replied, speaking as miserably as he felt.

“We keep track of everyone who ‘accidentally’ comes here.  I’ll let the arithmancer know… and he’ll let the Headmistress know,” the healer said.  She stepped back from the screened-in little cubicle in which they were sitting.  Lawrence glanced around.  White tiled floors and ceiling, a plain little metal table, and a plain metal cot laid with white linen.  Everything was as generic as something you might Transfigure, if you were hastily creating something new.  He supposed they were in the main clinic ward, or something… details on the layout and details had been more scarce when he and Annabeth had asked around; everyone focused on the aurors and healing.  Oh, Merlin… why did we ask around like that, how stupid… if anyone does doubt this ‘accident,’ it’ll be easy to find out how curious we’ve been about the Tower!  Lawrence tried to freeze his face in its current dismay, so that he didn’t visibly dissolve into horror.

“I don’t want you to think that you shouldn’t get a new Stick, or let this stop you from visiting us in a real emergency, Lawrence,” the healer said.  She glanced away from him, and waved someone over.  He took the opportunity to shove his hands in his pockets.

“Serge, would you help this young man, please?  He needs to speak to Tommy or someone else, and then he needs to go back to… well, class, I suppose,” the healer said to someone who had just walked up, past the edge of the white screen and out of sight.

“Certainly, Beneficent,” said the unknown man.  He stepped up to where Lawrence could see him… and it was an auror.  A hulking man, six and a half feet if he was an inch, and twenty stone if he was a pound.  Serge the Auror had a thick neck and a shaved head, and when he lifted a guiding hand to Lawrence, it looked more like architecture than anatomy, in terms of scale.  The auror smiled kindly.

“Have a good afternoon, Lawrence,” Beneficent said to him.  She was smiling again… she’d apparently decided that she believed him.  Or that she should be merciful.  “Be more careful, okay?”  Giving a half-wave, she was gone before he could answer.

Lawrence slid forward and stood up, stepping a little awkwardly to where Serge was standing, outside the cubicle.  He glanced to the left and right.  There looked to be at least a hundred similar cubicles stretching to either side, with an ample corridor down the middle.  Lawrence could see two dozen people or more… healers, aurors, and people in random dress who must be patients.  Several patients were unconscious and limp in the air, suspended by a spell as they were briskly taken down the corridor -- entering or leaving, he supposed.

“Wow,” he said.

“Not as fancy as you expected, I bet,” said Serge with a smile.

No better time.  Lawrence flicked four or five beads on the abacus in his pocket, and watched.

In the span of the next fifteen seconds, he counted two aurors and three healers who paused at the signal, and at least appeared to look at something from their pockets.  Not every auror, and not every healer… only those five.  What is worse, it looked to him like they were doing so furtively.  They all looked with cupped hands, one of the healers ended a conversation and stepped away from the other person, and one of the aurors ducked almost out of sight into a cubicle.

“I’m not sure what I expected,” said Lawrence.  “But it wasn’t this.”


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HYPOTHESIS 3:  OH MERLIN I DON’T EVEN WHAT

“So… it’s not all aurors, or even all Tower aurors… it’s just some of the healers and aurors in the Tower?  That’s good news!” said Annabeth.  They were scrunched together on a bench in the Great Hall -- luncheon was the only time Lawrence could find to meet, since he was serving detentions in the evening.  It was Inigo Imago’s birthday, and in honor of the legendary seer, the rolls and muffins were enchanted to hang suspended above the tables, spinning in tight orbits.  It was said to resemble the movement of the heavenly spheres.  The wide table in front of them was also filled with meats, cheeses, and platters of pickles.  There was also some sort of curry, although neither Lawrence nor Annabeth was particularly interested in it.

“How can that possibly be good news?!” said Lawrence, wheeling around to face her.  He held an uneaten but enormous sandwich in his hands.  “It means… well, I’m not sure what it means, but it’s something sinister!  A secret cabal within the Tower!  A cabal that stole the Cup!”

“Oh, just stop and think for a moment.  There are all kinds of non-sinister possible explanations, right?”  Annabeth said, picking a sesame roll out of the air.  She tore it apart, absently, as she spoke.  “Just because one of the people who stole the cup was a part of whatever group we’re talking about, here, doesn’t mean the group was involved.  If we found a Gryffindor robe, it wouldn’t mean there was a Gryffindor conspiracy to steal the Cup… just that one Gryffindor was involved.  We have narrowed down the list of suspects, a lot.  It’s good news.”

Lawrence sullenly took a bite out of his sandwich, declining to respond until a respectable amount of time had passed.  After a while, though, he turned to Annabeth and said something witty and cutting, even though he said it around a mouthful of food that made it completely unintelligible.

“Gross,” Annabeth said, making a face.  “Slow down, or you’ll choke.”

Lawrence abandoned the effort, and concentrated on chewing.  Annabeth went on, saying, “Okay, so we should probably go tell the Headmistress, immediately.  There’s no reason to wait.  She and the Tower and all those important people can figure this out.”

“No,” said Lawrence, urgently.  “That won’t work.  Listen, who was most likely to notice that Sammy and his siblings were up to no good?  What sort of person?”

“A student, of course,” said Annabeth.  “Or a professor.”

“And which students, specifically?” said Lawrence, raising his eyebrows.

“Us, I suppose.  I mean, we’ve been tangling with them for years.  There was Turm and the Shrieking Shack and Myrtle and… yes, if anyone was going to get suspicious, it was going to be us,” Annabeth said, guardedly.

“And what would we be expected to do, if we found a clue?”  said Lawrence.

“...report it to the Headmistress?  But wait, you can’t possibly think that this is a trap?  If this conspiracy involves the Headmistress, then I think we’ve already lost.  And anyway, how could you even think that!?  You know what she’s like!  And how would that trap even work… you’re saying that… I don’t even know what you’re saying!”  Annabeth sounded scandalized and shocked and scornful, all in equal measure.

“Fair enough, okay,” said Lawrence.  He switched tactics.  “But maybe she’s just not powerful enough.  We need to go right to the top.  There’s only one person who can sort this out… one person who can figure out the conspiracy and get back the Cup.”

“First of all, you don’t know that there’s a conspiracy.  The abacus might not be related.  Second of all, there’s no way we could get a private message to Minister N’Goma… there are probably eight people assigned just to read her owls.  Third of all--”

“No, no,” said Lawrence.  “I mean the Tower.  Let’s go give the abacus to Dean Potter!  He’ll help us get back the Cup!”

Annabeth paused, then frowned, suspiciously.  “You just want an excuse to talk to him and bring us to his attention.”  She thought for a moment, then brightened.  “That’s an excellent idea.  He’s almost as important as the Minister for Magic, anyway… and he’s not accountable to anyone.  A good person to know, and this is a good excuse to talk to him.”

It was just like Professor Slughorn always said: the more people you know, the more people who can help you.

“But why not just -- I don’t know, cut off your finger, or something?  I’m pretty sure that a lot of people who go to the Tower get to speak to Dean Potter.  Or we could just talk to an auror and tell them what’s up.”

“Well, I suppose,” said Lawrence.  “But I think that they usually don’t let you talk to him very much… and he must hear this kind of stuff all day.  We need to stand out.  And also… this might be a good opportunity for some payback on the Meroveni-Bowles.  Opportunities like this, for a clever plot, don’t come along every day.”

“All right,” Lawrence said.  “So how are we going to sneak into the Tower, the most heavily-guarded place in Britain?”  He took another bite out of his sandwich.

“I have an idea, I think,” Annabeth said.  “An idea for a plan.”  She picked up a piece of torn roll from her plate and rolled it into a ball between her fingers.  “We want to solve a mystery and report a possible conspiracy, right?  Recover a relic of the Founders of Hogwarts and return it to the rest of Hepzibah Smith’s collection, and punish those responsible?  And we also want to get Sammy and his siblings?  And, of course, become famous and powerful?”

Lawrence nodded, chewing.

“Well, how can we do all of these things with one simple plan?”  Annabeth squished the bread flat between two fingers.  “Let me give you a hint: remember that big cabinet we saw in the Room of Requirement?”





7 comments:

  1. "In the ideal world, Merlin would never have used force to master magic-kind in every state and nation, and placed us all under ten generations of British dominance"

    10 generations = 200 years or 300 years.

    I doubt Merlin lived only 200 years ago.

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    Replies
    1. Wizards live on average a good 150 years. 10 generations of 150 years is 1,500 years.

      Delete
    2. Scratch that, more like 100 years average.

      Delete
    3. Generations are measured from when people have children, though, not when they die.

      Delete
  2. The "10 generations" is looking forward from the Tower and the Goddess, not backwards to Merlin.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wizard lifespans are longer, so their generations might be also. On the other hand IIRC Lily and James had Harry in their (early?) 20s so if they're typical maybe not.

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