26 September 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Three: Watchers

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Three: Watchers

CARROW:  Sir!  Sir!  What say you to the fact that our families are snapping in half, sir?  I say to you what I have said a thousand times, and that is this: tradition is the glue which holds magical society together!  When you burn away tradition, sweeping it off with Muggle machines and cold numbers, then you dissolve the ties which bind magical Britain!  I myself have visited the Registrars of Marriages and Unions of Godric’s Hollow and Diagon Alley, to name only two, and I am told that they have seen twice as many divorces this year as they saw in 1989!  Twice as many!  Homes are being broken, children are finding themselves Flooing back and forth on alternate weeks, and happy unions are being destroyed in the wake of all this haphazard and destructive change.  So I ask you then, what say you to that?

[scattered applause]

POTTER:  Thank you for that question.  I do have a response.  First, I believe that you show the same care for metaphor as you do for logic.  Are we burning, sweeping, or dissolving?  And if we’re burning, how do we do that with cold numbers?  Clear articulation is a sign of clear thought, and vice-versa.

[scattered applause]

CARROW:  Mockery is no substitute for an answer!  You--

HUGHES:  Sir--

CARROW:  You--

HUGHES:  Sir, please let Mr. Potter finish speaking.

CARROW:  You cannot--

HUGHES:  Sir, please let--

CARROW:  Yes, yes.

POTTER:  I do have an answer.  But before I give it, let me also point out that two points of data, two numbers, do not make a trend.  There might have been unusually few divorces in 1989, for example.  Or maybe the divorce rate was even higher in 1979.  It’s hard to compare anything unless you have more numbers.  But that’s not-

CARROW:  The pleading of a child!

POTTER:  But that’s not the only flaw in your thinking, Mr. Carrow.  There’s a hoary old phrase to use at this point: correlation is--

CARROW:  Yes, ply us with--

POTTER:  Correlation--

CARROW:  --your condescension, Mr. Potter.

HUGHES:  Sir, I must ask you--

POTTER:  Correlation--

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow--

POTTER: --is not causation.  That means that there are many sorts of reasons why the divorce rate might have risen over a whole decade.  Not every change in the world can be laid at my feet, and--

CARROW:  All of this complicated jargon, but the words you need are so simple.  Apologies have the virtue of brevity, as well.

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow, sir, I need to ask you to let Mr. Potter speak.  Remember your name and the honour of your house, sir.  We are here for a civil discussion.


HUGHES:  Mr.--

CARROW:  My honour and that of my house is unbroken, Mr. Hughes.

HUGHES:  Mr. Potter, please continue.

POTTER:  Then let me just say this, then, Mr. Carrow: the largest flaw -- no, the biggest mistake you’re making is that you haven’t even stopped to ask yourself whether or not this is a bad thing.  If it is true, and if it is truly my fault, neither of which points I am willing to concede on the basis of two fiddly numbers out of context--

CARROW:  You--

POTTER:  --then it is almost certainly the result of money.

CARROW:  Money?!

POTTER:  Gringott’s began issuing loans near the end of 1993, Mr. Carrow, and by 1995 the economy of magical Britain was twice as large.

CARROW:  Money is only worth what it can be -- and it cannot buy tradition, or happiness, or a family life.  If we have made the trade you suggest, then I would say it is a bad bargain… and so much the worse for the shopkeep!

POTTER:  You don’t understand.  The money has given people freedom.  Even a small sum of money -- the possibility of taking on the responsibility of debt -- can be enough to allow someone to change their job or start a new business or even just change their situation.  The freedom of money leads to a lot of other disruptive freedoms.  Including the freedom to leave their spouse.  People who might otherwise have felt trapped--

CARROW:  You mudblood piece of--

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow!  Mr. Carrow!

POTTER:  Mr. Carrow, you seem--

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow, this is--

CARROW:  She never--

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow!

CARROW:  <unintelligible>

-Partial excerpt from the unedited transcript of the second of the Tower Debates on the Future of Magical Britain, as recorded by a certified-impartial Quotes Quill.


“I know it’s a bit unfair,” Hermione Granger said, staring at the five Honourable, “but it certainly does seem that we tend to find you lot in skeevy little places, doing skeevy little things.”  She glanced pointedly down at the floor, where trickles of golden potion were slowly spreading around under the feet of Margaret Bulstrode, Edgar Erasmus, Geoffrey Gem, and his two assistants.  She could smell the shrivelfig.  Euphoria Elixir.

“Auror Kwannon?” Hermione called over her shoulder, past where Hyori was standing at the door.  The Returned witch stepped aside to admit the auror, without ever taking her eyes or wand or glower off of the captured wizards and witches.  Kwannon also had to edge past the gentleman she’d brought with her from the DMLE, Gerald.  He was some sort of recorder, taking notes of raids like this one.  An ineffectual attempt at holding aurors accountable, Hermione thought.  Kwannon looked irritated at the whole production.

The aurors feel like they should be running the show, first through the door.  But there’s just no reason to let them take those kind of risks, not when I’m here, she thought.  She glanced over at the auror again.  Kwannon was relatively tall, considering her Japanese heritage, with a round face, a scattering of light freckles, and a flat nose.  She was one of Alastor’s, and was usually in the Tower.  For the time being, though, she was here on Harry’s behalf, along with four more aurors from the DMLE.  Harry had needed someone here, after all -- needed some eyes and ears on her Honourable hunt… what would he do with himself otherwise, locked up in that Tower and buried in healing and research, if he couldn’t divert himself with some crude manipulations of everyone around him?

Not that manipulation, per se, was her complaint.  It was just… Harry never learned.  After their first year, including the trial and the troll and that terrible time at the end, he never really changed.  He just became more… well, Harry-like.  He hadn’t learned the real lesson she thought he’d take away: if you try to use secret knowledge to manipulate complex situations about which you have incomplete information, then things will get very bad, very quickly.  It was very hard for any person to be smart enough to manage that -- and it was stupid to try when you had friends.  It was “nihil supernum,” after all, not “nihil par.”

But the stubborn man hadn’t learned then, and so Walpurgisnacht had happened, and he still hasn’t learned, she thought, bitterly.  Even after the price we paid.  Hermione almost lifted her hand to touch her neck, but stopped as she realized what she was doing.  No time for this sort of dithering.

She brought her thoughts back to the present situation.  Time for me to butt out a bit.  I’ll make myself her asset, rather than her superior.  She’s probably better at this than I, anyway.

“Auror Kwannon, this isn’t really my sort of thing,” she said, turning and smiling at the auror, slightly lifting her shoulders to indicate her ignorance about the next proper thing to do.  “You were kind enough to let me pop through here quickly, to keep the miscreants here… maybe you could take the lead from here?”

“Yes, well…” said the auror, looking around the room before focusing back in on the five Honourable.  “This is some trouble, here.”

Gem noticeably shrank back into himself, seeming almost to fold his thin body over.  The witch and wizard that were his assistants took things a little bit more in stride -- as though stunned and out of place, with confused expressions.  Hermione was fairly sure they were still riding down a dose of Euphoria.

Erasmus, on the other hand, puffed up his chest.  He was red in the face, and with the colouring of his hair, he looked humorously similar to a large carrot.  “There’s no crime in printing and distributing a newsletter, or in conducting private researches, I think.  Even in today’s Britain!”

Kwannon turned her sharp attention to the researcher.  “Mr. Erasmus, you are correct.  However, it is illegal to operate a private Floo network, it is illegal to conduct dangerous research within one hundred meters of a residence, and it is extremely illegal to sell Euphoric Elixir without a license.”

“All unjust prohibitions!” said Erasmus.  He had brilliant blue eyes that were narrowed in indignation.  To emphasize his point, he thumped his fist down on the stack of boxes he’d been carrying when Hermione had torn up the entrance hatch and knocked down their door.  “Who is the Government to say what I do with a Floo, where I can do my research, or what potions I brew, eh?  My research is my research!”

“I recall your research, sir,” said Kwannon, her mouth tight.

The former Tower researcher had been studying the construction of magical machines, Hermione recalled, before he had been fired, his research confiscated, and key memories Obliviated.  Erasmus had ignored safety concerns entirely, and had insisted on just bullying through and continuing to build his wind-machines.  They used fluid dynamics: tight swirls of air spinning as gears, fed by small warming columns of heat from below; flywheels of pressurized zones to store and transfer energy; and shifts between small turbulent flows and laminar flows as switches.

The machines had been brilliant -- Erasmus was brilliant -- but they had also been maddeningly dangerous.  One Ventus could power them for days, and the very first thing they were designed to do was consume waste matter of any type and incinerate it for more power.  If Erasmus had moved his investigations of Muggle science out of engineering and aerodynamics, and into something like computer programming… the danger had been unbelievable, even by magical standards.  He was almost a cartoonish figure: the mad scientist with no concern for consequences.  Harry had not only been apoplectic, he’d been outright offended.

Hermione supposed that the setbacks they’d given Erasmus, including the changes to his memory, were probably enough to ensure everyone’s safety.  But to see him right back at it, only now without any supervision… they’d need to do something, somehow.  It needed thought.  For now, at least, it looked like Erasmus wouldn’t be a danger for a while.

“In the States, anyone can set up a Floo.  It’s not right that there’s only one Floo Network in Britain,” offered Margaret Bulstrode.  She was a beautiful young woman, but clearly quite out of her depth.  Hermione knew Margaret, slightly -- she’d been several years ahead at Hogwarts, and the aurors in charge of investigating the Diagon bombing had brought her before the Wizengamot for examination on the basis of an informant’s accusations.  Nothing had come of it.

“I wouldn’t know about that, I’m afraid,” said Kwannon, her voice hard.  “But I do know it’s illegal here, just like Faux Floo is illegal.  Is that the genuine two-Sickles-a-scoop on your mantel?”

“Yes,” said Erasmus, puffing out his cheeks.

“Mm,” said Kwannon, noncommittally.  She walked around the room, looking sharply into corners and at everything around.  “What else you have here, eh?  Come on, Gerald.”  She headed through the other door, into a hallway or another room.  Gerald followed her with his floating parchment and Quotes Quill, looking nervous.

“This is a private facility,” called out the weasely Gem, hugging himself.  He’d put down the crate he’d been holding.  “You have no call to go snooping…”  He trailed off, uneasily.  His fear of the Goddess and Hermione’s supernatural air of innocence were probably confusing him.  That sometimes happened.

“She’s an auror,” said Hermione.  “The Tower and I have proper search warrants and habeas corpus and seizure rules planned out, but we haven’t gotten there yet.  For now, you’re stuck with the traditional system, as we found it.  Seems to mostly date back to the eighteenth century, with some modern bits like Hit Wizards stuck on.  But tradition is best, after all… isn’t that right?”

Need to taunt as a distraction… best not take it too far, though.  Susie seemed to think it was funny, though, smirking as she walked to the crates of copies of Unbreakable Honour and sat on one.  “ ‘Good for thee, but not for me,’ as the saying goes, love.“ said the Returned.

Erasmus huffed again.  “Under any system of justice, Muggle or magical, this is out of order.”

Hermione approached him.  “How so?  I’d be interested to hear you defend this, Edgar.”  She gestured at the crate of broken potion, and clasped her hands in front of herself.  “Did your research ever lead you to encounter the notion of ‘wireheading,’ I wonder?”

“You were famous for fighting bullies, back when you were at Hogwarts,” said Margaret, suddenly and loudly.  “S.P.H.E.W and all that.  But now you are a bully.”

Ah, that’ll do nicely.  Hermione smiled again, and turned to face Bulstrode.  She approached very close, and stared at the woman.  She was a little taller than Margaret, and she knew she was quite intimidating.  She let the smile fade from her face, and lifted a finger.  She poked it into Margaret’s chest, and said -- coldly, now -- “Don’t hide behind loose categorizations.  Say what you mean.  You’re being persecuted, are you?”  She plucked at Margaret’s robe at the shoulder, and then again at one of the pockets, contemptuously and dismissively… as though the woman were a bit of lint.  “You and all of Draco’s loathsome death-worshippers, piling all your prejudices and ignorance up into a single lot.”  She walked around Margaret as she spoke, and took the opportunity to surreptitiously drop a button -- one she’d removed from Margaret’s pocket, and palmed -- into her own robes.

“I’ll say what I mean, all right,” replied Margaret.  Her voice barely shook.  “You lot have taken over.  And you’ve done a lot of good things.  But there’s a natural order to the world, and you’ve broken it.  You’ve… you’ve done some of the darkest of rituals.  It’s the only way things even make sense.  And you’re eating up all the rest of the world, state by state.  If you keep going, the world won’t even be recognizable… no traditions left, no people thinking their own thoughts in their own ways… you want everyone to be the same, like the porcelain dolls that come out of the Tower.  ‘Rejuvenation’... it’s just control and replacement!”

“Draco has always had a silver tongue,” said Hermione, scornfully.  She’s just parroting back what she hears.  This was the danger of letting things go this way, Harry… they’re cementing in these ideas.  It’s hard enough to get people on our side, but to win over those who actually hate us this much?

You knew I’d never agree with this plan.  That I’d point out it was extravagant and risky and impractical.  The slow victory is better than the fast loss, Harry.

But Harry wasn’t here, and there was no point venting now.  Bend before the storm, and surprise her.

“You might be right in some ways, Ms. Bulstrode,” she said, walking away.  She saw Hyori raise an eyebrow from her position by the entrance, and flashed a quick smile at the Returned.  Hermione turned back around to face the Honourable.  “It’s dangerous to discard a lot of traditions.  Many of them survive from century to century because they serve an important purpose.  Memetic survival: mutation, variation, and evolution.  ‘Unconscious memes have ensured their own survival by virtue of the same qualities of ruthlessness that successful genes display,’ “ she quoted.  (The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, page 198, her brain automatically supplied).  “It’s something we should be more careful about, and we want to avoid when we can.  Was there any specific tradition that you are unhappy about losing?”

Margaret was silent for a long moment.  Hermione folded her arms, and waited patiently.  It wasn’t even an act: she was honestly interested to hear the answer.

“How about Quidditch?” said Margaret, after a while.  “The Tower wants to get rid of that.”

“Well, he did want to change it, yes,” Hermione said.  “Not get rid of it.  Harry isn’t much for sports in general, I’m afraid, and I don’t think he ever quite understood it -- especially the snitch.  Muggles have a similar sort of thing called test cricket, but I doubt Harry has ever played or even watched it.”

“They sacked all the Quidditch regulators!” said Margaret in reply, strength coming into her voice.  “Closed down the whole games section of the Ministry!”

“That wasn’t the Tower, that was a decision by Minister Fudge,” said Hermione.  But when Margaret and Erasmus gave her a look, she smiled slightly.  “But yes, he supported it.  As I recall, though, Quidditch is doing just fine… better than ever, in fact, now that it’s being run privately.  Most of the same people working for it, I think.”

Kwannon returned at that moment, Gerald in tow, shaking her head.  “Fairly plain about the research being done here, and the Euphoria being brewed.  We’ll get some people in here to collect all this, but I think you should all try to think of a good solicitor, if you know one.”  She headed up to the entrance, and waved in the aurors who were standing idle in the corridor.  “Come on through.  Back rooms there… bag up the lot.  Leave the experiments inside the circles until we can have someone bring them out with precautions.”

“I imagine they know some people who can help,” said Susie.

“Malfoy,” said Hyori from behind Hermione, scornfully.

“Be careful with my research,” said Erasmus, urgently.  He was turning red again with anxiety.  “I’m within a hair of a working Zimara machine!”

Perpetual motion?  Maybe I can stay and take a look, thought Hermione.

“Any way we can help, Hedley?”  she asked, hopefully.  “We can stick around if you would like some assistance?”

“Thank you, but I think we have it in hand,” said Kwannon.  Hermione probably should have let her go first; there would have been relatively little danger.  Lesson learned.

“Then I suppose we do have things we can get up to.  Thank you,” said Hermione.  She nodded at her Returned, and they all headed for the exit.

It was true, after all.  They had some parchments to read.  As they made their way out, Hermione reached into her robe and picked up the Everlasting Eye.  When she’d seen Bulstrode out on the streets of Knockturn Alley, it had been easy enough to step aside, slip on the Cloak of Invisibility, and sprint on around ahead of her.  She’d dropped the listening device into Margaret’s pocket after tripping her with an invisible foot.

“Let’s find out who escaped our raid, shall we?” she asked the two Returned witches.  Susie smiled.


We are faced, right from the beginning, with a difficult task.  It is a task so immense that most wizards never even notice it, any more than they notice their eyelids.  Indeed, when I began this chapter, I sought out dozens of the most learned wizards in Britain, only to discover that no more than one or two had ever given any thought to the problem.  Madame Hopkirk of the Department of Mysteries herself was able only to point me to three or four dusty volumes of consideration -- none of which I could read (the obstacle was the same one previously encountered, dear reader, when I attempted to research the history of Hogwarts: no consideration is given to those for whom the Interdict is a forever-insuperable obstacle).

Subsequent conversations will allow us to piece together some basic ideas, if they must be rudimentary of necessity.  So then: what is magic?  The physical realization of an inner spirit?  The action of a daemon working on one’s behalf?  A demand made on some hidden set of rules to the universe?  We set our education and wits to the task of explaining many things we might see in magic:
  • A large proportion of magical effects conform, depend, or otherwise interact with the emotions, expectations, wishes, or willpower of the caster.
  • Magic seems to operate almost entirely on a human scale, even including wholly subjective aspects of modern life.
  • The linguistic components of spells are all well-suited to the human tongue, and most even seem to derive from Latin or Greek roots.  The history of magic begins in Greece, as Madame Bagshot has instructed us, but was that necessity or coincidence?
  • Magically-created matter is mundane matter in most respects.
  • Magic interferes with Muggle machines in some unknown way, yet to be discovered or classified, and thus seems inherently inimical to machinery in a spiritual sense.
  • The ability of humans to do magic varies, with most people unable to do any magic at all, others having only the very tiny magic of a Squib, and some having enough magic to cast spells.  Many plants and animals also possess magic where others do not.
  • Magic is hereditary, and so must be a trait like hair color or height that is passed from parent to child.
  • It is widely known that magic has been decreasing over time, which means that it must be going somewhere.

When these phenomena are fully internalized and realized, we may thus see that the daemon theory of which we spoke earlier must be the correct one.  It explains all of the above conditions, as the daemons consume magic to live, make war on rival machines, live within the body to touch upon the mind, and are passed from parent to child like a Sallowfax infection.

- excerpted from Chapter Three of A Squib’s-Eye View, by A. F. Leiding


It is abundantly clear that Mr. Leiding is not only a Squib, but also a fool.  We may pity him for his limitations in magic, but we should pity him even more for his limitations in reasoning.

It is impossible to understand the true nature of magic.  Atlantis’ fall put the source of that knowledge out of time and out of our reach.  This may be the ultimate tragedy of this book: left with no purpose, what else is Mr. Leiding to do, but construct fantasies and try to know the unknowable?

-excerpted from American Mage’s review of A Squib’s-Eye View

20 September 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Two: Press Pass

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Two: Press Pass

I’m not sure what I expected to find in Siegfried’s, the latest dining establishment in Diagon Alley.  It’s widely whispered that Tower money helped put the gilt on the doorknobs, so to speak, but even knowing that, I didn’t expect quite the level of opulence one finds at this adventurous new experiment in “Muggle fine dining.”  It appears that the Man-Who-Was-the-Boy-Who-Lived spared no expense: from your first step to your last bite, Siegfried’s is an experience in luxury.  Such an investment might simply have been necessary, since “Muggle” and “fine dining” is almost a contradiction in terms.  But the Tower, and Mr. Siegfried König, seem to be determined to change that by rubbing their wealth in your face through Siegfried’s well-appointed interiors.

The service was also a study in excellence.  The waitstaff were courteous and helpful as they explained the odder aspects of the meal.  Novelties in the vocabulary they employed include: “sous vide,” “liquid nitrogen,” and “emulsifier.”  The only thing missing from their careful explanation was any information whatsoever; I still have no idea how my food was prepared, except that some manner of Muggle mysticism was involved.  I declined a kitchen tour, as it sounded dangerous.

For all that the decorating was ostentatious and the explanation of the menu was inane, however, I must admit that the food was a revelation of flavor and texture.  Even when I didn’t understand it, I enjoyed it.  I tried a chutney that was complex and rich, but balanced perfectly with quail eggs in a bed of a squash paste.  I found that it was…

-Excerpted from “New ‘Muggle Restaurant’ Opens Its Doors in Britain,” by Sylvia de Kamp in American Mage.


Margaret Bulstrode pushed open the door to Billie’s Bobbing Bubbies with some distaste.  Just touching the greenish metal handle made her feel dirty, and the scene inside didn’t make her feel much better.  A corpulent man with pointed ears was standing at the front counter, paging through the thick catalogue of the memories on offer, while the balding woman who was working there was digging under her fingernails with the pointed tip of a decorative glass stopper from a nearby phial.  A very pale man with lank grey hair completed the scene, sitting at one of the small tables in the waiting area and eating from a ludicrously large bowl of apples ‘n onions -- the smell of which was filling the room with cloying sweetness.  Everything seemed like it was covered with a thin film of filth.


Margaret didn’t say anything to any of the three people, but only continued on straight to the little bobbing rooms.  Three of them had closed doors, indicating that they were occupied, but a fourth had a crude sign fixed to it: OUT OF ORDER.  She opened it anyway, and closed it behind her.

As promised, there was no Pensieve inside, only a swoop-armed Art Noveau chair with a threadbare cushion, and an empty metal rack where the magical device had once stood.  Margaret gathered up the folds of her robe -- it was a nice once, too, all fresh with sharp folds -- and gingerly sat down on the chair.

She waited almost a full minute.  The Goddess was in Knockturn Alley, and Margaret needed to be careful of her.  She wasn’t doing anything wrong, necessarily, but… one could never tell.  In fact, Margaret had seen the glamorous villainess herself just ten minutes ago when she was on her way to Billie’s: Hermione Granger had been with her gang of thugs, harassing some poor shopkeeper.  The sighting had so rattled Margaret that she’d been stumbling over her feet the entire rest of the walk here, and very nearly went tumbling in an undignified fashion after tripping on some hidden edge of the road a few minutes later.

But no one else entered the establishment, so it appeared she hadn’t been followed.

“Freedom from tyrants, the strength of individuality, and the traditions of wizardkind,” she said.  She spoke quietly, as though to the air, and braced herself.

The chair trembled underneath her, and then with a violent jerk it flipped itself backwards.  It pivoted as though fixed in the air, and her legs flew up and she tumbled over, and she gasped in alarm (every time!).  But rather than being deposited on the floor just behind the chair, Margaret was sliding back into a space that hadn’t been there before, and in a trice she was dropped gently onto a wooden platform at the end of a long hallway.

She caught her breath and fixed her robes and hair.  For some reason the process had a tendency to lodge the back edge of your robe inside the waistband of your pants or knickers, so it paid to take a moment and collect yourself.  Margaret suspected that was a subtlety of Draco’s devising.  He called the password to enter (freedom, strength, traditions) a “priming process,” saying that it was good to remind yourself of your goals every time you set to work, and she couldn’t help but imagine that it suited his inscrutable purposes to discomfit every visitor by disarranging their clothing, as well, to prime them for being embarrassed.

Once she was ready, Margaret took a deep breath and walked to the end of the hall, making her face bold and her step even bolder.  Confidence could carry you far.  She pushed through the door, and stopped just within.  Not quite striking a pose, but just an entrance moment.

She needn’t have bothered.  No Draco, no Narcissa, no Shacklebolt.  Just that wretched Muggle-lover Edgar Erasmus, the insufferably priggish auror Gregor Nimue, that American writer whose name Margaret couldn’t remember, and some boy she’d never met.  No one she really needed to impress…

No, no… that’s Stupid Slytherin thinking.  A Silver Slytherin doesn’t turn up her nose at any chance to cultivate power, no matter what “sort” of person is their potential ally, she thought, admonishing herself.  It was a weird way of thinking, almost unnatural: an entirely different level.  Beyond dominating or controlling people, even beyond fooling them… searching for the utility of each person, regardless of their inferiorities. A pure Slytherin, a true Slytherin in the tradition of the old heirs of that house, they knew that the important thing was to win.  Everything else was a hobby.

“Hullo,” Margaret said to the room.

Nimue didn’t bother to rise from his chair, but only glanced up at her and nodded.  He was sitting at the long and narrow table that dominated the room, and had seven parchments arrayed in front of him, neatly, so that they were all visible.

Erasmus, who was sitting next to Nimue, was a little more polite.  He rose to his feet and inclined his head to her.  “Margaret.”

The writer -- Sylvia de Kamp! that was her name! -- was sitting with the boy at the other end of the table, and didn’t appear to notice her entrance, keeping her eyes fixed on the young man.  The boy had his back to Margaret, and he turned just enough so that she could see his face (handsome, with beautiful skin and a look of misery) before returning his attention to Sylvia.  She was a beautiful but cold-looking woman, with no charm to her tight blonde bun or sharp cheekbones.

Margaret glanced around the room.  A Floo chimney was along one wall, installed illegally and at great expense on a private network.  A stuffed owl resided on the mantle above, next to a jar of Floo Powder.  A sofa and a pair of chairs sat before it, all upholstered in the most luxuriously soft bicorn leather.  A narrow hole was visible in the ceiling above the chairs, where a simple covered pipe up to the roof could admit owls.  All along another wall, to her left and right, were stacked wooden boxes.  They must contain the latest edition of Unbreakable Honour, waiting for Narcissa to arrange the shipping.  

“Edgar,” said Margaret, approaching the big, red-haired man.  She straightened her posture slightly, putting her shoulders back as she folded her hands into her sleeves.  “Is Kingsley here?  I brought two more Time-Turners, but I’m only supposed to give them to him.”

Erasmus settled back into his seat, shaking his head as he did so.  He was in sleeveless potioneer robes.  “No, he’s not.  Two of my people are in the laboratory, and Gem is making Euphoric down the hall.”  He gestured at the door to the hall, on the other side of the room.  “I’m glad he’s not here, he’d just be bothering me.  Leave the Turners with… oh, with Gregor, or someone.”  He nodded his head to indicate the Tower auror sitting beside him.  “No, he is assisting me… just give those here, then.”  He held out a large florid hand.

Erasmus was well-built and supposedly brilliant, but couldn’t really sort out where he stood on a lot of important things… Muggles, most of all.  He talked a good game about the natural order, but he was also always neck-deep into some Muggle book or other (or sometimes two or three books, Muggle and magical both, while he muttered and made notes).  Draco might also use science, but you didn’t have to worry about his loyalties.  Erasmus… well, he just only seemed to care about the bastardized magical research he did with science in his little crypto-alchemical laboratory here.

“No, sorry.  I can’t do that.  No reflection on you, of course, Edgar, but orders are orders,” Margaret said, smiling apologetically.

Draco didn’t tolerate that sort of rank stupidity.  Not that he’d do anything really terrible to her, but he wouldn’t ever trust her again if she was so cavalier about such things.  And his anger could be terrible… she’d heard rumors of punishments to traitors.  The Windowpain Curse, for example.  A victim who looked at the black square of a window at night -- any window, any night -- would be cursed to always see an apparition looking back at him: a pale, wide-eyed face with large and sharp teeth, staring back at him from the darkness.  Nothing more… but always that.  She couldn’t imagine who’d come up with that… what sort of person would even think that way.  Just hearing about that one had made her afraid to open the curtains at night.

Erasmus shrugged and placed his hand back on the table.  Nimue just glanced up and smirked, then returned his gaze to the parchments.  Margaret stepped over behind the two, to look between them at the subject of their interest.  “Research, Edgar?”

“Looking for a pattern in seeming miscellanea,” said Erasmus.  “Trying to… verify, shall we say.”  He glanced over at the miserable-looking boy.  The boy didn’t look over.

Report from the Office of the Tower Ombudsman

Our office has determined that by far the largest vulnerability, flaw, or weakness in the Tower continues to be the reliance on a single figurehead and leader, Harry Potter-Evans-Verres.  While his prestige and reputation remain one of the driving forces behind the popularity of Tower programs and initiatives, in addition to their own dramatic results and merits, he represents what Security Director Alastor Moody said in an interview was a “single point of failure.”

We also have...

Margaret, surprised to see an internal memo rather than some obscure line of research, looked to another parchment.

Memorandum from Councilor Regulus Hig of the Mystical and Benevolent Council of Westphalia

Mr. Potter:

Hope you are well.  Have checked on your question re number of wizards with certain groups here.  Numbers attached.  Please note they bear out my argument.  Many generations of wizards have moved to Britain over past centuries, draining blood and talent from elsewhere.  Must be effect, not the other way around, given last years immigration numbers (attached, next sheet).  Seems clear that my reasoning stands; in final agreement, Tower will endow chairs at RI and SWI.  Partial compensation for generations of drain.  Yes?  Please reply.

Re representative: not sure who to trust with proxy these days.  Limpel had maybe dozen in her org, or more.  A dozen total now have turned up with minds wiped.  Would suggest distance collaboration, but understand Tower protocol prevents communication.  Will think on it.

Be well

The string of numbers that followed was rather beyond her curiosity’s scope.  She’d never been forced to take Arithmancy, thank Merlin, since she graduated the year before it became mandatory.  Millicent wouldn’t stop complaining about it, a few years ago.

She glanced over at the next parchment, frowning.  What was all this?


Quick note on where we are.

No good results from Hopkirk.  She says it’s not a problem of obscurity, but that there’s just too many results.  Three is a number of power.  There were three witches who were famous Scottish seers in the sixteenth century, there were three Peverell brothers and three Deathly Hallows, the Greek Lord Herpo found three ways to hide from murder, there were three towers of Atlantis in legend… Too many threes.  Hopkirk will keep looking, but says it could mean anything.  I don’t think you should rely on much insight until we have more details.

Some descriptions of the transportation magic described by Hermione.  Väinämöinen wrote about a horse of flame was used to bear brave warriors to the battlefield.  Not sure if any wards can be devised without more details and experimentation.  Right now, Tineagar or whoever could pop right into Howard or Hogwarts or Whitehall.

I’ll work more on this, and get back to Tuesday.  This feels unfair, though… piled on top of Malfoy and his stupid Honourable.  Hope Hermione knocks them off their high horse.


“The Goddess is after us now… for real?  Like, she’s done swanning about the world and having people kiss her ring?  Is that why she’s here?”  Margaret asked with rising alarm.  She believed in the cause and all that, but she’d already been through one interrogation.  She wasn’t interested in repeating the experience… Mad-Eye Moody shouting at her and demanding she confess to helping with the Diagon Alley bombing, always acting just crazy enough that you had to wonder if he might snap if you didn’t just confess....  Margaret shuddered.  Thank Merlin for Amycus Carrow, who’d been by her side the entire time.  Pervy, but effective.

“She’s here?” asked Erasmus, looking up at her again.  “In London?”  Even Nimue was paying attention to her now, and Sylvia and the boy with whom she was speaking had stopped their conversation and were staring.

“She’s here in Knockturn,” said Margaret.  “She was--”

“You little fool,” snarled Nimue, leaping to his feet.  “You didn’t think to say?!”

Erasmus gathered all the parchments up into a bundle, knocking the table violently as he stood up.  “Gregor, why didn’t you know about this?!”  He opened his robes, but before he could stuff the parchments inside, Nimue snatched them away.

“Shut up!  They don’t tell me everything… not when they’re suspicious!” said Nimue in an angry hiss, folding the parchments up and drawing his wand.  At the other end of the table, Sylvia had drawn her own, and she and the boy were both standing.

“My research!” cried Erasmus, bustling over to the door to the hall and disappearing.  A clatter of beakers soon sounded from that direction, as the worried researcher rushed to save his work.

“But she’s not knocking at the door or anything,” said Margaret, upset by the reaction.  She took a step back, and drew her wand, although she wasn’t sure why.  “She’s just in Knockturn, why do you think--”

“What other bloody reason would the Goddess have for coming to Knockturn but to look for us?” demanded Nimue.  “It’s not even a question -- can’t believe you’re even allowed in here, what is Draco thinking?!”  He turned to Sylvia.  “Get going!  Take Lawrence and finish the damn interview later!”

The American writer was already pulling the boy towards the hearth, almost dragging him by wrist.  She whispered her destination, but had time enough to shoot Margaret a look of contempt before the pair were gone in a burst of green flame.

“But I think you’re over-reacting,” said Margaret helplessly.  “How would she even--”

“I was at Azkaban when Hermione Granger broke it like a child’s toy!” snapped Nimue, darting over to one of the crates along the wall and snatching up a satchel that was sitting on it.  “She has died and come back and she is not human.  Do you know the stories they tell in the DMLE?  One of the Weasley idiots saw her put that author fellow -- Lockhart -- saw her put him through a wall with her bare hands, after she found out some nastiness he’d been up to.  A Hogwarts wall!”

“Gilderoy Lockhart?  But he’s not in any trouble… he just published--”  stammered Margaret.

“Why am I even wasting time with you!  Stay and risk your neck, it’s…”  Nimue trailed off as he saw the stuffed owl on the chimney mantle start to flap its wings and hoot.  Without another word, the Tower auror leapt to the hearth, and was gone in his own flash of green flame.

“Edgar!”  called out Margaret.  “The owl!”  She didn’t wait for a reply, but just concentrated on the three Ds.  Let the idiot and those stupid Euphoric-makers fend for themselves.

Godric’s Hollow, she thought, clearly and with force.  Then she tapped herself on the head with the curious wiggle motion of Apparition.


Oh, Merlin, there’s wards.  They’ve locked it down with an Anti-Disapparition Jinx.  She turned to the chimney.  That was the way out, no matter what wards… that was it’s whole purpose.  “Edgar!”  she shrieked, running over to the chimney.  “She’s really here!”  She snatched a handful of Floo Powder from the jar on the mantel, and threw it into the fire, which turned emerald.

“Borgin and Burkes,” she said, and stepped into the flames.  She’d go to the other hide-out and escape from there.


“They cut us off!” said Erasmus from behind her.  “Oh… oh… what… oh…,” he stammered.  She turned to see the big wizard charging across the room, awkwardly bundling three big boxes as he went.  A fourth box followed him, floating along by flapping transparent silvery wings.  “We’ll have to use the owl-bolt,” he said, peering up at the narrow passage.  She stepped out of the flames.

Three other men burst into the room from the same door Erasmus had used.  She recognized Geoffrey Gem and his two cronies: the suppliers of local Euphorics.  Gem was a rail-thin man with terrible teeth -- all snaggly and yellow -- and thinning hair.  Each of the three potioneers had a smock on and was carrying a clinking crate of phials.  “Hold up, Eggy!” called Gem.

Erasmus put down his boxes and pointed his wand at the narrow hole meant for owls.  “We’re going, Geoff,” he said.

There was a loud booming sound, as though someone up in Billie’s Bobbing Bubbies had knocked over a heavy piece of furniture.

“Just need to take down the wards, then we can punch out through the roof,” said Erasmus, concentrating.  His already reddish complexion turned downright scarlet as he worked, and sweat was visible on his brow.

There was another heavy boom from upstairs.  Margaret found that she was clutching her wand so tightly that her fingers ached, and forced herself to relax.  “Hurry, Edgar!”

“These aren’t supposed to be easy to take down,” he snapped, but he gritted his teeth and squinted as he worked even harder.

“They can’t get in here for hours… hours of magic to stop them from burning in,” mewled Gem.  Margaret almost laughed in his face.

There was a third boom, and this one not only echoed in the room with an accompanying shattering sound as something broke, but the furniture actually shifted.  Margaret turned to face the entry door.  “That sounded like--”

The center of the door cracked as something hit it from the other side, the wood splitting from top to bottom.  One of Gem’s assistants dropped a crate, and it hit the ground with a crash of breaking glass.  “Oh Merlin,” the man said, swaying in place.  The rich and sweet smell of shrivelfig filled the room.

There was another crashing sound, and a golden fist appeared, spearing out through the door and sending chips of wood into the air.  It opened and seized one side of the broken door, and then thick golden fingers pulled until Margaret heard the metal of hinges squeal and give way.  The remains of the door fell apart and open, and the Goddess stepped through.  She wore a golden gauntlet on her left hand, and wielded her wand in her right.  The metal of the gauntlet glinted brightly, like it was forged from sunlight.  It looked very dangerous.  She was flanked by a scowling, short witch and a buxom, taller one, both of whom were also wearing golden gauntlets, and a spectacled man who looked a bit scared.  A floating Quotes Quill followed the man.

“Edgar,” said the Goddess.  “We need to talk.”

12 September 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-One: Opfer Müssen Gebracht Werden

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-One:  Opfer Müssen Gebracht Werden

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“That is to say: of what possible use can an agent of the Tower be to me?” asked Lord Draco Malfoy of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Malfoy, infamous enemy of the ascendant Government, thorn in the side of the mighty Harry Potter, and increasingly powerful rhetorical force behind the Treaty of Independence.  As he stared at the teenage boy in front of him, his eyes were narrow and his lips tight with contempt.  His ice-blonde hair was almost perfectly styled, but for two stray bits of hair that artfully dipped across his forehead, as though bowing.  He held a silver-topped cane lightly -- almost carelessly -- in his hands.

His mother, the Lady Narcissa, stood at his side -- herself a figure of almost as much fame since she suddenly and inexplicably reappeared in British society after more than a decade-long absence (during which she was said to be dead, murdered by former Headmaster Dumbledore).  She smiled pleasantly.

Lawrence understood, very suddenly and with absolute completeness, just how stupid he and Annabeth had been to get involved with any of this.  To try to frame Sammy Meroveni-Bowles, fool the Tower, and solve a mystery that was clearly way out of their league.  To do anything other than report straight to the Headmistress about everything.

He tried to answer Draco’s question, but somehow his mouth and throat had gone deadly dry.  Just inhaling to speak tickled the back of his throat, and he shuddered with a cough for a moment, choking it back into a strangle since he was afraid to even cough in front of the Lord and Lady Malfoy.

The pair did nothing but watch, calmly, which was somehow even more terrifying.  Mr. Erasmus, the red-haired former Tower researcher, seemed uninterested.  He sipped his wine and stared off into space.

“I…”  Lawrence struggled to swallow, and then forced himself to continue.  “I brought information.  Things that they’ve found out in the Tower.”  He glanced over at Mr. Erasmus, the man who’d been introduced to him as a former Tower researcher, but Mr. Erasmus appeared more interested in the dram of whiskey that he was swirling around in a stemless glass goblet.

“My dear Lawrence,” said Narcissa, smiling.  “The cause of freedom has supporters everywhere.  I cannot imagine you know anything that we do not.”

“You are a… fourth year, I believe.”  said Draco.  He didn’t look at Lawrence, instead looking idly at the silver head on the cane in his hands.  “Tell me about the astonishing coincidence or whimsical connection that brought you this information.”

“Well, sir, a few days ago one of my classmates, Sammy, was hurt.  He fell.  And I got a Safety Stick to help him -- to get him to the Tower, sir.  But my friend Annabeth was right there, and she helped me.  So we all three went.”  Lawrence spoke smoothly, now, feeling a little better.  This had been rehearsed.

“This sounds rehearsed,” said the Lady Narcissa.  Lawrence felt his flesh prickle.

“Yes, madame… I practiced in front of a mirror before I went to Whizz Hard Books to try to get in touch with the Honourable,” said Lawrence.  Even though he’d been prepared for that observation, thanks to the Tower, who had anticipated it, sweat trickled down the small of his back.

“But Annabeth has been angry at the Tower, I think, sir.  Well, I know she has.  We don’t read your newsletter, since it doesn’t seem smart to have it delivered to Hogwarts, but we still hear things.  About how all the rejuvenated people seem too perfect-looking, like dolls, and how they act differently afterwards… like new people.  Like they’ve been replaced.  Annabeth’s oma -- er, her grandmother, sir -- she was just like that.  Annabeth was happy about the rejuvenation, at first, but now she feels like she’s lost her grandmother.  Like it was unnatural.”

“Your friend would have preferred her grandmother died, you’re saying?”  Draco seemed doubtful and amused, a slight smile playing on the edges of his lips.

“No, sir, but they could have just fixed her, without changing her,” said Lawrence.  He continued his story.  “And so anyway, Annabeth tried to mess things up a little bit when she went along with us.  She had a whole bunch of doxies she’d transfigured down into a rock or something, and--”

“And when she went along with you and your injured classmate, they returned to their native Form and ran amok,” said Narcissa, who shook her head, smiling but rueful at the foolishness of children.  “More like a prank than anything serious, it seems to me.  But I have had word of this; it happened.”

“Well, sir, I had this with me, when I was in there and they were questioning her, they had me sit and wait.  They put me at a huge table they have there, and told me to be quiet.  And the auror looked away for a minute… and I had this,” said Lawrence.  He reached very, very slowly and carefully into his pocket -- making it clear he wasn’t going for a wand.  Neither of the three adults seemed even slightly concerned.  But they did seem interested when he pulled a golden sphere from his pocket.  “A Time-Turner.”

“And since Harry uses his own every day, they don’t ward the Tower against them,” said Draco.  It wasn’t a new realization; he said it as if it were known information.

“So I went back an hour, and there was no one there in the past.  I wanted to go look around, but there were just people everywhere, they’re doing so much stuff there… I ended up being stuck in that room, pretty much.  The only place I could go was a little quiet room filled with doors, and even there I didn’t want to stay for more than a minute.  I just… well, I just grabbed some parchments from a desk there, and ran and hid back under the big table.”

“And you waited for the auror to bring your past self into the room, and then when your past self vanished--” said Narcissa, nodding.

“--I pretended as though I was picking up a piece of parchment from the floor.  He yelled at me, but he seemed nice enough for an auror, and didn’t stun me,” finished Lawrence.  “So… well, here.  This is everything I got.”

He reached back into his robes, and pulled out a thick wad of parchments.  They had a crease across their surface, from where they’d been folded in two, earlier.  He offered them to Lord Malfoy.

Draco didn’t take them, and neither did his mother.  They both glanced at each other for a moment, as though in silent consultation, before the Lord Malfoy finally said, “I’m not sure they would mean much to me, if I can be appropriately humble about my own limits.  Edgar?”  He was smooth in tone and neutral in affect.

Mr. Erasmus cleared his throat juicily, rising to his feet.  He found a spot for his glass, and approached, rubbing his hands together.  They were small and mottled with uneven red-and-white.  “Certainly, certainly.”  He took the documents from Lawrence, and held one corner pinched with one hand, paging through them with the other.  “Some of Vernon Wells’ work, here… Advancement Agency making great strides, it seems.  It’ll need some study, but they were already talking about this Muggle testing equipment when I left, and this is a Sanger sequence.  They’re looking for genetic marks in Veela blood.”  He paused, then puffed, “Hertability, that was it.  Looking for hertability.  Very technical.  And we knew they were on this, really.  Not interesting.”

“Oh, it’s all just slips of paper, when you get down to it,” said Draco, drily.  “Anything else that might prove more helpful?”

“This says that Richard Keflo Phillips -- squinty fellow, like everything’s blurry all the time, a mouse of a man -- has worked out how to conjure food.  Straight violation of Gamp, though, must be nonsense,” mused Mr. Erasmus.

“All right, well, look through it thoroughly, if you wouldn’t mind, and let me know,” said Draco.  “Thank you.”

Mr. Erasmus returned to his chair, taking the parchments with him.  He muttered quietly, “Marvelous… in such a short time?  My, my…”

“Draco, dear, the boy might be telling the truth,” said Narcissa Malfoy, folding her hands in front of herself demurely.  “But it seems more likely that the Tower sacrificed this information about their research -- if any of it is true or useful -- willingly.  A price of passage.  Is that so, young man?”

Lawrence didn’t trust himself to speak, and only shook his head in the negative.  She turned away from her son to look at him carefully, still smiling, and he felt like he had to pee or throw up (or both).  She could kill him.  He knew it.  She knew that he knew it -- in fact, she knew it so well she didn’t even bother to appear threatening.

The saving grace was that, even if he hadn’t been trying to deceive them, he would still be this scared, so he didn’t have to try to hide it.

In the stories about boy heroes like Harry Potter and Reynard Goupil, children could run amok and defeat evil and charge into danger.  There were always people waiting to save them if things really went wrong -- a kindly civilized centaur, or a nurturing headmaster, or someone else.  But children… they weren’t ready for this.  This was… he was in over his head...

“That’s true, Mother,” said Draco.  He lowered one end of the cane in his hands, so that he held it only by the silver snake-head.  He toyed with it, rolling the handle between his palms slowly.  “For you see, Mr. Bradwian, we know quite well that the Tower recruited you after your little time-turning adventure in the Records Room -- if that indeed happened at all.”

“He did, sir,” said Lawrence, and his voice cracked on the second word.  He didn’t even feel embarrassed, only worried that it made him seem like he was lying, as he pressed on: “And I said yes.”

Narcissa laughed, and it sounded quite beautiful and light-hearted.  It was out of place, like a melodious strain of music on the floor of a slaughterhouse.

“And you propose to bear back my chosen information, then, Lawrence?  Is that what you’re saying?” asked the Lord Malfoy.  There was a knife in his words, hidden like a slip-tip behind the soft tone.

“Yes, sir,” said Lawrence, who wished he had never started playing games.

“How interesting,” said Draco, who relished them like the air.


The three shining spheres, each made of polished silver and standing as tall as Harry, were sitting on simple frames of unvarnished wood.  On each sphere, there were two large holes at opposite ends, with other apertures a handspan apart along different points.  A single low depression, as though someone had pushed their fist gently against the cooling metal, was partway along one side, matched by a similar protrusion on the other.

Harry touched the surface of one of the silver spheres, reverently.  He was wearing his gloves, but they were fingerless: he let his fingers rest lightly on the metal, which was cool to the touch.

After a time spent in contemplation, he dragged a rolling metal podium over.  It bore a long, folded printout in dot-matrix on continuous stationery.  Ugly, but he hadn’t been able to get the much newer and nicer inkjet printers to work correctly.  Harry figured his time was too valuable; he was just going to put five engineers on retainer for the future.  More delegation meant less fun, but he wouldn’t miss some of the tasks… trying to fix the tables on the EEG output had been a nightmare.

After consulting the numbers and crudely-drawn graphs on the paper, Harry lifted his wand and touched it to one of the openings on a sphere.  He opened a pouch on his belt, and pulled free the loose end of a thick cord of dense hemp rope -- source material.  Then he concentrated, using the skill that had become as natural as breath.

Diamond, borosilicate glass, and a single layer of graphite in a honeycomb pattern began to sprout from the contact.  They were crystals joined into a single unit, formed in contravention of all natural processes: nearly transparent and perfect.  It would be an exceptionally good window, fitting deep into wells forged all along the rim of the sphere and anchored in place to an atom’s exactness.

He’d considered making the vessels entirely out of such materials (or even some of the “theoretical” materials that he and Hermione had made in their second year, while studying for their O.W.L.s).  But frankly, not even the best materials that science knew could match the mystic strength of goblin-forged silver.  As best he could tell, it was indestructible by all mundane methods.

There had been one prototype when making the combat gauntlets used by some of the Returned; Podrad the Artificer had turned out a lobster-looking medieval doodad, in the formal and useless style of ages past.  It would have worked wonderfully for blocking Muggle crossbow bolts in the days when wizards ruled their unmagical kin by force, but it lacked the vital spots for the chargers.  It was a good subject for testing, though -- shear stress, compression, penetration (by CO2 laser!), and even a good solid blast of neutrons.  That last one had been entrusted to Luna and Cedric and a hand-picked team, and kept quiet, but the results had been marvelous… the goblin-forged silver had only become more dense, without becoming radioactive.

There was probably an outer limit to its mundane durability, but Harry hadn’t yet discovered it.  The humble Sickle was one of the most amazing things the magical world had ever produced.  Wizards, in their bigotry and stupidity, had spent years oppressing goblins, never knowing that staggering power was jingling in their pockets.  Harry could only hope that the rapid restoration of their rights in recent years had been done with enough celerity and forthrightness that it repaired some of the damage.  Goblins had long memories.


Harry stepped back to admire his work, and then stepped forward again, to make sure he’d really done it.  He tapped on the glass.  Nearly transparent and extraordinarily durable… even before enchantment.  Once enchanted, it should be impervious.

Testing first, though.

Harry reached over to the dome-shaped depression in the surface of the sphere, and pushed his hand inside of it.  He stepped back to observe as a brown band of color emerged from the slight bulge on the other side of the sphere, expanding away from the center of the bulge.  It widened as it went, and it left nothing in its wake -- the sphere vanished as the band passed.  It looked as though the vessel were evaporating; although, when Harry stepped to the side, he could see that the vanishing flat side of the sphere was now the same brown as the enveloping band.  The flat cross-section of the vessel grew larger and larger, until it passed the widest part of the sphere, and then it shrank down rapidly.

In a moment, the entire sphere had vanished in the wake of the brownish band, and the flat brown end had revealed itself to be the smooth brown outer surface of a brown leather coin-purse, which had swallowed almost the whole sphere.  As the last of the sphere was placed inside of the purse, it dropped to the ground -- as though, only just then, it realized that gravity applied.

“A childhood dream come true?” asked Hermione.  Harry turned to see her leaning against the doorway, smiling fondly at him.  Bouncy brown curls framed her face.

“This is going into space,” Harry said, as he leaned down and picked up the pouch.  It was about the shape and weight of a grapefruit.  “I am holding the future in my hand,” he marveled.

“Ron Weasley’s future, specifically,” she said, approaching him.  One hand was at her neck, toying with her green-and-gold necklace.  “So I hope the testing has been rigorous.  I wish I could have helped with that, but there’s been a lot to do.”

“He’ll be fine, and you’ve contributed more than anyone to this… well, to everything we’ve done.”  Harry put the pouch in the center of the wooden frame, and gestured at it with his two hands, fingers tented together and thrusting out -- as though beginning the breast-stroke.  Obedient to the BSL command, the pouch began disgorging the vessel, which steadily swelled from a silver bowl back into the full sphere.  The brown lip of the pouch, stretching over the surface as the ship was called forth, looked like it was extruding the sphere, as if it were some otherworldly child’s toy.

Hermione pointed at the next sphere over.  “The bathysphere?”

“Well, a bathyscaphe or a submersible… but yes.  It’ll get a cone-shaped front port.  After testing, it will go to the ocean floor… and then, hopefully, right to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the lowest point on the planet.  No one’s been down there since the Picards in the sixties.  And we’ll be able to explore far better and see more.  We’ll mount viewing mirrors and adjustable spheres with the Perpetual Light Charm on them on the outside, so we’ll be able to take full-colour video, and a bunch of other things.  We’ll even take samples to make portkeys, and we’ll leave a Cabinet down there.  And there’s some things we need to find that were dropped there, as well.”

“Okay… but then what is this one?  A second spaceship?”  Hermione pinged the surface of the third sphere with a fingernail.  It had a single slight difference from the first two: there was an additional small recess above the space for the front window.

“Something like that,” Harry said.  He lifted a hand, and thumped the surface of the first sphere, hard.  It had fully re-appeared, and the extendable pouch had been swallowed back up in its own turn within the silver lump on the rear of the ship.  The window he’d made seemed to be unaffected.  He set his gloved palm on it for a moment.  “Say, can you scratch these at all?  How do you do on goblin-forged silver?”

“My nails are a nine or so on Mohs.  I could probably scratch the window.  But goblin silver?”  Hermione put her thumbnail against the sphere, and dragged it across.  There was no effect.  “That’s why I have that little knife, so I can trim my nails.”

Harry gathered up a handful of printouts and some other parchments, covered in crabbed notes and designs. “Walk with me?”

They exited the room into the larger hall that held the rest of Material Methods, scooting carefully along the wall at one point to avoid a cauldron that was sitting on an extremely hot fire, the magical flames radiating waves of heat.  They nodded and smiled to the goblins and wizards that were busily working in the room.  Urg the Returned stopped what he was doing --  annealing mother-of-pearl to the inside of a charger cartridge -- and called out a greeting.  The sharp-toothed goblin had been there for a couple of days, sorting out some of the finer points on the chargers.

“Going well, Urg?” asked Hermione.  Harry didn’t think she knew it, but she always spoke to her Returned in an especially gentle voice.  Not as though they were fragile, but as though they just held some special warmth that she was reflecting back at them: a gentle moon to the bright sun of their devotion to her.

“Yes,” Urg said, dusting fragments of shiny iridescence from his fingertips.  “Hezekiah from the Extension Establishment spent some time here yesterday, and showed us how to stabilize the extended pocket space within each charger.  They’ll be able to hold much more of whatever we put into them.”  He had a strong Acklish accent -- guttural hoarseness on the velar consonants.

Hermione picked up the charger he’d been working on, and examined it curiously.  “What’s this for?  Air, foam, water, tear gas, grease…?”

“Potions,” said Urg.  “Cure for Common Poisons, Befuddlement Draught, and any of the others that can be breathed in.”

Harry frowned, leaning over to examine Urg’s workbench.  It was at goblin height, so he had to lean quite a ways over.  “I thought they kept going inert inside the charger?  When we did a prototype with the Muffling Draught, it just shot out like a jet and didn’t function at all.”

“The lining,” said Hermione.  “The mother-of-pearl sustains the potion?”

“And there’s a nozzle for the front, to mist it,” said Urg.  He went back to the workbench, and held up a small nozzle.  It looked like a copy in metal of a Muggle spray-bottle nozzle.  “The only trick was keeping the Undetectable Extension Charm stable, and I think we’ve solved that.”

“This is wonderful, Urg,” Hermione said.  The goblin drew himself up very tall, and nodded, the tips of his long ears bobbing with the motion.

“Thank you,” he said.

“We’ll let you get back to it,” said Harry.  “But I wonder if you might take a moment, some day next week, to speak to the Science Program students about this?  Not specifics… but just the way you approached the problem.”

Urg shrugged.  “Yes, if you’d like.  It’s just as the old proverb says...” he said, and accompanied it with a fluent line of Gobbeldegook.  He paused, then translated for the humans: “Make it and break it and make it until it stays made.”

“I might need to have that engraved on the wall,” said Harry, as he and Hermione began walking again.  “Thanks.”

Urg nodded again, and sat back down to his work.  The Tower and the Goddess proceeded out of Material Methods and down the corridor.

“We need to change tactics when it comes to Malfoy,” said Harry, as they walked side-by-side down the featureless corridors.  They passed the quiet Records Room, the noisy Conjuration Conjunction, and the humid Vision Verge.

“Yes… I know about your tactics so far, Harry.  And why you need to change them.  It wasn’t hard to guess,” said Hermione, quietly… a little coldly.

Harry heard her, but was distracted for a moment.  He ducked back the way they came, and called into the Vision Verge, where the two researchers of that department were concocting a clear, viscous substance, turning it over in thick folds with a large metal spoon.  “Hey!  It doesn’t matter if that mercury is enchanted, the vapours are still toxic!  First degree of caution, please!”

The chagrined researchers, who’d started in surprise at the sudden interruption and command, set the large metal spoon down and got out their wands to begin putting up the precautions.  Harry nodded severely.

When he returned to her side, he said, “Yes… it’s been necessary for a long time.  You came to me after the bombing in Diagon Alley with Tonks, and you both were right, then.  I’ve been waiting because… well, the time wasn’t right.”

As they entered the meeting room, Hermione closed the door behind them, and glanced around.  They were alone.

“No,” she said, leaning against the door.  “I know.  I know you haven’t been trying to stop Draco and Narcissa.”

Harry controlled his reaction.  He’d been expecting this.  He limited himself to nodding, thoughtfully, as he walked over to the big table.

She crossed her arms, and went on.  “I even understand the reasons behind it.  But what I don’t understand is why you wouldn’t tell me.  Why you’d keep it a secret.”

He sighed.  I knew this was coming.  Another reason to step up more obvious aggressive action… it’s becoming apparent that we’re not really taking on the Honourable.  We move hard to advance our own interests, but barely do anything to restrain the Malfoys.

“I wanted to control the game… I wanted one game, as much as could manage,” Harry said.  “World politics was too balkanized, with too many separate sets of interests.  The States and most of the rest of the Americas are all about advancing their own power and pushing back against the ‘British imperialism’ that they think has been dominating the world since Merlin.  I mean, not that they’re wrong, but…”  He shrugged.  “Europe is a muddle of old feuds, like Cappadocia and Cyprus… the Sawad and Africa splinter into different factions on a regular basis… and the Ten Thousand are-- well, I don’t actually understand what’s going on between the twelve of them.”

“Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres,” said Hermione, sharply, “if you dare to try to explain the basics of game theory to me, I am going to be rather cross with you.  I can see why you did it: you wanted to create a conflict game where there are only two sides -- and as close to zero-sum as you could get.  I’m going to leave aside the arrogance of trying to manipulate world politics on this scale -- I mean, honestly, the Cold War version of this left the world with thousands of nuclear bombs! -- and just say that you should have told me.”

Harry faced away from her for a long moment, staring at the glossy wood of the table.  He leaned on it, and thought about what to say.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you.  I trust you implicitly,” he said, still gazing at his own reflection in the table’s surface.  “You’re intuitively good… I have to think through utility functions and weigh the benefits, but you… you carry goodness around like pennies in your pocket.  Not that intuition is the best way to get correct utilitarian results, but… I have to admit your record on moral decisions is a lot better than mine.  Results matter.  So it’s not that… it’s not trust.”  He paused.  “But you and Draco were… close.”

He heard Hermione about to speak behind him, as she drew in a breath.

“That’s not what I mean,” he said hastily, turning around.  Her eyes were bright and fixed on him, as if she could pin him to the floor and wrest out his secrets with the intensity of her scrutiny.  “But you spent a lot of time together, after our first year.  I know he really helped you, when you couldn’t get the-- when you had trouble with the Patronus.”  Her gaze stayed steady.  “And you’re so open and clear to everyone… it’s why you’ve been so effective at convincing people to join the Treaty for Health and Life.”

But you’re terrible at deception.  You never had to learn it: you have always won by sheer dint of cleverness and hard work.  You’ve gotten a little better at dissembling and lying as you’ve become more of a politician, but carrying on a charade where we were working our hardest to crush the Honourable threat?  I couldn’t risk it.  People like Reg Hig would see through you after a single conversation.

But none of that was the right thing to say.  You can’t convince someone out of their feelings like that… it ended up sounding like you were saying that their feelings were wrong or illegitimate.  Even if you succeeded in reasoning someone out of all of their objections, you didn’t make them feel better or repair the breach.  He’d learned, all too well, that emotions could overwhelm everything else, in the moment.  Once you get past that, and get on with it, you can get back to being rational and

“No,” Hermione said, firmly, as though she knew exactly what he was thinking.  “I am not a delicate flower, and I am not an irrational woman overcome by my past and my emotions, and I am not standing on a bloody pedestal while you take the hard decisions on yourself.  I’m not--”  She paused, seeming to think of something else for a moment, then added, “I’m not a bloody pawn in your game.”  She walked towards him until she was only a pace away, her jaw rigid with anger.  Harry became aware that he’d leaned back against the table away from her, without being conscious of it.

“But after Granville, you were… I mean, you’re out there all the time, open to attack and facing the public, and--” he said, starting and restarting his explanations.

Hermione reached to the table next to him, took hold with a few fingers, and casually twisted.  The beveled edge of the wood, fully an inch thick, snapped off with a loud cracking noise.  She shifted the thick chunk to her palm, and ground it to splinters with a few motions of her hand.  Broken pieces of the destroyed fragment of table pattered to the floor like rain.

“And I’m too fragile?”  She opened her hand, releasing a scattering of dust.  Her voice was bitter, arch contempt underlying every syllable.  “You didn’t tell me about your proposed plan because you didn’t think I’d be able to handle it… because you thought I’d be in a conference in France or Germany or America, and someone would ask why we weren’t cracking down on the Honourable, and I’d muff it.  Because you don’t think of me as a full equal.  I’m your equal only on very specific terms… spellcraft and tactics and combat and ethics.  But when it comes to the big decisions on strategy?  You only trust your own judgment, even after everything.  That’s the only real reason for this.  You’re the Dumbledore, watching over me, and I’m the child.”

“I-- I’m… I’m sorry, I--”  He felt overwhelmed, and wanted to protest, No, no, that’s not true… we’re full partners, but he was too well-trained in the art of avoiding avoidance, and so he was already critically assessing his own thought processes, and wondering if she was right about all of that, and he had the sickening suspicion that she was.  If someone is your full partner, you don’t use a grand strategy that leaves them in the dark.  That’s what you do with subordinates.  Which was how he’d been treating her… in this, anyway.

“I’m going to stop Draco from dragging any more people into his nasty little Treaty of Let People Die, don’t worry about that,” Hermione said, as she jabbed a finger into his chest.  She was being gentle, he knew, since it didn’t hurt him.  Even as she felt betrayed, she was gentle with him.  He felt like an unbelievable jackass.

She stalked out of the room, pausing only to say one last thing.

“Voldemort didn’t think he had any equals, either.”


NOTE:  I am aware that graphene wasn’t yet produced in a real way until years after 1999, but it was observed and studied for many decades before that, and scientists began trying to synthesize it in the seventies.

What do you want from me
you who walk towards me over the long floor

your arms outstretched, your heart
luminous through the ribs

around your head a crown
of shining blood

This is your castle, this is your metal door,
these are your stairs, your

bones, you twist all possible
dimensions into your own

      -- Margaret Atwood