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.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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.

Yuck.

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
Reg

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?

Harry:

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.

Cedric

“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.

Nothing.

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.

Nothing.

“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.”


3 comments:

  1. First referred to as "Billie's Bobbing Bubbies" and then later as "Billie's Bouncing Bubbies". Personally, I think the first one is a much better name, especially given the mention of bobbing somewhere else in the story.

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  2. Saying pants and knickers is a bit weird. Like saying vehicles and cars, unless you meant trousers and used an Americanism but I can't remember whether or not wizards wear trousers under their robes

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    1. "Knickers" is used in some American dialects, and though it's a bit archaic in most, would never be misunderstood. "pants" is, as you note, ambiguous between dialects.

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