05 September 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty: Reproduction in Miniature





Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty: Reproduction in Miniature


The town of Ipswich often claims to be Britain’s oldest town, since it is known that the community has persisted unbroken since the early seventh century.  The wizarding world knows better -- Diagon Alley is the oldest continuous community in Britain, surviving since the fourth century before Christ, when it began as a single cottage built by a Greek wizard, a wanderer who had abandoned his century-long journey in search of the legendary Cup of Midnight in order to create a home in this distant land of savages.  In one shape or another Diagon has existed ever since, rebuilding homes and shops as needed.  It is because of this antiquity that, when Merlin wrought the stone of the Wizengamot and made himself the leader of the magical world, he did so in London.  He may have also been honouring the long-ago Greeks who brought wands and high magic to Britain for the first time, although he said nothing of this.

Tír inna n-Óc is older.

That fact no longer means much, truth be told.  Tír inna n-Óc was woven from nightmare before Ελαολογος even left in pursuit of the Cup of Midnight, and by the time that Cup was broken in the tenth century -- woe be upon the breaker of that precious cup! -- the hellscape of Tír inna n-Óc had already been abandoned by the Tuath and the Unseelie, and no creature called it home.

The realm persisted, regardless.  It had been crafted from the horror-dreams of nameless beasts of the sea, creatures no longer known to man or wizard that lie still and breathe salt and do not die, and Tír inna n-Óc would endure as long as they.

In a world as inundated with possibility and conflict as our own, it is not surprising that such places exist and have been lost or forgotten.  Merlin ensured that on the day that he laid down his Interdict to shackle the ambitions of wizardkind.  The essence of a spell or ritual must pass from one living mind to another, and so each generation is lessened -- for while tricks and cantrips may accumulate to dry your boots and fix your glasses, only the most powerful and daring are capable of mastering the greatest of works, and they have every reason to hoard such advantages until they die and their secrets are lost.  Merlin intended to limit the extent of possible disasters -- he learned from the example of Atlantis, though it was but a legend even in his time.  Let wands turn into sticks, in time... since at least there would still be sticks remaining.

It is as Zeira wrote in the Midrash, many years ago: “If the early scholars were like sons of angels, we are like people; if they were like people, we are like donkeys.”

But enough of these jots and tittles from the past: at this moment, Tír inna n-Óc had visitors.  Three figures had come to stand on the shore of the lake of teeth, where the black hills come to an end.  They were perhaps the only three people yet remaining who knew of this nightmare realm or how to access it, although the Tuath might be angered to learn that the place has become little more than a meeting-room, chosen because it transcended physicality and may be accessed from anywhere on the planet.  The ritual needed nothing more than the nightmare of a sleeping child and the eye of a murdered man -- both easily obtained by the unscrupulous.

The appearance of the three figures was solid and distinct, but composed entirely of genderless black shadows in continual motion.   The shadows were incomprehensibly complex -- were you to examine any one part of the inky smoke that roiled and twisted in black cords to define three figures, you would see smaller figures within, composed of yet smaller figures, all infinitely refracted.

The three figures spoke in a dialect of Norman French that is now entirely extinct.

“The American has failed, entirely… as I said she would,” said the first to break the silence, without greeting or preamble.

“Yes.  It was, perhaps, hasty to press matters.” said the second mildly, by way of agreement.

“The fault lay not in the gambit as a whole.  The problem was with the trap meant to ensure the safety of our forces -- to ward them from intruders until Tineagar could find opportunity to destroy the Tower,” said the third figure, turning to retort to the first.  “It was overly complicated -- a windmill trap better suited for a board than a pub.”

The first figure spoke coldly, “The Zwickmühle was flawless, Nell.  Each move was a discovery of a new vulnerability, but your piece must be capable of actually finishing the--”

“Enough of your shatranj metaphors!” snapped Nell, the third figure, in response.  “Not every situation can be mapped out on a game.”

“I am not aware of any affairs that have surpassed the complexity of the game of kings.  Everything fits neatly within its bounds, properly understood,” calmly replied the first figure, summoning up majesty in its voice.  “And chess lays bare the mind of a lesser player.  Sixty years ago, a schoolboy’s game betrayed his deepest flaws and deepest cunning, and gave us reason to give the Verbo Principis Incantatorum over to the mayfly leader of Britain.  You forget such things at your peril, child.”

“Indeed, the game is very much a thing of schoolboys in this age -- and a thing of Muggles, who pick it to pieces,” said Nell, tauntingly, in a manner entirely unbecoming of an ancient witch of eldritch power.  But then, it is a mistake to think that the mighty never squabble.  “A pity that the rook of our concern does not play, and you must solace yourself with delving into the mind of the American knight.”

“This is not helpful,” said the second figure.  The other two fell silent, though they still glared at each other, expressing harsh stares to the extent that the body language of an inhuman shadow was capable.

The second figure bent over, coiled shadows writhing within the solid lines of its form, and picked up one of the teeth that rolled in gentle waves upon the shore.  It studied the canine in its fingers for a long and quiet time, and no one spoke.

Finally, the second figure broke the silence to say, “Magic continues.  Worse, for now it rises in strength once more -- the curse of scholarship made worse by Muggle philosophies.  We are within a hair of destruction.  I have no wish to walk companionless on a desolate rock for the eternities -- or whatever worse fate that the future may hold.”

The other two stood uneasy at the sentiment, wondering if they heard a threat to themselves mingled in that vision of doom.

“We must choose tools,” the second figure continued.  “Tineagar is no longer in position to be useful.  Keep her in Paris.  We must choose wisely -- somehow the Tower evades our vision, unlike all others.”

“Yes,” said Nell.  “We will expend her some later day.  The dozen she turned to her use have already been cleansed.”

“The goblins, then?” offered the first figure.  “Our coin is beyond price to them -- the dream of twenty generations.  We have what we need for eyes and ears, but we could purchase the loyalty of their cities wholesale like a klafter of wood.”

“There is a readymade tool, I think,” said the second figure.  “Readied by the Tower himself and only waiting for our hand.”

There was a pause, as all three considered the proposal.  There was no doubt as to the second figure’s meaning.

“Ah, yes,” agreed Nell.  “And it is pleasingly ironic.  It is well to find poetry in a plan.”

“A good move, yes,” said the first figure, giving his assent.

“We will consider proposals,” said the second figure.  “Be well.”

The three figures exchanged no further words nor farewells, but simply dissipated where they stood.  The shadows that had composed their forms twisted and squirmed free, slithering into their own fractal depths like midnight ouroboros.

Tír inna n-Óc endured.



≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡



Hermione Jean Granger was playing football.  She was rather good, much to the amusement and astonishment of the two hundred Argentinian witches and wizards who had wished to introduce her to the game.  She’d been almost as good in yesterday’s Quidditch game, although she had to admit to herself that she simply wasn’t that skilled a flier.  Her hand-eye coordination, reflexes, and toughness made her an excellent Keeper, though.

And of course, she thought, they’re probably not all that interested in beating me, anyhow.

She raced up the pitch, boots digging into the turf, and met the approaching ball with a thunderous kick whose leathern impact echoed off the opposing bleachers.  It sailed high through the air, landing in one of the corners on the other end of the field.  A full-back (was that right?  yes) sprinted towards it, while Hermione’s team pressed the attack to try to isolate him from the other defenders.  He got the ball to the goalkeeper, though, who cleared it with a fast-moving kick that put it out of threat.

She’d heard cynics say that people want to see a legend die.  She wasn’t sure if that was true -- although it might be right, if only for the same reason that people want to see a failure suddenly redeem themselves.  “It’s the contrast they like,” Kurt Vonnegut had once written.  “The order of events doesn’t make any difference to them. It’s the thrill of the fast reverse” (page 252 in Sirens of Titan, her brain automatically supplied).

But even if the cynics were right, here in South America, no one was interested in destroying the mystique of the Goddess and her legend.  They just seemed to want to be near her.

A midfielder was coming down the right, and Hermione ran towards him.  She grinned as the small crowd called out, cheering indiscriminately.  She lifted a hand in acknowledgment, even as she increased her speed.

She hadn’t realized that footballers essentially just ran the entire time.  An official with the Departamento de Deporte y Juegos Mágicos had given her a tutorial yesterday, but it had been short and conducted through a translator, and Hermione suspected that even the official had only recently learned how the game was played.  The tutorial had contained little new information for a Muggleborn, but both she and the official seem to have missed some obvious bits… like the importance of endurance.  After an hour, most of the players had been swapped out -- they appeared to be a little loose with the rules, since she didn’t think that many substitutions were allowed in Muggle games -- and even the replacements looked tired.

But Hermione didn’t get tired.  She just ran and ran and ran.

The midfielder did some sort of trick with his feet, seeming to go one way with the ball while instead kicking it to the side, and Hermione missed it completely, charging past him.  He picked up speed to try to escape, dribbling and looking for someone to whom he could pass, but she wheeled around and chased him.  The crowd shouted again, and Hermione laughed.

It turns out, sports are fun.  How silly.

The game ended with a slight victory for her team, with a final score of 2-1.  It was the most politic result, she thought later, toweling off in the locker room.  Preserves everyone’s dignity, while still giving them a show.

Quite a revealing show, actually, she considered.  Was this whole “Día Muggle” nonsense really just a ploy to get her out of her robes and into the football kit’s revealing shorts?  She’d have to talk to Esther and Susie and get their opinions… and maybe get a look at any pictures from today, too.  She had to maintain her pseudo-Elizabethan public image, which necessitated being a bit of a prude.

After folding her towel neatly on a nearby bench and putting on her underthings, Hermione stepped into one of the two outfits she usually wore on these tours.  This one consisted of simple black pants and silk shirt beneath a set of leaf-green robes.  It suited her complexion well, and the green brought out the colouring of “Harry’s” eyes on those occasions when she was with one of his doppelgangers.

Not that I’ll be doing that again, anytime soon, she thought.  For the first time in years, she didn’t have any goodwill trips scheduled.  After she left here, it was back to Boston, and then… well, she supposed she’d spend some time with her parents, and then she’d spend some time working in the Advancement Agency or Extension Establishment in the Tower.  She’d also need to go to Powis, and spend some time with poor Nikitas, who was only gradually adjusting.

Hermione had been worried that the change in identity was going to be too disruptive to the man, who had already been a borderline case for the past month.  She hadn’t thought that it would send him back into the catatonia in which he’d dwelt for the first fortnight of his freedom, but receiving a new face and surname might have been badly damaging to the fragile sense of self that he’d been developing.

To her delight, Nikitas seemed to embracing his new identity as Nikitas Phocas.  He was learning English quickly, and tried a new activity every day.  Several times, Tonks had told her yesterday, he had even slept through the night.

“Hermione?”  Esther had stepped into the locker room.  It was a huge place, designed for an entire busy team of Muggle players and their associated hangers-on; the Returned witch’s voice echoed hollowly.

“Here,” said Hermione, sitting down on a bench to pull on her stockings.  “Just getting dressed.”

Esther had been standing guard outside.  She approached, walking cautiously and loudly.  Hermione smiled to herself as she put on her shoes; Esther wanted to be considerate in case Hermione wasn’t yet dressed.  She pulled the laces of her shoes tight -- awkward, pointed-toe, patent leather affairs -- and came around the edge of a bank of lockers to greet the American.  “Hullo.  Everything all right?”

“Yes,” said Esther.  “Just wanted to let you know that the dinner tonight will be some sort of special meat feast, according to the ‘Asistente Junior’ to the Minister.”

Esther looked tired.  Her hair, a dirty-blonde bob cut as close as a halo, looked greasy.  Her eyes had always looked hollowed, but they’d accumulated dark rings beneath them that made them appear nearly sunken.  Hermione felt a flush of chagrin… she should send Esther back to Powis for some rest.  Left to her own devices, she would wear herself to exhaustion during these sorts of trips, remaining hypervigilant all day.  Hermione had thought it would impress Alastor, actually, but the dear man had just gruffly said that Hermione was “well-worth the effort” (although, he’d also added at a later time, Hermione should be careful not to confuse dedication for effectiveness).  It had been very sweet -- all the more so because Alastor was disguised as a waifish teenage girl at the time.

“Thank you.  Ask Susie to speak to him and figure something out, will you?”  Hermione said, nodding.  She stepped a few paces away and got her bubbler out of her pouch to contact her Returned compatriot.  Susie would be adept at finding a solution to the meat problem without offending anyone.  It wasn’t a good idea to flaunt differences that could seem suspicious, alien, or haughty -- a surprising number of people were disturbed by the revelation that the Goddess was vegetarian.

Hermione walked around to a mirror and sink, and examined herself.  “Pick,” she said to her pouch, and she spent some minutes getting her hair under control.  Esther reappeared after a few minutes, offering no comment.  The others must have not objected to the change of shifts.

“We’re on to Boston tonight, Esther,” Hermione said, finishing with her hair.  Her mane of chestnut ringlets was tamed, but as lively as always.  “I think you and Charlevoix should go back to Powis and see to the Cappadocians -- I’m still worried about Nikitas, especially,” Hermione said.  “Hyori, Jessie, and Simon can see to security in Boston, while you, Charlevoix, and Tonks get things done back home.”  Urg was off in Ireland, meeting with the city officials of Curd.  If the Goddess and the Tower were going to be moving apart on the international stage, Hermione wanted to make sure she had her own lines of communication to important groups.

Esther accepted without complaint or relief, processing the request as calmly as though she’d simply been told the time of day.  “Okay.”  There was a beat, and then she added, hesitantly, “Actually...”  She stopped, as Hermione looked over, surprised.

“What is it?” Hermione asked.

“Well… do you think Tonks could see to everything for a couple of days?  Charlevoix and I wanted to go look at houses in Godric’s Hollow, if it’s all right?”  Esther bit her lower lip.  Both the request and the display of anxiety were unusual.

“Oh, of course!”  Hermione said.  She smiled hugely, despite her surprise, and stepped towards the other witch to pull her into a hug.  It was returned firmly and warmly.

They’re finding themselves… growing up and out, she thought, and she felt nothing but pride and joy over how far the Returned had come.  There would always be damage, but every turn of season brought a new reason to celebrate their rescue from hell.

Hermione knew the literature about unhealthy idealization supplanting real connections with community and relationships.  This was a wonderful turn of events -- a healthier and better development than Hermione had ever expected, if she was honest.  It meant that there was serious hope that -- in the near future -- the severely Demented might fully recover from their devastating affliction: a monstrous combination of post-traumatic stress disorder and amnesia.

Hermione pulled away, asking quizzically, “Have you been thinking about this long?”

“No,” said Esther, shaking her head and looking away at a featureless wall.  She was smiling slightly, though, and evident pleasure was visible on her rosebud lips.  “But… it seems time.  We’ve been at Powis for years.  We’re ready.”

Hermione fixed her gaze on Esther’s own, though it avoided her, and said with all the feeling she could muster, “I am so happy for you.  You’ll always, always, always have a home with me… but I am so happy for you.”

The world was changing, and it was such a wonderful thing.



≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡



“...and she flushed as pink as her horrid dress,” said Harry, already breaking into laughter.  He was joined in his laughter by the black box.

The box’s voice was not the dry, deep tone of dangerous Professor Quirrell, nor the shrill hiss of the vicious Lord Voldemort.  Instead, it was an utterly banal and boring male voice, magically generated and fully articulated in stress and tone, but entirely without character.  Harry had come to associate that voice with the new Voldemort -- the Voldemort he was happily working on corrupting into accidental goodness.  There wasn’t much time for it -- at best, an hour every couple of days -- but Harry could afford to take his time.  He thought redeeming the sociopathic monster might take a century or so.  There was no rush.

“She must be remembering the fellow from Material Methods that was our first honeypot for temptation,”  Harry said.  Though the jargon was certainly unfamiliar to Voldemort, Harry didn’t bother to explain.  The colloquialism was obvious, and he could rely on Voldemort to intuit it without needing a plodding walk-through.  So few people that could do that, even after all these years!

“She is not known for her insight,” said Voldemort.  He sounded amused.  His voice took on a more serious tone of warning as he said, “But you should not congratulate yourself on playing the game at this level, though, unless you have ensured you are winning on a higher level, as well.  You can be sure that Mr. Malfoy is working to put agents that are not absurd and obvious into your organization, even as you work to infiltrate his with the same strategy.  You should suspect at least three levels of deception: an obvious agent, a less obvious agent that may succeed on his own terms, and a third agent whose entrance might be effected by the discovery of the second agent.  Mr. Malfoy would have learned this effective technique, and will use it, supplemented by other initiatives.”

Voldemort didn’t say anything about where Draco would have learned that, and neither did Harry.  The knowledge lay between them, and it was somewhat awkward.  

“Yes,” Harry agreed, lightly.  “But anything he does in that regard works out all right, I think.”  He didn’t offer any more details.  Not to be coy or mysterious, but only because it was a matter of common sense that you never discussed any secret that was seriously important with anyone -- even with a voice imprisoned in a box.  Even when presented with conundrums like the mysterious Three, Harry didn’t indulge himself by asking his caged mastermind villain for advice or analysis.  The risk was too great.

Instead, Harry would ask Voldemort’s opinion about lesser deceptions or simple logistics that could benefit from a creative and educated mind, such as a clever way to transport huge amounts of soil or water, or how one might improve the wizarding mail service.

Although really, there’s probably no good reason for discussing anything at all with Voldemort… especially not at such a delicate time.  He has his books on cassette for entertainment.  Harry glanced at the corner, where a dozen stacked tape players and an auto-play rig were nested on a small platform, surrounded by a thick mass of Lovegood Leaf to preserve them.  Mostly history and science, at Voldemort’s request.  Harry could perhaps have gotten someone to record themselves reading a book on magical theory or something else that might be more in line with what the mandrake-bound mind would prefer, but he had thought that unwise.

Voldemort had spent years bound to a satellite amongst the stars, with only his thoughts for company, though.  Harry wasn’t sure anyone’s mental discipline, even Voldemort’s ferocious power of mind, would suffice to keep madness at bay if he was forced to experience that a second time.

“The sliceboxes have been pushed out to nearly a mile,” Harry said, changing the subject.  “But I’m not sure they can go much further.  The process has been pushed to very nearly as far as it can go… all the materials are already absolutely pure and shaped with complete precision, thanks to the Stone, and the enchantment is running up to its limit.”

“There are limits to any enchantment -- they have suzerainty over their allotted span, but cannot exceed it,” said Voldemort, thoughtfully.  There was a pause as he considered the problem.  “There are other spells discussed in legend, but none that will serve your purposes.  They rely on anchors of power that may not be moved, or are themselves only reflections of a greater order to which we no longer have access.  The Book of Exses describes a magical theatre that was not bound to this world, for example, and held a multitude safe from all attack or interference while war raged outside.  But that knowledge has been lost.”  There was another pause, and Harry waited quietly, watching the shiny black box as a flicker of reddish energy washed over it.  Eventually, Voldemort said, “There is a way it could be done, however.  If you moved your manufactory to a place entirely free of interference from outside influence, you may discover that the enchantment could bear a still greater strain.”

Harry glanced over at the Lovegood Leaf in the corner, again.  “Thank you, Professor.  I think I have the means to do that.  It shouldn’t even be difficult -- and it would mean that the sliceboxes would be finished and ready to deploy before launch, if it works.”

“Do not assume that your Russian hirelings will perform on schedule.  In such circumstances, it is known that last-minute delays usually occur, and can only be solved by a generous payment to a figure of middling competence and no intelligence.  The rocket will be short a wire or conditions will always be found to be just a tad too wet, or the like.  And they will hold your carefully-prepared satellite package in their care while they delay, so you go to no rivals to put it in orbit.  And I do not think you would be willing to take the necessary actions to forestall such blackmail, which means you must either wait or swallow your dignity and pay.”

Harry shrugged, though he knew that the box couldn’t hear his gesture.  “It’s just money.  Well, almost money… it’s rubles.  I’d pay triple to get that Cabinet where I need it.”

“And are you disappointed that you yourself will not be exiting that Cabinet, Mr. Potter?  After so many years, and so much labour and annoyance?”  Voldemort made no mention of the Vow that forced Harry to remain in the Tower.

“Yes,” admitted Harry.  “But I think…”  He trailed off, as he tried to decide what he thought.  “I think,” he said, slowly, “that I never really expected I’d play so much of a part in anything like that.  Not really.  I always thought it would happen for humans, eventually, but for myself…”

“You were not so optimistic, because you had some modicum of wisdom,” said Voldemort.

“Yes,” said Harry.  He sighed.  “And anyway, the future is long.  Someday.”

“That doesn’t stop you from wishing that it was you up there, going through the Van Allen belts four times a day,” said Voldemort.  “Take my advice, Mr. Potter, and drop such dreams of adventurism.  You have never heard or revered the name of Sarah Williams or Penelope Drizkowski, though they braved new frontiers… no, it is the name of Merlin that rests on the lips of wizardkind, and he is not known to have ever even left England.”

Harry raised his eyebrows and smiled.  “Your comfort is always offered like a command, Professor.  Why is that?”

“To teach you, Mr. Potter, although sometimes I despair of the endeavour.  All of your aims might have been accomplished in a matter of months, if you had only made diligent use of your resources.  Proper motivation sometimes requires a little blood,” said Voldemort, and somehow the neutral male voice of the black box managed to convey a frown.

In a way, the entire situation was an example of dangerously convenient wish fulfillment.  He could speak and match wits with his old beloved professor -- his intelligent professor -- and no longer had to worry about uncertainties.  Voldemort was insane, badly damaged by nature, nurture, and ritual: it was an established fact.  If Voldemort got free, he would slaughter all who opposed him, enslave the rest, and spend eternity amusing himself without concern for the consequences.  And he would try to get free.  But he had no magic -- nor even limbs -- and no other companions.  So unless Harry let him out of the box, he was secure.  A caged tiger.

And Harry had pre-committed not to let Voldemort out of the box, no matter what argument or suasion might present itself.  He had once told Voldemort that he actually was unable, implying that he meant his Vow would prevent him.  He wasn’t sure that Voldemort believed this, but it was a credible statement since the Vow did depend on Harry’s own subjective judgment.  Either way, the monster in the box had not directly pressed the issue since.  They just had their conversations, whenever he could spare the time or the sleep.

“I will just muddle through as best I can, unbloodied, then,” Harry said.  “I’m doing all right so far, I think.”

“You would do better if you did not spend so many hours saving the lives of the ocean of idiots that beats a path to your little fortress, here,” said Voldemort.

“I can do some good, and my shifts in the clinic often give me time to think.  Sleeping patients and bored healers do not disturb my thoughts, after all,” Harry said.  This was not as true as he’d like… despite the rules, too many staff bothered him there as he moved from bed to bed, asking for directions or assistance or favors.

“Your scruples and soft heart do the world no favors, Mr. Potter,” said Voldemort.  If the box had lungs, Harry expected that this is where it would sigh.  He smiled again.



≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡



Lawrence blinked as the blindfold was removed, looking nervously around.  He was in a greenhouse that blazed with the sun, and the glare nearly blinded him.  As sight returned, though, he could see dirty shelves and empty clay pots.  There were no plants except a few withered vines that climbed the glass walls.  It would have looked abandoned, but there were no broken panes among the dozens that arched overhead, quite incongruously.

The person who had removed the blindfold walked around Lawrence with clicking heels until she was visible.  She had grey hair in a long and perfect braid, tied with a black bow where it ended at the small of her back, and she was wearing magnificent formal robes.  They too were black, with darker patterns of jet tracing a fine filigree along the bodice and waist.  She had dark eyes and generous lips.  She was looking curiously at him.

“Hello, young man.  How are you feeling?” Narcissa Malfoy asked.  Lawrence couldn’t say why, but though her tone was normal -- even kind -- and her expression was inoffensively inquisitive, he felt threatened.

“I’m fine, madame,” he said, and his voice warbled with his nerves.

“Ah, good.  Even though this is just another in a series of tediously temporary places, I’m afraid that these silly precautions are still important,” she said, and smiled pleasantly.  She clasped her hands together in front of herself.  “I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, madame,” he said.  He managed to sound a bit more confident.

She smiled, and held out a hand to gesture the way.  “My son is down the hall.”  He wondered where she’d put his wand.  He wondered where they were.  He wondered why he knew with such complete certainty that Madame Malfoy would be willing to kill him, if it became necessary.  Or even convenient.

He walked forward, a bit unsteadily.  Leaving the unused greenhouse, they made their way down a dusty hall, and into a well-lit chamber.  It had wood paneling and thick Turkish carpets on the floors, and was dominated by an enormous desk to one side.  Two men were within, sitting in wing chairs, and it looked for all the world as they they’d been having a casual chat about unimportant things.  The normality of the scene was unreal, all things considered.

One of the men rose.  He was tall and slim and magnificent of appearance, with short ice-blonde hair and high cheekbones.  He too was wearing black formal robes, although his were empty of decoration.  He smiled graciously, with the air of nothing less than an emperor.  “Ah, this must be our guest.  A guest with an offer.”

“Yes, Draco.  Mr. Lawrence Bradwian -- you may remember his father was in the Wizengamot, some years ago?” said Narcissa.  “A good family.  And Lawrence has been a credit to them, putting up with our little game.  All this, just to have a little talk.”  She smiled, and walked to the desk.  There was an elegant black cane with a silver head resting on it, and she picked it up.

“Hello, Lawrence,” said the blonde man.  “My name is Draco Malfoy.  I understand you wanted to help me with something?”

“Yes, sir,” said Lawrence.  He would have gone on, but Draco was already speaking again.

“Good, good… This is Mr. Erasmus.  You may have already heard of him, in fact, if you read my newsletter,” said Draco, gesturing at a strong-jawed and solidly-built man with russet-red hair, sitting in the corner with his feet up on a divan.  “He wouldn’t do as he was told in the Tower, researching in one of Harry Potter’s silly alphabetical departments -- he dared to question authority.  And so even though he was one of the most brilliant Unspeakables, they tried to box up his research and dictate the terms of discovery.”

“I was within a hair of developing magical machines,” said Erasmus, rising from his seat.  He was intimidatingly tall.  “When you think about what they could have done for us… machines made of air and light!  My gears were eddies of wind, my mainspring was no more than a child’s spell.  But it offended Harry Potter, with his childish infatuation with Muggle methods, and so he confiscated all my work and tried to lock me into a different research plan.  I was at the forefront of their work, elevating Muggle principles into--”

Draco made an impatient gesture, and Erasmus cut off his impassioned stream of rapid words.  He bowed his head for a fraction of a second with a smile, and then raised his chin magisterially.  “Yes, forgive me… I am still shocked at the my persecution and the whole series of events.”

Draco walked around to the huge desk, which was topped with intimidatingly perfect and glossy jade.  He brushed some parchments aside, and picked one up, examining it.  “So then, Lawrence.”  He looked back over at the boy.  “How exactly do you think you can help me?”

For a second time, though, the silver-haired young man didn’t give Lawrence a chance to answer.  He crumpled up the parchment with one hand, loudly, before straightening again and turning back to face him.  Narcissa approached, the cane she’d picked up from the desk held in her hands, and offered it to her son as she came to stand next to him.  Draco held it lightly in front of him, and scrutinized Lawrence with narrow eyes.

“That is to say: of what possible use can an agent of the Tower be to me?”


2 comments:

  1. My own village has settlement history going to 3500bc. I think Ipswich claims continous anglo-saxon settlement, not that it is the oldest.

    Isn't diagon alley in London though I suppose London is awful big now it probably was outside Londonium

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    1. There's no way Hermione of all people would be confused about what to call a defender. She would have played football in PE even if she had no interest in sports. Well done for not calling it soccer.

      Also she sweats now? Am I misremembering or was that not mentioned previously to be something she doesn't do? I'm sure they'd have longer shorts that cover the knee or leggings if she was worried about it

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