29 October 2015

Significant Digits, Bonus: Harry and the Centaurs Argue Philosophy

Significant Digits, Bonus: Harry and the Centaurs Argue Philosophy

Salor Sprig, The Forbidden Forest, Scotland
September 10th, 1995
Four years before the present

When a centaur is young, he immerses himself in knowledge and study.  The centaurs have an ancient culture, unified between the world’s seven great herds and stretching back in an unbroken chain into the distant past.  It has survived to this day only because it is a combination of one rigid precept and a yielding openness to new ideas.  There is no debate over the Unforked Path -- but that is the only thing not open to discussion.  Everything else -- life and death and everything in between -- is open to dispute and change.

The Unforked Path includes a strong education in all the gathered wisdom of centaurs from the ages, gleaned from the stars and the wizards and the Muggles, but each centaur eventually tends to find a framework that suits them best.  For practical purposes, in fact, each herd is often said to be divided into different naʼniłkaadí.  This Muggle word, which has been appropriated and exported to centaurs all over the world, actually means “herd” as well, confusingly enough.  The centaurs use it to describe particular schools of thought.

The Kachina herd, now gone, popularized the term when they first struggled to articulate what they considered wholesale errors in the fundamental worldview of their Muggle enemies, the Navajo.  But that is a sad tale for another time.

The young Harry Potter-Evans-Verres, only a few years into his power and stinging from the fresh defeat of the International Statute for Health and Life on the floor of the Confederation, has come to visit the Salor Sprig in the Forbidden Forest.  He has an important request.


“I need help,” said Harry.  The teenager had shaggy hair that he kept pushed to the side, and green eyes that were attentive and thoughtful, lingering on details.  Their contemplative care reflected the rapid workings of the mind behind them.

“You are unfair,” said Roonwit.  “You speak within a context which is extremely vast, old, firmly established, rooted in a network of conventions -- a clear statement that places demands on us by virtue of that context.  To speak of ‘need’ and ‘help’ -- we cannot separate such things from their primal origin, and it is unfair to rely on that privileging -- on that binary.  It makes demands on us separate from the merits of your arguments, by using language with deep implications from the usual context for those spoken words.”

Roonwit was a young centaur, and accounted small among his kind, yet he towered over Harry and every emphatic thump of his hoof reminded the wizard of the pure physical power of the creature.  It was an uncomfortable reminder of a past tragedy -- a tragedy he’d remedied, to be sure, but one with a lingering sting.

“Language has context like everything has context,” Harry replied, after taking a moment to parse the complicated accusation.  “I think trying to avoid a direct request would be a mistake, and only further rely on that unavoidable ‘primal’ context.”  He thought for a moment longer.  “It’s an appropriate context, anyway -- we are talking about life and death.”

I recognize some of this language… this is Muggle philosophy.  Harry glanced at the bark shacks that were set up in the clearing -- the only things here, in fact, beyond the sacred sapling in the center.  Where do they get Muggle books?  Do they have some sort of magic or artifacts that enable them to disguise themselves, or do they have intermediaries?  This must be known to someone in Magical Creatures, but Harry hadn’t known to ask.  He’d have to find out.  He wished he could spend the time to learn those things for himself, but just this single meeting had been difficult.  To make it happen, he’d needed to rely on some of the contacts Dumbledore had left him, as well as an outstanding blood debt.  He was fascinated: they seemed like an entire civilization of philosophers.  On the other hand, this conversation was proving that some strands of thought were a trifle too dense for pleasurable discourse.

“Roonwit holds you to an account that is perhaps overstated in terms of intention, but your intentions are irrelevant.  State your needs and ply your arguments, and let us make our choices,” rumbled Aosta.  The dark bay’s skin color was almost the same as her coat, which made her unusually unified in a crowd of centaurs (who were usually two-toned).  It suited the elder’s temperament, which was singularly calm.

Glenstorm, standing next to Aosta, nodded his agreement.  He had his worry beads in one hand, and had been idly rubbing them with a broad thumb since the beginning of the conversation.

“My needs…”  Harry rubbed his forehead in frustration, then remembered himself.  He cleared his throat.  “I need your assistance in locating some items of power that are hidden from all scrying or location, but not -- I think -- from divination and the implications of prophecy.  It’s the only way to keep the Dark Lord Voldemort imprisoned, and the world safe.”

“When something has an origin, its destruction is ordained at that moment, wizardling,” said Glenstorm.  “Even if the stars did not promise a coming recompense when the debt of creation is fulfilled, this would be true.  In the primal chaos, infinite worlds have been created and destroyed.  So it will continue to be.  But you should know better than to come before us in such a way: you are here only on the sufferance of Firenze and in acknowledgement of his own debt... to you.  Otherwise, we could not ignore that you are the one who will bring this about.  The stars scream at the future, and no centaur can ignore it.”  The centaur’s voice was mild, but there were brittle depths beneath it.

“Yes,” said Roonwit, glancing over at the two elders, and then back at Harry, nodding.  “We cannot deny you a hearing, not after learning of that shame or of your own nobility.  But destruction is not an exterior force.  The ending of a system predicated on inexactness, as with our world where idea and reality are eternally at odds, necessitates that destruction lies in an eccentric center of all things, in a corner whose eccentricity assures the solid concentration of the system, participating in the construction of what it, at the same time, threatens to deconstruct.”  The centaur’s tail flicked back and forth, thoughtfully.  He added, almost as an afterthought, “One might then be inclined to reach this conclusion: deconstruction is not an operation that supervenes afterwards, from the outside, one fine day. It is always already at work in a thing.”

“Muggles have discovered a similar sort of idea… a rule that nature seems to follow, called the Second Law of Thermodynamics,” said Harry.  “It states that any closed system tends towards chaos, eventually.  But,”  and here he held up a finger, “outside influence can sustain it.  Consider yourselves that outside influence, and sustain the world.”

Harry felt a moment’s unsettledness for abusing a scientific principle so badly as to twist it into metaphor.  It made him feel like he needed a bath.  But this isn’t real discussion of reality… this is argument by analogy and rhetoric, and we’re all secretly agreed on that.  Otherwise we’d be discussing facts, not… whatever you’d call this.  Framing, I suppose.  I think I can engage on these terms.  He took a moment to consider if that was a Voldemort thought, but decided it wasn’t.  They set the terms of debate, after all, so it was no evil to abide by them.

Aosta shook her head.  Her hair was in a beautiful, long ponytail tied back with jute twine, strikingly similar (certainly intentionally so?) to her tail.  Harry kept his eyes on it and on her face, which was difficult -- considering her height and the fact that centaurs go unclothed.  “We are not blind to the world, and it is plain enough that there is suffering everywhere.  We could not act to bring about that final chaos, especially not if it would yield a void for a time.  The lack of pain is preferable.”

Utilitarianism, sort of?  Some sort of consequentialism, anyway.  Harry felt like he had been dropped unprepared into a pit of rabid Philosophy 101 undergrads.  Okay, so how do I prove that there is more pleasure than pain in the world, making saving it a net good and ethical imperative?  Will they accept statistics?

“It would not even be the worst of fates,” agreed Roonwit.  “The worst violence occurs when the other,” he said, leaning on the word, to which one is related is completely appropriated to or completely in oneself.  It is this complete exclusion that makes this violence the worst violence -- there is no limit to it, since it makes reality and idea entirely subsumed in the other in sovereign unity.”

“You can’t mean that the world would be better destroyed.  If you did, and also thought helping me might hurry up that end, well… then you’d be obligated to help me for that reason, instead,” Harry said, adapting as best he could to the different strains of argument.  No, it was more than that… the outright different strains of language.  Different worldviews.  They didn’t agree with each other on fundamental principles -- virtue ethics or consequentialism -- so how could he convince them of anything?

“No, I don’t mean that,” said Roonwit.  “To take a direct hand in assisting you… we could not do that.  But the shape of civil society, the shape of the law, is always rooted in violence.  To help you would be to participate in that violence, or worse, be a motivating force behind it.  It is bad enough that we inhabit the decision and its context.  Neither do we oppose you, or endorse Firenze’s error.  We are obligated to assist or oppose you, but it is…”

“Undecidable?” Harry offered, hoping he was guessing wrong.

“Yes,” said Roonwit, smiling.  He clopped a hoof down, nodding.

Okay, time to try the other two.  It’s really more like trying to guess a code than making an argument.

Really, this was a good reminder of why policy debates in Parliament tended towards appeals to emotion, attacks on the messenger, and other fallacies.

“Would you agree, then,” he said to Glenstorm, “that the world is better off destroyed?  And that a virtuous being is the sort who would let that happen?”

“There is no real destruction,” replied the blue roan.  His worry beads clicked in one hand as he lowered them to his side.  “There are undoubtedly an infinite number of worlds, and we have a union with all of them.  But I will not hide in the Athenian solution.  No, it would not be a good thing, and the virtuous would oppose it.  But we return to the same issue, of which you have argued both sides like a confused coiner: assisting you would hasten stardeath and world-end, not prevent it.  Your kind has access to visions of the future, in your crude way -- do not your own people tell you this?”

No prophecies, not anymore.  Harry had entered the Hall of Prophecy, three years ago, only to find it ruined -- a chaos of shattered crystal, splintered shelves, and a thick haze of magically-suspended dust.  Dumbledore had been true to his word, and at some unknown point he had eradicated the facility... and had worked to hide that fact, ever since.  One of the greatest works of magic in the world had been undone, and the prophecies of Britain could no longer be hoarded and studied.  It had been one of the powers that made Britain dominant in the magical world for centuries, for no other nation had its like.  Its loss was a national tragedy.  Only the old works survived, locked in their special vault of obdurate slade from the Urist Quarry in Hungary: the hundred-odd prophecies that had been individually preserved by independent means.  Most of them were shockingly ancient, said to date back before Merlin’s era, but there were also some dozens of more modern imported prophecies, and a few British ones that had been doubly preserved, for whatever reason.  Scorpion and archer, locked beyond return...

“In a way.  But that makes it all the more important that the magical items I need be found, so that the ‘world-end’ can be of a qualitatively different sort,” said Harry.  “The world might end in many ways… one of them is by growing into something bigger and better.”

“There is something of everything in everything else, and so there is never any motion, and never any change,” said Glenstorm, shaking his head.  “Withall, a good creature must prevent suffering… but it is wisdom to remember that failure is no one’s fault.  Indeed, in the event that failure is certain -- and the stars speak only of what will happen, and give no conditions -- a good creature must vouchsafe his own virtue.  Firenze has rightly said that we cannot interfere with the philosopher-kings of wizardkind or else it will sully our own hooves.”  The centaur paused, shaking his head, and added, “Although he is late-come to this advice, as you know.”

I don’t even know whether or not that’s ingratitude.  “He’s a Platonic-style dictator I failed to murder and who brought me back to life with a fantastic cover story and who plans to defeat war, pain, and death, so maybe let’s not get in his way… but definitely don’t help him or anything.”

Harry glanced at Aosta and Roonwit, to see if they agreed.  If they had a common position in this outcome of their independent strains of reasoning -- that non-interference was ethically necessary to keep their hands clean from an inevitable evil -- then he could stop talking in circles and tackle that single idea.

“I agree with Elder Glenstorm,” said Roonwit.  “But I think that we should not fool ourselves, Elder, into thinking that the decision not to interfere is not itself a form of interference.  It will send signals, and it will cause consequences.  We make the decision within the structures of society -- world society, not wizarding -- that we are forced to inhabit.  We must do so, or else any decision is not possible or effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures.  Inhabiting them in a certain way, an aware way.  We strive for goodness by stepping back, but the very act of deciding makes us involved… there is an eternal gap that follows us.  The important thing is to know.  One always inhabits, and all the more when one does not suspect it.”

Aosta began to look mildly impatient by the end of this diatribe, but she was certainly used to it, and neither elder centaur looked inclined to interrupt their younger kinsman.  Debate is sacred.  Once he finished, though, she gave her own perspective with more practiced concision, restraining her kind’s natural garrulousness.

“The end of this world is certain, as Glenstorm says,” she said.  “We have good evidence for this.  I am unconvinced whether or not this is a good thing, or whether there can be a qualitative difference in that end, as you say, wizardling.  I do not know about ‘undecidable,’ but I know that there is no compelling reason to dedicate effort to the cause if it would reduce our appreciation of the time we have left.”

Harry felt like his brain was growing physically warm with exertion as he tried to track three independently-derived philosophical traditions and answer all of their objections simultaneously.  If he had still been articulating interior voices, this would be the moment when he promised his brain a cookie.

“So, if I understand correctly, then,” he finally said, rubbing his forehead again.  “You, sir,” he indicated Glenstorm with a gesture, “think that assisting me is wrong because the action wouldn’t be the sort of thing a good person does.  But may I suggest that this is simply displacing the real moment of assessment -- restating it?  The virtuous person is someone who does virtuous things.  Choosing not to do something that will improve the world -- make people happier, healthier, wealthier -- is not the act of a virtuous person.”

Glenstorm shook his head.  “Except to the extent that the stars speak, we can’t know the future.  That means that virtue must come from within, not from what occurs.  If I were to rescue a child from the tar, and then that child went on to commit murder later that day, I have still found virtue.”

“So then the pivotal question is whether or not your own knowledge would lead you to believe that it is a virtuous action?”  The centaur nodded, looking amused.

“Hold that thought,” said Harry.  He turned to Roonwit.  “And you, sir.  You believe that we can evaluate the world and decide on the ethical course of action, but that every action incorporates and stains us with the guilt of participating in systemic injustice.  You think it’s undecidable -- but you do make ethical decisions on some things, and the way you do that is by determining the most ethical course, yes?  If you agree that we’re always inhabiting the inherent injustice of the world, even if we do nothing, then you want to either help or not, depending on whether it’s the course that will improve the world?  Do you agree?”

Roonwit said, “Yes, that is so, although I would challenge your use of this broad binary of ‘agree.’  It’s a corruption of thought by language, since it commits one to the entire endorsement of an idea and eliminates all shade of question or doubt or uncertainty.”

“But there’s no way around the inherent injustice of language, including its privileged binaries, so at least we’re aware of it,” said Harry, hurriedly.  “Okay, so in both cases we’re at the question of fact.”

He turned to Aosta.  “You, madame.  You-”

“The question of fact is the important thing,” she said, interrupting him with a smile.  “Does the action improve the world... that is the question.”

May you live to be queen and rule them all, Harry thought, gratefully.  He smiled back at her.  Well, not queen… whatever the equivalent would be.  As he recalled, they’d adopted the Russian model of regional representatives with a figurehead military leader.  Hopefully Aosta’s naʼniłkaadí would gain disproportionate influence... that would be for the best.  He wondered if there was any way he could help that happen.  He made a mental note for later.

“Then we all agree,” Harry said, stepping back a pace so that he didn’t have to crane his neck so far, “that we’re at the question of whether or not helping me locate these items of power is the most important thing.  If it will improve the world, then you and yours should do it.  Otherwise, you should not.”  He had to resist the urge to be rigorous and suggest they define “improve” and “important” and the other vague words they were using.  That couldn’t conceivably help him make his case.

The three centaurs glanced at each other, and then all three nodded in agreement.

“Okay,” said Harry.  He smiled.  “Then I will explain.  There are three things I need to locate.  The Cup of Midnight, which can bind anyone who does not give the Cup their name, and which according to legend may actually already be broken.  I need to confirm that or not.  And the Cup of Dawn, also known as the Goblet of Fire, which can bind anyone whose name is cast within it.  And the Resurrection Stone, one of the Deathly Hollows of the three Peverell brothers, which can transcend any barrier.  The Goblet and the Stone were both in the possession of Lord Voldemort, and we haven’t been able to locate them.  They are very powerful, and too important to be left to chance.”

“We know of all three devices,” said Aosta.  She glanced at Roonwit for confirmation, and the centaur nodded.

“I will tell you my intentions, and we will settle the question of fact, if you are willing?”  Harry said.  He marshalled his knowledge and his arguments and his wits.  A lot is riding on this.  If I fail, I’ll have to approach someone like Aosta more privately.  And if that fails… well, I’ll just have to try something else.  The thought of compulsion occurred to him, but he quashed it.  That was a dark road to go down, and he wouldn’t begin planning last resorts until he’d run out of every other idea.

Glenstorm’s worry beads clicked.  Aosta folded her arms in front of her chest, stern but receptive.  And Roonwit listened eagerly.

“Well, then,” Harry said.  He cleared his throat, and checked the abacus in his pocket.  Seventeen of the beads had moved, one per minute of this conversation.  The hidden aurors ensuring the secrecy and privacy of this conversation were still on task and unmolested.  “Here is my plan -- or as much as I can tell you about it, anyway.”

24 October 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Six: Delta V Over Delta T

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Six: Delta V Over Delta T

April 29th, 1999
11:39 a.m.
John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)

Harry had spent years nurturing the Honourable, building them as the only credible opposition with careful restraint of government forces and strategic deployment of his resources.  Even the propaganda had required considerable planning, as they staged high-profile debates to legitimize their opponents -- though they were also rigged for the Tower’s success, to preserve his own prestige -- even as he resisted applying a more general rhetorical pressure.  Agents and double agents and triple agents infiltrated both groups, under the guidance of a respective spymaster (Amycus Carrow and Mad-Eye Moody).  It reminded him of the old battles with Chaos Legion, in a way.

Even when the focus turned outward to other states, Harry was confident he’d been in control, guiding the pell-mell chaos of a thousand disparate interests towards his intended goals.  It had been difficult, briefly, when he’d worried that the Council of Westphalia would be too irrational -- when there was a moment that the relentless drumbeat of Draco’s pamphleting and scheming might unite a coalition of serious strength.  But that didn’t happen.  The Americas would join the Treaty for Health and Life, to which half of Africa and most of Europe already belonged, while a handful of bad actors -- Cappadocia, Caucasus, Russia, and the Sawad states -- remained his useful idiots.  They were the international analogue of the Malfoys and the Honourable: prestigious and loud enough to appear a threat, without ever actually posing a challenge.

It was years of indirect work, crafting his own enemy with an invisible hand, until the Honourable were the voice of an international coalition on the brink of war.

And Hermione Jean Granger had carved a bloody deity-shaped swath through the whole delicate operation.  In a week and a half.  Because she actually cared and thought it was worth doing, and he had turned her loose to preserve his facade.

Harry had known it would happen.  But so fast

He sighed, and shoved aside the papers and parchments in front of him.  The little reading room, X, was scattered with them.  More were tacked to cork strips on the stone walls, and still others were simply gathered into heaps on any available surface, including the golden dodecahedrons and slowly-spinning clocks and all the other alarms.  The papers were charts and diagrams and lists and notes and memos and everything else, and most all of it was covered with dust and broken bits of mechanical pencil lead.  And all of it, at the moment, was useless.

He rubbed his eyes.  There had been a moment, long ago, when he’d realized just how poor his skills as a rationalist really were.  Human beings were force multipliers, and so one of the most powerful abilities for any human -- or at least one who was trying to achieve something ambitious -- was being able to predict how other humans would act.  That had been the secret of Voldemort’s power, more than any other bit of cleverness.  The ancient lore of Salazar Slytherin, the consummate planning, the inhuman skill on the field of battle -- they all ultimately paled in comparison with Voldemort’s skill at predicting the behavior of others.  And Harry… well, Harry was doing his best, but he was worried it just wasn’t good enough.

So much depended on the behavior of one woman.

Harry stood up, and went to the standing wardrobe.  He pulled on the comfortable terrycloth robe from within, and spent a few moments considering how he wanted to face the afternoon.  Wizard’s robes, he supposed.  Muggle clothing increasingly felt like he was… putting on a costume, or something.  He put his wand to the robe and began to change it.

Or maybe it’s just that picking out my own Muggle clothing reminds me of Mum and Dad, and when I first started insisting on making my own clothing choices.  I was five, and I picked a pair of coveralls, and I wore them everywhere for two weeks.  It had seemed to make sense, he remembered.  “Mum, see?  I don’t have to try to match or put on new things to go to school or to Grandma’s.  It’s smarter.”

He grinned at the thought, but it was followed almost as quickly by a pang of regret.  The changing robe in his hand blurred for an instant, but he blinked rapidly, and finished the transfiguration.  Plain and formal black robes, suitable for meeting important people.  Harry cleared his throat, and put his gloved right hand to the garment.  He held the Stone of Permanency until he felt it make a subtle shift, and then he got dressed.

Need to get my head on straight, he thought.  At least clinic duty this morning was easy enough… grateful patients, competent healers, and every auror in their place.  It left him in a good frame of mind for the afternoon.  First, he was meeting Hermione and some of her eerie hollow-eyed Returned.  That would be awkward, but he was actually looking forward to it.  It had been two weeks since their argument and her agreement to go after the Honourable in earnest, when she’d told him that she’d figured out his game.  He almost grinned again, at that thought, despite himself.  She was an important part of his life, and it was painful to be without her counsel.

After that, he’d be seeing Reg Hig.  The American had struck a deal with Hermione for her support on new final terms for a Council endorsement of the Treaty for Health and Life, setting her up as Harry’s proxy.  It had been a very good deal for the Tower, considering that it had cost Harry nothing from his policy preferences.  Hermione had done well -- probably better than he could have, considering Hig’s lingering suspicion and her own bargaining skills, keen thinking, supernatural innocence, and natural beauty.  He’d been happy to agree to it, regardless of the astronomically higher sum of money it would cost the Tower.  Money meant little.

Actually, the ill-favoured little American was probably already here, snooping around and trying to plant a listening device in every vase, drawer, and shoe.  That was going to be a problem, really.  An ethical problem.  Just how many rules and civil liberties could Harry discard in the name of his end goals?  But on the other hand, it was hard to explain milquetoast ethical hesitancy to the accumulated corpses of those unfortunate dead who were just missing out on their chance at immortality (did that make them the unluckiest generation?).  Warrants and privacy were important, but try telling that to a mourning child.

What I really need, he thought, and not for the first time, is psychohistory.  A statistical science to predict the movements of multitudes.  He supposed he was already trying to be Hari Seldon, in his own clumsy way.

Harry straightened his robes, and sighed again.  Time for a difficult conversation.  “Great job with crushing my enemies, Hermione!  Hey, I wonder if you would be willing to do a worse job for a while, so I can provoke the world to the brink of war and finish polarizing the international scene, in preparation for a final decisive confrontation?  I know you have the acting ability of a tangerine, but you can do that, right?”


When Harry walked in, he saw that he was the last one to arrive.  Moody, Bones, Hermione, and two of her Returned were all already there with tea and a tray of sandwiches.  They were all laughing about something Moody had said.  The chuckles died down as Harry entered, although Hermione still smiled broadly.

The goblin Urg was gathering up pieces of a broken teacup with careful fingers, his face solemn as he made them into a neat pile on one side of the tray.  He also worked in Material Methods, but Harry had noticed that he wasn’t sociable with the other goblins.  His two-year stay in Azkaban had scarred him, even though so much time had passed and even though he was probably lucky to still be alive.  As Harry remembered, he’d once gotten into a fight with a witch with whom he was suspected of having a romantic involvement; given the shape of the Wizengamot and its broad sensibilities about purity, Urg only barely escaped a sentence of the Kiss.  

Odette Charlevoix, the French witch, was sitting quietly with her hands in her lap.  He knew that her fingers were still covered in angry-looking red scars -- Hermione had warned him not to ask her if she wanted that fixed -- but she wasn’t usually self-conscious about it.  On the other hand, she’d always seemed more emotional than the rest of Hermione’s group, who tended to be a bit deadened by their time in hell, and Moody had told him that she was actually moving out of the Powis settlement where the rest of the Returned lived in their extendable-space tents.  She and the American Esther were going to be living together.  Harry wasn’t sure if it was platonic or more intimate, but it was promising that they felt ready to take such steps.  It meant there might be hope for all of them, even the more damaged-seeming Simon or Urg, in the fullness of time.

The Chief Warlock and Supreme Mugwump, Amelia Bones, was leaning back in her chair and looking intently at Harry as he entered.  She didn’t look angry, only alert, with a raptor’s sharp gaze fixed on him.  He wondered how much she knew… and how much more she’d guessed.  Bones was cunning and clever when it came to politics, but the scope of her attentions was always limited.  She’d been one of Dumbledore’s lieutenants, and she was most comfortable in that role -- even though the scale of that lieutenancy encompassed manipulating national and global politics of surprising complexity.

Harry had already seen Moody that day, since it was an even-numbered day.  He’d put the former auror in the body of a heavy-shouldered and whiskered older man for the intrusion attempt, leaving a hollow space in the body’s stomach for Moody to try to smuggle in a Time-Turner wrapped in Lovegood Leaf.  It hadn’t worked, and he’d confirmed Moody’s identity in the clinic an hour later when they brought in his stunned form.  Now the Security Chief was sipping on tea, looking at Hermione in a fond way.

And Hermione.  She was wearing a long red dress and a small jacket and her green-and-gold necklace, and she looked radiantly beautiful.  Even without her magical nature, she would have been stunning.  Harry had spent an excessive amount of time worrying about the consequences of the rituals that had sealed the magical natures of a unicorn and a mountain troll into her flesh, but it seemed as though it had yielded nothing but positive results.  It was similar, he supposed, to the difference between modern humans and those of a few centuries ago.  Good nutrition and medicine meant that the modern person’s body grew closer to its genetic potential and needed to spend fewer resources on fighting disease; Hermione had simply received a supercharged version of the effect.  Just as she was hitting her growth spurt and growing into the person she would become, her metabolism had been literally perfected.  She never experienced a moment of nutrient deficiency or illness, either, so she grew to be tall and well-proportioned.  She was the new human… the archetype whose abilities they were working on making accessible to all, over in the Advancement Agency.

She was still smiling as she turned to look at him, and he felt the tension melt from his shoulders.  She wasn’t still angry.  He’d better apologize as soon as he could, anyway.

He stood there for a moment, quiet, and her smile gradually faded into an uncertain frown.  Finally, he spoke up.

“What was Billie’s like?  Wait, did you leave any of it standing?”

She smiled again, and a small part of him was relieved at the change from smile to frown to smile, and he knew it was because she cared about him.  Did she ever end up going out with Cedric?

“I punched through the door.  It actually wasn’t anything like you’d expect, because the door got stuck on my arm, and I felt rather less than dignified as I tried to shake it off for a minute.  But I don’t think anyone but Hedley noticed,” she said, and her eyes sparkled.

Hedley… ah, Kwannon.  How does she get on a first-name basis with people like that in the span of ten minutes?  It was the aura, he decided.

“Sharp one, her,” said Moody.  His voice sounded phlegmy and strange -- Harry had needed to move the organs around some, and both lungs in the transfigured body had needed to be the same size to fit in the smuggled device.  The alteration had an unexpected effect on the sound of the man’s voice.  “There was a time when she and I were out at the ruins of Sontag, and James the Merciless had laid a trap for us with a portkey in the shape of a golden box.  ‘Don’t touch that,’ she said.  I wasn’t so stupid, of course, but few enough would have had wits enough to warn me.”

“ ‘James the Merciless’?” said Bones, turning to stare at Moody.  “You made that up.”

“Records are sealed.  Can’t help you,” said Moody, gruffly.  He turned his chair deliberately away, and Hermione, Harry, and Bones broke into laughter.

Harry slid into his seat.  That had been an awkward moment avoided.  “Sorry, I’m late, everyone.  Someone’s always late, though, and it means the people on time get to spend a few moments joking and making up stories about imaginary Dark Wizards.”

“Not making it up,” said Moody, turning up his nose again and looking away, as though pouting.  Hermione snorted.

Urg and Charlevoix watched, quietly.  The goblin finished assembling the broken pieces of teacup and settled back into his seat.  Charlevoix just watched everyone with her soft brown eyes.

“To business, though?” said Harry.  He didn’t have an agenda for this one, but there were some things they needed to get through.  There was always time pressure -- in an hour he needed to be back in the clinic, to finalize the afternoon healings.  Every healer stuck waiting around, sustaining their transfigurations, was a healer not busy on a new patient.  Now that I think about it, I should remember to schedule a new training course on triage.  We’ve learned to lean too heavily on transfiguration… no one should be spending three hours sustaining a transfiguration for some broken bones, when a standard healing charm would have done for them.  He called a notepad and mechanical pencil from his ever-present pouch, and made a note.

“We should, I believe, offer congratulations to Ms. Granger,” said Bones.  “She has done in days what we have been trying to do for years.”  Her comment had an ironic tint, and Moody made an audible huff.  “Two-dozen people in custody over the Euphoric Elixir distribution alone, and something like half of the Honourable taken off the street.  We’ll have to let most of them go, of course, but they’re marked with that, now.”

“No,” Harry said.  “Keep everyone associated with the Euphoria, but of the rest, only file against Erasmus.  He needs to learn a lesson, since this is the fifth time he’s come close to making a tragic mistake.  But no one else should suffer just for their differences of opinion.  That’s not how you build a free society.”

Bones stiffened at the last comment.  Harry thought about what he’d said, but before he could correct himself, Moody replied, “There hasn’t been a truly free vote in the Wizengamot for centuries, and we’ve not changed that.  Be realistic, Harry, and keep Draco’s people for at least a few months.  Or release them with those American gadgets stuffed inside of a cuff somewhere.”

“Everlasting Eyes,” offered Urg in a guttural croak.

“Aye, them.  But remember your goals… remember that this is a game of lives, Harry,” said Moody.  All levity had faded.  Harry knew that Alastor Moody didn’t think scruples had much of a place in planning of this level, and had little patience for idealists who were naive enough to think they could win without getting their hands dirty.

“Dumbledore showed us that we don’t need to sacrifice ourselves in the rush to win, like Voldemort did,” said Harry.  “That’s why Narcissa is alive.”

Moody shot back, almost without a pause, “And Narcissa is why Russia joined the Independents, so maybe Albus would be rethinking his decision right about now.  It was you who told me that we would regret every day that we let pass without bringing more people into the Tower, since that was another day that people would die.”

“ ‘Shut up and do the math’ is the expression, I think,” added Bones.  She was quoting Harry.  The atmosphere of the room had changed, suddenly.

They’ve been stewing over this and dropping hints for a long time.  It’s probably best they speak their piece now.

“I know you have a plan for two neat groups, and then there’s just one decisive conflict, and all is well, Harry.  But need we forget: the Honourable and their Treaty of Independence are not our only concern.  Remember the Three.  We still don’t know what they want or who they are, except that they were cultivating that American and her little army of Westphalians for some secret purpose,” continued Bones.  Hermione’s smile was gone, now, and she looked sad.  No… she looked disappointed.  “You have spent years on your plan for Malfoy and her son.  And maybe it was the best way.  Certainly, no one expected Amycus Carrow to have survived Voldemort’s return, and Carrow’s surprising return could have led him to form his own group of pureblood idiots, rather than joining the Malfoys.  And there would have been others.  But it might have taken us less time to crush them out, one by one, than we have spent in raising up the Honourable.”

“I’m not worried about Carrow,” said Moody, “but she’s right.  We could roll up their whole organization in one month.  Maybe two.  I could do it alone.  Hermione has done half the work in a week.”

“It’s not just the Three,” said Hermione, breaking in.  “I mean, yes, I’m worried about them… Tineagar had spells I’ve never seen before or since.  Mafalda told me that the last time that flaming chariot spell was reported -- the one that whisked Tineagar right out from among Anti-Disapparation Jinxes -- was seven hundred years ago.  But there’s also… well, sorry, Urg?  Could you?”

“Ackle and Curd are rising,” said the goblin, simply.  “I have been in both the Urgod Ur and the Burgod Bur these past weeks, and there are weapons to be found.  A stockpile forged at the Jurg Hod in Ackle, all in a rush over a month, and Curd’s Hingrabst is under guard where there have never been guards.  Doors are closed to me.”

“Is it serious?” asked Moody.  He blinked his body’s heavy-lidded eyes, as though trying to make himself more alert.  He’d been burning the candle at both ends for too long, Harry thought.  Hopefully he’d soon be able to take a good rest.

“Doors are closed to me,” repeated Urg.  “We will-workers are close, and have been so for a thousand years.”

At least he holds less of a grudge than Haddad.  That one would be creating some awkward analogy designed to remind us that wizards were the ones who healed the breach between Curd and Ackle with the Edict of Hortensius.

“But you…”  Bones began, then paused.  She gave a slight twist of her mouth, then simply forged ahead.  “But you are not like the rest of your people… hasn’t there been some distrust since you got out of Azkaban?”

“Ever since he was broken out of Azkaban,” Hermione said, her voice quiet but insistent, “Urg has been as much a part of his people as he ever was.”

“He was our eyes and ears when we were working out the alteration in the Treatment in the Environs,” said Harry.  It was true.  Without Urg, Harry would have been much more hesitant to give goblins a seat in the Wizengamot in the new positions of “Tribune,” and it might have been years before they felt confident in giving them access to wands once again.  The parallels to Muggle history were uncomfortable, but a few more years of injustice would have been an acceptable price if a gradual emancipation were necessary for the sake of safety.  It now appeared that their confidence in the goblin might have been misplaced.

“Is this a move by Malfoy?”  asked Bones.  She answered herself almost in the same instant, and she and Moody said, “No,” in unison.  “He makes unlikely friends these days, but the goblins would sooner cut off their ear-tips than ally with him,” she added.  “Not him.  But that’s a serious threat.”  She didn’t add any more.  They all knew their history.  This Urg was named for the warlord Urg the Unclean, who’d led the goblin army that wiped out Sontag.

Then it really is time for this cold war to end.  They’re right about the Three, and their unknown threat -- if they do pose a threat at all -- and now the goblins… no.  It’s time.

“Then we should move quickly,” said Harry.  “We’ve pushed the Free States and Nigeria and the Americas to a decision, and that should carry us through the rest of Africa and the Ten Thousand.”  Bones seemed doubtful, but she didn’t disagree.  “You’ve all pushed me to act -- for years telling me that I should crack down and move hard on the Honourable.  Well, let’s do it.  Hermione, we’re going to put twenty -- no, forty aurors under your command.  Or your Returned, or whoever you want.”

“Tonks said she was thinking about going back to being an auror,” said Hermione.  “It will be more official and look better if she has charge of that.”  Her face was calm, but Harry paused for a moment and shot her a questioning look.  Are you all right about that?  Tonks was one of the people closest to Hermione, and one of the few members of her group that she could really talk to.

Hermione just gave a tiny shake of her head, and he dropped it for the moment.

“Fine.  But pile the pressure on.  Bring some Tower aurors and any other of our staff you need, and use all the things we’ve kept our own.  I heard you taught the DMLE about fingerprinting -- bring in every trick you can think of, and get ahold of every last Honourable you can manage in the next twelve hours,” Harry said.  He could hear the hardness in his own voice, and he couldn’t deny that there was a cathartic pleasure to ordering these long-delayed actions.

He turned to Bones.  “Russia’s Thunderer called a conclave of the Domovoi.  They’re angry about Hermione’s strike in Siberia and the loss of their Dementors.  That’s not enough.  Make Cappadocia and the Caucasus angry.  Let slip that the Seyhan fellow isn’t really dead, and supply them some proof, if you have to.  And send a special delegation to Cyprus and make a speech about our close national ties.”  He thought for a second, then went on.  “We need more security at the RCP and at all Poles.  Call in everyone off duty or on leave that we can get.  Get Percy to help.  Triple pay for the duty, or whatever we need to pay.”

Moody whistled, low and impressed.  “Not half measures.”

“If we’re going to do this, then it needs to be over in as short a time as possible,” Harry said.  “What day is it?”  He thought for a moment.  “April 29th, okay.”  The date gave him pause, and he and Hermione exchanged looks, but he forged on.  “Okay, I want the first strikes to hit them tonight, Hermione.  And get that speech and the Seyhan leak out there within a few hours, Amelia.”  Bones nodded, visibly surprised.  “Where’s Hig?  Is he here already, Moody?”

The former auror barked a fleshy laugh.  “He is!  Probably trying to recruit our people and smuggle them out in his pocket.”

“Get him in here, he can help with this.  They have aurors and portkeys -- get them on to help with reinforcing our people at non-vital weak spots.  And get Kraeme to arrange double the usual bubblers and Extendable Ears -- I want free and open communications, all day.  And get some owls to the Receiving Room and ready to go.  Then I expect you’ll have your own business to manage, and that’s almost as important.”  The ideas and orders were coming in a rush now, and Harry felt exhilarated -- almost breathless.  “I want this done by evening -- I want to hit them so hard that they realize just how much we’ve been holding back.  If we’re going to do this, then it has to be so spectacular that we never have to do it again.  When the sun rises tomorrow, I want the Honourable wiped out and the Independents so thoroughly cowed that this is ended completely.”

Their fear must be stronger than their hate.

“But what are we doing?” asked Charlevoix, who had been sitting silently.  Her soft lilt interrupted the rising tide of energy, and everyone turned to her.  “What is it you want?”

“War,” said Harry.  “Make a war.”

17 October 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Five: Purchasing Power

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Five: Purchasing Power

- Daily Prophet headline for April 21st, 1999.

- Daily Prophet headline for April 22nd, 1999.

- Daily Prophet headline for April 23rd, 1999.

- Daily Prophet headline for April 24th, 1999.

- Daily Prophet headline for April 25th, 1999.

- Daily Prophet headline for April 26th, 1999.

- Daily Prophet headline for April 27th, 1999.


Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic
April 28th, 1999

“No,” said Hortense Hood, frowning.  “You really can’t be in there.  Sorry.”  She didn’t sound sorry.  She sounded like a long-serving auror whose career had been in a nasty slump for years, and who blamed the Goddess for that, and who was enjoying the opportunity to get some revenge -- even if it was in the most petty way imaginable.

Hermione didn’t allow herself to sigh, and kept a pleasant smile on her face.  She’d been planning on sitting at the table across from some of the people they’d taken in last week’s raid.  She’d even dressed for the occasion -- a soft-looking old robe, homely and brown, that helped turn her aura of innocence into the maternal and welcoming look of a confidante.  But Hood was in charge of the investigation, and Hood was saying no.  

Harry forced vote after vote on the Wizengamot, and argued and pleaded and bribed to try to get a majority on his side.  We were within three votes of closing that hellhole, and everyone knew which way it was going.  You volunteered there, anyway -- you were commander! -- in exchange for quadruple the typical salary for an executive auror.  You and all the rest of them should have been sacked.  Hermione shook her head, putting a slight rueful twist on her smile.  There will be no satisfaction for you on this from me, not even the slightest bit.  You volunteered to torture people for money.  Mild disappointment, nothing more, as she crossed her arms and looked at the powerfully-built woman before her.  The middle-aged auror’s hair was a storm of black frizz, forced back into a tight bun, and she had a pleased light in her dark-lashed eyes.  

“You’re in charge, of course, Auror Hood.  I suppose it is slightly unusual, but I’ve done it many times before -- and I was there when the raid took place, with some of the beat aurors and some of those stationed at the Tower.  And of course, I went to school for a year with Margaret, and know her sister.  It might help, is all,” Hermione said.  Light, nice, and nonconfrontational.  We’re not fighting, we’re friends, I just want to help, la dee da.

“Yes… and what exactly was your role, there?  In what capacity are you going around capturing full-blooded wizards and witches, like they were stray Kneazles?” asked Hood, coolly.  “Maybe that’s something we should talk about… what do you think?”  

The stupidity on display was frustrating, and Hermione frankly couldn’t understand it.  How did you rise to auror executive level -- even if you never found another command position, anywhere, after the demise of Azkaban -- with this level of situational blindness?  Auror admission standards were notoriously high.  They’d been relaxed during the increase of the force in the past few years, of course, but they were still supposed to keep out anyone who acted like a child… and anyway, Hood had been an auror for decades.

Hermione knew other immature-seeming aurors (like that one with great expectations and little sense that she’d met at the Tower).  No screening or training program was perfect, after all.  But didn’t Hood know -- couldn’t she have figured out -- that it wasn’t a smart idea to taunt the prison-smashing, Dementor-destroying world leader who had a private militia, whom the Chief Auror had been pestering for a date, and who was best friends with the most powerful wizard on the planet?

On the other hand, thought Hermione, if she had been the smart sort, she wouldn’t have been in command of Azkaban to begin with, once the winds started to blow the other way.  I hope you like being a beat auror, Hortense, because I don’t think a promotion will be coming your way for a while.  And why?  Just pettiness.  You’d think the example of Umbridge would have taught people that you don’t have to stay stuck to your mistakes.  You can change your mind.

Should Hermione just swallow her pride and give Hood a victory?  It might end the grudge, or at least blunt it… and if there was a next time, that might help.  No one was around, and it cost Hermione nothing.

No.  She’s not going to ever forget that I ended her career -- or decide that the blame is her own.  And she’d enjoy it too much if I “begged” her not to raise a fuss.  It’d probably encourage more of this.  Frustrating.  Why don’t you know that I care about you and want to help you, too, Madame Hood?

A beat had passed, and the question hung in the air.  Hermione just kept smiling pleasantly, and shrugged in answer.  Just like rolling your shoulder away from a punch; there was no gift of impact.

Hood said nothing, waiting expectantly for an answer, trying to use the awkward silence against Hermione.  Eventually, she broke the tension, saying in a brittle tone, “Well.  I suppose we’ll have to see if anything comes of that.  But you’ll not be going in on the interrogations.”

“All right,” Hermione said, brightly.  The auror tried to stare her down for a moment longer, then, satisfied she’d made her point, Hood opened the door to the antechamber of TT-1 (Thief-Taker Room #1, what a Muggle might call an interrogation or interview room) and disappeared inside, closing the door sharply behind herself.

Well, we’re in the DMLE already -- it’ll be easy to report that someone’s career was just murdered, she thought, glancing down the corridor to where a trio of office workers were pretending to be obliviously sipping tea.  Way too many people will hear about this and try to curry favor by going after my “enemy.”

Hermione shook her head, ruefully.  She’d need to try harder to reach people like that.  She knew that some people prided themselves on their enemies: Godric Gryffindor himself had claimed that  “The Tally of mine Virtue shall be the List of my Foes.”  Harry had repeated it on occasion, approvingly.  But that was wrong, truly, and Hermione thought that some of the bullies of Hogwarts had been influenced by that false sentiment.  It was important to fight evil, yes, and defeat it.  But it was far, far better to take evil by the hand, listen to its point of view, patiently and kindly discuss things, and finally walk away, hand-in-hand.  Hood wasn’t her enemy -- she was just a friend, waiting to be made.

I wonder if there’s anything I can do for her that wouldn’t be seen as an insult or bribe.  I’d better put Susie on it.  She’s good at that.  Or Esther.

Not her, Hermione remembered.  Esther and Char are in Godric’s Hollow, getting their new place set up.  She’d almost forgotten.  How strange it was, to imagine a world without Esther by her side.  Hermione had almost given up hope that her Returned could ever really heal; maybe some of them never would.  Hyori seemed to become more grim every year, not less.  But there was hope again.

“Happy thoughts, Ms. Granger?  You look far away in some wonderful place,” came a familiar American voice.

“Councilor Hig!” said Hermione, turning around and smiling.  Reg Hig was walking down the corridor towards her, stepping around the office workers.  Two of them weren’t very circumspect in eyeing his plum nose or deep-set eyes as the squat wizard passed; the third muttered something to them -- probably along the lines of “Oy, stop your staring, that bloke is just about in charge of America.”  They averted their gazes, and spied somewhat more discreetly.

“How are you, my dear?  We have missed you in Tidewater -- you and your Returned, kicking in doors and righting wrongs -- but the papers tell me you’ve taken that performance on tour, here and in Russia.”  She offered him her hand, still grinning, and he bent slightly to plant a firm kiss on the back of it.  She’d been back in Boston twice since her first visit, when she’d exposed Tineagar in the midst of investigating Malfoy’s misdeeds, and they’d become friendly -- if not that close.  “Would you have lunch with me… if you have time?  There’s a cafeteria here, right?”

“Yes, there’s a canteen for Ministry staff.  But let’s go to Siegfried’s, instead,” said Hermione.  “You will enjoy it rather more, I promise.  Unless you need to be here for a meeting…?”  Hint, hint: why are you here?

“If you don’t mind me bringing along a friend, that will be my sincere pleasure, Ms. Granger,” said Hig.  “I have just been here to chat with a few friends.  Something to do with you, actually.  But there’s a lot to talk about.”

“Hermione, please,” prompted the Goddess -- she must have insisted on this at least four or five times, over the past few months.  To do with me, and a lot to talk about… obvious enough.  So you’re here about the Independents and Russia, and maybe also looking for another way to put the pressure on Harry for better terms.  And I wonder how long it took you to track me down, so you could “accidentally” bump into me?  She wasn’t being cynical: Hig had the reputation of a careful and methodical man, if an orator of considerable passion, and every time she’d ever spoken with him, he’d been ruthlessly charming and charmingly ruthless with his hidden agendas.

Hig looked up at her and smiled broadly.  “Hermione, then.  I’ll meet you at Diagon Alley’s Safety Pole?”

“Certainly,” she said.  As Hig bowed slightly and walked away once more, she watched the three office workers scurry away.  She was willing to wager they were off to beg for a long lunch -- so that they could go trot off to Siegfried’s, too.  

Nosy parkers, she thought fondly, and grinned again.


The Diagon Alley Safety Pole had become something of a hospital complex of itself.  What had formerly been a white canvas tent when the Safety Pole was set up three years ago had been replaced by a baroque building of veined Swedish Green marble.  After she took a moment to bubble Hyori and tell her where she was going, Hermione Apparated in.  She lighted on the cobblestones, and stared up at the facade.  Beautiful.  And not a streak of discolouration at all.  She wondered if Diagon Alley had localized weather.  She’d never actually thought about it.

She had only a moment to herself to admire the building and think deep thoughts, however, before someone recognized her and a small crowd gathered.  She hoped that she wouldn’t have to wait long, since she wasn’t exactly dressed to the nines.  She should have popped home to change.

Not that they care, she thought, clasping a young man’s hand.  He’d been rejuvenated last year, and just wanted to tell her how much he supported her and the Tower.  She inclined her head graciously, and told him that she hoped he was doing something exciting with his new youth.  He tried to reply, but he was beginning to weep with emotion.

Hyori and Susie arrived a few minutes later.  Hermione was extremely grateful, and shot them a look of appreciation -- crowds were always a job for more than one person.  Hyori took up position a short distance away, watchful, while Susie helped take the arm of the weeping man from Hermione, soothing him as she walked him a short distance away.  “Cor,” Hermione heard her say to the man, “she’s something, isn’t she.”  Hermione smiled, and turned to the next people who wanted to speak to her: a little boy and his mother.

“My name is Hosea,” squeaked the little boy, looking up at her.  He had his mother’s robes bunched up in one hand, and he kept trying to lift them to hide his face, despite his mother’s efforts to stop him.  “Hosea Hussey.”  He was a cute little thing, with apple cheeks and enormous buck teeth that reminded Hermione of herself when she was a child.

Hermione leaned down.  “You didn’t happen to write to me ever, did you, Hosea?”

The child’s eyes grew as large as hen’s eggs.  He nodded, slowly.

She reached into her pouch and called up a copy of her Chocolate Frog card.  “Was this yours?”

It wasn’t, of course.  But she’d remembered this child’s letter, and she had the card, so why not?  

Hosea nodded again, and his mouth opened slightly.  He didn’t say anything else.  Hermione looked up at his mother, smiling.  She looked shocked, too.

“Maybe I could sign this, and give it back to you, Hosea.  If that’s all right with your mum?”

“That would be lovely,” said the woman.  “We… oh…”  She was flustered.

Hermione retrieved a biro from her robes and slashed her signature across the card.  She bent down and offered it to the child with both hands and a big smile.  “Here you go.”

By the time the woman had thanked Hermione on behalf of her stunned child four or five times, Susie was there to guide them away with a kind word.  Hermione put away the biro, and noticed that Hig had arrived.  He had another wizard with him -- a bald man with spectacles, a goatee, and a wide belly:  Per Aavik-Söderlundh-Ellingsen, a leading bureaucrat with the Norden’s Magidepartementet.  She knew Per in a vague way, but not much beyond a casual chat.

“Hello, Reg.  And Master Aavik!  A pleasure to see you again.  I hope you’re joining us?” she said, approaching them.  Hermione had to gently move through the small crowd of people, and she paused for a moment to give an older woman a hug.

“Ms. Granger,” said Per, pleasantly in his warm, unaccented basso profundo.  “Hello.  Yes, I would like that.”

“We’re just over here, then,” said Hermione.  Unasked, Susie had already walked ahead of them to arrange a table, moving briskly enough to make her chest bounce and a few heads turn.  Hyori, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen -- probably warding Hermione from some vantage point.  Sometimes Hermione felt a little silly at that whole thing, to be honest.

“You have very attentive servants,” remarked Per, noticing as they walked alongside each other along the cobblestone lane.  A few people followed them at a discreet distance, but most of the crowd just watched them go.

Hermione opened her mouth to explain, but Hig smoothly cut in.  “She does, yes.  Ms. Granger’s beauty might have much to do with it, but also she’s simply that kind of witch.  It’s a thing out of legend.”  He gave a slight shake of his head when she glanced at him from behind Per’s back, and she let it go.

The three of them had barely stepped inside of Siegfried’s bronze-filigreed door before the maître d' had appeared, silently guiding them to their table in the dining room.  He was professional and polite, and had the insuperable gift of seeming to know just what you wanted before you’d even asked.  Hermione had eaten here last week, and now she suspected the man was a seer.  It was the only explanation, even though it seemed vanishingly unlikely in a restaurant specifically dedicated to the wonders of Muggle luxuries.  Siegfried’s was decorated with buttery mahogany, comfortably warm lighting, and linens so crisply fresh that a house elf would approve.

“A pint of bitter for sir,” said the maître d', nodding to Per, “and two glasses of water, is that right?”  It was unprompted and yet exactly correct.  The server vanished without another word, pausing only to leave a slip of cardboard with each of them, on which the menu was printed.

“More than just kidneys and thick beef?” asked the Nordenman, lifting his menu.  “Did I perhaps accidentally leave Britain?”

“And end up somewhere with a decent bite?” said Hig, smiling a stubble-faced smile.  “Nor was there any antique plaster food in a window display, like a real pub.  I think we were side-alonged out to a different country at some point.”

“I would reply in kind with comments about your own national cuisines, gentlemen, but I am flummoxed by the wealth of possibilities,” said Hermione, with comical primness.  She glanced the menu over.

“You will need something bracing, Ms. Granger.  Taking charge over matters… we have read about it!  The Kalmaposten often describes your exploits,” said Per.  He resettled himself in his chair, scuffing it back and forth until he was situated.  “Very exciting.”

Hermione looked up from the menu, and saw Hig was looking at her directly, his lips pursed slightly in warning.  Servants and “taking charge”... Hig has told this man that I am a hidden ruler of Britain, in some fashion -- more than influential, but an old-style strongman leader.  To what purpose?

“You must mean the raids on Billie’s and Borgin & Burkes?  Well, it’s necessary.  The things that were going on... “  Hermione shook her head, unhappily.

“And where is it ending up?  Everyone off to Howard?” asked Hig, arranging his napkin in his lap.

A waiter arrived with their drinks, and Per eagerly took a long pull of his beer.  He smacked small lips, appreciatively.

“There are charges going around.  Not sure where it will end up, but at Billie’s there were illicit Time-Turners, a violation of the Responsible Research Act of 1959, and unlicensed production of a controlled substance.  Also one of Geoffrey Gem’s assistants -- sorry, Gem was the one brewing Euphoric -- one of his assistants had an outstanding charge of duel-fixing.”  Hermione sipped her water.  “And we found out other things, as well.”  Such as Gregor Nimue’s treachery.  I wonder if it would be unethical to begin planting Everlasting Ears on more people.  There’s no legal mechanism for that, but no law against it, either, in the feudal-style policing of Magical Britain.  Mmm…. no, definitely wrong.

They hadn’t managed to uncover much new, or find any ongoing crimes, in the more uneventful raid at Borgin & Burkes.  The Prophet had needed to run a picture of the broken picture window out front in order to hype up the affair… even though the window had been broken earlier that day by an unidentified vandal.

“This is what I say,” said Per, nodding approvingly.  “Yes, yes… Sorry, Ms. Granger, but in the Norden there is discussion about treaties, these days.  Our neighbor Russia is Independent, and we have close ties with them… their leaders are all Durmstrangen, you see.  ‘Hogwarts of the North,’ yes?”

And the thing that keeps you advocating for us is that you think there’s strength here… that’s what you value, more than the Safety Poles in Lübeck, Kanalenmark, Slottet, and Reykjavík.  She understood what Hig had been doing, earlier.  Clever man.  Okay, let’s sell it.

“Russia will soon learn their folly,” said Hermione, in a harsh tone.  She paused, and put one hand to her chest, delicately, and smiled again.  “I hope they will see the error of joining an international group that exists for the sole purpose of perpetuating infirmity and death.”  Oh my goodness what a slip, fear the great rage that dwells within the angry Goddess.

Hig smiled broadly, and his dark eyes were bright with appreciation.  “The Council is almost to the point of agreement, I must say.  I believe that we will recommend adoption of the Treaty for Health and Life very soon, in fact, if we can sort out a few last disagreements.”  Well, that was direct.  Show me your value, then name your price.  And by having this discussion in front of Per, you also emphasize that I’m a power.

“Oh?  What disagreements are there?  We here in Britain are quite proud of everything the Tower’s done for us and for everyone else in the Treaty,” she said, with a small nod towards Per, who nodded his head in agreement as he lifted his pint to his lips again.

There had been a time when she’d be getting upset at this point, thinking things like, Why are we arguing about tariffs and subsidies when there are people dying?  But she was wiser, now.  Politics was a tool to an end, and it made no sense to get angry at the shovel.

“Speaking with Mr. Potter, he has agreed that there will be an end to the restrictions on free trade, and also that Britain will compensate the Americas for the advantage it has derived over the years from Merlin’s misdeeds.  He’s agreed to endow new programs at the Russell Institute and Salem, indefinitely… including arithmancers, to help us achieve some small part of Britain’s recent prosperity.  And Britain will stop propping up Cyprus, at least for a time.  It’s unjust.  Now, if we can just meet in the middle on two other things, I think my colleagues will be happy to join with me.  Councilor Strongbound won’t have a leg to stand on, and we’ll sweep the vote.  Just a few things, and we’ve won.”

Hermione nodded, setting down her menu and sipping her water.  “Go on.”

“Goblins can’t have wands, first of all.  It’s ugly, but true.  Our American goblins aren’t as civilized as your British ones… if we gave them wands, there’d be bloodshed.  They’ve never even had wands, historically, so it’s not as though they’re missing out.  And the other issue is that we can’t open our borders to hags, vampires, or werewolves.  That’s not a matter of prejudice, it’s a matter of public health.  Even the reformed hags, like your Nutcombe hags, are a danger waiting to happen.”  Hig shrugged.  “I have fought for goblin rights, as well as Muggle rights, for many years, so you know I’m not a blood-purist or supremacist.  But there’s such a thing as going too far.”

“Are we ready to order?” asked a waiter, a slender young man with a neat uniform.  She could see the maître d' in one corner of the dining room, where he’d dispatched the waiter.  It was eerily good timing, just when she needed a moment to think.  If she hadn’t been an Occlumens and he hadn’t been a Muggle, she’d be fairly sure he was reading her mind.

“The asparagus salad,” she ordered.  “There’s no meat in the dressing?”

“No, Madame.  I will make sure.  And for sirs?”

“This cut of beef -- is it like a Chateaubriand?” asked Hig, setting down his menu.

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll have that, then.”

“How would sir like it cooked?”


“May I recommend rare, sir?”

“A rare what?  Oh, yes.  Thank you.”

“And sir?”

“The same as Councilor Hig, I think,” said Per.  “Although I should have a salad, I cannot bring myself to do so.”

“All right.  We’ll have that right out.  Please tell me if there’s anything else I can get for you,” said the waiter, and flowed away with the unobtrusive liquid grace of a professional.

“A very nice place,” said Hig.  “I’ve eaten at Muggle places before, of course -- it’s more common in the Americas than back here -- but this is a very nice place, indeed.”

“Isn’t it a bother to go to a Muggle place, though?  Not this one, it’s very easy and it’s proper, you know?” said Per, turning in his chair to look around.  “But you must plod all over the place like a goat, or else spend an hour wiping their heads -- er, minds.  A bother.”

“What is your favorite Muggle place, Reg?” asked Hermione.  She knew it was obvious she was stalling a bit, but she needed a moment more to think.  She couldn’t commit in haste.  That was another cleverness of Hig’s: bringing impressionable Per along made her feel pressured to decide where she stood, right on the spot.  The Nordenman was related to half the influential families of the Norden, and his wife was related to the other half.  His opinions would go far, and he looked to be easily swayed.  She needed to appear decisive and strong.  Norden couldn’t be allowed to waver, or given the impression that the Council of Westphalia was going to go Independent.

“The Blue Benn, I think,” said Hig.  She’d wager he was exaggerating about how often he’d gone to Muggle establishments, since Tidewater had actually seemed as insular as most magical communities, but she was still impressed he could name it off the top of his head.  “A diner a couple of hours west from Tidewater.”  He scratched at his chin.  “After your first eventful visit, we spent some time trying to track down the origins of some redcaps out in the Berkshire Mountains, and had occasion to dine there.  Charming place.  Wonderful dough-nuts.”

Per drained the rest of his beer, hiccuping when he’d finished it.  “Quite good, quite good.”

“Served warm, I bet,” said Hig, frowning.  He shook his head.  “Anyway, Hermione… with regards to the goblins being given wands, and open borders… the Tower will give dispensations, right?  I know you’re not nominally in command of it, but you are a force here.  I’m sure that Mr. Potter fears no poudre de succession, but I believe that if you gave me your word, it wou-”

“No,” said Hermione, firmly.

Hig stopped, and gave her a pointed look.  His lips were tight with surprise and displeasure.

I am capable of taking a hint, little man… but that doesn’t mean you always get to lead me around to your intended destination.

“First of all, I’m not at all sure that the Wizengamot and other legislatures would agree to either these changes in the Treaty or to a special exemption.  The behavior of our Ministry of Magic -- and it is ours, make no mistake -- is something we can control, Councilor.  But despite the idiotic propaganda of the Independents, that gaggle of squawking thugs who are just unhappy that the world is slipping out of their bloody grasp, we do not control the rest of the Treaty nations, as Per can tell you.”  Hermione said.  She was firm, but still kind.

Per seemed uncertain at the sudden change in tone of the conversation, but he was experienced enough to simply nod.

“Secondly, American goblins will get wands, one way or another.  If the Council were to recommend against the Treaty, and then American nations were to follow that recommendation -- a safe bet -- then I think you would find that wands would show up in New Mexico, anyway.”  She paused for a moment for effect.  “Not on our behalf, but surely you know that this is happening already.  The goblin nations have close ties, and Curd and Ackle are already taking wands to hand.”  As it happened, she did not know that the American goblins were getting wands from their British and Irish counterparts… but it was a safe bet.  And Hig couldn’t know differently.

“I think that the Magical Congress can keep tabs fairly well on our magical creatures, Hermione,” said Hig.  His expression was mild again.  “And all of the British tariff enforcement officials will soon have time on their hands… they would be able to keep an eye on your goblins.”

“But they won’t,” assured Hermione, again with firmness.  “I’m sorry, Reg.  I believe the terms are more than generous already.  The most we can do is increase the research stipend.”

“Always leave a way for the opponent to achieve a small victory… so long as they know it’s a victory you grant them.”  Draco had said that, quoting his father.  Good political advice.

“The stipend should already be increased, anyway, since it’s so drastically insufficient,” said Hig, clasping his hands in front of him on the table.  “If we must swallow the world’s hags and vampires at their pleasure, the monies should be triple the current value, and pegged to the cost of wheat.”

“We’ll increase it by twenty-five percent, but we’re not going to increase it every year to keep up with inflation… and especially not when the measurement of inflation is a good with a sale price that could be manipulated.”

Per watched the exchange, mouth open.

“If you won’t even raise it to an equitable level, and it will be reduced to a pittance in my lifetime, then it becomes an insult, not a gift,” said Hig, shaking his head.  “Double-and-twoscore would be possible, I suppose.  And we could use a basket of wholesale good prices as a measurement of ‘inflation.’ ”  He pronounced the last word as though it were amusing.  She knew that he read Muggle news… but maybe he’d never grasped the finer points of finance.  It was funny how much of an advantage reading the Financial Times gave one.

“Fifty percent, and you can work out the terms of a price index with the Tower.”

“Done,” said Hig, with some satisfaction.

“Your lunch, sirs and madame,” said the waiter.  He lowered his tray, and began setting plates before them.

“Thank you,” said Hermione.  “I’m famished.”  She met Hig’s eye, and smiled.

“Three pints of bitter, as well, I think,” said Hig, smiling back.  “We must drink to an agreement.”  But even as he spoke, the maître d' was stepping up behind the waiter.  He set the three drinks down on the table.

“Cheers,” said Per.  He was red-faced, and seemed altogether more anxious about what he’d just witnessed than the two principals had been.

“Cheers,” said Hermione and Hig.  They clinked their glasses.


Hermione Apparated directly back to the Ministry.  She still needed to pick up her mail from her P.A., and she wanted to find out if there had been any results from interrogations in the past couple of hours -- even if she would have to ask someone other than the troublesome Hortense Hood.  But she had barely walked into the high-ceilinged lobby before she saw Hood herself.  The auror was obviously waiting for her, and she approached with a brisk step.  Hood’s wand was in her hand, and she had a tense and sharp look on her face.

Hermione glanced down at it, then looked back up.  Wand out?

“Ms. Granger, you’ll need to come with me,” said Hood.  She spoke commandingly, but a touch too loudly.  Nervous.  Trying to goad me into overreaction, but probably aware that I could break her arm and put her through the wall.  She’s heard the stories: Azkaban, Lockhart, Macadam, Göreme, … and now Siberia, although the Prophet’s making rather more out of that than they should, considering there wasn’t even a fight.

Three people rescued and six Dementors destroyed -- no casualties, but the media had been making it out to be a full-scale war with Russia, hyping up the conflict.  Harry’s doing, although she couldn’t imagine why he wanted more tension with them.

So what did Hood want?

“Certainly, Auror Hood,” she answered.  A trap?  She’s certainly in Malfoy’s target demographics.  He collects the bigoted, the aggrieved, and the libertarian -- and Hood has a grudge.  Hm.  No.  I think that game’s fairly blown, and Draco must know it.  No point in trying to trap me.  Maybe the Three?  Heck, Hood could be one of the Three… if they even really exist, and it wasn’t some ruse of Tineagar’s.

Even if it was a trap, it had to be admitted that the auror posed only a small threat.  Really, Hermione should be so lucky… an attempt to trap or assassinate her would be one of the best ways to get new information.  And it was likely to backfire -- who knows how many people were swayed over to their side by the attempting bombing in Diagon Alley?

Hermione turned slightly to Hyori and Susie, who had accompanied her.  “They’ll be coming with me,” she said to Hood.  Hyori had her arms folded in front of her, one hand in her sleeve where she was concealing her own drawn wand, while Susie had her bubbler in hand.

“Fine.  This way,” said Hood, gesturing to the elevator.  “DMLE’s TT-8.”

“The very height of politeness, isn’t it?” muttered Susie, as Hermione and the Returned walked as directed.

Upon arriving at the claustrophobically low-ceilinged room, however, Hermione found only a familiar-looking older witch with thinning hair and a dark-skinned wizard with a sheaf of parchments sitting at a table.  Hood walked in behind Hermione, and closed the door behind them.

Hermione sat at the table across from the witch and wizard, and Susie and Hyori sat on either side of her.  Hood chose not to sit next to either them, nor across from them, but instead at a third side of the table.  She settled into her seat, and cleared her throat.

“Ms. Granger, this is-”

The door to the room opened, and a second auror entered.  Hermione didn’t recognize this wizard, who was extremely short and had slightly pointed ears -- goblin blood, somewhere down the line.  “Sorry, sorry,” he said, moving quickly to sit next to Hood and settling his own pile of parchment in front of him.

“Ms. Granger, this is Wilhelmina Lazenby, the proprietor of Billie’s Bobbing Bubbies.  She’s complained about the damages you did to her establishment, and we thought we’d ask you in here as a courtesy,” said Hood, indicating the woman across from Hermione.  Lazenby had an unhappy look on her face, and stared down at the table sullenly.

“I’m sure you could have told me as much, and I’d have been happy to come along, Auror Hood,” said Hermione, lightly.  She smiled, despite her irritation.  Hood had perhaps been hoping Hermione would refuse.

“Hortense, knock it off,” said the other auror.  “Mukwooru’s toe, this is Hermione Granger!”  He shook his head.  He had shaggy brown hair and a nice smile.  “I’m Auror Gerald Podrut, Ms. Granger.”

“If you’re quite done, there are things to settle.  Under what authority was Ms. Granger acting when she broke into the basement of my client’s business, doing severe damage to property in the meantime?” interrupted the wizard to Lazenby’s right.

“I was invited by the DMLE because of my special skill-set,” said Hermione.  “The DMLE’s charter permits it to request or hire the services of outside consultants, as necessary.”

“That is intended for exorcists, herbologists, and other experts -- not a one-witch wrecking crew!” objected the lawyer.  She couldn’t tell if he was really outraged, or if it was calculated.

“Even if you were right,” said Gerald, with a voice slightly higher than normal, “I think we can be realistic and say that the Wizengamot would happily pass any law Ms. Granger needed to continue to help the aurors… I understand she’s been invaluable.  Or so Mr. Diggory has said.”

“Ridiculous,” muttered the lawyer.  Hood said nothing.

“Are you going to file claims, Madame Lazenby?” asked Gerald.

Her lawyer answered for his silent client, snapping, “Of course we’ll file claims!  My client’s business has been ruined -- half the floor is torn apart!”

“And the Goddess has a deep vault, you figure, eh?” said Gerald.  He glanced over at Hermione.  “Er, sorry.”

“Quite all right, you lovely bloke,” said Susie, smiling.

“Indeed it is,” agreed Hermione.  “But I don’t think there’s any need for a hearing before a low court.”

“Or an appeal to the Wizengamot,” said Susie, pointedly.  She leaned back in her chair, and smiled.

“We can certainly come to terms,” said Hermione.  She glanced over at Hood, and thought for a long moment.  There was an opportunity, here.

Just a friend, waiting to be made.

“Could we speak for a moment, Auror Hood?  Nothing terrible, just have a quick question?”

Hood frowned.  The muscular auror rose from her chair, though, and jerked her head to indicate the hallway.  “Fine.”

Stepping out after her, Hermione closed the door behind them.  “Auror Hood, let us be frank.  Your career has gone nowhere for quite a while… ever since Azkaban.  Am I right?”

Hood didn’t reply immediately.  She crossed her arms and stared intently at Hermione.  Hermione could see that Hood was trying to figure out Hermione’s motives: if it was genuine or a trick… or even just cruelty for its own sake.  But slowly, the auror replied, “It’s been slow.”

“May I help you here, then?  Am I right in thinking that you’d like to track down the rest of Geoffrey Gem’s suppliers and vendors?  I know the DMLE made good inroads into that Euphoric Ring last month, but I bet you didn’t get half of the crooks, and you know it.”

Hood raised an eyebrow.  “ ‘Crooks?’  We got a good many of them, don’t worry, and the rest will follow.”

“If I give you a way to track down most of the people who have been supplying and selling those phials of potion, will that help you?” asked Hermione.

The response was measured again, but less hostile.  “We’ve already tried the Substantiation Charm on his ingredients, and got little we could use.”

“I have a special Muggle method,” said Hermione, smiling genuinely now.  “Don’t roll your eyes -- it’ll work.”

“You do that, and we roll up the rest of that ring…” said Hood, considering.  “Why?  You have friends enough, and there’s no favor I could do you that would matter.”

“Auror Hood, believe me when I say that what matters most to me is doing the right thing.  I know that sounds… well, phoney or hackneyed, or something.”  Hermione shrugged.  “But it’s true.”

When you had a magical unicorn aura of innocence, you could get away with a lot of naive sentiments.

“All right,” said Hood, carefully.  She cocked her head to the side, uncertain.

“Then let me tell you about something called ‘fingerprints,’ “ said Hermione, “and we can call in another expert to help you and the DMLE out.”


NOTE:  Yes, I know that Novaya Zemlya is not in Siberia.  Sloppy reporting, really.