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?”


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡


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.”


2 comments:

  1. Reading this chapter on this date makes for an amusing coincidence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. had I been faster at reading last week and half, I might have shared the joke.

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