29 January 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Ineluctable Modality of the Visible

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Ineluctable Modality of the Visible

“What stories do you mean, and what fault do you find in them?”

“The fault one ought to find first and foremost, especially if the falsehood isn’t well told.”

“For example?”

“When a story gives a bad image of what the gods and heroes are like, the way a painter does whose picture is not at all like the things he’s trying to paint.”

“You’re right to object to that.  But what sort of story in particular do you have in mind?”

“First, telling the greatest falsehood about the most important things doesn’t make a fine story -- I mean Hesiod telling us about how Uranus behaved, how Cronus punished him for it, and how he was in turn punished by his own son.  Even if that were true, it should be passed over in silence, not told to foolish young people.  And if, for some reason, it has to be told, only a very few people -- pledged to secrecy and after sacrificing not just a pig but something great and scarce -- should hear it, so that their number is kept as small as possible.”

“Yes.  Such stories are hard to deal with.”

- Plato, The Republic  II.377e-378a


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 17th, 1999
The same day

“Well, that was a waste of two hours,” drawled Draco, as he walked into the Pairing Partnership.  He closed the door behind him, and the Lovegood Leaf rustled.  “I suppose I never really considered just how tedious it would be to watch a gaggle of Muggles for any length of time.”  He shook his head, and swept one hand along his hair, smoothing it.

“Didn’t enjoy the movie?” asked Harry, turning in his seat away from the computer screen.  Auror Kraeme, nearby, kept a close eye on Draco.  She was leaning with her back against a large metal cabinet, arms folded -- but eyes sharp.

“You should call them something different, too.  ‘Movie’... it just emphasizes how primitive the entire thing is, compared to a real play.”  He affected his high-pitched Muggle Voice: “ ‘Wow, look, they’re moving just like real people would, if only we had taste enough to go watch an actual troupe of performers!’ 

“They used to be called ‘talkies,’ ” Harry said, wryly.  “So it could be worse.  But ticket sales at the movie theatre go up every week, so I’m not sure that everyone agrees with you.”

“It’s the thing to do, like eating at Siegfried’s.  People are sheep, and right now you’ve set out some new paddocks.  That doesn’t mean there will be any long-term success.  Grindelwald was a fanatic for painting, they say, but it’s not as though Hungary is full of painters today.  After Grindelwald was locked up in Nurmengard, most of the artists went back to sculpting.  If you want people to become actually interested, not just intrigued by the novelty, then you need to make movies about things that they care about.  Not Muggles with guns,” Draco said.  He pulled a chair over next to the EEG machine, where Harry was sitting in front of the attached computer.

“I am not going to start a production company,” said Harry, shaking his head.  But he froze in the middle of the gesture and frowned.  “Well, actually, I guess there’s no reason why we couldn’t do that.  They could begin with adaptations of some famous wizard plays, and cast some of the same actors, probably.”

“Ah yes, one more industry dominated from first to last by Harry Potter,” said Draco.  “No, I don’t think you’ll be doing that.  It will hardly help generate an appearance of real success if you look to be propping up your Muggle ventures like that.  No, I think we need to decentralize a little.”

Harry laughed.  “Malfoy Productions?”

Draco glanced over at the auror by the wall, within earshot, wordlessly.  Harry followed the glance, then looked back at Draco with a smile.  “A Vow of secrecy, don’t worry.”

The Lord Malfoy nodded, and went on.  “Well, I was thinking of a joint venture with some Americans, actually.  It wouldn’t be difficult to start up a similar movies theatre in Tidewater.  There’s an old Westphalian ally with deep pockets, Littlebrook Strongbound, who might like to get ahead of your bosom friend Hig on something.  Too much gold and control slipping through his fingers… and I think he senses the leash slipping around the Council’s neck.”

“You’ll need visible capital to start something like that,” said Harry,  “since Malfoys have typically been invested rather heavily in flying castles, which are not known for their liquidity.  And the finance sector hasn’t been your friend over the past few years.”  Traditional private usury was almost extinct in Britain, along with the corresponding interest rates.  “Too many people are paying attention.”

“Yes,” said Draco.  “A visible success to explain the new money, and I’ll whisper in a few confidential ears that it’s really Cappadocian gold -- payment for steering things their way, here.”

“I was thinking Amycus Carrow as a source, actually,” said Harry.  “If you’d taken control of some of his assets, it would be a tidier explanation.”

“The Carrow sisters might not appreciate the news that I’ve taken control of some of their uncle’s properties and loans, Harry,” said Draco, raising an eyebrow.  “They’ve already been through rather a lot.”

It was subtle and quiet, but those words were question and concern and accusation, all at once.  It wasn’t like Harry to forget about innocent bystanders -- and whatever their ideology, the Carrow sisters were certainly innocent of anything that might merit dragging them through any more ugliness.

“You’re right, of course,” said Harry, shaking his head.  He rubbed his forehead, sighing.  “I’m distracted -- not at my optimum self today.”

“Mm,” Draco said, in noncommital acknowledgment.  “Anyway, if the Cappadocian plan doesn’t seem enough, add another layer for the clever folk: have Moody ‘investigate’ the possibility that I’ve co-opted one of the Tower arithmancers, and that the windfall is actually your money.  You’ve already been working on building up their mystique for years, so rumors of a rogue arithmancer would help with that, as well.”

“All right,” Harry agreed.  He sounded unsettled.

“Have you been sleeping enough, Harry?” asked Draco.  “Or have you been spending half your time in the clinic tending to mermaids with mumps and Squibs with splinters, and the other half in here, scanning people’s brains as they cast Goat Into Goblet?”

“Why would anyone need a spell to… no, never mind,” said Harry, rolling his eyes.  “Yes, I’ve been getting plenty of sleep.  There’s just been a lot to keep track of.  Managing the Tower and Britain -- and well, the world -- just keeps getting more complicated, especially without Hermione around.”  Draco pursed his lips, and Harry rushed on.  “It’s been good to rely on you, of course… but uniting the Treaties hasn’t actually simplified the situation.”

“And you keep finding new projects,” Draco said, agreeably.  “Like ancient discoveries one of your Unspeakable or Tower minions brought back to you.”

Harry looked surprised.  “How did...”  He followed Draco’s gaze to a nearby table, where a box of Macadam’s Easy-Apply Melters was still out, and made a face.  “Maybe I am tired,” he muttered.

“The only reason you’d need repair strips would be if you were trying to fix something you couldn’t transfigure,” said Draco, smiling.  “And that’s a short list.  Something we can use?”

“A book about Merlin,” said Harry.  “It’s given me some ideas, but nothing I can use -- unless I decide I’d really enjoy the entropic heat death of the universe.”

Draco didn’t ask.  “Then maybe give it a rest.  Honestly, you should probably take a vacation.  You have the government and the Confederation and Tower research and all of your little side projects, like the stupid movies and the sfaironauts and your theory of magic research. And you’ve been at this pace for… well, since we met.  You can’t keep it up forever; you’re only a Ravenclaw.”

“Maybe I just need some smarter Slytherins to help,” said Harry.  “Whatever happened to Vincent Crabbe?”

“Still trying to get something working in Knockturn Alley,” Draco admitted.  “He’s never really forgiven me, and I rather think he’d like to be a power of his own.  He backed a chandler’s, but unfortunately I understand that investment’s gone pear-shaped recently.”  It was an elegant retort and reminder of Draco’s subtlety, but Draco didn’t gloat, and allowed himself only the slightest smirk.  “Anyway, just think of taking a few days off.  Leave government to that gawky frump of a Weasley, the world to Bones, and everything else to Moody and me.  Catch up on your reading.”

“Eventually I’m going to take an entire year off… I’ll go to Japan and spend my days having fun in the lab,” said Harry.  “But not yet.  Things are still delicate.  I’ll be fine.”

“I have a feeling this ‘eventually’ is scheduled sometime after everyone in the world has become free and immortal, there’s a city on the Moon, and you’ve been able to take a quick little jaunt to Atlantis to pick up Dumbledore from outside of Time,” said Draco.  His voice was gentler than his words.

“We’re one minute from midnight, Draco,” said Harry, firmly.  “Muggles have had the capability to destroy the world for generations, now, and it’s only by the grace of Petrov it hasn’t happened yet.  I’m not going to introduce wizards to science and then take a vacation at the most delicate point.  It’s too dangerous.  Look at Edgar Erasmus and how we’ve had to juggle people like him, to keep everyone safe.”  He shook his head.  “Merlin tried to shut down the forward march of knowledge, since he thought that magical power was spreading too quickly and too easily.  I don’t think he was right about the solution, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong about the problem.  We have to keep tight control over things for right now.  It’s too dangerous for everyone, otherwise.”


Elsewhere in the Tower
The same day

Healer Owen Wilifred frowned.  There was something very strange going on, here.

He glanced down at the patient, who was lying unconscious, immobile, and safely stunned.  An older man of indeterminate ethnicity -- Asia or India or someplace.  Clearly never rejuvenated, and no external symptoms.  But when Owen moved his wand lower on the patient’s abdomen, he kept seeing the same thing: absolutely perfect internal organs, without a single flaw or oddity.

The diagnosis convivium seemed to be working correctly; when Owen placed his wand on his own stomach, the spell suite produced a vivid mental image of his intestines gently shifting.  There was a familiar series of benign nodules along the outside of his colon, and his duodenum looked just as oddly lumpy as usual.  But when Owen returned the wand to the patient and focused the diagnosis convivium back on him, there was not a single cyst, scar, or other irregularity.  And no matter where he looked, it was the same.  The patient’s body was as perfect as the illustrations of a medical textbook, and that was simply strange… especially since he was complaining of general aches and pains.  They didn’t appear to have any irregularities at all, much less a condition that would cause any suffering.

Owen considered the possibilities.  It was conceivable that the patient just happened to be a bizarrely perfect specimen who had never had any sort of trauma, despite what appeared to be at least six decades of life.  That was very unlikely, though.  It was also possible that the man -- Mr. Khan, by his intake parchment -- had been seriously hurt and had received magical healing to most of his body.  But that usually left traces; skele-grow, for example, left bones with a distinctive (if harmless) spiral pattern of nonlamellar and lamellar.

The most likely explanation that occurred to Owen, though, was also the most alarming one: that the patient had been one of the first wizards to receive rejuvenation.  If that were the case, it might explain the fact that his appearance was still middle-aged.  In the earliest days of the Tower, Owen had heard that they’d sometimes omitted the cosmetic restoration.  If the patient had been one of the first to be rejuvenated, it might also explain why they didn’t have any treatment records for him.  Many of those early records had been lost in some sort of fire, years ago.

It was also possible that Mr. Khan had been rejuvenated more recently, and had been granted special exemption from the cosmetic restoration.  That was very rare, however, and it wouldn’t explain the lack of a Tower record for the procedure.

At this point, Owen really couldn’t go any further without waking up the patient and eliminating some of these possibilities.  He was beginning to be worried about time, though.  The clock said that he had only about fifty minutes before Harry’s next pass through the clinic.  The Tower enchantments required Harry’s express touch before any healing transfiguration would become permanent, so if Owen didn’t get this solved and the healing done quickly, he’d be stuck with Mr. Khan until the next scheduled pass -- three more hours.

Did he need an auror when he woke up the patient?  Probably not.  Mr. Khan wasn’t important or powerful enough to have any sort of file, and he didn’t have his wand, like every patient.  Plus, Owen wasn’t a bigot or anything, but he hadn’t been able to help noticing that Mr. Khan’s wand was so battered-looking that it must be second-hand (or even third-hand).

Still, protocol was protocol.  The security at the Tower was incredibly complex, considering the difficulties of admitting and treating powerful strangers from all over the world, but it wasn’t infallible.

Owen stuck his head out of the screened-off examination cubicle, pushing aside the curtain.  He called down the hall, “Wake-up here, need an auror!”

A bored-looking auror came striding on down past the rows of cubicles, nodding.  “Anything I need to know?”

“He’s a bit funny in his guts.  I think he might have been an earlier rejuvenation -- back before the Tower moved to this facility.  I’ve heard about them… you were here then, right?” said Owen, handing over the sparse file that they’d started on Mr. Khan in the Receiving Room.

“No,” said Auror Madagascar.  “I was stationed somewhere else, then.  But I heard the same thing.”  He flipped open the file, but it had virtually no information beyond a few uninteresting personal details like place of origin (the Vedic Kingdom, though he was admitted via the Godric’s Hollow pole), number of siblings (seven, all deceased), and the like.  Madagascar shrugged.  “Wake him up.”

Owen did so, after making sure a privacy spell was on and that Madagascar had raised the basic safety wards.  That was just standard -- some people didn’t react well to waking up from the stunning effect of the Safety Stick or Safety Poles.  A majority awoke as calmly though they were waking from a nap, but some people become disoriented and alarmed.

The patient opened his eyes, gently, and blinked a moment.  He tilted his head and took in the healer and the auror, then glanced around.  A flicker of some expression passed over his face -- not the usual fear or uncertainty or pain, but instead a shadow of apprehension.  But it was gone as quickly as it came.

“Am I all right?” Mr. Khan asked.  He closed his eyes for a moment, and let out a long sigh.

Owen smiled.  “You’re fine, Mr. Khan.  You’re in the John Snow Center for Medicine.  In the Tower.  My name is Wilifred Owen.  I’m a healer here.  This is Harry Madagascar -- he works here with me.  We wanted to ask you a few questions, but if you need a moment to get oriented, take your time.”

The patient sat up, nodding.  “May I stand up?  Is that all right?” he asked, mildly.

“No, sorry,” said Owen.  “It might make you dizzy.  Just give it a minute.”  He stepped back next to Madagascar, but the auror waved him to the side.  Clear line of fire, thought Owen, and restrained the temptation to roll his eyes.

Mr. Khan shifted where he lay on the cot, moving carefully.  He was wearing very simple brown robes, worn through in spots with use.

“You told the healer you’d been feeling pains?” asked Owen.

“Yes,” said Mr. Khan.  He turned to look at Owen, and then at Madagascar, and then jerked his head downward, sharply, cringing.  He reached to his chest with one hand, and grimaced.  “Again.”

Owen frowned, shaking his head.  “I don’t know what could be causing that... “  He stepped forward again, lifting his wand.  Behind him, he heard Madagascar move to one side -- finding a good angle for a clear view.  “Tell me, have you been here before, sir?”  Owen set his wand on Mr. Khan’s chest, and stared at the blank white wall of the cubicle as he focused on the view of the patient’s organs afforded by the convivium.  Everything looked pristine.

Mr. Khan murmured something, quietly.  Owen lowered his head a little.  “Pardon?”  The patient reached up and gently touched Owen’s elbow, and repeated himself in a whisper.

“I said, Egeustimentis.”

And Owen went away for a while, and he and Mr. Khan were alone for a time in some narrow space.  It seemed like hours, though it was only seconds.

While they were there, Mr. Khan made some changes to the way Owen thought about things.  Owen distantly observed the process, and found it interesting.  It was as though Mr. Khan were simultaneously very large and very small, peering down from a great height at Owen’s mind -- even as he moved within it.  Owen’s mind, Owen noted, was a ceaselessly sliding mass of a thousand thousand thin layers of slippery jelly, undulating and quivering as they slithered into and over each other.  Simultaneously, it was an intricate tracery of vinegar-smelling lights that touched each other and flared bright and faded.  And it was a stabbing prickery of needles stabbing in and out of dark shapes that quietly sighed.  And Owen’s mind was other things as well, as need be.

Mr. Khan moved things and explained to Owen that he needed Owen to be a slightly different sort of person.  Not very different, but different enough to help Mr. Khan.  After it had all been explained, it made sense.  They spoke for a long while.  All the while that they spoke, Mr. Khan was moving jelly/lights/needles/switches/teeth.  And at the end of this time, Owen had been both persuaded and altered, and he wasn’t sure where the persuasion had ended and alteration had begun, or if there was even a division between the two, or if there was even a difference.

Owen agreed it was probably best that Mr. Khan set up a way for him to forget about the whole thing.  Mr. Khan set up a pressure in Owen’s mind, waiting to be released by a command word -- thoughts and impulses forced out of place and bent into tension, ready to spring out along a chosen path.  He would leave only the one pressure, Mr. Khan explained, because he didn’t want to hurt Owen.  When Mr. Khan triggered the release of that pressure, Owen’s mind would snap back into place along that chosen path… and Owen would forget that he’d ever treated Mr. Khan, helped Mr. Khan, and even that he’d ever known this Mr. Khan existed.  By that time, everything would be all over.

Everything would be all right, Mr. Khan said.  They’d sort everything out.

And then

“Wilifred, you all right?” asked Madagascar.

Owen turned around.  “Sure.  Just can’t figure this out.”  He shrugged, and turned away from the patient.  “Mr. Khan, just relax for a moment.  Let me get another healer to consult.  We have some excellent people on staff here at the Tower, and we’ll do what it takes to sort everything out.”


Begin by asking students to consider how a rumor might spread among a population. Suppose on Day 1 a single person tells someone else a rumor, and suppose that on every subsequent day, each person who knows the rumor tells exactly one other person the rumor. Have students ponder, discuss and answer questions like: “How many days until 50 people have heard the rumor? 100 people? The whole school? The whole country?”

In the situation with the rumor, the number of people who have heard the rumor doubles every day; this is because, each day, every person who knows the rumor tells it to a new person. In other words, there is a 100 percent transmission rate: 100 percent of those who know the rumor spread it to someone else. A transmission rate this high means that the number of people who know the rumor will grow very quickly. In fact, in this simplified exponential model, one person could spread the rumor to the entire population of the United States in less than a month!

- Patrick Honner, “Exponential Outbreaks: The Mathematics of Epidemics."

24 January 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-Seven: Pip Around the World

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-Seven: Pip Around the World

Portkey Office, Ministry of Magic, Whitehall, London
May 17th, 1999

“Hullo!” said Pip, smiling at the gent at the Official Business desk.

He looked up wearily from a thick ledger, squinting at Pip.  “Hello.”  He stared at Pip with red-rimmed eyes, and waited.  Pip smiled brightly back at him, expectantly.  Finally, the man said, “Can I help you with something?”

“Auror Philip Pirrip, here to pick up some portkeys,” said Pip, his smile dimming slightly at the reception.  He rather thought people would be recognizing him at this point -- that word would have gotten around.  He knew he was only one of a dozen people on similar errands today, but still...  His smile brightened again as he leaned forward and said, meaningfully, “On business for the Tower.”

The official stared at Pip for a moment, then looked back down at the ledger.  He ran his finger down a column on the left, and then the one next to it.  “Pirrip, Philip… yes.  875 Oxtail Red.”  He looked back up at Pip, and shoved back from his desk.  His wheeled seat squeaked rhythmically as it bore him over to a bureau along the wall of the office.  The man didn’t even bother to get up, but just pushed himself along with his legs as he trailed an index finger along one row of small drawers, then down to another.  All of them were progressively darker shades of red.  When the official had found the one he wanted, he yanked it open.  “Here we are, then.”  Another scoot of his chair brought the man squeaking back to his desk and Pip.

The official put a velvet sack on the desk.  “Hangzhou, Bangkok, Cyprus, and return to the Ministry.  All labeled.  Don’t mix them up.”  He took a quill from his desk and made some notes in his ledger, shoving the sack over to Pip.

“Thank you,” Pip said, scooping up the sack.  He opened it and checked inside, just for a quick count of the grimy old envelopes inside.  There were four, sure enough.  One of the envelopes was open -- it looked to have an old biro inside.

“They’re all there and all correct,” said the man behind the desk, and Pip looked up to see him frowning in disapproval.

“Just checking,” Pip said, uncomfortably.  “After that thing the Weasley twins did, it just --”

They’re all there and all correct,” said the official again, grindingly.  He slammed the heavy ledger shut, and his inkwell rattled on the desk.  They didn’t like to be reminded of when the Weasleys had replaced all the Russian and Hungarian portkeys.  Everyone who’d tried to go to Moscow had ended up in the third-floor loo, instead.

Well, there was no telling from looking at the bloody things, anyway, Pip supposed.  He’d just have to hope he didn’t end up somewhere nasty.  Or if not, at least someplace dry.


Yu’s Library, The Court of Rubies, Hangzhou

“Hullo!” said Pip, his face serious.  “I’m here to pick up a parcel for Mr. Harry Potter-Evans-Verres.”  He did his absolute best to project an image of power and foreign might, tilting his chin upward and slightly to the side.  It was a haughty look, he thought -- the look of someone who had looked death in the eye and triumphed.

“Are you okay?” Sunny Chow asked from his side.  He turned to see the Wizengamot’s Special Envoy to the Court of Rubies staring up at him: a short woman with plain features.  She was looking at him, frank curiosity in her hazel eyes.

Pip deflated slightly.  Maybe his jawline wasn’t strong enough to pull that off.

“No parcels here,” said the librarian, his English heavily accented.  He shook his head, and swept one palm around the room, as though to draw Pip’s attention to the towering, haphazard stacks of books and piles of scrolls that occupied almost all of the long and wide room.  “This is the library.  You want the owlery.  That way, sir.”  He pointed to one of the doors.

“No, Zhongying,” said Chow, waving a hand dismissively.  “This is Auror Pirrip.  His Excellency He Jin has left a package here for the auror.  It’s going to a Mr. Harry Potter-Evans-Verres.  His Excellency would have left this here himself.”

“I will check,” said the librarian.  He turned and made his way to a corner of the room, stepping lightly among stacks of books that were easily twice his own height.  They swayed unsteadily, simply from the touch of air left by his passage, but none of them fell.

Why a queer way to sort everything, thought Pip, watching a pyramid of scrolls.  A stray scroll slipped from its place at the top of the heap and skidded halfway down the side of the pile, only to catch on the curling corner of a companion and hang there, precariously.  And this place would be a nightmare to defend.  Must be like this for protection against theft, and maybe camouflage.  Hard to browse, but maybe that’s not something they want people doing.

The librarian pushed aside a false panel in the wooden wall, and withdrew a metal case.  He opened it, and Pip saw it was filled with glowing phials of memories.  The librarian squinted at them, then nodded, slowly.  He turned back to them.  “Yes, there is something here for you.  I apologize for my rudeness.  If it would not be too much trouble, I must use precautions before I retrieve your package.”  He gestured at one of the few clear areas on the floor, and Pip saw that there was a faint outline of chalk there in the shape of a circle.

Pip glanced at the Special Envoy, but Chow had nodded easily, and was already stepping into the circle.  He joined her.  “What is this?” he muttered, uneasily.  “Ward?”

“Not quite.  Do you know the writings of a Xiang Yu?” Chow whispered back.  The librarian rummaged in his robe, pulling his wand from some interior pocket.  Pip shook his head in the negative.

“Well,” Chow said, as the librarian pointed his wand at them, “let’s just say you don’t want to move.”

Peskipiksi rendehoushan,” cast the librarian.

Almost without transition, Pip and Chow were encircled by an orange screen of some kind.  It stretched in an unbroken column from the wooden floor to the wooden ceiling, and Pip could feel the heat of it on his face.  He didn’t start in surprise, but his wand was already in his hand, and he held the first stage of the wordless Drill Breaking Hex ready in his mind.  But they didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger, as long as they didn’t move, and Chow was standing calmly next to him with her arms folded.

Pip could see through the orange.  It was some manner of liquid, and small eddies and swirls moved lazily through it, but also thin enough that it was translucent.  The librarian was visible through it, and Pip watched him as he stepped to one side of the room, and levitated a short stack of books to one side, uncovering a Pensieve.  He added a memory to it, and then immersed his head.

Less than a minute later, the librarian rose from the basin, and turned to the chalk circle.  He whispered the command word inaudibly, and the orange glare vanished as quickly as it had come.

“I apologize to you, Special Envoy and sir auror,” the librarian said, inclining his head slightly.  “The parcel was left here under some special circumstances, and we were not permitted to know about it.”

“It is, I am told, a matter of some security and secrecy,” said Chow.  “The fault is ours, not yours.”

The librarian inclined his head again, and turned to the wall where he’d retrieved the memory.  He took hold of a seemingly random wooden panel and pulled on it, and the board telescoped out from the wall, revealing itself to be a large cabinet with numerous small cubby-holes apparent in its surface.

He pulled on the knobs of four of the drawers in sequence, and the last one slid open at his touch, allowing the librarian to slide his hand inside.  The mouth of the cubby was too small for this, but it obligingly distended to permit him to reach inside.

I bet that if you do the sequence wrong, or choose the wrong little drawer, or something else like that, then you could lose your hand that way, Pip marveled.  It was a good idea, but he’d bet it led to a lot of accidents.  He’d have to tell the Ministry about it.  Maybe they could imitate it, and a certain rude squeaky squinty git at the Portkey Office might be a little more polite in the future.

The librarian slowly and gently pulled out something from the hole -- a book.  No, part of a book.  The ragged edges of torn binding showed that it was just a few dozen pages and a cover, ripped free from the whole book.  The librarian turned and offered the packet to Chow, inclining his head again.  She accepted it, bowing slightly in return, and turned to hand it to Pip.

He took it, and glanced at the cover.  Not Mandarin, but an English book.  Not new binding either, and it looked at least two or three centuries old.  But it was also clearly the rebinding… a glance at the exposed back page showed that it was truly ancient, tinted yellow and marred with small imperfections in the parchment.  The longskin goat had been bred in the fourteenth century, making the original book at least six hundred years old.  It had seen some mishandling, too… affixed inside of the cover was a scrap of parchment that was clearly only the middle part of a page.  None of the text was legible to him, which was probably just as well.

Pip looked at the cover again.  The book was by Harry Lowe, according to the gilt letters.  

The Transmygracioun, it was called.


resisted them with its power.  Our people took hold of the knowledge, and have donne great things.  Likewise in the future, there will be invaders.  But thei shall take the whole world.  Fear shall come with them, and ruin.  There lies the doom of which I have spoken to you.  Þis shall not last.  There shall be new maistery, and new maisters to take the place of the old.  I have seen þis, and so I say to you to come þis key.  The fires of the soul are great and burn


The Wizarding Bank of Bangkok, Bangkok, Thailand

“Hullo!” said Pip, peering over the counter.  “Anyone here?”

The bank building was dimly lit and poorly maintained.  The floor was beautiful marble, but it was marked with innumerable scratches and scrapes.  The long front desk was similar, made of a creamy soapstone marred with long gashes all along its surface.  The place looked deserted, without even a guard, which was rather odd for a bank.  It was somehow stranger, though, when Pip noticed that there also wasn’t any furniture.  No stools were behind the counter, no message boxes or unsummonable security boxes were resting on it, and there weren’t even any chairs for customers.

“ขอโทษ… ขอโทษ!” called a voice from a back room, speaking in rapid Thai.  A moment later, a chubby man with dark skin shuffled out into view.  He was wearing a loose white robe and linen trousers, and he was barefoot.  “สวัสดีครับ.”

“Sorry, do you speak English?”

“คุณพูดไทยได้ไหม?” came the reply from the man, who looked puzzled.



“Is there anyone here who speaks English?”  Pip said, desperately.  He’d just assumed that the bank would have someone who spoke English.  Maybe that was silly, but English had been the wizarding language of the world for centuries.  Almost everything the Confederation did was in English.

“Prasong!” called out the man, turning to shout over his shoulder.  “Praaaaaasong!  Prasong!  คนอังกฤษ!”

“Yaaaaa!” called a response, sounding irritable.  “ฉันกำลังมาาาาาาา!”  Another man emerged from the back room.  He looked identical to the first.  For a moment Pip worried that he was turning into a Muggle and a horrible person, but realized after a moment that the two were twins.

“Hello, sir?” said the second twin.  He had a strange way of speaking, ending each sentence as though it were a question.  “Welcome to the Wizarding Bank of Bangkok?  Can I help you?”

“Yes, hullo.  I’m here to pick up a parcel?  Auror Philip Pirrip, from Britain?” said Pip.  He glanced around the room.  “Is everything all right here?”

“Yes?  Only English parcel here, I think?” said the man, nodding.  “No problems?”  He turned to his brother and said some things rapidly.  They sounded like questions but were apparently instructions instead, since the other man vanished into the back again, nodding repeatedly.

Pip and the anglophone stood there in silence, awkwardly.  The Thai man yawned hugely, rubbing at his face.  Pip wondered if he’d just woken up.  It was rather late here, after all.

“Where is everything?” Pip asked, speaking up to break the silence.

“Everything what?” asked the man.

“Well, this is a bank, right?  Where are all the… banking things?” Pip finished, lamely.

The man shrugged.  “We don’t want things to be stolen?  Money is in the vaults, so we can keep it from people… outside?”  He flapped his hand at the door.

“But what’s to stop someone from just… going back there and going into the vaults?  Only you’re here to guard the place,” Pip pointed out.  “In Gringott’s, they have all sorts of guards… wizards and goblins both.”  He paused.  “Are there loads of goblins back there or something?”

The man scratched his face, looking thoughtful at the question, then shook his head.  “No, no… all the guards down on the sub-level?  And Prethang and I are สควิบ… ah, Squibs?  We just work?”

“This doesn’t make any bloody sense,” said Pip.

The Squib (could that be true?) shrugged.  “One way into the bank?  Naga live there, and they eat magic?  If you are magic or have magic, they will eat you?  So we go through the waterfall and down to the bank?”  He shrugged again.  “Guards down there, though, if you worry?”

Pip studied him.  “That can’t be true.  There’s not a kind of beast that only eats wizards.  Professor Kettleburn wasn’t good, but he wasn’t so bad he’d have left that out.”

The man just shrugged a third time, and said nothing.  The pair stood in silence until his twin returned bearing another torn piece of book.  It was the same book, Pip saw immediately.  The last page was mostly gone, with only the first third still present.  The rips looked like they would fit together.

The auror left without ever getting an answer, though he would make a full report.   He never would find out the secrets of the Bangkok Bank… or a great many other things.


Alle of these things I have told you, but there is one thing I have not told you.  Þis then hear, and then I shall be donne.  At the end of his tyme, Merlin seiden then he hadde a great prophetie, but that he would not explain it.  He seiden instead these words, and bade rememberance.  “The Achaeans have brought many knowledge to owr island of Britain.  Thei came to us as invaders, joyning with the little and the færie and laying waste to our places of power.  Ac Britain is a strong land, and it


Cypriot Hold, Cyprus

“Hullo!” said Pip.  Some of the cheer had worn out of his voice, but he still tried to keep his best foot forward.  It was like his mum always said: Act like a troll and folks will treat you like one.

The woman who turned towards Pip to fix him with a wary look was intimidatingly tall and extraordinarily beautiful.  Thick waves of black hair were swept up into a loose and long ponytail that nearly reached her back, and her formal robes were a glimmering metallic fabric that clung to her body with the tailored precision of enchanted garments.  Her eyebrows were sharply sculpted, slashing in skeptical curves over enormous brown eyes.

“Auror Pirrip?” she asked, her voice a throaty burr.  “From the Tower?”

Pip thought he must be floating.

“Yes,” he managed.  “It is I.”

She studied him for a moment longer, then nodded.  “I am Lady Feri Sarah Ellesmere Önder, of the Noble House of Önder.  I have a parcel for you, if you wish it.”

Pip nodded, and tried to keep his smile from stretching to silly dimensions.  “Thank you, Lady Önder.  That would be appreciated.”

“This way, then.”

Pip fell into step next to the Cypriot as she led the way out of the Hold.  It was a fragile-looking building of fluted glass columns and diamondine crenulations, and it looked all the more delicate for the damage that scarred its sides.  Fire had taken some of the columns, and great melted rents had eaten into the walls behind.  When the Tower had fought back against Independent aggression around the world, the Cappadocians had seized the opportunity to attack their ancient enemy once more.  Even at this hour, three goblins were at work repairing a column.  The wizard who owned them stood nearby -- an immediate reminder that this was a barbaric country in some ways.  It was scarcely believable that the bloody slavers here considered themselves British.

“Why has your master requested this book of me?” asked the Lady Önder as they walked, speaking quietly.  “It is the greatest treasure of my House.  I’d know the purpose of its journey.”

“I don’t know, madam,” Pip admitted.  “He wants to read it, I suppose.  My, ah, ‘master’ is the Tower, and he seems to want to know everything.”

Their path took them down the streets of Magical Cyprus, walking on smooth stones that had seen thousands of years of foot-traffic.  There were few others on the streets -- a single vendor selling aromatic snacks of roasted nut-and-fruit pastries; a pair of young women out for a romantic stroll, arm in arm; and a collared goblin carrying a caged owl.

“Your master thinks he already knows everything, I think,” said the Cypriot.  She stopped at the door of a grand home of green stone.  It was very British in appearance -- looked rather like pictures Pip had seen of Malfoy Manor, in fact -- with the exception of the elegant minaret that rose from the roof peak.  A crest was worked in gold into the stone above the door -- three arms bendwise couped.

“What do you mean?” Pip asked.

The Lady Önder opened the door.  “The Treaty, and now its successor, have brought much good to me and mine.  But there is also a great deal of… direction in it.  Matters that I had thought long settled are re-opened, and there is even some… well, some might call it ingratitude.”  She stepped aside, and gestured.  “Please.”

Pip nodded, and entered.  “I am sorry to hear that you feel this way, madam.  Cyprus and Britain have always been close.”

The Cypriot smiled sharply.  “Not always.  But yes, for a long time we have followed the leadership of your country.  At times, we have been the only ones to do so.  In the minds of many, this should earn us some measure of respect from Britain.  A friend does not like to see another friend take advantage.”

“You don’t like the interference,” said Pip.  It was cool and dark inside the home, but it was obvious that the House of Önder was enormously wealthy.  There were low couches of white bicorn leather, an expensive-looking scrying mirror on one wall, and a vase with a towering arrangement of silver flowers.  A wide staircase led up and out of sight.

“We do not,” said the Lady Önder.  Her voice was chilly.  “Things have now been arranged so carefully that we have no alternative.  That doesn’t mean we need be pleased with that change, or the other changes that will be forced on us.”

“I’m sorry that it is disturbing the relations between our countries,” said Pip, summoning his best diplomatic turns of phrase.  Yes, terribly sorry to be interfering in your bloody slavery, you crazy pile of kneazle-kak.  Can’t use house-elves like civilized people?  What a bother for us to disturb your traditions.  I’ll try to get out of your hair as soon as possible so you can get back to sipping baby blood out of your goblin-skull goblets, or whatever it is you do here.

“Mithri!” called the Cypriot, raising her voice.  “The Britisher is here.  Bring me the book.”

There was a quiet scraping sound from above.  “Yes, Lady Önder,” called back a tired voice.

The owner of the voice made his way to them.  The steps sounded wrong -- a thump and a scrape -- and the reason became apparent as speaker came down the stairs, into the lights at the front entrance.  It was a goblin, and he had only one leg.  He used a crutch, hobbling slowly and carefully down the steps.  The Being had very short ears for a goblin, but a long nose.  The nose had a kink in the middle.  It looked very tired, although at least they’d seen fit to give it decent clothing: a white tunic and necktie.  The steel of a collar was just visible under the tie.  There was a book under its free arm.

“Here you are, Auror Pirrip,” said the Lady Önder, as her slave offered Pip the book.  “I do not expect to see it again.  I hope it brings your master ill.”

“Thank you, Lady Önder,” said Pip.  “Thank you for everything.”

“Everything?” asked the Cypriot, frowning, as Pip walked to the door.

“Yes, everything,” Pip said, as he left.  “Please believe me when I say that you have made me very proud tonight.  Twice.”


as bright as the stars.”  At þis there was silence, and then protest, and then dismai, for none could understand these words.  Thei were once more trublid.  Mundre of the Brook took these words and set them down, and from him they passed to his son Mundre, and from him thei were taken by Togrod Teulu, and recovered from the little in the time of Yæl, who passed them to me.  I have set them for you, that they may not be lost.  So we are complete, and my tale is donne.


Safety Pole, Godric’s Hollow
The same day

“Hello,” said a kindly-looking older man.  “I wonder if you could help me?”

The auror and the healer on duty at the Godric’s Hollow Safety Pole were deep in a hand of Dragon Poker, but the healer was dutiful, and he dropped the cards without a thought.  He ignored the sour look on the auror’s face.

“Of course, sir.  Are you feeling all right?” said the healer, drawing his wand.

“A little peaky,” said the man.  He accepted the offered hand of the healer, nodding gratefully.  “It’s been a worry.”

“Ah, no need to worry any more,” said the healer.  “Everything will be all right.”


Alle of these things I have told you, but there is one thing I have not told you.  Þis then hear, and then I shall be donne.  At the end of his tyme, Merlin seiden then he hadde a great prophetie, but that he would not explain it.  He seiden instead these words, and bade rememberance.
“The Achaeans have brought many knowledge to owr island of Britain.  Thei came to us as invaders, joyning with the little and the færie and laying waste to our places of power.  Ac Britain is a strong land, and it resisted them with its power.  Our people took hold of the knowledge, and have donne great things.  Likewise in the future, there will be invaders.  But thei shall take the whole world.  Fear shall come with them, and ruin.  There lies the doom of which I have spoken to you.  Þis shall not last.  There shall be new maistery, and new maisters to take the place of the old.  I have seen þis, and so I say to you to come þis key.  The fires of the soul are great and burn as bright as the stars.”
At þis there was silence, and then protest, and then dismai, for none could understand these words.  Thei were once more trublid.  Mundre of the Brook took these words and set them down, and from him they passed to his son Mundre, and from him thei were taken by Togrod Teulu, and recovered from the little in the time of Yæl, who passed them to me.  I have set them for you, that they may not be lost.  So we are complete, and my tale is donne.

Harry Lowe, The Transmygracioun, passus tertius decimus

Alla dessa dagar som kom och gick
Inte visste jag att de var livet

All these days that came and went
Little did I know they were life

- Stig Johansson

16 January 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-Six: Jagannātha

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-Six: Jagannātha

After Ten Years of Effort, it must be admitted that ſacrifice cannot be Undone.  Having ſacrificed the Life of the plant, no Power ſufficed to return that Life to it.  We muſt conclude that ſome Harms are Irreparable in this Mortal Coil, and when a ſubſtance has been Unmade and its Eſſence Created into a Paſſage for Forces of Magick, then that ſubſtance is utterly Gone from this Earth.  To be Otherwiſe would mean a flaw in the courſe of Time Itſelf, for that which has been Done would be Undone in the paſt.  Diſaſter would come on the Heels of ſuch a remedy.

Ruminations on the Workings of Ritual, Bartleby Bertram


Powis Castle, Wales
May 16th, 1999
Two weeks after Bellatrix Black's attack

It was warm outside, warmer than it had been all spring, and the Returned were watching the peacock.  The bird was a brilliant blue, and it had been walking in idle circles nearby for almost ten minutes now.  Several times, it had stopped and spread its plumage, its head shuddering and throat working rapidly as the great feathers rose and fanned out, their magnificent colors and Argusian spots on display.  By unspoken agreement, the Returned all sat and watched quietly.

Hermione thought there was only the one peacock -- or at least, she’d only ever seen one.  It had shown up two years ago.  Both winters since, the peacock had been seen every time the gamekeeper put out food for the many pheasant.  It stood out, unique and bold and beautiful, crowded in among the dull brown game birds as it dipped its head to snatch mouthfuls of grain.

Now the bird was alone, across the clearing from where they sat on their transfigured stools and rough wooden chairs, but it seemed no less singular.  It twitched its head to one side, turning to stare back at them, and rippled its feathers.

“παγώνι,” whispered Nikitas.  “English?”

“Peacock,” replied Susie, her voice also at a hush.

Tonks sat hunched over, her legs crossed and folded hands shoved between her thighs.  One foot was vibrating with agitation.  Her hair was a phantasmagoria of colours: blue and greens as vivid as the peacock chased each other down individual locks, only to be swarmed with streaks of black that would then erupt into platinum blonde.

Finally she bent forward and groaned, a long and low sound.  The peacock froze in place, then bobbed its head suspiciously staring in their direction.  Urg rose from his seat beside her and stood next to her, as tall standing as she was sitting, so that he could put a comforting hand on her back.

Hermione called over, her voice quiet, “Tonks, are you --”

“The clouds aren’t white they’re all different colors like grey and blue and yellow and others,” Tonks interrupted, her voice a strained and rapid whisper.  “I saw a man in the alley behind Gringott’s once when I was little and he put his hand on my bum and I kicked him so hard that he sat down and said oh. On the seventieth page of my seventh-year Potions textbook I used to leave a quill-end so that I could find it quickly because it had all the distilling instructions and that was hard for me.  I like chipped beef on toast but only if it’s hot because otherwise it reminds me of nasty things.  Baby mandrakes sound like children and they scream and scream but they don’t have any lungs so I don’t know where does the air comes and goes.”

Jessie had joined Tonks and Urg, rising from her transfigured chair and crouching down with her.  She put a tight arm around the metamorphmagus’ waist.  “Shh, it’s okay.”  She glanced over at Hermione, her hollow eyes worried.

The peacock lowered its feathers and moved with unhurried but purposeful steps, away from them and into the undergrowth.  All the motion was making it nervous.

Tonks took a deep breath, sucking it between tight lips as though it were painful.

Esther, who was sitting closest to Hermione, whispered, “She’s getting better.”  She glanced over at Charlevoix, as though for confirmation, and the French witch nodded her agreement.

Hermione watched Tonks for a moment before replying.  “Yes.  But slowly, and painfully.”

“She’s an Occlumens,” said Esther.  “We should be thankful.”

Hermione nodded.  They all sat for a while, waiting for Tonks to collect herself.

She’d been forced to drink a full draught of Veritaserum during the attack by Bellatrix.  Fortunately, Esther had been nearby, knocked unconscious by the Killing Curse, and upon waking had been able to rush to the clinic and get a phial of antidote.  Most of the truth potion was purged before Tonks could be too badly poisoned, leaving only what Harry had called “Prak syndrome” (Life, the Universe, and Everything, page 223, her brain automatically supplied) and what magical medicine called Uncontrollable Utterance Ailment.  It sometimes occurred with people of a nervous temperament when using more than two drops of Veritaserum, and it was one of the reasons why more than three drops were never given -- not even to people known to be skilled in Occlumency, who were able to defeat small doses.

The danger wasn’t the babbling of thoughts and secrets.  After all, there were no secrets among the Returned, not really.  They had nothing but absolute trust and their own special, insuperable love.  No, the danger was that the burning compulsion to tell the truth, any truth, all truth, could damage the mind.  Victims of interrogation accidents could be left crippled, unable to sustain normal chains of thought for any length of time.

“You are all right,” said Urg to Tonks, seriously.  “We’re here.”

“I won’t be able to go back to being an auror,” whispered Tonks.  “I won’t, not anymore.”

“No, love, you’re wrong,” said Susie.  “The healer said there wouldn’t be any permanent effects.  Esther got you in time.”

“No, it’s over,” said Tonks, shaking her head, hunching down and hugging her legs.  Her voice was ragged.  “They don’t let you come back after something like this, a St. Mungo’s something.”  But the words were barely out of her mouth before she rushed on, more words following in a rapid strained stream.  “They don’t let you look through the display robes at Madam Malkin's because they’re afraid they’ll get wrinkled but they told me it would be okay if I just looked at the pretty velvet one.  Computers are stupid and Harry spent years just to build a toy and now that’s all he’s going to do.  Odette’s fingers look bad and won’t stay healed and just go back to being scarred no matter what and it’s because she gave them up to bring back Hermione but she shouldn’t have done that just because they’d gotten hurt she should have used a toe.  I really want to have children someday but I like hairy men and hairy men usually smell and I hate that so really I don’t even know what to do.”

Urg just patted her on the back.  Charlevoix looked down at her hands, folded in her lap, thoughtfully, her expression unemotional.

Better just to get right to it, Hermione thought.  She’d brought them together for a reason -- well, before the peacock showed up.

“I wanted to talk to everyone.  I have been thinking about what we should do, going forward.  It doesn’t seem like it will be too much longer before every country is part of the new Treaty.  More and more, they’re worried about logistics, about how to efficiently treat the entire world’s magical population, and Squibs, and eventually even Muggles.  There will eventually be something that’s beyond that… beyond the Treaty, when even all the Dementors are gone.”

She paused, glancing around, but they were only listening to her, attentively, with the exception of Tonks.  Hermione went on.

“It seems strange to be saying this -- strange even to be thinking this -- but that’s the truth.  I don’t think we can or should stop doing the right thing.  ‘Save one life’... I’ll always believe that, and I’ll always try.  But… well, what else?  It’s maybe time to start thinking about the implications of eternity.”  She stopped again, awkwardly, then shook her head.  “It’s just… a few weeks ago, Charlevoix and Esther told me they wanted to get their own place, together.  You know that.  And Tonks, you will go back to being an auror, like you wanted.  But I just wanted to say, now, before we get back to that point… Well, I wanted to say that those things make me so happy, and so proud.  It’s want I want for all of you… when you want it, that is.”

She sighed, and smiled a small smile, both sad and happy.  “I love all of you.  You are my heart.  And there will never come a day when I won’t want you around.  There’s no rush -- literally no rush at all, we have forever.   But it’s okay to think about yourselves, now, if you can.  The world is on the right track.  Things are going to be okay.”


The Ministry of Magic, Whitehall
May 17th, 1999

When Amelia Bones visualized the world, she pictured a herd of bicorn, milling around and tossing their heads.  Each nation pushed to go its own way, bellowing and butting its head against obstacles, and only rarely did two beasts move in the same direction.  To start a stampede, you needed leadership and you needed something so loud that it would startle the whole herd.

At this moment, Bones was writing a letter to a Korean official, intent on spurring the state to join the stampede into the Treaty for Health and Independence.  China was threatening to bolt, and Thailand had already vowed they would not stand alone among the Ten Thousand if China went its own way with the rest of that bloc.  That solidarity gave them too much strength and too much bargaining power.  So right now, the best thing for the Treaty was to break off a strong but small state from the Ten Thousand, while at the same time offering the Court of Rubies an illusory opportunity to split Russia away from the new Treaty.

The entire enterprise was complicated and delicate, and so Bones did not relish the knock on her office door.  She looked up in irritation at the sound.

“Come,” she snapped.  She returned her attention to the letter, trying to finish the sentence before she forgot the phrasing she’d chosen.  The Court of Rubies has nothing but your best interests in mind, Chancellor Lee, she wrote, and while I might have my own views on the subject, I urge you to listen to them.

The door pushed open, and she glanced up.  It was Reg Hig, looking his usual self with his lump of a nose and unshaven chin.

“Madame Bones, do you have a minute?”

“Yes, Councilor.  Come in, please,” Bones said.  She swallowed her irritation without a second thought, ensuring she looked calm as she stood up.  She offered her polite smile -- no warmth, but cordiality.

“Thank you,” said Hig.  He sat down in the chair in front of her desk, and Bones sat back down.

“How can I help you?  Was there something from yesterday’s meeting you wanted to follow up on?  I know we’re both concerned about Bellatrix Black, and I’d welcome any solution you could offer.  The American skill with devices is well-known.”

“There were a few things I wanted to talk about, Madame Bones,” said Hig.  “The rumours I’ve been hearing about your goblins getting ready for a new uprising, for one.  Also I wanted to discuss the provisions in the Treaty for a timeline towards more rights for Beings.  I’m not quite sure that will end up being workable for centaurs, who don’t have the same faculties as wizards, and so we need to discuss alternatives.”  Bones opened her mouth, but he was already continuing, “But the most pressing matter is a concern I have about Mr. Potter.”  Bones subsided, looking expectant.

“After the meeting the other day,” Hig went on, “Mr. Potter and I had a chance for a brief conversation about those Vanishing Rooms and the new trade that’s starting up now that the tariffs have been lifted.  But he did also have occasion to ask me about laws in the United States about magical research safety.  He wanted to know what the most restrictive law we had might be -- what could the longest sentence someone could get in an American jail for endangering others with dangerous Transfiguration research.”  Hig paused, leaning forward, fixing his eyes on hers.  “Now why might he have been asking that, I wonder?”

Bones smiled, genuinely.  Harry was still so young, sometimes, and didn’t always think through on the implications of his words in a larger world.  It was charming, in its own way… his method of earnest honesty.  He certainly never hesitated to admit he was wrong or apologize for unintended offense.  But Harry was, after all, barely an adult.

“Councilor, I promise you unreservedly that we are not doing any research anywhere in the Americas.  All of our research is done here, in the Tower, or in Antarctica.  As sinister as Mr. Potter’s question might have sounded, it’s actually a good sign -- once you know the explanation.  I see no harm in telling you that we have a wizard locked up in Nurmengard whom we caught when we first began strongly pushing back against Honourable and Independent aggression.  He’d already been sacked from the Tower for failing to consider the safety of others as he did his research, with his memory altered to prevent him from continuing that work.  When we took him into custody again, we found that he hadn’t stopped that sort of dangerous research, and so he was brought before the Wizengamot.”  The proceedings were sealed, so Bones still tried to remain as vague as she could be while still being credible.  The Council of Westphalia had ears everywhere, and the less they knew about this, the better.  “Unfortunately, we couldn’t sentence him to the sort of time he deserved… precedent is ample on this matter, and a lengthy term in Nurmengard would have drawn attention.”

“There are other options in such cases,” said Hig.  “When such things come up in the Americas, it’s usually dealt with in a less official manner.”

Bones nodded.  “That is the usual way, of course.  And several of us advised Mr. Potter of that fact -- about the way the world really works.  At the time, he said that the law might need to change, but he wasn’t going to go throwing people in prison for dangerous ideas.  He insisted on strict surveillance, instead.”  She shook her head, ruefully.  “Mr. Potter is an idealistic young man.”

“So you believe this is good news, because he was asking about possibilities for sending this dangerous researcher to an American prison, instead.  It could be done, I suppose, although there are simpler ways.”  Hig considered.  “Strange, though, that he would change his mind and become more interested in practical methods for solving such problems.  It seems unlike Mr. Potter, as far I know him.”

“In recent weeks,” said Bones, “he has seemed to be a little more hard-nosed.  He sounds more like he did when he first came to Hogwarts as a boy.  It is, I think, a good thing.  At that age he was bold enough to face down the Wizengamot to save his friend… that sort of grit will only help us in the difficulties to come.”

Hig nodded, leaning back.  “I see.  I suppose that is one perspective.  I am happy to have your word that there are no secret research stations in the Americas, at least.  Let’s talk of those other matters.  The centaurs.  Now, I’m certainly glad we’re not moving the other way, and the young Lord Malfoy isn’t pushing us to allow centaur hunts anymore.  But don’t you think this is a little extreme?”

Bones had a ready reply, and Hig had a prepared argument.  It was far too long before Bones could return to her letter, and by then she’d forgotten her train of thought.  Damned Americans.


Fort, Mumbai
May 17th, 1999
8:00 a.m.

The Yazdani Bakery was already full of people, everyone crammed in around the tiny tables as they sipped chai and passed around slices of brun maska and ramekins of butter.  Many were local Irani, but the bakery was famous enough so that other sorts of people had come from farther away.  There was even a timid pair of German backpackers in one corner, enormous dusty packs stuffed under their seat, holding hands as they shared a chai.

An older man slipped through the door.  He wore a white shirt over his lungi, and he waved away an approaching waiter, seeming to know where he was going.  He squeezed between two tables, then stepped around another.

Arriving at a table near the rear, the man stopped and folded his hands in front of himself, standing there.  Two younger men were sitting at the table, eating ginger biscuits and brum maska.  A third chair was empty.

After a moment, one of the young men glanced at the other, and then looked up at the stranger.  “Not much room… sit with us, uncle?”

“Thank you,” said the older man with a smile, also speaking in English.  He nodded and pulled out the chair, lowering himself into it with care.  “Very crowded.”

“It’s the workmen who are at Chaphekar Chowk,” agreed the young man.  “They come here first and spend an hour over their chai.”  He pushed the plate of biscuits closer to the older man.

“Have a biscuit, uncle,” said the other young man, gesturing at them.  “We have too many.”

The man shook his head slightly, smiling again.  “No, thank you.”  He leaned forward, looking closely at the fellow who’d asked him to sit down.  “Excuse me, but might you be Rushad Irani?  Is that right?”

The young man smiled widely, raising his eyebrows.  He glanced over at his friend, but the friend also smiled and shrugged.  The first turned his attention back to the stranger.  “Yes… sorry, we have met?”

The older man chuckled, reaching out to put a hand on Rushad’s forearm.  “I feel almost that it is so… I am an old friend, Kumar Khan.  Egeustimentis.

Rushad looked blankly back at the other man.  His friend frowned and leaned forward.  “What?”

The other two both ignored him for the span of a few seconds, then the older man let go of the Rushad’s arm and turned to the friend.  “I knew Rushad’s mother when we were in school.  She was fast with her samhitas!  Always much better than me.”

“Yaa, so?” said the friend in amazement, smiling again.  “And you are in a Muggle cafe, uncle!  I thought we were the only ones who liked it here.  Rushad, this is so crazy.”

“Oh, the brun maska -- very very good,” said the man.

As though he’d been lost in thought, Rushad fluttered his eyelids, then gave his head a little shake.  He frowned, but only for a moment.  Then a slow smile spread back over his face.  “Jāt khāli-yé!  This is so good!”  He turned to his friend.  “Mr. Khan always did so much for us, my mother always said.  Helped us in very bad times.  I have always wanted to do something for him.”  Rushad’s face lit up, and he dug inside of his pocket.  “Here, here… here, uncle.”  He produced a small case in black goatskin, the size of his palm.

“Rushad, what?” said the other young man, looking aghast at his friend.  “Your portkey?”

“Yes, yes… here, please, sir.  Take it, take it… a trip to London,” said Rushad, pressing it into the man’s hand.

“You saved for months for your trip, Rushad!  That is fifty cauldrons!” said the friend.  He looked uncomfortable, as though privy to something too private for an outsider to see.

“Mr. Khan saved my family!” said Rushad, almost harshly.  “This is only a part of our debt.”

“Yaa,” said the friend, uncertainly.  “Well --”

“Thank you, Rushad,” said the older man, bowing his head slightly.  “Thank you so much.  It has been a very, very long time since I was in London.”

“No, I thank you, Mr. Khan… it is good to be able to do something for you.”

“I should go, and let you return to your breakfast among the Muggles.  Such a generous gift… thank you, Rushad,” said the older man, solemnly.  He rose to his feet.  The two young men also stood up politely.

“Please, Mr. Khan, while you are in town, will you visit my mother?  She talks of you still,” said Rushad, clasping the older man’s hand.

“I will try,” said the man, smiling.  “You are a fine young man, Rushad.”  He turned to clasp the friend’s hand.  “And it is good to meet you, too.  Egeustimentis.”

The friend stared back at the older man blankly for a moment, then nodded, slowly.  Rushad frowned.  “What is the matter?”

Blinking rapidly, his friend turned to him.  “I think that --”

Egeustimentis Ba,” said the older man.  Then, without another word, and pausing only to scoop a handful of ginger biscuits from the table, he left.  He moved carefully around the other tables in the crowded bakery.  Then the older man was out the door, and gone.

The two young men stood there.  After some time, they both sat down back in their seats -- but slowly and clumsily, like sleepwalkers.  Their neighbors at another table noticed, and one young lady made a joke at their expense while her companion chuckled.

They stared off into space for a while.  Then Rushad reached for his chai, and lifted it to his lips.  He sipped it, casually, and reached for a ginger biscuit.  There were only a couple left.

Rushad leaned over and frowned at the plate.  He looked up at his friend.  “You ate all the biscuits.”


From the journal of Edgar Erasmus, as written in his cell in Nurmengard:

They don’t understand.  Little men with little minds, and they don’t understand.

These Muggle ideas are simply too great to be ignored, too magnificent to be left where we found them.  That is what so few understand.  Yes, there is a risk, I acknowledge that… but don’t they realize the stakes?  How many generations of wizards have warned about the fading of magic, when our wands will be sticks in our hands?  But I think no one has really paid attention to actually doing something.  We have propositions we can try.  Wipe out or send away all the Muggles of Scotland -- will the flame of the Hebridean Black wax stronger?  Purge the mudbloods of Cyprus -- does a Cyprusian Cyprian Cypriot light glow brighter?

But there’s no one to do such things, and so men of genius must take the matter into their own hands.  Magic decreases with every generation, replaced with a milksop sort of imitation.  So we must seize new ideas where we find them.  If little men denounce that innovation because it comes from Muggles: more fools they!  If little men denounce that innovation because it poses some petty risk: more fools they!  Damn that boy in his tower damn him damn him damn him for the imbecile he is.

And all the better since I can see the shape of ideas yet to be realized -- true and new advances in magical thinking.  It’s in the air with these new thoughts… testing and sorting, the new “journals,” all of that.  Waiting to be discovered.  A genuine new idea of magic -- a new insight into how it works.  If that were found for the first time in generations… amazing new power.  It is impossible to overestimate how great the power such a discovery could bring.  And these fools stand in the way!!!!

My research is gone twice over, even the very knowledge of it taken from me and stoppered behind glass.  But I will not be deterred.  My sentence will be over in a trifle of two years, and I will have much time to think.  To discover a new law of magic will be to become a power.

Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
To peace and truth thy glorious way hast ploughed,
And on the neck of crowned Fortune proud
Hast reared God's trophies, and his work pursued,
While Darwen stream, with blood of Scots imbrued,
And Dunbar field, resounds thy praises loud,
And Worcester's laureate wreath: yet much remains
To conquer still; Peace hath her victories
No less renowned than War: new foes arise,
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains.
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves, whose Gospel is their maw.

- John Milton