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.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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.

“What?”

“อะไร?”

“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.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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.”


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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.”


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

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

No comments:

Post a Comment