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



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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.”



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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.



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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.”



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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

1 comment:

  1. I believe the stylized spelling should be Eſsence not Eſſence (which is why the two S letters can merge into an ß ligature). The rest, too, shouldn’t be a simple matter of substituting ‘ſ’ for ‘s’, but I don’t know enough to tell for sure.

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