20 February 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-One: Pithos






Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-One: Pithos


[The goblin warlord CRAD THE CALLOW and two ATTENDANTS enter, stage left.  CRAD, a loathsome beast with a foaming mouth, wears filthy animal skins and a necklace of wizard teeth.  His hands are covered in blood.  His ATTENDANTS are dressed in similarly barbaric regalia, and each carries bright torches.  They stand before ERIN and KARL, triumphant.]

CRAD:  Look at the princess!  Now that I, Crad, the revenging angel of goblinkind, has come to spill wizard blood… now she cowers!  This is the price your people pay for their crimes.  It is natural for vengeance to follow foul deeds, as one season follows another... and this is my harvest season… and your season of death!

ERIN:  I am a noble witch of Britain, sir, and I do not cower.  That is a thing for beasts.

KARL:  [Boldly] And goblins.

CRAD:  [Gnashes his teeth and jumps up and down, waving his arms.]  Still you defy me, though this miserable village lies in ashes?!  Though every beast lies dead, and even the flax smolders in the fields?!

KARL:  We do.

ERIN:  And so shall we ever.  The choice between right and wrong is as clear as the difference between night and day.  And if there were aught others to witness this, perhaps in some later day, then I would declare to them that they need only use their eyes to tell the difference between good and evil!  And what seeing wizard, witnessing the ugliness and needless cruelty of evil, could fail to promise to seek the good of their own kind?

- “The Last Days of Exses O’Bruinan,” by S. Leigh, as staged in the 1979 London production.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 18th, 1999
The same day

“Why did you keep this place a secret to so many, Mr. Potter?” asked Meldh, calmly.  He glanced around the small room as they emerged from a nightmarish corridor of traps and wards and locks -- including even a five-minute waiting period that considerably amused Meldh.

The room was still sparsely furnished.  There were stacks of cassette tapes and several auto-players sitting in a thick mass of Lovegood Leaf.  There was a small wooden stool, with a yellow legal pad and mechanical pencil set upon it.

There was a black box.

Harry didn’t answer for a moment, glancing over at the box, which remained silent.  He walked over to the auto-players instead, where a quiet voice was reading a book-on-tape aloud.  Harry bent down and turned it off, and the recorded sentence was strangled mid-word: “His professions might be sincere; but in the situation where fortune had placed him, it was scarcely poss--”

“Mr. Potter?” prompted Meldh.

“This is the second Tower,” Harry said.  “Before this, there was another facility… one that was part of Hogwarts.  There was… an attack.  A powerful wizard who had been driven insane with grief.  He said that he wanted us to bring back his child, but I think it was a form of suicide for him.  He’d planned it -- arranged for a message to be sent from the future to stop us from using Time-Turners to stop him.  He killed Hermione.  Killed her phoenix.”

Harry sighed.  “At that time, I’d transfigured Voldemort into a small stone, so that I didn’t have to kill him.  But during the attack, Hermione threw me to safety, and when I landed, I lost the ring.  And it was then that I realized that if I’d been seriously hurt or killed… well, Voldemort could have awakened or been freed, with the Philosopher’s Stone right at hand.  Moody had warned me of this before, and we’d taken additional measures, but… well, that plan wasn’t going to work.  Of all the possible solutions to keeping hold of him, I’d been taking one of the riskiest possible.  So I set to work finding a solution.  It was easier than I’d thought… many wizards in the past had worked on transferring or creating consciousness in artificial environments, enough to be actually worrying.  This form of mandrake, when properly prepared, holds his consciousness.  But I knew that many people wouldn’t share my ethics about going to such lengths -- that they might prefer more lethal solutions.”

“I see,” mused Meldh.  They both looked at the box for a moment, contemplatively.  Voldemort remained silent.

“You are mistaken, though, Mr. Potter,” Meldh added.  “It was we who sent that message.  We’d known the gentleman for some time, after he intruded on our meeting place.  An early attempt at an intervention in your affairs.  Ineffective, I’m afraid… but perhaps that’s for the best, now that I consider the matter in hindsight.”

Harry’s eyes were closed, and he staggered to the side.  He clutched for the wall but fell short, dropping to one knee.  He gasped, “Killed Granville… so many people… sir, I can’t… I’m sorry…”

Meldh shook his head and smiled kindly.  He walked over to Harry and bent down, putting a comforting hand on the young man’s back.  “It’s all right, just give it a moment.  This is my fault, I’m afraid… I have changed very little in you.  Just your… ah, there is no word.  Just your telos.  The most important things for you.  So there is some conflict.  But my alterations cannot be overcome.  Fear not.”

“Fear,” said Voldemort, suddenly.  Meldh turned his head sharply and stood up straight at the sound, but did not appear alarmed.  As ever, his expression was pleasant.  It suited the older man well.

“I am not aping you,” continued the voice from the box in neutral male tones.  “That is a suggestion.”

Meldh didn’t respond immediately.  Instead, he walked closer, scrutinizing the black box.  After a moment, he said, “I do not accept your suggestion, but thank you for it.  You are Tom Riddle?  Or is it the more recent name -- Professor Quirrell -- that you go by?”

“I have had many names,” said Voldemort.  “Please address me as best suits you.”

“Very well, Lord Voldemort,” said Meldh, smiling.  “I am a visitor to the Tower.  You may call me Meldh -- an old word from my youth.”

There was a pause, then Voldemort said, “Your implication is obvious.  But that is not a credible lie.  I will thank you not to insult my intelligence, Meldh, if we are to speak.”

“Oh?” asked Meldh, raising his voice slightly to be heard over Harry’s gasping sobs, as the young man struggled to control himself.

“While I do not know if my faculties have been affected by this prison, I am not yet a gibbering moron,” said Voldemort.  “Accordingly, I am not credulous enough to accept the existence of such antiquity without rather more proof than that.  It is apparent that you have directly interceded to enforce your will on Mr. Potter in some manner.  Such an intervention would come at some risk, no matter your abilities.  If you took even the most miniscule of risks regularly, even only once in the span of each century, then it is not credible that you would be here, alive.  Fate is fickle.”  The voice from the box formed an artificial chuckle.  “On that, you may take my word.”

“Interesting,” said Meldh, pleasantly.  He did not comment further, but tilted his head to one side.  He lifted one palm and stretched it to the box, and whispered some words with syllables as harsh as knives.

After some time, Meldh lowered his palm and raised his eyebrows.  “Ah.  This box.  There used to be three of these.  I do not know if the others survive.  But this is well.  Destroying this one will ensure that, even if the others exist, they are useless for their other purposes.”  He smiled, gently.  “Kári Orden would be amused to see one of her boxes used as a zoo.”  He leaned forward, reaching out his hand as though to touch the box.  He stopped short, however, his palm held over the fine black surface.  A whisper of red light flickered across the box’s surface.

“You little tyrants have always been useful.  You swirl like a whirlwind, drawing lore and devices into your chaotic storm.  You kill off rivals, steal items of power, and break open hidden hoards.  And eventually, thanks to a hero -- and sometimes with the help of the Lethe Touch or the Ritual of Home or the Dustukhíascue -- you and much of what you’ve gathered are destroyed.” Meldh straightened back up, smiling again.  “You do the world much good with your attempted evil.”

Across the small room, Harry was gathering himself to his feet, finally.  His face was reddened with emotion, and his hair had come loose across his shoulders.  He looked as though he’d been to war.

“You are here to end me,” said Voldemort.

“Oh, yes,” said Meldh.  "Sixty years after my last victory over you, when we played at shatranj.  A poignant moment, perhaps."

“Then I am in the most enjoyable position of advantage.  All roads lead to my will.  That has not been the case for some time,” said Voldemort.  “You will forgive me for taking some pleasure in the situation.”

“Sir, he has cast a unique spell -- a new version of the Horcrux spell,” said Harry.  His voice still sounded strained, but he was upright and trying as hard as possible to help.  “If he is killed, or manages to kill himself, or even if he is simply returned to a human brain that the spell recognizes, then his spirit will be free to resurrect in another place.  We developed a way to detect the Horcrux network and have destroyed many of them, but many others still remain… including at least one that is far beyond our means at the moment.”

“My contingencies are numerous, laid over the course of many years and reinforced during the year of my return,” said Voldemort.  The bland voice conveyed a hint of mockery, somehow.  “With the Goblet of Fire and the Resurrection Stone, two of the most potent artifacts still in existence, I have laid my traps.”

Meldh nodded, smiling pleasantly, and glanced back at Harry.  “Is that so, Mr. Potter?”

“No, sir.  As far as I can tell, Voldemort never had access to the Goblet of Fire, despite what he says,” Harry said, slowly.  Voldemort made no reply or contradiction.  “It is locked away in the Department of Mysteries… they consider it Cadmean Class: too dangerous to use or research.  It was kept in a vault that is inside of some sort of magical lake or pond or something -- some security to put it beyond everyone’s reach without the Line of Merlin -- and it has been there for many years, since they stopped holding the Triwizard Tournament.  Even I’ve never seen it, although I did spend some time looking for its companion device -- or the pieces of it, anyway.”  Harry held up his left hand, clad in a fingerless glove much like the one he would ordinarily be wearing on his right, and tapped the smooth round decoration that was slightly raised from its palm.  “Ancient and powerful enough to be effective decoys for the real Philosopher’s Stone.”  Harry paused, thoughtfully, and a drop of sweat trickled down the side of his face.  He added, “But I suspect that the Professor only said this because he wanted that information, since he anticipates going free once killed.”

“And will he, Mr. Potter?” asked Meldh, gently.

“Some time ago, some researchers with the Tower and the Unspeakables -- Mafalda Hopkirk, Dolores Umbridge, Luna Lovegood, Basil Horton, and Nemeniah Salieri -- adapted a Dark Detector to be extremely sensitive and able to detect even the weakest of magical energies.  It didn’t have much initial use, since in any magical area, the background magical energies would swamp it.  But more recently, we developed that,” Harry answered, pointing at the Lovegood Leaf.  “It consumes ambient magic in the air.  It’s proven to be useful in allowing us to employ Muggle devices alongside magical ones, sir, but when combined with thaumometers, we are able to trace even very faint magical connections such as Floo networks... or a network of Horcruxes.  He has many… but he is now separate from all of them except the Resurrection Stone, since they are all outside of the Tower.  This is a world apart.  But while the Resurrection Stone or any other Horcrux is present in the Tower within the Mirror... yes, he could go free.  It is best not to kill him, sir.”

“These are things I saw in Mr. Potter’s mind, Lord Voldemort, and all quite true,” said Meldh, turning back to the box.  “You might understand why I was interested, since you have correctly divined that I… implied a rather greater age than is strictly accurate.”

There was a long pause.

“Lord Foul,” said Voldemort.

“Archon Heraclius Hero,” corrected Meldh, still smiling.  “But yes, I am known to history as the ‘Slithering One’ or ‘Lord Foul,’ thanks to the very effective tales of four famous witches and wizards.”

Harry was staring openly at Meldh, awe and disgust and pain all in combat on his face.  “You’re Herpo the Foul… who invented the Horcrux spell?  Who fought Rowena Ravenclaw, Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, and Helga Hufflepuff?”

“Yes.  Good people, all -- or rather, well-intentioned.  But even then, in my youth, I saw further than such as they.  I knew the dangers of will-work -- broaching other worlds and inviting them into our own.  Even then, I could not understand why so few wizards understood the lessons of Atlantis.”  Meldh shook his head, ruefully.  “The great school of Hogwarts had been prophesied -- indeed, prophecy was perhaps the very thing that led those four to band together, for what else but great glory and great threat could have done so? -- and so I attempted to intervene.  A mighty stronghold of magical education and research was not in the best interests of the world, and I wished to save us all,” said Meldh, agreeably and without a trace of pride.

“You failed and died, if the stories are true,” said Voldemort.

“Yes.  But I was not gone, thanks to some precautions.  And my efforts were noticed by another,” replied Meldh.  “But of that we shall not speak.”

“Very well,” said Voldemort.  “Then your purpose remains the same?  I wonder if Mr. Potter is still able to appreciate the irony?  Are you intact in there, behind this spell of control?”

“The Lethe Touch,” said Meldh, helpfully, smiling again.

“I have read of it,” said Voldemort curtly.  “So, Mr. Potter -- do you see the irony?”

“Yes, Professor,” said Harry, closing his eyes once more and wrapping his arms around his stomach.  “It’s me.  And I can see the irony.”

“What is the irony?” asked Meldh, curious.

“We have the same goals -- maybe even many of the same values, sir,” said Harry.  “Or rather, I have one goal now, to serve you as best I can, but before --”

Meldh shook his head and waved his hand dismissively.  “I understand, it’s all right,” he said.  “You mean that we both wish to save the world.”

“And yet you fundamentally disagree, Mr. Potter.  It is not a question of truth or evidence, is it?” asked Voldemort.  “You have the same purpose in the same world, and yet you disagree.  And how was that disagreement resolved?”

“With force,” said Harry, reluctantly.  “My mind was altered against my will.”

Meldh glanced with interest back and forth between Harry and the box.  “I do not understand the messages hidden beneath the surface, here, but I have observed your minions often enough, Mr. Potter, to know that you have no objection to force.  You have several individuals in your employ whose efforts are directed almost exclusively to force -- stunning Muggles and providing them with new memories as you deem fit.”

“Weaponizing cognitive dissonance,” said Harry, nodding again, even more reluctantly.  “But the Professor is offering me a lesson on dominance, not ethics.”

“I see,” said Meldh.  “Well then, I believe we have spent enough time at this.  Enough time here.”  He adjusted the front of his simple robes, and looked around them.  “This is a threat that you did not have the heart to end -- a threat that you still call ‘Professor.’  A threat that has managed to worm within your heart and mind, despite being imprisoned and powerless.  The world has nothing to gain from this creature’s existence, and much to lose.”  Meldh did not appear saddened by his words, but neither did he seem happy -- or even cold.  Rather, he spoke with a quiet and inoffensive resignation.  “Unless you have something else you wish to say, Lord Voldemort?”

“Will you entertain argument?” asked Voldemort, calm in his own right.

“I will listen to anything you wish to say, but no, I will not change my mind,” said Meldh.  “I am sorry.  You are too dangerous, and your restraints are too uncertain.  My purpose has not changed since the fields of Alto Alentejo, among the broken marble of Estremoz, where I led my tarasque and Dementors in a great battle against four titans from prophecy.  Neither the double death of a Hero and his name, that day, nor the long passage of millennia since have altered my purpose, which I have sought in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days.  I will not give you a cruel and false hope.  Your fate awaits, and will not change.”

“I see,” said Voldemort.

Harry’s hair was wild, half-covering his face.  Some strands stuck to one cheek, wet with tears.

“Then let me say this,” said Voldemort, speaking with leaden seriousness.  “It is not too late.”

Meldh smiled, but didn’t reply.  He listened.

“Truly,” Voldemort went on, “you even now have the chance for an equitable and peaceful solution.  If you undo your control of Mr. Potter and his little friends, he will not seek vengeance for what you have done.  Astoundingly and against all sense, he will be willing to work with you -- to find a path forward.  He believes he is a hero, and he believes heroes must always show mercy and seek the path of nonviolence where possible.  He is not troubled by the conflict between effectiveness and mercy that is obvious to you and me.

“To all appearances, you have found an easy victory here.  That should be the most obvious of warning signs.  Mr. Potter’s footsteps are littered with the corpses of those who once thought him their catspaw.  And I assure you, as a ragged and trapped spirit who once opposed him, that Mr. Potter’s cataclysms are all the more terrible for their lack of malice.  His cruelty is beyond even my own imaginings, for it results from misguided mercy… and should you be so fortunate as to survive, you will not even have the consolation of hate.

“Take my advice, old one.  Relent.  Recant.  Retreat.”

Meldh waited to be sure Voldemort was done, then mildly replied, “I think not.”  He sounded amused at the thought.  “Your kindness is appreciated, however.  Why not simply enjoy the thought that the boy will destroy me in due course?  He himself has no knowledge of any such plans, I assure you, but why do you show such benevolence?”

Voldemort laughed.  It was a cold, mocking laugh, twisting the limits of the generic male voice. For just a moment, it sounded exactly like the Professor Quirrell that once was: cynical and clever, cruel and caustic.  A broken man who was without joy or love, and who found solace only in the cold pleasure of ambition fulfilled and dominance achieved.  Mentor and monster.

“I am offering you fair warning and a peaceful alternative,” Voldemort said, and there was triumph in his words.  “If you truly do not understand that these words are the greatest damage I can do to you, then you will deserve your fate.”

“I hope that you find comfort in such thoughts,” said Meldh, softly.  He turned to Harry.  “Do what we discussed, please, Mr. Potter.  The world is more important than sentiment.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said.  He pulled his wand out of his sleeve.  He and Meldh both walked over to the entrance to the extended space -- the narrow corridor buzzing with traps and wards.

Harry pulled a lump of tungsten from his pocket.  “Geminio,” he cast on it, twirling his wand over its surface.  One lump became two, and after a moment, that became four, then there were seven, then twelve, then twenty.  Within seconds, metal began to clatter from Harry’s palm.  He tossed what was left in his hand across the room, scattering it, and the tungsten continued replicating itself even as it flew through the air: thirty-three, fifty-four, eighty-eight, lumps of metal raining down, cracking loudly on the stone and a black box that shivered with red light.

Harry and Meldh stepped back into the corridor, and Meldh gestured at the door.  Thin blue crystal grew from the ceiling and floor, covering the entrance.  It was translucent, and through its cerulean screen the two wizards watched as the room rapidly filled with replicating metal.  Normally, it would decay and vanish before too long.  But the Philosopher’s Stone, embedded in Harry’s right glove, could make it permanent.  It was not a trick he’d often used, since it threatened the illusion of “special Transfiguration webs” that they used to explain the feats of the Tower healers.

After a very short time, there was no more room left in the small chamber beyond the blue crystal.  The replicating metal filled all available space.  The two wizards could no longer see anything but a blue-tinted irregular wall of metal.  Harry ended the Gemino Curse with a touch of his will, lowering a trembling wand to his side.  His teeth were gritted, and the back of his robes was dark with sweat.

Meldh folded his arms, and they stood there, quietly.  Gently, the older wizard asked, “Would it help you to take a moment?”

“Yes, sir,” said Harry, laboriously.  “I’m sorry… it’s difficult to manage my feelings.”  He shuddered and wrapped his arms around his stomach, clutching himself and bending over slightly.

“I understand,” Meldh said.  He reached forward and touched the blue crystal screen with one finger, and an opening appeared -- no more than a palm-span wide.  A few chunks of tungsten fell through and free, but the pressure from above kept most of them in place.

Harry tried to stand up straight and raise his wand, but shuddered again, bending back over.  He gasped,  “I just… I’m…”

“Let me help you,” Meldh said.  Gently, he lifted Harry’s arm, raising it until the wand in the young man’s grip was at the level of the hole in the screen.  “You may say goodbye, if you wish.”

“Goodbye, Professor!” Harry screamed.

His face reddened as he screamed it again -- screamed it as loudly as he could.

“Goodbye, Professor!  Goodbye!  I’m sorry!”

Screamed the words... to try to be heard through the mass of metal, to try to be heard through everything.

There was a reply.  It should have been impossible, really.  Harry had cast the Thoughtsay Ritual himself, following the dictates of parchment scrupulously, and it should not have been able to get so loud.  But it happened, nonetheless, by whatever trick or manipulation.  And that reply was not forgiveness or kindness or pleading.

It was scorn.

Bah!” howled Lord Voldemort with a cold laugh, a last word of  mockery and hatred, and then the voice failed with a warble and squeal of magical sound.

There was silence.

Meldh frowned.  “No grace, even now.  A sad end.  Do it,” he commanded.

Harry closed his eyes and touched his wand to the pieces of tungsten in the room.  After a moment, they gently slipped out of shape, flowing together, forming a solid mass -- an immense plug of metal, filling almost the whole room and burying Voldemort in a metal coffin ten feet thick.

Then Harry lifted his other hand and pressed the Stone of Permanence, loose in his grip, to the surface of the metal.

And that was the story of Tom Riddle.


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Hermione’s Mobile Mary, Powis Castle, Wales
May 19th, 1999
The next morning

Hermione awoke with tears on her face.  She’d been dreaming of Granville.  She could hear the echo of his cry still -- hear the joy of it.

“Hermione?” said Esther, pushing open the door to the Mobile Mary gently, peering inside the darkened space.  Morning sunlight was visible outside, bright on the gardens of Powis.  “Sorry, but there’s a message for you from Harry.  You asked to be woken?  Are you all right?”

Wiping her face on her sleeve, Hermione nodded, sniffling.  She sat up.  “Yes… just a bad dream.  What does Harry want?”

Esther held up a parchment.  “Nothing serious, it seems like… he just wants you to come around.  Says he has someone he wants you to meet.”












Πρὶν μὲν γὰρ ζώεσκον ἐπὶ χθονὶ φῦλ᾽ ἀνθρώπων
νόσφιν ἄτερ τε κακῶν καὶ ἄτερ χαλεποῖο πόνοιο
νούσων τ᾽ ἀργαλέων, αἵ τ᾽ ἀνδράσι Κῆρας ἔδωκαν.
αἶψα γὰρ ἐν κακότητι βροτοὶ καταγηράσκουσιν.
ἀλλὰ γυνὴ χείρεσσι πίθου μέγα πῶμ᾽ ἀφελοῦσα
ἐσκέδασ᾽: ἀνθρώποισι δ᾽ ἐμήσατο κήδεα λυγρά.
μούνη δ᾽ αὐτόθι Ἐλπὶς ἐν ἀρρήκτοισι δόμοισιν
ἔνδον ἔμιμνε πίθου ὑπὸ χείλεσιν, οὐδὲ θύραζε
ἐξέπτη: πρόσθεν γὰρ ἐπέλλαβε πῶμα πίθοιο
αἰγιόχου βουλῇσι Διὸς νεφεληγερέταο.
ἄλλα δὲ μυρία λυγρὰ κατ᾽ ἀνθρώπους ἀλάληται:
πλείη μὲν γὰρ γαῖα κακῶν, πλείη δὲ θάλασσα:
νοῦσοι δ᾽ ἀνθρώποισιν ἐφ᾽ ἡμέρῃ, αἳ δ᾽ ἐπὶ νυκτὶ
αὐτόματοι φοιτῶσι κακὰ θνητοῖσι φέρουσαι
σιγῇ, ἐπεὶ φωνὴν ἐξείλετο μητίετα Ζεύς.
οὕτως οὔτι πη ἔστι Διὸς νόον ἐξαλέασθαι.

At first the tribes of men had lived upon the earth
apart and free of evils and of tiresome toil
and hard diseases, which have brought to men their dooms,
because by hardship mortal men are quickly aged.
But with her hands the woman raised the jar's great lid,
released all these, devising grievous cares for men.
Alone there, Hope, in her indestructible home,
remained within, beneath the lip, nor by the door
escaped, because the vessel's lid had stopped her first,
by will of aegis-bearing, cloud-compelling Zeus.
Among the people wander countless miseries;
the earth is full of evils, and the sea is full;
diseases come by day to people, and by night,
spontaneous, rushing, bringing mortals evil things
in silence, since contriving Zeus removed their voice.
And thus from Zeus's mind there can be no escape.
    - Hesiod, “Works and Days” (trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White)

2 comments:

  1. He's keeping Voldemort in one of the Boxes of Orden? That's... appropriate. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I may have to google ''Boxes of Orden''

    ReplyDelete