22 May 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Eight: Morse Four

Significant Digits, Chapter Eight: Morse Four

May 1st, 1238 C.E.
7:34 p.m.
Cottage of Ignotus and Cadmus Peverell, Sontag, Britain
Here translated into modern English vernacular and stripped of the lies of idiots.

“Antioch will not accept this,” said Cadmus, leaning back in his chair.  He was huge and hairy.  Sitting there with no shirt, the light of the fire made the blonde hairs on his arms and shoulders and chest glint as if they were golden wires.  He clasped his hands over his big belly, and made a deep sound of discontent at the thought of his brother’s anger.

“He’ll have to accept it,” Ignotus said from the hearth, where he was sitting on a small stool.  “He has no choice.  We’ve done our best.”

“He’ll be upset, and it will turn to fighting.  It always does.”  Cadmus wasn’t afraid, but it tore at his heart when he had to fight with his older brother.  By tacit agreement, they didn’t use wands, and the bruises and breaks were quick to heal… but he knew their mother would have wept to see it.

“Antioch only lashes out when he thinks he can change things with his fists.  But nothing can change magic itself.  Or at least, we can’t.  Too much has been lost to us; too much lore has been forgotten.  A perfect cloak cannot exist.  To try to make one would kill the enchanter, and I have no wish to die.”  Ignotus stared into the flames, his eyes distant as he spoke.  “And if he tries to hurt you again, I’ll leave.”

“That would make him happy,” Cadmus said, bitterly.  And indeed, years ago he and Antioch had come to blows over Ignotus’ presence.

“Once, perhaps.  Not now.  He knows that he could do little without me.”  Ignotus was not boasting.  It was nothing but the truth to say that he was the greatest wizard in Britain.  The research of the two Peverell brothers had been fruitless until they were joined by Ignotus Hand.

Cadmus was silent for a time, and the two men stared into the fire.  At length, the bigger fellow said, “You think we are in the latter days of the world.”

“The middling days, yes.  Our power wanes.”

“Because the eastern ley has been lost, and the goblins have dared to take up arms, and the Cup of Midnight has broken?  There have always been problems, and now is no different.  Do not be so dour.”

Ignotus wrapped his arms around his knees, and leaned down to rest his cheek on them.  He was all folded up, and he looked weary.  “Merlin damned us.  Merlin has damned all the generations of men to come.  All our lore is a fraction of the knowledge of our fathers, and so it has been now for five centuries.”

“He had no choice… the world was doomed, else.  You know the stories.  And we have made great discoveries.  The Spirit Stone-”  Cadmus protested.

“-Is but a pallid imitation of what the elders of Atlantis could do, without even a wand,” Ignotus said.  He no longer sounded bitter.  Only wistful.

“You think Antioch’s quest is impossible.  You don’t think we will reach the other side of death.”

“No.  I don’t think we will.”

“Prophecies cannot be wrong.”

“They can be misunderstood.”

“Then what do we do?”  Cadmus asked, and Ignotus could hear the sympathy in his voice.

“I will go to the halls of the Council.  I will lay down words and ask them to be sealed by stone and rod.  We have been clipped by the Interdict, but there will be a time when wizards will defeat those bonds.  Merlin failed in that much, at least, just as they of Atlantis failed before him.  There is ruin in the future, and so it must be that men will rise again.”

“What will you lay down?”

“I will lay down the path of one of the prophecies, as best we can figure, and tell them to seek the ‘scorpion and archer, locked beyond return.’  I will tell them that ‘by this path shall death be defeated.’ “  Ignotus’ voice seemed to dim the flames, as though they were oppressed by the weight of the future yet to come.  “And then I will come back here and we will return to work, together.  And we will quarrel with your brother in the evenings, because he will insist on thestral hair even though it will not lie in warp with unicorn hair and other such foolishness, and you and he will fight and make up and fight and make up.  And in time we will die.  And the world will continue to lessen.”

Cadmus rubbed his belly thoughtfully.  “We will be together, though?”

“Yes.  We will be together.”

“Then everything will be all right.”

“I think it will.”


September 3rd, 1941
4:00 p.m.
Slytherin Boys’ Dormitory, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland
Diary entry.

It’s not that I can’t win, but that I don’t know how clever to be.  My opponent is an unknown quantity… what level is he playing at?  When he lays a trap for me, is it a simple trick, or is he lying in wait for me to make the obvious evasion?  If I decline to address the trap out of caution, am I passing up a chance for swift and conclusive victory?  If I devise strategies to bring him into the fold with subtlety and poisonous gambits, am I wasting time and effort on a simpleton who could be broken with only a moment’s work?  Imbecile or genius, marvel or moron?

I cannot abide chess, really.  Why is it necessary?  It is like a hall of mirrors, down which I see only my own reflection.  Again and always, I am the only real player.  It is monstrously boring.  I know that this fellow will turn out to be another disappointment… easily conquered once understood.  I do not know why I bother with the advertisement.  I do not know why I bother with this game.  I do not know why I bother

Boring boring boring Even boring to write about All all boring

As though I were crushing underfoot Sometimes some fun in it at the start, crackle crunch and all that, bright feathers blood, aesthetic and visceral but no effort and no challenge Make a game of it Make art of it Do anything But it’s just boring and boring I hate it

I need an opponent.  Even at the risk of defeat, I want someone to match me.  To strain and gamble and push myself against.  Not this hill of ants that is this wretched globe.  Someone with whom I wouldn’t need to hold back or create a challenge.  Someone to match with the fulness of my wits.  Someone


March 12th, 1999
8:29 p.m.
Franklin’s Nez, Tidewater, Boston

Hermione discussed what she knew about bombs with Hig and Tineagar for almost an hour.  It was nothing that even cursory research wouldn’t have revealed, but it would have been stupid not to take advantage of this opportunity to build more trust.  She ignored her unsettled stomach and the whirl of her thoughts, and patiently explained the basics of chemical reactions.

The instant Hig and Tineagar left her alone with Charlevoix and Esther, though, Hermione turned to Charlevoix and said (calmly, calmly, there are eyes and ears on us still), “I was thinking about what you said before, and I think you were right.  Would you please use the Knuts and call everyone to Powis, and then bring them all here?  Use one of the spare portkeys.”

Charlevoix showed no surprise, and did not protest that she’d never suggested any such thing.  She simply nodded, and asked, “Everyone?”

“Everyone who isn’t caring for the Göreme victims, I think,” Hermione said.  Without another word, Charlevoix obeyed.  Before she’d even walked out of Franklin’s Nez, she had her enchanted Knut in her hand and was squeezing it.  Hermione felt the sister Knut in her pocket start to grow warm.  Turning to Esther, she reached into her pocket and drew out a small mirror, handing it to the other witch.  “Please contact Harry and ask him to get us whatever he’s developed for the gauntlets.  Securely, if he can.”

Esther nodded and took the mirror, walking to one of the Pensieve alcoves for marginally better privacy.  Hermione knew she could do it herself, but she couldn’t face the prospect of talking to Harry.

She hoped she was wrong, and that this was all some terrible mistake or strange coincidence.  That was still possible.  No, it was probably even likely.  What was more probable -- that she had badly misunderstood some gambit or improbable chance, or that Harry was being evil?


March 12th, 1999
8:45 p.m.
Alþing of the Mystical and Benevolent Council of Westphalia, Tidewater, Boston

Hig leaned forward, squinting.  This was clever.  He usually played three or four games concurrently with different people, but this current correspondence game had all of his attention.  His opponent was employing the Sicilian, but every move they’d made since fianchettoing their bishop had been an innovation, and the pawn storm was exhilerating.  It was either crazy or brilliant -- the game of someone with an unconventional mind.  Hig could already see the flaws, of course… he was going to crush this dilettante without too much trouble.  Let this opponent make any choice he wish, conventional or no: their wildness didn’t matter when all roads led to Hig’s desire.

He glanced at the level in the water clock.  Not much time remained before he should return to work, although his dinner still sat untouched on his desk.  So much to do, with the British in town and the bombing.  Priorities, though… feeding his wits came first.  Delightful!


March 12th, 1999
9:15 p.m.
Franklin’s Nez, Tidewater, Boston

“Harry sent these, and said you and Esther knew how to use them,” Tonks said, putting a double handful of small metal boxes on the table, each one perhaps the size of a die.  The chargers for the gauntlets.  “So what’s up?  I guess this is all hush-hush, but I thought this was supposed to be a pretty easy little jaunt for you out here -- smile at the locals, wave your hands majestically, and all that.  Harry was sitting in some new garden he’s just had planted, and he wouldn’t say what went wrong.  Distracted by his new topiaries, I guess.”

“It got complicated, and Harry doesn’t know,” Hermione said.  “Well, he might have guessed,” she added, “but I couldn’t tell him anything.”

“Did he do something stupid?  I mean, besides growing that ponytail?” Tonks said, her eyes turning violet with delight at the possibility of intrigue.

“Maybe.  Tell me if I’m going crazy,” Hermione said, sighing.  Tonks could be trusted in every way, and she would think independently about this.  Not that the other Returned weren’t also independent and intelligent, but they trusted Hermione with an absoluteness that brooked no disagreement about her moral or tactical decisions: they simply did not question her.  When the group had formed, in those terrible months early in 1993, she had thought it was a coping mechanism -- looking to their savior for some shred of certainty in an empty world.  But enough time had passed… she knew that she was their lodestone, and that she always would be.  Tonks was more normal, and not so awestruck, though she was still extraordinarily dedicated.  She had joined the Returned as a pure volunteer, untouched by Dementors yet driven to a strange passionate hatred for the creatures that Hermione had only otherwise seen in Harry.

When she joined the Returned, Tonks had told Hermione that she’d visited the ruins of Azkaban in December, after Hermione had riven it to rubble, and she had taken the time to carefully spit in the ruins.  Well, not spit, exactly.

“You’re going crazy.  But we already knew that when you turned Cedric down,” Tonks said, leaning down enough to roll one of the chargers around with a click-click-click of metal on wood.

Hermione smiled, even as she reached down and carefully took the charger away before any accident could happen.  “No, seriously.”

Tonks sat in the chair across from Hermione, and raised her eyebrows.  She waggled her wand, and together the two of them began to cast.  Thirty seconds later, they were alone in a blue haze and presumably had at least some level of privacy.  Unless the chairs were enchanted, but probably even Hig wouldn’t have gone that far in order to eavesdrop.

Hermione frowned.

Once they were both standing and the chairs were gone (you’re welcome, Alastor), she sighed and began.  After briefly relating some of the most important facts, she moved on to describing her conclusions.  Her voice became a little more hesitant… she hoped Tonks would point out some huge and stupid flaw in her thinking.

“One of the first things I noticed when Charlevoix, Esther, and I went to look at the place of the bombing was that there was soot everywhere, but the rest of the mess had been cleaned up.  It was pretty obvious that it had been Scourgified, but quickly -- before the soot had settled from the explosion and before anyone was even allowed to investigate.”

“So something valuable in there, then.  Private letters?” Tonks asked, her eyebrows greening as they rose in a question.

Hermione shook her head.  “Those are sent right to their recipient, just like at Hogwarts or the Ministry.  No, this was a sorting room for the information they get from their spying networks.  They have the Quotes Quills that make copies, the band memorabilia that listens to conversations, the stuffed griffon heads that report how often they hear specific words, and other things.  That’s a lot of parchment, and they need people to sort out the garbage from the useful information.”

Tonks made a face.  “Wonder what they have of mine.”

“Anyway, I also saw a big pot of Floo powder on top of one of the fireplaces in there.  That is pretty normal in a lot of places, but not somewhere with a pair of Flounders.”

“They’re probably bugged, too.”

“Hm… I hadn’t thought of that,” Hermione said, pausing.  She thought for a moment.  “But if they were, I’m not sure it changes my thinking.  Anyway, I wasn’t sure if that was just because someone was using the Floo after the bombing, so I managed to get them to show me a memory from one of the two sisters who were there first… Cynthia or Sybil Vane, not sure which one.”

“Are they important?  Is there a clue there?” Tonks asked.

“Just bystanders, I think.  Maybe they’ll provide a clue in the end, but they don’t seem involved right now, at least,” Hermione said.

“So you think someone Flooed out after the explosion, leaving the pot of powder behind -- since you can’t take Floo powder through the fire -- which means… someone was stealing something, or escaping, or covering up a personal murder, or something,” Tonks said.

“Well, Councilor Tineagar asked me to think about who benefits from this.  She was implying that we benefit, since some in America are going to move towards us as a way to posture against the Malfoys.  I wasn’t sure that Magical America would be so quick to lose their head over a single act of terrorism, but Tineagar did have a point.”

“But we didn’t do it,” Tonks said.  “So was it the Westphalians?  Did they bomb themselves?  They didn’t really lose anything or anyone important, did they?  And I bet they’re ruthless enough to sacrifice one of their own for this.  Or was it just Narcissa Malfoy starting some new phase… remember we almost got blown up not too long ago!”  Tonks threw up her hands, exasperated.  “Who even knows?!  This is crazy!”

“Well, wait,” Hermione said.  “It could definitely just be a blunder or miscalculation, or something gone wrong.  But-”

“Maybe the Malfoys wanted to destroy something that was intercepted!” Tonks interrupted, as the idea struck her.  “A spy-center… a conversation that was overheard, revealing their plans?  No, this guy who was killed wasn’t the final destination for that stuff, right… you said he’d been there only two years.  And he wouldn’t be the only one doing this… no, that doesn’t make sense, sorry.  But maybe this interrupted the spying?”

Hermione shook her head.  “I doubt it.  If you were managing their network, wouldn’t an attack on one of your employees be exactly the sort of thing for which you’d plan?  I bet they had things in place, and didn’t miss a step.  Councilor Hig is short-sighted about a lot of things-” Like even the most rudimentary sense of ethics in pursuit of his goals.  “-but he’s serious about information.”

“So what, then?” Tonks said, a trifle impatiently.

“First of all, I think someone was sending parchments out of that room.  That’s why the pot of Floo powder was there: so someone could pass documents.  You can’t do that with a Floo Flounder.  Things they wanted, or that they didn’t want anyone else to know.  So one possibility is that Tarleton was doing this, and whoever controlled him wanted to get rid of him.  He could have been blackmailed, or he could have been a plant from the start.”

Tonks nodded, slowly.  “Okay... That does make sense.   And that could have been either one of the Westphalians or the Malfoys doing that.“

“Tineagar mentioned that she thought this seemed sloppy for a Malfoy.  That’s true, and it’s something to take into consideration.  Bombs are messy and uncertain, and if Tarleton had lived or someone else had opened it or it had gone off early or anything else, it would have left Narcissa and Draco’s intentions exposed.”

“The Westphalians, then.”  Tonks’ eyes flashed red.  “Then they blame it on us, by making it an obvious sham?”  She paused a moment.  “No… all of the same problems.  Plus, there’s no one but the Malfoys who have ever used Muggle devices like a bomb.”

“There’s one other person famous for such tricks,” Hermione said, heavily.

Tonk’s expression told the story of her thoughts.  A moment of puzzlement, her full lips pursing.  Then her eyes widened a bit, and her brow knit.  And as she calmed and started to think about the prospect, her face relaxed and her complexion went peaches-and-cream.

“No,” Tonks said, after a while.  “I see your thinking, but no.  Harry would never just kill someone like that.  And it would be too obvious… he’s been ranting about ‘owling a hand grenade’ for years as his metaphor for blatant security holes… remember when Mad-Eye shouted at him to stop publicizing the possibility?  To wrap up the attack he’s known to have conceived in the colors of his public enemy and strike at the organization that stood in the way of the Statute?  It’s like a big sign reading, ‘Harry did this.’ “

“Level and levels,” Hermione said.  Nothing more seemed necessary; after a moment, Tonks gave a single short nod of her head in acknowledgment of the point.

“But the murder?  Even if Tarleton was Dark in some way, I just can’t see this.  I saw Harry give instructions to some of the staff in Material Methods once, and he told them that the first rule, above all, was that no enemy could die -- that a ten percent chance of death was still too high, since it meant that a weapon would kill one out of every ten people.”  She gestured at the chargers.  “The gauntlets were all developed that way!  And remember early on, in the first Tower, when we were developing the Safety Poles, and Harry told that auror, whatshername, J.C. Kraeme, our saying?  ‘Save one life, and it is as though you have saved the whole world?’  That was his thought!”

Tonks crossed her arms, and shook her head, hair streaking with black.  “I’m glad you called me here, because you’re right… you are being crazy.”

Hermione thought for a moment about how to phrase her response.  Even with Tonks, information hygiene: there was only so much she should say.  “Tonks, the spells Harry and I laid over the Tower-”

Tonks was already covering her ears.  “Oh Merlin, don’t tell me about them, I’ll want to try it and I’ll turn myself into a pudding or something!”

“No, no,” Hermione said, smiling again despite everything, and putting her hand on Tonks’ arm.  “I’m not going to tell you any dreadful transfiguration secrets.  But I can safely say that the spells would allow Harry to perfectly fake a corpse, the same way he perfectly heals people.”

“Oh,” Tonks said, calming somewhat.  She’d probably been thinking of the hoary old tale of warning that so many magical parents told their children, to drum into them how dangerous it could be to innovate or to imitate those who were cleverer than yourself: Rochelle the Ravenclaw, who tried to turn her cat into a dragon, and ended up turning herself into a troll (“Oh Kitty Kitty you are smaller yet, but oh Kitty Kitty you look so tasty!”).

“That makes sense,” she said.  “Well then, o Goddess, what do we do?”

Hermione ignored the nickname, since she knew Tonks would just use it more if she protested.  “Well, we have a few possible theories, and we’re not sure which one is correct.  So we need to eliminate them.  Investigate.  Experiment.  We send some people to check out Tarleton’s background, as best we can, and see if he was just an actor all along or if he started behaving oddly.  We send some people to look into the friend who was hired at the same time as him, if possible.  And whatever else we think of, that we can safely do.  I’ll speak to the Westphalians -- these inquiries make sense if we really do think it’s Malfoy, and I think I can sell that.”

“Got it,” Tonks said, nodding.  “Esther will go with you.  Simon and Charlevoix will look into Tarleton.  Susie and Hyori will check out the friend.  Jessie is taking care of a couple of the Cappadocians, and Urg wasn’t able to come.”

“And you?” Hermione asked.

“I think there are a few things I can do to help everyone.”  Tonks said, and grinned toothily.  But before dropping the wards and spells around them, she paused with a doubt, and her grin faded.  “But what if someone just left that pot of Floo powder sitting on the mantel, just… by accident?  Like maybe it was just a coincidence?  What if this is less complicated than we think, with all these deductions and guesses all in a flurry?” Tonks asked.  “Or even worse, what if it was Harry… do you really want to push this investigation so hard that you, um, win?  And have to face him?”

Hermione sighed.  “We’re investigating our friend’s possible involvement in a bombing, or maybe even two bombings.  What investigation needs dedication more?  I’d like ‘losing.’ ”

And it seemed to me that there were fires
Flying til dawn without number,
And I never found out things -- those
Strange eyes of his -- what colour?

Everything trembling and singing and
Were you my enemy or my friend,
Winter was it or summer?

      -- Anna Akhmatova


  1. И мне показалось, что это огни
    Со мною летят до рассвета,
    И я не дозналась — какого они,
    Глаза эти странные, цвета.

    И все трепетало и пело вокруг,
    И я не узнала — ты враг или друг,
    Зима это или лето.

  2. duh. duh. duh. I don't care what happens. I don't care if every chapter after this is the author debunking this false trail. Mad-Eye logic says that Harry is plenty guilty enough for just saying ''owl a hand grenade'' too many time. :P