01 May 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Five: A Matter of Perspective

Significant Digits, Chapter Five: A Matter of Perspective

Councilor Hig is a brave man, but not a stupid one, Harry thought to himself. He is convinced that I am Lord Voldemort and that I took control of the infant Harry Potter on October 31st, 1981, and it is a more than plausible theory. That was essentially Voldemort’s plan, once upon a time, when he had intended to rise to power as David Monroe. From the outside, Hig’s insights are not only a possible interpretation of events, but actually the most likely interpretation.

The truth was that Voldemort had performed a ritual of ancient and arcane power on a child, and in the process destroyed his own body and copied much of his mind into the child’s brain. To an external observer, this explanation of events requires too many new assumptions to work. Councilor Hig is simply applying Occam’s Razor, and in the process revealing one of its disadvantages as a heuristic.

The accusation was hanging heavy in the air while Harry thought. He didn’t feel rushed. This wasn’t the first unjust j’accuse he had faced (and it wouldn’t be the last) and he knew it would actually be suspicious if he had a ready answer. He had budgeted a half hour for this meeting -- no need to hurry, yet. He let himself look astonished, which was easy enough. It was, after all, very surprising that anyone would stroll into the stronghold of a villain’s lair and say such a thing.

Reg Hig glared at Harry. His companion, Limpel Tineagar, had overcome her initial shock, and was sitting very still and very stiffly, as though she were surrounded by fragile things.

What advantage does he think to gain by calling me out?, Harry thought. We’re in private here, so he’s tipping his hand without getting any benefit of publicity. I could have him killed without anyone even knowing what had happened, if I were Voldemort. And if he’s clever enough to deduce the most probable version of events and to see a pattern in the charitable contributions, then he’s clever enough to really have the insurance he claims. On the other hand, he didn’t reach the correct conclusions about my origins or about the purpose behind the charities, so he has his limits. What is his insurance? Well, what are his strengths and patterns? He specializes in magical information technology, and has built his power base on that advantage…

Is he working with the Malfoys? No. Among other reasons, he probably hates them, given the contrasting beliefs on blood purity, “lesser creatures” like centaurs, and so on. A letter, left with someone? “If you are reading this, I am already dead…” No. He has too high an estimate of my cleverness, given that fantastic speech he just gave, and he knows how easy it would be for a villain to circumvent that.

Ah. I bet he is trying to record or broadcast this conversation. Thus the speech and the goading and the confrontation… he wants a confession from my own lips. What Dark Lord could ever resist gloating about his plans in private, after all? A lot of unknowns and moving pieces here, though… call it 6 to 4, 60% confidence. And if true, that means I must also increase my estimate of this man’s bravery, since it implies he is willing to sacrifice himself (suicide bomber? not a violent man, assign it a small probability). Did his recording device make it through the Receiving Room? Only one in twenty magical devices of one sort or another made it through undetected, based on their prior results...  conditional odds would be 5 to 100, then.  Hm, multiplying my prior with this I get 30:400, which means that taking the search into account, the probability of him successfully recording this conversation is 30/430… something like seven percent, I think. Call it ten for pessimism. Not negligible, but not enough for immediate action to stop it.

So… we have the situation.  Now: what do I have, what do I want, and how can I best use the former to get the latter?

“Councilors, do you mind if I show you a memory from my childhood?” Harry said, rising from his seat.

“What?” Councilor Tineagar said, startled. It was, he thought, the first time she’d spoken in the meeting.

Hig said nothing, watching Harry closely. Neither he nor Tineagar rose from their seats. Damn. This was so delicate, and so much could hinge on these moments. They couldn’t afford to alienate the Americas. Hig was so suspicious, and what was worse, he was right to be suspicious.

Harry put himself in Hig’s place, thinking, What would I do, if I were him -- motivated by pride and his specific moral considerations, not constrained by fear -- if I were trying to broadcast this conversation and Voldemort wanted to change the subject before I’d gotten a confession? Hmm... He must think that this is how Voldemort is going to kill him. ‘Here, lean over this large cauldron and let me show you something… your death, fool!’ He won’t move unless he has no further choice, since he wants better proof than simply his assassination. He’s trying to force a confrontation.

As so often, they faced a Prisoner’s Dilemma. How could they arrange to cooperate?

The thought process took only a second. It was impossible to simply promise someone they were safe, since it could be interpreted as apophasis (if you’re saying they’re safe, it implies you’ve contemplated otherwise). He had to pre-commit to warding them, and do it in such a way that he gave Hig a weapon to use against him in case he defected. If he made it far more costly to defect, in an obvious way, then they could be more sure he wouldn’t take that option.

“Auror Pirrip, Auror Kwannon,” Harry said, turning to the two aurors in the room. “I wish to show these two delegates a memory in my Pensieve. I would like you to accompany us, and keep them safe, particularly. They are exceedingly important people, visitors from the Council of Westphalia, and absolutely no harm must come to them. There have been times when assassins have used the cover of an accident to disguise murder. So we shall treat any accidents that happen to these delegates, who have come here only to assist their people and all the peoples of the world, as deliberate and unforgivable attempts on their life.”

Technically, he wasn’t supposed to give them orders. He was a private citizen. No one ever paid that illusion any mind, though. The point wasn’t the order, anyway… the point was the careful and explicit elimination of the idea of a justifiable “accident.”

The experienced Auror Kwannon gave the briefest of nods, trying to disguise her mild contempt for the instruction. She’d been an auror for more than a decade, and she was one of the ones Moody had judged as suitable to come on board as a Tower guard when they first began (he didn’t “trust” her, per se, but then Moody trusted no living wizard). Kwannon didn’t need to be told to be suspicious of all accidents, since that was her default mode. Harry had seen her work, and it was intimidating.

Auror Pirrip’s face became serious, and he gave a firm nod with was probably meant to be a grim set to his jaw. This one was practically fresh out of training, with the credulousness of any new law-enforcement officer, and Harry would probably have gotten the same response if he’d demanded that Pirrip guard a cucumber sandwich with his life. Still, you needed new eyes willing to ask the stupid or obvious question, and Pirrip wasn’t afraid of looking silly. He was also trustworthy, brave, and a whiz at Transfiguration. Funny, Harry and Pirrip were about the same age, yet such different people.

Harry looked back at Hig and Tineagar. Tineagar was looking to Hig; the decision was his. And Hig was still hesitant. Curiosity was having its effect, of course -- the man thrived on information -- but he’d had a plan in mind when he came in to confront Harry, and he was loath to abandon it. Yes, he might be somewhat convinced that he wasn’t in any danger, but that didn’t yet make him ready to step aside from his preconceived plans. He needed… something more.

Harry paused.

What would Dumbledore do?

You wound me, Harry. Do you not at least realise that what I have told you is a sign of trust?“

Dumbledore would stop trying to pull levers. He’d lay his heart out, raw and vulnerable. This is a brave man, and a good man. Treat him like one.

Harry looked Hig in the eyes, and spoke quietly and directly. “Councilor Hig, you are mistaken about me. You are wholly mistaken about me. I wish to show you some proof. You will come to no harm. Please, sir. Come with me.”

Slowly, Hig rose from his seat, followed by Tineagar. “Very well, Mr. Potter.” The American’s beetle brow was furrowed, and his face was wary… but he had agreed.

Harry led the way from the room. He chose a route that would lead them past a couple of chosen research centers in the sprawling (and ever-growing) Tower complex.

They walked past the Survey Station, first, as they headed down the featureless and evenly-lit grey stone corridors. The Survey Station was an outgrowth of another research project, which was an attempt to develop a simple battery of spells to reveal a variety of health problems that were not addressed by modern magical medicine (detecting the alleles that could give someone’s offspring Tay–Sachs disease, for example). It had become apparent along the way that detection magic itself was woefully inadequate, and was (like most magics) a huge kludge. Harry had tasked the trio of wizards working in the Survey Station on improving at least one aspect of that shortcoming, by developing or refining or researching spells to detect discrete elements. He’d set them the goal of being able to detect a single mole of any element. Three weeks later, one of them had finally come to him to ask, “A single mole in what volume of space?” and Harry had put that person in charge.

It looked very studious and very benign, as they whisked by the entrance. Just three people taking turns scrawling on slates and pointing their wands at a big glass tank.

They also passed by the Advancement Agency, the first research station he’d set up. They had a single mandate, but the scope of it meant that they had the largest staff of anywhere in the Tower aside from the clinic. Harry had told them about the special wards and magics laid over the Tower, and about the “new techniques” in Transfiguration that allowed for safe free Transfiguration of people, and he had given them a direction made possible by these advances: “Improve homo sapiens.” Twenty-eight wizards and Muggles worked in the Advancement Agency, and the experimenting alcoves were quite a sight to see. But the main room of the station was, again, just another gaggle of people speaking in hushed tones and consulting weighty books.

This walk through the compound, along with the walk to the meeting room, sent important messages to the visitors.
  1. Look at all these normal-looking people doing harmless things! There were no walls dripping with blood or chairs upholstered in mermaid skin. While useless as an articulated argument, the normality of what they saw would soothe their suspicions further.
  2. Look at all these witnesses! Everyone feels safer in a crowd.
  3. Look at all these vulnerabilities! All of the witches and wizards they saw could be corrupted, blackmailed, persuaded, spied upon, and otherwise used as a tool by any future attacks from the Westphalian Council. Harry knew this, Hig knew it, and Hig knew that Harry knew that Hig knew it. This would be doubly effective if Harry’s hypothesis was correct, and many of their faces were being recorded or broadcasted right now.
Publicly, there were twenty-five research centers in the Tower. This was the most that Harry felt he could manage. By the time they gained enough autonomy so that they no longer required so much of his personal direction, his available time would be even further reduced. Or at least, that was the plan, as they brought more and more of the magical world into the Treaty. These days, his time was very tightly-scheduled and filled with emergencies, but he still had seven or eight hours out of every thirty to devote to his own pursuits. This was probably the sweet spot, and someday he’d look back on such luxury with fondness: enough power and resources to begin to make meaningful global change, but enough time to enjoy himself in his off-hours.

There was also a twenty-sixth research center, named X. Only Harry ever went there. It was hidden, accessible only by complex wards and riddles, and was filled with intricate golden devices. None of them did anything except function as ever-more-elaborate alarms, though… the twenty-sixth room was just where Harry went to read. This precaution had only ever ensnared one spy, but it was worth it just so that Harry could have at least one peaceful sanctuary.

No, the real secret wasn’t X. The real secret was Room 101. And besides him, only Hermione and Amelia knew of the entrance to Room 101. In fact, so far as he had any reason to suspect, only the three of them -- and perhaps Moody, you always had to count him -- even knew about the existence of Room 101, and its small black box. Security through obscurity.

They’d arrived at the Records Room. It was one of the places where Harry’s sensibilities had not won out, and it had been built in the fashion of wizarding libraries. The relatively small stone room had a low-hanging ceiling, almost every meter of which was covered with half-sized ebony doors. Except for one corner of the room, all of the walls and the floor were also covered in the doors. They had arcane, miniscule labels on them, written in crabbed handwriting. Should a researcher open one on the ceiling or floor, a charm swept them into a separate room with wide-stretching shelves, well-lit by glowglobes and supplemented by comfortable armchairs. The goblins needed stepladders to get to the ceiling doors.

Harry had shouted at them when they’d “found” it all built the way they wanted. “There are doors everywhere!” he’d shouted. “Why not just make it a bigger room, and put all the doors on the walls?! What about when people fall through one of the doors on the floor? And why bother making specially charmed doors that suck you in on the ceiling -- you could spend less time and effort just making doors that you can walk through! And haven’t you ever heard of a card catalogue?!”

As it happened, they had not heard of a card catalogue, and they did not understand his insane Muggle building sensibilities, and this was the proper design for the personal library of a Grand Sorcerer, and that was that.

Regardless, it gave neither Hig nor Tineagar any pause when they saw it, and they followed Harry without hesitation to the un-doored corner, where a Pensieve stood on its stone pedestal. The aurors trailed the trio.

Harry turned to the two Americans, and sighed. “It is difficult to prove that I am not Voldemort, particularly if you think all of my current efforts to save lives are an elaborate front. Anything I show you now could just be some sort of elaborate ploy, chosen specifically to fool you. But I do think there is one sort of memory I could show you that will convince you that I am not Lord Voldemort.

“Councilors, I believe that sentient life is the highest good, and preserving and perpetuating that life is my dearest goal. Voldemort held all life in disdain, from what I have heard… almost all people bored him, and formed no part of his utility function -- that is to say, he assigned them no value. I think that the Muggle scientific method is the noblest and surest path forward for us all, while Voldemort was famously scornful of Muggles.” He thought for a moment, and added a third difference. “And, Councilors, I love some people dearly. As far as I know, Voldemort had no love in him.”

Harry held his wand to his brow. He found the memory he wanted, wincing a little as he recalled it. Then he pulled it free, using the wordless twisting motion needed to cast the unnamed Pensieve spell. Harry felt the memory slip away from him like the last tenuous moments of a fading dream, and saw the silvery liquid hanging heavily from the tip of his wand. He sighed, and placed it gently into the waters of the Pensieve. It swirled about, and a light mist began to rise from the wide metal bowl, showing that a memory was present in the device.

“There is another very large difference between myself and Voldemort, though, Councilors. He was mortally concerned about his dignity, and I have always been dignity-impaired. Voldemort would not tolerate appearing ridiculous. And so I will show you this, Councilor Hig, even though it may cost me a great deal of your respect. This is a memory from when I was younger. I believe it will prove to you absolutely that I am not Voldemort or any kind of dignified Dark Lord.”

He stepped back, and turned away, his face already blushing. Hig looked at Tineagar for a moment, a look full of meaning. Harry assumed that there was some kind of communication going on between them, something along the lines of, “If this melts off my head, be sure the Alliance gets these plans, you’re my only hope.” Then Hig leaned forward, and put his face into the waters of the Pensieve.

This device could really stand to be optimized, Harry thought to himself as he stood and waited. This can’t be the best arrangement… a big washbasin into which you dunk your head? We’ll have to see exactly how wide and deep the waters need to be, before memories cease to circulate and transfer. If the water just needs to cover most of your brain, we might be able to make Pensieve headbands, instead.

They all waited, awkwardly watching the back of Hig’s head as Pensieve-mist rose around it.

“Pardon my ignorance, but did you go to the Salem Witches Institute, Councilor?” Harry asked Councilor Tineagar, abruptly, while they waited.

“I attended the Russell Center, actually, Mr. Potter. I was Dux Litterarum of my year, as it happens.”

“I have never had the pleasure of visiting, unfortunately. I have read of it though, and admired what I read. There is much to be said for the apprenticeship program -- working a trade while you learn. May I ask what you specialized in while you were there?”

“Floo connections. We have several different networks that compete, plus private networks. It’s different from how you do it here.” She hadn’t relaxed even slightly. Still: progress, if not perfection. More than one international alliance began with small talk.

“Mm. I like the idea of that sort of private competition in theory, but it seems like the free market would be particularly merciless in the process of sorting itself out. Floo injuries can be very unpleasant, and by the time people switched to the better network, the price paid for that information could be measured in terms of lives.”

“There are minimum standards for safety, and there’s an official bureau assigned by the Magical Congress to do inspections. Have you considered that perhaps competition between networks would work better than a single central authority to promote safety? If I hear that Greater Boston left someone splinched out of a toe, then I’ll pick the Other Light without hesitation. But if some junior assistant undersecretary in the British Department of Magical Transportation makes a mistake with your connection here, where do you go? Nowhere, you just cross your fingers and hope they fire the fool.”

“You make a good point. But there’s a better way to settle this than argument. We can-”

“What in the name of Mukwooru’s toe?!” Hig spluttered as he jerked backwards, staring at Harry in confusion and alarm and (it appeared) mild disgust.

“Ah. Yes.” Harry said, grimacing. “That was what my parents would call the ‘Salamander Incident.’ “

“But… but why?! Those poor people…” Hig stammered.

Harry shrugged. “In my salad days, when I was green in years, I was rather too creative and too bored and too clever. Everyone recovered, I assure you. No lasting harm done.”

Hig sat down on the floor for a moment, plunking himself down without ceremony next to the Pensieve. He tugged his robes around his knee where a fold had gotten caught. The motion was half-hearted; the man seemed stunned. Harry didn’t blame him.

Tineagar turned to the Pensieve, but Harry cleared his throat loudly and stepped to it with a quick step, dipping his wand into it and retrieving the memory. “I think,” he said, “that I’d prefer that as few people see this as possible. Apologies, Councilor.” Harry looked at the viscous gobbet of glowing silver. “Really, I see a lot of appeal in just destroying it, but we only develop our psychic muscles with hard times and oppression.” He brought the wand to his forehead, and returned the memory to its place with a reversed twisted of his wrist. He grimaced.

It took a bit, but Hig recovered himself in impressively short order, rising to his feet. “Mr. Potter, I have no words.”

“It was part of a contest between myself and two other boys, you see.”

“And the -- ”

“Inside the walls,” Harry answered, promptly.

“But the -- ”

“Bought in Hogsmeade.”

“Well,” said Hig heavily. “You are not Voldemort. He would not have allowed this to be known about him.”

Not true, Harry thought. If it served his purposes, and it was worth the price, he would allow himself to be ridiculous. It would have seemed a high cost, but heading off a worldwide rebellion would be worth it. This man does not fully appreciate the extent to which Voldemort’s public persona was a facade.

“Indeed, I am not Voldemort. I oppose his purposes at virtually every turn, and you and I are natural allies, not enemies.” Harry folded his arms, but showed a small smile. The tension and the antagonism between them was entirely dispelled.

“No,” said Tineagar, interrupting the two of them. Harry and Hig turned to regard her. Harry was mildly surprised -- had he been too friendly with her, and dispelled a mystique that would have kept her quiet? -- but Hig’s gaze was sharply attentive. She continued, “Reg says that you are not Voldemort, given what he has seen. I will abide by his judgment on that score, though it is suspiciously convenient for you, Mr. Potter. But everything else he said was true, and all the other patterns we have discerned remain.”

She folded thin fingers into each other, and met Harry’s eyes with the look of a raptor at hunt among its natural prey. “You may not be the Dark Lord Voldemort, but that does not mean you are not the Dark Lord Potter. The fact that Reg’s theory is wrong does not prove that you are a good man.”

Hig gathered himself noticeably. By all accounts he was a passionate man. He’d once stood alone in the chambers of the Council of Westphalia, Harry had heard, and argued for an end to the official persecution of centaurs (which had still been registered as Dark Creatures in the Westphalian laws at the time). It took three weeks for deliberations, but by the end, this man who’d stood alone had convinced a full majority of the Council. And while much of that was politics and cleverness -- holding back his solid allies, like this Councilor Tineagar, from joining him until he needed some momentum -- you just couldn’t do that without some fire in your belly. It made him liable to large shifts of emotional stance. Harry saw, now, why Hig had brought Tineagar with him here. She was a partner who was not given to being caught up in events, rather than a minion.

“Limpel is correct.” Hig said. “The owl is not white, but that doesn’t make it black.”

“True,” Harry admitted. “But this is, I hope, a foundation. I hope to persuade you, in time, by showing you the ways in which you are wrong. You think I am raising the dead by dark rituals? Meet Ms. Hermione Granger, who has been my dearest friend for years, and have a conversation with her. She is no Inferi, and no monster. You think I am controlling those that we heal here? Let me show you the clinic, so you can see some of the lives we save.

“I have shown you a hidden secret, and made myself vulnerable to you.” Hig nodded. Harry continued. “I have cooperated, even though it leaves me at greater risk if you choose to defect, because we are at a beginning here together. A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. We have laid something between us, and we can build upon it.“

Tineagar held his eyes, then nodded curtly. Hig nodded as well. After a moment, he made a noise in his throat, clearing it. “We can begin building now, in fact… in some small measure. You have shared a deep secret, knowing that it could be used against you. I respect that, as a measure to demonstrate trust. I can only tell you now that I am sorry to say that your secret, and that memory, may have already gone further than you wished.”

Harry felt a shiver run down his spine. He suppressed the temptation to blurt out, like a child, that he knew what Hig was about to say. There was no need for him to demonstrate his cleverness, and it was stupid to show off. He was no longer a child.

“We wished to ensure that the world could stand against you in the same way they stood against Grindelwald, and the best way seemed to be to unite everyone behind unequivocal evidence before any more harm was done. And so, I am sorry to say, we both are wearing rather novel buttons.” He tapped one of the buttons on his robe’s collar. “Everlasting Eyes.  Quite a new innovation.  We had them made specifically for this meeting, and we wanted something you could not easily defeat. We had heard of the magnitude of your defences. Thus, everything we see and hear has been sent out from here to a small group of Councilors that we wanted as witnesses. And that might include the, uh, Salamander Incident.”

“Well, thank you for telling me. I hope I can rely on your discretion?” Harry said.

“Yes, Mr. Potter, you may. We will not betray your confidence, and I will take every measure necessary.”

Harry nodded. “How did you get them past our security?” An auror should have detected them, or a Probity Probe, or at least the bottled chizpurfles.

“We have been paying attention to you and your enemies here in Britain,” Mr. Hig said, and Harry allowed himself a smile. “We have noticed your use of Muggle devices, as I mentioned, and have looked to them with the attention they deserve. Muggles are benighted, and they merit our care and stewardship, but perhaps even we defenders of their rights had allowed ourselves to underestimate their cunning. Cleverness is everywhere in nature. The first wizard to enchant a broomstick, in the dark depths of old Germania, must have looked to birds as their inspiration, after all.”

Too many of Harry’s erstwhile allies held this same “magical man’s burden” view of things. But it was a correctable error, given time and influence. No wizard scoffed at Muggles once they’d seen the still beauty of the stars, untrammelled by air.

“The Everlasting Eye is a ‘passive bug.’ It’s not an insect, though,” Hig said, smiling. Harry repressed his own expression. “A ‘bug’ is a Muggle device for listening in, and a ‘passive bug’ is very difficult to detect,” Hig continued. “I first found out about the gimmick through an amusing linguistic coincidence, but that’s not important now. The important thing is that it doesn’t have electricity in it. It’s acting like a dish resonating the cavity, and it gets its power from electricity being sent all through the air right now. There is a camera with it, that gets its electricity from the same source. Not a trace of magic -- not even a Charm of Perfect Function -- and yet it works well despite dense magics surrounding it, unlike other Muggle gimmicks.”

Both of the Americans looked very proud of themselves, notwithstanding their evident lack of understanding of the principles involved.  The camera part of the device was probably useless here, for example, since it did have its own electronic components.  Still, a passive capacity resonator was a clever idea. Blast out a strong enough signal of the correct frequency, and you could probably drown out any magical interference and get a clean audio signal.  And however superior he might feel at listening to that stumbling explanation, he should remember that this could well have worked, under other circumstances.  His own familiarity with much of modern technology and his grasp of the correct terminology didn't count for much if it didn't actually help him win.

Harry said only, “This is a new device. Perhaps the special spells laid over the Tower which permit our improved Transfiguration will interfere with the broadcast? Many of them would have been unknown to you when you were testing this gimmick.”

“Perhaps,” Hig agreed, sounding doubtful.

“Regardless, I appreciate your confidence in telling me. It would be an unpleasant surprise, otherwise. It is an exceedingly clever gambit.” Harry turned and indicated the corridor out of the Records Room. “Will you permit me to show you around the Tower some more?” Harry glanced at his wristwatch. “We should stop by the clinic, first, and then perhaps the Ypsilanti Yard.”

The rest of the visit went well, although Harry couldn’t say they’d ever let their guard down, or that there’d been much more progress. Councilor Tineagar, particularly, was often watching him with suspicion. Councilor Hig, at least, was caught up in absorbing everything he saw and heard. The three had parted company on better terms -- if not friendly -- and at least some of the rhetoric from across the seas ratcheted down in tone.  Outright conflict, at least, appeared to have been averted.

Progress really had been made, and all it required was some momentary humiliation on Harry’s part. He considered it a wise investment, and thought things were going very well, indeed.

It wasn’t until the next week that the first bomb was owled to the Council of Westphalia, wrapped in the elegant silver and green paper of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Malfoy.  The diminishing tensions did not suit everyone's purposes, perhaps.


As far as the Muggle world knew, the Turkmenian Mandrake, or Loschtak (Mandragora turcomanica) was extinct. Even most witches and wizards thought that this useful tuber had died out seventy years ago, when one of Grindelwald’s death squads, the Záh Kardja, burned Borley Rectory to the ground. The “Sword of Záh” had been infamous for their completeness, after all.

The species was not entirely extinct, however. Certain corners of the world still harbored a few plants, and among them was the Department of Mysteries. They were a valuable and rare commodity. The common mandrake was grown everywhere in the wizarding world; extracts of the root were often used in different sorts of potions, and the pulped fibres were employed by paper-makers to produce paper suitable for magical portraits. The Turkmenian mandrake, on the other hand, could be occasionally used to temporarily coax information out of an unstable ghost. Such a property had infrequent but useful purposes, particularly for the purposes of law enforcement. The Unspeakables would sometimes, under conditions of great secrecy, thus produce for an inquiring auror a steaming mash of boiled mandrake. The steam could solidify a ghost’s bonds with the world, for a time, and permit questioning.

Six years ago, many new requests and orders had begun pouring into the Department.  What began as a trickle -- after the famous return and final defeat of Voldemort in 1992 and the establishment of a new order -- became a torrent eleven months later, with a dozen requests being issued on the day after Walpurgisnacht in 1993.  They’d been required to rededicate the Hall of Prophecy, now called the Hall of Science, and a program of research had been prescribed, guided by new personnel. There had been a long new list of ethical guidelines, many of which had been extremely bizarre. And there had also been a call for any hoarded artifacts which might serve specific purposes.  Madame Bones had spent two days in hidden halls with the Line of Merlin, to assist the search.

One such purpose had been the ability to sustain the human mind outside of the body. In the most impenetrable bureaucratic jargon imaginable (“...notwithstanding all other requests beyond the aforesaid or any others that might arise inter alia, the party of the second part shall in the instant case and with regard to all appertaining items, substances, phenomena..."), the Department was tasked with attempting to fulfill this request. Any possibilities were to be written up in triplicate and owled to the Headmaster of Hogwarts. This destination went a long way towards explaining the request: the power and density of the magics surrounding that school, and the insane events which often occurred on its grounds, had often spawned bizarre requests of the Department.

Dumbledore, for example, had once asked them to produce from their vaults the Seventh Hammer of the Shona, stating that he wished to destroy a rock of unknown provenance and import with utter certainty.

This time, the Unspeakables wrote up descriptions of various possibilities, after three weeks of research. And after a tedious process of discussion, deliveries, and deliberation, Harry Potter had finally asked for the delivery of several whole Turkmenian mandrakes. A year later, he’d asked for the delivery of eight more. And as far as the Unspeakables were concerned, that had been the end of it.

O house which is a ziggurat, grown together with heaven and earth,
foundation of heaven and earth, great banqueting hall of Eridug!
Abzu, shrine erected for its prince, house which is the holy mound where pure food is eaten,
watered by the prince's pure canal, mountain,
pure place cleansed with the potash plant,
abzu, your tigi drums belong to the divine powers.

Your great wall is in good repair.
Light does not enter your meeting-place where the god dwells, the great assembly-room,
the assembly-room, the beautiful place.
Your tightly constructed house is sacred and has no equal.
Your prince, the great prince, has fixed firmly a holy crown for you in your precinct
O Eridug with a crown placed on your head,
bringing forth thriving thornbushes,
pure thornbushes for the susbu priests,
O shrine which is the abzu,
your place,
your great place!

-- Enheduanna


  1. The big about Dumbledore killing Harry's pet rock cracked me up, and your addition did so, again.

  2. Maybe I misunderstood, but I think the calculation Harry did at the beginning was wrong - the probability of 5% should decrease to ~3% after taking into account the 60% chance that he deduced Reg's plan correctly.
    Instead, you increased it to 7%.

    1. Nope, you're doing it wrong. I totally understood Bayes Rule after playing this "Wizard's Guide to Statistics" game http://cassandraxia.com/wizard/
      chapter 6 is about Bayes Rule.