26 September 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Three: Watchers

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Three: Watchers

CARROW:  Sir!  Sir!  What say you to the fact that our families are snapping in half, sir?  I say to you what I have said a thousand times, and that is this: tradition is the glue which holds magical society together!  When you burn away tradition, sweeping it off with Muggle machines and cold numbers, then you dissolve the ties which bind magical Britain!  I myself have visited the Registrars of Marriages and Unions of Godric’s Hollow and Diagon Alley, to name only two, and I am told that they have seen twice as many divorces this year as they saw in 1989!  Twice as many!  Homes are being broken, children are finding themselves Flooing back and forth on alternate weeks, and happy unions are being destroyed in the wake of all this haphazard and destructive change.  So I ask you then, what say you to that?

[scattered applause]

POTTER:  Thank you for that question.  I do have a response.  First, I believe that you show the same care for metaphor as you do for logic.  Are we burning, sweeping, or dissolving?  And if we’re burning, how do we do that with cold numbers?  Clear articulation is a sign of clear thought, and vice-versa.

[scattered applause]

CARROW:  Mockery is no substitute for an answer!  You--

HUGHES:  Sir--

CARROW:  You--

HUGHES:  Sir, please let Mr. Potter finish speaking.

CARROW:  You cannot--

HUGHES:  Sir, please let--

CARROW:  Yes, yes.

POTTER:  I do have an answer.  But before I give it, let me also point out that two points of data, two numbers, do not make a trend.  There might have been unusually few divorces in 1989, for example.  Or maybe the divorce rate was even higher in 1979.  It’s hard to compare anything unless you have more numbers.  But that’s not-

CARROW:  The pleading of a child!

POTTER:  But that’s not the only flaw in your thinking, Mr. Carrow.  There’s a hoary old phrase to use at this point: correlation is--

CARROW:  Yes, ply us with--

POTTER:  Correlation--

CARROW:  --your condescension, Mr. Potter.

HUGHES:  Sir, I must ask you--

POTTER:  Correlation--

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow--

POTTER: --is not causation.  That means that there are many sorts of reasons why the divorce rate might have risen over a whole decade.  Not every change in the world can be laid at my feet, and--

CARROW:  All of this complicated jargon, but the words you need are so simple.  Apologies have the virtue of brevity, as well.

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow, sir, I need to ask you to let Mr. Potter speak.  Remember your name and the honour of your house, sir.  We are here for a civil discussion.


HUGHES:  Mr.--

CARROW:  My honour and that of my house is unbroken, Mr. Hughes.

HUGHES:  Mr. Potter, please continue.

POTTER:  Then let me just say this, then, Mr. Carrow: the largest flaw -- no, the biggest mistake you’re making is that you haven’t even stopped to ask yourself whether or not this is a bad thing.  If it is true, and if it is truly my fault, neither of which points I am willing to concede on the basis of two fiddly numbers out of context--

CARROW:  You--

POTTER:  --then it is almost certainly the result of money.

CARROW:  Money?!

POTTER:  Gringott’s began issuing loans near the end of 1993, Mr. Carrow, and by 1995 the economy of magical Britain was twice as large.

CARROW:  Money is only worth what it can be -- and it cannot buy tradition, or happiness, or a family life.  If we have made the trade you suggest, then I would say it is a bad bargain… and so much the worse for the shopkeep!

POTTER:  You don’t understand.  The money has given people freedom.  Even a small sum of money -- the possibility of taking on the responsibility of debt -- can be enough to allow someone to change their job or start a new business or even just change their situation.  The freedom of money leads to a lot of other disruptive freedoms.  Including the freedom to leave their spouse.  People who might otherwise have felt trapped--

CARROW:  You mudblood piece of--

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow!  Mr. Carrow!

POTTER:  Mr. Carrow, you seem--

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow, this is--

CARROW:  She never--

HUGHES:  Mr. Carrow!

CARROW:  <unintelligible>

-Partial excerpt from the unedited transcript of the second of the Tower Debates on the Future of Magical Britain, as recorded by a certified-impartial Quotes Quill.


“I know it’s a bit unfair,” Hermione Granger said, staring at the five Honourable, “but it certainly does seem that we tend to find you lot in skeevy little places, doing skeevy little things.”  She glanced pointedly down at the floor, where trickles of golden potion were slowly spreading around under the feet of Margaret Bulstrode, Edgar Erasmus, Geoffrey Gem, and his two assistants.  She could smell the shrivelfig.  Euphoria Elixir.

“Auror Kwannon?” Hermione called over her shoulder, past where Hyori was standing at the door.  The Returned witch stepped aside to admit the auror, without ever taking her eyes or wand or glower off of the captured wizards and witches.  Kwannon also had to edge past the gentleman she’d brought with her from the DMLE, Gerald.  He was some sort of recorder, taking notes of raids like this one.  An ineffectual attempt at holding aurors accountable, Hermione thought.  Kwannon looked irritated at the whole production.

The aurors feel like they should be running the show, first through the door.  But there’s just no reason to let them take those kind of risks, not when I’m here, she thought.  She glanced over at the auror again.  Kwannon was relatively tall, considering her Japanese heritage, with a round face, a scattering of light freckles, and a flat nose.  She was one of Alastor’s, and was usually in the Tower.  For the time being, though, she was here on Harry’s behalf, along with four more aurors from the DMLE.  Harry had needed someone here, after all -- needed some eyes and ears on her Honourable hunt… what would he do with himself otherwise, locked up in that Tower and buried in healing and research, if he couldn’t divert himself with some crude manipulations of everyone around him?

Not that manipulation, per se, was her complaint.  It was just… Harry never learned.  After their first year, including the trial and the troll and that terrible time at the end, he never really changed.  He just became more… well, Harry-like.  He hadn’t learned the real lesson she thought he’d take away: if you try to use secret knowledge to manipulate complex situations about which you have incomplete information, then things will get very bad, very quickly.  It was very hard for any person to be smart enough to manage that -- and it was stupid to try when you had friends.  It was “nihil supernum,” after all, not “nihil par.”

But the stubborn man hadn’t learned then, and so Walpurgisnacht had happened, and he still hasn’t learned, she thought, bitterly.  Even after the price we paid.  Hermione almost lifted her hand to touch her neck, but stopped as she realized what she was doing.  No time for this sort of dithering.

She brought her thoughts back to the present situation.  Time for me to butt out a bit.  I’ll make myself her asset, rather than her superior.  She’s probably better at this than I, anyway.

“Auror Kwannon, this isn’t really my sort of thing,” she said, turning and smiling at the auror, slightly lifting her shoulders to indicate her ignorance about the next proper thing to do.  “You were kind enough to let me pop through here quickly, to keep the miscreants here… maybe you could take the lead from here?”

“Yes, well…” said the auror, looking around the room before focusing back in on the five Honourable.  “This is some trouble, here.”

Gem noticeably shrank back into himself, seeming almost to fold his thin body over.  The witch and wizard that were his assistants took things a little bit more in stride -- as though stunned and out of place, with confused expressions.  Hermione was fairly sure they were still riding down a dose of Euphoria.

Erasmus, on the other hand, puffed up his chest.  He was red in the face, and with the colouring of his hair, he looked humorously similar to a large carrot.  “There’s no crime in printing and distributing a newsletter, or in conducting private researches, I think.  Even in today’s Britain!”

Kwannon turned her sharp attention to the researcher.  “Mr. Erasmus, you are correct.  However, it is illegal to operate a private Floo network, it is illegal to conduct dangerous research within one hundred meters of a residence, and it is extremely illegal to sell Euphoric Elixir without a license.”

“All unjust prohibitions!” said Erasmus.  He had brilliant blue eyes that were narrowed in indignation.  To emphasize his point, he thumped his fist down on the stack of boxes he’d been carrying when Hermione had torn up the entrance hatch and knocked down their door.  “Who is the Government to say what I do with a Floo, where I can do my research, or what potions I brew, eh?  My research is my research!”

“I recall your research, sir,” said Kwannon, her mouth tight.

The former Tower researcher had been studying the construction of magical machines, Hermione recalled, before he had been fired, his research confiscated, and key memories Obliviated.  Erasmus had ignored safety concerns entirely, and had insisted on just bullying through and continuing to build his wind-machines.  They used fluid dynamics: tight swirls of air spinning as gears, fed by small warming columns of heat from below; flywheels of pressurized zones to store and transfer energy; and shifts between small turbulent flows and laminar flows as switches.

The machines had been brilliant -- Erasmus was brilliant -- but they had also been maddeningly dangerous.  One Ventus could power them for days, and the very first thing they were designed to do was consume waste matter of any type and incinerate it for more power.  If Erasmus had moved his investigations of Muggle science out of engineering and aerodynamics, and into something like computer programming… the danger had been unbelievable, even by magical standards.  He was almost a cartoonish figure: the mad scientist with no concern for consequences.  Harry had not only been apoplectic, he’d been outright offended.

Hermione supposed that the setbacks they’d given Erasmus, including the changes to his memory, were probably enough to ensure everyone’s safety.  But to see him right back at it, only now without any supervision… they’d need to do something, somehow.  It needed thought.  For now, at least, it looked like Erasmus wouldn’t be a danger for a while.

“In the States, anyone can set up a Floo.  It’s not right that there’s only one Floo Network in Britain,” offered Margaret Bulstrode.  She was a beautiful young woman, but clearly quite out of her depth.  Hermione knew Margaret, slightly -- she’d been several years ahead at Hogwarts, and the aurors in charge of investigating the Diagon bombing had brought her before the Wizengamot for examination on the basis of an informant’s accusations.  Nothing had come of it.

“I wouldn’t know about that, I’m afraid,” said Kwannon, her voice hard.  “But I do know it’s illegal here, just like Faux Floo is illegal.  Is that the genuine two-Sickles-a-scoop on your mantel?”

“Yes,” said Erasmus, puffing out his cheeks.

“Mm,” said Kwannon, noncommittally.  She walked around the room, looking sharply into corners and at everything around.  “What else you have here, eh?  Come on, Gerald.”  She headed through the other door, into a hallway or another room.  Gerald followed her with his floating parchment and Quotes Quill, looking nervous.

“This is a private facility,” called out the weasely Gem, hugging himself.  He’d put down the crate he’d been holding.  “You have no call to go snooping…”  He trailed off, uneasily.  His fear of the Goddess and Hermione’s supernatural air of innocence were probably confusing him.  That sometimes happened.

“She’s an auror,” said Hermione.  “The Tower and I have proper search warrants and habeas corpus and seizure rules planned out, but we haven’t gotten there yet.  For now, you’re stuck with the traditional system, as we found it.  Seems to mostly date back to the eighteenth century, with some modern bits like Hit Wizards stuck on.  But tradition is best, after all… isn’t that right?”

Need to taunt as a distraction… best not take it too far, though.  Susie seemed to think it was funny, though, smirking as she walked to the crates of copies of Unbreakable Honour and sat on one.  “ ‘Good for thee, but not for me,’ as the saying goes, love.“ said the Returned.

Erasmus huffed again.  “Under any system of justice, Muggle or magical, this is out of order.”

Hermione approached him.  “How so?  I’d be interested to hear you defend this, Edgar.”  She gestured at the crate of broken potion, and clasped her hands in front of herself.  “Did your research ever lead you to encounter the notion of ‘wireheading,’ I wonder?”

“You were famous for fighting bullies, back when you were at Hogwarts,” said Margaret, suddenly and loudly.  “S.P.H.E.W and all that.  But now you are a bully.”

Ah, that’ll do nicely.  Hermione smiled again, and turned to face Bulstrode.  She approached very close, and stared at the woman.  She was a little taller than Margaret, and she knew she was quite intimidating.  She let the smile fade from her face, and lifted a finger.  She poked it into Margaret’s chest, and said -- coldly, now -- “Don’t hide behind loose categorizations.  Say what you mean.  You’re being persecuted, are you?”  She plucked at Margaret’s robe at the shoulder, and then again at one of the pockets, contemptuously and dismissively… as though the woman were a bit of lint.  “You and all of Draco’s loathsome death-worshippers, piling all your prejudices and ignorance up into a single lot.”  She walked around Margaret as she spoke, and took the opportunity to surreptitiously drop a button -- one she’d removed from Margaret’s pocket, and palmed -- into her own robes.

“I’ll say what I mean, all right,” replied Margaret.  Her voice barely shook.  “You lot have taken over.  And you’ve done a lot of good things.  But there’s a natural order to the world, and you’ve broken it.  You’ve… you’ve done some of the darkest of rituals.  It’s the only way things even make sense.  And you’re eating up all the rest of the world, state by state.  If you keep going, the world won’t even be recognizable… no traditions left, no people thinking their own thoughts in their own ways… you want everyone to be the same, like the porcelain dolls that come out of the Tower.  ‘Rejuvenation’... it’s just control and replacement!”

“Draco has always had a silver tongue,” said Hermione, scornfully.  She’s just parroting back what she hears.  This was the danger of letting things go this way, Harry… they’re cementing in these ideas.  It’s hard enough to get people on our side, but to win over those who actually hate us this much?

You knew I’d never agree with this plan.  That I’d point out it was extravagant and risky and impractical.  The slow victory is better than the fast loss, Harry.

But Harry wasn’t here, and there was no point venting now.  Bend before the storm, and surprise her.

“You might be right in some ways, Ms. Bulstrode,” she said, walking away.  She saw Hyori raise an eyebrow from her position by the entrance, and flashed a quick smile at the Returned.  Hermione turned back around to face the Honourable.  “It’s dangerous to discard a lot of traditions.  Many of them survive from century to century because they serve an important purpose.  Memetic survival: mutation, variation, and evolution.  ‘Unconscious memes have ensured their own survival by virtue of the same qualities of ruthlessness that successful genes display,’ “ she quoted.  (The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, page 198, her brain automatically supplied).  “It’s something we should be more careful about, and we want to avoid when we can.  Was there any specific tradition that you are unhappy about losing?”

Margaret was silent for a long moment.  Hermione folded her arms, and waited patiently.  It wasn’t even an act: she was honestly interested to hear the answer.

“How about Quidditch?” said Margaret, after a while.  “The Tower wants to get rid of that.”

“Well, he did want to change it, yes,” Hermione said.  “Not get rid of it.  Harry isn’t much for sports in general, I’m afraid, and I don’t think he ever quite understood it -- especially the snitch.  Muggles have a similar sort of thing called test cricket, but I doubt Harry has ever played or even watched it.”

“They sacked all the Quidditch regulators!” said Margaret in reply, strength coming into her voice.  “Closed down the whole games section of the Ministry!”

“That wasn’t the Tower, that was a decision by Minister Fudge,” said Hermione.  But when Margaret and Erasmus gave her a look, she smiled slightly.  “But yes, he supported it.  As I recall, though, Quidditch is doing just fine… better than ever, in fact, now that it’s being run privately.  Most of the same people working for it, I think.”

Kwannon returned at that moment, Gerald in tow, shaking her head.  “Fairly plain about the research being done here, and the Euphoria being brewed.  We’ll get some people in here to collect all this, but I think you should all try to think of a good solicitor, if you know one.”  She headed up to the entrance, and waved in the aurors who were standing idle in the corridor.  “Come on through.  Back rooms there… bag up the lot.  Leave the experiments inside the circles until we can have someone bring them out with precautions.”

“I imagine they know some people who can help,” said Susie.

“Malfoy,” said Hyori from behind Hermione, scornfully.

“Be careful with my research,” said Erasmus, urgently.  He was turning red again with anxiety.  “I’m within a hair of a working Zimara machine!”

Perpetual motion?  Maybe I can stay and take a look, thought Hermione.

“Any way we can help, Hedley?”  she asked, hopefully.  “We can stick around if you would like some assistance?”

“Thank you, but I think we have it in hand,” said Kwannon.  Hermione probably should have let her go first; there would have been relatively little danger.  Lesson learned.

“Then I suppose we do have things we can get up to.  Thank you,” said Hermione.  She nodded at her Returned, and they all headed for the exit.

It was true, after all.  They had some parchments to read.  As they made their way out, Hermione reached into her robe and picked up the Everlasting Eye.  When she’d seen Bulstrode out on the streets of Knockturn Alley, it had been easy enough to step aside, slip on the Cloak of Invisibility, and sprint on around ahead of her.  She’d dropped the listening device into Margaret’s pocket after tripping her with an invisible foot.

“Let’s find out who escaped our raid, shall we?” she asked the two Returned witches.  Susie smiled.


We are faced, right from the beginning, with a difficult task.  It is a task so immense that most wizards never even notice it, any more than they notice their eyelids.  Indeed, when I began this chapter, I sought out dozens of the most learned wizards in Britain, only to discover that no more than one or two had ever given any thought to the problem.  Madame Hopkirk of the Department of Mysteries herself was able only to point me to three or four dusty volumes of consideration -- none of which I could read (the obstacle was the same one previously encountered, dear reader, when I attempted to research the history of Hogwarts: no consideration is given to those for whom the Interdict is a forever-insuperable obstacle).

Subsequent conversations will allow us to piece together some basic ideas, if they must be rudimentary of necessity.  So then: what is magic?  The physical realization of an inner spirit?  The action of a daemon working on one’s behalf?  A demand made on some hidden set of rules to the universe?  We set our education and wits to the task of explaining many things we might see in magic:
  • A large proportion of magical effects conform, depend, or otherwise interact with the emotions, expectations, wishes, or willpower of the caster.
  • Magic seems to operate almost entirely on a human scale, even including wholly subjective aspects of modern life.
  • The linguistic components of spells are all well-suited to the human tongue, and most even seem to derive from Latin or Greek roots.  The history of magic begins in Greece, as Madame Bagshot has instructed us, but was that necessity or coincidence?
  • Magically-created matter is mundane matter in most respects.
  • Magic interferes with Muggle machines in some unknown way, yet to be discovered or classified, and thus seems inherently inimical to machinery in a spiritual sense.
  • The ability of humans to do magic varies, with most people unable to do any magic at all, others having only the very tiny magic of a Squib, and some having enough magic to cast spells.  Many plants and animals also possess magic where others do not.
  • Magic is hereditary, and so must be a trait like hair color or height that is passed from parent to child.
  • It is widely known that magic has been decreasing over time, which means that it must be going somewhere.

When these phenomena are fully internalized and realized, we may thus see that the daemon theory of which we spoke earlier must be the correct one.  It explains all of the above conditions, as the daemons consume magic to live, make war on rival machines, live within the body to touch upon the mind, and are passed from parent to child like a Sallowfax infection.

- excerpted from Chapter Three of A Squib’s-Eye View, by A. F. Leiding


It is abundantly clear that Mr. Leiding is not only a Squib, but also a fool.  We may pity him for his limitations in magic, but we should pity him even more for his limitations in reasoning.

It is impossible to understand the true nature of magic.  Atlantis’ fall put the source of that knowledge out of time and out of our reach.  This may be the ultimate tragedy of this book: left with no purpose, what else is Mr. Leiding to do, but construct fantasies and try to know the unknowable?

-excerpted from American Mage’s review of A Squib’s-Eye View

1 comment:

  1. Mr Leiding went for a Descartes approach to his explanation of magic, love the similarities there