28 February 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Two: Commentarii de Bello

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Two: Commentarii de Bello

CRAD:  Now you understand that these are the deadly years for wizards.  [Throws KARL’s bloodstained necklace onto the ground in front of ERIN.]  The metamorphosis of the world has begun… no more the plaything of the tall and beautiful!

[The remaining ATTENDANT takes notice, abandoning the corpse of his friend.  He jumps up and down with joy, yelling and grimacing with savagery and waving his torch.]

ERIN:  The Lady O’Bruinan will save me.

CRAD:  [Strikes her across the face with a bloody hand.  It leaves a mark of blood across her face.  The blood is a symbol of violence.]  Fool!  I have destroyed Sontag, and should the aged Lady appear in my arena, here, I shall show her a taste of armageddon… as I did your mad lover!

[EXSES enters from stage right with a clamour of thunder, clad all in gold.  In her left hand is a wand, and in her right is a spear.]

EXSES:  I am come!  I have seen the terrors you have wrought upon my people of Sontag, and I have brought my vengeance!

[CRAD and ATTENDANT cower back from EXSES.  CRAD seizes ATTENDANT and pushes him at EXSES.  She strikes him down with her spear, and there is another clamour of thunder.]

ERIN:  My Lady!  I never lost hope!

CRAD:  No, no, no!

[CRAD wails and strips off his necklace of wizard teeth, flinging it to the ground.  It lands next to KARL’s necklace.]

EXSES:  Yes!  I will bring the goblins low for their crimes, a deserved punishment for their deeds!  [She raises her spear, holding it high.]  Thus do I condemn them: let them scrape in metal and toil in tin!  Let them fear to raise their heads, lest those heads be struck from their shoulders!  The blood of Sontag demands it -- and let all know their just reward for such bloody deeds as have been done this day!

[CRAD collapses, wailing.  ERIN inclines her head, and leans down to pick up KARL’s necklace.  She pauses, and then brings her delicate foot down upon CRAD’s necklace, ruining it.  ALL exit.]

[The stage darkens, and a spotlight focuses on CRAD’s necklace.  It is a symbol of hubris.]

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


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 19th, 1999
The same day

“There,” said Meldh, lifting his hand from Harry’s wrist.  “Think back, and see if you can remember anything.”

Harry shut his eyes, standing silently.  It was very quiet in the blank span of corridor where they stood, near the rear of the Tower -- there were no distractions.

After a while, Harry opened his eyes again.  “No, sir.  I can’t remember anything about where Voldemort might be.  And I seem to remember all about the Tower departments, otherwise.  There’s no obvious gap that might provide a clue.”  He paused.  “Thank you, sir, for leaving me with everything else.”

“It seemed cruel to take all of that away from you,” said Meldh, nodding.

“Thank you, sir,” said Harry, smiling.  His smile faded, though, as he said hesitantly, “Sir, before we go back to the others, I think we should talk about your succession to my place -- at least in the broad strokes, so I can begin thinking about how to help.  I know that you believe the Lethe Touch to be infallible, but there’s no reason to risk it.  It’s basic information hygiene.”

Meldh waved a hand, dismissively.  “There is no concern.  I will take your identity and you will become a new person.  We will alter the trajectory you have chosen for the world, using the tools you have put at my command.”

“No, sir,” Harry said, shaking his head.  “There are serious problems there.  For one, the new terminal values you’ve given us are too…” He fumbled for words.  “There’s too much internal conflict, sir.  It shows on our faces, and it will lead to strange behavior at some point.  It will be like an Asimov story with the Three Laws… outside observers will be able to deduce from aberrant behavior that there are new underlying rules.  Many people are very loyal to me, but no one is absolutely loyal, to the extent where my will and wishes are their most important goals.”

“We have taken dozens of your allies here, but I have set up a pressure within them,” Meldh said.  “They are enchanted in the same fashion as yourself, but there is a capacity for release by recasting the Touch and adding --”

“No!” said Harry, abruptly, holding up his hand.  “I don’t need to know!  Information hygiene.”  Sheepishly, he lowered his hand, smiling a bit.  “Sorry, sir, but there’s no need to tell me the command word… it can’t possibly help.  Yes, you can trust me absolutely, right now, but what if I were to get free somehow?  The best weapon you’d have in that situation would be your control of almost all of my closest friends… I’m going to be substantially weaker if any attack on you risks killing Draco or Moody -- or even if your death would just leave all of my friends as your servants, forever.”

“Do not worry, Mr. Potter,” said Meldh, kindly.  “There is no risk that you will go free.  No one has ever defeated the Lethe Touch by sheer willpower, and there is no spell known to you or any of your allies that could dispel the enchantment.  We now possess the only real trust that can ever exist between two people.”

“What about my Unbreakable Vow, sir?” asked Harry.  “It’s an obvious problem… what if you ask me to do something that might destroy the world?”

Meldh folded his hands in his sleeves.  “You will not be able to comply, of course.  But the results would be the same if I asked you to fetch me a Lethifold’s smile-- you could not do it, but neither would the Touch fail.  I spent some time examining your mind, Mr. Potter, and I assure you that there is no power known to you that poses a threat to me.”

Harry fell silent, and leaned back against the wall of the corridor.  Meldh waited, patiently.  After a time, Harry spoke up again, saying, “When I think about possible contingency plans for something like this, it seems obvious I would have prepared something and stored the memory in a Pensieve, or just erased it with such care as to leave no traces.  Of course, if I thought of a contingency once, I should be able to think of it again, so it would also be necessary to erase the memories that led me to the plan in the first place.”

“Then we’re no better off for the wondering,” said Meldh, chuckling mildly.  “You cannot worry or defend against the unknown, since it can take any shape.  The key to great strength is defending against every known, whether it appears a threat or not, and staying hidden from the unknown.”

“I disagree, sir.  It’s possible to plan for the unknown -- you can make a path for it or put in place some contingency that embraces a host of possibilities.  And I am fairly sure that I must have at least tried to do so.  The way magic works, it was never an outlandish idea that someone old and powerful might show up and take offense.  I knew for certain that people like Nicholas Flamel were out there.  Given the long history of the world and the fact that magic was once much more powerful, it was actually more likely than not that there would be some immortals out there.”  Harry shrugged.  “I should have perhaps even foreseen you yourself, sir.  The inventor of the Horcrux spell?  It seems obvious, in retrospect.  Maybe I did foresee it, actually.”

Meldh looked amused.  “You and Voldemort share the same opinion of your abilities.  You will forgive me for saying that I do not, Mr. Potter.  My victory was not a difficult one, and cost scarcely even a pawn’s worth of trouble.”

Harry shrugged.  “That seems suspicious to me, sir.”  Then he opened his mouth, as though to go on speaking, but made no sound.  He grimaced and shook his head, accidentally rapping it against the wall and wincing.

Meldh watched him, and replied to the unaskable question.  “No, Mr. Potter,” he said gently.  “I do not think it is necessary to kill you now, out of fear of some possible trap you’ve laid.  Rather, I will need your help.

“Once I take my place as the new Mr. Potter, you will be by my side in some altered shape, as an adjunct and adviser,” he said.  “I will release all others -- they will continue to serve ‘you,’ and the Tower will move in a new direction to decisively end magic.  Your Muggle knowledge will be turned to proper ends… without your foolishness.”  He chortled, amiably.  “Some things can even be done immediately, to help stave off the end of the world and its people.  There is at least one new ritual we may enact, based on your knowledge.  To think what you would have let go to waste -- for the sake of some distant bits of fire!”

Harry looked at the ground, his face uncomfortable.  “Sir, I considered it to be immoral, especially when there are alternatives that don’t increase entropy in the universe so much. And…” Harry fumbled over his words clumsily, as though many ideas were fighting for expression at the same time.   “And many stars have the possibility of life, either now or in the future, and that risk is so apocalyptically bad that it overwhelms any benefit to an individual life here, and when we reach the second type on the Kardashev scale we’ll then be confronted with a loss of useful energy on a scale of… of… well, I don’t even know how to make a comparison!  Obviously it would be like sacrificing our own Sun, but… well, it would be like a wiping out every scrap of phoenix flame that ever existed and could ever exist, all to save one person.”

His voice wasn’t rising, but it was filled with strange tension, as though he weren’t arguing with Meldh, but were arguing with himself.  He kept talking, though, fumbling through in a rush.  “And we might not even need to do that!  The Advancement Agency has made amazing strides in only a few years.  With reconfiguring parts alone, they’ll raise life expectancy.  The prostate, the heart, the optic nerve, the retina, the spine, the knees, the teeth… there are all sorts of design fixes that will reduce the chances of morbidity.  Making them a part of the standard rejuvenation and putting in greater security -- even perhaps with the aid of the Touch, sir -- will put us well ahead of the curve on a new Moore’s Law of lifespan.”

“No,” said Meldh, flatly... that short and curt blade of a word.  “We will not wait, not when the new ritual will be so simple to devise -- with some little study of your Muggle knowledge about the stars.  Not one more minute, as the saying goes.”

Harry choked a little in his throat, then hung his head, and made no reply.  He stared at the floor.

“To think I feared to come here, considering it an unwarranted risk,“ marveled Meldh, shaking his head and gesturing down the corridor.  “Come.  We must arrange for the death of the fallen bishop, Bellatrix Black, and take what actions are necessary to suborn the absentee goblins, and set them, too, on the correct path.”  He smiled at the thought.  “Then I have some preparations to make before I step outside of this Tower to consult with my allies.”

Harry began moving obediently, and they began walking back to the meeting room.  Meldh glanced at him, and spoke, his voice kind.  “The new immortals of the world, the ones that we choose to aid us in our cause,  will have cause to praise my risk and your losses, Mr. Potter.  There are endless stars in the sky… more than enough for every witch and wizard we might select.”


On the shores of the lake of teeth, where the black hills end, Tír inna n-Óc
May 19th, 1999
Later that day

Whispering teeth.

Fractal shadows.


“You have succeeded… well done,” said the third figure -- Nell.  Her congratulations were light and pleasant, but none the more convincing for that.

“Thank you,” said the first figure -- Meldh.  “We have swept the board.”

The second figure said nothing, only watching them both.

“You have Touched the boy-king… will you leave him in charge?” asked Nell.

“No,” said Meldh.  “I will take his shape and his identity.  He has built a formidable apparatus, and I think that few threats now exist that could stand against it.”

“You do not think that you might be, perhaps, overconfident?  Is your control already so sure?” asked Nell.

Meldh paused and did not reply for a time.  The second figure, silent still, turned a face of slithering shadow to regard him, watching intently.

“My pride prompts me to deny you, but mirgo que n'a qu'un trpu est bientôt prise… yes, perhaps you are correct,” said Meldh, finally.  “Mr. Potter himself said as much to me, not an hour ago.  I had thought to use the goblins as an excuse to change policy, but even a goblin army may not be sufficient to rouse enough alarm and stem the suspicion of his allies.”

“If you require further assistance, then you shall have it,” said the second figure.

“We are gambling a great deal,” agreed Nell.  “You shall have every support we can offer.”

“Then so be it,” said Meldh.  “I will not turn away one ounce of assistance.  And for my part, I find that I will not have need of the Stone of the Long Song, so long as you would still be willing to lend its power on occasion, Madame.”

“Of course,” said Nell, and the shadows writhed in some distant imitation of a smile.

“No,” said the second figure.  “That shall not be sufficient.  Now is not the time for conservative policies.  We must take this opportunity to act.  Our hand is in play -- we will make it a fist.  Now is the time to act.  We will do as we have not done in many years.  Sontag once thrived and threatened, rich on the concentrated lore of the Peverells, and made a perfect plum to be plucked.  You fear preparations against you?  Let us swamp them in violence.”

“Is that not hasty?” asked Meldh.

Even Nell seemed startled by the proposition.  “I will commit all to the enterprise, if necessary, but I think --”

“We will raise mighty forces.  Armies.  I will act with all puissance at my command,” said the second figure, as though the others had not spoken.  “Not only the goblins, strong with the restored knowledge of their ancient will-work.  Also the visc and lejis of this place will take breath again, driven by the gaunt-horrors.  I will break the cycle of the unsleeping, and bring forth your long-vanished terrasque and basilisks.  Muggles in their hordes will take the eaters on themselves.  They will march, we will sacrifice many… and take the opportunity to wipe away the magics of London, Boston, and Hangzhou.”

“I am not sure that…” said Nell, hesitantly.  “We have not acted on such a scale since…” She shook her head, darkness swirling.  “Never.  This is audacity truly worthy of Merlin.  And unspeakably risky.”

“Thus shall it be, Perenelle du Marais,” said the second figure.  He did not wait for a reply, but turned to Meldh, and stated, “Thus shall it be, Heraclius Hero.  We will sweep the world with discord and blood, crush a thousand artifacts and burn a thousand scrolls, and raise such fear as has never been seen.”

There was a desperately long pause, when none of them moved.  They were not the sort to act in haste, despite the brutal decisiveness they could bring to a conversation.  All Three waited, patiently, for each of the others to think through and come to terms with the new shape of the world to come.

Tentatively, Nell said, “In the face of such a threat, those remaining wizards will unite behind the Tower.  Behind you.”  She looked back at Meldh.

“Behind us,” corrected Meldh, mildly.  “And I think we will have no resistance, then, in a push to redouble the Statute of Secrecy’s strictures and limit the scope and growth of magic.  The plan will need further thought to arrange all of the pieces, but there will be resources to spare, now that I have mastered the Tower.”

“You disposed of Bellatrix Black and Voldemort,” said the second figure -- a question that was not really a question.

“I have made arrangements for the death of the Black woman, but there are... complications with Voldemort.  I actually have much to say to you about Horcruxes at another time.  I have sealed Voldemort away, however, and erased all memory of his hiding place.  It will suffice, I think,” said Meldh.

“Kill Potter, as well,” said the second figure.  “Whatever his lore, the risk is too great.  And we need no more complications.

“As you wish, although the odd patterns of his brain have been fruitful,” said Meldh, untroubled.  “I will strip his mind of what else might be gleaned, and then end him.”  He inclined his head, gently.  “I will send signal for our next meeting presently, after concluding such matters.  We will plan for our war and arrange our pieces.”

“Yes,” said the second figure.  “Consider, each of you, the utmost of your might.  We will spare no energy or lore in the conflict to come.  Victory must be certain for us to take such a risk.”

All three departed, each their separate ways.

Whispering teeth.

Fractal shadows.


Tír inna n-Óc endured.


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 19th, 1999
The afternoon of the same day

Upon his return to the Tower, Meldh appeared tired.  He walked with heavy feet out of the annex next to the Receiving Room, where he’d performed the ritual.  His fingers were still bloody, wet with the necessary components of a trip to the land of the Unseelie.

For a moment, the assured and calm wizard was gone.  He looked the same… dusky skin, dark eyes, broad lips.  But he looked weary and battered, and it was enough to bring a worried Moody to his side with gruff but concerned questions.  Meldh waved away the Tower’s spymaster, and stepped through the golden oval of the Tower entrance.  Harry waited just inside, frowning and unhappy, accompanied by Diggory.  Both young men looked immensely relieved to see their master alive, though their worried glances at each other showed their distress at his state.

“Sir, we’re holding some people in Material Methods,” said Diggory, speaking first.  He and Harry walked along with Meldh down the corridor, slowly, towards the clinic.  “Madame Bones, Percy Weasley, Councilor Reg Hig, and seven aurors reporting for their normal shifts.  All stunned and waiting for you.  And there is regular Tower business… people to heal.”

“Good, good,” said Meldh, vaguely.  “Harry shall go and attend to healing.  But I must rest.  Keep the prisoners stunned and secured for now.  All else is well?”

“Ackle and Curd have both sent away emissaries from Minister N’goma,” said Harry, studying Meldh closely.  “And Hermione Granger sent a message to let me know she’d be here this evening.  All is well with your allies?”

“Fine,” said Meldh.  He sighed, heavily.  “Ah, but… forgive my weariness, but there is such violence in the offing, Mr. Potter.  I confess that I did not anticipate it, and the very thought makes me ache for my garden and my home and my temple.  I fear I will not see them for a great while, and that is not a discomfort I have needed to endure for many years.”  He shook his head.  Harry touched him on the arm, reassuringly, and the older wizard glanced down at the hand and smiled a small smile.

“Sir, I’m sorry, but we should prepare for Granger,” said Diggory, breaking in on the moment.  “She is resourceful and her Returned are insane.”

“I am too tired, young man,” said Meldh.  “Mr. Potter, make plans accordingly.”  He sighed again.  “I must rest.  There will be war soon, and the world will shake because of it.  A great and fearsome god calls for blood.  That is not something I have seen for centuries.  I must rest and think.”

Harry took hold of Diggory’s arm, restraining him, and they stopped in their tracks.  Meldh continued on, moving slowly.  He vanished from sight into the clinic.

“This is for the best, Cedric,” said Harry.  “I’m not sure that he would be able to appreciate the threat that Hermione could present, but we do.  Let’s make a plan.”

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
Nothing again nothing.
You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”

-”The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot

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.


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.


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)

14 February 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty: The Thing with Wings

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty: The Thing with Wings

KARL: You think you are safe here, in your village utopia?  War is upon us!  Hear the sound of drums.  The enemy approaches in scant minutes, and our hourglass flows so quickly... witness the last of the time!  Lords and ladies… I beseech you!  Wake up and attend to your own hour of doom!  Flee!

ERIN:  We hear.  We understand.  But we will not run.  We will not abandon Sontag.

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


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

Draco’s office in the Tower was in the rear of the complex, where it had been expanded.  He had originally been situated near Material Methods.  It might have been quiet there at the moment, with the goblins all shut up and withdrawn into Curd and Ackle, off doing gobliney things (presumably comparing ear length or bathing in rubies).  But as soon as the dodgy little blokes were back to work, hammering out more absurdly large golden gloves, then that area would become intolerable: unfortunate smells, clamorous noise, and a horde of chest-high half-elves swarming underfoot in the corridor.

Now he was comfortably ensconced next to the new offices of the Vision Verge, instead.  They were almost all wizards and witches, except for the one centaur, and they mostly did quiet things involving lenses and the like.  It was uninteresting work -- what possible use was there for the tiny Protean-Charmed little toggles they were making? -- but also a peaceful little corner of the oft-bustling Tower.

Dearest Mother, he wrote, leaning over the parchment on the desk in front of him.

All is going well -- better than we could have hoped.  There are plans to reorganize the way the Tower operates, now that a new Receiving Room will be built to accommodate the Ten Thousand.  That has meant a second Terminus to be in charge, and a second command structure for it, and now the whole question of who reports to whom has been upended.  The Westphalians are all in a clamour about the new addition, as well, and are arguing that the Americas should also have their own Receiving Room.  If they win, then simple pride will oblige the construction of a fourth Room for the Free States, Nigeria, and any other African states that join.

In fact, I believe that the Tower will become a proxy body for the Confederation, which will soon mean, of course, that it will become subject to votes from that body.  Potter is a soft touch, and he won’t be able to flout the Confederation forever without the excuse of the Independent opposition.  That will be an opportunity for many, including us.  Good fortune floats into our hand like a ripe dirigible plum.

Draco continued in this vein for some length, setting forth his pretended expectations with just enough vagueness to appear plausible.  He laid out a vision of a potential path to power within the Tower -- and more importantly, made sure that this vision was transferable: a blueprint for others to follow, as well.

When he was done, he took a parchment razor and notched the lower-left corner of the first page twice, then folded and sealed the packet.  Draco would send it to his mother, and she’d know it was meant for others to see.  It would be “stolen,” and reinforce his efforts at tempting a few choice individuals into the fold.

There was a loud knock at his office door.

Draco looked up, irritated at the interruption.  He glanced at the big watch on the wall.  He was expecting his “spy” and ally Dolores Umbridge at ten o’clock, but he’d expected to have time to write a genuine dispatch to his mother in addition to the fake one.  They’d built something special over these past years with their Honourable, and he had no intentions of letting it -- or their relationship with each other -- decay.  “Who is it?” he asked, curtly.

“There are some who call me… Tim,” said a voice from the other side of the door.

“Come in, Longbottom,” Draco said, sighing in annoyance.

Neville opened the door, glancing around the room as he stepped inside.  At some point in the years since he and Draco had first boarded the Hogwarts Express, Neville had grown tall and handsome.  He was a bit gawky, but with an obvious strength in his wiry frame.  His eyes were bright and his smile was wide and he was utterly intolerable.

“Harry wanted to know if you had a minute,” Neville said.  He squinted at a statue in the corner -- a beautiful sculpture in gold of a fat-bodied cobra with numerous heads, coils piling up beneath it and a single broad hood loomed behind its heads.

“Fine,” said Draco, checking the wall-watch again.  He dropped the cover over the inkwell built into his desk and cleared the parchments to one side.  He included the fake dispatch among them.  He’d send it later.

Neville jerked a thumb in the direction of the statue.  “That’s new.”

“It’s from Thailand,” said Draco, turning to regard it.  “Not a real beast.  ‘Ananta Shesha,’ a fanciful notion of the Muggles… They say that it holds the entire world on its hood.”

Neville regarded it closely.  There were tiny scales pricked into its surface, and each tiny snake-head wore a delicate crown.  “So he’s trod down by everyone else, despite all his crowns?” he asked, lightly.

Draco ignored the jab for a moment.  He adjusted his robes as he walked around the desk, and he kept his voice mild as he replied, “One day, they say he will uncoil.”

Neville scowled as the Slytherin stepped past him and out into the corridor.  Draco turned to give him a level look, and spoke over his shoulder,  “And then, he’ll be all that’s left.”  Draco smiled coolly.  “Ananta Shesha: ‘that which remains.’ ”

Not his best work… but then, it was only Neville, who spent most of his day wallowing with Muggles and play-fighting with them.

Draco walked briskly down the corridor, past the Verge, and along the hallway squeezed between the Conjuration Conjunction and Extension Establishment, the latter filled with annoyed people snapping at each other irritably.  There had been serious malfunctions in the latest slicebox prototypes.  They were intended for the creation of a second pocket world, which would also be put into orbit out past the sky, but they’d been rupturing instead.  One researcher had nearly been killed by an accidental backlash that had bisected her at the waist.

He turned left, moving past the entrance to Material Methods, and then pushed open the door to the meeting room, striding on inside.  It’s important not just to look like you know what’s going on, but to appear to actually be in command of it, his father had used to say.

There were a few people in the meeting room with Harry.  A couple of aurors, Percy Weasley, and Cedric Diggory.  No Bones and no Mad-Eye… nothing about the Tower or politics or anything foreign.  Probably government...

He considered likely possibilities as quickly as possible as he nodded to those sitting at the table and walked over, past the aurors.

Was this about his mother?  No, they’d leave that alone, no matter what.  They knew better than to get between Draco and his family.  They knew he was a Malfoy above all.

Had one of his minions gotten out of hand?  Draco did an inventory of the likely suspects -- the lowbrow pawns who’d run most of Knockturn Alley.  Gem and his people were in Howard Prison for another three months… Laura Lock and Tallow Enser were still in hiding in Kent and unwilling to come out.  That left Jean-Luc Bigby and Mortimer Kainen.  They’d been kipps by trade six years ago, collecting loans and insurance.  Had they gone back to that and gotten picked up after hexing the wrong person?

Was this more personal?  Had they started getting information from Bellatrix, finally -- penetrating the unfathomable protection of her insanity?

“Hello, Harry,” Draco said, standing behind an empty seat.  He rested his hands on it.  He waited just a fraction of a second before turning to the other two, saying, “Diggory.  Weasley.”  A gentle reminder of the order of things.  “What are we on about this morning?”

“Just the usual, Malfoy,” said Cedric, with his customary badly-disguised air of scorn.  He’d had difficulty accepting the new reality in the Tower: Draco as ally and not defeated enemy.

Draco smiled a knowing smile, and pulled his chair out.  But he didn’t sit down, pausing.

There was something wrong.

Draco didn’t know what it was, but he knew there was something wrong.  He glanced from face to face, again.  He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he felt the disquiet in his guts.

What is it?  Is it Mother, after all?  No, Harry would tell me in private first, if that were it.  Was it a misunderstanding -- the uncovering of a “plot” to overthrow Harry, and it’s been misunderstood?

He could see it, now, all of a sudden, as they looked back at him.  It was their expressions.  Harry and Diggory and Weasley all seemed to have their attention somewhere else.  Not as though they weren’t paying attention or anything so obvious -- but rather, it was as though they were distracted by a noise or presence that he couldn’t see.  It was subtle… but then, Draco’s tutor in the social graces, Master DeCampo, had always said that manipulation was the most delicate dance of all.  These were three people struggling with their guilt.  He could see it.

Why do they feel guilty?

“I think --” Draco began, but he could already feel the presence of the aurors close behind him.

A wand jabbed into his back.

Draco smirked, despite the roiling of his stomach.  Did Harry seriously think I’ve never considered the possibility of betrayal?  “There are only three certainties: death, betrayal, and hag’s teeth.”  He’d personally made a portkey to his own office within the Tower.  Portkeys couldn’t take him outside the facility, but they could travel within its bounds -- to a prepared escape cache.

“This is a mistake, Potter,” he said.  He considered the appropriate bon mot to leave in his wake, and fixed Harry’s eyes with his own.  Harry looked conflicted, his face uncertain.  Uncommitted.  Ultimately, not enough will to carry this out.  Draco felt more confidence at the thought.  This might actually be a good thing.

A hand rested lightly on his shoulder from behind, from someone unseen.

Egeustimentis,” he heard.


After the necessary adjustments, they all sat down together.  The Master took Harry’s usual seat.  They began to discuss what seemed to be the next step.

“Trying to ambush Mad-Eye,” said Draco, shaking his head.  “It sounds almost like a… like something that is untrue by its very nature.”

“A contradiction in terms?” suggested Cedric.

“A paradox?” offered Harry.

Draco nodded at Harry.  “A paradox.  Like burning water.  Or a lucky elf.”  He shook his head.  “ ‘An ambushed Moody.’  Impossible.”

“Well, we’ve hit critical mass, I think,” said Harry.  “We have enough people to do it, but not so many people that we’ve been found out.  Most of the aurors on shift yesterday and during the night, and everyone on shift today -- and now Draco.  If we act now, we might even keep it from getting messy.”  He looked hopefully over at the Master.

“Yes,” Meldh said, nodding gently.  “The changes I have made are not… subtle.  The Lethe Touch takes centuries to master, but even my skill is not enough to disguise such a change in, ah, priorities, shall we say?”

Draco nodded in agreement, as well.  “I knew something was different when I walked into the meeting.  And there’s no sense in wasting an asset that might help the Master later.  You’re right, we should act immediately.”

Harry leaned forward, using one hand to brush the end of his ponytail back over his shoulder.  “Is there any risk the Lethe Touch will wear off?” he asked Meldh.  “If it has a time limit, we should make sure to set up a schedule -- maybe a system to keep an eye on each other.” He paused, thoughtfully, and wagged a finger at his Master.  “If we’re going to help you, you’re going to need to start telling us things about what you want and your assets.”

Meldh raised an eyebrow.  He leaned forward and folded his arms on the table in front of him.  He had a mild look on his face -- amused curiosity, as though he were looking at children.  “Oh?”

“Are you fishing for information, Harry?” asked Cedric, frowning suspiciously.

“Well, yes,” said Harry, contemplatively.  “It’s interesting.  I suppose I’d always assumed that mind magic like Imperius would come with an underlying change in personality and methodology.  Maybe I’ve been making comparisons to Muggle techniques that don’t serve -- things like brainwashing.  Instead, it’s more like Muggle politics than anything else… the dark side of rationality, where ideas don’t have inherent value, but only matter as… as... “ He made a gesture.  “As soldiers.  In politics, whether or not an idea or theory reflects reality is less important than whether it helps or hurts my team.”

Meldh’s face darkened.  He rose from his seat, slowly.  “How can you speak this way?  How have you defeated the Touch?”

Harry shook his head.  “It’s not what you think.  I serve you above all else, Master Meldh.  But you didn’t lobotomize me.  I’m capable of introspection -- I can recognize that the change to my priorities wasn’t predicated on rational assessment of the situation.”  He grinned, good-naturedly.  “More knowledge is better, even about yourself.  You’d be amazed how many times I’ve had to talk about this --”

Lecture about this,” Cedric put in, sighing.

“-- but it’s true,” Harry continued, unperturbed. “There’s no danger to knowing how your own mind works, including all of the biases that damage your ability to make rational decisions.  We’re incredibly biased towards acting according to your instructions, Master, and it wouldn’t serve you to pretend that’s not so.”

“It would be less creepy, Harry, if you would just make your peace with it,” said Draco, frowning.  “Accept that this is the way it is, and don’t overthink it.”

“No, no,” said Harry, quickly.  “That’s just it!  You’re conflating the idea of resisting the change in our minds with the idea of understanding it.”

“This is not useful,” said Meldh, quietly.  He’d become mild again, apparently accepting Harry’s explanation, and lowered himself back into his seat.  “We will finish planning, so that we eliminate all threats.  Then we will take the time to prepare our moves for the future… what pieces we keep and what pieces we sacrifice.  We will adjust our strategy, so we can move towards my chosen endgame -- not your madness of healing Muggles and throwing things into the sky.  Magic must have its end.”

Harry looked momentarily flummoxed, opening and closing his mouth a few times.  Draco smirked, watching.  Eventually, Harry found words again, frowning.  “Yes, sir.”  His frown became surprise, as though he’d intended to say something else.

Draco turned his attention back to the Master.  “Moody is due to come in today at some point for an intrusion attempt, since it’s an even-numbered day.  I suggest we prepare a fake repeater in the clinic, and ask him for help.”

“There have been a few people who have been unhappy with their rejuvenation who have tried to convince us to do the process again,” Cedric explained.  “It’s against policy, since it’s too time-consuming and it takes time away from others.  If a healer is rejuvenating someone for the second or third time, that means there’s someone else in actual need of rejuvenation who has to wait in suspension.  We had three French wizards who caused a problem about this, a couple of years ago, and backed up the queue so badly that several people came very near to dying.  We keep a sharp eye on répéteurs ever since.”

“Moody has prepared for this sort of thing,” said Harry.  “I know for a fact.  One of his jobs is to be paranoid about everyone.”  He stabbed a finger onto the surface of the table.  “Even me.”  He turned to Draco.  “One level won’t be enough.  We need levels and levels if we want to have any hope, here.”


Alastor Moody was waiting until just before midnight.  People got sloppy at night -- forgot to check their corners, lost track of everyone in the room, and other laxness.  He hadn’t done a night intrusion on the Tower in months.  By that time, they’d be wondering if he’d already managed to get in… they’d start double-checking the patients already in the clinic and verifying the identity of everyone in the halls.  Added to their fatigue, it might be the edge he needed to get to Harry and “assassinate” him.

He smiled to himself as he checked the Glenwallace Traps on the doorframes of his house.  This was going to be a fun one.

It helped that he was in a good body.  A tall and healthy man with a dark complexion and brown eyes -- nondescript but usefully vital.  There was a lot to be said for the usefulness of sheer physical health when it came to break-ins, although the stealth value of a small child or an obese man wasn’t to be shunned.

A small bell rang twice, and Moody frowned.  Owl in the hutch.  He checked the front door and the windows, and then went to the hutch.  It was carrying nothing but parchment, so he opened the swivel-door barrier and let the owl through, and plucked the message free.


It was signed by Malfoy.

A trick?  A trap?  Alastor knew where at least 75% of Malfoy’s little gang were, and they were almost all neutralized.  Assuming he could be wrong by as much as a fifth, and that Malfoy might have gotten leverage over some of the mid-level aurors -- maybe a Terminus on duty -- or maybe Malfoy himself had been suborned by a larger operation or a powerful individual, maybe the Three.  Or just an attempt to curry favor.  Or rather, more subtle: an attempt to appear as though he were currying favor, so as to be taking an obvious hopeless action in a safe way while putting forth another plan.

Might also be the Chinese or Americans, making a try now that they had their foot in the door.  He wouldn’t put it past that lousy little Hig, who was all helpful and sweet now that the Westphalians had what they wanted.

It was also just barely possible that there was no ulterior motive to the situation or message.  He chuckled out loud at the thought.

Alastor snatched some leaves of parchment from the writing desk near the hutch and wrote three terse messages in his crooked and crabbed hand, ordering a change in the shift commanders at the RCP and the Ministry, and sending a further letter to a cold-drop.  Unlikely Malfoy or anyone else could have sway enough to manage every single shift commander.  He sealed them with a hasty Verification Charm to match his wand, and sent them on their way.

He checked the Glenwallace Traps again, and the other Dark Detectors while he was at it.  Then Alastor pulled on his gear and checked it over.  He studied his appearance in the glass for a long moment, but he looked safely ordinary.

The safest way would be to Apparate to the Ministry and then take a secure Floo, but they’d be expecting that and it would, ironically, make him more identifiable.  No, as so often, the best way was the more direct and fastest.  A Safety Stick.


It had looked wrong, right from the start.

Alastor walked into the clinic from the Receiving Room to find a repeater, all right -- someone with the unblemished skin and youth of the rejuvenated.  He was arguing in the middle of the clinic with a healer, who was calmly trying to redirect the repeater back into a cubicle.

But there were also seven aurors.

There was not any reason for there to be seven aurors.  That was far too many.  The three on shift here would have been sufficient, and an additional one from the Receiving Room would have been an abundance of caution.  Sending four aurors in as reinforcement for a minor difficulty like this wasn’t just a waste of resources: it would actually cause the very problem that they tried to avoid when repeaters showed up.  Repeaters needed to be soothed, reassured, and sent on their way without a fuss.

Protocol was well-known.  More than that, it was just common sense.  And these weren’t new aurors to the Tower, either, he noticed.  They were old hands; people with experience, and no known ties to any other power that he knew.  But here they were, where they shouldn’t be, all standing in bunches.

Time to address the likelihood that this was a Malfoy trap for him (or a trap by someone else).

Alastor backed out of the clinic and turned to the auror standing farther down the corridor, the one he’d just passed.  “Pirrip!”

The idiot turned.  “Sir?”  He’d just cleared Alastor mere moments ago, exchanging passwords.

“Go tell Harry that there’s something very suspicious with the repeater in the clinic.  Then come back at speed.  Bring another hand with you -- someone with battle experience,” Alastor barked, sharply.  He waited just long enough to see Pirrip on the jump, then turned and strode back into the clinic.

But scarcely was he inside before he heard a scream.  He whirled to see that Pirrip hadn’t even made it out of sight down the corridor -- the young auror was down, thrashing on the ground.  Gutclench Curse or something similar.

Almost without thinking, Alastor sidestepped to the right, and without a pause charged into motion, out of the clinic.  Behind him, he could hear voices shouting and spells being cast.  Not all focused on him -- whatever this was, he still had allies.  He barely thought about his reactions as he raised the purplish light of Azarian Fire behind him, throwing himself to the side once he was clear of the doorway to the clinic.  The Fire erupted behind him with a rush of smoke, and he took the opportunity to crouch low and lean back around the doorway, snatching at the goblin-silver door just to one side.  A spray of Bertram Bolts sizzled through the air over his head as he hauled at the door, and it smoothly slid into place.

He needed to get to Harry.  Alastor took off at a dead run.

He didn’t pause over Pirrip, not even breaking stride as he sprinted down the corridor over the lad.  He spared a look to his right as he went past the entrance, but he could already see that the Receiving Room aurors had sent two of their number to assist him (traitors to stab him in the back?  No, Madagascar and Nimue hated each other, that hate was more reliable than most things) and so he could rely on the alert being raised.

Down past the Advancement Agency, still sprinting, plucking a potion from his belt with his free hand and dropping it behind him, Alastor cursed.  Whoever was behind this was causing chaos, but how could they think they’d win?  That they’d get control of the Tower -- they didn’t even know what the Tower really was, or what happened here.  Did they think to learn the “special webs” that made “Tower Transfiguration” possible here?  Had they figured out the Stone… were they just trying to steal that?  Alastor hoped that Harry had his wits about him, and that he’d put on one of the decoy gloves as soon as he was threatened.  The decoys each had a fragment of an ancient and ruined cup embedded in their palm, where the Stone went in the real glove -- if anything was stolen, let it be one of them.

But it was much worse than he thought.  Charging around the corner, taking the turn at a momentary crouch, wand raised, he saw that they’d already gotten to Harry oh Merlin oh no --

Harry was on the ground, and a knife was buried in his chest.  Blood was spreading around him.

-- check behind, nothing, run forward, call for help, two bringing up the rear to watch your back --

There was so much blood already, was the boy already dead?  His shoes were wrong.  He had to be saved, he had to be saved, there was no one who could take his place, not really.

-- move to the side, wand up, there’s someone Disillusioned, see the shimmer, no bother with removal, wide-angle attack, get down --

He dropped into a crouch again and raised his wand to Vom Tag, reaching out with his mind.  He focused his will into the necessary shape and pushed away from him the thought of a grandmother’s eyes and sparkling blue lights.  It was devilishly tricky to aim, but he just needed to get it out there and he felt with relief the rush of arctic wind as it swept in a torrent away from his fingers, ripe with cold.

He brought up more Azarian Fire in front of him almost in the same breath, but never took his eye off the corridor.  The blur of distortion that was his enemy made a movement, redirecting his attack.  A skillful turn.  Foolish to do it so well, they revealed too much about their style.  Possibly meant to tempt him into overconfidence.

-- no time for this, no time no time, use the arch you can make it secret again later like the last time --

Alastor whipped three rapid-fire curses at his opponent, buying a half-second to reach into his robes.  He felt the metal ring in its pocket, and snatched it free.  Lunging to the side, he snapped his wand forward, shouting a curse powerful enough that his own ears ached from the pressure of its passage.

And he hurled a metal ring at his enemy, urging it to work.  He needed it to work.  He needed it to save Harry.

The Arch of Ulak Unconquered, the most perfect prison ever devised, swelled impossibly as it sailed through the air.  Within moments it had ceased to be a thing of physical reality, and had become a force of nature, transforming from a slender metal ring into a burnished hoop the size of a man.

Alastor’s foe was fast: he had time to try two full spells as the Arch flew at him.  Both spells, a rush of wind and a blaze of fire, were swallowed by the Arch so thoroughly that they might never have existed.  The Arch was a thing unyielding and unknowable -- the last sanction of Alastor Moody, the reserve he retained against any betrayal.

And then the Arch dropped down, encircling the enemy, and then the enemy was gone.  There was only the empty metal hoop of the Arch resting on the stone, and Alastor brandishing his wand, and the aurors on his heels running in lockstep, and a dying Harry Potter-Evans-Verres.  Whose shoes were wrong.

Whose shoes were wrong.


There was only a moment between the realization and unconsciousness, but that moment was long enough for Alastor to understand.  A fake Harry meant a fake enemy, already in control of the Stone.  That meant a fake attack.  That meant a set-up in the clinic, assisted by the Receiving Room.  That meant no one raised the alarm.  That meant everyone was in on it.

Constant vigila


After Moody was theirs, the two aurors took away Kraeme’s body, still transfigured into the shape of Harry.  On Meldh’s instructions, they put it in the clinic for the moment, until arrangements could be made.  The Arch was more difficult.  Moody himself had to whisper arcane words to it before he could lift it, releasing Cedric from a prison so complete that the Head Auror had not even been aware of the passage of time.

Everyone took a moment to recover.

But only a moment.

“Now, then,” said Meldh, turning to Harry.  The Tower was blinking away tears, but with awkward shakes of his head that suggested he wasn’t aware of it.  “I believe now is an excellent time to visit a certain black box.   There is a threat we need to address… and I think on a more permanent basis than you are willing to do.”

Harry felt an ache within himself, but no conflict within his will.  The new arrangement of his mind carried him forward, as inexorably as a satellite sailing through space, and he nodded readily.

It was time to visit Voldemort.