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


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  2. Herpo the Foul and Perenelle Flamel. Two Immortals, plus some god of some sort. Well, Voldemort's Lore and Bellatrix are no loss whatsoever in Harry's Real Plans if he captures Herpo the Damn Foul to be a turbo-charged Voldemort.

    Herpo would be better than Salazar's Basilisk though possibly not better than Merlinus himself.

    Perenelle overlapping with Herpo and Voldemort makes her only enormously important instead of existentially so.

    Horcrux 3.0 is probably just around the corner.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Huh. Actually, Meldh just doesn't seem very smart. He realizes that Harry is resourceful, incredibly successful despite his young age, and doesn't think him having planned for this is a risk to take seriously? That's really stupid. Not to mention that his philosophy seems to have more than one hole in it.

    On a plausibility perspective, and on a meta perspective (since this is a story which a human has written), I don't think he'll end up the winner as this story concludes. Maybe the other two, but not him.

    (delete->reposted this to fix an error. didn't know deleting leaves a trace)

  5. I wonder if it is possible to kill Harry when he has a prophecy that hasn't come to pass yet. Voldemort worried he might not be able to kill Harry when Harry hadn't fulfilled the prophecy yet. Would the prophecy be fulfilled if someone uses Harry's ideas to tear apart the stars? I think Meldh should have thought of how Harry's prophecy hasn't been fulfilled and at least mentioned it to the other two.