06 February 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Compresence of Opposites

Significant Digits, Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Compresence of Opposites

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:1-5


The end came without notice or noise.

Auror Kwannon came in, waved Auror Kraeme over, and murmured something.  Kraeme nodded and left, and Kwannon took up position behind Harry in the meeting room.  He gave her a nod, but it didn’t merit comment -- it could be as simple as a bathroom break, and it happened all the time, and he trusted Kwannon just as much as Kraeme.

Harry went on with his meeting, talking with Luna and Umbridge about the next steps for the sfaironaut program.  Frustratingly, the biggest problem seemed to be conflict between their two sfaironauts, Basil Horton and Ron Weasley.  They were refusing to work together.  Luna wanted to sack them both from the program and find someone new; Umbridge was determinedly defending Horton, and thought only Weasley should be grounded.

After twenty minutes, they hadn’t reached a consensus.  “I’ll decide about this next week, after speaking to both of them,” Harry said, sighing.  He folded up the parchments in front of him, and swept them to one side.

“All right, Harry,” said Umbridge sweetly, turning to look at Luna with an obvious look of triumph.  She looked back at Harry as she got up from the table.  “You’ll see, once you speak to them.  The difference is striking -- a gawky boy versus an experienced man.”

“A lot of experience,” said Luna, cryptically, as she too stood up.  Umbridge blushed.  Harry sighed.

“Thank you,” he said, shaking his head.

“You’re due in the clinic?” Luna asked, as Umbridge left with a flounce.

“Not for an hour,” Harry said.  He leaned back in his chair.  “I’m going to do some reading, I think.  It’s been --”

“Mr. Potter?” came a voice at the door.  It was Kraeme, back again.

“Yes?” Harry asked, glancing over.  He’d been planning to go chat with Professor Quirrell, bringing the captive-in-a-box some more books on tape.  He’d been able to make more time for that lately.  It was good to have those sorts of conversations again -- ones where he didn’t have to hold back or go slowly -- and he’d be irritated if some nonsense emergency got in the way of that today.  It was always some prankster students hoping for his favour, or a small-time warlord testing the Tower’s defenses.

“You’re needed in Material Methods, sir.  One of the goblins showed up, finally, and he wants to speak to you about what’s been happening with them,” said Kraeme.  She looked mildly concerned, which was unusual.

“Fine,” said Harry.  “I’ll be glad to know what’s going on in Ackle, that we’ve gotten to this point.  I don’t need a group of angry and sullen Beings… we already have the centaurs for that.”

“Good luck, Harry,” Luna said, heading out the door ahead of him.  “Try to get them back… we need them.”

“Of course, Luna,” Harry said, parting ways with her.  He walked down the hall.

As he rounded the corner, though, he was surprised to find a stranger standing there, flanked by several healers from the clinic and six or seven aurors.  Umbridge was also standing next to the man, smiling.

“Wha --” said Harry, but the man had already darted forward.  Harry jerked back, instinctively.  Almost as quickly, he shoved one hand into the opposite sleeve to snatch out his wand.  But the man’s hand was fast, and it touched his wrist, and it was too late.

Egeustimentis,” said the man.


Harry Potter-Evans-Verres existed.  This was true.  And there was more of him, elsewhere and here.  So much of his being was held back from him, excluded into another place, even as the entirety of his mind was laid out before him and subject to the careful touch of his enemy.

He watched, and felt nothing but idle curiosity.

Harry’s mind was laid out in front of him.  It shifted from shape to shape in the way of something in a dream, somehow without ever changing while at the same time being in constant flux.  He could see hormonal drives, deep impulses, passing memories, flighty sensations, and everything else that made up his cognition, but that knowledge was far from him.  He could even see a rigidity that stiffened its way through parts of his mind, a visible Unbreakable Vow that kept his thoughts from ever taking certain shapes… but that sight meant nothing to him.  Harry was a speck, a fragment, a mote of consciousness.

A man was there -- the man who had touched Harry.  His enemy.  Harry knew that, somewhere and somehow far away.  But it didn’t matter.  With the flicker of self left to him, Harry observed.

“Hello there, Mr. Potter.  You look older than the last time I was able to watch you,” said the man.  He was of middling height and uncertain ethnicity, with dark skin but an Asian cast to his features.  He wore robes of extraordinary simplicity and extraordinary quality.  His hair was thinning on top.  His eyes were brown, and calm.

“I am Meldh,” the man said.  “Or so you can call me.  It is an old word of my youth.”

Harry absorbed this information, and felt it pass through his consciousness, out into the larger part of his mind, where it met with a shiver of doubt.  Only a sliver of Harry was aware, though, and it had no room for such complexities as reaction or speech.

“You are safe, Mr. Potter.  I am not going to kill you.  When we are done, you will be changed, but you will be alive.  Do not try to resist.  There is no method available to you that would allow you to resist the Lethe Touch.  Your Occlumency is a child’s toy, more suitable for games than protection.  Nor would it be well for the world for you to try to resist… believe me when I say that it is for the good of that world that I act,” said Meldh.  “Magic must perish, if life is to survive.  This is the legacy of Atlantis.  This is the legacy of the Prince of Enchanters, Merlin.  For years beyond counting, I and others have preserved that legacy.  We have moved our pieces as we could, and watched magic fade.”

Meldh stepped out through Harry’s mind, shifting gently to shoulder his way past rippling curtains of curds that reeked of whiteness.  “You are unpredictable and strange, Mr. Potter, so I have left you little of your wakefulness.  Who knows what unconventional preparations you might have laid up in your mind, hidden away from our scrying in your Mirror-bound Tower?  I take no risks.  For now, though, this means we cannot have a conversation.  I apologize for that.”

He slid his fingers into a white ripple, and parted it.  He looked curiously at the parting.  “So many unusual ideas... “  He smiled.  “Here we are.  Ah, ah, ah... prophecies are at work?  ‘Only by seeking the scorpion and the archer, locked beyond return, shall the crux succeed.  By this path shall death be defeated for the banished father.’  And what does that… ah, I see.”

Meldh plucked at a grey burr, and lifted it up for inspection.  It drew a tangle of its fellows along, like a springy mat of thorns.  Meldh examined the section of burrs.  His face changed from curiosity to surprise, as though he’d understood something.

“A clever use of the Spirit Stone, if you have deduced the answer correctly.  I admit that this is… clever.  Genius, even, considering the way in which you obtained the Stone from our pawn.”  He shook his head, chuckling.  “It is fortunate indeed that I came here, if this was your plan.  ‘Defeat death’...?  What would such an event look like?  If you spent even a moment thinking of alternate outcomes or possible interpretations, you would turn away in horror and take your own life.  You decided your preferred meaning, and seized it.”  A pause, as he plucked at nearby bristles and burrs, contemplatively.  “Your guilt drives you to these lengths, not your good sense.”

Meldh dropped the vinegar-smelling lights in his hands, allowing them to settle back into a glowing three-dimensional web that rippled with pulses of energy.  There had been no transition from fibrous thorn-tangle to web of lights, and somehow both were still true.  Meldh traced a handful of the web’s strands, an acid tang accompanying every pulse of light under his careful fingers, until he reached a bright node.

“Other prophecies… a boy fated to bring down a great house, but that is no matter.  This Lawrence boy might just as well fulfill his part by causing the destruction of some noble manor, rather than any great shift in your little political game.  Your attempts to change his attitude were a waste of time.

“Ah, here here here…” Meldh said, snatching at a bony protuberance, pulling at it until it stretched like yellowed taffy.  It distended from the great knobby mass of bone, and it seemed to impart meaning to the wizard as he worked it with his fingers.

Harry watched from some other place, both here and there.  His world was constrained to the moment, as though he were a brute animal.  It was shallow and wonderful.

“Yes,” he said, “you are the child who will ‘tear apart the very stars in heaven.’  And if that is indeed you, then you will also ‘rend asunder the fires of the sky’ or ‘tear open the eyes of heaven’ and other such phrasings.  A nexus of prophecy, all surely referring to one child and one decision.  Unmistakable, even to Nell’s toppled queen, Dumbledore.

“I suppose you can’t be blamed.  You have done your best, your very best, with what you had and what you knew.  You are master of the world -- or at least, you could be master, with a flick of your wrist to bring your opponents into mate.  Or near enough to make no matter,” Meldh paused for a moment.  “Few enough have ever been able to make that boast.  Perhaps only Merlin.  But your goals have been misguided, even foolish, and you have not made the most of your opportunities.  For years now, you have had access to some of the deepest lore.  But you have wasted your time on frivolities -- ‘lifeboats from Earth,’ honestly?”

The wizard shook his head, chuckling.  He walked to a new place along the outside of the bony mass, and touched a polished knob that stuck out prominently.  “Combining the Muggle and magical is not a new thing, despite your arrogance.  What has it given you, besides trinkets up high in the air?  Let us see.”

He pushed the knob aside and scooped his hand into the surface of the bone, distending it as he forced his fingers deeper inside.  He drew out a thick handful of whiteish bone, sculpted out in a column by his careful but insistent hand.

“What is this?”  He examined the thoughts.  “Some mawkish combination of old philosophy and new ‘science’ and something Merlin once said?  Well, all that is…”

There was a heavy pause, a pause as weighty as iron, as Meldh’s voice died.  He looked stunned by what he’d found.  He took a step back, and then he threw up his hands, his face reddening, snapping, “You realized this, and you discarded the idea?!”

Harry, a mote of pleasant consciousness, observed this anger with distant interest.  He could see changes in the whispering rattle of long serrated teeth moving in the immense jaw that now represented his mind;  Meldh held one long incisor, but others were moving in a swirl up and down, revealing in some unimaginable fashion that a part of Harry was upset.  The mote that was Harry saw himself struggling mightily, and finding no purchase.

“You even believe that you want to keep everyone alive, and I could have credited your good intentions.  But you do not even seem to understand the contradiction in the fact that you’re willing to sacrifice human lives out of fear of some insanity that will happen in --” Meldh paused and swiped at the large incisor’s surface, scrutinizing it.  “-- a ‘googol’ of years.  It’s stupidity of the highest order, and it shows why you are such a threat.”

Meldh swept his hand forward, seeming to let release his anger at the same time that he released the enormous tooth in his hand, letting it slide from his grip and settle back into its rattling place.  He sighed.  “The implications of this… even beyond the practical benefits… ah, but you know so little, ultimately.  An idiot genius, placing his pieces on the board with a fool’s luck.  And how much corruption here, spreading through you like a rot!  Tom Riddle within you and Tom Riddle without you, and you becoming more like both.”

He shook his head, and placed his hands on his hips, looking down at the gobbets of thick fat that hung in the air all around him.  “It is good that I came, though I was afraid.  Not only will I stop you from your foolishness, you provide me here with new knowledge a thousandfold beyond what I ever could have hoped.  I can find no metaphor from the game of kings… suffice to say that your mad insight will raise me beyond where even centuries of effort has brought me.”

The fraction of Harry that was awake, the mild observer, saw motion within itself.  A planned uprising of mental discipline -- the buried power of years of practice at introspection and systematic thought.  He couldn’t touch it, and knew it not, but he could observe it.

He had been a creature of the mind for so long.  Heuristics and biases, Occlumency and Vows.  He was not ancient and was not powerful, but he was a creature of the mind.  He was the master of his mind, and no one else.

That distant mind swelled in shudders, setting the constellation of grease into a rhythm.  It pulsed and built to a crescendo, striving mightily to take possession of itself.  A powerful tremble ran through his entire mind.

Harry and Meldh observed, calmly.

His mind subsided.  It became quiet.  It conceded.

“First,” Meldh said, reaching out to guide two droplets of fat into each other, “we must make some changes.  Your Unbreakable Vow might have saved us all before now -- it is truly unbreakable, even for me -- and we must be grateful for Tom Riddle’s foresight, but it will be all the better when you are wholly mine, instead.”

Harry Potter-Evans-Verres observed his master, and felt nothing but idle curiosity.


  1. This is my third time through, and I'm wondering if you had specific things in mind exert time Meldh comes across a new idea in Harry's head.

    If so, I would love to hear Harry's thoughts.

  2. This is a very plausible turn of events.

    It's also likely that Harry has prepared for the possibility of himself being taken over.

    And it's not clear, I think, who of them is more correct.

    Ultimately though, the idea of letting magic fade to prevent the end of the world has a glaring flaw, which is that muggle technology is ultimately the more powerful and more dangerous thing of both. The question isn't whether the benefits of magic outweigh its existential risk, the question is whether the path of magic + technology or the path of just technology is more likely to lead to a positive singularity. Well, unless this Meldh character thinks they can control technology, too. But their reasoning so far, at least, is lacking.

  3. What is the thing that might happen in a googol years that Meldh thinks Harry would kill humans for to prevent?
    The heat death of the universe? Most sources I've found online put this below a trillion years.

    1. Looks like evaporation of black holes is expected in around a googol years, so that would be the end of any future civilization farming those black holes.