20 May 2016

Significant Digits, Analysis and Thanks


Significant Digits, Analysis and Thanks

I really enjoyed Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.  HPMOR excelled in its characterization, its intricate plot, its careful phrasing and riddles, and in its use of dramatic tension and catharsis.  I loved the way it took aspects of the original Harry Potter and extrapolated them out into a world and timeline, using reasonably pessimistic expectations to establish a small set of premises and then draw the logical conclusion.

Some of the scenes I found particularly affecting were the following:
  • Chapter six, where Harry talks about a childhood trauma when he felt unsafe, and we can feel that the author has shown us something very real and raw to him;
  • Chapter sixteen, when Harry has his first Battle Magic class and virtually the whole of the story is set in motion in a compact and subtle way;
  • Chapter forty-five, when the first Patronus 2.0 is cast and we read Harry’s mental cri de cœur; and
  • Chapter eighty-one, the courtroom scene in which we learn everything we ever need to know about the awesome majesty of Minerva McGonagall.
When I set out to write Significant Digits, I tried to honor everything I enjoyed and admired about HPMOR.  The result is bound to be unsatisfactory for some people, because not everyone was fascinated by those same elements.  Further, I was very specifically not trying to mimic the original story.  To imitate another author’s voice and recreate their patterns over an entire work would be very difficult and not very fun, and I had no taste for the attempt.

I wanted to write a story about a changing world -- the whole world -- as all the ambitions of the characters played out and met their difficulties.  I wanted to write a story about the realization of the rationalism and humanism to which Harry aspired.  I wanted to write a story about extravagance: extravagant planning with layered redundancies, extravagant characters whose passion led them to discard the literal and logical conclusions of their own beliefs in favor of still-greater pursuits, and extravagant events befitting the process of optimizing the world.

I wanted Significant Digits to answer some of the questions that had lingered with me.  These were big questions, and even in three hundred thousand words, I couldn’t completely answer all of them -- but I did answer some.  What was it like in the larger world of Harry Potter, outside the confines of the school?  How would magic and magical races have shaped history and the hidden events behind them (ignoring the well-meaning but utterly insane history of canon)?  How could the continued existence of this world be explained, given the elements we knew to be present?

Lastly, of course, I sought to tell a story with interesting characters and events that follow a rationally-unfolding plot, both at simple levels and in intricate mental leaps.  There were many twists that everyone solved, some that only a few grasped, and a few that no one at all predicted.  This has been an amazingly intelligent and creative group, and it was a considerable challenge to find the right balance.  Congratulations are due to those individuals who guessed some of the biggest twists and puzzles, most particularly Reddit user /u/psinig, who identified the Second of the Three.

In some respects, I have succeeded.  In others, I have failed.  I was certainly overly ambitious, and should have given myself twice as long and twice as many words.  These limitations cramped plot development, curtailed events, and required me to rely on implications in some regards.  But I do believe that I accomplished much of what I wanted to create, and that I have done one more thing besides: left room for others.  There are other stories to be told.  I’ll write some of them, but others have begun their own: Orders of Magnitude is a prequel that’s already begun.

There’s a whole big world to play in.

There’s a lot I would change now, even though I’m pretty happy with the story.  It’s my first work of this length, and my first work of serial fiction, and naturally there are all kinds of changes I would make in hindsight.  I became a better writer over the course of this past year, and a more critical thinker.  I should probably have cut back on some of the secondary storylines, in retrospect, since I didn’t have time or room to do them justice.

There is one chapter, though, that I would not change and that I am utterly happy with -- a chapter in which I did every little thing I wanted to do, and yet somehow arrived at something that was even more than the sum of all those parts.  Chapter Fourteen, Azkaban, is everything for which I have aimed, and will continue to aim in my fiction.  I can recommend that chapter to you, at the least, with a full and proud and happy heart.

As for the rest, that’s for you to decide.

Gratitude is due to many people.

Writing the story would have been quite literally impossible if it weren’t for the extraordinary efforts of 4t0m, go_on_without_me, pa55word, and a final editor who wishes to go unnamed.  Their tireless willingness to sweat the small stuff despite unreasonably short deadlines, challenge poor phrasing or poor ideas, and cheer on our joint successes was extraordinary.  This was their story and their accomplishment, too.  Thank you all.

Readers and commenters have provided an enormous amount of support and constructive criticism, both of which have helped me improve as the story continued.  I have been writing for a long time, but this is the first thing that’s ever gotten this kind of response, and a large part of that was that the community of HPMOR fans is so creative and clever and kind.  Amazing individuals improved my website, fixed up the subreddit, donated a laptop when I complained about a green tint on my screen (!), and put together PDF and EPUB versions of the text.  Thank you all.

Generous patrons on Patreon provided a real reason to keep going when things were hard.  While I frequently remind people to consider their priorities before donating to a writer, it’s also true that money is the unit of caring.  Patronage provided a message of support and very real assistance that could not be explained away as courtesy or indifferent politeness.  Thank you all.

Eliezer Yudkowksy wrote something genuinely new and good, and inspired legions.  And I certainly wouldn’t have begun the story at all if it hadn’t been for his gentle encouragement and reception when I first posted a snapshot of my ideas.  Thank you.

Nothing would have been possible, or worthwhile, if it hadn’t been for my wife Lizzie.  She walked with me in the woods while I talked about ideas.  She proofread all the early chapters.  She took the cover picture.  I know that there is some ineluctable grace in this world, because I know her.  Thank you.

My next story will be the The Consolation of Conquest.  It will begin in about a month, and updates will come at a more reasonable fortnightly basis.  Please subscribe to my mailing list or RSS feed or subreddit to receive updates.

Thank you.


16 May 2016

Significant Digits, Epilogue

Significant Digits, Epilogue

ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος·


The Tower
June 1st, 1999
Three weeks later

Hermione gave herself a moment to look around the room, moving from face to face.  So few familiar faces: Percy Weasley, Amelia Bones, and Dolores Umbridge.  Percy was smiling confidently on her left, while Amelia and Dolores were engaged in whispered conversations with their neighbors.

Many more of those present were relatively new, either to her or to the Tower.  He Jin of the Court of Rubies.  Per Aavik-Söderlundh-Ellingsen, on mission for the nobility of Europe.  And others: a Westphalian appointed by Hig, who was now unchallenged in his dominance over the surviving rump of the Council; several wizards and witches from various strata of the Confederation, chosen as representatives-at-large; a goblin who was present in the same capacity, nominally representing Beings; a domovoi of Russia sent by the Thunderer on behalf of the Slavic tradition; and wizards from Nigeria, Dunedin, and Chile.

It was almost a parody of oligarchy, with stronger states and Things trying to cement their local power.  The small nods towards democracy would have been pathetic if they hadn’t actually represented progress.

Every little step is important, but there’s still so much work to do, thought Hermione.  Proportional regional representation for wizards; similar representation for Beings and some sort of system for Muggles; a federal system to incorporate adversarial interests; strong backing for select NGOs for science and healing... and so much more.  She could almost see the future stretching out ahead of her, in all of its strangeness and complexity.

It might have been disheartening if Hermione hadn’t been so eager to get started.  There were so many lives to save, and she was in a position to help without a minute of delay.  She smiled.  Not one more minute.

All right, then.  Time to do a little dance.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming,” said Percy.  “You should all have an itinerary, but I have extras if you need them.  If you don’t mind, we’ll begin with introductions, and then we’ll lay out our current status and our future plans.”

“There is much we need to do,” broke in Per, ignoring the orderly start of the meeting and the offered itinerary, his face haggard and serious with urgency.  Percy looked mildly annoyed.  “We must begin immediately to work on our defenses.  The Muggles and the monsters and the other things… we must plan for their control.”

He Jin cut in after the Norden diplomat, leaning forward and pointing out in calm and clipped words that the strange blurry monsters with fishlike eyes had been spotted in Ulan Bator a day ago, and there was no telling where they might go next.

The Westphalian agreed, nodding along with the mandarin and adding, “Our resources are a fraction of what they were, and it’s taking everything we have simply to maintain the Statute of Secrecy.  And that’s not even mentioning the villains behind it all -- the ones Reg called the ‘Three.’ 

“Yes,” said Hermione, rising up from her seat slightly.  The others quieted, and attention focused on her.  “You are all absolutely right,” she said, and she put force behind her words: cold steel.  She pressed her lips tightly together, then gave a small nod, as though in confirmation of some inner resolution.

“Our current situation has become untenable,” she continued.  “If another attack arrived, we’d be wiped out.  There is one member of the Three at large, assuming we have not fallen prey to misinformation in that regard -- I can imagine a clever group adopting a misleading name -- as well as a small army of Unseelie and many other threats.  Even with the help of new allies,” and she nodded to the Curdite who was there on behalf of the goblins and other Beings, “we have barely been able to hold things together.  Thousands and thousands of people and goblins lost their lives on Götterdämmerung, and we are vulnerable as never before.”

“Then now is the time to take hold of the Muggles, as our enemy did, and as we once did in old times,” said the Russian domovoi.  “We must command their numbers for our own.”  The New Zealand representative nodded her head, vigorously.

“Yes,” agreed Hermione once more.  Amelia and Dolores ended their hushed conversation, turning to look at her with shock and disbelief, and even Percy turned to stare at her.  “I know that for many of you, this will be unimaginable, but I agree: it’s the only way.  The world has changed, and all of us have seen things happen that we never could have believed.”


At the same time.

Limpel Tineagar’s face had been frozen into an unpleasant expression of dismay and pain.  Reg Hig was reminded of the stories of how the Eleusinian Mysteries had punished its enemies, petrifying them into living statues and then enchanting their limbs so that they could be adjusted into humiliating positions.  It seemed petty to today’s scholars of history, but its effectiveness couldn’t be discounted -- the Mysteries had maintained their hegemony over all of the Mediterranean for generations.

Not that they could do much, here, he thought, looking at Tineagar’s maimed body, floating in the air in front of him, stunned stiff.  One arm cut away at the shoulder, the other at the elbow.  He’d heard that Amelia Bones had done this, in the last moments of a fight on Hogwarts’ roof.  He wondered if it had been punitive, necessary, or simply an accident of victory.  Bones is not a cruel witch, but a new Eleusinian Mysteries has arisen.  I can’t ignore the implications of that, even if I am a part of it.

That last thought was some comfort, at least, he thought as he looked at the broken body of the betrayer, floating along at his wand’s command.  The great merchants and old families of Tidewater had been murdered, wiped out of life as thoroughly as if they’d never existed, but those Americans that were left would be an equal part of the new world.  When the Council of Westphalia rose again -- and that Thing would rise again, even if Hig had to spend the rest of his life rebuilding its ranks and its strength -- the Americas would no longer be in the shadows, jockeying for leverage within the Confederation.

“Councilor Hig, sir,” called a voice, and Hig looked up, returning from his reverie.  It was the head of the DMLE, young Diggory, and four others.  One was an auror that Hig recognized, but not the rest… they looked nervous and unsettled.  Ranks were thin all over, and Hig supposed these must be new recruits or patrol-wizards pressed into more heady service than that to which they were used.

“Director Diggory, hello,” said Hig.

“Hullo,” said Diggory.  The young man looked haggard, but somehow that made him look even taller and more handsome.  His expression was solemn, perhaps due to their surroundings.  The atrium of the British Ministry of Magic still bore scars and ragged wounds on every wall and surface.  The basics had been put back in order, but it would be a long time before the cosmetic damage could be repaired -- and even longer before the memories would fade.  Hig thought of Tidewater again, and shuddered.

“Here is my delivery,” said Hig, gesturing with his wand.  Tineagar’s body floated between them gently, as though wafted by the wind.  “Good riddance.  Have your people strip her mind, and if there’s anything left when you’re done, tell her that her home is gone.”

Diggory didn’t reply, watching Hig with a sad expression.  He gestured to one of the witches with him, and she cast her own levitation spell on Tineagar, taking over from Hig.

“I’ll be headed back later tonight,” Hig said, “after taking some time to try to get together some people.”

“Checking up on friends?”  Diggory asked, as he stared down at the frozen face of Tineagar.

“No,” Hig said, shaking his head.  “There are some expats of the Americas here in Britain.  From all over… Chile, Brazil, the States, Canada, et cetera.  I’m going to touch base with a few of them and see if they’d be amenable to coming home.”

“Make sense.  I’m sorry about what happened.”

“It could have been worse,” Hig said.  “Salem escaped without a scratch on a single student, thanks to the goblins and centaurs, and Houston and Buenos Aires only lost a handful.  And we’ll rebuild.  Everyone, everywhere, needs to rebuild.”  He gestured broadly around the atrium, as though to illustrate his point.

“We’ll be here to help.”

“Thank you,” Hig said, and sighed.  He shook his head.  “Sorry, it’s too easy to be gloomy, these days.  All is well with you?”

“As well as can be expected,” Diggory said, nodding.  “I lost some friends and a cousin, but everyone lost someone.  It’s been too busy to really think about it.”

“Make sure you make time for yourself -- to keep a clear head,” Hig offered.  “In fact, maybe you want to have dinner tonight?  Take your mind off things?”

“Actually,” said Diggory, a bit sheepishly.  “I have an engagement tonight.”

“I heard rumors about a long-sought romance.  I suppose sometimes persistence pays off, eh?” said Hig, smiling gently.  A signal to the young man: levity is okay, even now with what happened in Tidewater, I won’t be offended.

Diggory shrugged.  “What can I say?” he asked.  “We’ve all been through so much, and sometimes a person comes out the other side a bit… well, bolder, I guess.  It’ll be new and probably fun, and worth giving it a chance, and anyway…”

And Diggory glanced with a smile over at the group that had accompanied him, where Pip was standing guard.  “he did save my life.”

Pip noticed their attention.  He smiled hugely and gave them a little wave.  Then he returned to his work, straightening himself up and returning his attention to Tineagar… though she was hardly in a position to escape, even if she were somehow to wake, and though it didn’t seem as though any amount of dutifulness could erase the smile that was plastered on his face.

“Well then,” said Hig, and now his smile was rather more genuine.  “I hope you have a good evening.  I’m sure I’ll see you soon, Master Diggory.  Let’s hope for the best of luck -- in all our new beginnings.”

When Reg Hig left the Ministry of Magic, he found himself oddly optimistic.  Despite all of his common sense and despite everything he knew of history… he let himself believe that things might get brighter.  Things might get better.

Isn’t it pretty to think so.


”Muggles are an existential threat,” Hermione said, firmly, looking around at everyone at the meeting table.  It was a new piece of furniture, without the scuffs and broken edge from Hermione’s demonstrations of anger three months ago.  New like everything else in this new Tower.  “Götterdämmerung showed that to everyone, even skeptics.  Harry had some strong beliefs on this, as you know, but I think we need a new plan.  The Statute of Secrecy made us vulnerable, since it encouraged us to separate ourselves and gather together into little enclaves.  There was a time when wizards and witches lived among Muggles, usually ruling them, and it would have been impossible to try any sort of magical genocide.  We need that protection again -- the protection of Muggles.”

“Madame Granger,” said Amelia, and her voice was harsh.  “I am surprised to hear this from you.  You used to moderate Mr. Potter’s approach, but now you sound more extreme than he ever did.  What is your idea -- that we attempt to seize control?  It’s not even practical, even if it weren’t a gross departure from our ideals.  We are so few… do you imagine we could dominate the Muggles when they have as many cities as we have people?”

“We have been intervening strategically for years,” said Hermione, coolly, standing up.  “On a small scale, even a handful of wizards can effect incredibly quick change at a minimum of risk.”

“I hardly think a few Hit Wizard squads are good evidence,” objected Dolores.  “And you know what they’re like.”


At the same time.

“This seems like the perfect moment for sniping,” said Neville, in a hopeful whisper.  He scrunched himself forward enough to see over the rim of a huge spool of copper wire that was currently hiding him from sight, then ducked back down.  “Yes, sniping it is.  For sure.”

“If we did that, then --” said Fred, cocking his head to the side.

“-- wouldn’t he be dead?” said George, cocking his head to the other side.

“No, I just need to snipe the gun out of his hand,” said Neville.  “That can be healed.”

“Then there would be the blastbomb only to explode, I think,” said Bogdanova, peering around the corner for a moment.  She pulled her head back and turned to Neville with a mocking smile.  “Which means all of our problems here would be gone very shortly... yes, you have convinced me.”

“I can snipe his other hand, too,” offered Neville.  “Then he can’t blow up the bomb.”

“This might be one of those situations that can’t be solved with sniper rifles,” mused George, contemplatively.

“Although now that we say that out loud, it just sounds silly,” contemplated Fred, musingly.

“We can use the Extinguishing Charm on the bomb.  That will stop any detonation,” said Neville.  “Then the sniping.”

“Snipe the hostages, as a distraction?” suggested Bogdanova.  Her appearance may have changed with rejuvenation, but her attitude certainly hadn’t been affected.

“Enchanted bullets, that’s the ticket,” said Fred.

“Zip around to both hands, whammo, knock him back and to the left,” agreed George.

Neville turned to squint at George suspiciously, but the Weasley twin only smiled serenely.  Neville sighed, and crossed his arms with a scowl.  “Fine, fine… the same as always, then.”

“Don’t worry, Nev,” said George, consolingly.  “You’ll get your chance, someday.”

“There will be another time the world is about to end, and then you’ll just nip in and snipe the arch-villain just in time to save everyone,” said Fred, nodding.

“Happens all the time,” said George.

“Definitely not a unique opportunity for awesomeness,” said Fred.

The twins were grinning, now.  They reached across to each other, and each tapped the other on the head.  With the sound of a cracking egg, they vanished into Disillusionment.

Bogdanova waited a second, then leaned around and tugged on Neville’s earlobe, affectionately.  “They’re not wrong, you know,” she said, her tone softening.  “Who knows what may happen?  Think about other things of that day.”

“I know,” Neville said, sighing again as Bogdanova lifted her wand and tapped herself on the head, vanishing from sight with a wet crackling noise.  “And I’m grateful, of course.  But still… the sniping…” he said plaintively.

“Oh, come on,” the invisible Russian witch said, and her voice was fond.  “Let us go.  There’s a girl in the pond that needs rescuing.”

Neville grinned, and Disillusioned himself.


“This is good,” said the domovoi, who obviously approved of the plan.  Several others joined him in that attitude.  Per, Percy, and Dolores looked doubtful.  Amelia looked hostile.  The others seemed to have reserved judgment.

He Jin cleared his throat, delicately, and asked Hermione what she was proposing.

The fast reverse.

“We have already seen the success of making our rivals into our allies,” said Hermione, gesturing at the Curdish envoy.  “So we need to do the same with the Muggles.  We need to turn a threat into an asset… potentially the biggest asset we could ever have.  We need to eliminate the Statute of Secrecy and present ourselves to the world as a magical people.  It’s a risk, and we’ll need to be careful, but remaining isolated has proven even riskier.”

Nearly everyone seemed confused by what she was proposing, except for Amelia.  Her expression softened, and displeasure was supplanted by surprise.  “You’re not proposing mastery at all.  You’re proposing the modus meli.”

“Open and free, and as equal as we can manage,” confirmed Hermione.  “Not hiding from them, not ruling them, but living with them.”

Per spoke up, cautiously.  “If you will excuse me, that seems to be an idea with a very interesting goal, but one with too many problems.  It is impossible.”

“There are so many problems that it’s staggering,” Hermione allowed.  “Every Muggle government will see magic as a weapon, so there will be a risk of global warfare -- in addition to the constant threat of kidnapping or blackmail.  There are also different aspects of magic that are incredibly dangerous to the untrained, but any Obliviator can tell you how hard it is to completely eliminate information from a Muggle population… which is why nearly every aspect of our magical world can be found approximated in folklore and legends, even today.  And of course, there’s every possibility we’d face a return to the days of witch-hunts and inquisitions… especially after recent events.”

“But you believe you have a solution,” Amelia said, quietly, speaking over the murmurs of the others.

“It is possible that the Mirror of Noitilov can be used to alter the terms under which our world operates,” said Hermione.  “It is also possible that the Goblet of Fire can be used to bind people without their conscious knowledge, if it will recognize a proxy in terms of political representatives.  It is also possible that some of the new spells we will acquire from our two captive members of the Three -- or even one of the ones we already possess -- could be used once we have mastered them to manipulate even a global population.  But we may not need to resort to any of these, if we devote ourselves as one to this goal and find different solutions.  There are many others, including mundane strategies like wand control.  There were only one hundred and twelve wandmakers worldwide a month ago, and there must be many fewer now.  We kept the entire world in an imperfect ignorance for centuries -- surely if we really try, we can manage a transition without too much damage.”

Percy was staring at her, eyes wide.  He’d realized what she was saying -- her true message -- before anyone else.  But he didn’t seem angry.  He seemed awed.

“It might be hard,” Hermione added.  “But sometimes the hardest things -- the things that seem the most impossible -- are the things that most need to be done.  The first step to finding a solution is rejecting the idea of impossibility.  Then you just take the first, hard, scary step.”


At the same time.

Nikitas Seyhan knocked gingerly on the door to the cottage at Külek Boğazı.  There was no answer.  Nikitas frowned and turned around, glancing behind himself to where Tonks, Jessie, and Urg were watching.  Tonks smiled and nodded, miming a knock.  Nikitas turned back around and knocked a second time, more loudly.  He knew he should be nervous, but really only felt a distant discomfort.  

“Hello?” said a voice in the local Greek.  The door cracked open, slowly.

“Is this the Seyhan house?” said Nikitas, in the same tongue.  He felt like he was in a dream.

The door swung open, and a big bluff man stood there.  He was bearded and florid, and his eyes were wide.

“Nikitas?  You’ve come back to us?”


Dolores said something first, in a syrupy voice that was unusually quiet.  “Ms. Granger… the Mirror, and the Goblet, and the new spell… aren’t these all things you could have already done?  Couldn’t you have… Did you?”

He Jin was out of his seat, glaring at Hermione as though his eyes were capable of murder under their own power.  The Westphalian had gone pale.  Per was looking rapidly around him, not having yet understood but too afraid to ask.

Hermione stood and stepped away from the table, and walked to the room’s window.  Dramatic pose at the window, put my silhouette against the sky.  Like so.  She looked out and down, at the clouds rolling beneath the Tower as the building lightly floated along, borne up by the salvaged Aa-Khem of the Shafiq.  The scarab statues had been recovered from the wreckage of The Declaration of Intent.  The new Tower, still only a fragment of its future self, was buoyed up in the sky: unassailable, invisible, and puissant.

The people in this room represented enough power and influence to sway the Confederation.  They’d fought a global war together, and now faced new challenges and a new world.  They’d been forged out of a disparate and violent assemblage of fractious Things, and could now be united.

Fear could do it.  She could threaten most of them.  They might seek her death and plot against her, but they’d obey.  She knew that Draco would do it that way, if he were in her position.  A cold and intimidating speech, leveraging all his power and influence, and enlisting the weak as his enforcers.

Persuasion could do it.  She could convince most of them.  They wouldn’t be wholly won over, and might later change their minds, but they’d agree.  She knew that Harry would do it that way, if he were in her position.  A bold and inspirational speech, changing as many minds as possible, and backed up with redundant plans to handle anyone who was recalcitrant.

But she wasn’t Draco and she wasn’t Harry.  They’d each stepped away from these things, perhaps permanently.  She was Hermione Granger, daughter of dentists, goddess.  She was standing at the crux of things, and she knew the right thing to do.

Fear was limited.  Draco had been afraid all of his life, in one sense, but he’d still found the courage to face the worst and overcome it.  A single lever was all it took to overturn fear.

Persuasion was limited.  Harry had spent years railing against insanity and irrationality, hurling evidence and reason against dull walls and burning with frustrating when they failed.  He sometimes couldn’t see the way the world was, out of eagerness to see it the way it should be.

Hermione knew that wasn’t how you led people.  It wasn’t how you changed minds.  She had led the Returned, and she knew why.  She had led soldiers, and she knew why they’d followed her on the battlefield.  She had led the people, and she knew why they wanted to touch her hand and worshipped her.

Hermione had died twice, and she knew what she’d followed back to this world.  She knew what people would follow.

They followed the light.

Far below, all around the Tower, she could see bright spots of crimson glory.  She heard a phoenix call, as though it saw her, and heard another answer.

Hermione turned around, and smiled, and began to speak.

She brought her own special gift.  She brought hope.


Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“It just seems unlike you, is all,” Hermione said to Harry, watching him curiously.  She opened a satchel and looked inside, but the extended space within was still empty.

“I think my part in this is over,” Harry said, shrugging.  He was silent for a moment as he finishing bolting down the Vanishing Cabinet inside of the spherical silver ship, then he stood back and surveyed his work.  He nodded approvingly, and turned back to Hermione.  “And I’ll be within reach, from time to time.  I might need help.”

Hermione frowned.  “You’ll need a lot of books, and you might get lonely, but as far as we can tell, there’s no limit to that Cabinet.  You don’t even really need to ‘go’ at all, since you could just as easily live here and check in on your ship once a month.  So this is really you taking a sabbatical from everything.  And that’s fine, but I think I’m the one who’s going to be asking you for help.  Be ready to pop on through, the first time I encounter an insuperable problem.”

“Well, see, here’s the thing,” Harry said, leaning down with a silver wire rack so that he could affix it to the interior of the ship.  “You remember all of my work with Luna, looking into the nature of magic?  Magical theory has come quite a ways since we started to systematically eliminate possibilities.  And we found some pretty amazing things when we looked at the brains of people casting spells.  We never did have enough of a chance to discuss it, I think,” he mused.  “Anyway, I pretty much have just one strong hypothesis now.  And it fits with what we know about Merlin, and explains a lot.

“Spoken magic and wandless magic look almost the same when you see how they’re expressed.  BETs and POSTs and all the rest in specific patterns, even though the interference each spell generates might be completely different.  The same effect, the same patterns.  It’s not a far inferential leap to conclude that the pattern is a command, like you might give to a computer.  If you’re magical in nature, then something in the universe knows to pay attention to that command.

“Now, it’s possible that it’s just the nature of the universe that specific electrochemical patterns in our neurology trigger complicated phenomena.  I’ve read weirder theories.  But that opens up a big question: why are we the only ones?

“It’s the Fermi Paradox on an even bigger scale.  There are so many planets where life could evolve, out there in the universe.  And the existence of magic means that a lot of the normal answers probably don’t work.  Distance and difficulty don’t seem like they could possibly matter once any magical civilization is advanced enough, and some of those lifeforms that probability suggests must exist would end up being magical, just like humans.

“Now, there’s a lot of possible explanations.  Maybe magic makes it even more difficult for life to evolve than we thought, somehow.  Or maybe there are magical barriers we don’t know about, blocking us off.

“But then I think about Merlin, and what he was afraid of, and how he… well, he backed down, when it came down to it.”

Hermione’s jaw had dropped open and she’d forgotten to breathe since Harry had said the words “Fermi Paradox.”  He continued on.

“I didn’t present him with very much new information, when it came right down to it.  He must have already known Meldh had been defeated, and they’d been watching me so they already knew the other things I said.  And I told him that prophecies always come true, but I learned that from a book that quoted Merlin.  So why did he go?

“Maybe he’s just biding his time.  Maybe he’s seeking a way to neutralize our advantages.  Maybe he was just suddenly persuaded.

“But someone that powerful with that much lore and prophecy…”  Harry shook his head.  “I’m not sure about that.  Because I’m thinking of what Merlin’s goal might really have been, and about a thing called the Great Filter, and…” He paused, then continued.  “No, I think that --”

“Wait,” interrupted Hermione.  “Just wait.  Because I think you’re about to tell me that you think the British wizard Merlin is an alien from another planet, sent here to watch us or guard us or something.  And that maybe aliens invented magic?  And that is…”  She frowned.  “Just… no.  Put a pin in that.  I can’t handle that right now.”

Harry grinned.  “I imagine a computer somewhere, advanced beyond our furthest dreams, that fulfills commands to users it recognizes.  And we just happen to have matched that pattern in the wierdest way.   But all right.  Another time, then.  Or until it becomes more urgent.”

Hermione was silent for a long period, while Harry continued packing away supplies.  Lots of redundancies and failsafes, since this was a journey into the unknown.  He’d be pushing against new limits and uncertainties about all sorts of materials and spells.

After a while, the witch spoke again.  “How do you know that this will work?  And where to go?”

“Prophecy,” Harry said, shrugging.  “Which is the only way I can even do this, since I know I will succeed someday.  Eventually.  I just need to head to the Scorpion and the Archer… Scorpius and Sagittarius.  Something is locked beyond return along that path.  Just by coincidence, that’s also where astronomers think a black hole is situated, at the center of our galaxy.  So that’s where I’ll go, and we’ll see if that’s where Dumbledore is now.  If it’s where Atlantis is now.  If it’s where all the things locked beyond return are trapped outside of time.  It’s inconvenient and crazy, but sometimes so is the world.”

“How far is it?” asked Hermione.

“26,000 light years or so,” answered Harry, grinning.  “Although I expect to find faster ways to travel than the speed of light.”

“I feel as though we’re saying goodbye,” Hermione said, and her voice trembled a little.  “Which is stupid, because you’ll probably be back for lunch next week, once you start to need someone to talk to.  But you really are leaving.”

“I’m leaving,” Harry said.

“And you’re leaving me in charge.”

“You’re in charge,” Harry agreed.  “Oh, I have three things to give you!  Might as well give them over now.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a milky-white stone.  “The Spirit Stone.  The last of the Deathly Hallows.  Yours now in truth, along with the others.”  She accepted it, wordlessly.  It was also reportedly a Horcrux of Voldemort.  A research project: how to break those ties.

He tugged on the fingerless glove on his right hand, pulling it free.  A pained expression passed over his face, but he didn’t hesitate.  He offered it to her, and again Hermione took it.

She glanced at his other hand, at the decoy glove he always wore, but he smiled a wry smile.  “No, I’m going to hang on to this one.  I discovered something useful about it, recently.  No, the third thing is a ritual.  It’s a sacrificial ritual… a dangerous one, but an important one.  The most important one, really.”

“You… wait, what?”

“It was one of the only things I could think to do, at the end.  I couldn’t fight, not really.  And I only knew one thing that had impressed anyone in the Three.  A ritual that he saw in my mind, one I’d never actually done.  I had it in my mind, all the principles -- I’m really not sure how to explain it, it just works out somehow, when you’re inventing a spell -- and Meldh had told me I was being stupid not to use it.”  Harry pulled a folded parchment from his pocket, carefully, and handed it over to her.  “I still think he’s wrong, and I’m still not sure if it’s the right thing.  But I did use it once.  To fulfill a promise.  I picked a star that seemed least likely to have any negative consequences… a Bok globule that would only have existed as a star for a few thousand years, as best I could figure.”

Hermione took the parchment. She didn’t know what to say… didn’t know how to react to a succession of surprises that seemed too great to be borne.  All she could think was a single sentence, a miraculous sentence that embraced the multitude of stars scattered throughout her mind’s eye, each one now with a name: We can save everyone.

She smiled gently.  Her eyes were wet.


Malfoy Manor

The small family accepted no visitors, and seldom left the house.

It was a strange, new way to live: as though ambition were sated, as though ambition had reached its natural end.  Surely, it was temporary -- for the gnawing of desire never rests for long -- but for a time, the family wanted for nothing.  They were together, and they were content.

Sometimes they played music, or had long conversations, or spent entire afternoons in cooking elaborate meals.  But often, they simply sat with each other in silence.  It was a happy and full silence where nothing needed to be said, because everything important was known.

From time to time, Draco would close his eyes and hold them that way for a long time, before opening them again.  As though testing what he was seeing.

But nothing changed, and every time he would open them again, Draco would see his father anew, holding his mother’s hand.

He smiled gently.  His eyes were wet.


Somewhere beyond Earth and everything else we know.  Somewhere in the darkness of space.

Harry took a deep breath, and then let it out, slowly.  It sounded very loud inside of his ship.

He held the glove from his left hand, and examined it with a smile.  He touched the curved fragment of the Cup of Midnight that was bound there.  A decoy he’d worn for years, to balance the Stone of Permanence.  Impervious to harm and enchantment and damage, and always close to him.

He pushed hard on the underside of the smooth piece of pottery, twisted it to the side, and then pushed down on it.  There was a small click, and the piece of broken earthenware slid upwards, revealing the round aperture to an extended space sheltered beneath.

Harry set the glove on the floor of the ship.  He reached over to pick up a book from a small shelf where he’d placed it earlier, and then stepped into the glove.  It drew him in, delicately.

Finding his way past all of the traps and security precautions had taken him weeks.  Removing a substantial part of a mass of tungsten had taken almost as long, since he’d needed to be extremely careful.  In this, after all, he was entirely alone.

But he’d done it.

He sat on a small stool, and smiled.  “Hello, Professor.  I brought a book, and I thought I’d read to you today.”

“That would be acceptable, Mr. Potter,” said Voldemort.

“It’s called The Feynman Lectures on Physics, and it’s one of my favorites.”

“Is it long?”


“Then begin at your leisure, Mr. Potter.”

Harry didn’t begin right away.  He just looked at the box for a moment.

He smiled gently.  His eyes were wet.