AN: the jumps in perspective, time, and space in this chapter are jarring for many people – I'll try and give this chapter a fifth rewrite when I have the time. The other chapters are considerably easier to read than this one – the second and third chapters narrow down to one narrative line with extra bits, and the fourth chapter is the continuation of that single narrative line with no extra bits.
AN/2: I post chapters on /r/rational and /r/hpmor, so check out those subreddits for discussion. I'm also planning to put this on AO4 and SpaceBattles! If you'd like to be a beta, please pm me!
The Universe Is An Optimisation Problem
"What is your ambition?"
"To understand everything important there is to know about the universe, apply that knowledge to become omnipotent, and use that power to rewrite reality because I have some objections to the way it works now."
—Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
"To understand how something works, figure out how to break it."
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb
DO NOT MESS WITH:
THE STRUCTURE OF MAGIC,
THE CLIMATE CONTROL SETTINGS
(UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION FROM YOUR SUPERVISOR)
— engraved on all stationery in the
Department of Mysteries
and completely coincidentally written
on the wall of a public loo in Leicester
If you want to know why the world is the way it is today, you'd need to take a trip to the Department of Mysteries. You'd also need a form signed in triplicate by the Minister of Magic, with the signatures of the Chief Thaumaturge of London, the Grand Sorcerer of the British Isles, the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and – of course – the Department Director (who is a very busy man, not least due to the fact that at any given time, there are three of him walking through the Ministry's halls).
You'd have to pass through Level 0 of the Ministry, which has a pretty golden fountain and flying letters. After passing the security check, you'd descend to Level Minus One, which is populated mainly by interns working four-thousand hour weeks and people who stare at you suspiciously every now and then, paid primarily to contribute to the overall feeling of existential paranoia that pervades the Department.
Level Minus Two is the kind of floor where people ask questions like: "So tell me, does it eat human flesh?"
Level Minus Three is the kind of floor where people ask questions like: "Can we make it?"
The thing that changed the world forever, is on a raised pedestal in Level Minus Twenty-Eight surrounded by a shimmering cobweb of blue light. It's a mug - a stained, slightly cracked, ceramic mug with a list of easily-pronounceable anti-hangover Charms printed on the side, along with its former owner's name (misspelt), filled with what looks like glowing vanilla ice cream.
As you descend the stairs, Albus Dumbledore, the Chief Warlock will tell you that the ordinary background magic concentration in, say, Wales – is around 0.0001 thaums per cubic centimetre. He'll also tell you that within the body tissue of a wizard, it's five thaums per cubic centimetre, and that up until 1931, the highest magic concentration ever recorded had been in the central locus of the Cup of Dawn when Merlin created the Interdict – about one hundred million thaums per cubic centimetre.
At this point, curiosity piqued, you'd naturally ask him: "How many thaums per cubic centimetre does the cup have?"
To which he would respond: "Around ten to the forty-one."
This is the unimaginatively-named Cup of Magic. It was created when a Junior Unspeakable named Reginald Rookwood sneezed during an experimental ritual to turn water into whiskey in 1931, and in doing so, knocked out every electrical grid in the Northern Hemisphere for four hours, permanently melted an entire Ministry corridor, caused an electrical storm to form over a corner store in Diagon Alley, and created a new island in the North Sea. Some people say it broke magic and doomed wizardkind forever, but over the sixty-three years between then and now, the Cup of Magic has powered over six hundred and eighty thousand rituals, several of which involved creating objects with a larger mass than the Moon and had to be conducted entirely in outer space.
The rippling consequences of the existence of the Cup of Magic, in part, is why tomatoes grow on Venus, why the Soviet Union controls Hawai'i, why Hermione blew up a skyscraper when she was twelve, why Harry Potter is a mind-clone of Tom Riddle, why Ozland Dwimmersmith was born, and why the world will probably end on April 14, 1996. But before we get ahead of ourselves, it would also probably be a good idea to quickly cover the events that occurred in the years before 1994, which is when everything really begins.
And there's one more thing Albus Dumbledore will probably tell you. He'll tell you about leylines, about how wizards, with appropriate permission, can request for a new leyline to draw magic from the Cup for Ministry-approved rituals.
He'll tell you the strands of blue light are leylines, spreading out through time and space.
ALBUS DUMBLEDORE – THE WIZENGAMOT – 1983 - ELEVEN YEARS BEFORE THE PRESENT DAY
" . . . achoo, ahem – as I was saying – a Muggleborn by the name of Edward Rotford, who received a 'Troll' marking on all six of his subjects, and was later expelled due to . . . "
You'd think winning a civil war would strengthen your political influence.
" . . . extraordinary waste of Ministry resources . . . "
You'd think losing a civil war would weaken it.
" . . . universally abysmal, naturally – owing to their dubious heritage . . ."
Many did, and they were wrong on both counts.
" . . . why, here — allow me to ask the Headmaster himself. Pray, if you would, Mister Dumbledore, how many Muggleborn students sat their NEWT examinations last year?"
"Sixteen. Regardless – "
"Mr Dumbledore, another question, if you see fit to answer. How many Muggleborn Hogwarts students passed their NEWT examinations last year?"
"Had they been properly schooled – "
"The unembellished answer, Lords and Ladies, is three. Three of sixteen. And of those three, only one received marks above 'Acceptable'."
An excited hubbub immediately followed.
In truth, Voldemort had not stood against magical Britain. He had disrupted the prevailing order in the same way that pelting rain disrupts the mirrored surface of a puddle, while ultimately turning that puddle into a much bigger puddle. The Death Eaters (among their ranks many aristocrats and blood-supremacists) had represented nothing more than the radical movement for a more extreme status quo.
However distorted and skewed, it was the illustration that appeared in the Daily Prophet on June 19, 1968, that most accurately encapsulated the sentiments of the British magical ruling-class. The illustration looked like this: to the right, was a muscled Amelia Bones, wrenching a screaming Abraxas Malfoy by the lapels, in the act of throwing him into a freshly-dug grave. To the left, was Bartemius Crouch, occasionally winking at the reader as he chiselled the word "NOBILITY" onto a gravestone. Looming above them all, stood Albus Dumbledore, with impassioned froth and spittle geysering from his wrinkled lips, waving about the commanding finger of octogenarian authority. "FOR THE GREATER GOOD!" read the speech-bubble emerging from his mouth.
It was a little on the nose, even by the standards of the Prophet.
It seemed that the Ministry and the hallowed halls of the Wizengamot could do nothing, for Dumbledore and his allies occupied all the most important Ministry posts, and had the sympathetic ears of many seats in both the guilds of the Mysterium and the hereditary seats of the Magisterium. He held the Line of Merlin, which could be passed on only in death (and it would be difficult if not impossible to kill Albus Dumbledore), and to rob him of the position of Chief Warlock by vote alone would have been a political impossibility.
Centuries of tradition, of accumulated power and wealth, were threatened with existential destruction.
Tom Riddle, in retrospect, had stepped in at exactly the right time.
And although his most fervent supporters had been imprisoned in Azkaban, the foundation of his rule had remained unchallenged.
"I remind the Lords and Ladies convened," enunciated Augusta Longbottom, "that this Act was passed in a year in which many members of the esteemed Wizengamot were, in fact, Death Eaters using Polyjuice. Or simply Death Eaters." She left a long pause, during which many people looked like they were about to say something, and then slyly added: "Under the Imperius, of course." Then: "Although, it appears that those selfsame Lords and Ladies continue to defend the policies crafted by none other than Volde – "
"Madam Longbottom, you forget yourself!"
And the debate raged on, although with every rhetorical parry and blow, it became clearer and clearer to Albus Dumbledore, and those who sided with him, that this battle had been lost.
" . . . accidental magic!"
" . . . rather rude, a terrible influence on my boy . . . "
The most powerful mage in Britain stood. Silence followed instantly.
Dumbledore was not smiling, nor did his eyes twinkle. Such things were reserved for Hogwarts, for the children.
"To the Wizengamot, I restate these unadorned facts in the hope that in these final few minutes of contemplation, you shall find yourself erring on the side of sympathy for all children born with Merlin's gift, leaving aside the circumstances of their parentage.
"Wizarding children born to magical parents are permitted to practice wanded magic from the age of nine. They are furthermore permitted to attend private academies and receive private tuition from this age onwards. At the age of eleven, they are permitted to attend Hogwarts, and receive five years of formal tuition. This is known to you."
There were various nods from his faction, but most of the purple robes were indifferent.
"Yet wizarding children born to non-magical, or negligibly-magical parents, are barred from knowledge of magic – likewise, attendance at Hogwarts – until their fifth year. They receive, at most, three years of tuition. First-generation wizards, quite simply, receive less in the way of education. Is it no small wonder that their academic performances are poorer than those with the benefit of magical backgrounds? Do you not conflate cause with effect?"
"Foolish old man," someone murmured.
Dumbledore looked sharply at him, and the man shrunk under his gaze, but it had been said and heard.
A few final words were exchanged, a final vote was called, and there were some hands in the air, but not enough.
Not nearly enough.
Among the Lords and Ladies aligned with Lucius Malfoy's faction were many condescending smiles, as the final vote was tallied against the proposal of Albus Dumbledore, the Chief Warlock.
"By the ruling of the twenty-first session of the one-hundred-and-ninety-fifth Wizengamot, §11.1a of Article V of the Muggleborn Safety Act of 1977, shall not be repealed."
"...incomplete nature of the ritual. Wanagathan 1973 made the claim that 'ach' (falling, inflected, no emphasis, heavily aspirated) - the ending symbol commonly used in most transformation-type rituals made by intermediate-novices (see Egy 1927, Aschelter 1936) in lieu of dynamic redundancy - followed by 'oo' (standard) is a multiplicative combination which could continually reinforce ambient magic until dismissed by an exhalation symbol. We respond to this claim by reminding Wanagathan that actual sneezes are very rarely vocalized as 'achoo' - they are instead violent outbursts of air which do not correspond to the phonologies of most languages. Instead, we believe the unique product of the Rookwood Whiskey Ritual could be explained precisely by the presence of this 'out of bound' sneezing symbol, which could potentially disrupt the matrix alignment of previous symbols, shifting certain rows by unit one in any of twenty-eight possible directions, according to our calculations in this paper. Rookwood himself suffering memory-loss after the magical explosion, and most of the original ritual being irrecoverable, we believe, having analysed the fragmentary evidence that exists, there is a possibility that the ritual was of a particularly dangerous form-substance-form type that involved the transformation of water into pure magic, and then back into whiskey, with the form-to-substance transformation occurring outside of temporal-spatial boundaries. Proceeding from this, the introduction of an 'out of bound' symbol may have prevented the substance-to-form transformation from fully completing, leaving only pure magic in a metastable state (enabled by its sheer density). This hypothesis would elegantly explain all observations concerning the Cup of Magic as recorded by Kagnarr 1932."
Extract from the Journal of the Cyprian Thaumaturgical Research Society (pg. 103, Vol. 22)
TOM RIDDLE – BORGIN AND BURKES, KNOCKTURN ALLEY, INSIDE AN EXPANDED POCKET OF INTERDIMENSIONAL SPACE, LONDON – 1949, FORTY-FIVE YEARS BEFORE THE PRESENT-DAY
Tom Riddle (who was not yet Lord Voldemort) was on his way to solving two people's problems at once. The first problem was that the majority shareholder of Colossan Trust, Walter Rockefeller, wanted a powerful wizard to protect Tibbles – his cat – from harm. All harm. He'd described it like this: "Mr Riddle – if Tibbles gets thrown into the Sun, I want the Sun to be the one who comes off worst."
The second problem was that the British government needed someone who could deal with the IRA. And by 'deal with', they really meant it. With the quotation marks and everything. In official governmentspeak, it was: "We wouldn't condone a genocide, Riddle, but the British community will understand perfectly well if more severe measures are necessary to end this war on a permanent basis."
If you can't see a way to solve both of these problems and make money at the same time, you're probably not Tom Riddle.
But the solution to those two problems created a third problem for him: there weren't any rituals which could actually create over a million Horcruxes at once, and probably even less that could make them for a cat.
On the other hand, Tom knew that he could probably figure one out by the end of his shift.
"What's that, Tom?"
He was startled from his reverie by Caractacus Burke, the obnoxious owner of the store. Burke was rarely interested in the fascinating items that came in and went out of his store, only in ensuring that jingly gold coins mostly went in one of those directions. He had a thick, greasy moustache which, if wrung out over a frying pan, would probably provide enough oil to make French toast with. Burke's manner was stooped, thinly curious, intruding, and his breath smelt like horseradish and turpentine.
Tom silently vowed that, after all of it was over, he would kill Burke very quickly and efficiently, not because he deserved any reprise from a painful death, but because he wasn't worth more than a half-second of Tom's time.
"It's a diagram of a sacrificial runic circle designed to kill everyone inside of it, turn their corpses into Horcruxes, and shoot the corpses into space at a hundred kilometres a second," was what he badly wanted to say. Instead, he said: "It's a diagram of a runic circle designed to stabilise volatile potions, sir."
"Interesting, very interesting," Burke breathed, his eyes gleaming, "I used to dabble in that kind of thing. How does it work?"
Tom fired off a long stream of made-up runic-ritual sounding words and inwardly sighed every time Burke gave a shrewd nod, as if he actually understood.
"Well now, I think that might just work," he said after Tom had finished.
"I'm not quite sure it will, sir," Tom replied, "so I'm visiting a runician in Ulster who might be able to help me work out the details. Although there is another purpose to my visit - I believe he also has a fragment of the original Cup of Dawn."
"Indeed, sir. I'm thinking I'll pay a little more than necessary to get his cooperation on my runic circle designs and maybe I'll - "
"Ah, I don't think that will be strictly necessary, Tom. That's not how you negotiate these things. A fragment of the original Cup of Dawn, you say?"
"Yes, sir," Tom gritted out.
Caractacus Burke stroked his chin. "Well, what say you I come with? When's it?"
"Oh, it'll be a month or two at the very least. He's a very busy man."
"I'll make the preparations. Let me know once you have an exact date, Tom. Very good work."
Tom Riddle always did everything perfectly, so nobody saw him carve deep, jutting lines into the grounds around every Republican stronghold in Ireland - and the people who did, didn't remember. The late forties were the golden age of new rituals, and the Cup of Magic was not yet under lock and key on Level Minus Twenty-Eight of the Ministry basement, so nobody was especially suspicious when an enterprising young man, fresh out of Hogwarts, filled in the form requesting for a few new leylines so he could draw magic from the Cup. Even when those leylines were mysteriously extended by a few thousand kilometers, the only thing people thought was mysterious about him was his relationship status.
On December 10, 1949, when there was a deafening supersonic bang that was heard from Nova Scotia to beyond the Ural Mountains, when three point eight million people were suddenly missing, and when a cat and a certain Tom Riddle were suddenly very immortal indeed, nobody suspected the boy at the counter of Borgin and Burkes.
By six o'clock, after stopping by Walter Rockefeller's mansion in California, he was about two metric tonnes of gold wealthier.
By eight o'clock, after meeting a shady man in a Scottish corner-street, he had about eighty million pounds worth of government bonds.
By nine o'clock, he was bored again.
By ten o'clock, after rearranging his name for half an hour, and staring at that day's edition of the Prophet, he'd thought of something interesting to fill up time between then and eternity.
MINISTER PUGEONN WARNS AGAINST INFLUENCE OF 'REACTIONARY FANATICS'
March 9, 1968
'LORD VOLDEMORT' WANTED BY MINISTRY FOR MURDER OF JOYCE STEWART
April 28, 1969
DEATH EATERS DECLARE WAR ON BRITAIN
January 3, 1970
Dawning Moment Herald
PRES. LABAR RE-ELECTED TO SERVE FIFTH TERM
November 4, 1992
His Ascendancy President Labar, leader of the free world, of the Dawning Moment, of the White Race, and of Colossan Tobacco (North America), a genius unparalleled in human history, has been re-elected, as determined by the Almighty, to serve His third term as President of the United States of America. His Ascendancy won with a spectacular 84% of the popular vote, with the Dawning Moment Party winning 56 out of 60 of voting states.
Leaflet given out at the 1991 London Protest:
THREE TRUSTS CONTROL YOUR WORLD
— THE COLOSSAN TRUST —
— NEGALOTH INC. —
— THAUCORP INTERNATIONAL —
ARE ALL OWNED BY STANDARD HOLDINGS
& COMMANDED BY THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL OF NINE.
THEY CONTROL WHAT YOU BUY.
THEY CONTROL WHAT YOU SEE.
THEY CONTROL WHAT YOU THINK.
THEY CONTROL YOUR LIFE.
WITHOUT ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY,
THERE IS ONLY DICTATORSHIP.
THE FREEDOM OF THE RULING-CLASS,
IS THE SLAVERY OF THE RULED.
THEY BELIEVE YOU ARE COMPLACENT.
ARE THEY WRONG?
"THOSE WHO DO NOT MOVE,
DO NOT NOTICE THEIR CHAINS."
— ROSA LUXEMBURG
LARGEST PRIVATE ENTITIES BY MARKET CAPITALIZATION (MARCH 1992)
1. Colossan Trust — $6.6 trillion — finance, real estate, energy, manufacturing, defense, agriculture, construction, tobacco — 67% owned by Standard Holdings
2. Negaloth Inc. — $3.8 trillion — media, telecommunications, cable & satellite, private defense, surveillance, government relations, advertising, entertainment, hospitality, transport, electronic media, debt collection — 85% owned by Standard Holdings
3. ThauCorp International — $2.1 trillion — aerospace, electronics, artificial intelligence, private education, research and development, pharmaceutical — 24% owned by Standard Holdings, 76% owned by Allan Unnman
—The Eagle (March 19, 1992)
We commemorate this monument to Anita Gadberry, a primary-school student among the three hundred whose lives were violently foreshortened in this very London square, murdered by the Negaloth Private Defense Corps in the May Protest of 1991.
May she be forever remembered.
HERMIONE GRANGER – DR DAVID WILLIGAN'S THERAPEUTIC PSYCHIATRY CENTRE, BALHAM, SOUTH LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – MAY 4, 1992 - TWO YEARS BEFORE THE PRESENT-DAY
One thousand soldiers face an advancing mob, resolute.
A bottle spirals, turns three times, and shatters.
In a second, gunfire fills the air.
Blood spills out in litres, and someone screams a word.
Blood spills out in litres, and someone screams a word.
Blood spills out in litres, and someone screams a word.
The girl snapped back to attention in an instant. "Yes, sir?"
"If you don't mind, Hermione, I'd like to know what's on your mind." He paused to gauge her reaction, but her face remained impassive, as always. "I know you find these sessions annoying, but your parents are worried about you. I'd like to be able to assuage their concerns."
"Don't all parents worry about their children?"
He ignored her and continued. "Your school counsellor is also worried." Usually he would try and empathise with his patients – making light conversation. Unfortunately, Hermione Granger invariably managed to divert the conversation far away from talk of her wellbeing or mental health, until the one-hour session expired and he went home, immensely frustrated. He hadn't even been aware of it the first few times. This time, Doctor Willigan noticed, she had offered him only a half-hearted diversion. There was something she wanted to say, and he'd be damned if he knew what it was.
"She's somewhat disturbed at how well you've been . . . coping. Managing the trauma of losing someone close to you. She says you seem to be barely affected. She thinks you're channeling your . . . anguish into academic performance, however silly that may sound."
She lightly tapped her finger on her cheek.
"Is that necessarily a bad thing, Mister Willigan?"
He momentarily choked. " . . . what?"
"Because most of the adults I know are pretty transparently driven by feelings of sexual inadequacy, fears of never attaining eminence or distinction, desire for status in highly competitive hierarchical environments, anxiety from failure to sufficiently conform to social norms . . . but I could name hundreds of scientists, engineers, and authors who were driven to greatness by traumatic deaths – "
"I – "
She continued as if he hadn't spoken. " – Harold Milton's mother passed away in 1974 when he was an undergrad at Ohio State University, after which he successfully developed the prototype whale-milk-hydrocarbon conversion method, and solved the energy crisis . . . in Memoirs, Eula Kovach cited her anguish over the death of her fiancée as a large part of her motivation to write the fifty-million-word long Godflesh series — Gilderoy Locker attributed his meteoric rise from Negaloth public relations consultant to a member of the Executive Council of Nine to rejection from his hometown. I could go on, but I think I've made my point."
That was prepared. And I was the one leading the conversation. "Your point?" The most frustrating thing about having Hermione Granger as his patient was that she clammed up. And when he prised her mind open, he would inevitably find another clam. An infinite set of delicately-constructed selves, with not a single slip or loss of composure. Levels and levels and layers and layers of paper-wrapping and colourful ribbons and strange loops.
But there was a fiery determination that shone through her eyes, and that was something she could never hide.
"Maybe I am channeling my anguish. Isn't that better than burying it? I read the books you recommended to me last time." All of them? Should he have been surprised? "I know it's bad to hide your emotions, they just end up . . . bubbling up somewhere else when you least expect it. I'm turning thirteen next month, Doctor. It's been almost a whole year since Anita died. At least I'm steering it somewhere constructive."
Willigan was curious. "Somewhere constructive?"
"I'm going to med school. I'm going to be a dentist. Just like my parents. And nothing is going to stop me."
She was lying.
She was building a bomb.
THE ONE WITH THE POWER TO VANQUISH THE DARK LORD APPROACHES,
BORN TO THOSE WHO HAVE THRICE DEFIED HIM,
BORN AS THE SEVENTH MONTH DIES,
AND THE DARK LORD WILL MARK HIM AS HIS EQUAL,
BUT HE WILL HAVE POWER THE DARK LORD KNOWS NOT,
AND EITHER MUST DESTROY ALL BUT A REMNANT OF THE OTHER,
FOR THOSE TWO DIFFERENT SPIRITS CANNOT EXIST IN THE SAME WORLD.
—Sybill Trelawney, 1980
HE IS HERE. THE ONE WHO WILL TEAR APART THE VERY STARS IN HEAVEN.
HE IS HERE. HE IS THE END OF THE WORLD.
—Sybill Trelawney, 1991
THE TOWER AND THE GODDESS SEND CHARIOTS OF FIRE INTO THE SKY, AND END THE EARTH IN THEIR WAKE.
—Telesphorus Eastrodor, 1865
SHE, THE FIRSTE DOGHTER OF THE SEOFENTHE SONE, AND THE ONSE AND FUȝERE KING MARCDE BY LYTENNING, SHAL CROSSEN THE BRITTISH SOUȝTH SE, AND BEREN A BEBLEEDYN CROWYNE.
—Taciturna Trelawney, 1317
GOLD BECOMES LEAD, AS LEAD BECOMES GOLD.
—Golofor Yammabagus, 1799
ALL ENDINGS SHALL BE ENDED BY THE CRUX.
—Augerna Hrosdóttir, 188 (first recorded prophecy in Britain)
FEBRUARY 26, 1993 - THE BOY-WHO-LIVED
Harry James Potter Evans-Verres fixed things.
He fixed faulty taps, fractured windscreens, ripped books, and wrecked umbrellas. Nothing electronic, nothing capable of recording anything, and with one caveat: you weren't allowed to watch.
"No seams . . . nothing. Where on Earth did you learn your craft, Harry? Ten pounds, wasn't it?"
"That's right, Mrs Figg," Harry replied politely.
"Come in, come in. Snowy, please make some room for our guest, here."
A malicious-looking cat looked up at him briefly from a chintz armchair, and stayed resolutely put.
"Don't mind him, Harry, it's his – "
"Favourite chair, yes, I remember."
She beamed at him, and tottered out of the room, presumably to search for her wallet.
"You know," Harry said, addressing Snowy, "if you get out of that chair, I'll leave mince for you out to the side of the driveway again. Fair?"
The cat flicked its ears.
"Two fifty grams."
The cat flicked its ears again.
" . . . five hundred."
The cat did a cat-yawn.
"Six hundred with a few shavings of ham, final offer . . . ah, that did it."
He was perfectly fine standing around for a couple of minutes while Mrs Figg fetched her wallet – but then again, this was another opportunity to negotiate with a breed of sentient cats.
When Harry was twelve, the world had changed.
He was in the kitchen while his parents were out, decided all of a sudden that he wanted to make chocolate biscuits, and in the process, accidentally dropped his parents' wedding bowl, shattering it into hundreds of porcelain shards. He closed his eyes, quickly counted to ten in his head, snapped his fingers, and it suddenly wasn't shattered. It lay there on the floor, quite whole and untampered with.
He failed to replicate this result with another bowl, and attributed it to lack of sleep.
Then three days later, he quickly counted to ten, snapped his fingers, and watched as glass fragments dragged themselves across the carpet and sealed themselves together into a wine glass.
Then two days after that, he noticed a bar called the Leaky Cauldron jutting out along Charing Cross Road.
Gradually, Harry came to the realization that his map, carefully drawn with reference to Feynman and Einstein, Newton and Jopasfeld, no longer matched the territory.
And there was magic.
Oxford, United Kingdom, Prime Material Plane
She came not at the thirteenth hour, but at 2am on a motorbike. She came with the low gleams of twenty street-lamps on her obsidian visor, with her worn leather jacket flailing in the windy tempest, with clinically-utilitarian grey platform boots planted on the welcome mat, and a slightly cracked voice. She came with a faded We Are Cosmic Nomads Tour of 1989 band shirt and a bold, confident gait.
Knock knock, went the door to Harry's workshop.
Harry looked up from his book, carefully noted down the page, closed the book, placed the book into the shelf, and approached the door.
Knock knock knock, went the door once more.
He looked through the peephole and saw the black mirror of a biking helmet.
"It's two in the morning," he said.
"Your lights are on," came the crisp reply.
Estuary accent. "You saw the ad?"
"That I did."
"You're a sentimental biker with a wocked-up part from an obsolete make and no one else so far's been able to fix it?"
A long pause from the other end. "Well, yeah," she sounded amused. "You're a smart boy." (Harry suppressed the brief wave of irritation that followed this remark.) "Mhm, could I come in now? It's a little cold out here, and I have a concert to get to, so . . . "
He unlocked the door, and she strode inside, accompanied by a strong gust. "What band?" he asked conversationally, closing the door after her.
"Septic Glow." The stranger's gaze, still under the visor, wandered around his workshop, and remained at a long row of books before jerking away to face him. "Nice set-up."
"Alright, so . . . it wasn't in the ad, but the word is . . . well, okay – can you really fix anything in under ten minutes, or was that just a gimmick?"
Harry slowly shook his head, grinning. "Not a gimmick. Usually it's under five, but I say ten just to be safe. What's it you need fixed?"
The voice from under the dome was laced with skepticism. "It's a customized ThauMobile 10386 F-class pneumatic-grapple modulator, and if you can fix it in under five minutes . . . call the Satanic Society and give them your address because I already tried God and he didn't do shit."
"I doubt they'd be interested in an ordinary industrial process."
She held out a ziplock bag, containing granules of metal, bits of plastic, crushed pipes, and two neatly bifurcated halves of an intricate pre-1979 modulator. "Does your ordinary industrial process work with this?"
Harry took the bag, and made a show of examining it. "Is this everything?"
"No missing stuff?"
"Nope, all there." She wrung her hands. "The, ah, bike's been my dad's for twenty years. I had to borrow my boyfriend's cruiser to get here, just doesn't feel the same, you know? Nothing short of witchcraft will fix this crap."
Heh, witchcraft. He looked back up at her. "Right, okay. I can repair this in a couple of minutes, maybe four tops. I'll need you to wait outside, for a couple of minutes while I do this."
"Alright," the stranger said slowly. "How come?"
"Eh, it's a tradition. Or an old charter. Or something. Besides, I wouldn't want you to see all the sacrificial lambs I'm slaughtering."
"Septic did that at their last gig," she murmured idly. "What's this deal, then?" She pointed at a monitor that continually spat out a long stream of numbers.
"Personal hobby. Don't you have a concert to get to?"
"It's twenty minutes away," and then in a quieter voice, "twenty two seven zero one five . . . "
The woman seemed to struggle with herself before continuing to speak. "This is emulating a Trust relay-terminal. That's illegal. And impossible."
Harry shrugged. "I can neither confirm nor deny – "
She batted her hand dismissively. "I'm not going to dob you in." She stopped. "Oh, I see now. You . . . that's clever."
"Alright, I'll tell you what I know. They have these in factories to rapidly send production stats to the Colossan Executive Monitor through the Mundial network. But," she said, walking still closer to the monitor, "you've meshed into the Mundial by spoofing a non-allocated factory space. And you're sending botched stats. But . . . why?"
"Well . . . "
"This isn't just random data, isn't it?"
Another ten second pause.
And then she started humming the national anthem.
Harry froze. "What – "
She laughed, and it wasn't a cold laugh or a condescending laugh, or even a mean laugh – it was a genuine, relaxed laugh. "It's in the barcodes. Don't worry, it's not obvious. That's what I first noticed, you see? The last eight digits. 00286531, 01583921, 500000, 00291111, etcetera etcetera. Audio encoding, isn't it? Then based on the first five notes, it was either the national anthem or the third bar of Der Himmel in C, and – "
The stranger reeled back slightly. "I did a multiplex networking degree in uni. And my dad is middle-management at a steel refinery, so I know about this stuff."
Hmm. "Will you tell?"
"I said, I'm not going to dob you in. Is there, ah, another spoofed terminal receiving the data?"
Harry gestured at the back of the room. "Under the big white sheet. I trust you realize the implications?"
"Um, we won't have to wait hours to get mail on the Echo, so practically instantaneous text communications, ah, maybe instant image – hey, what's the bitrate like?"
He grimaced. "Two kilobits a second, if I max it out and do double-encoding with the temperature readings. With anything else, they always catch on and I have to – "
" – start it all over again, right."
There was a long, awkward silence, probably made more awkward by the impassive black visor, from which his mammalian hindbrain tried desperately to recover some semblance of social cues and ended up with total ambiguity.
He coughed. "Your modulator, by the way."
"Uh-huh?" She still seemed to be in deep thought.
Harry held it up to eye-level. "It would usually be fifty pounds for something mechanical, but I'll make it thirty for breaking up my boredom."
"I – wait, what? Give me that."
Obligingly, he chucked the bag to her.
She opened it up and held the completely-undamaged ThauMobile 10386 F-class pneumatic-grapple modulator. "No – you, I . . . this . . . "
"Yes, I, you, that?"
"It's even got . . . " she blew through a nozzle jutting out of the top, and a clear note rang out. "Well fuck me," she counted out three notes, and handed them to Harry, "I would've bet anything against this getting . . . well, I would have accused you of having a duplicate and switching them around – but I, ah, added on a few things, and they're still there, so, well, okay." She shook her head. "I'm not even going to try. I'll try and figure out how you gamed the verification protocol for connecting to the Mundial, but this – I, wow. You'll go places. What are you planning? You know, career-wise. "
Harry nodded. "I'm not sure. But I've got a checklist."
"What's on it?"
He took a deep breath. "It's a list I made when I was eleven: meeting all the interesting people in the world, reading all the good books and then writing something even better, celebrating my first grandchild's tenth birthday party on the Moon, celebrating my first great-great-great grandchild's hundredth birthday party around the Rings of Saturn, learning the deepest and final rules of Nature, understanding the nature of consciousness, finding out why anything exists in the first place, visiting other stars, discovering aliens, creating aliens, rendezvousing with everyone for a party on the other side of the Milky Way once we've explored the whole thing, and meeting up with everyone else who was born on Old Earth to watch the Sun finally go out."
"Really? That's ambitious." The stranger looked at her watch. "I'm going to be a dentist."
Harry stared back at her with total incomprehension.
She pocketed the ziplock bag, walked to the door, and unlocked it. "Anyway, thanks for the repair. And, ah, an interesting conversation."
"Before you go – I forgot to ask, what's your name?"
EXPLOSIONS DEVASTATE NEGALOTH TOWERS
May 7, 1993
A wave of devastating attacks struck several Negaloth-owned buildings today in central London. The Negaloth Financial Services Complex was destroyed "in a manner resembling ... controlled demolition", while the Negaloth Telephone Tower caught fire, with the building exploding level by level after most personnel had been evacuated. Several banks, malls, and internal coordination centres were also severely damaged, rendering them inoperable for "at least two years". About 382 people are confirmed to have perished in the attacks, although analysts say that had the attacks been planned even slightly differently, or carried out tomorrow rather than Labour Day – the death toll would have been in the high thousands – suggesting an intent to financially cripple Negaloth rather than petty terrorism. Experts say that the attacks were likely carried out by a hostile foreign entity with enormous access to resources, involved up to one thousand people, and were likely planned over the course of twenty to thirty years. They have suggested that the attacks may have been carried out by the IRA, the Stasi, or Welsh separatists – or potentially a combination of these organizations.
"God, it was like a balloon - kept inflating till the skin was all stretched and white and taut and then - pop - it exploded with guts and blood and bullets, just pouring out onto the street."
STONEFIELDS, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 18, 1981 - FOURTEEN YEARS BEFORE THE PRESENT DAY
"Do you remember now, Mr Cunningham?"
A baby carriage was by the door.
"I do remember now," spoke Humphrey, "how very odd – must be my medication, I don't get lapses like this very often. Rosie!"
A harried-looking blonde woman in her dressing gown flounced down the stairs and glared at the two oddly-dressed people by the door. "Wossit?"
"It's our son, dear, these officers found him – "
His wife sniffed. "What on Earth are you on about? We don't have a – "
"Somnium," said the man.
"Levicorpus," said the woman.
And in a fraction of a second, his wife was hoisted into the air by her ankles, seemingly fast asleep.
"You – "
He knew he should have been boiling with rage. Whatever new crowd-control device this was, they were both paying alumni of the Silver Horde and shouldn't be treated like that – but as soon as it coalesced, the anger dissipated, drained out, like water from a punctured bucket, and Humphrey Cunningham stood on the marble tiles of the waiting room with a strange, empty sense of calm.
And then his brain caught up to him, and he realized his wife was floating.
"Wha – "
With another muttered word from the two officers, his jaw was suddenly clamped shut. His arms, however much he struggled, were completely paralysed, were locked at his sides. His legs similarly refused to move.
He watched, as the woman walked, in slow, measured footsteps, over to his wife, whose upside-down frame hovered in the chill air. She brought out a stick, and tapped it on Rosie's forehead. Her eyes rolled open with a greasy sound – deadened, dull, and fast asleep.
Humphrey was a singularly unsuperstitious man, but now didn't seem to be the time for rational thought either.
The woman stared into her eyes for several long minutes. "Should be fine," she said finally. Then she twitched the stick, and this time, at the end of the stick, there was a pale shimmer, which slowly draped itself over his wife like a ghostly jellyfish.
She stood in that position, seeming to do nothing at all, eyelids shut, for half an hour, before the man spoke.
"Astrava, we should leave."
The woman's head jerked upward. "We're outside of the Ministry wards, darling. And I doubt any Death Eaters will be here. We can afford to add a few more memories for the sake of our son." The man nodded, seeming to acquiesce, and then a few minutes later, with a look of immense satisfaction, the woman unruffled her cloak, and stood up to leave. She directed her stick at him. "Finite Incantatem." Humphrey felt his body relax and untense, and twiddled his fingers experimentally.
"I – "
The man approached him with an unreadable expression. "Look after little Oz, won't you? Obliviate."
" . . . and you'd better keep an eye on him next time, he's a very frisky young lad."
"Of course," his wife replied smoothly. "Goodnight, officers."
"Night," he croaked after them, although he wasn't sure why his voice felt so strained.
AUGUST 26, 1995 - TABLE 19, DENNY'S FAMILY RESTAURANT, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
In a different era, Ozland Cunningham would be surrounded by angry Christians with burning torches. Instead, by 1995, he was the de facto leader of a small country and a doomsday New Age religion, filled with non-angry Christians who burnt things that made them less angry. Jesus could turn water into wine - Oz could turn water into very soupy grapefruit juice. While President Labar could purportedly raise the dead, Oz could raise a (light) pen about eight centimetres off a table. His miracles were small, but they were real, and they were all that the Celestial Unorthodox Church needed to draw in new followers, declare a new Messiah, and gun down everyone who disagreed.
Life was good. Everything was going according to schedule.
Until suddenly, it stopped going according to schedule.
Every morning the acting government (the Auckland Authority of the Celestial Unorthodox Church) would assemble around a greasy diner table and have pot noodles. At the table that day was Evelyn Matchwell, Domovan Kim, and Ozland Cunningham. Missing at the table were Kevin O'Hammon, and Rushabh - their formal leader, also a reclusive drug lord and an insane megalomaniac who brought peace to Auckland by threatening to detonate a nuclear bomb.
Evelyn was nineteen, tall and blonde, with all the grace and poise of a living Greek statue and dazzling white teeth. She had a knock-off British accent, and there was a refined sharpness to her - almost as if every flippant hand-gesture was a delicate medical operation, Ozland noticed, but it clashed with the pink heart-shaped sunglasses and the glass bottle of Coca Cola she was sipping from. She was the face of television and the voice of the radio - the daughter of St Matchwell, who founded the Celestial Unorthodox Church in 1973 - utterly, instantly recognisable. She didn't just have a cult-following - she had a cult. Ozland had even found her face printed on acid tabs.
Domovan was eighteen, with black hair slicked back to the point where his barber might as well have been a jet exhaust. He was the third son of the CEO of the Pan-Asia Four Star Hotel chain, which, naturally, had its own paramilitary and transnational crime syndicate - both of which were necessary to provide a decent hotel service in the lawless morass of unstable regimes barely propped by the United Kingdom. He inhaled through an e-cigarette like an alien who could only survive in an atmosphere of vanilla-flavoured vapor, and clouds followed in his wake like contrails from an airplane.
Ozland was younger than all of them at fifteen, and slightly shorter too - but until you'd seen them all together, you'd insist he was the tallest of them all. There wasn't anything particularly spectacular about him - he wasn't fat or thin, his face was bland and forgettable, but not too forgettable, his hair was the colour of lint from an old brown sweater, and his eyes were an indeterminate greyish-blue. Nevertheless, he was more recognisable even then Evelyn, who had long since attained cultural immortality.
"Rushabh is dead, Kevin is sulking about it, a high-ranking priest in the 77 Church defected to us at four this morning - says he was abducted by Celestians - he wants to see you . . . and an owl tried to deliver a letter to you last night," Evelyn started.
Ozland froze. "Rushabh, the owl, then the Churcher, please," he said, controlling his voice carefully.
Evelyn stopped drinking, wiped her mouth with a dotted pink handkerchief, and set down the glass. "He locked his room, and overdosed on just about everything he could find. Did you know you can overdose on pomegranate juice? The Chief of Police thinks he got impatient, tried hanging himself, and only managed to damage his throat and suffocate himself a little. Then he picked up a gun and shot himself. He missed the first time and the bullet only carved out a line on the top of his skull, so he filled up a bathtub and dropped a toaster in, but the toaster wasn't plugged into a socket so the Chief isn't sure why he did that. Then he got out of the tub, slipped on a puddle, hit his head against the side of the tub, and died pretty soon after that."
"Alright, what are you thinking, Ev?" he said, before realizing he should be more specific.
"I was thinking 'poisoned with plutonium in his Magnum ice cream by fanatics affiliated with the 77 Church', but that's a little dull."
"Magnum?" Ozland asked, still distracted.
"Can't have Tip Top complaining again," Ev said lightly.
He drummed his fingers on the table. "People call us the ice cream mafia for a reason, Ev – people notice this kind of shit after a while. That's three supposedly Magnum-related deaths in, what, three months? Hasn't Magnum already suffered enough? Why don't we just shell their factories instead of subjecting them to slow, humiliating bad publicity through falsified police reports?"
"I know," she giggled, "it's so silly how people believe whatever we tell them. Alright, you have a point there. I'll say it was a ThauNestlé cappuccino or something. And then tonight shell their factories just for a change. Anyway, as I was saying – nobody really visits Rushabh except for me, you, Dom, and Kev - we can keep this from the newspapers for a week at the most, so I'll handle the media until we can fudge the records properly."
"Also," Dom burst, clearly having wanting to have gotten in a word for some time now, "he left a note."
"Go on," said Ozland.
"His last will and testament, naming you as the heir to all of his worldly possessions."
Dom straightened up the miscreant papers from his cream-white dossier. "He left a vault with three expired ice-skating vouchers, his cat, a baggie of five-fifty tabs, and a signed affidavit from about four months ago stating that he firmly believes you didn't nick his car in '93, and that should evidence come to the attention of the police making you a suspect of the car-nicking, that all charges were to be dropped. Also the cat wasn't in the vault, by the way."
Ozland exhaled, leaning back into the plush, slightly sticky mint-green seat. "Why do you reckon he killed himself, Ev?"
She shrugged. The words: he was insane, although unspoken, hung heavily in the air.
"Alright, tell me about the owl."
Dom cleared his throat, preempting Evelyn. "An owl swooped in on your apartment while you were sleeping at around four this morning. My men shot it down. It had a letter with it."
"What kind of owl?"
"A fat brown one. Also not a bulletproof one."
He passed over the blood-splattered parchment. Ozland took it, unfurled it, and began to read.
"Why'd you even have to add that, Dom? It's not funny."
"It's objectively funny," Dom fired back defensively.
"Both of you – shut up, I'm trying to read this shit," Ozland snapped.
HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,
Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards,)
Dear Mr Dwimmersmith,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.
HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
First-year students will require.
1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)
2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
3. One pair of protective gloves (dragonhide or similar)
4. One winter cloak (black, with silver fastenings)
Please note that all pupil's clothes should carry name tags.
All students should have a copy of each of the following:
The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1)
by Miranda Goshawk
A History of Magic
by Bathilda Bagshot
by Adalbert Waffling
A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration
by Emeric Switch
One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi
by Phyllida Spore
Magical Drafts and Potions
by Arsenius Jigger
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
by Newt Scamander
The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection
by Quentin Trimble
Basic Ritual Theory
by Invock Pentagrove
1 wand (maximum 12)
1 cauldron (pewter, standard size 2)
1 set glass or crystal phials
1 set brass scales
1 set of ritual chalk
Students may also bring, if they desire, an owl OR a cat OR a toad.
PARENTS ARE REMINDED THAT FIRST YEARS
ARE NOT ALLOWED THEIR OWN BROOMSTICK
Chief Attendant of Witchcraft Provisions
Then he read it again.
"Okay, I don't get it," he finally admitted. "Let's put this down for the moment and talk about the Churcher – Lord, you two – Dom, you're the general of a fucking army – Ev, you're supposed to be the Head of Propaganda for the fastest fucking growing religion in Australasia – so stop glaring at one another like fucking children."
Evelyn sarcastically poked her tongue out at Dom, but the tension was already defused.
Oz sighed and rung a bell. In under three seconds, a waiter was standing attentively at their table. He'd been hiding behind a potted plant, not entirely successfully. Oz could see the moment where he massaged his strung-out, panicked face into a pre-programmed smile. "How much will another three bowls of noodles be?"
"It's free today," the waiter said immediately.
"They always say that," Ozland muttered.
"I saw them, I saw them with my own damn eyes."
On the other side of a one-way mirror, the Chief of Police stood, along with Ozland Dwimmersmith and Donovan Yu.
The A.A.C.U.C Central Police Station building was a sprawling labyrinth of mottled paint, electronically-locked doors, uniformed men looking at you suspiciously, threadbare chairs, and fluorescent lights housed inside a brutalist facade that seemed to proudly declare to the world: we're unaccountable and there's not a thing you can do about it, honey.
And, unsurprisingly, deep within its intestines, a priest was recounting an alien abduction.
"Ask him what he saw," said Ozland, to the Chief.
"Ask him what he saw," said the Chief into a microspeak.
"What did you see?" asked the interrogator.
The man inside the room inside the A.A.C.U.C Central Police Station was tall and gaunt, with a blue vein popping out the side of his face, and wrinkles around his blue eyes like twisted plastic wrap. His hair was blonde but thinning. He was wearing distinctive white clerical clothing and the number 77 was emblazoned on both of the cuffs, along with a blue swastika. His name was Walter Frond, and up until recently, he was a high-ranking clergyman in the 77 Church, living in a beautiful beachside home along Long Island Road in the Mongol Territory to the south-east of Auckland. Now, he was quaking and shivering and every eight seconds his left nostril twitched nervously. Not five hours ago, he suddenly took a bus to the Auckland Central Police Station at three in the morning, and quietly defected to the Celestial Unorthodox Church.
Walter Frond paused, as if tasting the words in his mouth before saying them.
"I saw a huge fucking metal ship."
BILL WEASLEY - JOUGLARIE, MOUNT JOUGLARIE, CENTRAL LOWLANDS, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 8, 1992
Bill Weasley was looking over a set of ornate, teardrop-shaped stones, when the ground beneath him rattled and Dumbledore suddenly stumbled into his field of vision.
"Oh, hello there, Bill! These mountainquakes are something, aren't they?" Dumbledore said very offhandedly. "A little unusual, don't you think?"
"What's your angle?" Bill replied rather tersely, then cursed under his breath, "I'm sorry about my tone, Headmaster, I lost my rune finger . . . " he instinctively searched for a jargon-less way to explain it, but quickly remembered that he was talking to Albus Dumbledore, the legendary war-hero who transplanted the entirety of Diagon Alley into a parallel universe during the Wizarding War, who probably knew twice what Bill did about his own damn job and then some, "in a 3rd degree interface-splinch when the gravitational alignment of the mountain fluxed the SA-barrier - probably because of the mountainquakes actually," he continued fluidly. Bill held up a blood-soaked bandage for emphasis. "I'm still a little ticked-off, sorry for being impolite just then."
Dumbledore simply looked amused that Bill had gone to the trouble of apologising, he hadn't seemed too offended. The old wizard hummed a little, examining the teardrop stones, and then, as if remembering something, jolted a little. "Bill, would you be willing to take on an apprentice?"
Bill stopped. "What?"
"An apprentice - a Muggleborn - well, not quite Muggleborn per se, but Muggle-raised, if you will, who will be entering into Hogwarts for his Fifth Year, around three years from now."
There were a lot of things Bill found confusing about that sentence.
The old wizard sighed. "Again, I find myself saying too little and meaning too much. Would you care to join me for a walk outside?"
Dumbfounded, and a little curious, Bill followed him out of the front door of Randallana's Ritualist Rarities, finding himself in the middle of an early-morning mist, punctuated every few metres by black streetlamps. The streets of Jouglarie were cold and deserted. It was fairly ordinary-looking - Bill could almost believe it was a Muggle neighbourhood, apart from the fact that it was all built vertically on the side of a mountain. He stared upward, and although the sight was ordinary to him now, there was something perpetually astounding about seeing the rolling green hills of Scotland perpendicular to the ground. "So," he said, gathering his thoughts. "I hope I don't come off as rude, but mind telling me what this is about?"
As always, there was a long, contemplative pause before Dumbledore responded. "I read something rather curious in a back edition of the Journal of the Cyprian Thaumaturgical Research Society - a study produced by Lann Johnson and Gamil Aknaraja concerning the Cup of Magic, have you read it by any chance?"
"Of course," Bill said, realising that on some level, he still wanted to try and impress Dumbledore. "They discussed how the sheer concentration of the magic in the Cup of Magic warps the thaumic continuum, almost wrapping it up in a cocoon and keeping it in a stable state."
They passed by a tall granite cylinder, connected to a thick cable of pulsing, glowing light that went off into the far distance and over the horizon. This was the central magical dispensary for Jouglarie, and its energy came directly from the Cup. Smaller, thinner strings branched off of it, leading to various stores. One particularly fat string went straight into the mountain. As Bill looked at it, the string flickered, and he felt a small tremble beneath him. That's never happened before.
Dumbledore nodded at his explanation, and Bill was pleased to note that he did look at least a little impressed. Then, without warning, he brought out his wand and suddenly launched into a long string of twenty privacy spells that Bill knew (although he'd never heard them spoken so quickly), then five more that he didn't, followed by two more spells that he knew were probably spells of some sort, but when he tried to remember the syllables, it was like picking up wet soap with chopsticks. He simply couldn't remember them. By this point, Dumbledore had come to a stop, and struck at the air with his wand, making a satisfied sound when a blue ripple emerged from the air where his wand had struck it. He tested the protections more before beginning to speak.
"Bill," he said gravely, "I have reason to believe that the conditions which enable the Cup to remain stable are degrading over time."
It was already totally silent, but after Dumbledore had said those words, everything seemed to fall into a deeper silence. Bill's mouth opened and closed, and it was some time before he managed to pull himself back to reality. Shops, businesses, Diagon Alley, Jouglarie, the Statute of Secrecy, the dimensional expansions - they all depended on the continual supply of magical energy - if the Cup of Magic . . . if the Cup of Magic degraded, he couldn't even imagine what would happen - assuming that the Cup didn't violently explode, forcing out enough magic to vaporise Britain (Bill rapidly recalculated in his head, something he'd always had a knack for, and came to the horrifying conclusion that Europe would probably be the lower-bound). "And you're telling me?" he said, incredulously, "why me? I can't do anything! And . . . and," he thought back to what Dumbledore had said earlier back in the shop, "what in Merlin's lower intestine does this have to do with me taking on an apprentice?"
When Dumbledore finally responded, he seemed very tired. "There are one thousand eight hundred and eighty-five mutually interlocking prophecies that I have studied during my regency as Chief Warlock - with few of any particular import, alas - and in order to avert this coming catastrophe I fear that, much as we came to depend on the word of prophecy during the War against Voldemort, prophecy may once again save us. By no means will I ever force this upon you, Bill, but silly as it may seem, your future apprentice may be integral to saving wizardkind, and having asked previous Hogwarts staff, I soon came to the conclusion that his vast potential would be wasted on anyone of lesser skill than you."
Bill waved his hand irritably, although it was hard to get properly annoyed when the most powerful wizard in Europe was heaping praise on him. "So this is the one thing . . . the one approach, blind faith in prophecy and hoping for the best?"
Dumbledore looked slightly hurt. "Certainly not, Bill. The committee I assembled proposed around four hundred solutions, and we've already started gathering the resources for putting thirty-eight of the more practical proposals into action."
"But," Dumbledore continued, "the success of those proposals are contingent on the apprenticeship."
"Fate does seem to have a predilection for narrowing the course of history down to the outcomes of single choices, annoying as it is."
"I know how very busy you are, Bill, which is why I wouldn't ask this of you if the circumstances were any different, but I must know tonight. Will you take on Ozland Dwimmersmith as your apprentice in September 1995?"