Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Harry Potter and the Aftermath

Afternoon In Late Spring

by RyanJenkins 0 reviews

After lunch, Ryan demonstrates his computer for Headmistress McGonagall; the portraits in her office are very skeptical, at first.

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: G - Genres: Humor - Characters: Dumbledore,Hagrid,Professor McGonagall - Published: 2016-08-25 - 4007 words - Complete



Lunch was equally delicious, and just as bountiful. Meals at IWU had also been very good, but I was beginning to have thoughts of a house-elves' exchange program, which I decided to put off until the others were established. Professor Hooch took the seat on my other side, and we talked Quidditch enthusiastically throughout the meal. After lunch, at her suggestion, the four of us strolled out on the grounds to the Quidditch “pitch,” as they called it, which was intact except for a couple of scorch marks, and beautifully kept. I heard for the first time that Admiral Blackstone had been a beater on the Muva team in his time, and in his last two years they'd won back-to-back national championships. We heard some remarkable stories of Harry Potter's prowess as a seeker (and Charlie Weasley's, before him), and Professor McGonagall's face glowed with remembered happiness as she told us how the Gryffindor team had won the House Cup.

On our way back we passed the Forbidden Forest, which is home to unicorns and centaurs (which fascinated Blackstone) and giant spiders (which scared the hell out of me). We saw Hagrid's cottage, but not Hagrid, as he was up at the castle helping with repairs; however, we were greeted enthusiastically, and damply, by his enormous slobbering dog, Fang. Returning to the castle in the warm sunshine, Blackstone motioned me up by his side.

“Ryan, it's about time we gave a demonstration of the computer to these folks, but mine is packed, and I'd like to check in with the office in Washington. Do you think you can connect to the Winternet from way up here?” The best I could give him was a definite maybe, because on the one hand, I didn't know what internet connectivity was like in Britain, while on the other, I did know that Hogwarts, and Hogsmeade, were located here precisely because it wasn't close to any centers of Muggle population. He grunted unhappily. “Well, do your best.”

Back inside, Professor Hooch left to go help with the spells needed for raising and strengthening the scaffolding which would be needed for the repairs to the roof in the Great Hall. So it was only three of us who stopped in front of a cracked and not-quite-vertical statue of a gargoyle at the bottom of what proved to be the Headmaster's Tower. I never did get a complete count of the towers at Hogwarts; it may be that the number changed from time to time.

“Chrysanthemum sculpture,” said the Headmistress to the gargoyle, who moved aside promptly, but haltingly (can statues have arthritis?), to reveal a doorway with a stone spiral stairs just inside, going upwards. She motioned to the Secretary to go ahead, and he motioned to me to go first – Navy protocol again, I guess. So I went through the door and started to climb the stairway...and it started to revolve. I moved up without moving, and tried hard not to look surprised, but didn't do so well at that since I'd stopped with my feet on two different steps.

The stairway was nothing, however, compared to the Headmistress's Office at the top of the tower. It was a large circular room, brightly lit by tall windows all around. It was full of strange objects on spindly tables, and the walls were hung with portraits (of the previous Heads of the School, I figured out quickly). My eyes were immediately drawn to the largest portrait, hanging behind the desk, of an elderly Wizard with long grey hair, a long grey beard, piercing blue eyes behind half-moon glasses, and a prominent (and crooked) nose. Albus Dumbledore's portrait regarded me with friendly interest, and smiled.

“You must be young Mr. Jenkins from America,” he said pleasantly. “Tell me, how are Harry Potter and his friends getting along?”

“Yes, sir, I am – Ryan Jenkins – very pleased to meet you, sir. All of you,” I added hastily, looking around, as the other portraits were turning their heads to look at me. “Harry and Ron and Hermione are fine, sir, and they send their very best regards.”

“That's splendid – ah! Here, if I am not mistaken, is our benefactor.” The people in the portraits all straightened up and looked beyond me, and I knew Admiral Blackstone had arrived in the room. He stepped up beside me, looking around, and Headmistress McGonagall stepped around him and went behind her desk.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said pleasantly, “I think a formal presentation is in order upon this occasion. You have met Mr. Jenkins, and this is the United States Secretary of Magic, Alistair Blackstone, who this morning announced a donation from his Department of Magic to the Hogwarts Rebuilding fund, in the amount of one hundred thousand galleons.” Blackstone nodded gravely in all directions, as a vigorous round of applause and a rumble of greeting ran around the room. I did hear one of them ask what the “United States” was, and another voice say “Shhhhh! I'll tell you later.” Professor McGonagall pointed her wand, and two armchairs materialized in front of her desk. She gestured to us while seating herself, and we followed her lead.

“Headmistress, we've been discussing ways in which the schools in our two countries might co-operate to our mutual benefit.” In the presence of all these portraits, the Secretary was formal. “With your permission, Mr. Jenkins has something to show you which I think will help facilitate that worthy goal.”

“By all means, Mr. Jenkins.” I drew out the computer and keyboard from my robes and restored them to normal size with my wand. Since Blackstone had addressed her instead of the crowd (as it were) I decided to do the same.

“Headmistress, this is a Muggle device, but it works entirely by Magic. That in itself is nothing new, of course – the Hogwarts Express is essentially the same thing. But this – it's called a 'computer' – is a recent development. Muggles invented them, and theirs are powered by electricity.” This caused a stir among the portraits, although McGonagall sat quietly and regarded me with interest. “We have learned to make this device work by Magic instead, which was actually very difficult, because – despite its much smaller size – it's much, much more complicated than a steam engine. What it does is to process the widest possible sense of that word. However, please understand, it is not alive. It is not aware. It does not think. But it can recognize information, and do things with it...according to how it has been instructed Magic. Written material – words and numbers – is obviously information, but to a computer, sounds and pictures can be turned into information, and that information can be remembered, or 'stored' as we call it, changed, and reproduced.” This was getting pretty dry; I suddenly thought that here I was, giving a lecture to the Heads of Hogwarts! “Well, that's just for starters. Let me show you how it works.”

I stood up, looked around, and decided to put the screen in the direction of the doorway, where it would be visible to as many of the portraits as possible. With a courteous “If I may...” I turned to face the door, drew a good large display, connected things up with the multipair charm, and while I was at it, went ahead and set up four transducer charms equally spaced around the room. The wordprocessing demonstration ran into some resistance I didn't expect. The Headmistress looked odd when I demonstrated the keyboard; little vertical wrinkles of concern appeared above her nose. There were murmurs from the portraits as I typed a short document; I had to ask for a piece of parchment, and she got a roll out of a stack on the desk without a word. When I had transferred the document to the parchment and fixed it, I held it up and said brightly:

“There – permanent, and neat as if it had come from a printing press. Of course you can have your choice of fonts, and...” I trailed off because I was being drowned out by a chorus of dismay from the people in the picture frames.

“No quill and no ink – barbarous!”

“And no chance to practice one's handwriting! That is sure to lead to slovenly...”

“The art of using a quill is one of the most important...”

“What a noise that thing makes! Clickety-clacking away, drive you mad!”

“What, pray tell, is a printing press?”

“Everyone's papers would look the same! No way to differentiate between students...”

“ – or tell who was in a tearing hurry at the last moment.”

“One can always tell a great deal about a student by the quality of the writing. The size of the letters alone...”

“At least he used his wand for something, but still –“

“I don't know that that particular function would be very useful at Hogwarts.” The Headmistress's voice quelled the babble by rising above it. “But I believe this device can do a number of different things?”

I shot her a grateful look and keyed up Mozart's “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” which impressed them a bit; McGonagall said it sounded a great improvement over their gram-o-phone (whatever that is). Moving pictures – well, I made a bad choice. The scene from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy meets Glinda the Good Witch got nothing but appalled and humorous remarks about how preposterous Glinda's costume and her wand looked, and a dismissive mutter from someone about how “a pensieve is far better, far better.”

Blackstone tried to come to my rescue at that point by suggesting that communications was the main reason we thought this technology might be useful, but he threw me into deeper water because I had to try and quickly find a Winternet connection. Fortunately, he had to define “technology” for them, and then took a while explaining the net and the idea of email. He reassured them, as I had done, that it wasn't going to put owls out of work. This gave me time to look around. As expected, there was nothing at all nearby at ground level, and in some desperation, I fired up one of my OZ programs I hadn't used yet in Britain. Lo and behold, MORBIT found a comsat almost right away, and I told him “It's all right, sir, I'm connected,” just as he was starting to look at me with his eyebrows coming together.

His face cleared, and he took the keyboard, explaining that he was going to send a message to Washington. He typed: Captain Mahan, I'm writing from Hogwarts School. Has Jeff Hemings made any progress on clearing the schools of Parboil influence? He's traveling. If you can reach him please forward. Blackstone. Then, explaining what he was doing, he encrypted it with a tap of his wand into George, Scotland is lovely if you like muted colors. The fishing has been so-so, but at least I'm learning how to tie flies properly. See you in two weeks, I hope. If they make me try haggis, my lawyer has my will. Alvin – and sent it off.

“Jefferson Hemings is Chancellor of the Magical University of Virginia,” he explained, “and a very old friend of mine. We were students together there, before I went off to Annapolis – the American Naval academy. When Voldemort – I mean, Riddle – died and we cleaned out the Department of Magic, the Undersecretary for Magical Education, Arabella McGuffey, was one of those who simply went catatonic, instead of dying. Hasn't come out of it yet. We have hopes that this meant Slimy Parboil had to keep her under heavy control, because she was resisting his influence. At any rate, Jeff believes his organization came up pretty clean – he only lost his Bursar and an Assistant Professor during the Big Meltdown, as Ryan here calls it. I sent him to check the other schools, but he hadn't reported back before I left to come over.”

Headmistress McGonagall was nodding gravely. “The educational system here was one of Tom Riddle's primary targets, because he had a strong emotional attachment to Hogwarts. Fortunately, Hogwarts was well placed to resist his influences until he took control over the ministry. Even then, I'm proud of the way most of our students, and faculty, were quite successful in resisting the depredations of that – that – Umbridge creature.” The tone of her voice when she spoke of that woman, a combination of sheer loathing and implacable hatred flavored with bottomless disgust, took the Admiral aback a little; he hadn't yet heard all the stories I had. But the portraits all made approving noises that sounded like “yah-yah,” and McGonagall went on coolly, “It would seem your Mr. Parboil may not have made Education such an urgent priority, or perhaps having so many Wizarding schools made him take longer in his preparations. Which school did he attend, by the way?”

“Louisiana Magical University,” answered Blackstone. I hadn't known that, but it made sense: LooMoo has always had a reputation for being more into Black Magic than the other schools. “That's down south, near New Orleans, and it has always had a number of – unique influences. I believe Parboil sang in their Vodun Choir as a student, and --”

He was interrupted by the mailbox-lid and bell sound, and looked at me. “You've got mail,” I said, and he opened up a message from “George” about fly-tying and something called “Gerty's Stinkbait.” Decrypted, it read: Alistair, I'm at Mount Shasta. Both USAM and IWU checked out completely clean. California had 3 sudden deaths, but they were minor people and Leland has everything under control. LooMoo had quite a few, including Chancellor Long, and will need further investigation. All in all, though, we're in pretty good shape. Jeff.

“Good Heavens,” came Dumbledore's voice from his portrait, “Mount Shasta is in California, I believe. Are we to understand that you got an answer from six thousand miles away in less than five minutes?” That, finally, impressed the entire company.

“Well, my people are generally on the ball, but both Mahan and Hemings must have been using their computers when I wrote,” explained Blackstone with his pride showing through. “Otherwise it might have taken half an hour or more. Leland Oppenheimer, by the way, is the statewide Chancellor at California Wizarding University. Here – I'd better reply.” He wrote Thanks, Jeff. We'll have to meet when I get back. We need a new Undersecretary. Fair warning. Alistair. The encryption turned it into a sarcastic remark about Gerty's Stinkbait.

“But you're using Muggle devices to carry your message, are you not?” asked the Headmistress. Blackstone looked at me.

“Not really, Ma'am,” I said. “The message follows paths that Muggles have laid out, but it's entirely carried by magic.”

She looked at me as if giving a student a pop quiz. “And Muggles cannot detect what you're doing?”

“No, Ma'am.” I was very definite, and shook my head. “We can affect what they do, if we want, but there's no way they can detect the magic itself, or trace it back to us.”

“You're certain of that?”

“Oh yes, Ma'am. It's been...uh...extensively tested, Ma'am.” Blackstone looked at me again, his lips pressed together, and I realized he was trying not to laugh.

“Headmistress, I've just had rather a disturbing thought.” The quiet voice of Albus Dumbledore turned all eyes to his portrait. “Mr. Secretary, do you know if Tom Riddle's agents in your country were also using this – ah – technology?”

“No question about it, sir. And we know they used it to communicate with Americans who were working for Riddle here in this country. If the Dark Lord had prevailed--”

“-- he would have been able to use it himself.” McGonagall finished the thought for him, and Dumbledore's portrait nodded gravely.

Blackstone pushed ahead. “That's a very important point. The whole idea of using Muggle ideas – Muggle technology – to make magic work better – to find new ways to use magic – is being explored by dark wizards as well as decent ones. If we don't keep up, we could suddenly find ourselves greatly overmatched by the next Black Wizard or Witch that comes along.” This caused the portraits to mutter and rumble in dismay, and Headmistress McGonagall looked thoughtfully worried. Blackstone seized the moment, and went on, “That's one important reason why we have established a serious research program to examine the whole subject. A systematic, logical approach is clearly the best way to set a watch on the threat landscape.” When Dumbledore's eyebrows went up, the Admiral grinned briefly. “That's Navy talk. And, besides being able to anticipate and counter possible threats from Black Magical uses of Muggle concepts, properly organized research, using our best brains, is the best way to develop any possible benefits for the Wizarding community as a whole...without falling victim to the drawbacks and pitfalls to which individual efforts can so easily be subject.” He had everyone's attention now. One of the portraits started to say “There was a flying car...” but the others shushed him.

“I think,” said McGonagall slowly, “this is something we shall have to consider.” The portraits looked at each other but did not speak; Dumbledore's picture kept its eyes on the Headmistress, who cocked her head at us and continued, “There is, however, no need to rush into things, especially when I think of all we have on our plates at the moment, repairing and restoring the school.”

“No doubt,” agreed Blackstone. “But now that Kingsley Shacklebolt has put our Special Relationship back on track, we'll be happy to share the results of our work with you.”

“Thank you for that.” McGonagall sounded relieved. “But in the long run, we really must organize our own efforts.” She looked thoughtful. “I think the best way to make a start would be to discuss this with Minister Shacklebolt. There are a number of things that need to be referred to the Ministry...well, you may be sure I will see to this promptly.” She smiled, consulting her pocket watch. “And now I shall have to ask you to excuse me. I promised to inspect the kitchens and have a word with the House Elves this afternoon. They have been quite splendid, you know. Fought like demons in the battle, and have been working themselves half to death ever since. We are going to improve our relations with them now, quite a lot I think, eventually. It will take time, and it's important to make sure we don't make them uncomfortable as we go. So I thought I'd talk with them about it first, and we've had two conversations so far.”

“How have they reacted?” Blackstone was interested.

“Quite well. At least I think so. At any rate, they have made one significant change already. The House Elves have always had their own way of organizing themselves, and I'm afraid Wizards have never really cared to try and understand it. And I'm no better than the rest!” She nodded firmly. “But now they have chosen a Leading Elf – or perhaps they already had one and simply renamed the position; I'm not quite sure about that. But they listen to him, and he apparently does speak for them...perhaps because he is very good at listening to them.”

“What's his name?” I wanted to know.

“Baymar, he's an older elf, and I really quite like him – but the interesting thing isn't his name, it's the name they've given to the office he holds. The leader of the Hogwarts house elves is not the King, or the President, or even the Manager. He's simply called “the Dobby.” She turned to me with sort of a wistful expression. “If they mention him in conversation, they say 'our Dobby,' as if every elf group had one. Perhaps they will, one day. You might let Harry – and Hermione – know about that, when you see them next.”

“Oh yes – yes, I'll be glad to.” Both of them had told me about Dobby, a House Elf who had tormented Harry and Ron, trying to keep them away from Hogwarts in order to save Harry's life, or so he thought. He probably heard plenty of threats, because he worked for old man Malfoy, whose son Draco gave Harry a lot of trouble in school. Then Harry got him freed, and later Dobby really did save Harry's life, and several others, rescuing them from Volde-- that is to say, from Riddle's gang. But Dobby was killed in the process, and they buried him with honor. Wizards don't generally have anything to do with elf funerals, it's true, and it looked like this had had a profound effect on the Hogwarts elf community. I had also heard about Hermione's attempt to start an “elf-liberation” movement, and decided this was not the moment to bring it up; more of that diplomacy, I guess.

Blackstone ended up going along with McGonagall to see the House Elves and meet with the Dobby, but I didn't. Bringing along someone from Magical Law Enforcement wouldn't strike the right note, we all agreed. When we got down to the first floor, I left them and walked out on the grounds. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, shadows were lengthening, and I looked out over the green rolling hills of the lawn, which was still marred in places by brown or black splotches and filled-in holes.

Down the slope I could see Hagrid's cottage; behind it stretched the Forbidden Forest – I had already been warned about it often enough to make me think of it with capital letters. Blackstone had heard of it just today, from McGonagall, but I had gotten an earful from Ron Weasley, who – along with Harry and Hermione – had been in it several times. It turns out that Ron and I share the same reasonable, intelligent, scientifically detached attitude toward spiders: instant loathing, escalating quite quickly to naked fear. And then, when spiders reach the size of a delivery van (well, that's what he said), blind screaming terror. Perfectly natural reaction.

Look, I'll admit I'd love to see a Unicorn, it would be amazing. Centaurs, though, are seriously problematical: there aren't many left in North America, but Jamie had told me about them. They barely tolerate certain individuals from the First Nations, and exhibit monumental contempt for almost everyone of European descent. And Hermione had told us both, with considerable relish, what happened to Dolores Umbridge. But even if I'd been guaranteed a friendly welcome from the horse-men, the spiders were more than enough to keep the forest Forbidden. At that point in my reverie, the sunlight was interrupted by a shadow that passed over me. At first I thought it was a cloud crossing the sun, but then it stopped and said,

“Ye'll not be thinkin' o' goin' in ter th' forest, now, would yeh?” I'm pretty quick on the uptake, so I turned around while bending backwards. I found a moment to be amazed that I hadn't heard something that big coming up behind me.

“Not on your life, Hagrid! Ron told me all about the spiders, and he and I think exactly alike on that subject.”

“Aye, that's just as well, I s'pose,” Hagrid smiled, nodding, and then looked me frankly in the eye. “But there, ol' Aragog warn't a bad sort, not really, y'understand. Not win y' get ter know 'im, or I oughter say 'er. When she passed on, Harry an' Professor Slughorn helped me bury 'er in m' garden, did y' know that?”

All I could think of to say was, “No.”

Then he grinned and clapped me on the shoulder – I've had bludgers hit me more gently. “Tell yeh what, I was just goin' home ter feed Fang and 'ave a cuppa. Whyn't yer come along? Glad ter have yeh!” He didn't say a cup of what, but I'd heard that one before, and assumed he meant tea.
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