Blackmail in Game Theory, Part 1


Three sentences were etched into the exterior wall of Hogwarts early in themorning of Harry Potter Day, in enormous lettering, readable from Hagrid’shut. Smoke softly and endlessly drifted off of the letters, and the smell ofburning was faintly present throughout the castle. The spell that had beenused was clearly one of power, but Headmistress McGonagall could not identifyit besides suggesting that it was ancient and had not been seen since the timeof the Founders. Even Fiendfyre would not have been a satisfactoryexplanation; it was some more powerful variant of the basic cursed fireconcept, a spell from which Fiendfyre had originally been derived.


Talk quickly spread, and even though the administration immediately threw atarp over the relevant wall, the twenty words were repeated in whispers overand over, throughout the school and soon in the Daily Prophet. There was noescape for anyone from the mysterious smoking ultimatum. Who had made it? Whywas it so threatening? Were they able to follow through? Most of the schoolwas fascinated, but not particularly concerned – they were following Harry’slead, though he refused to elaborate on what about the threat he foundparticularly interesting, or on why he did not see it as a serious crisis.Still, the words loomed large:


“So, this story isn’t quite true, either,” said Ginny. “Can you name anyobvious problems with it?”

“Um,” said Draco, but he was not able to think of an inconsistency. He wasreeling from the mere concept of the world nearly being ended by thedissatisfaction of the being who had created it. His hand ran over theanimated illustration of the Ark rocking in the waves, tiny hands reaching upfrom the water, trying and failing to cling onto the side, desperately tryingto save themselves. “I’m afraid you’ll have to answer this one for me.”

“Mostly just that it doesn’t match up with reality,” said Ginny. “A miraculousglobal flood of the proportions described would have left a distinct mark inthe Earth’s rocks; the Earth’s rocks can be used to ascertain an accuratehistory of natural events on the Earth. There’s no reason God would remove theevidence of the Flood, the common explanation is that it’s a test of faith butI already explained why that’s such an insidious lie. There are too manydistinct species on the Earth for them to have all diverged recently from theinhabitants of one boat, even if that boat were many times larger than anywe’ve been built. Not to mention that you need a much larger number ofindividuals than described to avoid a crippling genetic bottleneck. This isnot a description of how human civilization survives and rebuilds from anapocalypse that nearly causes extinction. This is a description of howancient, tribal humans imagine human civilization surviving and rebuildingfrom an apocalypse that nearly causes extinction.”

“So it’s a myth, then,” said Draco. “A legend.”

“Yes,” said Ginny. “But a legend originating in truth. The story of Noah isthe Jewish version of the Flood Myth. The Flood Myth is a story that appearsin many world religions, all of which apparently came up with itindependently. Each culture’s version of the Flood Myth has different details,but it’s essentially the same story. Wizard archaeologists know that the FloodMyth is fallout from the destruction of Atlantis. When Atlantis was lost intime, refugees managed to flee into history, and brought with them Atlanteanknowledge and magic that made them important leaders wherever they landed. Themost recent, of course, was Merlin, who founded modern wizarding society. Ibelieve Noah and his family were also such refugees. Noah appeared alongsidehis wife and children, among the prehistoric Jews, and he became theirpatriarch.”

“That makes sense,” said Draco, “but I thought the Jews were all Muggles whenChrist was born? Isn’t that a major theological point?”

“Much time passed between the time of Noah and more solidly recorded times,”said Ginny. “I think the most likely explanation is that magic slowly fadedfrom their tribe as magical ability ceased to be valued, and was eventuallyinstead feared. Some of the wizards descended from Noah bred into Squibs, andthen Muggles, while others splintered off into separate strictly magicaltribes.”

“Does that mean you support blood purism?” said Draco, and Ginny wasn’t surewhether to read his expression as suspicion or hope.

“No,” said Ginny, “not at all. Just that I think it’s possible to swing toofar in the other direction.”

“So did God destroy Atlantis?” asked Draco. “Or is that just part of thestory, too?”

“I don’t know,” said Ginny. “It’s certainly possible; that’s one commoninterpretation of the story. A more mundane possible interpretation is thatthe Atlanteans did something foolish and destroyed themselves, as is thesecular line of thought since at least Merlin, and the point of the story isthat whatever foolish thing they did that eventually destroyed them wassomething God frowns upon. There are additional books in the appendix that gointo more detail about Noah’s ancestors and the society he originally camefrom – presumably Atlantis – but they’re particularly cryptic, as echoes ofAtlantis tend to be. The whole of magical history is a mess of time loops fromAtlantis; Wizard Christianity posits a root cause of it all in Christ.” Ginnyglanced at a clock. “I think it’s time we take a break.”

“Okay,” said Draco. “What do you think of the message?”

“It’s about how disobeying God can be an existential threat to an entiresociety,” said Ginny. “Which I think is a perfectly-”

“No,” said Draco, “I mean the message,” and she immediately knew what hemeant.

“Oh – it’s very shocking,” said Ginny. She had actually seen it in personbefore it had been covered up, though it was all kind of blurry; she had leftsome kind of party on Halloween with a headache and had trouble sleeping. Thefollowing morning, when the ultimatum was revealed, she had still been sore.“But I don’t know what to think of it. It’s certainly a threat, but we have noidea if the anonymous messenger is actually able to follow through on it.”

“They used powerful magic to carve that into the stone of Hogwarts,” saidDraco. “Especially since it’s apparently prevented itself from beingrepaired.”

“I suppose that’s right,” said Ginny. “But if it were really worth panickingabout, don’t you figure you’d see more people panicking? Nobody’s been pulledout of school. No one looks like they’re in fear for their life.”

“I think not fearing for your life around now might be a serious mistake,”said Draco. “It’s possible that the threat is empty, but the reference to theChamber of Secrets means that the threat is serious. The last time it wasopened was when my grandparents were in Hogwarts; a student died. I seriouslydoubt the new Heir intends to do anything less.”

“It’s a good cause, at least,” said Ginny. “I don’t want anyone to die, but Iactually kind of want to see a few people get hurt. What they want is for theInterdict Of Merlin to end, right?”

“That’s the common interpretation,” said Draco.

“Well, it’d be good if it did end, right?” said Ginny. “The Interdict OfMerlin is the biggest threat to magic; it’s already lost most of the magicthat existed a millennium ago.”

“True,” said Draco. “But whoever the good guys are, we’re in the crossfire.Someone is going to be killed, soon, I can feel it and I’m not even a Seer.I’d rather that that not be me.”

“Or me,” said Ginny. Deep down, part of her would be willing to dispense withmost of her peers if she knew it would end the Interdict. Some things weresimply obviously barriers to progress that had to come down. But her moralcomponent rejected this entirely. The bad guy in this equation was clearlywhoever was blackmailing Hogwarts, and Ginny did stand against them, just noton all things.

According to every post-first year and several of the teachers, ProfessorColumbus was infinitely more exciting than Professor Binns had ever been(“probably even when he was alive”, added a few). For this he was commended,but he was still not a perfect teacher. He was a bit dotty, far less maturethan his aged appearance would indicate; he would often go off on tangentsthat, while informative and fascinating, had little to do with the main topic.For better or for worse, he was a fun teacher. On this particular day, he wassix minutes late to class, and Colin Creevey was showing everyone photographshe’d managed to take of the Heir’s Ultimatum before it had been hidden.Professor Columbus ran into the classroom, twisting his beard around a stickand muttering minced oaths under his breath.

“Alright, let’s begin today’s lesson,” said Professor Columbus. “Or, rather,let’s not. Let’s talk about something else that’s on everyone’s mind.Something historic. Let’s talk about the Chamber of Secrets.” There weregasps. “Yes, yes, I know. Shocking. The Chamber is among Hogwarts’ biggestmysteries, which is saying quite a lot, considering the storied history ofHogwarts. It’s certainly the biggest mystery relating to Salazar Slytherin,and that’s even considering that no one knows where he went after abandoningHogwarts, or when or where or how he died. Some historians have suggested thathe was likely entombed in the Chamber itself – perhaps accidentally, at that;several Dark Lords throughout history claim that they have been to the Chamberand it seemed that its construction was not complete. In fact, the testimonyof Dark Lords are our only source of information about the Chamber’s interior.The Chamber of Secrets is well-named, and most of its secrets have been well-kept, except for vague details.”

“One of the most notable details is Slytherin’s Monster,” said ProfessorColumbus. “Some details are consistent between all descriptions of Slytherin’sMonster, and other details are contradicted by assorted Dark Lords. But alldescriptions of the Chamber include a reference to the Monster, for theMonster is the Chamber’s primary feature. Slytherin’s Monster is a creature ofextreme longevity, born during Slytherin’s lifespan and still alive today; allaccounts agree on this, and that the purpose of the Chamber was to house itfor its entire natural lifespan, which, while not necessarily eternity, wouldhave been practically the same thing from Salazar’s perspective. Most agreethat the Monster is serpentine, so that it may be commanded exclusively byParselmouths.”

“This limits the potential form of the Monster considerably,” said ProfessorColumbus. “Assuming, of course, that the Monster is a known creature and notsome unique hybrid, chimera or construct that Slytherin invented exclusivelyfor the Chamber, which is, admittedly, quite an assumption. But there are onlytwo known serpents with lifespans sufficient for Slytherin’s purposes – theAshwinder, a snake relative of the phoenix, and the Basilisk, the legendaryKing of Serpents. Each explanation has pros and cons. The Ashwinder is trulyundying, as opposed to the Basilisk, which merely has a lifespan dwarfing ahuman’s. So Slytherin might have selected the Ashwinder in an attempt to granthis Chamber true permanency.”

“But the Basilisk is a far more likely candidate,” said Professor Columbus.“It’s much more glorious, easily twenty feet long and attaining an unknownmaximum size in its age. It’s called the King of Serpents for a reason – it’sby far one of the deadliest creatures in existence, not something you want tomeet in a dark alley, though it’s left off of most ‘deadliest creatures’ listsbecause they’re so rare, one hasn’t been seen in public in centuries. I doubtSlytherin would have been able to resist the allure of the Basilisk. TheBasilisk theory was confirmed in 1943, although everyone refused to admit itat the time.”

“Why do I say it was confirmed?” said Professor Columbus. “Very simple – astudent was killed, and the cause of death was petrification. There are fourcreatures known to kill their victims by petrifying them. The Gorgon is not aplausible Monster. It has a normal human lifespan and was extinct inSlytherin’s time. There are still no known means to recreate a Gorgon to thisday. The cockatrice is not a plausible Monster. It lives little longer than adecade. The Acromantula is not a plausible Monster, for thematic reasons –it’s a spider, not a serpent, and in fact it loathes serpents and will doanything in its power to destroy them; unless Salazar’s entire affinity forsnakes was a lifelong red herring, his Monster was not an Acromantula. And yetthey claimed it was, at the time, in 1943, because there was a student on-campus known to have an Acromantula and it made for a quick conviction! Anappalling failure of our justice system. No, the creature that killed MissMyrtle Gale was clearly a Basilisk.”

“The incident in 1943 also confirmed another theory about the Chamber,” saidProfessor Columbus. “There was quite some debate over the purpose of theChamber, prior to 1943. Some insisted that the Monster was a repository ofInterdicted lore, designed to empower Slytherin’s heirs with magical secretsthat the rest of the world may well have forgotten. This is dubious, as it isnot even known whether magical snakes may be used to bypass the Interdict insuch a way; Merlin was no fool. In 1943, the competing theory was proven; thatis, that the Monster was intended as a weapon to implement Slytherin’s will.What is Slytherin’s will, exactly?”

“In 1943, when the Chamber of Secrets was opened,” said Professor Columbus,“messages were left by the Heir, indicating that he was fulfilling SalazarSlytherin’s intent by purging the world of Muggleborn wizards. This was widelyseen as plausible at the time, despite that it was the first anyone had heardof such a purpose. Salazar Slytherin was the most prejudiced of the Founders,but he still never hinted at genocide of any sort as a solution. Now, we areliving through history. As you all know, a message was left this week; theofficial position of the Hogwarts administration is that it is most likely abluff by a wrongheaded prankster, but we all know that that is calmheadedbuffoonery.”

“This message,” said Professor Columbus, “by Slytherin’s new heir, indicates amore congruous goal: to break the Line of Merlin Unbroken, ending theInterdict of Merlin as many have said Slytherin desired. It is still in line,though, with the notion that the Chamber and its Monster are a weapon of war,a war that we are just now beginning. How will that weapon be used? Who willwin? What will happen? Who knows? We are at the beginning of a new chapter ofhistory. I implore all of you to be careful, and now let’s talk about goblinwars.”

A week after the message originally appeared, smoke finally stopped pouringout of its enormous letters, in the middle of the night, about eight hoursbefore Cedric Diggory’s petrified body was found beneath it.

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