Programming

In Charms class, on the first day that classes resumed, Ginny was distracted.She could afford to; she had a natural talent for Charms. Was it right topursue Draco and Harry simultaneously? Tim had dismissed the matter as girlishfoolishness immediately upon hearing of it, so she had tried to block it outof her mind, to feel more mature. But it was a serious concern. Perhaps almostas serious as the question of whether it was right to pursue either of them.Ginny certainly felt like a girl, and was physically one so far as anyonecould tell, but her soul said something different, and it was a routinely-madepoint, where Ginny came from, that the soul was what truly counted, in theend. The Bible prescribed awful punishments for male homosexuality, thoughthose punishments had been abandoned long ago, and secularism, the mostdominant religion in the modern wizarding world, thought it was cruel even todisapprove of the practice. Ginny would hate to wind up in Hell over some dumbmisunderstanding about her gender, and even though her view of God’somnibenevolence suggested that that was an absurdity, it was still enough of alooming possibility to concern her.

“Luna,” Ginny had said, just before class started. “I have a very personalquestion to ask you, about something very secret. Can I trust you to keep itbetween us?” Luna had put a hand just in front of her mouth in a futileattempt to hide that she was smiling more widely than she normally was.

“Um, of course,” said Luna. “What is it?”

“Okay, um,” said Ginny. “When I got to Hogwarts, I discovered something verysurprising and very distressing about myself. Basically, there was a mess withsome wards, and then I learned from Madam Pomfrey that my soul says that I’m aboy.” Luna had not looked confused at all; it would have been very odd if shehad. “But I don’t feel like a boy, and I never have. I’m not biologically aboy, or even ambiguous. So, to go forward, just, what am I?”

“Ginny, of course you’re a girl,” said Luna.

“But why?” said Ginny. “Are you sure?”

“No,” said Luna. “You’re sure. Because it’s in your head. The mind’s the finalarbiter of this kind of thing, because the body can be changed with magic –especially now, with the Philosopher’s Stone, come to think of it – and thesoul contains – roughly half a page of text. That’s all. It can be wrong.”Ginny had frowned, because that was not her understanding of what a soul wasat all. “And also, I like you, so I’m pretty sure you’re a girl.”

“Come again?” said Ginny, and there had been a long pause, as Luna had justbeen smiling, before a sudden realization. “Oh.” Luna had nodded, and Ginnyhad realized that, given the vast gulf between their worldviews, Luna’sopinion didn’t mean much to her, except insofar as she was a friend.

The lesson today was of particular interest to Ginny. One of the spells beingtaught today was a castable form of the Remembrall’s magic, which, upon beingcorrectly cast, shot up a number of black sparks proportional to the number ofthings forgotten by the caster. Ginny consistently produced more sparks withthe Charm than anyone else in the class, which at least vaguely concerned her.Luna, conversely, produced the fewest; each time she correctly cast the spell,only a single projectile emanated from her wand.

Ginny was thinking about the nature of Charms, and about her first day atHogwarts – specifically, the moment when she had been knocked unconscious bysome Parseltongue enchantment. She carefully thought about what she rememberedof Professor Flitwick’s description of the spell, and decided that, as aParselmouth herself, and a future Charms Master, it was her responsibility tolearn it, as she could make better use of it than nearly anyone. So shelingered after class.

“Professor Flitwick,” said Ginny. “I’d like to ask a question. There’s a spellI’d like to learn, but I want to know if it’s feasible for me to learn it atmy level, and as far as I know, you’re the only one who knows it to teach itto me.”

“What spell?” said the Professor.

“I don’t know what it’s called,” said Ginny, “but it’s the spell you describedto me on the first day, that you used to drown out the secret message on theSorting Hat – and, I’m assuming, that was used to put the secret message onthe Sorting Hat in the first place.”

“Hmm,” said Professor Flitwick. “That is a surprisingly easy Charm – I’dprobably say second year, but you’ve shown surprising talent. I could easilyteach it to you before my next class, but I want to get the approval of theHeadmistress first; it wasn’t a secret when I found it, just obscure, but thatmight have changed.”

“Alright,” said Ginny, and Professor Flitwick showed himself out of the room.Somewhere, Ginny heard the sound of a Patronus being cast. A slight delay, andseveral Patronuses later…

“Okay,” said Professor Flitwick. “I’ve gotten permission to teach you thisspell, but I want it to be very clear that you should inform me on a weeklybasis of any novel uses of the spell that you invent. And I fully expect youto invent novel uses of the spell, because you’re a Parselmouth, and thereforehave access to much more of the spell’s potential than I ever did.”

“Understood,” said Ginny. Professor Flitwick nodded, and displayed his wand;Ginny instinctively reached for her own.

“Now – first the wand movement,” said Professor Flitwick. “The physical wandmovement is very simple. The thoughts you must focus on simultaneously withthe wand movement are more complicated, but still simple in their own way, butI’ll get to them next. To cast this spell, you must trace an equilateraltriangle in the air. The exact size of the triangle does not matter, as longas each side is equal in length. The bottom side of the triangle shouldparallel the horizon, assuming that you’re standing upright, and the order ofthe sides should be left, bottom, right. So you start and end at the top pointof the triangle.” He demonstrated all of this in the air in front of him as heexplained. “Is that all very clear?”

“Yes,” said Ginny, and she mirrored Professor Flitwick’s movements, though notreversed, until she had gotten it right.

“Now, then, for the thoughts,” said Professor Flitwick. “While tracing theleft side of the triangle, focus on where you want the ‘node’ generated by thespell to be. Whatever location you choose must be relative to an object. Youcould choose a portable object, like a ball or a stick, and therefore have aportable node. Or you could choose something fixed, like Hogwarts or the Earthitself, if you want the node to be fixed.”

“While tracing the bottom side of the triangle,” said Professor Flitwick,“focus on what conditions you want to activate the node. I don’t know exactlyhow versatile this step is. The nodes seem to have some sensory mechanism thatthey’re capable of examining; at least enough that ‘the Sorting Hat saysSlytherin’ can be a condition. I was able to confirm that they don’t haveaccess to all human knowledge, only the sensory information immediatelysurrounding them. Like many idealistic fools, I am eagerly awaiting theinvention of a Charm that accidentally grants its user effective omniscienceor omnipotence, in the hopes of getting to it first, even though MagicalTheorists say it’s impossible. So of course I took the time to check if thisspell was it.”

“While tracing the right side of the triangle, focus on what you want the nodeto say when activated,” said Professor Flitwick. “This is the feature of theCharm I am not able to make full use of, as the nodes only speak inParseltongue, and you may not even correctly cast this step without being aParselmouth yourself. I was able to find a workaround, as you know – sorry –but I was fully aware of the potential uses of the spell that I had no accessto, which was disheartening. I envy the uses you are sure to find here.” Ginnydidn’t know whether to seem proud or sorry.

“When you have completed the triangle, say the incantation – ‘Sapespeck’ –and the Charm is complete,” said Professor Flitwick. “Several interestingnotes about the result – the resulting node is invisible to anyone except forthe original caster, who sees it as a bright green dot suspended in space. Thenode does not consume any of the original caster’s magic, or at least not alarge enough portion of the original caster’s magic that I was able to tellafter creating a hundred of them. Judging by Slytherin’s node on the SortingHat, it continues well after the original caster’s death. And it’s resistantto magic-canceling spells like ‘Finite Incantatem’, except, again, from theoriginal caster. All-in-all, it’s a very powerful, very versatile Charm. Ifits use weren’t limited to Parseltongue, almost all of Hogwarts would knowit.”

“Now,” said Professor Flitwick, “would you like to try? Affix a node to anobject somewhere in this room, and give it a simple condition we can easilycheck.”

“Alright,” said Ginny. She was fairly certain she had understood everythingProfessor Flitwick had said – perhaps she had even understood some things he’dsaid that he hadn’t understood himself. Swish-swish-swish. “Sapespeck.” Agreen dot appeared above Professor Flitwick’s desk. Ginny was impressed withherself; even she often took multiple times to get a Charm right, and thosewere first year Charms. Perhaps being a Parselmouth helped.

“Did it work?” asked Professor Flitwick. Ginny nodded, smiled, put her wanddown, and clapped. A hollow voice said:

Ssalutationss, sschool.


In her first day of usage, Ginny discovered a variety of nuances of theSapespeck Charm that Professor Flitwick had not happened upon. If you cast theCharm not-quite-right, but close enough for it to tell that you’d tried tocast it, a voice would tell you, in Parseltongue, a rudimentary description ofwhat you had done wrong. You couldn’t create two nodes in the same place – ifyou tried, the Charm would tell you: “You have made a misstake. Sspecks musstoccupy different pointss in sspace.” You could create them so close togetherthat the green dots that indicated them overlapped, though – in fact, youcould even create them so close together that they might as well, for allpractical purposes, have been in the same place.

The truth requirements of Parseltongue coming from Sapespeck nodes wereslightly looser than the regular truth requirements. The caster needed toeither believe that what they were saying was currently true, or that it wouldprobably be true when the node was activated; either was sufficient. Ginnythoroughly tested this, and was able to produce nodes that said false thingsin Parseltongue – one node, for example, would, upon hearing a clap, say“There iss a coin under me,” because it was true when the node was initiallycreated, even though Ginny immediately removed the Knut after casting. IfGinny attempted to produce a node that was true in neither sense – neitherwhen it was created nor in the probable event that it was activated – then shewould receive only a “You have made a misstake. Invalid ssnake wordss.

The nodes were not much smarter than you would expect from a Charm. On oneoccasion, Ginny tried to make a node that would hiss words of encouragement atSlytherins when they passed, and she simply received a “You have made amisstake. Invalid conditionss.” She was still able to achieve her goal,though, by changing her mental wording to “when you see robes with greentrim”. The only other notable limitation she encountered was that she couldnot affix nodes to her own wand – the response to that was “You have made amisstake. Sspecks may only be removed by casster, and musst be able to beremoved.”

Ginny had one idea that she was particularly excited to show Harry Potter. Shebarely completed it in time for their date.


“Harry, you have to look at this,” said Ginny, and she held up a piece ofpaper.

“It’s blank,” said Harry.

“Yes,” said Ginny. “But I’ve enchanted it. Say an addition problem.”

“I thought we were here to discuss your Wizard Christianity,” said Harry.

“We can get to that next,” said Ginny. “I thought you’d think this was neat.”

“Two plus four,” said Harry, shrugging.

Ssixx,” said the paper, after a quick bout of inaudible hissing of codewords.

“Impressive,” said Harry.

“Do something harder,” said Ginny.

“Two plus one half,” said Harry.

Three,” said the paper.

“What?” said Ginny. “No, like-”

“Five plus six point four,” said Harry.

Eleven,” said the paper.

“I plus I,” said Harry. The paper didn’t respond.

“Three plus three plus three,” said Harry.

Sseven. Ssix,” said the paper.

“No, I mean bigger numbers,” said Ginny.

“Oh,” said Harry, disappointed. “Five hundred and ninety three plus threehundred and ninety four.”

Nine hundred and eighty sseven,” said the paper.

“Very impressive,” said Harry, though that certainly wasn’t what his facesaid. “How did you enchant this to speak in Parseltongue?”

“There’s a Charm I could teach you,” said Ginny. “Professor Flitwick taught itto me, although he couldn’t make full use of it-”

“Because he’s not a Parseltongue, of course,” said Harry.

“Parselmouth,” said Ginny.

“It’s that spell,” said Harry. “Got it. So we were going to discuss WizardChristianity, right? Have you ever heard of a place called the Department ofMysteries?”

“Yes,” said Ginny.

“I’ve been there,” said Harry. “I could arrange to take you there if you don’tbelieve me, although I’d prefer not to; it’s an awfully large hassle with alot of paperwork involved, and it shouldn’t be necessary, I mean, you trustme, right?”
“Yes,” said Ginny, though she was subconsciously beginning to have her doubts.

“In the Department of Mysteries, there’s a room called the Time Room,” saidHarry. “Some relatively new and incredibly useful magics have been inventedthere. In the Time Room, there’s a spatial-temporal anomaly called the Well ofTime. The Well of Time is an apparently perfectly cylindrical pit, with a sortof spiral pattern on the walls. Every full rotation of the spiral – roughlyevery meter and a half – is equivalent to one year. Every year, the Well ofTime grows one year deeper. It serves as a sort of time viewer – if you pressyour face up against the side, you receive a vision of something that’salready happened; the only reason it can’t be used as a spying device isbecause the visions can’t be aimed in space – although they tend to be heavilyclustered around the land surface of the Earth – but they can be aimed intime.”

“I’m aware of the Well of Time, Harry,” said Ginny, and she was smiling. Shehadn’t expected the conversation to start this way.

“And you’re aware of its depth?” said Harry.

“At least a million years deep with no end in sight,” said Ginny.

“Actually, the exact depth was recently calculated,” said Harry, “because itwas determined that the Well of Time is actually conic, allowing its exactsize to be determined with very fine instruments. It’s 4.57 billion years,exactly in line with the Muggle estimates of the age of the Earth.” Hestopped, and realized he had gotten sidetracked. “But what do you think theWell of Time is, Ginny?”

“Exactly what you think it is,” said Ginny.

“Not a portal to Hell?” said Harry. He frowned.

“No,” said Ginny, “not a portal to Hell. The Weasleys haven’t been thatdeluded since Septimus two generations ago. The Earth isn’t six thousand yearsold, Harry, and I’m completely aware of that. I’m aware of the Muggle evidenceas well as the magical.”

“And you are still a Wizard Christian?” said Harry. Ginny nodded. “Ugh. Thatkind of rationalization is common in the Muggle world, too.”

“I think your mistake is probably that you’re fighting the hypothesis that theBible is the perfect word of God,” said Ginny, “which, to be fair, is ahypothesis that a lot of people hold. But it’s not a very strong hypothesis toattack. You can break a hypothesis like that by pointing out internalcontradictions. Although, let’s be honest, here; most people who believe inthat hypothesis aren’t going to be big on rationalism anyway.”

“What do you believe?” said Harry. It was too early for an “and why do youbelieve it?”.

“I believe that the Bible is a historical document,” said Ginny, “no,actually, a collection of disparate historical documents, that records eventsthat shine light on the existence and nature of God. Their reliability andvalue varies considerably; the earliest books are essentially tribal myths,though there might be some truth in them as well.”

“So you consider the New Testament more relevant to your beliefs than the OldTestament, then?” said Harry.

“Yes,” said Ginny, because it was true, although she hadn’t explicitly said ityet, so she was a touch surprised.

“There’s only one wizard or witch known to have returned from death withoutthe use of inherently evil magic,” said Harry. “And she currently attends thisschool.”

“You are forgetting about Jesus Christ,” said Ginny, “who is no ordinarywizard.”

“Oh, was he a double witch, then?” said Harry.

“He is the Son of God,” said Ginny.

“According to?” said Harry.

“The Bible! Himself! Prophecy!” said Ginny.

“Hmm, prophecy…” said Harry. “Unfortunately, I can’t check whether it wasdelivered by a legitimate Seer; the Hall of Prophecy has been destroyed.”

“This all happened long before-” started Ginny. “Wait, it has?”

“Never mind,” said Harry. “Anyway, I have it on good authority that HermioneGranger was never truly medically dead; she was only dead in a limited,magical sense. You can’t actually survive actual dying without extremely evilmagic, which you need to arrange in advance of the death. It’s impossible. Isuppose you’re going to say that’s the point, and it’s a miracle.”

“It is indeed the point,” said Ginny. “A major theme of what the Bible recordsis miracles.”

“There’s no such thing,” said Harry. “Have you ever seen a miracle? Do youreally believe that they happen, or do you only believe that you believe thatthey happen? Does this world look like a world that has miracles in it to you,or does it look like one that operates on consistent rules?”

“What’s the Well of Time?” said Ginny. Harry considered the purpose of thequestion before deciding how to answer it.

“It’s either a magical invention or a naturally occurring magical phenomena,”said Harry. “I’m not sure which, although I suspect that all magic isconstructed somehow or another, in the distant past.” Ginny smiled.

“You referred to it as an anomaly, and that sounds about right to me,” saidGinny. “Consider other possible terms for ‘anomaly’, though. A Muggle mightjust say ‘magic’, because they don’t know that that’s something normal andunderstood. Someone like me might call it a ‘miracle’.”

“Ginny, it’s all magic,” said Harry. “It’s all understandable, the question isjust whether or not we understand it already. This is the Hogwarts School ofWitchcraft and Wizardry, not the Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles. Therearen’t any real miracles.”

“Oh, well I’m glad we understand everything, then,” said Ginny. “I guess theDepartment of Mysteries can just shut down, then. Since there isn’t anythingmysterious to study.”

“Ginny, you can’t put everything you don’t understand yet in a box called‘God’ or ‘miracles’ and call it a day,” said Harry. “That’s a God-of-the-gapsargument, and it should be clear why it’s broken thinking.”

“I’m not saying it’s not understandable,” said Ginny. “I’m saying thatanomalies happen, and are important and interesting.”

“Have you ever heard of theodicy, Ginny?” asked Harry. He had just researchedthe matter over the previous week.

“That’s the set of omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, right?” saidGinny. “I’ve heard of it and believe in it, although omniscience is awfullyredundant with omnipotence, isn’t it? I think omnipresence would be a betterthird quality.”

“No,” said Harry. “Theodicy is the question of how, given omniscience,omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, how does suffering happen, particularlysuffering that could widely be agreed on as unjust.”

“Oh,” said Ginny, “the problem of evil.”

“Yes,” said Harry. “How do you resolve theodicy, Ginny?”

“Well, first off, to truly prevent humans from being evil would strip them ofall agency,” said Ginny.

“The free will argument,” said Harry. “Classic. But not all suffering evenresults from evil. That’s why the problem of evil is really just a moremainstream form of theodicy.”

“Well, secondly,” said Ginny, “I don’t believe that any suffering is of realsignificance, because an omnibenevolent God would permit us all to liveforever.” Harry was clearly restraining himself from something.

“Do you believe in Hell, Ginny?” asked Harry.

“Maybe?” said Ginny. “Probably not? My family told me about it as if it werereal, but they didn’t seem to really believe in it, as if they were quoting afairy tale about Father Christmas at me. And my gut tells me that itcontradicts omnibenevolence, hard, and omnibenevolence is a much moreimportant belief.”

“Oh, look at my wrist, I’ve got to go,” said Harry, immediately rising andheading for the door. “There’s an appointment I forgot.”

The next Friday, Ginny learned that, “to shake things up”, Blaise Zabini wasthe new Vice President of the More Sane Squad.


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