Author's Note: This is a 'what happens next' metafic of 'Following the Phoenix', which is a fanfic of 'Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.' Both of those are excellent works and, if you haven't read them, you really should. In particular, read 'Following the Phoenix' before reading this, because Squiring the Phoenix talks about what happens after FtP ends.
The Entities spoke in universes.
Choose the physical laws and perhaps a base state, let it expand, perhaps modify some of the random parameters on the fly to generate a particular configuration of matter / energy / probability. Humor could be embodied as life; a hopeful message might be a species mastering fire. Dark humor would be a planet exploding and killing all of the (for the context) highly advanced beings thereon. If one wanted to add a soupçon of hope to the darkness of the humor, perhaps the physical laws might be established in such a way that the resulting brain-state of one of those doomed creatures would induce him to send a single escape rocket to carry the last of his race into the void.
Elegance was inseparable from the deep structure of one's message; the master poets among the Entities could speak elaborate elegiacs using universes containing only a few fundamental forces. The first word of babytalk usually consisted of a universe in which every particle was specified individually, each with its own set of laws.
Of course, because of the difference between spoken language and universal information exchange, there is no way that the conversation of the Entities can truly be understood by their infinitely-distant primitive human ancestors. Still, if one were to create an allegory, an enormously oversimplified lie that somehow showed a distant glimmer of the truth, then it might have sounded like this:
"Tell me a story, Daddy. A scary story!"
"A scary story, huh? Well, okay...I think you're old enough for this one. Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was something called 'death'..."
Harry emerged from Ignotus's resting place feeling...shellshocked. His brain seemed to be grinding its gears, getting nowhere. None of his inner personas were saying a word, being just as flummoxed as he was. How did one react to becoming the student of a wizard who had lived when Charlemagne was born?
His stomach growled loudly. Apparently, one reacts by being really, really hungry, he thought.
"Well?! What did he say?" Hermione demanded. She looked like she was about to vibrate into another dimension from sheer need to know, and from frustration at not being allowed to meet Ignotus herself.
Harry's eyes tracked over to her and, with great effort, he managed to push words through the fog that lay across his mind. "He said he'll help. Let's eat."
She clenched her fists in frustration, but could tell that Harry wouldn't be saying any more. She grabbed his hand and the world burst into fire; when it cleared, they were at the back room of the Leaky Cauldron. Harry dropped into a chair moments before Dumbledore appeared in a fireflash of his own. The Headmaster wasn't quite as overborne as Harry, but he was definitely quiet and thoughtful. Hermione studied them both for a moment then gave an irritated humph and went off to ask Tom for some stew.
One could not say that, under these circumstances, Hermione Granger waited patiently, but she at least didn't try to ask any questions while they ate.
After a few minutes and some food, Harry came back into focus. He looked at his companions consideringly and then turned to Dumbledore. "Would you please talk to the Ministry and get things started finding the Healer we'll need? And any lab resources you think we should have."
Dumbledore smiled faintly, recognizing a dismissal when he heard one. With a brief nod to Hermione, he vanished in a puff of phoenix fire.
"He's alive, Hermione. Alive, and still powerful. He read my mind—not just Legilimency, he took everything. He can't move, he can barely speak, but he'll help. He gave me a few hundred scrolls and told me to come back in three months. And yes, he said to bring you." He smiled as Hermione blew out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding and her foot stopped trying to tap a hole in the floor.
"So what happens now?" she asked.
Harry thought about it for a moment. "As I see it, we've got two major problems—curing death, and also dealing with ensuring that the Muggle and magical world integrate smoothly. You might not approve of him, but Professor Quirrel—"
Harry sighed. "Voldemort was just a mask he put on, Hermione. Not even a particularly clever mask—it was deliberately built to play to all the tropes of an Evil Overlord, to induce particular reactions in his enemies." He hestitated. "I'm actually not sure who the real man was, but he will always be Professor Quirell to me. In any case, he was right that a war between Muggles and wizards would be an extinction event. Right now, here in Britain, things are going smoothly, but the Americans are already pushing to be involved, and they'll expect to be senior partners. The European wizarding community is still being cagey about coming out, waiting to see how it works here in Britain; the longer that goes on, the less trust the Muggles will have when they finally do come out." He grimaced. "It's a distraction, but it's an important one."
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Guiding the single largest merger of two nations in history—Muggle and magical—is a distraction?"
"Of course," Harry said, his tone implying that it wasn't the brightest question his brilliant friend had ever asked. "The real thing we should all be working on is curing death. We can do it, Hermione! Ignotus and his brothers, they did it! They learned how to keep anyone from dying, ever. That's what the Cloak does—it keeps your soul in your body, no matter what. All we need to do is cure aging and disease—well, and probably invent ultra-fast wound healing—and then figure out how to mass-produce and distribute the Cloaks."
Hermione sat back, her arms folded across her chest. "Oh, is that all? Just cure aging? Well, that should be simple enough."
Harry sighed. "Look, do you disagree? Is there something else that you think is more important than those two things?"
He had to give her credit, she thought about it before she answered. "Not more important, but as important," she said. "If you're really worried about wars of extinction, then we should take action to make sure that can't happen. Disarm all the nuclear bombs, maybe?" She paused. "No, we'd also need to worry about bioweapons. I'm not sure how to handle that one."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. It was actually a really good point. "I thought about the nukes a while ago," he admitted. "I don't think it's practical. If we just went ahead and did it, it would cause its own problems once someone noticed, and we're unlikely to get everyone's permission. What we could do, though, is put a colony on the moon or Mars."
Hermione blinked and then tipped her head in thought. Harry could almost see the gears engage inside her brain. "I wonder if there's a range limit on phoenix travel? Xare can't take me anywhere I haven't seen, but maybe a picture would be good enough? I know the Freedom and Spirit probes sent back a lot of images..."
Harry nodded. "Right. We'll need to check that. If not, maybe a telescope? I think the Keck is the biggest, but it's been a while since I checked. And maybe we could use phoenixes to set up a distributed array of telescopes, turn them into one giant one so that we could image exoplanets. Oh, or maybe—"
Hermione held up her hand. "That's enough for now, Harry. The politics is the most immediately important issue. As I see it, our problem is credibility—you may be the Boy Who Lived here in Britain, but to the rest of the world you're eleven. We'll need someone who's known internationally. Someone like Professor Dumbledore."
Harry hesitated. Dumbledore was too recently a deathist for him to be entirely comfortable with the man's judgement. "Maybe," he said doubtfully. "We can look around. Still, don't forget about that space travel thing. I think it's important."
Sarah Painter had been working at the UK Space Agency for four years when the world changed. Before that, she'd fought her way through a masters and then a Ph.D., double majoring in electrical engineering and computer science. As a woman in EE and CS, her classmates looked at her as an odd duck. That was just a taste of what she faced once she finally wedged her foot in the door at the UKSA. In the old-boys' school of the Space Agency she'd been condescended to, not-so-quietly lusted after, and told both subtly and not so subtly that, as a woman, it was really cute and precocious that she was trying to do science.
She was outside smoking a cigarette, trying to cool down after trying to explain to Chris—again!—that his instrumentation package wasn't the only package on the vehicle and he was drawing four more watts than what was allocated to him from the RTG and he had to pare it back. He'd nodded, smiled, and told her not to worry, that he'd 'talk to the guys over in design and get this little snafu straightened out.'
When the world changes, one might expect a big flash of light, a rumble of thunder—at least a chorus of flying children with harps and halos, right? One did not expect a girl to flash into existence in a pillar of Biblical fire with a red-gold falcon sitting on her shoulder. The cigarette fell from Sarah's mouth.
"Hi," the girl said brightly. "I was wondering if I could talk to someone about a space suit?"
"A witch," Fred said flatly. "An actual witch?" He eyed the woman sitting across from him askance; she was wearing eye-searingly green robes and a tall black witch's hat straight out of his daughter's last-year Halloween costume. He was still trying to decide if she was an SCAer or a loon. The fact that she had just walked into his office, bold as brass, and started talking just made it more surreal.
Dora sighed. "Yes. An actual witch. Here." She pulled out her wand, gave it a flick, and said "Wingardium Leviosa." Pointing it at Fred's chair she lifted him up and floated him around a bit before setting him gently down. "A witch. I don't know why you Muggles are having so much trouble with this. It's not like it hasn't been in all the papers—the Boy Who Lived has been dealing with the Queen herself, for heaven's sake!"
Fred blinked a few times. "Okay." He blinked a few more times. "I have no idea what you're talking about, but that's fine because you're a witch. So, what can I do for you?"
"Harry Potter put together a list of Muggles that he wanted invited to London in order to participate in..." She pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and read off of it. "...an international symposium with the aim of determinging how best to combine magic and science in order to eliminate death, disease, and aging. The wizarding world possesses the ability to bypass known laws of physics, and the non-magical world posseses modern technology and the scientific method, which the wizarding world lacks. Together, the two societies can do great things. The symposium will begin Saturday, August 15, 1992 in London, England, and will run until the 22nd. Travel, room, and board will be provided by the symposium. Attendees are invited and expected to perform experiments while at the symposium; research facilities will be provided. Invitees are welcome to bring up to three assistants or co-investigators. Please RSVP no later than August 8th with a list of who will be coming. The bearer of this message will explain your travel."
Fred raised an eyebrow. "Is this a joke?" he asked carefully. "How can a modern society lack the scientific method?"
Dora shrugged. "I have no idea. The fellow who explained it to me was a very nice Muggle chap, although a a bit daft; he seemed to think it was some great revelation, but it's just potion making, right? You combine some ingredients, see if it produces anything, and if it doesn't then you combine some other ingredients. Anyway, I just deliver the messages." She straightened as though remembering something and started patting her pockts.
"Where did I put that Portkey?" she mumbled. Finally she pulled off her hat and reached in, feeling around. Fred watched in bemusement as her arm disappeared up to the shoulder into the eighteen-inch hat.
"Aha! Here it is," she said, pulling out an envelope and riffling through it. From within the envelope she produced a piece of gold paper and handed it to him. On the paper were written the words 'For Doctor Frederick Blaise, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA. This is a Portkey; it will become active on August 15 at 12pm your local time. All parties touching the paper at that time will be transported to London with whatever luggage they are touching.'
"Not so sure what there is to explain," Dora said with a sniff. "I mean, it's right there on the paper, innnit? Anyway, I'll just be going. I've got more stops to make." She vanished with a dull crack!
Fred stared at the paper in bemusement, then grabbed for the phone. There wasn't much time, and he'd a lot to arrange.
The balcony was just large enough for two people to stretch out without knocking over the telescope. There was more room than usual tonight, since Dad was out of town; that was all right, though. They'd watch the Perseids together tomorrow, and tonight would be Joel's alone.
He pillowed his hands on his head and lay back to watch the stars wheel above him. Even without the promise of meteors, he could happily watch those sparkling jewels, so infinitely far away, and wonder what it would be like to travel among them.
Joel had wanted to go to the stars since he'd picked up his very first science fiction book at the age of five—The Patchwork Girl, by Niven. He had wanted to be Gil the Arm...well, no. He wanted to be himself, but be what Gil was a picture of: a hero, a protector, an explorer. A Flatlander who became a Belter, who piloted his own singleship, who helped shepherd humanity while they passed through the painful birthing process of leaving Earth and growing into the universe. Joel wanted to protect the sheep from the wolves, and float in space, and see torchships ride out-system carrying a precious cargo of human life. Aunt Mabel and Uncle George could talk about the 'miracles' of Jesus, but the miracles that Joel wanted involved riding fire in the sky and sailing on an ocean of light.
His contemplation of the infinite deeps was broken by motion and light off to his left. He sat up and looked over to see a meteor...no, too slow. Maybe a plane? Awfully bright, though, and more red than wh—holy crap, it was a bird. And it was on fire!
He scrambled to his feet as the phoenix landed on the railing in front of him. It flipped its wings, took a slight step as though looking for the most comfortable piece of rail, and stared at him.
Its eyes were fire and light and heroism and all the power and majesty of the human race and he fell into them, plummeting as though from a cliff. He fell and fell, images flickering past:
—himself, space-suited and alone in free space, deploying something that would provide part of the energy to raise everyone in the world from poverty to luxury. No, he was dying as his suit ripped on a jutting bolt and all his air dumped into the void and his eyes froze.
—himself on the moon, overseeing the robots that were piling moondust over the first lunar dome. In two months the dome would be complete and he and the fire-light-hope-brother-warrior-pure beside him would begin transporting colonists to their new home. Himself dying of hypoxia from a suit failure.
—himself appearing in fire and light like an angel of old to rescue three engineers trapped in a lunar mine collapse. Himself being crushed in a new collapse.
The question was soundless and infinite, as though the entire universe echoed through him demanding his answer: would he step forward, live his dreams, and lift humanity from its cradle?
"Yes!" he gasped, choking on joyful tears. "Oh god, yes!"
Author's Footnote: I have a mailing list! It can be found at bit. do /dks-list. There is one email every two weeks, and each one includes links to new postings as well as bonus material not available on the web—world history, character studies, deleted scenes, etc.
Also, I have other stories for sale! You can find them over on 'davidstorrs. com'. I've listed the current catalogue and the current prices below; obviously they may have changed if you're reading this long after I posted it.
"The Draugar War: Opening Salvo" ($1.99), fantasy, novella. It's a spinoff from my story, 'The Two Year Emperor'; High Marshal Albrecht Löfgren arrives for a simple troop inspection but ends up having to lie to High Command, pretend to kill several thousand legionnaires, and—oh yes—fight off the end of the world. Ah well, looks like it's Tuesday.
"One Hot Night" ($0.99), fantasy, novelette. A spinoff from my story 'The Two Year Emperor' in which Ingfred wheels, deals, and cons his way into walking through a legal loophole so that he can make a a fortune selling his memories to a tabloid...and then the law catches up to him.
"Baby Blues" ($1.99), rational horror, novella. Mitchell has escaped from Rikers Island and is desperate to reunite with his daughter, but it's not going to be easy; Rikers is no ordinary prison, Mitchell is no ordinary prisoner, and every human in the city is desperate to get him back behind bars...
"Pay Attention" ($1.99), rational horror, novella. Pay attention. Don't touch the ouija board again. Don't let yourself be distracted. You can keep your mind as long as you don't get distracted. Stay focused. Stay alert. And, whatever you do, pay attention.
"The Draugar War: Opening Salvo" ($1.99), fantasy, novella. It's a spinoff from my other story, "The Two Year Emperor." Summary: Albrecht never expected that a simpl troop inspection would involve going behind High Command's back, retraining a Legion, and—oh yes—fighting off the end of the world. Ah well, looks like it's Tuesday.