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A discussion on magic

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A discussion on magic

‘Do they vote?’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Humphrey clearly did not catch the question.

‘I said, do they vote?’ Hacker repeated in a calm voice, ‘You mentioned they’ve got a Minister of Magic, but do they vote in our elections?’

That is indeed an interesting question. ‘To be honest, Prime Minister, I am not entirely sure. However, the phrase ‘democratic election’ seemed rather unfamiliar to them.’ The Minister of Magic herself said she’s never heard of it anyway.

‘What a pity, we do have three by-elections coming up recently, all of them in marginal seats.’

‘Prime Minister, ‘ Humphrey could not hold back his question, ‘I just informed you that magic exists in this world, and your first reaction was to rally votes for your marginal seats?’

‘Indeed, what a silly question…’ Hacker shook his head slightly with a smile, ‘Do they pay tax then?’

The Cabinet Secretary crossed his arms expressionlessly, ‘Very droll, Prime Minister.’

‘Seriously, that community must have at least thousands, nigh on ten thousand, population wise? Income tax, dividend tax, property tax, inheritance tax, that’s a large sum of money we’re talking about. ‘ Jim Hacker frowned as he went on, ‘No seriously, does No. 11 even know they exist?’

‘They might be eligible for exemption, in theory. As far as I know, they have their own health service, schools, banking system, and law enforcement. The Ministry of Magic and its various departments provide public services, and they’ve never required our unemployment benefits or bin collections.’ Humphrey analysed, all the while feeling increasingly astonished, ‘To be honest, they have no need to inform us their existence at all.’

‘But we are aware of their existence now, or should I say, you are, and then you informed me of it.’ There appears to be a hint of jealousy in the Prime Minister’s voice, ‘Besides, you’re the one who’s met the Minister of Magic. And I thought only Head of Government can meet with another official at the same rank.’

‘That’s because my office is the only room in the building that still has a genuine fireplace.’ Humphrey stalled with the half-truth, not really wanting to disclose the real reason behind this - the Cabinet Secretary was the one who handled all communications with the magical world, given the average tenure of the average Prime Ministers, ‘They called it the Floo, it’s similar to a conference call in the fireplace, except that any conversations taking place would have to be conducted in the fire. I am certain that if you did have a fire in your room, the Minister of Magic would have went ahead and called you instead.’

‘But what about summer?’ Hacker raised his eyebrows, his bad temper disappearing.

‘How do you mean ‘What about summer?’’

‘If they wanted to talk to you in the summer, does that mean they’ll have to wait an awful long time?’ This time Hacker crossed his arms, wearing a sardonic expression on his face, ‘Why can’t they just make a phone call like normal people do?’

‘As far as I know, magic doesn’t mix well with electronic devices.’ Being sardonic has never been Hacker’s natural habitat, an idea suddenly struck Humphrey, ‘Prime Minister, do you have some… issues against this magical community?’

‘Issues? You mean beside the fact that they pay no taxes, but sharing our roads, street lamps, and god knows what other resources? Certainly not.’

More sardonic attempts, proof. ‘Let me rephrase, do you perhaps have some opinions regarding their life style choices?’

‘Humphrey, how can you suggest that? Tolerance and integration are the key words in our manifesto.’ Hacker started to look a little weird, ‘I have no opinion of any kind. I simply don’t get the fuss about magic and its supposed brilliance. Surely that’s just bedtime stories for children.’

Humphrey has always known that Hacker did not have a romantic gene in his body, but this statement does make him pity that little boy who never got his share of bedtime stories, ‘If those children knew what we knew, they might think Christmas’ come early.’

Hacker sat straighter and looked at his Cabinet Secretary closely, ‘Humphrey, did I hear that correctly? If I didn’t know you so well, I would have thought you hold this magical lot in a bit of ... esteem? Even admiration, dare I say?’ He now looked annoyingly smug, ‘Did you always go into closets to find secret passageways when you’re a kid?’

‘There’s no need to gloat, Prime Minister. My theory happens to be proved correct.’ Magic is real.

‘Buy why, Humphrey?’ Hacker’s curiosity was truly piqued, ‘Really, magic? Did the Minister of Magic cast you a spell or something? I say, your approval, not to mention your admiration, is usually pretty hard to come by.’

‘The poetic fact that a scientifically inexplicable phenomenon existing outside the realm of our familiar reality is reason enough to win my approval.’ Humphrey gave up when he saw the person in front of him completely stonewalled, ‘Indeed, I happen to think that magic is not a bad idea, an attractive one I might add.’

‘If that’s the case, what are the things that magic can accomplish but we can’t?’

An innocent question. Humphrey replied after some thought, ‘They can fly.’

Hacker’s laughter was response enough, ‘But did you forget, Humphrey, so can we! For the last hundred years! Recently you can even fly to the moon if you want.’

‘No, not being tied up in a gigantic metal cage!’ Humphrey argued indignantly, ‘With flying broomsticks, you see, one can be truly free, like birds, flying in the way our ancestors have always imaged.’

‘Freezing cold and no free booze? I hope they don’t go on holidays very often, in this weather flying across the Channel would’ve been enough for them to lose a body part or two.’

‘Perhaps not the best choice for foreign travels. But it won’t be a bad idea when you’re stuck on the London Bridge for half an hour.’

‘Hmm, maybe.’ Hacker had to make a concession on the matter of congestion, ‘Perhaps you should try the tube, Mr Cabinet Secretary.’

‘I don’t think it’s necessary to continue our discussion in this vein, if you deliberately turn a serious academic debate into oversimplified problems and overgeneralized examples.’

Hacker apologized almost immediately, ‘My fault, Humphrey. Please continue.’

‘Given that you’re obsessed with efficiency, as far as I know, the magical world has a great variety of spells that can automate anything, from housework to paperwork. Reliable, never prone to errors, even school pupils can get the job done given some appropriate guidance.’

‘But we also have a great variety of machines to automate things, well, most things. And the experts kept saying that in the near future, most of our jobs will be taken by machines.’

‘But magic doesn’t rely on energy, all automation can still continue without electricity. A hike in oil price or the miners’ strike will have no impact on efficiency.’

Hacker appeared to be thinking, ‘So how do our magical friends deal with their working population with all that automation going on? Students leaving schools can’t just loitering in the high streets all day?’

Humphrey was slightly taken aback, ‘It has never even registered as a problem for them… From what I gathered, most of their young people entered the Ministry of Magic, or public service of one kind or another, upon finishing compulsory education. The rest go into this professional flying broomsticks football league, or whatever that’s called.’

‘You mean they also have an enormous civil service? Well, we’re very much alike in this regard. I hope the Minister of Magic has better luck than me.’

‘In fact, the Ministry of Magic is reasonably well organised, in my opinion, considering that apart from typical law enforcement, they also need a large Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. I would have guessed that might easily double the budget of the Met Police.’

‘Very well, Humphrey, now I know why you approve of magic.’ Hacker whined, ‘But if you want to convince me that magic is something good, you’ll need to come up with something better than the Ministry of Magic.’

‘Even with their impressive efficiency and low unemployment rate? Now who’s the one that’s hard to please?’

‘High efficiency and low unemployment aren’t everything. You see, Humphrey, when efficiency seems high, they might also see little need in any improvement or collaboration. And that’s usually the preamble to slowing in societal development. I guess that’s the reason they didn’t reach out to contact us more often?’

‘Indeed, although all the witch burning from a few hundred years ago also make them build up their guards…’ Now it’s Humphrey’s turn to frown, ‘You do have a point. Improvement doesn’t seem to be their strength. The magical society does seem a little … medieval.’

‘Oh, their industrial sector’s not particularly well developed?’

‘Almost non-existent. Most of their products are tinkered in family workshops. Naturally the Industrial Revolution never took place, a hundred years’ science and technology simply never happened to them.’

‘Ah, even you, Humphrey, can’t live in a world with only civil servants.’ Hacker’s enthusiasm seemed to have recovered, ‘Without industry, the basis of modern economics does not exist. No mass production, no accumulation of wealth, the need for trade will be staying on the level of a Sunday market. In that case, not even alchemy can improve their standard of living, I’m afraid.’

‘Alchemy doesn’t help I fear.’ Humphrey recalled his discussion with the Minister of Magic earlier, ‘The magical world also has to obey the first law of thermodynamics. Basically, they can’t make gold appear out of thin air. What we refer to as alchemy is no more than a glorified term for smelting really.’

Hacker can’t really stop smiling after hearing this, ‘Well, don’t be disappointed.. I’m sure the Permanent Secretaries in the Ministry of Magic are all living the high life. Even though they don’t have the luxury of chauffeur-driven Jags, they can always fly on their broomsticks like birds to go to work.’

‘It’s difficult to imagine one still has to live the nine-to-five life with all that power.’ Humphrey observed. That’s almost against humanity.

‘I guess when everyone has super power, no one’s really superman anymore.’

Humphrey pretended what he heard make sense, ‘Even so, their normality is still miles away from our reality.’

‘But that’s exactly the Utopia imagined by the left, isn’t it? The ultimate egalitarians, beating even universal basic income… Assuming this is a sociology experiment, there’s at least the guarantee of social stability for the magical, right? Even if they don’t have the luxury of modern technology or benefits from industrialisation.’

Hearing that, Humphrey shook his head again, ‘I’m afraid, Prime Minister, that social stability isn’t one of their strengths either. I was informed that the magical community is recently recovering from a ten-year long civil war. Not really the type of urban guerrilla warfare one expects here, considering magic virtually endows everyone with destructive weapons in their kitchen.’

‘A ten-year civil war? Whatever for? The money that they don’t have? Or the oil that they don’t need?’

‘Usually all it takes is a power-hungry megalomaniac to start a war, isn’t that the prerequisite of every James Bond film ever made?’ Humphrey observed the person in front of him carefully. Although Hacker would never say it out-loud, he has always been the closeted unilateralist. All those years editing the ‘Reform’ had left its mark. ‘A genocide against those born in non-magical families but possess magical abilities. Sounds familiar?’

‘Gosh… I thought we’ve stopped producing one of those lunatics after the Tudors…’ Hacker gulped down his whiskey, looking slightly piqued, ‘Hold on a minute, with a war, no, a humanitarian disaster like that happening right under our nose in this country, how come no one’s noticed anything? There’s bound to be some witnesses, well, witnessing something, right?’

‘The Ministry of Magic has agreement with every cabinet in Downing Street to keep their existence a secret from the non-magical community. And we just want to maintain the status quo without spending any money on it.’ Humphrey tried to be neutral, ‘As for the war, we might’ve labelled some incidents as sabotage attempts from… you know, our enemies from abroad… The Ministry usually dispatch their people to deal with the consequences quite quickly.’

‘You mean all those…?’ Hacker mimed an explosion with his arms in the air, ‘I pretend I didn’t hear what you just said, Humphrey. But really, has the Ministry of Magic never asked for our assistance?’

‘Now we’re back on the issue of the Statute of Secrecy again. Our policy has always been to keep their secret, and nothing more. I think comparing to our assistance, they’d rather have us on the side-line where they can see us.’

‘But you just said that megalomaniac was targeting the non-magical people, and that’s us! How are we to defend ourselves if we didn’t know about the threat in the first place? Gosh… And I just announced a defence cut in the House…’ Hacker started to fret.

‘Please calm down, Prime Minister. I said ‘those born in non-magical families but possess magical abilities’, not non-magical in general. Fortunately, that megalomaniac didn’t take us too seriously.’

‘That’s hardly the point. The point is, we have the right to know. How else can I protect the lives and properties of the citizens in this country?’

‘Even if we could break the Statute of Secrecy and the agreement between our governments, which by the way has been in place for hundreds of years, and declared the nation in a critical threat level, the only usable form of defence for us is probably Trident. I fail to see how that’s good news for anyone.’ Hacker was staring at him incredulously, Humphrey eventually gave in, ‘Arnold knew. When the civil war was happening, he was the Cabinet Secretary, and he’s kept close contact with the Ministry. If the situation had become very serious, he would have informed your predecessor to arrange for military actions. We both know that did not happen.’

‘Only Trident…’ Hacker repeated weakly, slumping in his chair, ‘I don’t think I can be so grateful for someone to not take me too seriously.. Gosh, he could’ve have us all exterminated without lifting a finger, or turn us all into slaves, most of us don’t even know he existed before that.’

‘Perhaps the superiority that comes with magic made him find the act of attacking defenceless people not challenging enough.’

‘You tell that to the aboriginals. If it’s so important to have challenges, colonialism probably wouldn't appear on history books.’

‘Perhaps they saw the spread of civilisation as a challenge?’ Humphrey suggested half-heartedly, ‘Unfortunately magic isn’t something one disseminate with gospels or blankets. It probably requires genetic mutation accumulating in several generations.’

‘Humphrey, you do realise that the only thing you’ve accomplished so far with this discussion is to convince me that magic is anything but good? The opposite to your original intention?’ Hacker now looked rather worried, ‘What did the Minister of Magic need you for today exactly? Is there another lunatic trying to start another war?’

‘War? No, well not entirely.’ Humphrey couldn’t resist but torment his Minister a bit longer, watching Hacker squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, ‘They have a friendly match against the French flying broomsticks football team this weekend. The Minister was kind enough to give me advance warning so that I can let the head of the Met know.’

‘The French football team?’ Hacker was confused, ‘What’s that to do with the police?’

‘Football hooligans, Prime Minister.’ Humphrey sighed, ‘With some bad luck, this could turn into a small war.’

Hacker was obviously relieved, ‘Well, our worlds do share some commonalities. Fortunately, we do have some experience dealing with football hooligans.’

The conversation appeared to have reached its natural conclusion, but Hacker asked another question, ‘Humphrey?’

‘Yes, Prime Minister?’

‘Any chance of you asking the Minister for some tickets?’

Humphrey clearly did not catch the question, ‘I seem to recall I have convinced you that magic is anything but good?’

‘I think they can do something about it. They have magic, don’t they?’ Hacker replied calmly.



Chapter Text











‘说真的,那个群体应该有几千甚至上万人吧,收入税、所得税、地税、遗产税,加起来可是一大笔钱。’Jim Hacker说着连眉头都皱了起来,‘话说起来,我们的财务部长知道他们的存在吗?’




























Hacker 陷入了思考,‘话说起来,那么我们会魔法的朋友们是怎么解决剩余劳动人口的问题?学生从学校毕业总不能在街上无所事事?’


‘你的意思是他们也有一个庞大的civil service?这一点我们倒是挺像的,我希望魔法部长的运气比我好一些。’








‘哈,就算是你,Humphrey,也不能活在一个全是civil servant的世界里。’Hacker讨论的兴致似乎回来了,‘没有工业,整个现代经济的基础就等于不存在。没有量化生产,就没有财富的累积,贸易的需求也就停留在礼拜日市集的水平。这样一来,即便有炼金术他们的生活质量也不能得到任何保障。’


听到这里,Hacker笑得像他赢得了奥运奖牌一样,‘好吧,不要太失落……我肯定魔法部的permanent secretary们也活得不错,即便没有司机开车接送的奢侈,他们每天还可以骑着飞天扫帚像鸟一样飞着去上班。’







‘开始一场战争通常只需要一个渴望权力的自大狂,难道这不是每一部James Bond电影的先要条件?’Humphrey注意观察着面前的人,尽管Hacker嘴上不肯承认,但他其实就是个反核反战的unilateralist,那些年的Reform编辑生涯还是留了些印记,‘针对非魔法血统出身但拥有魔法能力群体的种族屠杀。听起来很熟悉?’