Into The Weeds

To Harry and Ginny their Muggle flat seemed more like an odd room at Grimmauld Place than a separate Muggle space. The kitchen pantry portal to their third floor walkup meant that Harry could work between a magical kitchen and a Muggle computer. The portal entered the flat's kitchen through the fire door. The fire escape was un-need by those who can apparate. and useless anyway because the two downstairs tenants filled the stairs and landings with trash bins, charcoal burners and television aerials.

The small fire door window more or less doubled the natural light in the tunnel-like kitchen that spanned the entire length of the building. With appliances and cabinets it was just a bit roomier than a hallway. They mostly used it for snacks, tea, toast, a fridge of real ales, and making coffees for Muggle friends. For actual dinners it was easiest to prepare the meal in the magical kitchen with Nessie, then use the Muggle kitchen as a serving center and warming oven.

Since the flat was a stage for their Muggle personas and a place to be immersed in Muggle life, they used it for entertainments – dinners and weekend lunches. To that effect they took the room next to the kitchen, probably meant to be a sitting room, and conjured a eight-place dining set, a side-board and a cabinet with drawers beneath for serving dishes and table settings. This allowed their network of Muggle friends, employees, computer society associates and Y.I.P.I. colleagues to believe they were who they were pretending to be.

There were also a front bedroom and an adjoining room they used as a sitting room. If Nessie saw them heading through the portal holding hands and wearing dressing gowns, she knew the front bedroom was their destination. On the occasional warm and sunny afternoons they would make love and pass their post-coital pleasure basking naked in the sun. A mirroring charm allowed them to leave the third floor windows uncovered. Today, London's maritime weather voided any such opportunity and the young couple was instead in their sitting room. There was a couch, a couple of chairs with a low table between and that all-important Muggle device, the telly.

They meant the room to look like any London flat a young married couple could afford. But what was really important there, Harry's computer, foiled that impression. With its printers and a table full of connected devices and the steady sound of its fans, it wasn't something you'd expect to find in a home. It was more appropriate for a school or office. At the moment, Harry was using computer-generated graphs and charts to bring Ginny up-to-date about the work for Hermione's boss.

To begin, Harry read her Jim Hovarth's succinct email:

      Subject: Account open

      Harry, as soon as you open the port we discussed yesterday, you should have    access at your bandwidth download speed. I left an SQL View that might be handy in    the editor history buffer, the code for queries we've run as well. Everything is a      standard implementation of the current stable version. Should be familiar territory.


Harry's explanation was easier to understand than the email, “He's just telling me how his end of the connection is configured and leaving me a trail to follow what they've done. If I see the code, I'll know what it does and won't chase a false trail.”

Ginny was reading the screen with slightly squinted eyes. “When you answer, 'Then, it's into the weeds!' what do you mean? What are the weeds; I don't suppose it has anything to do with trimming the verge?”

Harry knew Ginny would enjoy the Muggle slang, “Ok, you know weeds, all sorts of plants unwelcome in among the flowers. Not exactly Devil's Snare, but unsightly and hard on what you're trying to grow. So, it's a metaphor, I need to weed the data, find out what's meaningful, what's not, separate the thistles from the roses.”

“Alright then, where are those thistles and roses? What are we actually looking at?”

“These are stock trades.” Harry knew the idea was new to her. “The trader's goal is to buy stocks that rise in price, then sell them for income. There's different kinds, there's bonds, you get paid based on an interest rate. There's dividends, you get paid a share of the profit. But the trader just buys and sells.”

Ginny got the gist, “Got that, but how does he actually do it? How do you buy something like stocks or bonds?”

“The brokerage, the company that places the trades, the buys and sells, has a digital connection to the exchange, where the sales take place. It's the trusted agent that insures the shares and money change hands the way they should.”

Ginny couldn't resist a bit of sarcasm, “So, no one passes anything across a counter, or carries anything home in a bag, it's just signals between computers. What we've got here is a few years of his used grocery lists.”

“With bigger numbers.” Harry ran a finger along the data on the screen describing what was there. “There's the buy or sell price, dates for everything, an order to buy or sell. Many of the orders are complex, they have prices to buy, prices to sell at a profit, prices to sell at a loss, sometimes even a price that has to be met before the order price is made active.”

“So, each line of the data I'm looking at is a single trade?”

Harry pointed to the display, "Yes, a single trade, a buy or sell." He filled-in the explanation. "The first trades in the account are in 1995. The first deposit is 100,000 pounds, through 1997 he never risks more than a fifth of that, his longest hold is less than a month and he gets out of the trade if he's down more than a few hundred, he'll take a loss rather than more risk."

Ginny gave Harry a quizzical look, “He?” Then, before Harry could answer, “And what does this tell us about what he's doing now, or how he's gaming the system?”

Harry answered her first question,“Yea, our suspect's a bloke. Remember what Farnsworth said, “he's wealthy.” Anyway, if  people buy stocks in industries they know or that attract them, then he's a bloke. It's mostly financials, some multi-nationals. I could be wrong, but it's got a macho slant to it.” He shrugged his shoulders as he answered her second question, “Maybe nothing. I just want to see how he goes about it.”

“What does that tell us? I mean, what are you looking for by mapping his trades like this?”

Harry raised his hands palms up and slightly extended before him, “I don't know! I'm just asking questions, seeing if anything crawls out from under the data. We can't know who he is and I'm sure anything we could trace him with isn't in the data they give me. That would break their rules; make them liable in some way.”

Harry was looking more than a little abstracted so Ginny brought his attention back to the matter at hand, “So, since then, since he was behaving all rational, what changed?  A new pattern?”

“Yes and No. 'Yes,' if you look at what happens with these new, much larger trades. But 'no,' if you pull those out, it's the same as before. These big ones, the ones Farnsworth is sure are fraud, just show up. There's nothing else obviously different. They just begin in the middle of his normal trading routine. Farnsworth must be right about one thing though. He must know at least some of the government parameters.” He paused to change the display and point to a graph. “He knows about the relative size criteria for sure. Look at how the big trades get larger right in line with the increase in the moving average.” Harry pointed his finger repeatedly at the graph. “That's not chance. He knows that's their criteria.”

Ginny swiveled her chair and caught Harry's eye, “So, where does that leave us?”

“Nowhere! For now I'll keep crawling around in the weeds and see what I can find.”

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