Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 47-64)
Okay. Welcome to the Ordinary Bookclub. We’re reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Our kickoff post is here, we review Chapters 1-5 here, we review chapters 6-15 here, we review chapters 16-25 here, we review chapters 26-35 here and we review chapters 36-46 here.
This week we resolved to read chapters 47-64. These brief summaries are probably going to miss stuff and put emphasis on the wrong stuff and, probably, miss the point from time to time. When I’m wrong, please call me out in the comments.
One of the things we have decided that we want to start doing is discussing the various puzzles the chapters throw up for us. When a major piece of information is withheld, it’s (usually) because it’s an opportunity for the reader to do some light detective work and figure out what is REALLY going on (for example, when we were asking “who left Harry the notes in chapter 13?” that was something that was revealed in chapter 14…). It can difficult to discuss some of the puzzles in this story without discussing major events happening in future chapters so if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers (or premature answers to puzzles) to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
Now that the boilerplate is out of the way, let’s get started.
Chapter 47: This one is one of my favorite chapters. Draco has a sinking feeling in his tummy about The Kiss between Harry and Hermione. “Father had told Draco that to fathom a strange plot, one technique was to look at what ended up happening, assume it was the intended result, and ask who benefited.” Harry wants to know why Muggles don’t leave ghosts behind but wizards do. Actually, what he wants to know is if Draco can cast the Patronus, even though everybody knows Slytherins can’t cast Patronuses. As it turns out, Draco can. Draco is surprised by this. Harry isn’t. Draco, thinking about this, realizes that he’s confused that Harry can’t cast the Patronus. Harry explains that Draco has old information. Draco realizes that Harry was, in fact, sorted into Slytherin the first time. Draco asks why in the heck Harry wanted him to be friends with Hermione and Harry answers that it’s so Slytherin can cast the Patronus again. We get into racism theory. Which doesn’t exactly map 1:1, when you take into account such things as “magic actually being, you know… good”… but that’s okay. It’s a good point anyway. Harry asks Draco about Dumbledore in the way most likely to irritate the ever-living crap out of Draco. It’s, like, something that Draco would have wanted to tell Harry… but Harry asked about it and it’s maddening. Anyway, Harry learns about how Dumbledore is seen by his enemies and, yep, there’s a lot of stuff that the other three houses left out of their stories. We learn that Dumbledore killed Draco’s mom. We see Draco realize that Harry probably feels about Death Eaters the way that Draco feels about Dumbledore. We learn that Harry doesn’t. Not really. “Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is a change”. Draco has a test for Harry that relies on Harry not being an Occlumens. Draco learns that harry is an Occlumens. (I imagine that Draco feels the way that I felt with the Dementor thing.) Draco asks Harry to demonstrate the Patronus 2.0. Harry demonstrates it and explains it. Harry takes a pledge. Harry and Draco send messages using Draco’s patronus. Draco learns that Harry knows Parseltongue. Harry learns that snakes are sentient.
Man. That was a good chapter.
Chapter 48: Harry goes vegetarian. (Hey, weren’t there, like, Mandrakes that mimicked speech in the movies?) Harry finds that “this says it’s just mandrakes that can talk and they speak regular human language out loud, not that there’s a spell you can use to talk with any plant” which is kinda weird, isn’t it, given all of the chapters devoted to blood purity. Hey, how do we know that mandrakes aren’t the wizarding world of the plantae kingdom and the other plants the “mudchlorophylls”? Oh, we have a conversation about Ron not liking that Hermione is hanging with Harry. Why, that’s as prejudiced as Draco is against Hermione! Both sides do it, I guess. Hermione cares what other people think. Harry doesn’t. Hermione asks Harry to teach her how to cast the Patronus. Harry declines.
Chapter 49: Quirrell shows up in his carriage and Harry notices that it’s being drawn by skeletal horses. “Thestrals”, we learn they’re called. Thestrals are “visible only to those who have seen death and comprehended it”. We learn that they’ve been drawing the carriage since day 1. Which means that between the first time that Harry saw the carriage and now, he’s seen death and comprehended it. Quirrell figures out that that Harry must have figured stuff out with the Dementor. “There were times when Harry suspected that Professor Quirrell had way more background information than he was telling, his priors were simply too good.” Once again, we find out that common sense has a lot in common with Legilimency. We find out that Quirrell knows that Harry is a Parselmouth and that Quirrell suspected it even before Harry did. Remember when Professor McGonagall told Harry not to talk to snakes? That’s because SHE knew that Harry was a Parselmouth. Dumbledore knows it too. Everybody freakin’ knows it. Anyway, we learn about the chamber of secrets and what it most likely had in it… specifically, “secrets that can be told from one living mind to another, but never written down”. We find out that Quirrell is an unregistered Animagus. Harry learns, again, that Quirrell is not dumb when Quirrell tells Harry to do something with the time turner. We set up a lunch date for a week hence. And we see Harry ask Quirrell for advice on how he can help Hermione deal with the whole “Harry is a Dark Wizard” thing. And the chapter cuts off right in the middle of the very beginning of Quirrell giving it. (Not that Quirrell had anyone like that when he was Harry’s age.)
Chapter 50: We get confirmation that Padma Patil got offered Slytherin. A “ghost” gives Padma the what-for and tells her to step back from being dark. She was offered Slytherin, but was not placed there… and we get confirmation that a lot of people noticed that the hat yelled out “Slytherin!” for Harry before it yelled out “just kidding”. In any case, we find Harry in the Ravenclaw common room so he couldn’t have been the ghost. And we find that Hermione is really mad at him for pulling that crap anyway… because Hermione is telling Harry that she sees him going Dark. And she just doesn’t understand. Hermione gives Harry the silent treatment for a full week. Harry gets 2 days detention for siccing ghosts on other students. He’s still pretty sure that he did the right thing, though. Even if Hermione doesn’t agree.
Chapter 51: They redacted the name of this chapter at the time. Harry goes out to lunch with Professor Quirrell as scheduled and Quirrell changes into a snake and then Harry gets asked if he trusts him. Speaking in Parseltongue is one of those things that protects from unwanted listeners even better than most charms. “Harry didn’t quite know how to describe in words the sense of kinship he felt with Professor Quirrell, except to say that the Defense Professor was the only clear-thinking person Harry had met in the wizarding world.” Yeah, Harry trusts him. And we figure out a way to leave Mary’s place without being seen. Professor Quirrell asks Harry to commit treason. As it turns out: there is an innocent person in Azkaban. And Quirrell wants to bust her out.
Chapter 52: We learn that the redacted name for this section is “The Sanford Prison Experiment”. Cute. Well, the prison break begins. We use a portkey to jump within spitting distance of Azkaban and cast our patronus and then we get into prison theory. Punishment without possibility of redemption is pretty much just torture, isn’t it? Well, that’s what Azkaban does for the worst of the worst. Punishment, day-in and day-out. And the only person that they were there to spring was Bellatrix.
Chapter 53: Well, Bellatrix won’t leave with Harry. She’ll only leave with You-Know-Who. So Harry has to pretend to be You-Know-Who in order to get her to agree to leave. He’s sufficiently good at it. And there’s a little bit about crime theory insofar as we talk about how the perfect crime isn’t recognized as a crime. It’s ruled natural causes, say. It’s ruled an accident. It’s just one of those things that happens. Can’t be helped. (And the chapter ends with a hint that, nope, this ain’t gonna be the perfect crime.) Bellatrix, sadly, has been drained pretty badly of her time in prison. She’s not going to be much use for the next few chapters, sounds like. No matter how much chocolate she scarfs down in the meantime.
Chapter 54: If knowing that you’re in the right makes you happy, you’re likely to have the brightest patronus in the world, if you’ve got the Patronus 2.0. Harry’s patronus is really, really bright. Bright to the point where it gives away the game. Aurors noticed that their patronuses noticed something going on in the prison. And the wrong one goes downstairs. Anyway, we see Professor Quirrell bluff his way through a conversation with the auror and throw a killing curse that is then blocked by Harry’s patronus, giving the Auror an opening to cast stupefy on Quirrell. Harry casts a sleep spell on the auror and now he’s got a stupefied professor and a Bellatrix who is not only out of gas, but might not even have a gas tank anymore. And now a dementor tells the other aurors that Bellatrix is out of her cell.
Chapter 55: Harry realizes that he could kill the sleeping guard, Bellatrix, and Quirrell and just high-tail it out of there and nobody would ever know that he was involved. Then Harry remembers that that’s uncharacteristic. Dementors, man. They make you forget the stuff that makes you strong. Thinking about dementation as if it were a cognitive bias helped Harry travel down the thoughtpath that could get him back to enough of a happy place to summon a patronus that would help him shake off the dementation and look at his situation without that cognitive bias. And, yeah, the situation still sucked. In thinking about why in the heck Quirrell would possibly want to kill an Auror, Harry noticed that he was confused. Like in the Princess Bride, he took stock of what he had. A passed out professor who might be evil, a significantly weakened witch who might be evil, an invisibility cloak, and his own perspective… and the cavalry arrives upstairs. Harry asks Bellatrix to memory charm the sleeping auror and pick up the snake and she does! None of this discussions about other, better, ways to do things. No discussions at all. He says it, she does it. Anyway, the cavalry is getting into gear. Harry starts hearing some of the other people being punished in other cells and seriously starts getting tempted to start freeing them too. He figures out that, yeah, now is not the time. But he knows he’s going to end Azkaban someday. And the cavalry gets Dumbledore involved.
Chapter 56: Patronuses can find other patronuses. It’s broadcast, though. So you don’t know if they hear you until the person you’re talking to uses their patronus to talk back. Anyway, McGonagall sends Harry a patronus email. He reads it and responds and she tells him to stay put. So now they’re really on the clock. Dumbledore shows up at the prison. So now they’re REALLY on the clock. And Dumbledore sends his patronus after whatever patronus must be active downstairs to allow whatever chaos is going on down there to go on. Harry’s patronus informs him that Dumbledore’s patronus is looking for him. It. Whatever. And, like email, you can’t block it. So Harry has to figure out a way to get out without his Patronus, while shielding Bellatrix from being found, and without being affected by being drained by dementors. Harry does it by figuring out how to hate death but not fear it or some crap like that. Something. He manifested an insight or something. Anyway, without the patronus, he’s now vulnerable to the dementors again. So here they come.
Chapter 57: Dementors are shaped by expectations. If you are smart enough, you can manipulate your own expectations and thus manipulate the dementors. Dance, dementors! Dance! Wait! Why aren’t you dancing? Oh, it’s because Bellatrix is still awake. Somnium. Okay, NOW they dance. Bellatrix awakens surprised to find that she’s not dead. The dementors go upstairs and refuse to answer questions. They find the sleeping auror still alive and, at that point, Harry might as well left a laminated card. So Dumbledore goes down to look for them himself and, luckily, Harry has an invisibility cloak. You better hope that there are no legilimens who have any common sense in the area. Anyway, Harry engages in some partial transfiguration on the wall.
Chapter 58: Ready to roll your eyes? “Harry had practiced Transfiguration for an extra hour every day, to the point where he was ahead of even Hermione in that one class; he’d practiced partial Transfiguration to the point where his thoughts had begun taking the true universe for granted, so that it required only slightly more effort to keep its timeless quantum nature in mind, even as he kept a firm mental separation between the concept of Form and the concept of substance.” Let me get my eyes back. Harry cuts a hole in the wall using partial transfiguration and decides to let Quirrell and Bellatrix go and he will stay behind and turn himself in to Dumbledore. Luckily, Quirrell wakes up. Harry explains “Dude, you used a killing curse!” Quirrell explains how stupid it would have been to use a killing curse and leave evidence of the crime behind. How stupid would you have to be to kill a guard in Azkaban? Anyway, we hammer out that Harry strapped a solid-fuel rocket to the broomstick.
Chapter 59: Broomsticks were invented before Newtonian Physics and so operate under Aristotelian Physics. Rockets work like Newton discover stuff worked. You shouldn’t mix the two. For one thing, you’ll blow your ears out. Luckily, Bellatrix has some healing abilities and she unpops Harry’s ears right before she passes out. Harry uses the portkey and shows up at the healer’s. She enervates Quirrell, takes Bellatrix away, and Harry uses yet another portkey. Harry passes out. Dumbledore goes back in time.
Chapter 60: Wakey wakey! Quirrell and Harry discuss punishment theory. And dominance theory. It’s more of a pissing contest, really. At the end of it, Harry asks “Why am I not like the other children my own age?”
Which is a good question.
Dumbledore went back in time and, wrote himself a note that said “no”. Quirrell doesn’t know the answer to Harry’s question. BUT HE HAS A GUESS! But the chapter ends on a cliffhanger and we don’t hear his guess.
Chapter 61: Harry has a question for McGonagall. She answers it. Harry is in the bathroom, like he said. McGonagall learns that Harry has an invisibility cloak. Dumbledore points out that there are only two wizards on the planet who could pull off springing Bellatrix Black from Azkaban. One of them is Voldemort. The other is Harry Freaking Potter. “Mr. Potter is an Occlumens? You gave him an invisibility cloak and he is immune to Veritaserum and he is friends with the Weasley twins?”
There is a pretty sweet test that Dumbledore comes up with, though. Since time-turners can only be turned back but so many times in a day, just ask Harry to turn his time-turner back that many times. If he can’t, he used it that many times despite the shell. Which demonstrates guilt of at least SOMETHING. But does Harry even have a motive to do that? Oh, yeah. Remember back in Chapter 27 when Lesath asked Harry to help? That. Dumbledore heaves a sigh of relief because of all of the reasons to bust Bellatrix out of Azkaban, that’s pretty much the best one. The aurors do enough detective work to figure out that whomever busted Bellatrix out used a muggle artifact to do it. A “rocket”. McGonagall asks whether rockets are artifacts that Harry is likely to know about. Which is a cute touch. Which leads everybody to start kinda hoping that it was Harry because if it was Voldemort, then that means that Voldemort knows about rockets now.
With a little more information, they figure out that there was an Animagus potion vial left in the cell which leads them to the conclusion that it probably wasn’t Harry. Which means that it was Voldy. Which means that he’s back. And we need to reinstate the Order of the Phoenix. (But we need to ask Harry to turn his time-turner back anyway.)
Chapter 62: McGonagall fought against Voldemort. This is one of those things that I found vaguely easy to forget. I settle into something like “It was Voldemort against Dumbledore way back then and the death eaters killed a bunch of people” when, really, it was The Death Eaters versus Voldemort’s Army. McGonagall played a very important role back then. She feels sorry for Harry. She knows she should NOT let Harry know this. Anyway, she sends for Harry and he shows up. She tells him to send a message six hours back. He gets all indignant that he’s suspected of misusing his time-turner. Yeah, yeah.
We get into cryptography theory. We get into anonymous message theory.
Dumbledore shows up and sits down with Harry and they discuss some of the problems in the Lord of the Rings books… and it sinks in that Harry ain’t going home for Easter break. Heck, he’s not going to Diagon Alley. Harry’s blood is one of the things that Voldy needs to return and, darn it, Dumbledore ain’t gonna put Harry out on display for any passer-by to get some with a syringe. Fawkes agrees with Harry about Azkaban. Harry tells Dumbledore that the three of them could go to Azkaban right now and knock it down. Dumbledore has some theories about winning battles and losing wars. And there is some interesting stuff about how much evil we need to be willing to accept from society. “it is better that we live in peace, than in chaos”.
Fawkes sits on Harry’s shoulder to prove a point to Dumbledore.
Chapter 63: We go back to the Ravenclaw common room with Fawkes and Hermione is still not talking to Harry. We get into phoenix theory. Hanging around dementors is likely to result in nightmares. Draco learns that Bellatrix was busted out of Azkaban and he learns it after everybody else learns it. Draco has numbered sneers. Lucius has a message for Harry. Neville still has hard feelings about Bellatrix. Lesath is grateful to Harry. The aurors are putting two and two together on how Bellatrix got out of Azkaban on a rocket and they too see Voldemort’s fingerprints all over it. Dumbledore misses breakfast. Quirrell is in the sick bay. Fred and George get told that they can’t smuggle Harry out of the grounds. It’s serious. Bellatrix Black-level serious. Moody shows up. I don’t know if Moody is based on the Barty Crouch version from Goblet of Fire or if Barty Crouch was based on Moody and so there’s a second level of iteration there, but Crouch/Moody was one of my favorite characters from the original series and it’s nice to see Moody in his element. Blaise Zabini remains the only person in the school who knows how to have fun. Harry considers scarcity effects. Harry considers the Milgram Experiment. Harry considers how he can’t trust Quirrell anymore, which is a bummer. Might have a handful of friends, might even have a handful of peers… but only one person could have been a mentor and that was Quirrell. Bummer. We learn Quirrell’s answer to Harry’s question about why Harry is different from other kids his age. Hermione is talking to Harry again. Santa Claus visits and gives Harry a deck of cards and an offer to go to one of the schools in the USA. Harry has nightmares. Trelawney is having trouble finding words for how messed up things could get.
Chapter 64: Dessert. Feel free to exhale.
And that’s our first sixty-four chapters.
For next Sunday, we’re going to read twelve chapters and get ourselves up through chapter 77. That will get us through the next major arc which is titled “Self-Actualization” and we give some of the other characters in the story an opportunity to try to be awesome.
So… What do you think?
(Featured image is Foucault’s Pendulum by Sylvar. Used under a creative commons license.)