Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 65-77)
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, we review chapters 36-46 here, and we review chapters 47-64 here.
This week we resolved to read chapters 65-77. 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 65: Harry explains about how lying compounds itself to Hermione. They discuss phoenix theory and why people who have phoenixes on their shoulders aren’t taken more seriously by people who don’t have them. (This section was pretty good and it strikes me as having important moral lessons for later.) People are noticing that whatever happened on the day that Harry had Fawkes ride on his shoulder has changed him. Professor McGonagall brings Harry in and explains that Hagrid is getting his job back and wants to know if they can tell Hagrid that Harry was instrumental in proving Hagrid’s innocence. As it turns out, given that the spell they found on the Sorting Hat that proves Hagrid’s innocence is one that requires knowing Parseltongue to find in the first place, Harry doesn’t want Hagrid to know because, hey, knowing Parseltongue is something that Harry wants to keep under his hat. So to speak. Which is kind of disappointing to Minerva because James and Lily loved Hagrid and Harry… well, Harry doesn’t see much use for the big lug. Anyway, Harry wants his day lengthened because there’s a lot of stuff that he needs to do and there are only but so many hours in the day (and he and Neville are going to learn how to duel). Oh, and Quirrell woke up. Harry goes to visit and Quirrel changes into a snake and they have a Parseltongue conversation so they can have a relatively private conversation. Harry explains to Quirrell that Dumbledore grounded him and he’s stuck at Hogwart’s for a good, long while. Quirrell explains that the best way to reverse that isn’t to convince Dumbledore that Voldemort wasn’t the one who busted out Bellatrix Black from Azkaban but for Harry to be seen to defeat the Dark Lord a second time. Easy Peasy. Anyway, they conclude the Parseltongue conversation and Harry shows him the deck of cards and they hammer out that, yep, it contains a portkey but, as far as Quirrell can tell, it looks like it’d take Harry to London rather than America. Bummer. You can’t be too careful and you shouldn’t be so trusting.
Chapter 66: Ravenclaws have the weakness of never feeling like they have enough information to make a call. Harry hammered out within himself that the information that he didn’t have was either: There is not a Dark Lord out there and they’d have to “create” one and “defeat” it, which was too crazy to do OR there was a Dark Lord out there, which means that wandering down the garden path of pretending to create a Dark Lord was even dumber than that. So he goes to Quirrell’s office and they have another short Parseltongue conversation. Harry tells Quirrell that he declines, Quirrell argues against him, but not TOO hard, and then we’re off discussing other things. Hermione discusses with some Sunshine soldiers that Harry and Neville are going to be learning how to duel from Cedric Diggory. And we see that Harry and Neville and Cedric are practicing dueling with ankle weights, wrist weights, and other wearable weights.
Chapter 67: We open with a map/territory joke. I love those. Quirrell is well enough to oversee the armies fighting and this time the battles are taking place in the upper reaches of Hogwarts in the parts of the castle that change all the time. Draco meditates upon how, sometimes, you and yours aren’t going to be in first place. (Don’t be in third, though.) Hermione wants to defeat Harry herself and not team up with Draco. Which, let’s face it, is foolhardy. Oh, the reason that they were practicing with weights? It’s because the Chaos Army is wearing armor. It doesn’t count as a muggle artifact if wizards wore it! Anyway, Dragon positioned itself on the other side of Chaos from Sunshine. Harry and Neville take on Sunshine and, wouldn’t you know it, Neville has started looking good to some of the non-protagonist level girls in the Sunshine army. (If you’ve never compared pictures of Matthew Lewis, the guy who played Neville in the movies, at age 12 to him at age 23, I imagine it’s that sort of thing. Only accelerated.) Daphne Greengrass challenges Neville to a duel and he steps up in a way that sorta justifies the whole thing. Anyway, Hermione and Harry have a monologue contest and Harry is within acceptable tolerances for being insufferable. Draco, by comparison, figures out that they’re fighting against armored soldiers (he loses anyway). Hermione gets put to somnium by Harry.
Chapter 68: Harry vs. Draco and Hermione is officially not a fair fight. We get into the whole issue of “there are a million ways to ALMOST do something, but relatively few ways to actually do it”. They’re taking 8 Chaos soldiers from Harry (including at least one Lieutenant) and giving them to Dragon/Sunshine in order to give Harry a bigger challenge. “This, Mr. Potter, I tell you in my capacity as your professor: For you to learn to your full potential, you must exercise your full abilities and not hold back for any reason – particularly not childish frets over what your friends might think!” Which, Hermione realizes, demotes her from “General Of An Army Of Equals” to “Accessory of Protagonist”. She notices that when Hermione beats Harry, that’s something for Harry to overcome and when Harry beats Hermione… well, of freaking COURSE he did. Hermione goes to Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore and explains that she has noticed that Harry has changed since the day of the phoenix. Dumbledore explains that Harry has grown up and Hermione needs to be Harry’s friend. Hermione wants to be “Hermione” and not “Harry’s (whatever)”. It’s not that she doesn’t want to be a friend to Harry. It’s that she wants to be Hermione first. Hey, why can’t SHE be a hero? Dumbledore explains that being a hero kinda sucks and way back when the whole Grindelwald thing was going on, he’d have rather been support for the hero than the hero. He points out that everybody knows that Dumbledore is the big hero and fewer know about his friends who died helping him… but his friends ARE remembered. He pretty much comes out and tells Hermione that she can’t be a hero. We get into House Theory for how people might fail to be who they are. We hammer out that life is not fair. Dumbledore tells Hermione that Harry is destined to have to fight someone and it is NOT Bellatrix Black. The chapter ends with her seeing a flash of gold.
Chapter 69: Hermione hears the call of the phoenix and chases it… but doesn’t see it. She DOES find some bullies, though and learns that, huh, fighting against Harry Potter and losing all the time gives somewhat decent skills anyway. Seriously, she takes out the three bullies handily. Hermione talks to Harry about Hero Theory. We see Professor McGonagall yelling at Dumbledore for pushing Hermione into being a hero (the old reverse psychology trick, as subtle as it was on 70’s sitcoms). Daphne Greengrass expected to be teased for liking Neville, not for being heroic. Hermione shows up to ask Daphne if she wants to join up S.P.H.E.W. Daphne notices the poor timing. Tracey Davis doesn’t care about timing at all.
Chapter 70: S.P.H.E.W. has buttons. Tonks is enchanting them. S.P.H.E.W. requested permission to hold a protest. Professor McGonagall granted it. We have a protest. We get into some 1st Wave Feminist Theory. We get into gender power dynamics. Quirrell makes reference to the whole “using a love potion on muggles” thing. They point out that it’s kinda unfair that there are so few female heroes… but Quirrell points out that there really aren’t that many Dark Ladies. It’s sort of a tail end of the bell curve, thing. We get into the difference between being ambitious and having ambitions. Hermione gets assigned an essay. Hermione stands up to Professor Quirrell’s questions in a way that makes Professor McGonagall proud. Hermione realizes that Quirrell is Harry’s mysterious old wizard and not Dumbledore. Dumbledore shows up for the protest and Hermione does somewhat less of a good job standing up to his questions. We realize that protests are not the sort of heroic for which they’re protesting a lack of heroine representation. And so a group of heroine vigilantes is born.
Chapter 71: Being a wandering group of vigilantes ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. “I wonder if maybe what really makes someone a hero, is that when they try something like this, something interesting actually happens.” There’s a cute joke about the Chamber of Secrets showing up in a bathroom. They hammer out that Harry just sort of trips over interesting things happening and so they figure out that they’ll ask Harry about his sources (which include the ghost of Salazar Slytherin). If he doesn’t give up the info, they’ll just tie him up and drag him around and then they’ll be able to deal with whatever chaos he’s a magnet for. We get into Feminist Theory. (I hesitate to say more about that.) We hammer out that now everybody in Hogwarts knows that Harry’s source is the ghost of Salazar Slytherin. Tracey tells Draco about Slytherin’s ghost. Draco can’t believe that he believed her. “The trouble with passing up opportunities was that it was habit-forming.” Daphne figures out that Millicent knows what happens before everybody else because Millicent is a seer. Snape offers Rianne Felthorne 50 galleons to be memory-charmed after whatever plot he’s hatching is started. The plot involves Hermione.
Chapter 72: Harry explains that you can’t just deny things you haven’t done, lest you give away the game. Hermione considers what The Quibbler would write about her. Harry thinks that it IS kinda unfair that some people get a lot of help to be heroes and others don’t. Harry offers her use of his invisibility cloak. Which gives Hermione the info she needed to figure out how Harry did half of the tricks he’s done so far. But not the other half. They discuss Hero Theory and how other people can get hurt. Hermione figures out that it’s one of the Deathly Hallows. Hermione gets a note from the ghost of Salazar Slytherin about the whereabouts of a bully. Before she can tell anybody, Padma tells her that Daphne told her that she knows about the whereabouts of a bully. They encounter the bully. The bully is very good at being a bully. They take him out anyway… but one of the Hufflepuffs ends up having to go to the healer’s. Lunch happens. Hermione gets bullied by the Slytherin Quidditch captain. Draco saves the day? Explains his actions thusly: “there’s probably some way to make Slytherin look even worse than attacking eight first-year girls from all four Houses who are working together to stop bullies, but I can’t think of how. This way we get the benefit of what Greengrass is doing.” Daphne knows what’s up if Draco helps Hermione, though. She makes sure that Hermione knows what’s up too. Millicent explains how she saw what she saw, being a seer don’t you know. Susie talks to a seventh-year Hufflepuff in the common room. Snape chews the bully out. I loved the interaction between Draco and Lucius. “What are you doing?” “I am trying to (whatever).” “What are you really doing?” “I am preparing for the next war.”
Chapter 73: The school year continued, S.P.H.E.W. continues to fight bullies from both Gryffindor and Slytherin, Harry gave up two of his Lieutenants (traded one for Blaise Zabini), Harry points out that if Draco is trying to make Slytherin better that people should get on board with that. Quirrell gives a great line: “When you are more experienced, Mr. Potter, you will see such consequences in advance of your plotting. As it stands, you are being ill-served by your willful ignorance of all human nature you deem unpleasant.” Another excellent line: “When you are older, you will learn that the first and foremost thing which any ordinary person does is nothing.” There’s going to be another bully altercation. This one will be HARD. Susan ain’t being herself. The bullies show up… and, yeah. This one is hard. Susan totally steps up, though. Wait, Susan is Tonks. Or, Tonks is disguised as Susan. Everybody gets detention. Harry notices that this is all spinning out of control. Wizards and Witches just don’t appreciate how awesome magic is.
Chapter 74: Harry has a meeting with Quirrell. Quirrell asks Harry a question and Harry gets it wrong. Quirrell points out that bullying has increased, rather than decreased, and that sort of thing is probably not organic. Quirrell wants to know why one of his students in the armies was so dumb as to be one of the bullies in the fight in the previous chapter… and, apparently, doesn’t like the answer because she got kicked out of her army and the after-school DADA classes. Harry offers his services to the members of S.P.H.E.W. Everybody but Tracey has the inclination to decline. Tracey accepts enthusiastically. So Harry gives his help and then does this dumb macho thing which, seriously, anybody who paid attention to the revese psychology episodes of the most hamhanded 70’s sitcoms should KNOW would backfire. Backfire it does. Despite S.P.H.E.W. taking a hiatus, there’s a note saying that there’s going to be a big one. The bullies show up in force. Snape gets knocked out. Wait, Snape was there? Tracey summons Harry using a dark ritual. Harry glues the bullies to the ceiling after stripping them naked. Harry gets in trouble for this. Dumbledore has a good line: “You think you have taught the bullies of Hogwarts a lesson. But if Peregrine Derrick could learn that lesson, he would not be Peregrine Derrick.” Harry learns that Quirrell has been helping S.P.H.E.W. (but secretly). Harry points out that the bullies have always been bullying and now he’s getting called on the carpet for standing up to the bullies. Another good line: “You are too ready to fight, Harry. Much too ready to fight, and Hogwarts itself is becoming a more violent place around you.” Harry debriefs with Quirrell. They discuss Dark Ritual Theory. Quirrell has a good line: “A very strange thing… There was a time when I would have sacrificed a finger from my wand hand, to work upon the bullies of Hogwarts as we have worked upon them this day. To make them fear me as they now fear you, to have the deference of all the students and the adoration of many, I would have given my finger for that. You have everything now that I wanted then. All that I know of human nature says that I should hate you. And yet I do not. It is a very strange thing.” Tracey points out that what Harry wants in a woman is someone to channel his dark power. Draco wants to know if that’s confirmed or merely a hypothesis. Pansy’s soul may or may not have been eaten.
Chapter 75: The bullies discuss Dark Ritual Theory. Snape points out to the bullies that they’ve kinda screwed everything up pretty dang badly. Harry denies being Hermione’s boyfriend. Everybody discusses Romance Theory. A lot. Harry is in trouble. Maybe this is Romance Theory too? We discuss whether Harry should have to ask Hermione for permission before helping her not get beaten up by 44 bullies. They come to some sort of an accord. Kinda. Harry explains that Professor McGonagall can be trusted to do the right thing but she can’t be trusted to break the rules that need breaking and Professor Quirrell can be trusted to break the rules that need breaking but he can’t be trusted to do the right thing. And, finally, the professors do something about bullying. It’s not the bullies that inspire the professors to action: it’s the people fighting back against it. Anyway, Snape gives Hermione detention and takes 100 points from Ravenclaw. Dumbledore, Sprout, Flitwick and McGonagall don’t do anything about it… but Quirrell gives Hermione 100 points for doing the right thing. Good for him. Can’t do anything about detention, though.
Chapter 76: Obliviation theory. Rianne and Snape have a discussion and illuminate for us how Snape knew things. Rianne has been snitching on the bullies. Okay. That fills a few gaps. They discuss Romance Theory. They discuss Prophetic Semantic Theory. Before the obliviation, a kiss. Afterwards, a gem.
Chapter 77: Harry is ticked that Hermione got docked 100 points by Snape despite the agreement and shows up at Dumbledore’s to complain about it. What makes that impressive is that Dumbledore didn’t see it coming. Harry is unwilling to lose. Heck, he’s willing to fight to the finish because he’s right. Good people and neutral people have nothing to fear. Dumbledore has yet another good line: “The world that surrounds you is more fragile than you seem to believe, and we must walk with greater care.” Harry’s response is bold: “Let the Light win, and if trouble comes of it -” The boy shrugged. “Let Light win again.” Harry does not understand the phoenix’s price. We visit the room with some of the price, on pedestals. They discuss making hard choices. Dumbledore has made more of them than Harry has. Harry notices this but he’s willing to overlook it. We learn a little more of Dumbledore’s fight against Grindelwald. We learn why Quirrell helped Hermione when none of the other professors would. We learn how Harry figured out how to surprise Dumbledore. Quirrell and Snape have a meeting of bluffs and double bluffs and I think I saw a triple bluff. Draco has to protect Millicent and he does so in such a way that he doesn’t look like he’s protecting her for some higher reason. Draco meditates on how friendship could cast a Patronus but loyalty wouldn’t, not really. Draco explains to Gregory that the next war won’t be like the last war. Prophecy Theory. We find out that witches have access to a passage that goes from Ravenclaw to Slytherin, for some reason. Hermione has a meeting with a black mist and we learn a handful of things: Snape is a Death Eater, Lucius Malfoy knows Hermione’s name, and that just because appearances can be misleading, they’re usually not. And the black mist takes this personally. Then it takes it in stride.
And that’s our first seventy-seven chapters.
For next Sunday, we’re going to read ten chapters and get ourselves up through chapter 87. That will get us through the next major arc where we see what happens when forces outside of Hogwarts start taking an interest in the storyline.
So… What do you think?
(Featured image is Foucault’s Pendulum by Sylvar. Used under a creative commons license.)