Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 78-87)
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, we review chapters 47-64 here, and we review chapters 65-77 here.
This week we resolved to read chapters 78-87. 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 78: The parents of Tracey Davis show up because their precious daughter has started showing up in the headlines of the Quibbler. Oh, and it’s not just Mr. and Mrs. Davis! It’s a voting quorum of the Hogwarts Board of Governors! Lucius Malfoy! Lord Jugson! Charles Nott! Lord and Lady Greengrass! Amelia Bones! Augusta Longbottom! Dumbledore! Quirrell happened to be there too. See? This is what happens when you raise your profile. We jump to the Sunshine Army and we see that the new guy is slowly making himself at home. “Funny, when you first join the Chaos Legion it all seems crazy, and then after a couple of months you realize that actually everyone who isn’t in the Chaos Legion is crazy.” They’re trying to figure out what’s going on. Is Snape behind it? Is Lucius Malfoy himself behind it? We jump to Dragon Army and we see that the new guy (either a half-blood or mudblood) has been given a chance by Draco. Draco himself seems surprised by this. When they asked the new guy how to beat Chaos, the new guy explained that Harry said he’d be asked that and the answer was that Draco needed to figure out what his relative advantages were and then exploit the heck out of them. Which, you know, is good life advice. And Draco gets a couple of ideas.
We go back to the parents watching the armies fight. After it’s implied that Draco learned some extracurriculars at home, we see one of Draco’s ideas manifest and we see how proud Lucius is of Draco. Quirrell points out that Draco is likely making a classic Ravenclaw mistake: being proud of having an idea and, therefore, relying on it when you’d have been better off just not having it in the first place if you were going to use it as a crutch rather than as an additional tool in the toolkit. Lucius goes back to ignoring Quirrell. We jump to the Chaos Army where we find that Harry had some of his people collect acorns. For some reason. And Nita Berdine (have we read her name yet?) is making Green Sunglasses. We get into force multipliers and how you can Finite anything that someone else on the battleground has cast (thus negating magical chainmail, for example) and since the other armies have 28 people per Army and Harry has but 16, they’re going to be able to Finite more stuff than Harry can. So he needs to figure out what his relative advantages are and exploit the heck out of them.
Neville chased Goyle and Goyle got away… but, hey, Neville made a good show of it to the point where even Theodore Nott was impressed and there’s a great little scene where Augusta Longbottom and Charles Nott make eye contact for a second. Chaos got one of Dragon’s brooms. Dragon reports back that Chaos is making green goggles. Draco figures that he’ll do the obvious thing. Jumping back to Chaos, we see Harry’s thought process. Snape explained about a 2nd year who made an adulterated Polyjuice potion that turned her into a catgirl (I’m sure that there are sub-fanfics about this). This tells Harry that potions are magics powerful enough for 2nd years to exploit and what makes them difficult is not the amount of magic required but the amount of care required. “What potion can I brew using only components gathered from an ordinary forest?” We get into how potions are able to accomplish things that charms can’t because of the Laws of Conservation. That’s why all potions require magical reagents. They don’t take the magic from the caster, the way charms do, they take their magic from the magic contained in the eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog (well, the magical variants of these animals). We learn that this is based on a law that was so old that nobody knew who came up with it: “A potion spends that which is invested in the creation of its ingredients.”
Now let me digress for a second. They explain that they don’t write this down because if it’s read and apprehended by someone who is not wise, then they’ll get all sorts of ideas for all sorts of potions and then they will turn themselves into catgirls. This is an awesome explanation that has Harry’s discovery be something that eventually most wizards adjacent to potion-making figure out on their own. A deep and true magical law that is something that even wizards can figure out. (Unlike Partial Transfiguration or the Patronus 2.0, which require someone to have watched PBS.)
Back to the armies: the armies are getting closer and closer together and the stands are beginning to fill up and… well, the charge begins. The parents are watching in the luxury box. Tracey Davis announces that she is a Darke Lady. Susan Bones makes it to the front of Sunshine. Susan and Tracey begin a battle of wills. Neville falls out of the sky. Draco and Hermione lock eyes across the battlefield. Neville figures out the superhero landing. Hannah and Daphne take it to Neville and Neville takes it right back to them. (I enjoy the little conversations from the parents in the luxury box that are sprinkled throughout this entire chapter.) Draco and Hermione are taking it to each other. Neville has a split-second of remorse after kicking Hannah in the gut and it costs him his consciousness. Hannah is still dealing with having been kicked in the gut, though. A short conversation with an offer to take Hannah off to the healer’s and have Tracey go with her. The offer is declined and the green sunglasses go on… and all of the sunshine that went into the acorns was released. That’s a LOT of sunshine. It’s revealed that Dragon Army also has green shades. Why? Draco didn’t know what Harry was doing but you don’t have to know what he’s doing to say “maybe I should wear some of those too”.
Draco and Hermione have a conversation while fighting and Hermione is very, very upset. Draco deduces that she thinks that he’s plotting against her too and he resents the implication because, in this case, it’s wrong. They duel a bit more and then… Hermione unmagicks Draco’s glove. IN FRONT OF GOD AND EVERYBODY. She goes on to put Draco to sleep. It almost doesn’t matter what happens after that. Back in the luxury box, Quirrell does what he can to defuse the situation with Lord Malfoy. Some of the non-Slytherin parents are concerned (even as they are pleased) with what’s going on with the students and Quirrell comes right out and explains it: He’s training an army for the next war. Dragon Army won… and Padma is pleased… but Draco knows that his glove got unmagicked by a mudblood in front of God and everybody. Which means that now Draco has to duel her. And he has to win. And he has to not cheat. And the students who know what Families mean know what happened and the muggle children have no freakin’ idea. Harry knows that he has to do something but this is, like, human nature stuff. Harry tries to talk to Hermione at breakfast but a bunch of Aurors show up and arrest Hermione? For the attempted murder of Draco Malfoy?!?
Chapter 79: The aurors explain that Draco was in the healer’s coming out of a blood-cooling charm. Draco said this under the influence of two drops of Veritaserum. This is all well and good and completely snortworthy except Hermione confesses?!? Okay, we talk to Quirrell and figure out what’s going on. Quirrell has tracking charms on Draco and has had them since January because he knew of a plot to harm Draco. A blood-cooling charm is a good way to kill a student at Hogwart’s because it’s slow and the Hogwart’s detection charms look for quick and sharp attacks. Not slow and steady ones. Which you’d think they should buff up. The trial is set for tomorrow and Harry has watched a LOT of Law & Order so he’s surprised and aghast that the investigation will be over by then. “The Aurors have an accusation under Veritaserum and a confession under Veritaserum. So far as they are concerned, the investigation is done.” Harry comes up with, like, a dozen things that could explain this. Dark charms, um, darker charms… a false memory charm cast months ago followed by a removal of the false memory charm leaving only months of brooding on the false memory. Which makes sense. When Dumbledore points out that Quirrell has the skill to do that sort of thing, Harry starts because why in the heck would we suspect Quirrell? The Potions Master said dryly, “The Defense Professor is always a suspect, Mr. Potter. You will notice a trend, given time.” Dumbledore explains Horcrux Theory without using the word “horcrux”. We hammer out that Voldemort is not only back but he’s on the grounds somewhere.
Harry needs it explained, again, that he’s watched a lot of Law & Order. This time it sinks in. So he has to figure out what the Wizengamot is likely to do and work with that instead of working with the British system. He knows what he’s NOT working with but he hasn’t yet apprehended what he IS working with. Dumbledore explains again: “Legally, Harry, we are dealing with a blood debt from Hermione Granger to the House of Malfoy. The Lord of Malfoy proposes a repayment of that debt, and then the Wizengamot votes on his proposal. That is all.” Dumbledore states what the game really is: Voldemort has taken away two of Harry’s pieces. Both Hermione and Draco, with one move. Harry lets several cats out of bags. He was trying to turn Draco, someone was leaving Hermione notes under her pillow, and that he got a portkey back when Bellatrix Black was freed. Snape is going to use it.
Oh! And once Harry is out of the room, we find out who Santa Claus is. It’s Dumbledore. Huh. (I guess part of me was hoping that Sirius would show up.) So we don’t need to follow the portkey. Dumbledore interrupts Trelawney’s divination class (someone, apparently, is going to die) to get Fred and George. Dumbledore needs his map. He summons the Sorting Hat and removes a crystal rod from it. He takes the map and dismisses the twins without answering their question about what is going to happen. After the boys are gone, Dumbledore asks the map to “Find Tom Riddle”.
Quirrell has an interview with an Auror who, apparently, finds out that Quirrell is not, in fact, Quirrell. Snape goes into Hermione’s bedroom to find the notes, finds them, destroys them, then goes back to report that he didn’t find them. The Auror wants to know where the real Quirrell is… oooh! It’s Rufus Scrimgeour! The whole Draco/Hermione thing is causing dissention in the great hall. Is this something that Hermione would never do? Is this something that is obviously a plot on the part of Draco? How do you figure out who did what? Harry’s the only person who knows that both of them are innocent and both were false-memory charmed and everybody else at the table has watched whatever the wizarding world’s version of Law & Order is and they point out that EVERYBODY argues that they’ve been false-memory charmed. And Harry points out that believing a hypothesis that involves False Memory Charms is “low-status”. Harry tries to figure out how to figure out what happened during the duel. Are there spells that can look for new fingerprints? That can detect lingering exhalations? Nope. Could you… nope. What about? Nope. What if? Nope, not that either. And he was out of time turnings. And the trial was tomorrow.
Chapter 80: The Hall of the Wizengamot. Huh, looks like Merlin made this place. Dumbledore holds the Line of Merlin Unbroken and he got it from somebody who got it from somebody who got it from somebody (this goes on for a while) who got it from Merlin. The Chief Warlock picks his successor. Huh. So it’s not a Pope thing. The Wizengamot are the ambitious without ambition, as Quirrell would put it. Harry Potter looks at them and sees a bunch of NPCs and he knows that he is a protagonist. Well, he thinks that he’s a protagonist.
The news is covering Hermione’s attempt on Draco’s life breathlessly and the coverage reminds Harry of the coverage than an IRA bombing got (this would be back in the 90’s, before there were more interesting things to compare the coverage to). Some editorials are summarized and, yeah, it’s 9/11 all over again. We quickly flash back to a warning from Dumbledore saying, effectively, this is Human Nature stuff.
And we have our trial. Oooh, and there’s a Dementor. Which is enough to get Harry to declare war on magical Britain. Umbridge shows up and, yeah, she’s the same Umbridge as in book five. Harry and Umbridge have a bit of a staredown. Hermione gives her testimony under Veritaserum. Harry sees the fingerprints of the mind that used Bellatrix Black on Hermione’s testimony. Draco’s testimony is read. People couldn’t believe that Draco would help a mudblood and Lucius explains that, well, Draco has had some bad influences since school began. Albus acts as the defense. Well, not the defense, really. He acts as the voice of reason and asks the assembly to remember that Hermione is 12 and children do stupid things, etc… and, yes, this was ATTEMPTED murder rather than murder. Lucius begins to say what he wants from Hermione given her blood debt from trying to end the line of a Noble and Most Ancient House… and is interrupted by a bunch of people yelling “AZKABAN!” And, yeah, that’s what Lucius wants. Dumbledore asks, effectively, “Seriously?” and Lucius pounces. Draco would rather be repaid for his mother’s blood than for his own. If Dumbledore admits that he killed Narcissa… but, of course, Dumbledore won’t. Hermione makes eye contact with Harry and pleads for his help.
Harry goes cold and steps up. Hoo boy. He points out that Lucius is a Slytherin and he should know a plot when he sees one. Why in the heck is Lucius playing along with the plot to harm Hermione when he should be going after the real murders? Real attempted murders? Lucius ain’t having it. Harry Potter tries to threaten Lucius and Lucius comes back with a counter-threat. Lucius calls for the vote and we end on a cliffhanger as the hands go up.
Chapter 81: Hands are counted. Hermione is going to Azkaban. So Harry throws a Hail Mary and calls on the debt that Malfoy owes the Potters for killing Voldemort thus freeing Lucius from the Imperius Curse. Team Dumbledore agrees that this debt needs to be acknowledged and Lucius agrees that it exists but it doesn’t CANCEL the debt. But he’d be willing to accept… 100,000 Galleons? 17 Sickles to a Galleon. 29 Knuts to a Sickle. 100,000 Galleons. 49300000 Knuts. Harry’s got a lot of money in the bank but does he have that much? Nope… he’s got 40,000. Which is a lot of money but it’s not a 100,000. But, at the end of the day, it’s just money and Hermione is Hermione. So Harry agrees. And Dumbledore refuses to allow it. Which means that now Harry has to have a pissing contest with Dumbledore and Harry explains that he will destroy Azkaban before allowing Hermione to go there. Everybody in the hall is either gasping or laughing. Dumbledore is the only person in the room who takes Harry seriously on this. Harry refuses to see reason… and Dumbledore relents and allows Harry to go into debt in order to prevent him from trying to destroy Azkaban.
Malfoy can’t understand it at all. (This is a nice touch. The trope about how good understands evil but evil can’t comprehend good? That’s a pretty awesome trope.) Harry says that he’ll pay the Malfoy’s the 40,000 he has now and he’ll pay the 60,000 later. There are rules or something. Malfoy sees that he’s not bluffing about the money and knows that Harry got knocked out by a Dementor in January and can’t cast a patronus at all. He brings this up to Harry and Harry tells him that he has old info. Malfoy does some mental calculations and figures out that Harry is bluffing… and withdraws his offer. The girl is no part of House Potter. So Harry figures out… maybe they can get married? Luckily Professor McGonagall is there and she binds Hermione to Harry. I guess it’s like marriage but magic? So even as it is kinda creepy, it’s creepy in an entirely foreign context. So NOW Granger is a member of House Potter. Which means that Malfoy can’t withdraw his offer anymore and since it was accepted earlier… Dumbledore yells that we’re adjourned and taps the gavel.
Harry figured out a way to have the dementor kill everybody who voted to send Hermione to Azkaban but is keeping that in his back pocket. Umbridge starts doing what Umbridge does and Harry figures out that now is the time to pull out one of his Patronus 2.0 tricks that isn’t summoning the Patronus itself. He walks to the other side of the Patronuses protecting everybody from the dementor and thinks about his Patronus 2.0 and yells “BOO!” and the dementor runs away until its back is to the wall. He turns to Umbridge and tells her “I make you this one offer, I never learn that you’ve been interfering with me or any of mine. And you never find out why the unkillable soul-eating monster is scared of me. Now sit down and shut up.”
As much as Patronus 2.0 irritated the crap out of me, I admit to really enjoying this scene.
Anyway, his offer to Umbridge appears to have been accepted. He then turns to Malfoy to point out that Harry Potter not owing him 60,000 Galleons was one thing but Harry Potter owing him 60,000 was quite another. Anyway, we’re adjourned, it’s time for class, and Hermione gives McGonagall a hug? Ah, well. Let’s get her to Madam Pomfrey’s.
And now the disembodied narrator points out that the Wizengamot is chock-full of people who never ask why something happened or how someone did the seemingly impossible. BUT, the narrator points out, there are a handful of people who do ask these questions.
Chapter 82: Harry, Hermione, and Dumbledore travel via pheonix to Madam Pomfrey’s, drop off Hermione, then pheonix fire up to the Headmaster’s office. Then they debrief. Harry challenges Dumbledore’s goodness. Harry figures that this is a good time to point out that Dumbledore never had a wife or daughter and… well… now it’s time to look at the wands in the room of the phoenix’s price again. Harry is irritated that Dumbledore is playing the “I had friends die” card again and Dumbledore plays a memory from the Pensieve. And we go back to see a memory of Dumbledore failing to pay the ransom for Aberforth. Danegeld Theory. And Dumbledore points out to Harry that Harry just paid the Danegeld.
And now Harry, instead of having 40,000 Galleons, is 60,000 in debt.
Dumbledore has one heck of a line: “After the day I condemned my brother to his death, I began to weigh those who followed me, balancing them one against another, asking who I would risk, and who I would sacrifice, to what end. It was strange how many fewer pieces I lost, once I knew what they were worth.”
Harry points out that his mother didn’t walk away from Voldemort when given the chance. And tells Fawkes that he doesn’t know why the phoenix is still on Dumbledore’s shoulder.
And, yeah, we’re 20 minutes later and Harry is beginning to realize that he’s kinda unfair to Dumbledore. And that he can be mean to Dumbledore because it’s SAFE to be mean to Dumbledore. And he knew that when he thinks about these things rationally, he’s able to be a lot more coldly utilitarian… but Good Intentions don’t mean a whole lot when you abandon ethics whenever there’s a real good reason… and, yeah, Harry’s mom didn’t make the utilitarian calculus. But you can’t live like that.
Chapter 83: Padma comes in for Transfigurations class and we see things from her POV for a while. We learn about the different rumors flying around campus, very few of which withstand scrutiny. So Padma does the smart thing and asks McGonagall “what the heck happened?” and everybody starts yelling their version of the rumors they’d heard and McGonagall explains that, no, Hermione is in the infermary. Quirrell is being detained. And Draco is going home because Lucius ain’t letting him back into a Hogwarts where stuff like this can happen.
Chapter 84: Hermione wakes up in the healing ward and debriefs with McGonagall. Nah, we didn’t tell your parents that you almost went to Azkaban. You probably shouldn’t tell them either. Harry not only said that he thought Hermione was innocent, he actually thinks it. And, you know, it IS kinda out of character for Hermione to do that sort of thing. (But, really, whenever they interview the neighbors of a serial killer, don’t the neighbors always talk about how quiet and polite and what a big surprise this is?) Hermione remembers doing the deed, even if Harry thinks that she’s innocent. And, worse than that, she remembers waking up and remembering it and going downstairs to eat as if it hasn’t happened. So instead of going to The Authorities and saying what happened, she pretended it didn’t. Which, in her estimation, is a pretty good indicator of her character. Well, McGonagall ain’t gonna yell at her and Harry ain’t gonna yell at her… So she has a conversation with Dumbledore. She discusses the various things that she might have done to protect Harry from protecting her… and Dumbledore gives some more good advice: “As you would be kind to others, be kinder to yourself as well.” They discuss the nature of Evil.
They touch on something interesting. We all know about the problem of Evil when it comes to people who have the best of intentions. What about Evil that is just Evil because of nothing at its core? A “why not?” nihilism in response to “why are you doing this?” The problem of Evil. How in the heck do you solve that sort of thing?
Anyway, Dumbledore put some protections down around Hermione. Even though Harry thinks that Hermione should go to Beauxbatons instead of Hogwart’s (and there are probably a bunch of people who think that, given that McGonagall brought it up), she’s probably safer in Hogwarts than anywhere else. Harry has a list of Most Likely Targets and he wants them to all have Time-Turners, invisibility cloaks, broomsticks, pouches to carry them, and toe-ring portkeys. You can’t be too careful. Dumbledore has started to resent his willingness to trade pieces for other pieces. Is Evil done in the name of Good better than Evil done because Why Not? And it comes out that the whole binding of Hermione to Harry is a Big Deal. Kinda like marriage. But creepier.
We get back to Quirrell who is still in the cell, being detained, and who has figured out how to torment his tormentors with the age-old technique of humming. As it turns out, nobody knows who Quirrell actually IS. ‘Quirinus Quirrell’ does not appear to exist. So who is this guy? The Aurors don’t know. Well… Amelia Bones seems to know. She gives a story about someone who fought against the Dark Lord and who everybody thought would be the next Dumbledore and then he disappeared and everybody thought he was dead. And now here HE is. We just know he’s from one of the Ancient Houses… one of the houses we thought were dead. Anyway, Quirrell is fine with letting everybody continue to think that. He is dying, you see, and wants to get back to teaching his classes.
And one last session with Hermione in the Healer’s Ward before she’s allowed to go back to the Ravenclaw dorm room. Flitwick hands Hermione off to Harry and there’s a bit of an awkward silence which Harry breaks by discussing what he knows about PTSD. Hermione wants to know how bad it is. “How bad is it?”, she asks. There a lot in that question. Harry starts by discussing the rumors at breakfast in which he lets Hermione know that he thinks that she’s innocent but he also thinks that Draco is innocent. Which doesn’t tell Hermione how bad it is. So Harry talks about Asch’s conformity experiments and how Chaos soldiers received anti-conformity training. Which doesn’t tell Hermione how bad it is. So Harry tells Hermione how bad it is. It’s bad. They get to Ravenclaw and, yeah, it’s bad.
Quirrell shows up to debrief with Hermione. She asks if he’s there to kill her and then she throws a Stupefy at him. He removes two Quirrell points for asking questions first then shooting. Quirrell tells Hermione one of the nicest things ever: “As for the notion that you did it yourself – I consider myself a talented teacher, but even I could not teach such murderous intent to a student as obstinate and untalented as Hermione Granger.” Quirrell tells Hermione a bit of his backstory. He wanted to be a hero once. It didn’t work out. He talked about how, when everybody was fighting the Dark Wizard, everybody second-guessed the leadership of the good guys (but nobody would step up) and the crueler the Dark Wizard got, the more that the dark followers worked harder. When this lesson sunk in, he quit the whole hero thing. This strikes Hermione as wrong but, as Quirrell points out, it holds here too, doesn’t it? Hermione was a hero and everybody turns their back on her the first second it’s convenient to do so. Quirrell points out that Hermione has the option of doing what he did: quit trying to be a hero. He offers to take her to Beauxbatons. (I imagine the food would be better there.) Quirrell points out that, hey, she almost went to Azkaban and Harry went nuts and threatened to tear down the Wizengamot. What is Harry going to do next?
Hermione realizes that Quirrell is maneuvering to take her away from Harry and steps back… and Quirrell gets hurt and tells her, sure, fine let’s assume that I am telling this as your enemy. You should definitely run away then! And Hermione knows that running away is the smart play that everybody agrees with, well, except Dumbledore. And she doesn’t back down and doesn’t take the offer to run to safety. So she goes back down to the Ravenclaw dorms where all of her friends that she helped with their homework turned away from her earlier in the evening.
Chapter 85: Harry had spent the last little while trying to get everybody in the Ravenclaw room to put-up or shut-up and sign a paper saying that Hermione would get to lord it over them when it came out that she was innocent. This is less useful than you’d think. Anyway, he goes up to the Ravenclaw tower and just looks out at the night and thinks. Think think think. Dumbledore said that the war against Voldemort started two days ago. Harry thinks this is an overstatement (dude, you’ve lost 40K gold coins and you owe another 60K to Lord Malfoy!) and tries to just hammer out what he KNOWS: Quirrell put detection wards on Draco OR Quirrell set everything up. Snape thinks it’s obvious that Quirrell should be the main suspect but Snape’s trustworthiness is typical for Slytherin. Dumbledore thinks it’s Voldemort, back from the dead, but we don’t have any evidence of that. Draco had been taken off the board and now he’s probably going to Beauxbatons. Maybe get private tutoring. Maybe both. (What about Crabbe and Goyle?) Oh, and Hermione is now presumed guilty of attempted murder of Draco.
Speaking of Draco, he also swore that he’d take whomever killed Narcissa as a sworn enemy and, yeah, Dumbledore pretty much came out and did everything but confess to it. Even if he didn’t do it, he wanted the credit for doing it. Which means that now Harry has to play a complex game of rationalizations. WHICH MEANS THAT WE CAN BRING UP THE NAZIS!!!!!!
There’s a good point and I’m going to copy/paste this entire sub-paragraph: It was abruptly very clear that while Harry was going around trying to live the ideals of the Enlightenment, Dumbledore was the one who’d actually fought in a war. Nonviolent ideals were cheap to hold if you were a scientist, living inside the Protego bubble cast by the police officers and soldiers whose actions you had the luxury to question.
Harry notices one of the problems with modern comics: The reason we can root for Batman having a code against killing is that we don’t have comic books dedicated to the people the Joker kills every time he gets out and starts trying to prove some kind of point. The named characters have plot armor. The background NPCs don’t. If you cared about background NPCs as much as you care about named characters, you’d see that Batman really should have killed the Joker back in the 80’s.
Like Doctor Manhattan, we look up at the stars for a bit and think about Progress. We compare modern wizards and their wands with ancient muggles and their stone-throwers. We need more Wizard Scientists. (I suppose part of the problem is the problem with Potion Theory from a couple of chapters back. If you can’t write stuff down because someone not wise might read it and screw everything up, you’re going to have trouble passing the torch of knowledge from hand to hand across generations. All the more reason to defeat death forever, I guess.) Anyway, we meditate on Evil again and how, in a million years, we’ll have trouble distinguishing the backwardsness of Voldemort and his evil with the banality of everybody else. Like Doctor Manhattan, we stop looking at long-dead things and get up.
We meditate upon Azkaban and how, before, he thought he needed a plan and logistics to knock down Azkaban. Now? He knows that all he has to do is tell Fawkes “Yeah, it’s time” and they can go and make it happen. Harry is still haunted by some of the voices in Azkaban and the thought that Hermione might have been one of them is almost maddening. What about the lady whose voice he heard? Would he go there to save her? He checks off names of people that he knows and wonders if he’d go there to knock down Azkaban for them… and, yeah, there’s quite a few that he’d do that for. Maybe he SHOULD do it… and, while thinking this, his own Pheonix shows up. Come on, Harry. Let’s go. Let’s knock down Azkaban to its foundations.
Harry is tempted… but there are a lot of people he needs to save. Other things he has to do. More time! He needs to train more people to cast Patronus 2.0. He needs six more months. Harry’s Pheonix disappears. Harry goes back down to go to the Ravenclaw dorms but there is Dumbledore and Fawkes who noticed a strange pheonix on the grounds and wanted to see what was going on. They watched Harry get the offer and… turn it down. Whew, I guess. But now it comes out that pheonixes don’t make their offers all the time: Phoenixes only make the offer once. A very interesting line comes from Dumbledore that I missed completely the first time: “It is said, among the few scholars of phoenix-lore, that not one in four returns from their ordeal.”
Dumbledore mentioned that three times a pheonix came to the grounds. The first time it was turned away and the grief of it broke the student who made that choice. The second time it was accepted and the acceptor did not return. Dumbledore thinks it might be best that Harry not hear the cries of the pheonix. We don’t know if Harry’s choice was wise or right or wrong or what. “Come back!”, he screams.
I imagine that he’ll still see himself as morally superior to people who don’t agree with him, though.
And Trelawney wakes from a nightmare. More seers from all around the world wake from nightmares.
Chapter 86: We begin with a bunch of Wizard Newspaper Headlines. MALFOY FLEES HOGWARTS AS VEELA POWERS AWAKEN is the one that has me interested. If this is a bad interpretation of a good insight, I’m wondering what the phrasing of the original insight was. (In the same way that Harry Potter getting Draco Malfoy pregnant in the first part of the book was a bad interpretation of Harry “planting a seed”.)
Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, and Harry are waiting on Mad-Eye Moody to show up. Harry is ticked that Dumbledore won’t share the prophecy with him because, hey, he needs to know it. Yeah, you needed a phoenix too, didn’t ya? Dumbledore points out that Voldemort, knowing the prophecy, followed it to his doom. Harry doesn’t need that whole misdirection thing going on on top of everything else. Harry is insistent and he promises that he will be different from the last group of people who screwed themselves up when they learned their own prophecies… aw jeez, fine. Here. Harry gets the prophecy. THE ONE WITH THE POWER TO VANQUISH THE DARK LORD APPROACHES BORN TO THOSE WHO HAVE THRICE DEFIED HIM BORN AS THE SEVENTH MONTH DIES AND THE DARK LORD SHALL MARK HIM AS HIS EQUAL BUT HE SHALL HAVE POWER THE DARK LORD KNOWS NOT AND EITHER MUCH DESTROY ALL BUT A REMNANT OF THE OTHER FOR THOSE TWO DIFFERENT SPIRITS CANNOT EXIST IN THE SAME WORLD.
So we get into prophecy theory. Harry thinks the power the Dark Lord knows not is the scientific background. Which is cute, I guess. Snape slaps that down. Harry starts to argue with Snape, like Harry is the end-all-be-all of prophecies now. Jeez, kid. This is why they didn’t want to give it to you. Harry theorizes that, hey, maybe the prophecy has already been fulfilled? Great, let’s eat something.
Snape explains that, no. Jeez. If the prophecy was fulfilled, he’d understand it. He was the guy who heard the prophecy in the first place, dang it, and he’d know the events would fit or not. Harry argues against that too.
Dumbledore is pretty sure that Voldemort is alive and gives his evidence for that and, yes, it’s all circumstantial. Harry argues against THAT too. Maybe this is that “strong opinions, weakly held” thing. Now I am coming up with explanations for why Harry isn’t a jerk. Jeez. Snape talks about the dark mark not fading. Harry argues against that. Because he’s an expert on that too. So maybe there are other suspects that are more worth looking at than Voldemort because Voldemort not being dead is a far more extraordinary claim than somebody else is plotting against them. Snape points out that Quirrell is just as likely a suspect. Harry moves on and starts questioning how prophecies are captured. Maybe there are false memory charms there too! Maybe none of this happened at all and they’re just in a snowglobe in the finale of Saint Elsewhere! Anyway, Dumbledore explains that, no, prophecies are captured and recorded in the Department of Mysteries. And no, he can’t go there.
We hammer out what this word might mean, what that one might mean, and what “his equal” might mean (let’s face it, the kid’s a parselmouth, and there’s the wand thing) and, FINALLY somebody asks whether Harry got some of Voldemort’s powers the night he got the scar. We get into whether Harry is smarter than Voldemort and, of course, Harry knows that he is. We get into Dark Mark theory and Harry finds out that Snape has one and, no, he magically can’t talk about it. So Harry figures out that whatever Snape can talk about with regards to the Dark Mark is not true and whatever he can’t talk about it is true and he throws a whole bunch of spaghetti at the wall and, yep, one sticks. So now Snape can talk about the Dark Mark because you can only talk about the Dark Mark to someone who knows its secret. Anyway, Harry sees this as evidence that he’s smarter than Voldemort and Snape has yet another great line: “Is it that inconceivable to you, Potter, that anyone could be so intelligent as yourself?”
Anyway, Harry knows that the real reason he can’t talk about why he suspects that Voldemort isn’t back is because HE broke Bellatrix Black out of Azkaban. He’s been to the Wizengamot and seen how crappy their security is. Gringotts has better security. Heck, he was THIS close to killing half the room with a dementor. Harry has a great argument for why he’s smarter than Voldemort: because Harry knows how to kill them all and he didn’t because of his ethics. Which means that if Voldemort was that smart, he’d have successfully killed them.
Q.E. to the ever-living D.
They point out that Voldemort almost DID kill all of them and was pretty much only thwarted by a boobytrapped baby. And Harry realizes that… he’s been arguing against new evidence instead of incorporating it. Which, let’s face it, is so dumb that someone who wasn’t him would do it. So we sit and think for a minute. Seriously, Harry had come up with a dozen creative ways to kill people with first-year spells from the first-year books. Voldemort, with access to Auror-Level stuff should have been an extinction event.
Anyway, this section all seems like motivated reasoning for Harry to not have to acknowledge that there might be someone else as smart as him. Hey, maybe that’s what motivated Voldemort too! Moody shows up. FINALLY!
We’re off to the dining hall where everybody is hip deep in some gossip. The members of the Chaos Army are noticing how they’re the only sane people anymore. The people at the next table seems to be referencing the Harry Potter Romance Fanfics and Slashfics and doing what they can to harmonize several different ones at once. Let’s face it, Hermione going off and trying to kill Draco and then ending up as Harry’s property is probably a genre unto itself. Along with the one where Hermione goes off to Azkaban and Harry and Draco can finally be together. They hammer out that there is a hidden hand maneuvering everything behind the scenes. And the members of the Chaos Army are, somehow, immune to also writing these fanfics on the fly. Which, you know, flies in the face of evidence.
We meet Mad-Eye Moody. He is just as awesome as he was in Goblet of Fire. Or (spoiler), anyway. “If Harry Potter is not our friend, then we are all certainly doomed; so we may as well assume that he is.” Moody notices that Harry almost drew at his entrance. He doesn’t take it personal. Harry rattles off the old saw about it not being paranoia if they are out to get you and he now has Moody’s attention. So Harry and Moody have conversation in which they feel each other out before getting down to brass tacks. There’s a cute diversion about what Gilderoy Lockhart is getting up to out there despite McGonagall remembering him as a poor, poor student. Moody starts talking about getting out there and getting stuff done. Harry is, of course, appalled. Most people who turn down phoenixes would be appalled by people who get stuff done. Moody asks Dumbledore what in the heck someone who would be appalled by someone who gets stuff done is doing in the room. Moody learns that Harry is an Occlumens and tests Harry for real for the first time. Moody says something I’m sure we’ll all regret: “I’ll make you the same offer I’d make to any trainee Auror. Land one touch on me, boy – one hit, one spell – and I’ll concede your right to talk back to me.”
For the next few paragraphs, we learn how Harry Potter manages to land one touch on Mad-Eye Moody. Ugh.
Anyway, they soften it by letting Harry explain that Mad-Eye wasn’t REALLY fighting but testing to see if Harry would try to win hard enough to cheat. And, yeah, Harry did.
So now Moody is willing to listen to Harry ask him to be nice to Lockhart because, of course, Harry knows that Lockhart is probably innocent. And Moody, having been hit, is willing to listen.
Harry debriefs with Quirrell who points out that Dumbledore is also a mastermind of sorts and Harry doesn’t buy it. Quirrell points out that if you’re going to sacrifice an innocent, it’s probably less morally fraught to sacrifice a hero than a nameless NPC. The hero, after all, signed up for this sort of thing. The NPC didn’t. Harry probes and asks if it’s most probably that it’s Dumbledore and, no. There’s Snape. Heck, there’s Lucius. So now that makes Harry wonder about when Hagrid got framed back in 1943. Maybe that wasn’t Voldemort either… but Quirrell shuts that down right quick. They discuss Trelawnrey’s prophecy. No, not that one. The one at the beginning of the story: HE IS COMING. THE ONE WHO WILL TEAR APART THE VERY and then they winked out. Harry finishes the conversation by asking Quirrell to explain why he, himself, either should or should not be a suspect. Quirrell declines because he’ll either do a very good job… or he won’t do a very good job… and both are reasons to assume guilt.
So we’re back to the meeting with Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Moody, and Harry. Dumbledore steps out because he promised Quirrell that he wouldn’t investigate his true identity and the remainders there hammer out that Voldemort snuffed out the Ancient House of Monroe and James/Lily/Harry avenged them. The theory is that Quirrell is really David Monroe, of the House of Monroe, and Harry wonders if Quirrell isn’t just someone pretending to be David Monroe pretending to be Quirrell. Moody explains that there are three kinds of Dark Lords and this is a pretty cool speech. There are the ones with one name. There are the ones with two names. And there are the ones with a thousand names. How do we know that whomever Quirrell really is prodded Voldy into killing the Monroe house and then pretended to be David Monroe.
Which means that Harry then has to balance his quite reasonable suspicions about Quirrell with the fact that Quirrell is one heck of a good DADA teacher and, seriously, the closest thing to a peer that Harry has.
Anyway, we come back from our thoughts to hearing that Moody thinks the DADA professor should be fired. Harry makes some questions about Grindelwald and his protections that makes Moody think that the kid has a future as an Auror. We finally explain the killing curse. You can’t do it for Justice. You can’t do it for The Greater Good. You have to want the person dead. You have to mean it. I’m going to rot13 this next part: Gur cnentencu nobhg gur zntvpnyyl rzobqvrq cersrerapr sbe qrngu bire yvsr? Lbh whfg xabj gung gung’f tbvat gb pbzr onpx gb unhag hf.
Another good line: “The Killing Curse doesn’t crack your soul. It just takes a cracked soul to cast.”
We hammer out that Quirrell, even if he’s not the original Monroe, has done some good stuff. He’s saved lives. Harry, Draco. (And, yeah, he’s a really, really good DADA teacher.)
We leave the office and discuss whether McGonagall has more loyalty to Hermione or to Dumbledore. McGonagall doesn’t know, upon first asking. She did the Vow thing because she’s a Gryffindor. She doesn’t know what she’ll do if it ever comes to that. (Let’s face it: Gryffindors generally don’t think that far ahead.) Harry knows that he shouldn’t press it but he also knows that she’s making a mistake by not gaming it out. You never know when a really important choice will fly up to you and offer to take out Azkaban, after all. You should game out your answer beforehand, so you don’t make the wrong one and regret it to the point where you treat everybody else like crap for a week or so.
McGonagall asked Harry what he meant when he asked her to notice any slight change in Snape. And Harry knows that this means that she’s noticed a slight change that she doesn’t want to talk about. So they bicker for a bit and then she lets out that she’s noticed Snape noticing schoolgirls looking at him, you know, THAT way. And he used to never even notice. It’s not that he’s doing anything! It’s that he’s noticing and he didn’t use to. Which might mean that Snape is acting differently. And if Snape is acting differently because he’s changed… what does that mean? And we don’t know.
We go to Potions class and Snape keeps Harry after class to ask him about the night of Voldemort’s attack. Harry offers a trade. How Snape got the prophecy in exchange for a report of Lily’s last moments. Snape doesn’t hesitate to spill the beans. We learn more about Prophecy Theory. And Snape asks how Lily died. Harry gives the report. He explains that he heard James die holding Voldemort off and he reports that Voldemort told Lily to step aside and that he was giving her a chance to run before kiling her kid. Lily tried to get off the killing curse and Voldemort got off his spell before Lily got to the fifth syllable. Snape seems relieved, kinda. Maybe.
Chapter 87: Easter holiday. Hermione is still there with the “Glowpox” (anti-vaxers, man) and it’s easier to be ostracized when everybody else is gone home for the holiday. Harry shows up and they have their first real conversation since they got magically unequally yoked. Hermione is trying to figure out the best way to make 100,000 Galleons. They go through the book of rich Wizards that Hermione is reading and touch on a handful of magical items that, if they could figure out how to reproduce, would make them Galleonaires. And even if they themselves couldn’t reproduce it, if the stuff was possible, somebody else would have kidnapped these people and forced them to reproduce them.
The efficient kidnapper hypothesis.
Harry is pleased that Hermione tried to mass-produce immortality so she could pay off the debt to Malfoy. (Seriously, if making the Philosopher’s Stone was possible, Harry is smart enough to do it and since he doesn’t want to do it, it must not be possible. Q.E.D.)
Hermione gets off a good one: “You gather all the clues and talk to all the suspects while I just sit here in the library. Let me know after it turns out that it was Professor Quirrell who did it.” Hermione is irritated that she doesn’t get to be a heroine and is relegated to the role of damsel. Harry points out that he’s got a lot of Protagonist Privilege. We discuss Tulpa Theory. (I admit: I have several Tulpas of my friends. I argue/discuss with them when I’m alone. Sometimes my Tulpas aren’t close to the original. Sometimes they are. When they are, it makes real life arguments/discussions more fun.) We get into Good Person theory and whether you can be friends with someone like Draco. We get into ethical theories about whether people who do bad things can be turned to the Light Side. And, yeah, Hermione caught that Draco’s testimony said that he wanted to empirically test whether he could beat Hermione… which means that Harry was cheating on Hermione with Draco. Scientifically. That doesn’t make it better. We hammer out that Harry did what he did for Hermione because he’s her friend, not because he’s IN LOVE.
And we hammer out that Harry hasn’t even gone through puberty yet. Ah, jeez. If I remember the High Moral Dudgeons I got into when I was 17, Harry is going to be even more insufferable.
We hammer out that there are charms available for Witches to deal with, you know. “Inconveniences.” And then Harry starts talking about marriage theory and the poly thing. Yeah, that’ll work.
And we finish with what might be a tribute to the best scene in Live Free or Die Hard. After Harry and Hermione have the fight, the Ravenclaw comes up and says, paraphrased, “Chicks.”
Harry, being 12, doesn’t understand yet.
And that’s our first eighty-seven chapters.
For next Sunday, we’re going to read twelve chapters and get ourselves up through chapter 99. That will get us through the next major arc where we see the debt to Malfoy get cancelled.
So… What do you think?
(Featured image is Foucault’s Pendulum by Sylvar. Used under a creative commons license.)