Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 88-99)
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, we review chapters 65-77 here and we review chapters 78-87 here.
This week we resolved to read chapters 88-99. 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 88: Lunch is interrupted by a troll showing up in the dungeons at 12:07. McGonagall knows that this is the sort of thing that will be assumed to be the fault of the DADA instructor. The students are in the dining hall preparing for the worst as the professors all prepare to take care of troll and do their best to prevent the worst from happening by 12:14. Harry realizes that Hermione isn’t in the dining hall and freaks out. He’s going to grab a 7th year and find her and bring her back to safety. We have a small experience with the bystander effect. We have a small experience with people not wanting to disobey the authorities even when the authorities aren’t present. Sort of a reverse Milgram Experiment? I guess? Anyway, Harry appeals to Hagrid, who has been left in charge, and Hagrid doesn’t want to authorize Harry leaving. He says that he’ll go himself… but he can’t ride a broom. Harry is going to leave and Hagrid tries to stop him. Hagrid is distracted by a couple of students but then Neville gets in the way to stop Harry but Neville is brought down by Ron. Ron tells Harry to go. Harry runs into the Weasley Twins and they have forgotten how to find students in a hurry, but they remember that they used to know how to find students in a hurry. Harry figures out that they’ve been tampered with. Hermione ain’t in the library. Harry refers to people who have to follow scripts instead of thinking about things “NPCs”. The librarian is one. Harry summons Patronus 2.0 and tells the Patronus to find Hermione. Huh. Looks like the Patronus can find people, not just other Patroni.
Chapter 89: They find the troll. In open daylight, even. Remember Chapter 16? Let’s copy and paste the section:
“The Mountain Troll is more dangerous than the Hungarian Horntail! It is strong enough to bite through steel! Its hide is resistant enough to withstand Stunning Hexes and Cutting Charms! Its sense of smell is so acute that it can tell from afar whether its prey is part of a pack, or alone and vulnerable! Most fearsome of all, the troll is unique among magical creatures in continuously maintaining a form of Transfiguration on itself – it is always transforming into its own body. If you somehow succeed in ripping off its arm it will grow another within seconds! Fire and acid will produce scar tissue which can temporarily confuse a troll’s regenerative powers – for an hour or two! They are smart enough to use clubs as tools! The mountain troll is the third most perfect killing machine in all Nature! One Killing Curse will bring it down.”
The students were looking rather shocked.
Professor Quirrell was smiling rather grimly. “Your sad excuse for a third-year Defence textbook will suggest to you that you expose the mountain troll to sunlight, which will freeze it in place. This, my young apprentices, is the sort of useless knowledge you will never find in my lessons. You do not encounter mountain trolls in open daylight! The idea that you should use sunlight to stop them is the result of foolish textbook authors trying to show off their mastery of minutia at the expense of practicality. Just because there is a ridiculously obscure way of dealing with mountain trolls does not mean you should actually try to use it! The Killing Curse is unblockable, unstoppable, and works every single time on anything with a brain. If, as an adult wizard, you find yourself incapable of using the Killing Curse, then you can simply Apparate away! Likewise if you are facing the second most perfect killing machine, a Dementor. You just Apparate away!”
Well, there’s the troll. In open daylight. Hooboy. Looks like the troll bit off Hermione’s legs. Harry tells the twins to take on the troll while he uses the healing kit. Tourniquets applied. Oxygenating potions injected into the carotid artery. The twins are having trouble fighting the troll. Maybe they didn’t get the same speech. Maybe they did and they aren’t remembering it. Maybe they’re not cracked enough to cast it. One of the twins casts the Sorting Hat summoning spell used by Dumbledore in the last major arc and tells it to do something. It roars out “GRYFFINDOR!” and the twin pulls Godric’s sword out, like a rabbit from a hat. Nihil Supernum. Nothing Above. With the sword, one of the troll’s arms gets cut off but the Mountain Troll is the third most perfect killing machine and takes the twins out single-handedly. They tell Harry to run but Harry knows that, if he does, the twins are dead too. He’s the only one who can do anything. He thinks about casting the killing curse for a moment but, instead, takes the transfigured pebble from his ring and throws it into the troll’s mouth and finites the spell, causing the pebble to turn back into a boulder. This doesn’t kill the troll but it does slow it down enough for Harry to transfigure the troll’s brain into acid which DOES kill it.
Hermione tells Harry that it’s not his fault and then dies. Whoa.
Dumbledore, summoned by the death of a student, can’t do anything. It’s too late. Then this section with Quirrell is interesting: “The Defense Professor had felt the boy’s horror, through the link that existed between the two of them, the resonance in their magic; and he had realized that the boy had sought the troll and found it. The Defense Professor had tried to send an impulse to retreat, to don the Cloak of Invisibility and flee; but he’d never been able to influence the boy through the resonance, and hadn’t succeeded that time either.” Trelawney gives another prophecy: “HE IS HERE. THE ONE WHO WILL TEAR APART THE VERY STARS IN HEAVEN. HE IS HERE. HE IS THE END OF THE WORLD.”
Chapter 90: Harry is in shock. At least the twins are okay. Dumbledore isn’t helping Harry try to help Hermione. Harry makes Hermione cold in the hopes that that will help with possible resuscitation. When Fawkes tries to sing to Harry, Harry yells at Fawkes telling him that his feelings are not a disease that needs to be cured. Dumbledore sends in McGonagall in the hopes that she’ll be able to shake him out of this weird “I can fix this” attitude. Harry explains the several things that could have been done to prevent this from happening in the first place. “False Grief”, I think this is called. “If only I hadn’t asked him to go to the grocery store, he wouldn’t have been killed by a drunk driver” is one of the ways it manifests in muggleworld.
Harry gets off a very interesting line: “Of course it’s my fault. There’s no one else here who could be responsible for anything.”
Harry then explains his NPC theory. It’s monumentally unfair… but it does seem to have a robust sense of reality. Nihil Supernum. Nothing Above. He asks McGonagall to remove his restrictions from his Time Turner. She does.
I liked the scene where Dumbledore and McGonagall talk about what Harry said. McGonagall’s line about how if she had Harry stop talking, he wouldn’t have had anyone to say those things to was a very good line. Dumbledore had a good line too: “Your role in this disaster was tiny, your decisions quite sensible at the time, and it is only Harry Potter’s perfect hindsight that lets him imagine otherwise.” Quirrell goes in to talk with Harry and Harry remembers that Quirrell is the other guy in existence who MIGHT be responsible for things. Harry and Quirrell have an in-depth conversation about how resurrection MIGHT work. Harry doesn’t want to recreate his version of Hermione, he wants the actual Hermione back. Which means that he has to figure out how to create a new spell and he doesn’t know how. Quirrell makes the analogy to making books. New books are created all the time. But you can’t learn how to make a masterpiece. But masterpieces show up anyway. Harry wants to learn everything that Quirrell knows about magic because, hey, you never know when you’re going to need everything that Quirrell knows about magic.
But, unfortunately, Harry is 12.
Harry wants to learn Obliviate, at least, because that seems to have been used against the Twins. “Rule Eight,” said the Defense Professor. “Any technique which is good enough to defeat me once is good enough to learn myself.” After the meeting, Quirrell comes out and tells McGonagall that he is going to strengthen the security on the Restricted section himself. He explains that he is not good at being consoling but someone needs to get Harry to stop sinking into his “grief and madness”. Hoo boy.
Chapter 91: Snape comes in to talk to Harry as well. He opens with a great line: “I also cannot imagine what the Deputy Headmistress is thinking, unless I am meant to serve as a warning of where it will lead you, if you decide to take the blame for her death upon yourself.” Snape tells Harry that, yeah, he was the guy who left Hermione the notes about the bullies. He acknowledges that he was put in charge of Slytherin because Dumbledore gave up all hope for it (and notices that Harry was doing something interesting to fix Slytherin with Draco Malfoy and Daphne Greengrass). Snape says “I truly am sorry for your loss” and, man, I don’t think that anybody else could have given it. Harry is replaying everything over and over in his head with his perfect hindsight and it’s not helping. Harry’s mom and dad show up. Oof. Harry explains pretty much everything to them. The dark side, the way magical people treat muggles, and the plot of the story so far. Well, probably not the Azkaban thing. Anyway, Harry quickly realizes how much danger his parents are in and tries to get them removed from Hogwart’s. His parents, of course, are acting like parents and they want him to come HOME. Harry knows that that won’t work and just tells his mom to keep dad from doing something that will get him locked up or Obliviated beyond a perfectly acceptable level. Harry goes and gives his last respects to Hermione and McGonagall starts to write the dreadful letter to Hermione’s parents.
Chapter 92: Lesath apologizes for following Harry’s orders to not hint that he is connected to him. Lesath asks if he did the right thing and Harry lets him off the hook… kind of. He plausibly deniably tells Lesath to start learning stuff like the killing curse. Afterwards, an internal dialog between the four houses in Harry’s head. Quirrell busts into McGonagall’s office and wants to know if Harry is still, you know, going nuts. Quirrell points out that Hermione was the only person that Harry listened to. He doesn’t listen to anybody else. Lupin? Would he listen to Lupin? Yeah, probably not. Quirrell points out that maybe McGonagall is the closest we’ve got to someone that Harry would listen to and he suggests that she hasn’t done enough. She kicks him out of her office but not before he lets her know that he knows that she knows that he is REALLY David Monroe and AS David Monroe, he wants her to know that he knows that Harry is in a very, very bad place indeed. Like, “destroy a country” kinda bad place. McGonagall sees that he has a point, kinda, but tries to argue against him anyway. Quirrell points out that McGonagall is pretty much the only person who can do something and, if she doesn’t, things will get very, very bad indeed. Which, let’s face it, is kinda unfair. But it’s kinda got a robust sense of reality.
Chapter 93: Harry gets a letter from his parents and also gets told about an upcoming announcement in the dining hall. The letter is a good letter. It’s easy to forget that Harry is 12, sometimes. The dining hall is somber and the announcement given by McGonagall was that the Weasley twins were NOT going to be expelled and gave an apology for what she had done to House Gryffindor by telling them to not answer the call… and, jeez. Announces her resignation. Oh! Whew, Dumbledore didn’t accept it. And we start handing out house points. Which… well. It’s something. And Harry apologizes to McGonagall? He actually apologizes? He’s deeper in grief than we thought. And McGonagall hugged Harry and told him “I had a sister once”. It’s easy to forget that everybody in Hogwart’s has holes in their lives too. Quirrell doesn’t think that this will be enough. And Hermione’s body is missing.
Chapter 94: Flitwick shows up in Harry Potter’s bedroom at o’dark-thirty and tells Harry to wake up because he’s going to Dumbledore’s office Right Freaking Now. Some Floo action less than a minute later and they’re interrogating him to find out if Harry stole Hermione’s body. He denies it. They search his room and his trunk and his various hiding places anyway. Not finding it, they conclude that, yeah, Harry’s telling the truth and Voldemort stole it in order to use it against Harry as an Inferius. Not that Harry would care because he knows that that’s not Hermione, it’s just her shell. Dumbledore tells Harry that it looks like Quirrell killed Hermione. Harry points out that Voldemort is smart enough to frame Quirrell. (Draco has been taken away from Harry, Hermione is dead, if Quirrell is gone, Harry doesn’t have ANYBODY anymore.) Harry puts himself in Voldemort’s shoes and figures out a handful of things that we might conclude from what happened and Snape points out that maybe Voldemort was playing the game of making people think what he wants them to think. When Harry asked if Voldemort really goes meta to that degree, both Dumbledore and Snape answer “Yes” at the same time (which I thought was a nice touch). So is it about trusting the wards or not trusting the wards? If Voldy is that smart, why is Harry still alive? So all Harry knows for sure is that he has to pee and that Neville needs to go to safety. McGonagall agrees. We hammer out that the Weasley twins are the heir of Gryffindor… despite the twins not being particularly Godricy. Dumbledore gets off a good line: “Only a man exceedingly proud and vain would believe that his heir should be like himself, rather than like who he wished that he could be.” We have a conversation with Neville where Neville apologizes for trying to stop Harry from saving Hermione. We discuss “Egocentric Bias”. And we say goodbye to Neville.
Chapter 95: Harry goes for a walk in the Permitted Woods to think about stuff like Invisibility Theory and Godhood Theory and HOLY COW QUIRRELL IS THERE. He doesn’t want to talk to Quirrell but Quirrell pulls out the big guns and tells Harry, hey, you owe me one. After using the Time Turner to tell McGonagall that, hey, I’m talking to the guy who may or may not have been framed with the murder of Hermione, he has a conversation with Quirrell where Quirrell, once again, tries to talk Harry out of ascending to Godhood. Quirrell takes Harry out to outer space one last time and they discuss how magicians might be capable of destroying things utterly that muggles wouldn’t be able to do. And, hey, muggles have nukes. We learn that Wizard Novels have protagonists who are unable to stop the behaviors that will destory them. They don’t unleash destruction because they’re like Voldemort. They unleash destruction because they’re trying to do something else entirely and destruction is a by-product. Quirrell doesn’t understand why Harry is willing to risk unleashing destruction to bring back Hermione. Quirrell wonders if Harry himself is playing a role in searching for some way to raise the dead. Harry hammers out that, no, he’s not. Quirrell can’t believe that Harry will go to those ends to bring Hermione back. “Challenge death itself”. Quirrell then offers his own help, which surprises Harry. Hey. Give me the same science books that you gave Draco and maybe I can come up with something. And Quirrell passes out from the effort.
Chapter 96: Lupin takes Harry back to Godric’s Hollow. There’s a statue of James and Lily and baby Harry. What would Harry have been like had he grown up with those two as his parents? Maybe he’d like Quiddich. He asks Lupin whether he tried to figure out a way to bring his parents back after Voldemort killed them. He didn’t because magic can’t undo death. Harry wants to know if Lupin knows that or if that’s something that Everybody Just Knows (without them really knowing it). Did Lupin even care enough to try to get them back? They get to the house itself and see the sign memorializing the events of the night of Halloween 1981. There’s a note that said that “You were our miracle” and Harry meditates on it for a second. He says that these notes are what people do instead of trying to make it better but realizes that, no, he’s looking at it wrong. Harry walks through the graveyard and can’t believe how many people have died without wizards putting a stop to death. Harry gets to his parents’ tombstones and sees 1 Corinthians 15:26: “THE LAST ENEMY THAT SHALL BE DESTROYED IS DEATH”. Harry realizes then that he’s not alone and his parents (his lineage) is one of wanting to challenge, and defeat, death itself. Even if Lupin doesn’t understand. Harry and Lupin both hear some Old English and use the portkey that takes them back to Hogwart’s. Harry goes back to the Ravenclaw dorm to encounter… is that Draco’s Patronus?
Chapter 97: Ah, it IS Draco’s Patronus. Draco can still cast it. That’s good. Harry has a debtor’s meeting at Gringotts. Oh, crap. Yeah, that debt thing. Before the meeting, some thoughts on Goblin Theory and Harry realizes that, yeah, in addition to remaking Wizard Culture, he’s probably going to have to remake Goblin Culture too. Mad-Eye explains to Harry that he isn’t to sign ANYTHING. It’s a pity that Mad-Eye isn’t as smart as Harry is, though. Harry comes from a culture with REAL lawyers. We have the meeting. Oh, yeah! Harry borrowed 40 Galleons from Draco back in the early chapters. So that’s on Harry too. Lucius opens the meeting with an exceptionally good (if exceptionally direct) question: “I do not understand what is happening at Hogwarts, Harry Potter. Would you care to explain it to me?” Harry and Lucius and Draco have a real conversation. Lucius and Draco don’t understand Harry’s love for Hermione and Draco kinda resents that he’d been played for a fool. Harry explains that it was for Draco’s own good (indeed, perhaps even the good of the world). Lucius wants to know about the troll. Harry knows that Lucius knows that Harry knows that, well, anyway, Harry gives his theories about the troll… and it comes out that Lucius suspects that he’s one heck of a suspect for the hand that pointed the troll at Hermione. And then Harry and Lucius play a couple of games at once. One is the gathering information game. One is the preparing for eventual trial and testimony under veritaserum game. There might be some more games as well. Lucius still knows that he’s a suspect though and this preoccupies him overly… to the point that he wants Harry to testify that Harry knows that House Malfoy had NOTHING to do with the Hermione thing (and is willing to reduce the debt or adjust the terms of repayment). Harry counter-offers and points out that Lucius knows that the attempt on Draco’s life was OBVIOUSLY a setup and Hermione got the False Memory Charm and Lucius should absolve the debt and Harry will testify that he knows that Lucius had bad information before, now he’s got good information, and House Potter holds no animus to House Malfoy. Lucius points out that 100,000 Galleons is 100,000 Galleons. Harry points out that 100,000 ain’t nothin’. And Draco and Lucius have a conversation about what is worth what… and Draco suggests that the offer is worth taking. But Potter wronged Draco and Draco wants Potter to acknowledge that… and Harry will if Lucius accepts the deal. Lucius and Draco argue about this for a while and, looky there, Harry already has a contract written up for Lucius to sign. See? Harry won’t sign anything! And he won’t touch a quill either! He has a PEN. Take that, Mad-Eye! Lucius has never seen a pen before. Lucius asks Harry for his third suspect and Harry points out that it’s Dumbledore because, among other things, Harry killed the troll with a weapon Dumbledore gave him at the beginning of the school year… and, of course, Lucius and Draco are more than willing to see that a coincidence ain’t a coincidence when Dumbledore is involved. Remember the line from Chapter 47? “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.” Well, it pops up again. Dumbledore DID try to prevent Harry from saving Hermione, after all. They go through all of the ins and outs of Dumbledore’s motives, means, and opportunity. Lucius tells Harry that, hey, if this is a deception, Harry will pay. If it is the truth? House Malfoy and House Potter will be besties forever. Harry makes a deal with Lucius: if Dumbledore gets ousted, Draco is next in line to fill the vacuum in the power structure. Lucius signs the contract. The meeting ends and Mad-Eye reads the contract.
Chapter 98: Daphne Greengrass comes back to Hogwarts after Easter Break. “Mother had said that the sad fact was that if only one student died every year, well, that still made Hogwarts safer than Beauxbatons, let alone Durmstrang.” Ah, utilitarianism. Draco meets her in the hallway when she doesn’t expect it and Draco asks her to cast the Patronus. She senses a trap and says as much and Draco proves that he can cast the Patronus too. With the Patronus shining, Draco explains to Daphne that he knows that Hermione didn’t try to kill him. It was obviously a setup and he knows that. Heck, he tells Daphne that House Malfoy is giving House Potter their money back. The Slytherin who can cast the Patronus Charm all need to work together. The Silvery Slytherins. Draco makes Daphne an offer. Harry hires the Weasley Twins and tells them that whomever they hired for the Rita Skeeter memory charm will probably be needed to get this plan off the ground too. He provides a list without naming the things on it and the twins read the list without naming the things on it and there’s a lot of “we don’t recognize this stuff!” kinda statements without telling us what’s on the list. Harry points out that things have become serious. The Twins are Gryffindor through and through. The good kind. Not the bad kind. “It was a strange kind of selfishness, they thought, that Harry could understand kindness within himself – never dreaming of asking of money from anyone he’d helped more than they’d helped him, or calling that a debt – while being apparently unable to conceive that others might want to act the same way toward him.” Draco gets up after dinner to make an announcement. Harry gets up and stands next to him. They announce that they have joined forces to fight whatever force tried to separate them, kill Hermione, and almost kill Draco. Daphne Greengrass anounces that she’s in. Teddy Nott announces that he’s in. Susan Bones announces that she’s in. Neville’s back. He announces that he’s in. And they announce how stuff’s going to be done in the future. No wanering alone, not even to go to the can. There will now be aurors on the grounds. The house points system is temporarily suspended because everybody needs to band together as comrades, not as rivals. All students who aren’t in the DADA classes will get training from the aurors. NO MORE FIGHTING IN THE HALLS. Only in defense lessons or not at all. And since memory charms had been used on students so effectively, they concluded that it might be someone on the faculty. So reports go to Lord Greengrass rather than to the professors. Someone is bringing it to the Hogwarts students and the Hogwarts students are going to bring it back in kind.
Chapter 99: This chapter consists of a single sentence: “Ten days later, the first dead unicorn was found in the Forbidden Forest.”
And that’s our first ninety-nine chapters.
For next Sunday, we’re going to read fourteen chapters and get ourselves up through chapter 113. That will get us through the next major arc and let us play the same game that was played way back when this was first written. (Like, please, open a notepad file and fire off a handful of sentences and then save the file to copy and paste into a comment box.)
So… What do you think?
(Featured image is Foucault’s Pendulum by Sylvar. Used under a creative commons license.)