Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 114-122)
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, we review chapters 78-87 here, we review chapters 88-99 here, and we review chapters 100-113 here.
This week we resolved to finish the book. 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. (Though, now that we’re done with the book, there are probably no more spoilers to avoid.)
Now that the boilerplate is out of the way, let’s get started.
Chapter 114: The Impossible. Voldemort has threatened Harry’s survivors and will trade one of them NOT being tortured for each secret Harry gives him. So the first thing you’ve gotta do is buy time. Yeah, I know some secrets. One is that your attempt to kill me is likely to hasten the end of the world you’re hoping to avoid. “Nice Try”, Voldemort responds. Harry tells him about Dementors in such a way that attempts to plant the expectation that Death Eaters will chase after him. “Nice Try”, Voldemort responds… but, yeah, didn’t know that they respond to expectations (which is really useful information). Okay, so that counts as a secret that Voldemort didn’t know. Harry can pick one person to be saved. “Myself.” “Nice Try”, Voldemort responds.
Harry figures out that, nope, there’s no way to save everyone and he can’t cast any spells in English/Latin but transfiguration is wordless. He can’t transfigure air but he CAN transfigure the tip of his wand using partial transfiguration. He figures that one cubic millimeter of antimatter would make a nice-sized crater about the size of the graveyard they were standing in. In Parseltongue, he explains to Voldy that he could do this in the time it’d take Voldemort to raise his wand or tell his followers to open fire… and just like Voldemort figured out that Dementors respond to expectations, Harry tells Voldy that any and all future threats are useless.
And while this hissing conversation goes on, Harry makes a tiny spiderweb thread loop out and around every neck of every Death Eater standing there in the graveyard. And a couple more loops around the wrists of Voldemort himself… and then turned the spider silk into carbon nanotubes and yanked hard. This took off the heads of all of the Death Eaters and, yep, made Voldy drop his gun and his wand. Harry yelled “STUPORFY!” and hit Voldy with the same spell that was able to hit Mad-Eye Moody in Dumbledore’s office.
Chapter 115: Yep, Harry is now in a graveyard with a bunch of headless Death Eaters, a dead professor’s body, an unconscious Hermione, and a handless Voldemort who is temporarily knocked out due to a pretty quality dueling spell. So now he’s got a much easier problem to solve. He can’t kill Voldemort without kicking off another Horcrux. And he can’t risk Voldemort waking up. Well, good thing he’s got that medical kit. He tourniquets off Voldy’s forearm stumps and feels like since Voldy deserves to die that he ought to die even though, if he killed this instance of Voldemort, one of his backups would show up within hours (maybe minutes). He gets over that. So, since Neville’s parents were Crucioed into permanent insanity, we could maybe Crucio Voldemort into permanent insanity?
And then Harry waves THAT away too. Harry looks up at the stars and has a statement that kind of looks funny when you write it down: “It’s all right not to hate him. It doesn’t make you a bad person.” So Harry, instead of punishing Voldemort with death, chooses to Obliviate Voldemort of pretty much everything except for any nice memories he might have rattling around in there. And so Harry leaves Voldemort with, more or less, the same amount of memories that a year-old baby might have.
You know how Harry transfigured a Unicorn and snuck it into the hospital for Quirrell? You know how he transfigured Hermione and wore her as a toe ring? Well, he’s going to wear Voldemort as a ring now.
So we’ve got THAT done. Now he just has to deal with the fact that he’s in a graveyard with a ton of stuff that he’ll have to explain. So… he got Voldemort’s severed hands and made sure that the bottom parts were all frayed (ew) and made sure that Hermione was splattered a bit with the doings that that took and placed the hands around her neck. Voldemort’s robes needed singeing and he strew them around Hermione, then found the wand that the inhabitant of Quirrell’s body used when pretending to be Quirrell and placed it in dear old Quirrell’s hand.
So now all he has to do is make a weather balloon and fill it with the explosive gas he has in his pouch along with a stick of dynamite. Give Hermione a little magical ear protection and set the minute-long fuse to go… and then use up the last turn on the time-turner.
Chapter 116. Ah, the Quidditch game. Remember that? Jeez, that started a million years ago. Anyway, the gaming done by the Quiddich teams to run up the score on the field and, thus, maybe grab the House cup in addition to the Quidditch one continues and everybody is now noticing that, yeah, the Snitch ruins everything.
Harry Potter was sitting there, a kid walked up to him and gave him a note, Harry wandered off… and now he’s wandering back. Probably went to the john. You can always tell the Muggles… they go off to the bathroom instead of relieving themselves where they’re sitting and vanish the excrement… and now Harry is digging at his scar and yelling something? Something about Voldemort? And Hermione being alive? And there’s an explosion off in the distance?
Harry says that Voldemort came back to life and Hermione came with him and then she killed him. McGonagall summoned her Patronus and told the Patronus to find Dumbledore and… hoo boy. Harry explains that Dumbledore is trapped in time. So McGonagall can’t go to the graveyard… she’s the acting Headmistress now. So she sends a team to find out what happened and she announces that the Quidditch game is over… but, Harry points out, this was Quirrell’s last plot. The match continues and Slytherin wins as dawn breaks.
Chapter 117: Breakfast. Or breakfast time, anyway. Everybody’s in the dining hall but nobody is eating. The Head Table doesn’t have, like, five different professors for one reason or another and Snape is there in a wheelchair. McGonagall shows up to make some announcements. Dumbledore is lost in time. Voldemort came back and is dead. Quirrell is dead. Quirrell’s REAL name is “David Monroe”, from the ancient and noble House of Monroe. Hermione is alive. Oh… and some of the decapitated people found in Death Eater outfits in the cemetery happened to be the parents of some of the kids sitting at the Slytherin table.
And now Harry has to think about how he killed the parents of some of his friends. And, sure, it’s not like he could have NOT killed them, given the constraints on him… and yet.
After a brief outburst among the tables, McGonagall tells the students who may have lost their legal guardians last night that, if she becomes the legal guardian of them, she will take that duty seriously. Like “I will treat you as I would treat my own children AND WILL EXPECT EVERYONE IN HOGWARTS TO UNDERSTAND THAT.”
Professor Sinistra comes out carrying the Sorting Hat (WHEW! I was worried for a second that she was one of the decapitated in the graveyard based on nothing more than her name!) and gets on one knee to give the Hat to McGonagall. She places it on her head and it yells “HEADMISTRESS! JUST KIDDING! RAVENCLAW!” (Just kidding. It only yells the “headmistress” part.) She announces that this is only temporary until Dumbledore comes back… and Fawkes lets out a caw and flies away.
Chapter 118: Quirrell’s funeral. Harry won’t give the eulogy so it’s up to one of the six-years to do so. The students sing the praises of Quirrell/David Monroe and talk about how brave he must have been to stand up to Voldemort and wonder what might have happened had Quirrell not been sick-unto-death. And there’s a bunch of the speculation of what must have happened to Voldemort (given that Harry Potter wasn’t anywhere near what happened and was sitting in the stands watching magic sportsball instead of being in the center of the action (for once)). The story gets about as many things wrong as the story about what happened on October 31st, 1981 got wrong. But it’s a nice story. It’s a beautiful story. Harry has to give a correction about whether Quirrell’s sacrifice brought Hermione back but, otherwise, it’s a fine and noble story that tells the Poetic Truth about Professor Quirrell standing up to Voldemort and defeating the heck out of him.
There’s a fierce declaration then: Quirrell said that what he taught would always be a firm foundation in the art of Defense Against the Dark Arts… and, despite the curse on the position, all of the students would carry on the traditions of Professor Quirrell, that the name of Quirrell would never be forgotten. And three cheers to Professor Quirrell, then, “the best Slytherin that ever was, what every Slytherin should be!”
Hip hip, hurray.
Chapter 119: Harry waits in front of McGonagall’s (new) office and thinks about the testing he’s done on the Philosopher’s Stone. It, apparently, works every four minutes. (Or every 3:54. I don’t know the significance of that number. Lamentations 3:54 is the only famous 3:54 in the Bible and it’s “Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.” In the Koran, Surah Âl ‘Imran 3:54 would start a food fight. 234 is the country code for Nigeria and the area code for Akron, Ohio. I got nothin’.)
Anyway, McGonagall shows up and tells him that there’s going to be a meeting with Amelia Bones, Mad-Eye Moody, and Bartemius Crouch. Harry asks how Hermione’s doing and McGonagall explains that she’s testing as being as healthy as a Unicorn in a state of transformation. So they are testing her for emanations by putting her next to some pregnant mice/flies and so long as they don’t get emanation poisoning, we’re good for her to return. McGonagall wonders how she’ll handle being “The Girl-Who-Revived” and Harry is appropriately sympathetic. McGonagall sets up the room to be for her (at least until Dumbledore gets back) and lights the Floo and Mad-Eye shows up and immediately yells the words for the Killing Curse at Harry. Harry doesn’t dodge and that’s good enough for Moody to say that, yeah, Harry’s not Voldemort. Harry internalizes that, yeah, had Moody been feeling feisty, he’d be dead. So now Harry has THAT to worry about too. Amelia Bones shows up and explains that Bartemius Crouch Jr. was among the decapitated and so Barty ain’t showing up. Sigh.
Bones announces that the Line of Wizard Unbroken ain’t responding to her hand and now they have to worry about the Wizengamot flying off the handle. If Hermione killed Voldemort… well, that makes her the next in line but there were prophecies and letters and all kinds of stuff and nothing makes sense. Moody says “hold up” and tells Harry to try to pick up Dumbledore’s old wand. It FLIES into his hand and Moody says “Yep. It wasn’t Hermione who killed Voldy. It was Harry.” Harry, being found out, does some quick mental calculations and decides that, yeah, maybe he should start trusting the good guys and so he spills the beans. Voldy is wrapped around his finger.
“Huh,” Moody said, leaning back in his chair.
McGonagall has two letters for Harry from Dumbledore: One for Harry to read after the event of Dumbledore’s Death (or being lost in time, I guess) and One for Harry to read after the event of defeating Voldemort. Harry gets both of them.
The main takeaway from the first one is “The Line of Merlin Unbroken I have passed to you, with Amelia Bones as your regent, until you come of age or come into your power.” The main takeaway from the second one is that Dumbledore played his role in helping the prophecies regarding Harry come to light. All of the weird stuff Dumbledore did with the rock from the house was just the tip of the iceberg. He was the one who wrecked Harry’s sleep cycle. He was the one who smashed the pet rock. Indeed, he was the one who helped Lily make a potion for her sister that would help her meet and marry a nice Oxford professor. And now Dumbledore knows that the world is doomed and Harry is the one who will destroy it… but not the people. Not Life.
And so, now… yeah. Harry is in charge of the Wizengamot. And everybody is kinda taken aback because Harry is, like, 11 years old. Harry points out that Dumbledore thought that they’d have years and years to learn how to trust Harry and didn’t take into account that Harry might be smart/rational enough to, you know, only need one book to defeat Voldemort.
Bones and Moody and McGonagall let one of their cats out of the bag: “Anyone with wisdom who saw you before the Wizengamot – by which I mean myself and at most two others – could guess that you had absorbed some portion of You-Know-Who’s shredded soul on the night of his undeath, but subdued it and turned his knowledge to good ends.”
And they’re explaining to Harry that if Voldemort’s soul is trying to gobble up the good kid that Harry is, deep down, that he cannot possibly get the Unbroken Line of Merlin. Harry knows that he doesn’t want the administrative portion of the job but he might need to be part of the parts of the job that only people who hold the unbroken line get to know about. Moody points out that Harry, for all his faults, beat Voldemort and so Dumbledore might have known what he was doing… and McGonagall negotiates a way for Amelia Bones to be Acting Chief Witch of the Wizengamot until the day comes that Harry is, you know, old enough.
So then it’s down to brass tacks. They couldn’t figure out what magic was used by Voldemort to sacrifice all of the Death Eaters. Harry tells her to not worry about it (and exorcise the ghost that may have been left behind before anybody talks to it). They found Bellatrix Black’s arm among Voldemort’s possessions and, of course, destroyed it immediately. So Harry asks them to put out an APB on a one-armed Bellatrix Black and he sweetens whatever reward is out there for her by 25 large. Oh, and they found Sirius Black among the decapitated. Which tells us that this is one of the other ways that this universe is different from the canon one. In this one, Peter Pettigrew was innocent. Which means that an innocent man has been in Azkaban for the last however many years.
Before he can be released, though, Harry says that there are four things that need to get established and they are so important that they can’t wait. (Pettigrew has been in there for a decade, another five minutes won’t matter much.)
Thing the first: Harry needs to look at all of the other records for the Death Eaters.
Thing the second: Azkaban needs to end. The people there need to be moved somewhere else. Bones points out that the Dementors will still need to eat and Harry says that Hermione will likely make that moot before long by going to Azkaban and killing all of the Dementors.
Thing the third: Harry wants to set up a hospital that will be able to serve 360 people per day and restore them to full health and youth. “Flamel had more blood on his hands than a hundred Voldemorts, for all the people he could’ve saved and didn’t.”
Thing the fourth: You know what? I took an Unbreakable Vow to not destroy the world. So, nah. Let’s not tell the muggles about magic just yet.
Now go. We have to save the world.
Chapter 120: Draco is an orphan. Harry explains to Draco what is going to happen and the choice that Draco has in front of him. Draco knew that he had a choice in front of him. Be friends with Harry who is a manipulative jerk or go back to Slytherin and hang around the types of people who get sorted into Slytherin. Harry explains that he’s going to tell Draco some secrets that will be Oblivated away after he tells them… and then Harry explains everything. Voldemort was a half-blood. Oh, and Harry killed Lucius. And Draco should choose whether he wants Harry in his life still or if he just wants Harry to never bug him again. Draco refuses to choose… and then gets mind-wiped.
Draco’s back to where he was at the beginning of the chapter and Harry tells him about an envelope that contains “the last weapon to be used against House Malfoy”. Draco ignores Harry and takes the floo to see Nancy Manson… that is, Narcissa Malfoy. She sees Draco again for the first time in a decade.
Chapter 121: Ah, Snape. He goes up to McGonagall’s office to resign as Potions Master… and resign he does. McGonagall tries to talk him out of it but Snape knows that he’s spent the last however many years doing harm and there’s really no way to turn that around. Snape then tells Harry that he knows that Lily had her reasons to do what she did and he had his own reasons to lie to himself about it. He points out that the Dark Mark is not dead and so wants to know what’s up with Voldemort and Harry tells him… and, I guess, what happened is good enough for Snape. Snape hopes that his duty to the Order of the Phoenix has paid for his sins. You can’t really ever pay for your sins, though. I suppose trying is better than not trying. Harry tells Snape that he is under zero obligation to ever think about the past ever again… just go and start over and never think about us. He then teases him as his father likely did… and Snape says what he likely told Harry’s father. And then Snape is gone.
I hope, wherever he is, he manages to cast a Patronus.
Chapter 122: And now Harry has to sit down and talk with Hermione. Everybody in Ravenclaw is all abuzz about The Girl-Who-Revived and Harry can’t talk about that. One of the reasons that Harry can’t talk about that is because, yeah, he’s got a part of his brain that is somewhere around 65 years old and if you’ve ever been a 30 year-old talking to a 20 year-old, you know what that’s like, well, imagine being a 65 year-old trying to talk to first-years at Hogwarts.
Anyway. Harry thinks about the prophecies and wonders if “tearing the stars apart in heaven” is merely talking about using the stars as raw material for useful things. (The stars that nobody is using, of course.) And that makes him think about that in concert with the Unbreakable Vow… and how the Vow kept him (just yesterday!) from telling Muggles about Magic. And he wonders if the prophecy put Harry in a place where he’d have to take that Vow before he got access to the ability to REALLY start changing things… and, yeah, if he hadn’t taken the Vow, he’d have rationalized it to himself and destroyed the world because he couldn’t wait to share the secrets of Magic with Muggles. The whole “rationalizing things to himself” thing got him in a lot of trouble.
He spent a year under Voldemort’s watchful eye, for example. Saw him as a peer (if not a mentor). And he rationalized it to himself.
So now he has to look at what Dumbledore did and figure out how to save the world by himself. Heck, he has to figure out how to not destroy it.
“And right now, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres was still a walking catastrophe who’d needed to be constrained by an Unbreakable Vow to prevent him from immediately setting the Earth on an inevitable course toward destruction when he’d already been warned against it. That had happened literally yesterday, just one day after he’d helped Voldemort almost take over the planet.”
And another line: “He’d failed to reach what Harry was starting to realise was a shockingly high standard of being so incredibly, unbelievably rational that you actually started to get things right, as opposed to having a handy language in which to describe afterwards everything you’d just done wrong.”
Harry thinks about the Deadly Hallows and how, yeah, they’re not really enough yet either… and then realizes that he’s been thinking about all of these things to distract himself from thinking about how he’s going to see Hermione for the first time since she came back.
And Hermione comes back.
First thing, she thanks him for whatever it was that he did and, before they start talking about what happened, she notices that Harry is using Dumbledore’s wand and is casting fourth-year spells with it. Harry asks for a hug and Hermione gives it. Harry asks Hermione what she thinks happened and she tells him that she remembers getting eaten and then BANG waking up in the cemetery surrounded by corpses and she just knew, deep down, that stuff this weird only happens when Harry is around. But she heard that Quirrell/David Monroe stood up to Voldemort and so she wanted to apologize to Harry for misjudging his mentor and not trusting Harry’s own judgment.
And so Harry tells her what REALLY happened and is surprised that Hermione doesn’t say “told ya so” and Hermione kinda feels bad for Harry, given how much he liked Voldemort, well, before he started getting all Voldemort-for-realsies.
And Hermione wants answers to the REAL questions. Why does she heal instantly? Why can she bend metal with her bare hands? Why are her fingernails and teeth made out of alicorn? And before Harry can answer those questions, he has a question for her: Do you want to be a hero?
Hermione notices that this presents a lot like the various plots and reverse psychology she’s experienced in the past and pretty much tells him so and Harry tries to be straight with her, or, at least, straight about why he can’t be straight with her unless she becomes a hero. And instead of telling her that he’s going to coddle her and protect her… he tells her that if she wants to be a hero, it’s going to be at risk to her own life. (Well, he doesn’t tell her about the Horcrux.) And after discussing things a bit more, he tells Hermione that he’s sorry that so much happened but now is going to be the start of her story. If she decides to become a hero, from this point on, it’s going to be about her. Sure, she’ll have some of that “Girl-Who-Revived” baggage, but he wants her to be HER. Harry upstaged Hermione because he had a copy of Voldemort in his head and everybody saw him as the Boy-Who-Lived. Now it’s her turn to be in the spotlight. Harry had his origin story happen on October 31st, 1981.
This is Hermione’s origin story. If she wants it to be.
And Hermione tells Harry about a conversation she had with Professor Quirrell where she thought it was awful that he walked away from being a hero. He asked her about the people who never even tried to be a hero and she didn’t have an answer then… but she has an answer now. It’s not about being a heroine, really. It’s about doing what you can, when you can. And she wants to do what she can, when she can. And that’s her answer.
Harry then hands her the tools that helped him. His true invisibility cloak. His time-turner that gave him six extra hours a day that allowed him to keep up with her academically. And the knowledge that Harry sort of railroaded something through the Wizengamot that since Hermione officially avenged Voldemort’s destruction of House Monroe, House Granger is now a Noble House. He lets her know that she’s off the hook for the Vow she took in front of the Wizengamot (dying, you know how it is). And she can graduate early now, since she’s from a Noble House. And she’s going to start Occlumency lessons with Bester because he can’t tell her anything else until she becomes an Occlumens and can beat Veritaserum. And, after she takes an Unbreakable Vow to not destroy the world, he can tell her all of the other stuff.
And she says that now she REALLY wants to know how hard she can punch, how fast she can run, and how much of a Superheroine she is because that’s going to be pretty important in the coming days… but then Hermione wants to know about their relationship. Harry asks her if she had any theories about his own dark side and she guesses, fairly closely, that Voldemort poured some of his darkness into him. Harry realizes that he’s probably the only person at Hogwarts who wasn’t able to guess something like that… and he tells Hermione that she is a good thing in his life that Voldemort never had (never even would have been able to recognize as having). And when he defeated Voldemort, it wasn’t to save her… she was safe already. He did it to save everybody on the planet except her. And that’s who she was to him.
Harry thinks about who he would have been had Voldemort not killed his parents and, yeah, Harry realizes that he’d have ended up in Gryffindor and Hermione teases him about how he’d have played Quidditch and been besties with Ron Weasley. Which, is cute when I think about it a little bit but less cute the longer I think about it.
And the story ends with them hammering out that maybe they’ll fall in love, maybe they won’t. If they do, maybe they’ll stay in love, maybe they won’t. But they will be friends forever. Until stars burn out.
And that’s that. No homework for next week. We’re done.
(Though, if I think of something in particular, I’ll have a post dedicated to dénouement.)
So… What do you think?
(Featured image is Foucault’s Pendulum by Sylvar. Used under a creative commons license.)