Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Quotes from Elizier Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality that I find interesting (and one which I find very funny because non-sequiturs are teh bomb). They’re not necessarily things I agree with or believe in, (for example I don’t know what I really think about death), but I do find them interesting.

Obviously SPOILERS abound. I’ve read until chapter 101 (the last published chapter as of the time of writing) and I will be using quotes from whatever chapter I like.

 

And Harry remembered what Professor Quirrell had said beneath the starlight: ‘Sometimes, when this flawed world seems unusually hateful, I wonder whether there might be some other place, far away, where I should have been… But the stars are so very, very far away… And I wonder what I would dream about, if I slept for a long, long time.’

Right now this flawed world seemed unusually hateful.

And Harry couldn’t understand Professor Quirrell’s words, it might have been an alien that had spoken, or an Artificial Intelligence, something built along such different lines from Harry that his brain couldn’t be forced to operate in that mode.

You couldn’t leave your home planet while it still contained a place like Azkaban.

You had to stay and fight.

– Chapter 27

 

(Ex tempore speech given by General Potter to the Chaos Legion, immediately before their first battle, on November 3rd, 1991, at 2:56pm:)

My troops, I’m not going to lie to you, our situation today is very grim. Dragon Army has never lost a single battle. And Hermione Granger… has a very good memory. The truth is, most of you are probably going to die. And the survivors will envy the dead. But we have to win this. We have to win this so that someday, our children can enjoy the taste of chocolate again. Everything is at stake here. Literally everything. If we lose, the whole universe just blinks out like a light bulb. And now I realize that most of you don’t know what a light bulb is. Well, take it from me, it’s bad. But if we have to go down, let’s go down fighting, like heroes, so that as the darkness closes in, we can think to ourselves, at least we had fun. Are you afraid to die? I know I am. I can feel those cold shivers of fear like someone is pumping ice cream into my shirt. But I know… that history is watching us. It was watching us when we changed into our uniforms. It was probably taking pictures. And history, my troops, is written by the victors. If we win this, we can write our own history. A history in which Hogwarts was founded by four renegade house elves. We can make everyone study that history, even though it isn’t true, and if they don’t answer the right way on our tests… they’ll fail the class. Isn’t that worth dying for? No, don’t answer that. Some things are better left unknown. None of us know why we’re here. None of us know why we’re fighting. We just woke up in these uniforms in this mysterious forest, knowing only that there was no way to get our names and memories back except victory. The students in those other armies out there… they’re just like us. They don’t want to die. They’re fighting to protect each other, the only friends they have left. They’re fighting because they know they have families who’ll miss them, even if they can’t remember now. They may even be fighting to save the world. But we have a better reason to fight than they do. We fight because we like it. We fight to amuse eldritch monstrosities from beyond Space and Time. We fight because we’re Chaos. Soon the final battle will begin, so let me say now, because I won’t get a chance later, that it was an honor to be your commander, however briefly. Thank you, thank you all. And remember, your goal isn’t just to cut down the enemy, it’s to make them afraid.

– Chapter 30

 

Dumbledore sighed. His fingers drummed on a clock; as they touched it, the numerals changed to an indecipherable script, and the hands briefly appeared in different positions. “In the unlikely event that I am permitted to tarry until a hundred and fifty,” said the old wizard, “I do not think I would mind. But two hundred years would be entirely too much of a good thing.”

“Yes, well,” Harry said, his voice a little dry as he thought of his Mum and Dad and their allotted span if Harry didn’t do something about it, “I suspect, Headmaster, that if you came from a culture where people were accustomed to living four hundred years, that dying at two hundred would seem just as tragically premature as dying at, say, eighty.” Harry’s voice went hard, on that last word.

“Perhaps,” the old wizard said peacefully. “I would not wish to die before my friends, nor live on after they had all gone. The hardest time is when those you loved the most have gone on before you, and yet others still live, for whose sake you must stay…” Dumbledore’s eyes were fixed on Harry, and growing sad.

– Chapter 39

 

“And you think you’re not afraid of death?” Harry said, not even trying to mask the incredulity in his voice.

The old wizard’s face was peaceful. “I am not perfect, Harry, but I think I have accepted my death as part of myself.”

“Uh huh,” Harry said. “See, there’s this little thing called cognitive dissonance, or in plainer English, sour grapes. If people were hit on the heads with truncheons once a month, and no one could do anything about it, pretty soon there’d be all sorts of philosophers, pretending to be wise as you put it, who found all sorts of amazing benefits to being hit on the head with a truncheon once a month. Like, it makes you tougher, or it makes you happier on the days when you’re not getting hit with a truncheon. But if you went up to someone who wasn’t getting hit, and you asked them if they wanted to start, in exchange for those amazing benefits, they’d say no. And if you didn’t have to die, if you came from somewhere that no one had ever even heard of death, and I suggested to you that it would be an amazing wonderful great idea for people to get wrinkled and old and eventually cease to exist, why, you’d have me hauled right off to a lunatic asylum! So why would anyone possibly think any thought so silly as that death is a good thing? Because you’re afraid of it, because you don’t really want to die, and that thought hurts so much inside you that you have to rationalize it away, do something to numb the pain, so you won’t have to think about it -”

“No, Harry,” the old wizard said. His face was gentle, his hand trailed through a lighted pool of water that made small musical chimes as his fingers stirred it. “Though I can understand how you must think so.”

“Do you want to understand the Dark Wizard?” Harry said, his voice now hard and grim. “Then look within the part of yourself that flees not from death but from the fear of death, that finds that fear so unbearable that it will embrace Death as a friend and cozen up to it, try to become one with the night so that it can think itself master of the abyss. You have taken the most terrible of all evils and called it good!

– Chapter 39

 

“There is no justice in the laws of Nature, Headmaster, no term for fairness in the equations of motion. The universe is neither evil, nor good, it simply does not care. The stars don’t care, or the Sun, or the sky. But they don’t have to! We care! There is light in the world, and it is us! ”

– Chapter 39

 

“You did not choose sides when you went to Ravenclaw, girl. You choose your side by the way you live your life, what you do to other people and what you do to yourself. Will you illuminate others’ lives, or darken them? That is the choice between Light and Dark, not any word the Sorting Hat cries out. And the hard part, Padma Patil, is not saying ‘Light’, the hard part is deciding which is which, and admitting it to yourself when you begin down the wrong road.”

– Chapter 50

 

“Why does any kind of cynicism appeal to people? Because it seems like a mark of maturity, of sophistication, like you’ve seen everything and know better. Or because putting something down feels like pushing yourself up.

– Chapter 65

 

You see, Miss Granger, people do not grow up because of time, people grow up when they are placed in grownup situations.

– Chapter 68

 

Many have stood their ground and faced the darkness when it comes for them. Fewer come for the darkness and force it to face them.

– Chapter 70

 

Fighting bullies might not be the best way to become a heroine. But Father had once told her that the trouble with passing up opportunities was that it was habit-forming. If you told yourself you were waiting for a better opportunity next time, why, next time you’d probably tell yourself the same thing. Father had said that most people spent their whole lives waiting for an opportunity that was good enough, and then they died. Father had said that while seizing opportunities would mean that all sorts of things went wrong, it wasn’t nearly as bad as being a hopeless lump. Father had said that after she got into the habit of seizing opportunities, then it was time to start being picky about them.

– Chapter 71

 

“What if you’re wrong, Harry?”

Harry paused for a moment, and then shrugged a little sadly, and said, “What if I’m right?”

– Chapter 72

 

Harry ran his hands through his mess of hair. “Listen, Hermione, what would you have suggested doing, if I’d warned you about an ambush by forty-four bullies?”

“I would’ve done the responsible thing and told Professor McGonagall and let her take care of it,” Hermione said promptly. “And then there wouldn’t have been darkness and people screaming and horrible blue light -”

But Harry just shook his head. “That’s not the responsible thing to do, Hermione. It’s what someone playing the role of a responsible girl would do. Yes, I thought of going to Professor McGonagall. But she would’ve only stopped the disaster once. Probably before any disturbance happened in the first place, like by telling the bullies she knew. If the bullies got punished just for plotting, it would be by losing House points, or at worst a day’s detention, not anything that would really scare them. And then the bullies would have tried again. Fewer of them, with better operational security so I didn’t hear about it. They would probably ambush one of you, alone. Professor McGonagall doesn’t have the authority to do something scary enough to protect you – and she wouldn’t have overstepped her authority, because she’s not really responsible.”

Professor McGonagall isn’t responsible?” Hermione said incredulously. She jammed her hands on her hips, now openly glaring at him. “Are you nuts?”

The boy didn’t blink. “You could call it heroic responsibility, maybe,” Harry Potter said. “Not like the usual sort. It means that whatever happens, no matter what, it’s always your fault. Even if you tell Professor McGonagall, she’s not responsible for what happens, you are. Following the school rules isn’t an excuse, someone else being in charge isn’t an excuse, even trying your best isn’t an excuse. There just aren’t any excuses, you’ve got to get the job done no matter what.” Harry’s face tightened. “That’s why I say you’re not thinking responsibly, Hermione. Thinking that your job is done when you tell Professor McGonagall – that isn’t heroine thinking. Like Hannah being beat up is okay then, because it isn’t your fault anymore. Being a heroine means your job isn’t finished until you’ve done whatever it takes to protect the other girls, permanently.” In Harry’s voice was a touch of the steel he had acquired since the day Fawkes had been on his shoulder. “You can’t think as if just following the rules means you’ve done your duty.”

“I think,” Hermione said evenly, “that you and I might disagree about some things, Mr. Potter. Like whether you or Professor McGonagall is more responsible, and whether being responsible usually involves people running around and screaming, and how much it’s a good idea to follow school rules. And just because we disagree, Mr. Potter, doesn’t mean that you get the final say.”

“Well,” said Harry, “you asked what was so awful about having to ask you first, and it was a surprisingly good question, so I examined my mind and that’s what I found. I think my real fear is that if Hannah is in trouble and I come up with a way to save her that seems weird or dark or something, you might not weigh the consequences to Hannah. You might not accept the heroine’s responsibility of coming up with some way to save her, somehow, no matter what. Instead you’d just carry out the role of Hermione Granger, the sensible Ravenclaw girl; and the role of Hermione Granger automatically says no, whether or not she has a better plan in mind. And then forty-four bullies will take turns beating up Hannah Abbott, and it’ll all be my fault because I knew, even if I didn’t want reality to be that way, I knew that was how it would go. I’m pretty sure that was my secret, wordless, unutterable fear.”

– Chapter 75

 

Harry let out a sigh. “Maybe that’s why Dumbledore said I should have wicked stepparents.”

“He said what? ”

Harry nodded. “I still don’t know whether the Headmaster was joking or… the thing is, he was right in a way. I had loving parents, but I never felt like I could trust their decisions, they weren’t sane enough. I always knew that if I didn’t think things through myself, I might get hurt. Professor McGonagall will do whatever it takes to get the job done if I’m there to nag her about it, she doesn’t break rules on her own without heroic supervision. Professor Quirrell really is someone who gets things done no matter what, and he’s the only other person I know who notices stuff like the Snitch ruining Quidditch. But him I can’t trust to be good. Even if it’s sad, I think that’s part of the environment that creates what Dumbledore calls a hero – people who don’t have anyone else to shove final responsibility onto, and that’s why they form the mental habit of tracking everything themselves.”

– Chapter 75

 

Hermione didn’t say anything to that, but she was thinking back to something Godric Gryffindor had written near the end of his very short autobiography. Briefly and without any explanation, because the scroll had been meant to be copied by hand, centuries before the Muggle printing press had inspired wizards to invent the Reading-Writing Quill.

No rescuer hath the rescuer, Godric Gryffindor had written. No Lord hath the champion, no mother and no father, only nothingness above.

 

Non est salvatori salvator,
neque defensori dominus,
nec pater nec mater,
nihil supernum.

– Godric Gryffindor,
1202 C.E.

– Chapter 75

 

Non est salvatori salvator,                        No rescuer hath the rescuer,

neque defensori dominus,                         No Lord hath the champion,

nec pater nec mater,                                   No mother and no father,

nihil supernum.                                           Only nothingness above. 

 

– Godric Gryffindor 

1202 C.E. 

 

– Chapter 75

 

“There was a Muggle once named Mohandas Gandhi,” Harry said to the floor. “He thought the government of Muggle Britain shouldn’t rule over his country. And he refused to fight. He convinced his whole country not to fight. Instead he told his people to walk up to the British soldiers and let themselves be struck down, without resisting, and when Britain couldn’t stand doing that any more, we freed his country. I thought it was a very beautiful thing, when I read about it, I thought it was something higher than all the wars that anyone had ever fought with guns or swords. That they’d really done that, and that it had actually worked.” Harry drew another breath. “Only then I found out that Gandhi told his people, during World War II, that if the Nazis invaded they should use nonviolent resistance against them, too. But the Nazis would’ve just shot everyone in sight. And maybe Winston Churchill always felt that there should’ve been a better way, some clever way to win without having to hurt anyone; but he never found it, and so he had to fight.” Harry looked up at the Headmaster, who was staring at him. “Winston Churchill was the one who tried to convince the British government not to give Czechoslovakia to Hitler in exchange for a peace treaty, that they should fight right away -”

“I recognize the name, Harry,” said Dumbledore. The old wizard’s lips twitched upward. “Although honesty compels me to say that dear Winston was never one for pangs of conscience, even after a dozen shots of Firewhiskey.”

“The point is,” Harry said, after a brief pause to remember exactly who he was talking to, and fight down the suddenly returning sense that he was an ignorant child gone insane with audacity who had no right to be in this room and no right to question Albus Dumbledore about anything, “the point is, saying violence is evil isn’t an answer. It doesn’t say when to fight and when not to fight. It’s a hard question and Gandhi refused to deal with it, and that’s why I lost some of my respect for him.”

“And your own answer, Harry?” Dumbledore said quietly.

“One answer is that you shouldn’t ever use violence except to stop violence,” Harry said. “You shouldn’t risk anyone’s life except to save even more lives. It sounds good when you say it like that. Only the problem is that if a police officer sees a burglar robbing a house, the police officer should try to stop the burglar, even though the burglar might fight back and someone might get hurt or even killed. Even if the burglar is only trying to steal jewelry, which is just a thing. Because if nobody so much as inconveniences burglars, there will be more burglars, and more burglars. And even if they only ever stole things each time, it would – the fabric of society -” Harry stopped. His thoughts weren’t as ordered as they usually pretended to be, in this room.

– Chapter 77

 

The boy looked up, and his eyes were blazing like green fire. “I do not accept your answer, Headmaster. Fawkes gave me a mission, and I know now why Fawkes gave that mission to me, and not to you. You are willing to accept balances of power where the bad guys end up winning. I am not.”

“That too is not an answer,” the old wizard said; his face showed nothing of his hurt, he had long practice in concealing pain. “Refusing to accept something does not change it. I wonder now if you are simply too young to understand this matter, Harry, despite your outward airs; only in children’s fantasies can all battles be won, and not a single evil tolerated.”

“And that’s why I can destroy Dementors and you can’t,” said the boy. “Because I believe that the darkness can be broken.”

The old wizard’s breath stopped in his throat.

“The phoenix’s price isn’t inevitable,” the boy said. “It’s not part of some deep balance built into the universe. It’s just the parts of the problem where you haven’t figured out yet how to cheat.”

The old wizard’s lips parted, and no words came forth.

Silver light falling on shattered wands.

“Fawkes gave me a mission,” the boy repeated, “and I will carry out that mission if I must break the entire Ministry to do it. That’s the part of the answer that you’re missing. You don’t stop and say, oh well, guess I can’t possibly figure out any way to stop bullying in Hogwarts, and leave it at that. You just keep looking until you figure out how to do it. If that requires breaking Lucius Malfoy’s entire conspiracy, fine.

– Chapter 77

 

For whatever reason, then, most of the Wizengamot has never walked the path that leads to powerful wizardry; they do not seek out what is hidden. For them, there is no why. There is no explanation. There is no causality. The Boy-Who-Lived, who was already halfway into the magisterium of legend, has now been promoted all the way there; and it is a brute fact, simple and unexplained, that the Boy-Who-Lived frightens Dementors. Ten years earlier they were told that a one-year-old boy defeated the most terrible Dark Lord of their generation, perhaps the most evil Dark Lord ever to live; and they just accepted that too.

You are not meant to question that sort of thing (they know in some unspoken way). If the most terrible Dark Lord in history, confronts an innocent baby – why, how could he not be vanquished? The rhythm of the play demands it. You are supposed to applaud, not stand up from your seat in the audience and say ‘Why?’ It is just the story’s conceit, that in the end the Dark Lord is brought down by a little child; and if you are going to question that, you might as well not attend the play in the first place.

It does not occur to them to second-guess the application of such reasoning to the events they have seen with their own eyes in the Most Ancient Hall. Indeed, they are not consciously aware that they are using story-reasoning on real life. As for scrutinizing the Boy-Who-Lived with the same careful logic they would use on a political alliance or a business arrangement – what brain would associate to that, when a part of the legendary magisterium is at hand?

– Chapter 81

 

You’d already read about Philip Tetlock’s experiments on people asked to trade off a sacred value against a secular one, like a hospital administrator who has to choose between spending a million dollars on a liver to save a five-year-old, and spending the million dollars to buy other hospital equipment or pay physician salaries. And the subjects in the experiment became indignant and wanted to punish the hospital administrator for even thinking about the choice. Do you remember reading about that, Harry Potter? Do you remember thinking how very stupid that was, since if hospital equipment and doctor salaries didn’t also save lives, there would be no point in having hospitals or doctors? Should the hospital administrator have paid a billion pounds for that liver, even if it meant the hospital going bankrupt the next day?

“Shut up!” the boy whispered.

Every time you spend money in order to save a life with some probability, you establish a lower bound on the monetary value of a life. Every time you refuse to spend money to save a life with some probability, you establish an upper bound on the monetary value of life. If your upper bounds and lower bounds are inconsistent, it means you could move money from one place to another, and save more lives at the same cost. So if you want to use a bounded amount of money to save as many lives as possible, your choices must be consistent withsome monetary value assigned to a human life; if not then you could reshuffle the same money and do better. How very sad, how very hollow the indignation, of those who refuse to say that money and life can ever be compared, when all they’re doing is forbidding the strategy that saves the most people, for the sake of pretentious moral grandstanding…

– Chapter 82

 

But it was understood, somehow it was understood, that utilitarian ethicists didn’t actually rob banks so they could give the money to the poor. The end result of throwing away all ethical constraint wouldn’t actually be sunshine and roses and happiness for all. The prescription of consequentialism was to take the action that led to the best net consequences, not actions that had one positive consequence and wrecked everything else along the way. Expected utility maximizers were allowed to take common sense into account, when they were calculating their expectations.

Somehow Harry had understood that, even before anyone else had warned him he’d understood. Before he’d read about Vladimir Lenin or the history of the French Revolution, he’d known. It might have been his earliest science fiction books warning him about people with good intentions, or maybe Harry had just seen the logic for himself. Somehow he’d known from the very beginning, that if he stepped outside his ethics whenever there was a reason, the end result wouldn’t be good.

– Chapter 82

 

And they’d all visited the National Museum of Australia, because, it had turned out, there was basically nothing else to do in Canberra. The glass display cases had shown rock-throwers crafted by the Australian aborigines – like giant wooden shoehorns, they’d looked, but smoothed and carved and ornamented with painstaking care. In the 40,000 years since anatomically modern humans had migrated to Australia from Asia, nobody had invented the bow-and-arrow. It really made you appreciate how non-obvious was the idea of Progress. Why would you even think of Invention as something important, if all your history’s heroic tales were of great warriors and defenders instead of Thomas Edison? How could anyone have suspected, while carving a rock-thrower with painstaking care, that someday human beings would invent rocket ships and nuclear energy?

Could you have looked up into the sky, at the brilliant light of the Sun, and deduced that the universe contained greater sources of power than mere fire? Would you have realized that if the fundamental physical laws permitted it, someday humans would tap the same energies as the Sun? Even if nothing you could imagine doing with rock-throwers or woven pouches – no pattern of running across the savannah and nothing you could obtain by hunting animals – would accomplish that even in imagination?

– Chapter 85

 

Draco Malfoy,” she said. “Harry, do you have any idea –

“Yes.”

“- the sort of things Malfoy has been saying about me? What he said he’d do to me, as soon as he got the chance? I don’t know what he told to you, but Daphne Greengrass told me what Malfoy says when he’s in Slytherin. It’s unspeakable, Harry! It’s unspeakable in the completely literal sense that I can’t say it out loud!”

“When was this?” Harry said. “At the start of the year? Did Daphne say when this was?”

“No,” Hermione said. “Because it doesn’t matter when, Harry. Anyone who said things – like Malfoy said – they can’t be a good person. It doesn’t matter what you tempted him to, he’s still a rotten person, because no matter what a good person would never -”

“You’re wrong.” Harry said, looking her straight in the eyes. “I can guess what Draco threatened to do to you, because the second time I met him, he talked about doing it to a ten-year-old girl. But don’t you see, on the day Draco Malfoy arrived in Hogwarts, he’d spent his whole previous life being raised by Death Eaters. It would’ve required a supernatural intervention for him to have your morality given his environment -”

Hermione was shaking her head violently. “No, Harry. Nobody has to tell you that hurting people is wrong, it’s not something you don’t do because the teacher says it’s not allowed, it’s something you don’t do because – because you can see when people are hurting, don’t you know that, Harry?” Her voice was shaking now. “That’s not – that’s not a rule people follow like the rules for algebra! If you can’t see it, if you can’t feel it here,” her hand slapped down over the center of her chest, not quite where her heart was located, but that didn’t matter because it was all really in the brain anyway, “then you just don’t have it!”

The thought came to her, then, that Harry might not have it.

“There’s history books you haven’t read,” Harry said quietly. “There’s books you haven’t read yet, Hermione, and they might give you a sense of perspective. A few centuries earlier – I think it was definitely still around in the seventeenth century – it was a popular village entertainment to take a wicker basket, or a bundle, with a dozen live cats in it, and -”

“Stop,” she said.

“- roast it over a bonfire. Just a regular celebration. Good clean fun. And I’ll give them this, it was cleaner fun than burning women they thought were witches. Because the way people are built, Hermione, the way people are built to feel inside -” Harry put a hand over his own heart, in the anatomically correct position, then paused and moved his hand up to point toward his head at around the ear level, “- is that they hurt when they see their friends hurting. Someone inside their circle of concern, a member of their own tribe. That feeling has an off-switch, an off-switch labeled ‘enemy’ or ‘foreigner’ or sometimes just ‘stranger’. That’s how people are, if they don’t learn otherwise. So, no, it does not indicate that Draco Malfoy was inhuman or even unusually evil, if he grew up believing that it was fun to hurt his enemies -”

“If you believe that,” she said with her voice unsteady, “if you can believe that, then you’re evil. People are always responsible for what they do. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you to do, you’re the one who does it. Everyone knows that -”

No they don’t! You grew up in a post-World-War-Two society where ‘I vas only followink orders’ is something everyone knows the bad guys said. In the fifteenth century they would’ve called it honourable fealty.” Harry’s voice was rising. “Do you think you’re, you’re just genetically better than everyone who lived back then? Like if you’d been transported back to fifteenth-century London as a baby, you’d realize all on your own that burning cats was wrong, witch-burning was wrong, slavery was wrong, that every sentient being ought to be in your circle of concern? Do you think you’d finish realizing all that by the first day you got to Hogwarts? Nobody ever told Draco he was personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society he grew up in.”

– Chapter 87

 

She was aware now that tears were sliding down her cheeks, again. “Harry – Harry, you have to believe that this isn’t your fault!”

“Of course it’s my fault. There’s no one else here who could be responsible for anything.”

“No! You-Know-Who killed Hermione!” She was hardly aware of what she was saying, that she hadn’t screened the room against who might be listening. “Not you! No matter what else you could’ve done, it’s not you who killed her, it was Voldemort! If you can’t believe that you’ll go mad, Harry!”

“That’s not how responsibility works, Professor.” Harry’s voice was patient, like he was explaining things to a child who was certain not to understand. He wasn’t looking at her anymore, just staring off at the wall to her right side. “When you do a fault analysis, there’s no point in assigning fault to a part of the system you can’t change afterward, it’s like stepping off a cliff and blaming gravity. Gravity isn’t going to change next time. There’s no point in trying to allocate responsibility to people who aren’t going to alter their actions. Once you look at it from that perspective, you realize that allocating blame never helps anything unless you blame yourself, because you’re the only one whose actions you can change by putting blame there. That’s why Dumbledore has his room full of broken wands. He understands that part, at least.”

– Chapter 90

 

“That’s what I’d tell you if I thought you could be responsible for anything. But normal people don’t choose on the basis of consequences, they just play roles. There’s a picture in your head of a stern disciplinarian and you do whatever that picture would do, whether or not it makes any sense. A stern disciplinarian would order the students back to their rooms, even if there was a troll roaming the hallways. A stern disciplinarian would order students not to leave the Hall on pain of expulsion. And the little picture of Professor McGonagall that you have in your head can’t learn from experience or change herself, so there isn’t any point to this conversation. People like you aren’t responsible for anything, people like me are, and when we fail there’s no one else to blame.”

– Chapter 90

 

“Ah,” said the boy. He closed his eyes briefly. “You did want to save her. You wanted it so strongly that you made some sort of actual effort. I suppose your mind, if not theirs, would be capable of that.”

– Chapter 90

 

“I am David Monroe, who fought Voldemort,” the man said, still in mild tones. “Heed my words. The boy cannot be allowed to continue in this state of mind. He will become dangerous. It is possible that you have already done everything you can. Yet I find this a very rare event indeed, and more often said than done. I suspect rather that you have only done what you customarily do. I cannot truly comprehend what drives others to break their bounds, since I never had them. People remain surprisingly passive when faced with the prospect of death. Fear of public ridicule or losing one’s livelihood is more likely to drive men to extremes and the breaking of their customary habits. On the other side of the war, the Dark Lord had excellent results from the Cruciatus Curse, judiciously used on Marked servants who cannot escape punishment except by success, with no reasonable efforts accepted. Imagine their state of mind within yourself, and ask yourself whether you have truly done all that you can to wrench Harry Potter from his course.”

– Chapter 92

 

As for you, madam, imagine yourself at the end of your life, knowing that Britain – but no, Britain is not your true country, is it? Imagine yourself at the end of your life as the darkness eats through the fading walls of Hogwarts, knowing that your students will die with you, remembering this day and realizing there was something else you could have done.”

– Chapter 92

 

“Only a man exceedingly proud and vain,” Dumbledore said quietly, as he turned back to the Floo roaring up again with green flames, “would believe that his heir should be like himself, rather than like who he wished that he could be.”

The Headmaster stepped into green fire, and was gone.

– Chapter 94

 

“You? You ran right out after her. I’m the one who tried to stop you. It’s my fault if it’s anyone’s,” Neville said bitterly.

The empty air went silent at this for a while.

“Wow,” the empty air finally said. “Wow. That puts a pretty different perspective on things, I have to say. I’m going to remember this the next time I feel an impulse to blame myself for something. Neville, the term in the literature for this is ‘egocentric bias’, it means that you experience everything about your own life but you don’t get to experience everything else that happens in the world. There was way, way more going on than you running in front of me. You’re going to spend weeks remembering that thing you did there for six seconds, I can tell, but nobody else is going to bother thinking about it. Other people spend a lot less time thinking about your past mistakes than you do, just because you’re not the center of their worlds. I guarantee to you that nobody except you has even considered blaming Neville Longbottom for what happened to Hermione. Not for a fraction of a second. You are being, if you will pardon the phrase, a silly-dilly. Now shut up and say goodbye.”

– Chapter 94

 

The Defense Professor’s voice rose in pitch. “If it were you who had been killed by that troll, it would not even occur to Hermione Granger to do as you are doing for her! It would not occur to Draco Malfoy, nor to Neville Longbottom, nor to McGonagall or any of your precious friends! There is not one person in this world who would return to you the care that you are showing her! So why? Why do it, Mr. Potter?” There was a strange, wild desperation in that voice. “Why be the only one in the world who goes to such lengths to keep up the pretense, when none of them will ever do the same for you?”

“I believe you are factually mistaken, Professor,” Harry returned evenly. “About a number of things, in fact. At the very least, your model of my emotions is flawed. Because you don’t understand me the tiniest bit, if you think that it would stop me if everything you said was true. Everything in the world has to start somewhere, every event that happens has to happen for a first time. Life on Earth had to start with some little self-replicating molecule in a pool of mud. And if I were the first person in the world, no -”

Harry’s hand swept out, to indicate the terribly distant points of light.

“- if I were the first person in the universe who ever really cared about someone else, which I’m not by the way, then I’d be honored to be that person, and I’d try to do it justice.”

There was a long silence.

“You truly do care about that girl,” the man’s dim outline said softly. “You care about her in the way that none of them are capable of caring for their own lives, let alone each other.” The Defense Professor’s voice had become strange, filled with some indecipherable emotion. “I do not understand it, but I know the lengths you will go to because of it. You will challenge death itself, for her. Nothing will sway you from that.”

“I care enough to make an actual effort,” Harry said quietly. “Yes, that is correct.”

– Chapter 95

 

“You know, Mr. Lupin,” Harry said, “it really takes a baroque interpretation to think that somebody would be walking around, pondering how death is just something we all have to accept, and communicate their state of mind by saying, ‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.’ Maybe someone else thought it sounded poetic and picked up the phrase and tried to interpret it differently, but whoever said it first didn’t like death much.” Sometimes it puzzled Harry how most people didn’t seem to even notice when they were twisting something around to the 180-degree opposite of its first obvious reading. It couldn’t be a raw brainpower thing, people could see the obvious reading of most other English sentences. “Also ‘shall be destroyed’ refers to a change of future state, so it can’t be about the way things are now.”

– Chapter 96

 

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.

– Chapter 98

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