Chapter 81: Taboo Tradeoffs, Pt 3

Author’s Note: this is a spinoff fanfiction from Less Wrong’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (s/5782108/1). The story spins off midway chapter 81, although the following chapters will still use plot twists from the original, before branching off in a completely different direction after ten chapters or so. (Needless to say, there will be spoilers, so you should really have read the original until at least chapter 96 – then again, if you got here, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t already have done that anyway.) The story is now complete, although it is likely that in future weeks there will still be further polishing, some added scenes, and eventually an epilogue.

This spinoff was written between chapter 98 and 103. Consequently, it doesnot use any part of HPMoR after chapter 98, and very little after 80. Thisalso means that all revelations in later chapters have not happened yet, andmay never happen. This includes - but is not limited to - the events inGodric Hollow, motivations and secret identities of a variety of characters,the way artifacts like horcruxes or the philosopher’s stone work, and whatreally happened to Harry’s pet rock.

For completeness, the first part of this chapter is copied from thecorresponding chapter in HPMoR. If you don’t want to reread it and just skipstraight to the new parts, search for “But when” in the text. If you do wantto reread it, and want more context of this chapter, reread the start of thisstory arc at (s/5782108/78), s/5782108/79 and s/5782108/80 .


In rising half-circles of dark stone, a great sea of upraised hands.

The Lords and Ladies of the Wizengamot, in plum-colored robes marked with asilver ‘W’, stared down in stern rebuke at a young girl trembling in chains.If they had, in any particular ethical system, damned themselves, they clearlythought quite highly of themselves for having done so.

Harry’s breath was trembling in his chest. His dark side had come up with aplan – and then rotated itself back out again because speaking too icily wouldnot be to Hermione’s advantage; a fact which the only-half-cold Harry hadsomehow not realized…

“The vote carries, in favor,” intoned the secretary, when all the tallying wasdone, and the upraised hands fell back down. “The Wizengamot recognizes theblood debt owed by Hermione Granger to House Malfoy for the attempted murderof its scion and ending of its line.”

Lucius Malfoy was smiling in grim satisfaction. “And now,” said the white-maned wizard, “I say that her debt shall be paid –”

Harry clenched his fists beneath the bench and shouted, “By the debt owed fromHouse Malfoy to House Potter!”

“Silence!” snapped the woman in too much pink makeup sitting next to MinisterFudge. “You’ve disrupted these proceedings quite enough already! Aurors,escort him out!”

“Wait,” said Augusta Longbottom from the top tier of seats. “What debt isthis?”

Lucius’s hands whitened on his cane. “House Malfoy owes no debt to you!”

It wasn’t the world’s most solid hope, it was based on one newspaper articlefrom a woman who’d been False-Memory-Charmed, but Rita Skeeter had seemed tofind it plausible, that Mr. Weasley had allegedly owed James Potter a debtbecause…

“I’m surprised you’ve forgotten,” Harry said evenly. “Surely it was a crueland painful period of your life, laboring under the Imperius curse of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, until you were freed of it by the efforts of House Potter.By my mother, Lily Potter, who died for it, and by my father, James Potter,who died for it, and by me, of course.”

There was a brief silence within the Most Ancient Hall.

“Why, what an excellent point, Mr. Potter,” said the old witch who’d beenidentified as Madam Bones. “I, too, am quite surprised that Lord Malfoy wouldforget such a significant event. It must have been such a happy day for him.”

“Yes,” said Augusta Longbottom. “He must have been so grateful.”

Madam Bones nodded. “House Malfoy could not possibly deny that debt – unless,perhaps, Lord Malfoy is to tell us that he has misremembered something? Ishould take quite a professional interest in that. We are always trying toimprove our picture of those dark days.”

Lucius Malfoy’s hands gripped the silver snake-handle of his cane like he wasabout to strike with it, unleash whatever power it kept –

Then the Lord Malfoy seemed to relax, and a chill smile came over his face.“Of course,” he said easily. “I do confess I had not understood, but the childis quite correct. However, I do not quite think the two debts cancel – HousePotter was only trying to save itself, after all –”

“Not so,” Dumbledore said from above.

“– and therefore,” intoned Lucius Malfoy, “I demand monetary compensation aswell, for the redemption of the blood debt owed my son. That, too, is thelaw.”

Harry felt a strange inward flinch. That had also been in the newspaperarticle, Mr. Weasley had demanded an additional ten thousand Galleons –

“How much?” said the Boy-Who-Lived.

Lucius was still wearing the cold smile. “One hundred thousand Galleons. Ifyou have not that much in your vault, I suppose I must accept a promissorynote for the remainder.”

A roar of protest went up from Dumbledore’s side of the room, even some of theplum-colored robes in the middle looked shocked.

“Shall we put it to the vote of the Wizengamot?” said Lucius Malfoy. “I thinkfew of us would like to see the little murderess go free. By a show of hands,that additional compensation of one hundred thousand Galleons would berequired to cancel the debt!”

The clerk began tallying, but that vote was also clear.

Harry stood there, breathing deeply.

You’d better not even have to think about this, Harry’s inner Gryffindorsaid threateningly.

It’s a major purchase, observed Ravenclaw. We ought to spend a lot of timethinking about it.

It shouldn’t have been hard. It shouldn’t have. Two million pounds was onlymoney, and money was only worth what it could buy…

It was strange how much psychological attachment you could have to ‘onlymoney’, or how painful it could be to imagine losing a bank vault full of goldthat you hadn’t even imagined existed just one year earlier.

Kimball Kinnison wouldn’t hesitate, said Gryffindor. Seriously. Like, snapdecision. What sort of hero are you? I already hate you just for having tothink about it for longer than 50 milliseconds.

This is real life, said Ravenclaw. Losing all your money is a lot morepainful for real people in real life than in heroic books.

What? demanded Gryffindor. Whose side are you on?

I wasn’t advocating for a particular answer, said Ravenclaw, I was justsaying it because it was true.

Could a hundred thousand Galleons be used to save more than one life if spentsome other way? said Slytherin. We have research to do, battles to fight,the difference between being 40,000 Galleons rich and being 60,000 Galleons indebt is not trivial –

So we’ll just use one of our ways to make money fast and earn it all back,said Hufflepuff.

It’s not certain those will work, said Slytherin, and a lot of them requirestarting cash –

Personally, said Gryffindor, I vote that we save Hermione and then gang upand kill our inner Slytherin.

The clerk’s voice said that the tally had been recorded and the vote hadpassed…

Harry’s lips opened.

“I accept your offer,” said Harry’s lips, without any hesitation, without anydecision having been made; just as if the internal debate had been pretenseand illusion, the true controller of the voice having been no part of it.

Lucius Malfoy’s mask of calm shattered, his eyes widened, he stared at Harryin sheer blank astonishment. His mouth had opened slightly, though he wasn’tspeaking, and if he was making any peculiar noises it couldn’t be heard overthe roar of simultaneous gasps from the Wizengamot –

A tap of stone silenced the crowd.

“No,” said the voice of Dumbledore.

Harry’s head jerked around to stare at the ancient wizard.

Dumbledore’s lined face was pale, the silver beard was visibly trembling, helooked like he was in the final throes of a terminal illness. “I’m – sorry,Harry – but this choice is not yours – for I am still the guardian of yourvault.”

What?” said Harry, too shocked to compose his reply.

“I cannot let you go into debt to Lucius Malfoy, Harry! I cannot! You do notknow – you do not realize –”


Harry didn’t even know which part of himself had spoken, it might have been aunanimous vote, the pure rage and fury pouring through him. For an instant hethought that the sheer force of the anger might take magical wing and fly outto strike the Headmaster, send him tumbling back dead from the podium –

But when that mental voice had spoken, the old wizard was still standingthere, gazing at Harry, long dark wand in his right hand, short black rod inhis left.

And Harry felt his blood cool rapidly to freezing point. He stared atDumbledore in unmitigated hatred, then glanced around and saw all the plum-colored robes, the people who would send a young girl to be mentally destroyedby Dementors, or who at least were too cowardly to speak up in her defense.All his restraint fell away.

There was also the other solution his dark side had devised.

“Then I will cancel the Patronus Charms, and prevent any more Patronuses frombeing cast. And then my Dementor is going to Kiss everyone here who voted tosend a twelve-your-old girl to Azkaban.” He was still looking at Dumbledore,but he spoke to the room at large.

Some members of the Wizengamot gasped in surprise, or in horror.

Then a greater number started laughing.

And a terrified voice cried out from below. “No! Harry, don’t!”

The coldness shattered as his gaze was torn away from Dumbledore and down toHermione. She was sitting upright in her chair, still bound by the chains, herschool robes around her neck soaked through with tears. And she was looking athim in absolute horror.

“You cannot kill them! You’re better than that, Harry!”

“Hermione, they voted to send you to Azkaban. They deliberately chose tosend a child to be tortured to death.” His voice broke. “I cannot letthem.”

A deep silence had fallen over the hall, as all the people in their plum-colored robes listened to the exchange. Hermione took a few breaths before shefound the strength to speak.

“Yes, you can, Harry. Because you promised me that you wouldn’t help me if Itold you not to.”

His mind stumbled, unable to form a coherent response, to come up with a newplan. Tears were streaming down Harry’s face.

“They’re trying to send you to Azkaban, Hermione!”

“I know.” She screwed up her eyes, swallowed, and took another deep breath.“But maybe I deserve that.”

“No, you don’t! Hermione, don’t you believe that you deserve any of this, youare innocent! Someone has False-Memory-Charmed you, or maybe cast some darkspell on you. I know you!”

Hermione’s eyes widened, and for a moment she looked… not happy, but hopeful.But then her face set in a determined look.

“Even if that is so, you should not harm people for my sake. You should notharm people at all! There are parents here, and brothers and sisters, husbandsand wives!”

“They’re evil, Hermione! Would you really go to Azkaban to save them? Eventaking into account that you’re completely innocent?”

She looked away from him, to the ground, as though this answer was taking allher strength to give. But she nodded, and almost whispered: “Yes. I would.”

Harry didn’t know what to say anymore, or what to do. His brain had run into adead end. He had no solutions, and he couldn’t go dark anymore, not now.

It was Dumbledore who broke the deadly silence. The Chief Warlock raisedhimself up to his full height and spoke in sad, but firm tones.

“And now you have all seen what you have done today. This is the child thatyou have condemned to be entombed in Azkaban.”

“A worthy theater,” Lucius Malfoy drawled from the other side of most ancienthall. “Undoubtedly composed to make the girl look better. But I for one am notconvinced by some mad threat and overly noble response to it.”

“Yes, obviously the boy was bluffing.” Dumbledore waved a hand irritably so asto dismiss any possibility of the alternative as nonsensical. “He is a first-year child, who is merely trying to save a friend’s life by using themysterious reputation his past has given him. He is too young to understandthe… delicacies of politics. Naturally, he was not truly able to carry out histhreat.”

The old wizard paused briefly, and gestured at where Hermione was sitting.

“But she did not know that. You have all heard her. She would willingly goto Azkaban to save you, the people who have sentenced her there.”

“She was just lying to impress us.” The toad-like pink-makeup woman, whosename Harry could no longer remember, was learning forward with a sickeningsmile. “I agree with Lord Malfoy. It was an admirable show.”

“She’s still under the effect of Veritaserum, Madam Umbridge,” Madam Bonesreplied hoarsely. “She was given three drops, it takes an hour to fully wearoff. She might not be compelled to say more than she wants to anymore, but shecannot yet lie.”

Now many people looked sick. Now they were starting to think.

“The blood debt stands,” Lucius Malfoy said, his voice no longer soundingamused. “Emotional shows aside, she is still a murderess, and we have alreadyvoted on the matter. So let her debt be paid. Take her to Azkaban, where shewill never threaten anyone again.”

“Very well,” Dumbledore spoke gravely. He was looking Hermione in the eyes ashe tapped the rod. “I now, in accordance with the last decision of thesurvivors of the eighty-eighth Wizengamot, adjourn this session.” Then, hebowed his head.

One of the Aurors moved forward and pressed a short rod of dark metal to themetal chair, muttering an inaudible word of dismissal. The chains slitheredback as smoothly as they had come forth, but Hermione didn’t move. She wastrembling. The Auror laid a hand on her shoulder and pulled her onto her feet.

Hermione didn’t scream, didn’t beg, she didn’t have to be dragged out. Shejust gave Harry one last, tearful look, and then turned and allowed herself tobe led away by the Aurors. Harry wanted to say something, wanted to run afterher, apologize, hug her, do something, but it was all too late, he didn’tknow what he could do anymore.

And then she was gone.

Around the room, the Lords and Ladies of the Wizengamot were rising. Some werelooking slightly uncomfortable, others were hurrying out to lunch or happilytalking to each other as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. ToHarry’s right, Professor McGonagall was weeping. Dumbledore descended to thebottom of the dark stone stairs, and stepped up toward the spectator arc. Hisblue eyes were locked on Harry, as hard as sapphires. Only when he reachedProfessor McGonagall did his expression soften.

“Come, Minerva, let us go home. Today was a very sad day indeed.” He took herarm gently in his. “And Mr. Potter, hold my sleeve. We are not done yet.”

Harry obeyed, Dumbledore grabbed Fawkes by the tail, and then the fireengulfed them.

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