Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Zombie

Note: This story contains major spoilers for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. If you haven’t read to at least chapter 94, turn back now. I don’t own the rights to Harry Potter, nor the rights to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

The blood had been washed away. The terrace was immaculate, likely cleanedmore deeply than it had been in hundreds of years. Yet it was still easy forHarry to find the exact spot, the junction of tiles where she’d drawn herlast-for-now breath. He crouched down and placed a hand on it. Some part ofhis brain, the part that had internalized a hundred stories, had expected thatthe tile would still be warm to the touch, and when his fingertips found onlycool stone the rational part of his brain had said a quiet I told you so.Hermione would probably have an empty grave somewhere, and the Headmasterwould no doubt hold a funeral, but Harry wanted to say goodbye on his ownterms. Not a final goodbye, just “see you in a bit”. And for that, Harrywanted to be alone.

“Hi Harry,” said a familiar voice from behind him.

Harry spun around, whipping his wand out in the process, and found it pointedstraight at Hermione Granger. He could see straight through her. He slowlylowered his wand back down and stuffed it into his pocket, then took a momentto look at her. She was the same girl, with bushy hair and large front teeth,and she was wearing her school robes. Her legs, thankfully, were still beneathher. She was translucent, and all the color of her cheeks and hair had fadedinto a light blue. Harry was vaguely reminded of the hologram of Leia in StarWars.

“You’re a ghost,” he said. Somehow it sounded even more ridiculous out loudthan it had in his head.

“Yeah,” she replied. She seemed like she was going to say something more, butdecided against it.

Harry could feel tears welling up. He searched desperately for something hecould say to distract himself. “Ghosts are just stored memories and behaviorswith no awareness or life, accidentally impressed into the surroundingmaterial by the burst of magic that accompanies the violent death of awizard,” said Harry. “You said that.”

“Well,” said the ghost of Hermione, “Actually it was Lucretius Featherbottom,who wrote that in The Tides of Ancient Deaths.”

“But it’s true, isn’t it?” asked Harry.

“I don’t know,” said Hermione’s ghost. “I had a violent death. I can stillfeel the trolls teeth piercing through my flesh, if I think about it toohard.” Harry winced. “But I don’t feel that much different.” She looked downat her hands. “I feel cold, and I feel sad, but I still feel like me.”

“Alright,” nodded Harry. He’d thought that it would be years, or at least asingle year as the lower bound, before he’d be able to see her again. Andobviously this was just a pale reflection of the Hermione that had once been,but it was at least something. Not her, but a thing like a video orphotograph. If he thought of it like that, it would be easier to deal with.“I’m going to bring you back to life,” he said. It felt good, to say it outloud.

“I’d like that,” said Hermione’s ghost. “But if I’m not real, if I’m just a -a photograph, what’s going to happen to me if you do that?”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “You’ll be alive.”

“No, I mean … there’s this girl in the first floor girl’s bathroom, a ghostthat they call Moaning Myrtle, and she’s been there for ages,” said Hermione’sghost. “If you somehow brought her back to life, do you think she’d rememberfifty years of moping around a bathroom? Or would it all just fade like adream? If you bring me back to life, what happens to the person you’re talkingto right now?”

“Ah,” said Harry. “Well, um, I hadn’t quite thought that of that. I’m not surethat really factors into things.”

“Why not?” asked Hermione’s ghost with a frown.

“Well, you’re not really a … a person, I guess,” said Harry helplessly.

“I feel like a person,” said Hermione’s ghost. She crossed her arms, thenthought about it for a bit and softened somewhat. “I suppose what I actuallyfeel like is a ghost, but what I’m trying to say is that other than feelingcold and sad, which I think is perfectly natural for someone that’s died, Idon’t feel like being a ghost has changed me much.”

“I’d like to believe that you’re really there, but that would mean believing awhole lot of other things that don’t make any sense. I’d have to accept thatthere’s something like a soul. And if there are souls then why don’t mugglesleave behind ghosts?” asked Harry. “Why aren’t there any original discoveriesby ghosts? I’ve been in Professor Binns history class the whole year, and henever deviates from the lectures or even seems to notice that I’m there.”

“Harry,” she said gently, “We’ve never had this conversation before, have we?It’s original, isn’t it? If I were just a recording, which I don’t think I am,I couldn’t make up new responses on the spot.”

“Unless I’m somehow projecting responses into you, like with the Sorting Hat,or Parseltongue, or Dementors, or any number of other phenomenon I’ve alreadybeen exposed to,” said Harry. “Besides that, I’ve talked with a ghost before,and they’re not really conscious.”

“The only ghost that you’ve really been around is Professor Binns. Have youever thought that perhaps Professor Binns is just like that? Your fathertaught at Oxford, didn’t he ever mention professors that drone on withoutcaring about their students? Maybe Professor Binns is the exception to howghosts normally behave. You had a name for that, when you base all of yourobservations off of looking at a single example of a thing.”

“An n of one problem,” said Harry distantly. She was making sense. The factthat she was making sense was a point in favor of her not actually being justthe magical equivalent of a photograph. And she’d told him the title of thebook she’d been quoting from, which might have been dredged up from Harry’sown subconscious but was at least something that could be checked to put someconstraints on the problem. “What do I think I know about ghosts, and how do Ithink I know it?”

“What do we think,” said Hermione’s ghost.

“Alright, we,” replied Harry. “We think we know that ghosts are something likea recording of patterns but not actually conscious as such.”

“And we know that because I read it in Lucretius Featherbottom’s The Tides ofAncient Deaths,” said Hermione’s ghost.

“But how did he know it?” asked Harry. “He was a wizard, so he probably didn’tdo any experimentation. The same would go for other wizards or witches whowrote about ghosts. Maybe there’s a way to take a reading of the place someonedied, to see the magic associated with the ghost. Are ghosts even tied down toone physical location?”

“I don’t think so,” said Hermione’s ghost. “The Grey Lady didn’t die inHogwarts, I don’t think, nor did the Bloody Baron.” The Grey Lady was theHouse Ghost of Ravenclaw, and the Bloody Baron was the House Ghost ofSlytherin. “The two of us could test that easily enough.”

“So the proposal of ghosts being imprinted also holds that they can somehowmove from the place that they died?” asked Harry. “That sounds like acomplexity penalty to me, but we’ll have to research the magics involved.Tabled for now. Moving on.”

“I think I’m conscious,” said Hermione’s ghost.

“I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mean anything,” said Harry. “You’re just sayingthat you’ve conscious, which you could fake by setting up a really simpleArtificial Intelligence program like ELIZA. Even my mokeskin bag has a certainlevel of natural language processing. What we need is an operationaldefinition of what it means to be conscious, one that we can run testsagainst.” He didn’t want to admit it, but for a moment it really did feel likethe old days, back before all that business with Draco and the blood coolingcharm. He still regarded it as a fantasy though, one last day with Hermione asa way to say goodbye. It was safer to think of it that way, so that his heartwouldn’t break when he came back tomorrow and she couldn’t remember anything.

“Alright,” said Harry, “Let’s do some quick tests.”

“Okay,” said Hermione’s ghost. She had the same intent look on her face thatshe always got when a test was about to be administered. Hermione Granger hadloved tests, and apparently her ghost did as well.

“You give me a triplet of three numbers,” said Harry, “And I’ll tell you ‘Yes’if the three numbers are an instance of the rule, and ‘No’ if they’re not. Iam Nature, the rule is one of my laws, and you are investigating me. Youalready know that 2-4-6 gets a ‘Yes’. When you’ve performed all the furtherexperimental tests you want-”

“Harry, we did this on our very first day on the train,” said Hermione’sghost.

“Oh,” said Harry. “Right.” That was one of the little lesson-games that hekept in his back pocket at all times. He felt somewhat embarrassed that he’dforgotten they’d done it before. “Let me pick a new set of rules and we willat least be able to see whether you can do science. First, real quickly, canyou still do math? What’s eleven times forty-three?”

“Four hundred and seventy-three,” said Hermione’s ghost with a derisive snort.Hermione had always been excellent at math. It took Harry longer to get theanswer than she did, and that was another constraint on the problem of what aghost really was. They could do math, apparently.

“Alright,” said Harry, “Good enough.” He reached into his mokeskin bag andsaid “Dice,” and then took five of them out of the bag that had appeared andput the rest back. He’d had vague notions of playing a game of Dungeons andDragons at some point, back before he’d come to Hogwarts, and there wasn’t anyreal reason not to keep a bag of dice in the mokeskin bag. Each of the dicehad six sides. “This is a pretty famous one that you hopefully haven’t heardof before. The name of the game is petals around the rose. I can tell you theresult of a roll, but nothing else. Are you ready?” Hermione’s ghost nodded,and Harry rolled the dice. 4-1-6-3-6. “Two,” Harry declared.

Hermione’s ghost stared at it. “Does the order matter?” she asked.

“That’s for you to figure out on your own,” said Harry with a faint smile. Itwas the first time that he’d smiled since - well, in a while.

“Again,” she said.

5-6-5-4-4. “Eight,” said Harry.

“Again,” she said.

2-6-2-4-1. “Zero,” said Harry.

“Zero?” she asked.

“Zero,” Harry replied. “Come on, start generating some hypotheses, I don’treally care if you get it, I just want to see if you can really reason.”

“Well you may not care, but it’s very important to me that I arrive at thecorrect answer on my own,” said Hermione’s ghost. She stared down at the dice.“So far, the range is eight to zero and the answers are even. But I need moredata. I was thinking that perhaps you add, subtract, or multiply the dice, butthat wouldn’t give zero for that last one unless you could do something withorder of operations. Two plus six divided by two minus four minus one wouldget an answer of zero, but that has a complexity penalty, and besides thatdoesn’t fit with the previous two results.”

Harry almost cracked a joke about her teaching math at Hogwarts when heremembered that she was dead. Professor Binns had gotten a job, but hecouldn’t imagine Hermione teaching basic math to people that were her age whenshe died. He could maybe imagine Dumbledore giving her the position though,because Dumbledore was insane. He didn’t say any of that, and rolled the diceinstead.

6-5-6-2-2. “Four.”

3-3-5-1-1. “Eight.”

2-4-6-1-3. “Two.”

5-3-4-3-5. “Twelve.”

“That’s the highest I’ve seen so far,” said Hermione’s ghost with a frown.“Odd numbers seem to give a higher result.”

2-2-6-1-4. “Zero.”

“What was the name of the game?” asked Hermione’s ghost.

“Petals around the rose,” said Harry.

“Oh, well that almost makes it too easy,” said Hermione’s ghost. “I couldfigure out that the answer’s always even easily enough, and that it hassomething to do with which numbers are rolled. It’s not a matter of adding andsubtracting the numbers themselves, or anything like that, it’s just a simplesubstitution and then addition. Six, four, two, and one are worth zero, fiveis worth four, and three is worth two. And it’s called petals around the rosebecause you can imagine the center pip as the center of a flower, so on dicethat have a center pip you count the outer pips, the petals on the flower.”

“You got it,” said Harry. He couldn’t resist smiling. “Well if you couldfigure that out, then I don’t think there’s anything standing in the way ofdoing original research.” He had trouble seeing how he would get around theprojection conjecture. If he’d thought about Hermione becoming a ghost beforeshe died, he would have had her write down a piece of information that wasknown only to her.

“What about memories?” asked Hermione’s ghost.

“That’s not part of being conscious,” said Harry. “Do you remember me lendingyou a book on neuropsychology when I was saying that brain damage disprovesthe existence of a soul?” Her ghost nodded. “Well, there are types of braindamage that make people unable to form new memories, but you’d still say thatthey’re conscious, wouldn’t you?”

“I suppose,” said Hermione’s ghost.

“Memory, at least long-term memory, doesn’t have to be a condition forconsciousness then. Obviously it’s not preferable to be without the ability tomake memories, but it’s not a real impediment to consciousness.” He frowned.“But we should do some tests on that later. It would explain why ghosts aren’tknown to have done original research, and why some of them forget what centurythey’re in, and why Binns teaches the same history class every year. There’sstill the open question of what your brain is running on, since obviously youdon’t have any neurons firing anymore.”

“Oh,” said Hermione’s ghost. “I thought that perhaps it was just my soultaking on corporeal form.” Harry gave her a funny look. “And yes, I rememberthat you don’t believe in souls, obviously.”

“It’s just that -” Hermione’s ghost began raising one finger “-there’s noreal-” her finger slowly moved up “-evidence.” She was pointing at her ownface. “Oh come on, you can’t just use yourself as an example of a soul.Besides, we agreed that you were a ghost and not a soul.”

“I can be both,” said Hermione’s ghost with an offended look.

“Brain damage disproves the existence of a soul,” said Harry, though he wassomewhat less certain of that now that he was talking to someone who didn’teven seem to have a brain. “Phineas Gage got a metal rod through his head andbegan acting wildly different. This is pretty basic muggle science.”

“Maybe it doesn’t apply to wizards,” said Hermione’s ghost.

“What?” asked Harry. “Of course-” He stopped and closed his mouth. He’d beenabout to say “Of course wizards get brain damage,” but then he’d realized thathe didn’t actually know whether or not that was true. It certainly seemed likethey should, but Harry didn’t have any evidence that this was the case. Itstood to reason that their brains were the same, since with the exception ofthe magic gene they shared the same genome, and could interbreed. Yet he’dnever actually done any research to see whether wizards had the same brains asmuggles. After all, a wizard’s brain shrunk to the size of a walnut when theyturned into a cat, and that certainly suggested that there was something oddgoing on with how they thought, even if that wasn’t entirely indicative of asoul. There were many questions being raised by this line of thinking, andthere was one very sensible course of action to take. “Let’s see how far youcan walk,” said Harry, “I think it’s time for us to do some research.”

“Madame Pomfrey, do wizards get brain damage?” asked Harry.

Madame Pomfrey’s eyes were wide, moving quickly between Harry and Hermione’sghost. “Oh Harry,” she said softly, “It doesn’t do to associate with ghosts,you’ll only drag out the pain and sorrow of her passing.” Madame Pomfrey’seyes were red from crying, and it occurred to Harry that he’d been somewhat ofa fool to come here, and more of a fool to bring the ghost with him. He wassure that Madame Pomfrey was feeling the pain and numbness Hermione’s passing,and she’d seen what the troll had done to the Weasley twins, it just hadn’tbeen obvious until he took a moment to think about it. Harry himself hadwanted to be alone just an hour before. But now there was a mystery to solve,and whatever Pomfrey was feeling, this was Important. If anyone knew about theaffect brain damage had on wizards it would be the school’s healer.

“I just want to know whether wizards ever suffer from brain damage,” saidHarry. “Then I’ll leave.”

“Of course they do,” said Madame Pomfrey.

Harry felt his heart sink. He wasn’t sure why he’d wanted her to say no.Possibly it was because he’d still held out hope that there was somethingbeyond death, some way that it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, even ifthere was only an afterlife for wizards. Of course, the nonexistence of braindamage in wizards didn’t mean that there was such a thing as a soul, and asoul didn’t mean that there was an afterlife, but brain damage very muchseemed to rule out a soul.

Hermione’s ghost spoke up. “Madame Pomfrey, when wizards suffer from braindamage, do their personalities change?”

“Heavens no,” said Madame Pomfrey, holding her hand to her chest. “Why wouldthey? They get headaches, or black out, but I’ve never heard of anyone goingto St. Mungo’s with a different personality, at least not from something thathappened to their brain.”

Hermione turned to Harry and tried to smile, but it came out looking far toosad.

“Wait,” said Harry, “What about alcohol or caffeine? Wizards still havestimulants and depressants, and those change how people behave, so are youtelling me that a soul is affected by those things too? We’re talking aboutthe same thing when we talk about a soul aren’t we, an extra-physical thingthat holds personal identity in some fashion?”

“Oh, certainly there are things that can temporarily act on a person,” saidMadame Pomfrey, “But none that change the way a person is forever, not down totheir core. Even strong magics like a love potion wear off after a time, andthe person will go back to normal.”

“Okay,” said Harry, turning to Hermione’s ghost. “That’s not conclusive, weneed to do more research. I mean, that would indicate that there’s adifference between muggles and wizards, if we accept that’s true, but thatdoesn’t tell us what that difference is. I’m not going to say that I refuse tobelieve that souls exist, because if you live in a universe where souls existthen that’s what you want to believe, even if it doesn’t make any intuitivesense. And that doesn’t actually answer the question of why muggles don’t everbecome ghosts.”

“Oh dear,” said Madame Pomfrey, “I’m afraid muggles don’t have souls.”

“That - what?” asked Harry. He felt completely befuddled. “You’re a bloodpurist?”

“Oh no dear,” said Madame Pomfrey. She adjusted her apron. “Though I’m certainDumbledore will tell you otherwise, it’s a simple matter of medical fact thatmuggles don’t have souls, and I don’t care how politically incorrect thatmight be to say in the modern age. I don’t know a single healer who woulddisagree with me. That doesn’t mean that we should treat them unkindly, ofcourse. There are those who think that just because a person doesn’t have asoul means that they’re not a person at all, and I hold no truck with that.”

“But … that’s - how do you know that muggles don’t have souls?” asked Harry.

“It was one of the tactics that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named used,” said MadamePomfrey, “If you feed a muggle Polyjuice potion, they won’t be the same personanymore. They’ll believe that they are whoever they were turned into, sincethere’s no soul to provide constancy during the transformation.”

Harry opened and closed his mouth a few times. “That’s, the securityimplications of that, if you had a captive muggle-”

“Were I you, I would say no more,” said Dumbledore from the doorway. Harryhadn’t heard him come in. “You have a penchant for novel solutions that mightbe used against you by your enemies, and it is clear that Hogwarts itself isno longer entirely safe from those enemies.” He nodded towards Hermione’sghost.

“Headmaster, why didn’t you tell me any of this?” asked Harry. “There wereprecautions that I could have taken to ensure that I wasn’t-” he caught theHeadmaster’s look “-that no one was able to Polyjuice into me.”

“Precautions you weren’t already taking, or that weren’t already taken foryou? Your robes are charmed,” said Dumbledore. “They capture and evaporate anystray hairs, along with other material that one might use in such a potion.”

He felt his head spinning. If a transformed muggle would end up with the samebrain as a wizard when Polyjuiced, that would mean that you could take awilling or unwilling muggle, feed them Polyjuice, and then have a tied up copyof your enemy. From there you could feed them Veritaserum, or use Legilimencyif they weren’t an Occlumens (and how did that even work, was Occlumensexplicitly magical or could it be learned by anyone who wanted to go throughthe mental exercises?), and break the enemy’s security protocols wide open.

“I believe that this is a conversation that might be better had in my office,”said Dumbledore. Harry nodded. “Miss Granger, you are welcome to join us aswell.”

They walked down the corridors of the castle in silence. Hermione’s ghostdidn’t walk, but instead floated, with her hair waving behind her and her feetpointed towards the floor. She hadn’t done that before, and Harry momentarilyworried that it meant she was becoming more ghost-like before his eyes. Hedesperately wanted her to stay as she was, the best companion that he couldhave hoped for in his time at Hogwarts.

“You’re floating,” he said. “You were walking before.” Dumbledore turned tolook between the two of them, but kept moving all the same.

“You would float too, if you could,” said Hermione’s ghost.

Harry had to admit that it was true.

The reached the spiral staircase, and Dumbledore said the password, “Cockroachclusters”, which was another kind of sweet. It was terrible security. Harryhad a letter in his mokeskin pouch that contained a list of every kind ofsweet. The letter was a Howler, a type of magical letter that said things whenit opened up, and it had only taken a half day to figure out how to get it tosay those things really fast. If Harry ever wanted or needed to get into theHeadmaster’s office, it would be as simple as opening the Howler and having ititerate through the list. Of course, there might be other forms of security toget past, but it paid to have such a weapon in his arsenal.

Harry sat down in the over-stuffed chair in front of the Headmaster’s desk,and Hermione stood beside him.

“I had feared you would become a ghost,” said Dumbledore to Hermione in a lowand heartbroken voice. “Ghosts form most often from those afraid of death, andyour friendship with Harry Potter would seem to have provoked that fear inyou.” Hermione lowered her head, feeling the sting of being chastised evenfrom beyond the grave. “I have failed you in more ways than one.”

“Headmaster,” said Harry, “Why didn’t you tell me that ghosts were like this?”

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “You and I had a conversation, long ago, onthe nature of souls. You quoted Featherbottom to me, and I assumed that youhad made up your mind on the matter of ghosts. As I recall, we moved on tomuch firmer evidence, the Veil of Souls chief among them, and you rejectedthat evidence as well. I have not often found that arguing against someone whohas made up their mind to be good practice, as it tends only to firm theiropposition.”

Harry glowered at him. “And why was I never told that there’s evidence thatmuggles don’t have souls?” That wasn’t technically true. He’d been told byDraco and simply assumed that it was blood purist idiocy without a shred ofevidence to back it up.

“I shall have to speak with Madame Pomfrey about what’s appropriate to say tochildren,” said Dumbledore. “There are competing theories on the matter. Somesay that muggles have no souls, while others contend that it is simply amatter of the way that wizards interact with magic, and that muggles have animmortal soul which continues on just the same without being seen or felt, aposition that I regularly take in the Wizengamot.”

“If I put a Polyjuiced muggle into an MRI machine, what would I see?” askedHarry.

“A muggle device, I presume?” asked Dumbledore.

“A magnetic resonance imaging machine, it’s used to look at someone’s brain,”said Harry. “You can map out changes in the brain on a coarse level.”

“Ah,” said Dumbledore. “I have not tried it myself, but my experience withAnimagi would suggest that their brain would change along with their body.Harry, how did you think that an Animagi was able to continue to think, ifsouls did not exist? It is only through the will of the person’s soul that theanimal form can think and act as a person would.”

“I thought,” began Harry. He stopped to think for a moment. “I thought thatperhaps the brain was shrunken down in size and rewired to provide the sameresponse to stimulus.”

“Do you realize what an extraordinarily complicated bit of magic you propose?”asked Dumbledore.

“You’re already turning people into cats!” Harry practically shouted.

“A cat is a known form,” said Dumbledore, “And thus much easier to work withthan the hybrid that you propose. Polyjuice potion is extraordinarilyexpensive and difficult to create, and you believe that on top of changing oneperson into another, it leaves the brain as a constant?” He shook his headsadly. “I sometimes forget that you are only in your first year, and then inconversations like this is becomes apparent. We have schools for a reason, toteach you the limits of what magic can and cannot do.”

Harry stared at the Headmaster. “So you’re saying that magic keeps a fully upto date copy of my - of my essence, my personality, my feelings and thoughts.And if I were to drink Polyjuice potion, magic would keep all of that goingwithout an actual brain.” He turned to look at Hermione. “And that’s whathappened to Hermione?”

“You put it in odd terms,” said Dumbledore, “But that is essentially correct.”

“How do we fix it?” asked Hermione’s ghost.

“There is no way to undo death,” said Dumbledore, which Harry didn’t believefor a second.

“Can I stop being a ghost?” she asked.

“That would be like dying all over again,” said Harry. “If you can keep livingas a ghost, why wouldn’t you?”

“It’s cold,” said Hermione’s ghost. “Cold and sad. I’ll never grow up, neversee my parents again, or have my first kiss or get an Outstanding on myO.W.L.s. Ghosts can’t even eat. Would you want to live like this, if you couldnever do the things that bring you pleasure?”

“Of course I would,” said Harry.

“That’s a terrible thing to say, Harry Potter,” said Dumbledore. “Hermione, Iam sorry, but someone who becomes a ghost stays as one forever. There are waysto motivate them, or to keep them contained, but once you become a ghost youare chained to this realm forever, never to pass into the next.”

“I’m a ghost forever?” asked Hermione’s ghost. She began to cry, and Harry’sheart broke just a little bit more.

“It’s not so bad,” Harry began. She turned away from him, and fled from theoffice, going straight through a wall. For a moment he made to go after her,but settled down in his chair and glared at the Headmaster. “Souls exist,”said Harry.

“They do,” replied Dumbledore.

“And the Veil that you spoke of earlier, you believe that souls pass throughit into the next world?” asked Harry.

“I do,” said Dumbledore. “You have said that it is an uninteresting fraud, Irecall, but it was built with magics more powerful than those known in moderntimes. The Veil predates the Ministry itself, which was built around it tocontain it. Perhaps it was a mistake to have you raised by muggles, if youbelieve wizards to be so stupid.”

“That proves nothing,” said Harry, though it did somewhat lower the odds thatit was a fraud given the trouble that someone would have to go through and thescrutiny that the Veil would presumably have been under. “Even if I were toaccept that souls exist in some form or another, that says nothing about theexistence of an afterlife.” Harry turned and looked backwards, in thedirection that Hermione had fled. “I should really go after her.” He got upfrom his chair and turned to leave.

“Harry, I will not prohibit it, but nothing good can come of a continuedrelationship with the ghost of Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore. Harry noddedbut said nothing, and continued down the stairs. When he got there, he foundthat Professor Quirrell was waiting for him. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised.

“I have heard,” said the Defense Professor, “That you have been makinginquiries into the nature of the soul.”

“I was,” said Harry. “The Headmaster said some things that made me think.”

“Oh?” asked Quirrell.

“Do you believe in souls?” asked Harry.

“Of course,” said Quirrell. “It’s obvious that they exist to anyone who givesit the merest thought.”

“Perhaps I’m asking the wrong question,” said Harry. “What exactly is a soul?”

“It’s the animating intellect, the spirit, and the essence of being,” saidQuirrell. “It is what exists beyond the body. Animagi, Polyjuice, paintings,photographs, ghosts, all these work on the principle of the soul. There iseven legend of a dark magic which can be used to split the soul, such that awizard can survive beyond death.”

Harry was very quiet for a long moment. “Why don’t muggles have souls?” askedHarry. “Why are they different?”

“Walk with me,” said Quirrell. Harry did, not really paying attention to wherethey were going. “Of all the questions to ask, you ask of muggles?”

“My parents,” said Harry, “What does it mean that they don’t have that sameextra-physical personhood that wizards appear to have?”

“They cannot think,” said Quirrell. “Not like you or I. They have memories,which can be obliviated or charmed away, but do you know what you see if youattempt Legilimency on a muggle?” Harry shook his head. “You would see nothingat all. No thoughts going on behind their eyes, no animating spirit. It’s likelooking at a perfectly flat lake, undisturbed by wind or wave. And if you wantto replace that calm surface, it’s as simple as giving the slightest push.”

Harry shuddered, and hoped that Quirrell wasn’t speaking from experience.“They still speak though, they still think and dream and laugh,” he said in arush. “They’ve written whole treatises on the nature of philosophy.” Harrysuddenly wished that he’d read more of them.

“Empty words,” said Quirrell. “The product of a mechanical process, orelectrical impulses and chemical reactions. Have you never wondered whetherthere was really something animating the muggles? With magic we can look intotheir minds and see. Wizards have souls, and muggles do not. It isincontrovertible.”

“Just because you can’t see anything with Legilimency - no, I’m sorry, that’sthe wrong tactic to take here. Let’s say for a moment that muggles don’t havesouls, that there’s not some extra-physical identity tied to them. Thatdoesn’t mean that they don’t think the same as you or I. Their psychology isidentical, or near enough. They behave in the same way that we do.”

“Yet there’s nothing behind their behavior,” said Quirrell. He gave Harry astrange look. “Do you not see that? Perhaps you would need learning as aLegilimens for yourself. But even with a Penseive the difference is clear. Amuggle’s memories do not take on the same biases and warpings as a wizard’sdo. Their memories are of crystal clarity, untainted by thought.”

“Muggles practically invented bias,” said Harry.

“They convincingly fake bias,” said Quirrell.

Harry said nothing. He was distinctly uncomfortable without having access tothe same body of facts as everyone else. There were a number of books in thelibrary about souls, though most of them were in the restricted section, andHarry hadn’t taken the time to look through them. He’d thought that they werejust fluff, the same kind of thing that you could find in a muggle bookstore,empty speculation that was pulled from thin air.

“I need to gather more data,” said Harry. “If I take the soul hypothesis asit’s been presented to me, there are still a few things that don’t make sense.The Killing Curse, for example. You said that it works on anything with abrain, and Professor McGonagall said that it works by separating the soul fromthe body. But muggles have brains, I’m completely sure of that, and if youwere right then the Killing Curse still kills them.”

“The Killing Curse does two things when it strikes the body,” said Quirrell.“First, it cuts the soul away from the body, if one is present. Second, itimmediately stops all electrical activity in the nervous system of thecreature so struck. The first method is useful only against wizards, thesecond against nearly everything else, with a few notable exceptions such asghosts, which have no body to cut the soul away from or nervous system to shutdown.”

“And how do you know this?” asked Harry.

“You have heard of the Dark Wizard Grindelwald?” asked Quirrell.

“The one Dumbledore defeated,” said Harry.

“Yes,” replied Quirrell. “Grindelwald had a burning curiosity within him thatis common to the dark wizards. He wondered, as you did, what would happen whensomeone was struck by the Killing Curse after they’d had their soul removed.”

“How … how do you remove a soul?” asked Harry. “How is that even possible?”Something tickled at his memory, a discarded scrap of information marked asnot true. “Dementors.”

Quirrell nodded. “Dementors do not act simply to inspire fear and drainhappiness from people. They will plant their bony lips upon your face, and youwill have no urge to stop them, and they will suck your soul straight fromyou. It was this dark magic that Grindelwald used. In fact, it is still usedto this day as a means of execution by the Wizengamot. What’s left behind is abody, brain still apparently active and heart still beating, but utterlysoulless. No memories, no thoughts, a blankness that cannot be faked orrecovered from.”

“That’s terrible,” said Harry. He felt nauseous. “That’s nearly the mostterrible thing that I can imagine. Why? Why do it that way, why not simplykill them dead? Is it retribution?”

“Imagine for a moment that you had seen the Veil which sits at the heart ofthe Ministry of Magic, around which the government of magical Britain had beenbuilt.” Quirrell had something feral in his eyes. “Imagine that the wizardswho held control of the Veil had tried certain courses of action, nothing likescience, but killings directly in front of the Veil to see the movement of asoul in flight. Not the wizards of today, but those of Merlin’s time perhaps.Imagine that there is this artifact, which by all accounts seems to lead tothe afterlife, and imagine the thousand tales of what lies beyond. TheWizengamot certainly doesn’t know what the next world might contain, butsurely it occurred to them, as it would likely occur to you or I, thatcriminals pass through the Veil as well. Criminals, heretics, dissidents, anddark wizards, all would have to be defeated a second time, and in many cases asecond victory was not such a sure thing. If there exists a method to ridyourself of an enemy completely and forever, well, I should hardly think thatthey would stand on a moral high ground and not use it.”

“They’re preparing for a war,” said Harry. He felt the blood drain from hisface. “They’re preparing for a war in the afterlife, whatever it might be.”

Quirrell let out a humorless laugh. “Mr. Potter, what stakes did you thinkwe’ve all been playing for?”

Harry walked to the terrace. His head was still swimming with all the thingshe’d been told. He had no idea where to begin with assessing their truthvalues, and that was only a precursor to figuring out what to do next. Yet hehad to go talk to Hermione, to convince her that everything was going to bealright. It was what a good friend would do.

“Hi Harry,” said Hermione’s ghost. She floated above the cleaned tiles. “Ithink I’m a ghost.”

Harry only nodded. He’d steeled himself against that response, but it stungall the same. He’d read up on books about dealing with ghosts, on the ways ofspeaking to them, and he’d special order muggle books about dealing withpeople who’d suffered from anterograde amnesia. Hermione lived on, in acrippled form, but he’d restore her to life if it was the last thing he did.The day’s revelations had changed little, only piled on more mysteries tosolve; he was still going to have to optimize the world.

Original story on fanfiction.net: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Zombie

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