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 – although of course, if you got here, I can't imagine why you wouldn't already have done that anyway.)
For completeness, the first part of this chapter is copied from the corresponding chapter in HPMoR. If you don't want to reread it and just skip straight to the new parts, search for "But when" in the text. If you do want to reread it, and want more context of this chapter, reread the start of this story arc at (s/5782108/78), s/5782108/79 and s/5782108/80 . Further author warnings (to avoid common erroneous expectations) are given at the bottom of the page.
CHAPTER 81: TABOO TRADEOFFS, PT 3
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 a silver 'W', stared down in stern rebuke at a young girl trembling in chains. If they had, in any particular ethical system, damned themselves, they clearly thought quite highly of themselves for having done so.
Harry's breath was trembling in his chest. His dark side had come up with a plan – and then rotated itself back out again because speaking too icily would not be to Hermione's advantage; a fact which the only-half-cold Harry had somehow not realized...
"The vote carries, in favor," intoned the secretary, when all the tallying was done, and the upraised hands fell back down. "The Wizengamot recognizes the blood debt owed by Hermione Granger to House Malfoy for the attempted murder of 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 from House Malfoy to House Potter!"
"Silence!" snapped the woman in too much pink makeup sitting next to Minister Fudge. "You've disrupted these proceedings quite enough already! Aurors, escort him out!"
"Wait," said Augusta Longbottom from the top tier of seats. "What debt is this?"
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 article from a woman who'd been False-Memory-Charmed, but Rita Skeeter had seemed to find it plausible, that Mr. Weasley had allegedly owed James Potter a debt because...
"I'm surprised you've forgotten," Harry said evenly. "Surely it was a cruel and 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 been identified as Madam Bones. "I, too, am quite surprised that Lord Malfoy would forget 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? I should take quite a professional interest in that. We are always trying to improve our picture of those dark days."
Lucius Malfoy's hands gripped the silver snake-handle of his cane like he was about 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 child is quite correct. However, I do not quite think the two debts cancel – House Potter was only trying to save itself, after all –"
"Not so," Dumbledore said from above.
"– and therefore," intoned Lucius Malfoy, "I demand monetary compensation as well, for the redemption of the blood debt owed my son. That, too, is the law."
Harry felt a strange inward flinch. That had also been in the newspaper article, 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. If you have not that much in your vault, I suppose I must accept a promissory note for the remainder."
A roar of protest went up from Dumbledore's side of the room, even some of the plum-colored robes in the middle looked shocked.
"Shall we put it to the vote of the Wizengamot?" said Lucius Malfoy. "I think few 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 be required 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 Gryffindor said threateningly.
It's a major purchase, observed Ravenclaw. We ought to spend a lot of time thinking about it.
It shouldn't have been hard. It shouldn't have. Two million pounds was only money, and money was only worth what it could buy...
It was strange how much psychological attachment you could have to 'only money', or how painful it could be to imagine losing a bank vault full of gold that you hadn't even imagined existed just one year earlier.
Kimball Kinnison wouldn't hesitate, said Gryffindor. Seriously. Like, snap decision. What sort of hero are you? I already hate you just for having to think about it for longer than 50 milliseconds.
This is real life, said Ravenclaw. Losing all your money is a lot more painful 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 just saying it because it was true.
Could a hundred thousand Galleons be used to save more than one life if spent some 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 in debt 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 require starting cash –
Personally, said Gryffindor, I vote that we save Hermione and then gang up and kill our inner Slytherin.
The clerk's voice said that the tally had been recorded and the vote had passed...
Harry's lips opened.
"I accept your offer," said Harry's lips, without any hesitation, without any decision having been made; just as if the internal debate had been pretense and 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 Harry in sheer blank astonishment. His mouth had opened slightly, though he wasn't speaking, and if he was making any peculiar noises it couldn't be heard over the 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, he looked 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 your vault."
"What?" said Harry, too shocked to compose his reply.
"I cannot let you go into debt to Lucius Malfoy, Harry! I cannot! You do not know – you do not realize –"
Harry didn't even know which part of himself had spoken, it might have been a unanimous vote, the pure rage and fury pouring through him. For an instant he thought that the sheer force of the anger might take magical wing and fly out to strike the Headmaster, send him tumbling back dead from the podium –
But when that mental voice had spoken, the old wizard was still standing there, gazing at Harry, long dark wand in his right hand, short black rod in his left.
And Harry felt his blood cool rapidly to freezing point. He stared at Dumbledore in unmitigated hatred, then glanced around and saw all the plum-colored robes, the people who would send a young girl to be mentally destroyed by 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 from being cast. And then my Dementor is going to Kiss everyone here who voted to send 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 to Hermione. She was sitting upright in her chair, still bound by the chains, her school robes around her neck soaked through with tears. And she was looking at him in absolute horror.
"You can't kill them! You're better than that, Harry!"
"Hermione, they voted to send you to Azkaban. They deliberately chose to send a child to be tortured to death." His voice broke. "I cannot let them."
An uneasy silence had fallen over the hall, as the people in their plum-colored robes listened to the exchange. There were sounds of disbelief here and there, but no one interrupted, as the Chief Warlock held up a hand in restraint. Hermione took a few breaths before she found the strength to speak.
"Yes, you can, Harry. Because you promised me that you wouldn't help me if I told you not to."
His mind stumbled, unable to form a coherent response, to come up with a new plan. 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 this, any of this! You didn't do it! Someone has False-Memory-Charmed you, or maybe cast some dark spell on you, I don't know. But I do 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 shouldn't harm people at all! There are parents here, Harry!"
"They're evil, Hermione! Would you really go to Azkaban to save them? Even knowing that you're completely innocent?"
She looked away from him, to the ground, as though this answer was taking all her 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 a dead 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 raised himself 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 that you have condemned to be entombed in Azkaban."
"A worthy theater," Lucius Malfoy drawled from the other side of most ancient hall. "Undoubtedly composed to make the girl look better. But I for one am not convinced by some mad threat."
"Yes, obviously the boy was bluffing." Dumbledore waved a hand irritably so as to 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 the mysterious reputation his past has given him. He is too young to understand the... delicacies of politics. Naturally, he was not truly able to carry out his threat."
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 go to Azkaban to save you, the people who have sentenced her there."
"She was just lying to impress us." The toad-like pink-makeup woman, whose name Harry could no longer remember, was learning forward with a sickening smile. "I agree with Lord Malfoy. It was an admirable show."
"She's still under the effect of Veritaserum, Madam Umbridge," Madam Bones replied hoarsely. "She was given three drops, it takes an hour to fully wear off. She might not be compelled to say more than she wants to anymore, but she cannot yet lie."
Now many people looked sick. Now, when the vote had been and passed, they were finally starting to think.
"The blood debt stands," Lucius Malfoy said, his voice no longer sounding amused. "Emotional shows aside, she is still a murderess, and we have already voted on the matter. So let her debt be paid. Take her to Azkaban, where she will never threaten anyone again."
"Very well," Dumbledore spoke gravely. He was looking Hermione in the eyes as he tapped the rod. "I now, in accordance with the last decision of the survivors of the eighty-eighth Wizengamot, adjourn this session." Then, he bowed his head.
One of the Aurors moved forward and pressed a short rod of dark metal to the metal chair, muttering an inaudible word of dismissal. The chains slithered back as smoothly as they had come forth, but Hermione didn't move. She was trembling. 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. She just gave Harry one last, tearful look, and then turned and allowed herself to be led away by the Aurors. Harry wanted to say something, wanted to run after her, apologize, hug her, do something, but it was all too late, he didn't know what he could do anymore.
And then she was gone.
Around the room, the Lords and Ladies of the Wizengamot were rising. Some were looking slightly uncomfortable, others were hurrying out to lunch or happily talking to each other as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. To Harry's right, Professor McGonagall was weeping. Dumbledore descended to the bottom of the dark stone stairs, and stepped up toward the spectator arc. His blue eyes were locked on Harry, as hard as sapphires. Only when he reached Professor McGonagall did his expression soften.
"Come, Minerva, let us go home. Today was a very sad day indeed." He took her arm 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 fire engulfed them.
Author's Note to avoid erroneous expectations: Several people have expressed some confusion at the title of this spinoff fanfiction. To clarify:
Following The Phoenix simply refers to doing the brave/right/foolish thing.
It does not refer to any actual phoenix. I do not confirm or deny that phoenixes play a role in this work.
It is also important to note that this spinoff was written and posted before the final arc of HPMoR (between the publication of chapters 98 and 103, to be exact). Consequently, not only does it continue in a different way, but the revelations in later chapters also do not apply. This means, among other things:
* the events in Godric Hollow did not happen that way
* the secret identities and motivations of various characters are not all the same
* horcruxes don't work that way
* the philosopher's stone doesn't work that way
And I will go right out and reveal now that Harry's Pet Rock died simply because he was such an irresponsible guardian.