Author's Notes: The start of this chapter is copied directly from LessWrong's "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality", chapter 81 (s/5782108/81/). The transition from LessWrong's words to my own is sharp, and is intended to pass unnoticed. I am merely exploring the consequences of one decision being made differently, and otherwise being as faithful as I can to LessWrong's story.
Chapter One: A Different Choice
And Harry knew, then, as he looked at the red-golden bird, what he had to do as well. It should have been obvious from the beginning, that solution.
"Then I too will do what I must," Harry said up to Dumbledore, as though the two of them stood alone in the room. "You do realize that, don't you?"
The old wizard shook his trembling head. "You will change your mind when you are older -"
"I'm not talking about that," Harry said, his voice still strange in his own ears. "I mean that I will not allow Hermione Granger to be eaten by Dementors under any circumstances. Period. Regardless of what any law says, and no matter what I have to do to stop it. Do I still need to spell it out?"
A strange male voice spoke from somewhere far away, "Be sure that the girl is taken directly to Azkaban, and put under extra guard."
Harry waited, staring at the old wizard, and then spoke again. "I will go to Azkaban," Harry said to the old wizard, as though they stood alone in the world, "before Hermione can be taken there, and start snapping my fingers. It may cost me my life, but by the time she gets there, there won't be an Azkaban anymore."
Some members of the Wizengamot gasped in surprise.
Then a greater number started laughing.
"How would you even get there, little boy?" someone said, from among those who were laughing.
"I have my ways of going places," said the boy's distant voice. Harry kept his eyes on Dumbledore, on the old wizard staring at him in shock. Harry didn't look directly at Fawkes, didn't give his plan away; but in his mind he prepared to summon the phoenix to transport him, prepared to fill his mind with light and fury, to call for the fire-bird with all his might, he might have to do it upon the instant if Dumbledore pointed his wand -
"Would you truly?" the old wizard said to Harry, also as if the two of them stood alone in the room.
The room went silent again as everyone stared in shock at the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, who seemed to be taking the mad threat completely seriously.
The old wizard's eyes were locked only on Harry. "Would you risk everything - everything - only for her?"
"Yes," Harry said back in reply.
That's the wrong answer, you know, said Slytherin. Seriously.
But it's the true answer.
"You will not see reason?" said the old wizard.
"Apparently not," Harry said back.
The gazes stayed locked.
"This is terrible folly," said the old wizard.
"I am aware of this," answered the hero. "Now get out of my way."
Strange light glinted in the ancient blue eyes. "No, Harry Potter. I cannot allow you to go into debt to Lucius Malfoy, and I will not allow you to attack Azkaban. You will not be able to reach Azkaban as you intend; there are restraints of which you are unaware. I truly am sorry."
Harry stared at the old wizard, thinking desperately. So Fawkes was ruled out, probably by the same spell which prevented the bird of light from screaming at the Wizengamot. Harry had no further options – only an overwhelming but impotent desire to be in Azkaban. Hoping against hope, he turned to Fawkes anyway.
Fawkes stirred, but was restrained by whatever magic the wizards had placed on him. As he stirred, however, a patch of air near Harry's left hand flickered and another creature of living fire appeared, blazing brighter than Harry had ever seen of Fawkes.
Harry had only a split-second to react – the Hall at large was incoherent uproar, but Dumbledore was already pointing his wand and McGonagall was reaching for her own. As Harry tried to gather his wits, his left hand was already reaching towards the furious golden light; a moment later, boy and bird were gone.
Harry felt the wrongness the instant he flickered back into existence, knew it even through the phoenix-warmth suffusing his body. He knew where he was and why, even before his eyes registered the voids around him.
Beyond those voids, three blank stone walls loomed high above him. He noted fleetingly that his hole had been repaired. Far above him, the triangle of sky visible was an incongruously bright and untroubled blue. Beneath his feet was a soft powdery soil, akin to sifted ashes. Dozens of voids thronged around him, even as his fingers began a precise and well-rehearsed sequence of movements on his wand. He saw that the voids were retreating, driven away by the resolve which had summoned the phoenix. He wondered briefly whether they were also afraid of the phoenix, if "afraid" even made sense in describing Dementors. Then his fingers finished their complicated movements, and he brandished his wand. There was no need now to censor any thoughts; his thought was rejection of death, and this time he could open the floodgates and pour himself out and do it now.
The shining humanoid leapt from Harry's wand, unbearably bright within the instant. Harry turned away and closed his eyes, and in his mind he sank the wells deeper and deeper inside himself. In a sense he had forgotten that he was in Azkaban to destroy a finite number of Dementors; his task was to spend himself and destroy Death itself, and in that task there was no room for restraint or half-measures. Even turned away, even through closed eyelids, he felt the heat in his eyes as the incandescent inferno burned his life-force away.
The boy stood still, a tiny figure in a pose which would have looked dramatic in another time and place. Here and now it was a mere speck within the towering edifice of Azkaban, no more than a hint of a silhouette within the searing light of the absolute Patronus.
Far above, the iron calm of a hundred years shattered as Bahry One-Hand stared slack-jawed down into the Pit. He couldn't see the Patronus clearly or Harry at all, not at this distance, but he recognised Patronus light, and he couldn't begin to understand how it could be brighter than the midday sun above him. Turning his aching eyes away from the light, he missed the arrival of Fawkes the phoenix with Albus Dumbledore.
Fawkes had flickered into existence some 50 metres above the bottom of the pit, high enough to be clear of the Dementors. Dumbledore, suspended in mid-air by this bird on his shoulder, stared downward in shock and utter confusion – at first he saw only an impossible brightness of Patronus fire, bright like the heart of a nuclear explosion. It took a few seconds for his eyes to find Harry, that faint mote lost in the impossible silver fire. Then, even as Dumbledore discerned the faint shadow, the light flicked out so abruptly that his eyes saw only after-images and darkness.
As his sight cleared, Albus saw the tiny figure lying motionless in the dirt. He saw the wings of golden fire spread over the boy's face. Albus and Fawkes dropped rapidly, landing before the unmoving form of Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres.
With rapid sweeps of his dread wand, the old man cast a wordless flurry of charms to determine the boy's health: he was alive, thank Merlin, and apparently not harmed in any way beyond normal exhaustion. Despite a prolific career in magical research, despite much careful thought since the incident with the Dementor at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore still had absolutely no idea how a first-year could possibly wield (let alone invent) such potent magicks. Who was this child, that he could so abruptly destroy almost every Dementor in Magical Britain? And at that thought, his attention turned suddenly to the political implications - this would radically change the political realities in the Wizengamot and beyond, but how?
These calculations were interrupted by the Bahry One-Hand, voice steady once more as he brought his broomstick down to ground level. "What in Merlin's name just happened?"
"Ah, Bahry. It appears that Harry Potter has just destroyed every Dementor in Azkaban. And before you ask - no, I have not the faintest idea how."
"You can't be serious."
"Deadly serious, I'm afraid. He threatened it when his friend was sentenced to be sent here, and he seems to have carried out his threat. I tried to stop him, but I failed."
Bahry stared searchingly at Dumbledore for a long moment, then yanked the mirror off his belt.
"Mike, tell Director Bones that the Dementors are all gone. The Boy-Who-Lived is lying on the ground, and he has a phoenix."
Auror Li passed on the message, then unlocked and activated the Vanishing cabinet - however Director Bones was going to handle this situation, there was no way that she wouldn't start by flooding Azkaban with Aurors. Sure enough, Amelia Bones immediately strode out of the Cabinet with the first part of a substantial fighting force - trio after trio followed on her heels, rapidly filling the command room.
"A1, B1, C1 trios, I want a double sweep of the spirals. Go down fast, come back up as slowly as you need to. Stay in contact with each other and with Auror Li, and report anything suspicious. A2, B2, C2 trios - secure the top of each spiral. Broomstick trios 1, 2 and 3, aerial surveillance of the whole place. Other trios, stay with me. Li, you're in charge of communications - stay here, stay in contact with everyone, and tell me anything I need to hear. McCusker, you're with Li. All of you, we lost Bellatrix Black last time. This time we could lose all of them - today we're looking at a mass breakout. Go!"
Nine trios scattered, all faces grim and all wands out.
"Li, McCusker - there will be more of my people coming through the Cabinet. They're to stay in the command room as reserve forces. Broomstick trios 4 and 5, with me."
Director Bones had already mounted her broomstick, and now she flew out the window and dived down to the bottom of the Pit, broomstick trios 4 and 5 catching up there a moment later and turning outwards to cover the entire area for potential threats.
"Albus. Bahry. What's going on?"
A moment of silence, and then Albus spoke. "When I arrived, I could see nothing except an impossibly bright Patronus charm. When it vanished a few seconds later, Mr Potter was on the ground, and I could see no Dementors. It appears that I was correct to take him seriously in his threat to destroy Azkaban, although I was still unable to prevent him from actually carrying out that threat. Beyond that I know nothing, I'm afraid."
Amelia Bones glanced at the crumpled cloaks, dozens of them, scattered around on the dead soil, and decided to assume for now that the Dementors really had been destroyed - impossible, of course, but seemingly true nonetheless. She turned to the small boy lying unconscious on the ground, his face covered by the phoenix's wings.
"The usual charms revealed no damage beyond normal exhaustion," Albus added.
She turned to him. "Is it safe to wake him now, then?"
"I believe so, yes."
Harry opened his eyes, and the phoenix moved its wings away from his face. He glanced up at the three adults watching him, craned his neck to look around at the bare earth with its crumpled cloaks, and then smiled. "I did it, didn't I? The only Dementor left in Magical Britain is the one in the Hall of the Wizengamot."
Albus was uncertain and Bahry frankly confused, so it was Amelia who spoke. "Mr Potter, do you confirm that you have destroyed Azkaban's Dementors?"
"Yes, that is correct."
"Was it your intention, or is it now your intention, to instigate a mass breakout from Azkaban?"
Harry paused, then shook his head slightly as he sat up.
"No. My primary goal, as stated before you and the entire Wizengamot, was to prevent Hermione Granger from being exposed to the Dementors of Azkaban. My secondary goal was to end the ongoing torture of prisoners by said Dementors. Actually freeing the prisoners right now would be highly irresponsible, although I would like to see all current sentences reconsidered in light of time already served under ceaseless torture. I trust that the decision to send a child to Azkaban has opened your mind to the possibility that some sentences meted out by our justice system might not be entirely just."
Amelia stared into the boy's face, searching for deceit but finding none. She turned to Dumbledore. "Do you believe him, Albus?"
"Yes. He may play games with words at times, but I have never yet known him to tell a direct lie. That is why I took his threat seriously, and I imagine it is why he has answered you so precisely and unambiguously."
Out of the corner of her eye, Amelia saw Harry nod slightly.
She pulled the mirror from her belt. "Li, what news?"
"Sweep teams are almost at the bottom, broomstick trios are flying circuits, and everyone else is in position. No trouble anywhere, nothing out of the ordinary except that we're in Azkaban without Patronuses and we're all fine."
"Tell the sweep teams they can relax a bit on their way back up, and call the broomstick trios in. The Dementors are gone and Harry Potter is claiming responsibility, but he insists he isn't trying to let the prisoners out. It seems we don't face a mass breakout today. Oh, and tell the Ministry that we don't need any more reinforcements."
"Will do, Director."
She turned back to Harry as he finished standing up, red-yellow bird settled serenely on his shoulder. "Do you have any idea what laws you've just broken?"
He stared at her. "Dementors are the foulest creatures known to me. They should not exist. I understand that the arrangement at Azkaban made political sense given that Dementors existed and couldn't be destroyed, although I strongly disapprove of that arrangement. I do not understand, Director Bones, how any decent human being could sincerely lament the destruction of Dementors, the healing of these wounds in the world."
"I agree with you, Mr Potter. The laws do exist, however, and you would be wise to consider them. As you are of a noble House, the matter will be brought before the Wizengamot. And as you have seen, the Wizengamot as a whole is no ally to you."
"With all due respect, Director Bones, I think I am far safer than that. The Boy-Who-Lived, symbol and champion of the Light, has just destroyed a large number of Dementors, symbols of Darkness. Not even Lucius Malfoy and his half-tame Wizengamot can touch me for that."
She watched his face for a moment longer, and then visibly relaxed. "Thank you, Mr Potter. You are of course correct on all points, and I now trust that you are telling the truth about your intentions. I apologise for interrogating you like this in your weakened state, but I had to be sure that there would be no breakout attempt."
Harry smiled faintly but said nothing, turning instead to the flaming bird on his shoulder. "Are you my phoenix?"
"What should I call you?"
A pause, a quizzical are-you-stupid look from that glorious creature, and Harry blushed.
"OK, stupid question, but I still need to call you something. I'll call you Bentham if you don't mind, for another prison reformer."
The bird nodded slightly.
"Done, then. Hello Bentham, and thank you. Thank you so much."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow at this, but forbore to comment. On his shoulder, Fawkes nodded companionably to Bentham.