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How can I outsmart the Defense Professor?
Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres, several tragedies and one godlike dark educator beyond being just regular-old-overwhelmed, shivered at his own answer. Every approach, from ‘outmaneuver’ to ‘overpower’, had come back the same. It didn’t seem to matter how he phrased the query, his brain would always return with nothing. He wished Severus and the Headmaster hadn’t been so convincing, and that everything The Defense Professor had gone and said that day could’ve turned out to be part of some clever plot wasn’t basically him throwing Harry to the wolves.
Why do I have to fix this? I’m just... well, I’m just a child. Why should I be expected to do so much? I have never even wanted to have any part in this war, and now I couldn’t possibly be more involved!
The pressure was unbearable, and Harry was afraid he might just shut down.
And then, morbidly, he remembered that not everyone was expecting him to somehow save them. His parents didn’t even know they were in danger. Every muggle on the planet was still just going about their day - completely ignorant of how little time they had left.
Not to mention that it’s only some sad little handful of the most irrational wizards alive that actually have any hope left in the Prophecy.
Everyone else just thinks I’m corrupted and dark. Heck, some people even think that I’m the real threat...
...Somehow Harry felt worse for having made this realisation. He wanted the ridiculous pressure back, it had been better than this crushing mountain of hate.
At least Hermione didn’t know that any of this was happening, not yet anyway. She had been fast asleep in her hospital bed for the lot of it. And looking after her had also kept Professor McGonagall busy, which was fortunate. Harry had not wanted to see the disappointment in her eyes - It would be like that day he misused his time-turner. He couldn't take that again.
“I told you there was something wrong with him!” exclaimed a third year Ravenclaw girl, unaware that Harry was passing by, hidden underneath his cloak...
“You... You k-knew about my parents... I told y... I h-hate you!!” Neville cried out across the Great Hall...
“I can’t believe you could ever be so terribly foolish as to do such a thing, Harry! There are always consequences! You must be prepared now, Harry. For I fear that you will know the weight of someone’s life on your back all too soon” Bellowed Albus Dumbledore, standing behind his desk. The Headmaster was a loud man when he wanted to be. Although, Harry noticed, even now - at his very loudest - the disappointment was somehow more apparent than any anger...
Piecing together what had been going through Lucius Malfoy’s mind was a difficult task. And with the way things had turned out, it wasn’t like anyone could just ask him about it now.
The facts, at least, weren’t in dispute.
* A small while after the 19th session of the 208th Wizengamot had adjourned, Lucius had travelled to the Ministry of Magic.
* Within the halls of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Lucius had accosted Hogwarts Defense Professor Quirinus Quirrell.
* Things had escalated beyond words quickly, and in response to Lucius’s attack, Professor Quirrell had performed an unforgivable curse - Avada Kedavra - in front of several Aurors.
* Lucius had been struck by the curse and killed.
* The Aurors had attempted to arrest the far superior Professor Quirrell. Somehow - and this part had bothered Harry - they were actually successful.
* Back in custody, Quirrell’s statements made during questioning had told quite the story.
* Oh, and Harry’s life was over.
“...My personal investigations into that fateful night at Godric’s Hollow left me convinced that Harry Potter is a vessel for the Dark Lord. Whether or not the child is aware of this, or if he and the Dark Lord are in fact even a separate entity, I do not know....”
“...the scene opened on James and Lily Potter - as well as their newborn child Harry - just as the Dark Lord came knocking at their door. When the scene had finished, the only person who remained was the baby. If we do not - and we mustn't - accept that the Dark Lord was mysteriously destroyed by an infant, the only alternative is that the Dark Lord left with the baby. Hardly a conceivable act to you or I, but for the Dark Lord - merely possessing a small child barely warrants mention in the same breath as most of his previous acts of cruelty...”
“...In my capacity as this year’s Defense against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts - a role I have been planning to take up since the day I had my initial suspicions some years ago - I have been attempting to remove the Dark Lord from Harry Potter. Lucius, one of Voldemort’s strongest supporters, viewed me as a threat to the Dark Lord’s return. Now, something has happened - likely, it is related to events that transpired today while the Wizengamot was in session - regardless, that something made eliminating me a priority for Lucius. It was so important that he felt it necessary to try and kill me just moments ago, in the very halls of the Ministry. I do not know why Lucius had decided I was not to be allowed to return to Hogwarts, although it may simply have been that I would have been too well protected to kill while within the school’s walls - unlike the hallways of the Ministry that Lucius practically owned. Thankfully, I had more experience duelling than he did...”
“...I have had little opportunity so far to read over the record of today’s Wizengamot session, yet at a glance I begin to suspect that the entire proceeding was an act. Likely, the ridiculous debt Potter and Malfoy both agreed upon really nothing more than a way for them to interact without arousing any suspicion, or it casting a dark cloud over young Harry Potter’s character should someone catch them together...”
“...somewhere secure, I have stored several documents and a heavily modified broomstick which I believe identify Harry Potter as the wizard behind Bellatrix Black’s escape from Azkaban. Of this I will say no more, at least until I am given the chance to retrieve the evidence for investigation by Ministry officials...”
Less than 20 minutes after Quirrell’s statement had been recorded, someone at the Ministry had leaked an internal memo intended for senior staff. It contained several excerpts of the transcript - all of them flagged as being on the subject of the Dark Lord. At that point, it had taken less than half of that time again to reach the mouths of every student, professor, portrait and ghost at Hogwarts. In a matter of minutes, Harry had lost almost every ally he had ever made.
Harry didn’t understand how he could ever have expected his involvement in Bellatrix’s escape to stay a secret. He had been blinded by pride - stupidly caught up in the feeling of being a hero. Looking back now, Harry realised that his all of his most ‘heroic’ moments had also been his most foolish. It seemed that the more totally under control of someone else he had unwittingly been, the more he had felt like a real player at the time.
The entire Azkaban affair... There simply were no words capable of describing the magnitude of that mistake.
But that had not stopped the Headmaster from trying.
“... can’t believe you could ever be so terribly foolish...” Dumbledore’s voice repeated in his head.
“This isn’t working.” Harry said to himself through gritted teeth.
The Headmaster and Severus sat nearby, somewhere on the other side of Harry’s tightly closed eyes. The two were quiet, either communicating non-verbally or unable to think of anything to say. Harry didn’t care which it was, so long as they kept respecting his request for 5 minutes of silence.
Why do I want to say that defeating the Defense Professor is impossible? Harry thought.
I need to be rational. What do I even mean by impossible? It’s not as if I have some flawless proof, built upon basic axioms, whereby I know he’s unstoppable. I just can’t work out how to do it.
So what can I think of? What was the beginnings of the last plan I had, and why did I scrap it before admitting I had nothing?
Throw a mass of antimatter at him volunteered a somewhat less critical new Harry construct.
Ah, but where would I get it from and how would I handle it? And what about the size of the explosion, half a gram of antimatter is almost equivalent to Little Boy, the 16 kt fission bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. I have no right to try and use that much power! And why would the Defense Professor do anything other than apparate away the moment I launched something at him? inquired a more wary counterpart.
I WAS JUST DOING WHAT I WAS MADE TO DO! protested Cursory Harry.
OK, OK. Sorry. conceded Prudent Harry.
Well, that was informative.
Harry had just realised that it was his unwillingness to escalate beyond reasonable measures that was now holding him back. His personally treasured ability to lose, a skill that had saved him in so many ways up to now, constrained him like so many cliche’ civilian bystanders had been used against so many heroes. Harry couldn’t think of what you would call it, but there was definitely something about the fact the Defense Professor had been behind that particular facet of his development.
It was time to escalate.
“I’ll do it.” said Harry, putting every last bit of fake confidence he could scrape together behind his words.
“You’ll do what?” asked Severus.
Blinking hard as he shook his head side to side, Harry tried to part the rust coloured haze that had taken over his vision. Bands of numbness rolled down from his forehead and spread across his skin. Harry noticed they seemed to move in time with his brain, as it pounded out its frustrations against the walls of his skull. Well, that’s what it felt like. But he didn’t have time for this now. Harry could be having a two strokes, a heart attack and a shocking case of indigestion and his well being still wouldn’t be important in comparison to stopping the Defense Professor. Harry filed all of this away for later, if there ever was a later.
Quirrell faced him, having given up any pretence of his liquid, almost languid calm. The combined assault had punched through more protection than the Defense Professor would care to admit; more than twice over what Dumbledore himself should have managed. The deadly harmonic interaction had further weakened his barrier. For the first time since Tom Riddle’s second year of Hogwarts, one of Voldemort’s opponents stood a chance. A slim chance, but still..
He squashed this out-of-place thought with one look at his impregnable defenses. Half-cracked and out of tune. But only half-cracked, and only just dissonant.
“Well, Harry Potter. The last time I had you this helpless, you somehow reflected an Unblockable Curse at me. This time, you’ll have no such luck.”
The Defense Professor - Hat-and-Cloak, Quirrell, Voldemort - raised his wand, almost solemnly. He opened his mouth, cocked the wand slightly, but before he could speak -
Harry summoned up every last reserve, every shred and scrap of power he had and dumped it into his wand. the warmth he had for Hermione, the loyalty he felt for Draco, the pride in his Chaos Legion, the faith he kept in the power of rationality. Still, he drew on more and more of himself, taking considerable potency from his dreams of interstellar civilisation.
It was a fire sale, everything must go.
All these whirling, twisting energies poured into his wand, and with the last dregs of strength he barely knew he had, he aimed it squarely at Quirrell - aimed as he had not dared this entire fight, for he no longer thought of nor cared for the destructive interference their magic seemed to have with each other - and screamed out a spell, a curse - two words, Unforgivable in nature -
You have reached the in-progress mark of this story, which is still being written.
Author's Notes follow below and at HPMOR dot com slash notes.
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The Center for Modern Rationality reminds you that we are still looking for paid consultants to help us develop new exercises for teaching the methods of rationality. We are also especially interested in people who have experience running successful workshops of any sort. See A/N.
Fan art, analysis of how the guessing played out, and a call to Bay Area fans of obscure black metal, also appear in the Author's Note for Ch. 81.
The story will next update on Tuesday, April 3rd, at 7PM Pacific Time.