Chapter 86: Multiple Hypothesis Testing

(In­ter­na­tional news head­lines of April 7th, 1992:)

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Daily Prophet:


Hy­poth­e­sis: Volde­mort
(April 8th, 1992, 7:22pm)

The four of them gath­ered once more around the an­cient desk of the Head­mas­ter of Hog­warts, with its draw­ers within draw­ers within draw­ers, wherein all the past pa­per­work of the Hog­warts School was stored; leg­end had it that Head­mistress Shehla had once got­ten lost in that desk, and was, in fact, still there, and wouldn’t be let out again un­til she got her files or­ga­nized. Min­erva didn’t par­tic­u­larly look for­ward to in­her­it­ing those draw­ers, when she in­her­ited that desk some­day—if any of them sur­vived.

Albus Dum­ble­dore was seated be­hind his desk, look­ing grave and com­posed.

Severus Snape was stand­ing next to the dead Floo and its ashes, hov­er­ing om­i­nously like the vam­pire that stu­dents some­times ac­cused him of pre­tend­ing to be.

Mad-Eye Moody had been meant to join them, but was yet to ar­rive.

And Harry...

A boy’s small, thin frame, perched on the arm of his chair, as though the en­er­gies run­ning through him were too great to al­low or­di­nary seat­ing. Set face, sweaty hair, in­tent green eyes, and within it all, the jagged light­ning-bolt of his never-heal­ing scar. He seemed grim­mer, now; even com­pared to a sin­gle week ear­lier.

For a mo­ment Min­erva flashed back to her trip to Di­agon Alley with Harry, what seemed like ages and ages ago. There’d been this somber boy in­side that Harry, some­how, even then. This wasn’t en­tirely her own fault, or Albus’s fault. And yet there was some­thing al­most un­bear­ably sad about the con­trast be­tween the young boy she’d first met, and what mag­i­cal Bri­tain had made of him. Harry had never had much of an or­di­nary child­hood, she’d gath­ered; Harry’s adop­tive par­ents had said to her that he’d spo­ken lit­tle and played less with Mug­gle chil­dren. It was painful to think that Harry might have had only a few months of play­ing beside the other chil­dren in Hog­warts, be­fore the war’s de­mands had stripped it all away. Maybe there was an­other face that Harry showed to the chil­dren his own age, when he wasn’t star­ing down the Wizeng­amot. But she couldn’t stop her­self from imag­in­ing Harry Pot­ter’s child­hood as a heap of fire­wood, and her­self and Albus feed­ing the wooden branches, piece by piece, into the flames.

“Prophe­cies are strange things,” said Albus Dum­ble­dore. The old wiz­ard’s eyes were half-lidded, as though in weari­ness. “Vague, un­clear, mean­ing es­cap­ing like wa­ter held be­tween loose fingers. Prophecy is ever a bur­den, for there are no an­swers there, only ques­tions.”

Harry Pot­ter was sit­ting tensely. “Head­mas­ter Dum­ble­dore,” said the boy with soft pre­ci­sion, “my friends are be­ing tar­geted. Hermione Granger al­most went to Azk­a­ban. The war has be­gun, as you put it. Pro­fes­sor Trelawney’s prophecy is key in­for­ma­tion for weigh­ing up the bal­ance of my hy­pothe­ses about what’s go­ing on. Not to men­tion how silly it is—and dan­ger­ous—that the Dark Lord knows the prophecy and I don’t.”

Albus looked a grim ques­tion at her, and she shook her head in re­ply; in what­ever uni­mag­in­able way Harry had dis­cov­ered that Trelawney had made the prophecy and that the Dark Lord knew of it, he hadn’t learned that much from her.

“Volde­mort, seek­ing to avert that very prophecy, went to his defeat at your hands,” the old wiz­ard said then. “His knowl­edge brought him only harm. Pon­der that care­fully, Harry Pot­ter.”

“Yes, Head­mas­ter, I do un­der­stand that. My home cul­ture also has a liter­ary tra­di­tion of self-fulfilling and mis­in­ter­preted prophe­cies. I’ll in­ter­pret with cau­tion, rest as­sured. But I’ve already guessed quite a bit. Is it safer for me to work from par­tial guesses?”

Time passed.

“Min­erva,” said Albus. “If you would.”

“The one...” she be­gan. The words came fal­ter­ingly to her throat; she was no ac­tress. She couldn’t imi­tate the deep, chilling tone of the origi­nal prophecy; and yet some­how that tone seemed to carry all the mean­ing. “The one with the power to van­quish the Dark Lord ap­proaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the sev­enth month dies...”

And the Dark Lord shall mark him as his equal,” came Severus’s voice, mak­ing her jump within her chair. The Po­tions Master loomed tall by the fire­place. “But he shall have power the Dark Lord knows not… and ei­ther must de­stroy all but a rem­nant of the other, for those two differ­ent spirits can­not ex­ist in the same world.

That last line Severus spoke with so much fore­bod­ing that it chilled her bones; it was al­most like listen­ing to Sy­bill Trelawney.

Harry was listen­ing with a frown. “Can you re­peat that?” said Harry.

The one with the power to van­quish the Dark Lord ap­proaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the sev­enth month—

“Ac­tu­ally, hold on, can you write that down? I need to an­a­lyze this care­fully—”

This was done, with both Albus and Severus watch­ing the parch­ment hawk­like, as though to make sure that no un­seen hand reached in and snatched the pre­cious in­for­ma­tion away.

“Let’s see...” Harry said. “I’m male and born on July 31st, check. I did in fact van­quish the Dark Lord, check. Am­bigu­ous pro­noun in line two… but I wasn’t born yet so it’s hard to see how my par­ents could have thrice defied me. This scar is an ob­vi­ous can­di­date for the mark...” Harry touched his fore­head. “Then there’s the power the Dark Lord knows not, which prob­a­bly refers to my sci­en­tific back­ground—”

“No,” said Severus.

Harry looked at the Po­tions Master in sur­prise.

Severus’s eyes were closed, his face tight­ened in con­cen­tra­tion. “The Dark Lord could ob­tain that power by study­ing the same books as you, Pot­ter. But the prophecy did not say, power the Dark Lord has not. Nor even, power the Dark Lord can­not have. She spoke of power the Dark Lord knows not… it will be some­thing stranger to him than Mug­gle ar­ti­facts. Some­thing per­haps that he can­not com­pre­hend at all, even hav­ing seen it...”

“Science is not a bag of tech­nolog­i­cal tricks,” Harry said. “It’s not just the Mug­gle ver­sion of a wand. It’s not even knowl­edge like mem­o­riz­ing the pe­ri­odic table. It’s a differ­ent way of think­ing.

“Per­haps...” the Po­tions Master mur­mured, but his voice was skep­ti­cal.

“It is haz­ardous,” Albus said, “to read too far into a prophecy, even if you have heard it your­self. They are things of ex­ceed­ing frus­tra­tion.”

“So I see,” Harry said. His hand rose up, rubbed the scar on his fore­head. “But… okay, if this is re­ally all we know… look, I’ll just put it bluntly. How do you know that the Dark Lord ac­tu­ally sur­vived?”

What?” she cried. Albus just sighed and leaned back in the vast Head­mas­ter’s chair.

“Well,” Harry said, “imag­ine how this prophecy sounded back when it was made. You-Know-Who learns the prophecy, and it sounds like I’m des­tined to grow up and over­throw him. That the two of us are meant to have a fi­nal bat­tle where ei­ther of us must de­stroy all but a rem­nant of the other. So You-Know-Who at­tacks Go­dric’s Hol­low and im­me­di­ately gets van­quished, leav­ing be­hind some rem­nant which may or may not be his dis­em­bod­ied soul. Maybe the Death Eaters are his rem­nant, or the Dark Mark. This prophecy could already be fulfilled, is what I’m say­ing. Don’t get me wrong—I do re­al­ize that my in­ter­pre­ta­tion sounds stretched. Trelawney’s phras­ing doesn’t seem nat­u­ral for de­scribing only the events that his­tor­i­cally hap­pened on Oc­to­ber 31st, 1981. At­tack­ing a baby and hav­ing the spell bounce off, isn’t some­thing you’d nor­mally call ‘the power to van­quish’. But if you think of the prophecy as be­ing about sev­eral pos­si­ble fu­tures, only one of which was ac­tu­ally re­al­ized on Hal­loween, then the prophecy could already be com­plete.”

“But—” Min­erva blurted. “But the raid on Azk­a­ban—”

If the Dark Lord sur­vived, then sure, he’s the most likely sus­pect for the Azk­a­ban break­out,” Harry said rea­son­ably. “You could even say that the Azk­a­ban break­out is Bayesian ev­i­dence for the Dark Lord sur­viv­ing, be­cause an Azk­a­ban break­out is more likely to hap­pen in wor­lds where he’s al­ive than wor­lds where he’s dead. But it’s not strong Bayesian ev­i­dence. It’s not some­thing that can’t pos­si­bly hap­pen un­less the Dark Lord is al­ive. Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, who didn’t start from the as­sump­tion that You-Know-Who was still around, had no trou­ble think­ing of his own ex­pla­na­tion. To him, it was ob­vi­ous that some pow­er­ful wiz­ard might want Bel­la­trix Black be­cause she knew a se­cret of the Dark Lord’s, like some of his mag­i­cal knowl­edge that he’d told to only her. The pri­ors against any­one sur­viv­ing their body’s death are very low, even if it’s mag­i­cally pos­si­ble. Most times it doesn’t hap­pen. So if it’s just the Azk­a­ban break­out… I’d have to say for­mally that it isn’t enough Bayesian ev­i­dence. The im­prob­a­bil­ity of the ev­i­dence as­sum­ing that the hy­poth­e­sis is false, is not com­men­su­rate with the prior im­prob­a­bil­ity of the hy­poth­e­sis.”

“No,” Severus said flatly. “The prophecy is not yet fulfilled. I would know if it were.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Yes, Pot­ter. If the prophecy had already come true, I would un­der­stand it! I heard Trelawney’s words, I re­mem­ber Trelawney’s voice, and if I knew the events that matched the prophecy, I would rec­og­nize them. What has already hap­pened… does not fit.” The Po­tions Master spoke with cer­tainty.

“I’m not re­ally sure what to do with that state­ment,” Harry said. His hand rose up, ab­sently rubbed at his fore­head. “Maybe it’s just what you think hap­pened that doesn’t fit, and the true his­tory is differ­ent...”

“Volde­mort is al­ive,” Albus said. “There are other in­di­ca­tions.”

“Such as?” Harry’s re­ply was in­stant.

Albus paused. “There are ter­rible rit­u­als by which wiz­ards have re­turned from death,” Albus said slowly. “That much, any­one can dis­cern within his­tory and leg­end. And yet those books are miss­ing, I could not find them; it was Volde­mort who re­moved them, I am sure—”

“So you can’t find any books on im­mor­tal­ity, and that proves that You-Know-Who has them?”

“In­deed,” said Albus. “There is a cer­tain book—I will not name it aloud—miss­ing from the Restricted Sec­tion of the Hog­warts library. An an­cient scroll which should have been at Bor­gin and Burkes, with only an empty place on a shelf to show where it was—” The old wiz­ard stopped. “But I sup­pose,” the old wiz­ard said, as though to him­self, “you will say that even if Volde­mort tried to make him­self im­mor­tal, it does not prove that he suc­ceeded...”

Harry sighed. “Proof, Head­mas­ter? There are only ever prob­a­bil­ities. If there are known, par­tic­u­lar books on im­mor­tal­ity rit­u­als which are miss­ing, that in­creases the prob­a­bil­ity that some­one at­tempted one. Which, in turn, raises the prior prob­a­bil­ity of the Dark Lord sur­viv­ing his death. This I con­cede, and thank you for con­tribut­ing the fact. The ques­tion is whether the prior prob­a­bil­ity goes up enough.

“Surely,” Albus said quietly, “if you con­cede even a chance that Volde­mort sur­vived, that is worth guard­ing against?”

Harry in­clined his head. “As you say, Head­mas­ter. Though once a prob­a­bil­ity drops low enough, it’s also an er­ror to go on ob­sess­ing about it… Given that books on im­mor­tal­ity are miss­ing, and that this prophecy would sound some­what more nat­u­ral if it refers to the Dark Lord and I hav­ing a fu­ture bat­tle, I agree that the Dark Lord be­ing al­ive is a prob­a­bil­ity, not just pos­si­bil­ity. But other prob­a­bil­ities must also be taken into ac­count—and in the prob­a­ble wor­lds where You-Know-Who is not al­ive, some­one else framed Hermione.”

“Fool­ish­ness,” Severus said softly. “Ut­ter fool­ish­ness. The Dark Mark has not faded, nor has its mas­ter.”

“See, that’s what I mean by for­mally in­suffi­cient Bayesian ev­i­dence. Sure, it sounds all grim and fore­bod­ing and stuff, but is it that un­likely for a mag­i­cal mark to stay around af­ter the maker dies? Sup­pose the mark is cer­tain to con­tinue while the Dark Lord’s sen­tience lives on, but a pri­ori we’d only have guessed a twenty per­cent chance of the Dark Mark con­tin­u­ing to ex­ist af­ter the Dark Lord dies. Then the ob­ser­va­tion, ‘The Dark Mark has not faded’ is five times as likely to oc­cur in wor­lds where the Dark Lord is al­ive as in wor­lds where the Dark Lord is dead. Is that re­ally com­men­su­rate with the prior im­prob­a­bil­ity of im­mor­tal­ity? Let’s say the prior odds were a hun­dred-to-one against the Dark Lord sur­viv­ing. If a hy­poth­e­sis is a hun­dred times as likely to be false ver­sus true, and then you see ev­i­dence five times more likely if the hy­poth­e­sis is true ver­sus false, you should up­date to be­liev­ing the hy­poth­e­sis is twenty times as likely to be false as true. Odds of a hun­dred to one, times a like­li­hood ra­tio of one to five, equals odds of twenty to one that the Dark Lord is dead—”

Where are you get­ting all these num­bers, Pot­ter?”

“That is the ad­mit­ted weak­ness of the method,” Harry said read­ily. “But what I’m qual­i­ta­tively get­ting at is why the ob­ser­va­tion, ‘The Dark Mark has not faded’, is not ad­e­quate sup­port for the hy­poth­e­sis, ‘The Dark Lord is im­mor­tal.’ The ev­i­dence isn’t as ex­traor­di­nary as the claim.” Harry paused. “Not to men­tion that even if the Dark Lord is al­ive, he doesn’t have to be the one who framed Hermione. As a cun­ning man once said, there could be more than one plot­ter and more than one plan.”

“Such as the Defense Pro­fes­sor,” Severus said with a thin smile. “I sup­pose I must agree that he is a sus­pect. It was the Defense Pro­fes­sor last year, af­ter all; and the year be­fore that, and the year be­fore that.”

Harry’s eyes dropped back to the parch­ment in his lap. “Let’s move on. Are we cer­tain that this Prophecy is ac­cu­rate? No­body messed with Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall’s mem­ory, maybe ed­ited or sub­tracted a line?”

Albus paused, then spoke slowly. “There is a great spell laid over Bri­tain, record­ing ev­ery prophecy said within our bor­ders. Far be­neath the Most An­cient Hall of the Wizeng­amot, in the Depart­ment of Mys­ter­ies, they are recorded.”

“The Hall of Prophecy,” Min­erva whispered. She’d read about that place, said to be a great room of shelves filled with glow­ing orbs, one af­ter an­other ap­pear­ing over the years. Mer­lin him­self had wrought it, it was said; the great­est wiz­ard’s fi­nal slap to the face of Fate. Not all prophe­cies con­duced to the good; and Mer­lin had wished for at least those spo­ken of in prophecy, to know what had been spo­ken of them. That was the re­spect Mer­lin had given to their free will, that Destiny might not con­trol them from the out­side, un­wit­ting. Those men­tioned within a prophecy would have an glow­ing orb float to their hand, and then hear the prophet’s true voice speak­ing. Others who tried to touch an orb, it was said, would be driven mad—or pos­si­bly just have their heads ex­plode, the leg­ends were un­clear on this point. What­ever Mer­lin’s origi­nal in­ten­tion, the Un­speak­ables hadn’t let any­one en­ter in cen­turies, so far as she’d heard. Works of the An­cient Wizards had stated that later Un­speak­ables had dis­cov­ered that tip­ping off the sub­jects of prophe­cies could in­terfere with seers re­leas­ing what­ever tem­po­ral pres­sures they re­leased; and so the heirs of Mer­lin had sealed his Hall. It did oc­cur to Min­erva to won­der (now that she’d spent a few months around Mr. Pot­ter) how any­one could pos­si­bly know that; but she also knew bet­ter than to ask Albus, in case Albus tried to tell her. Min­erva firmly be­lieved that you only ought to worry about Time if you were a clock.

“The Hall of Prophecy,” Albus con­firmed lowly. “Those who are spo­ken of in a prophecy, may listen to that prophecy there. Do you see the im­pli­ca­tion, Harry?”

Harry frowned. “Well, I could listen to it, or the Dark Lord… oh, my par­ents. Those who had thrice defied him. They were also men­tioned in the prophecy, so they could hear the record­ing?”

“If James and Lily heard any­thing differ­ent from what Min­erva re­ported,” Albus said evenly, “they did not say so to me.”

“You took James and Lily there?” Min­erva said.

“Fawkes can go to many places,” Albus said. “Do not men­tion the fact.”

Harry was star­ing di­rectly at Albus. “Can I go to this Depart­ment of Mys­ter­ies place and hear the recorded prophecy? The origi­nal tone of voice might be helpful, from what I’ve heard.”

Light glinted from the re­flec­tion of Albus’s half-moon glasses as the old wiz­ard slowly shook his head. “I think that would be un­wise,” Albus said. “For rea­sons be­yond the ob­vi­ous. It is dan­ger­ous, that place which Mer­lin made; more dan­ger­ous to some peo­ple than oth­ers.”

“I see,” Harry said tone­lessly, and looked back down at the parch­ment. “I’ll take the prophecy as as­sumed ac­cu­rate for now. The next part says that the Dark Lord has marked me as his equal. Any ideas on what that means ex­actly?”

“Surely not,” said Albus, “that you must imi­tate his ways, in any wise.”

“I’m not dumb, Head­mas­ter. Mug­gles have worked out a thing or two about tem­po­ral para­doxes, even if it’s all the­o­ret­i­cal to them. I won’t throw away my ethics just be­cause a sig­nal from the fu­ture claims it’s go­ing to hap­pen, be­cause then that be­comes the only rea­son why it hap­pened in the first place. Still, what does it mean?”

“I do not know,” said Severus.

“Nor I,” she said.

Harry took out his wand, turned it over in his hands, gaz­ing med­i­ta­tively at the wood. “Eleven inches, holly, with a core of phoenix feather,” Harry said. “And the phoenix whose tail feather is in this wand, only ever gave one other, which Mr… what was his name, Olive-some­thing… made into the core of the Dark Lord’s wand. And I’m a Parsel­mouth. It seemed like a lot of co­in­ci­dence even then. And now I find out there’s a prophecy stat­ing that I’ll be the Dark Lord’s equal.”

Severus’s eyes were thought­ful; the Head­mas­ter’s gaze, un­read­able.

“Could it be,” Min­erva said fal­ter­ingly, “that You-Know-Who—that Volde­mort—trans­ferred some of his own pow­ers to Mr. Pot­ter, the night he gave him that scar? Not some­thing he in­tended to do, surely. Still… I don’t see how Mr. Pot­ter could be his equal, if he had any less magic than the Dark Lord him­self...”

“Meh,” said Harry, still look­ing med­i­ta­tively at his wand. “I’d fight the Dark Lord with­out any magic at all, if I had to. Homo sapi­ens didn’t be­come the dom­i­nant species on this planet by hav­ing the sharpest claws or hard­est ar­mor—though I sup­pose some of that point may be lost on wiz­ards. Still, it’s be­neath my dig­nity as a hu­man be­ing to be scared of any­thing that isn’t smarter than I am; and from what I’ve heard, on that par­tic­u­lar di­men­sion the Dark Lord wasn’t very scary.”

The Po­tions Master spoke, his voice tak­ing on some of his cus­tom­ary con­temp­tu­ous drawl. “You imag­ine your­self more in­tel­li­gent than the Dark Lord, Pot­ter?”

“Yes, in fact,” said Harry, pul­ling back the left sleeve of his robes, and rol­ling up the shirt­sleeve be­neath to ex­pose the bare elbow. “Oh, that re­minds me! Let’s make sure no­body here has the clearly visi­ble tat­too in the stan­dard, eas­ily check­able lo­ca­tion which would mark them as a se­cret en­emy spy.”

Albus made a quiet­ing ges­ture that halted the Po­tions Master be­fore he could say any­thing scathing. “Tell me, Harry,” Albus said, “how would you have crafted the Dark Mark?”

“Non­stan­dard lo­ca­tions,” Harry said promptly, “not eas­ily found with­out em­bar­rass­ment and fuss, though of course any se­cu­rity-con­scious per­son would check any­way. Make it smaller, if pos­si­ble. Over­lay an­other non-mag­i­cal tat­too to ob­scure the ex­act shape—bet­ter yet, cover it with a layer of fake skin—”

“Cun­ning in­deed,” Albus said. “But tell me, sup­pose you could craft any con­di­tions you wished into the Mark, fad­ing it or rais­ing it as you wished. What would you do then?”

“Make it com­pletely in­visi­ble at all times,” Harry said in tones of stat­ing the ob­vi­ous. “You don’t want there to be any de­tectable differ­ence be­tween a spy and a non-spy.”

“Sup­pose you are more cun­ning still,” Albus said. “You are a mas­ter of trick­ery, a mas­ter of de­cep­tion, and you em­ploy your abil­ities to the ful­lest.”

“Well—” The boy stopped, frown­ing. “It seems un­nec­es­sar­ily com­pli­cated, more like a tac­tic a villain would use in a role-play­ing game than some­thing you’d try in a real-life war. But I sup­pose you could put fake Dark Marks on peo­ple who aren’t re­ally Death Eaters, and keep the Dark Marks on the real Death Eaters in­visi­ble. But then there’s the ques­tion of why peo­ple would start be­liev­ing in the first place that the Dark Mark iden­ti­fied a Death Eater… I’d have to think about it for at least five min­utes, if I were go­ing to take the prob­lem se­ri­ously.”

“I ask you this,” Albus said, still in that mild tone, “be­cause I did in­deed, in the early days of the war, perform such tests as you sug­gested. The Order sur­vived my folly only be­cause Alas­tor did not trust in the bare arms we saw. I had thought, af­ter­ward, that the bear­ers of the Mark might hide it or show it at their will. And yet when we hied Igor Karkaroff be­fore the Wizeng­amot, that Mark showed clear on his arm, for all that Karkaroff wished to protest his in­no­cence. What true rule may gov­ern the Dark Mark, I do not know. Even Severus is still bound by his Mark not to re­veal its se­crets to any who do not know them.”

“Oh, well that makes it ob­vi­ous,” Harry said promptly. “Wait, hold on—you were a Death Eater?” Harry trans­ferred his stare to Severus.

Severus re­turned a thin smile. “I still am, so far as they know.”

“Harry,” said Albus, eyes only for the boy. “What do you mean, that makes it ob­vi­ous?”

“In­for­ma­tion the­ory 101,” the boy said in a lec­tur­ing tone. “Ob­serv­ing vari­able X con­veys in­for­ma­tion about vari­able Y, if and only if the pos­si­ble val­ues of X have differ­ent prob­a­bil­ities given differ­ent states of Y. The in­stant you hear about any­thing what­so­ever that varies be­tween a spy and a non­spy, you should im­me­di­ately think of ex­ploit­ing it to dis­t­in­guish spies from non­spies. Similarly, to dis­t­in­guish re­al­ity from lies, you need a pro­cess which be­haves differ­ently in the pres­ence of truth and false­hood—that’s why ‘faith’ doesn’t work as a dis­crim­i­nant, while ‘make ex­per­i­men­tal pre­dic­tions and test them’ does. You say some­one with the Dark Mark can’t re­veal its se­crets to any­one who doesn’t already know them. So to find out how the Dark Mark op­er­ates, write down ev­ery way you can imag­ine the Dark Mark might work, then watch Pro­fes­sor Snape try to tell each of those things to a con­fed­er­ate—maybe one who doesn’t know what the ex­per­i­ment is about—I’ll ex­plain bi­nary search later so that you can play Twenty Ques­tions to nar­row things down—and what­ever he can’t say out loud is true. His silence would be some­thing that be­haves differ­ently in the pres­ence of true state­ments about the Mark, ver­sus false state­ments, you see.”

Min­erva’s mouth was hang­ing open, she re­al­ized; and she closed it abruptly. Even Albus looked sur­prised.

“And af­ter that, like I said, any be­hav­ioral differ­ence be­tween spies and non­spies can be used to iden­tify spies. Once you’ve iden­ti­fied at least one mag­i­cally cen­sored se­cret of the Dark Mark, you can test some­one for the Dark Mark by see­ing if they can re­veal that se­cret to some­body who doesn’t already know it—”

“Thank you, Mr. Pot­ter.”

Every­one looked at Severus. The Po­tions Master was straight­en­ing, his teeth bared in a gri­mace of an­gry triumph. “Head­mas­ter, I can now speak freely of the Mark. If we know we are caught for a Death Eater, be­fore oth­ers who have not yet seen our bare arms, our Mark re­veals it­self whether we will it or no. But if they have already seen our arms bare, it does not re­veal it­self; nor if we are only be­ing tested from sus­pi­cion. Thus the Dark Mark seems to iden­tify Death Eaters—but only those already found, you per­ceive.”

“Ah...” Albus said. “Thank you, Severus.” He closed his eyes briefly. “That would in­deed ex­plain why Black es­caped even Peter’s no­tice… ah, well. And Harry’s pro­posed test?”

The Po­tions Master shook his head. “The Dark Lord was no fool, de­spite Pot­ter’s delu­sions. The mo­ment such a test is sus­pected, the Mark ceases to bind our tongues. Yet I could not hint at the pos­si­bil­ity, but only wait for an­other to de­duce it.” Another thin smile. “I would award you a good many House points, Mr. Pot­ter, if it would not com­pro­mise my cover. But as you can see, the Dark Lord was quite cun­ning.” His gaze grew more dis­tant. “Oh,” Severus breathed, “he was very cun­ning in­deed...”

Harry Pot­ter sat still for a long mo­ment.

Then -

“No,” Harry said. The boy shook his head. “No, that can’t ac­tu­ally be true. First of all, we’re talk­ing about the kind of logic puz­zle that would ap­pear in chap­ter one of a Ray­mond Smul­lyan book, nowhere near the level of what Mug­gle sci­en­tists do for a liv­ing. And sec­ond, for all I know, it took the Dark Lord five months of think­ing to in­vent the puz­zle I just solved in five sec­onds—”

“Is it that in­con­ceiv­able to you, Pot­ter, that any­one could be so in­tel­li­gent as your­self?” The Po­tions Master’s voice held more cu­ri­os­ity than scorn.

“It’s called a base rate, Pro­fes­sor Snape. The ev­i­dence is equally com­pat­i­ble with the Dark Lord in­vent­ing that puz­zle over the course of five months or over the course of five sec­onds, but in any given pop­u­la­tion there’ll be many more peo­ple who can do it in five months than in five sec­onds...” Harry pasted a hand against his fore­head. “Darn it, how can I ex­plain this? I sup­pose, from your per­spec­tive, the Dark Lord came up with a clever puz­zle and I clev­erly solved it and that makes us look equal.”

“I re­mem­ber your first day of Po­tions class,” the Po­tions Master said dryly. “I think you have a ways still to go.”

“Peace, Severus,” Albus said. “Harry has already ac­com­plished more than you know. Yet tell me, Harry—why do you be­lieve the Dark Lord is less than you? Surely he is a dam­aged soul in many ways. But cun­ning for cun­ning—you are not yet ready to face him, I would judge; and I know the full tally of your deeds.”

The frus­trat­ing thing about this con­ver­sa­tion was that Harry couldn’t say his ac­tual rea­sons for dis­agree­ing, which vi­o­lated sev­eral ba­sic prin­ci­ples of co­op­er­a­tive dis­course.

He couldn’t ex­plain how Bel­la­trix had re­ally been re­moved from Azk­a­ban—not by You-Know-Who in any guise, but by the com­bined wits of Harry and Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell.

Harry didn’t want to say in front of Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall that the ex­is­tence of brain dam­age im­plied that there were no such things as souls. Which made a suc­cess­ful im­mor­tal­ity rit­ual… well, not im­pos­si­ble, Harry cer­tainly in­tended to forge a road to mag­i­cal im­mor­tal­ity some­day, but it would be a lot harder and re­quire much more in­ge­nu­ity than just bind­ing an already-ex­is­tent soul to a lich’s phy­lac­tery. Which no in­tel­li­gent wiz­ard would bother do­ing in the first place, if they knew their souls were im­mor­tal.

And the true and hon­est rea­son Harry knew the Dark Lord couldn’t have been that smart… well… there wasn’t any tact­ful way to say it, but...

Harry had been to a con­vo­ca­tion of the Wizeng­amot. He’d seen the laugh­able ‘se­cu­rity pre­cau­tions’, if you could call them that, guard­ing the deep­est lev­els of the Ministry of Magic. They didn’t even have the Thief’s Down­fall which gob­lins used to wash away Polyjuice and Im­perius Curses on peo­ple en­ter­ing Gringotts. The ob­vi­ous takeover route would be to Im­perius the Minister of Magic and a few de­part­ment heads, and owl a hand grenade to any­one too pow­er­ful to Im­perius. Or owl them knock­out gas, if you needed them al­ive and in a state of Liv­ing Death to take hairs for Polyjuice po­tions. Legili­mency, False Me­mories, the Con­fun­dus Charm—it was ridicu­lous, the mag­i­cal world was su­per­sat­u­rated with ways to cheat. Harry might not do any of those things him­self, dur­ing his own takeover of Bri­tain, since he was con­strained by Ethics… well, Harry might do some of the lesser ones, since Polyjuice or a tem­po­rary Con­fun­dus or read-only Legili­mency all sounded bet­ter than an ex­tra day of Azk­a­ban… but...

If Harry hadn’t been con­strained by Ethics, it was pos­si­ble he could’ve wiped out the eviller sec­tions of the Wizeng­amot that day; all by him­self, us­ing only a first-year’s mag­i­cal power, on ac­count of be­ing clever enough to figure out De­men­tors. Though Harry might not have been in such a great poli­ti­cal po­si­tion af­ter that, the sur­viv­ing Wizeng­amot mem­bers might’ve found it easy and cheap to dis­avow his ac­tions for P.R. pur­poses and con­demn him, even if the smarter ones re­al­ized it was for the greater good… but still.

If you were com­pletely un­re­strained by ethics, armed with the an­cient se­crets of Salazar Slytherin, had dozens of pow­er­ful fol­low­ers in­clud­ing Lu­cius Malfoy, and it took you more than ten years to fail to over­throw the gov­ern­ment of mag­i­cal Bri­tain, it meant you were stupid.

“How can I put this...” Harry said. “Look, Head­mas­ter, you’ve got ethics, there’s a lot of bat­tle tac­tics you don’t use be­cause you’re not evil. And you fought the Dark Lord, a tremen­dously pow­er­ful wiz­ard who wasn’t so re­strained, and you held him off any­way. If You-Know-Who had been su­per-smart on top of that, you’d be dead. All of you. You’d have died in­stantly—

“Harry,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said. Her voice was fal­ter­ing. “Harry, we al­most did all die. More than half the Order of the Phoenix died. If not for Albus—Albus Dum­ble­dore, the great­est wiz­ard in two cen­turies, Harry—we surely would have per­ished.”

Harry passed a hand across his fore­head. “I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I’m not try­ing to min­i­mize what you went through. I know that You-Know-Who was a com­pletely evil, in­cred­ibly pow­er­ful Dark Wizard with dozens of pow­er­ful fol­low­ers, and that’s… bad, yes, definitely bad. It’s just...” All that isn’t on re­motely the same threat scale as the en­emy be­ing smart, in which case they Trans­figure bo­tulinum toxin and sneak a mil­lionth of a gram into your teacup. Was there any safe way to con­vey that con­cept with­out cit­ing speci­fics? Harry couldn’t think of one.

“Please, Harry,” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “Please, Harry, I beg you—take the Dark Lord se­ri­ously! He is more dan­ger­ous than—” The se­nior witch seemed to be hav­ing trou­ble find­ing words. “He is far more dan­ger­ous than Trans­figu­ra­tion.”

Harry’s eye­brows went up be­fore he could stop him­self. A dark chuckle came from Severus Snape’s di­rec­tion.

Um, said the voice of Raven­claw within him. Um, hon­estly Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall is right, we’re not tak­ing this as se­ri­ously as we’d take a sci­en­tific prob­lem. The difficult thing is to re­act at all to new in­for­ma­tion, in­stead of just flush­ing it out the win­dow. Right now it looks like we didn’t shift be­lief at all af­ter en­coun­ter­ing an un­ex­pected, im­por­tant ar­gu­ment. Our dis­mis­sal of Lord Volde­mort as a se­ri­ous threat was origi­nally based on the Dark Mark be­ing blatantly stupid. It would re­quire a fo­cused effort to de-up­date and sus­pect the whole gar­den-path of rea­son­ing we went down based on that false as­sump­tion, and we’re not putting in that effort right now.

“All right,” Harry said, just as Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall seemed to be about to speak again. “All right, to take this se­ri­ously, I need to stop and think for five min­utes.”

“Please do,” said Albus Dum­ble­dore.

Harry closed his eyes.

His Raven­claw side di­vided into three.

Prob­a­bil­ity es­ti­mate, said Raven­claw One, who was act­ing as mod­er­a­tor. That the Dark Lord is al­ive, and as smart as we are, and hence a gen­uine threat.

Why aren’t all his en­e­mies already dead? said Raven­claw Two, who was pros­e­cut­ing.

Note, said Raven­claw One, we had already thought of that ar­gu­ment so we can’t use it to shift be­lief again each time we re­hearse it.

But what’s the ac­tual flaw in the logic? said Raven­claw Two. In wor­lds with a smart Lord Volde­mort, ev­ery­one in the Order of the Phoenix died in the first five min­utes of the war. The world doesn’t look like that, so we don’t live in that world. QED.

Is that re­ally cer­tain? asked Raven­claw Three, who’d been ap­pointed as the defen­der. Maybe there was some rea­son Lord Volde­mort wasn’t fight­ing all-out back then -

Like what? de­manded Raven­claw Two. Fur­ther­more, what­ever your ex­cuse, I de­mand that the prob­a­bil­ity of your hy­poth­e­sis be pe­nal­ized in ac­cor­dance with its added com­plex­ity -

Let Three talk, said Raven­claw One.

Okay… look, said Raven­claw Three. First of all, we don’t know that any­one can take over the Ministry just with mind con­trol. Maybe mag­i­cal Bri­tain is re­ally an oli­garchy and you need enough mil­i­tary power to in­timi­date the fam­ily heads into sub­mis­sion -

Im­perius them too, in­ter­jected Raven­claw Two.

- and the oli­garchs have Thief’s Down­fall in the en­trances to their homes -

Com­plex­ity penalty! cried Raven­claw Two. More epicy­cles!

- oh, be rea­son­able, said Raven­claw Three. We haven’t ac­tu­ally seen any­one tak­ing over the Ministry with a cou­ple of well-placed Im­perius curses. We don’t know that it can ac­tu­ally be done that eas­ily.

But, said Raven­claw Two, even tak­ing that into ac­count… it re­ally seems like there should’ve been some other way. Ten years of failure, re­ally? Us­ing only con­ven­tional ter­ror­ist tac­tics? That’s just… not even try­ing.

Maybe Lord Volde­mort did have more cre­ative ideas, replied Raven­claw Three, but he didn’t want to tip his hand to other coun­tries’ gov­ern­ments, didn’t want them to know how vuln­er­a­ble they were and in­stall Thief’s Down­fall in their Ministries. Not un­til he had Bri­tain as a base and enough ser­vants to sub­vert all the other ma­jor gov­ern­ments si­mul­ta­neously.

You’re as­sum­ing he wants to con­quer the whole world, noted Raven­claw Two.

Trelawney proph­e­sized that he would be our equal, in­toned Raven­claw Three solemnly. There­fore, he wanted to take over the world.

And if he is your equal, and you do have to fight him -

For an in­stant, Harry’s mind tried to imag­ine the specter of two cre­ative wiz­ards fight­ing an all-out-war against each other.

Harry had noted all the Charms and Po­tions in his first-year books that could be cre­atively used to kill peo­ple. He hadn’t been able to help him­self. Liter­ally. He’d tried to stop his brain from do­ing it each time, but it was like look­ing at a fish and try­ing to stop your brain from notic­ing it was a fish. What some­one could cre­atively do with sev­enth-year, or Auror-level, or an­cient lost magic such as Lord Volde­mort had pos­sessed… didn’t bear think­ing about. A mag­i­cally-su­per­pow­ered cre­ative-ge­nius psy­chopath wasn’t a ‘threat’, it was an ex­tinc­tion event.

Then Harry shook his head, dis­miss­ing the gloomy line his rea­son­ing had been go­ing down. The ques­tion was whether there was a sig­nifi­cant prob­a­bil­ity of fac­ing any­thing so ter­rible as a Dark Ra­tion­al­ist in the first place.

Prior odds that some­one at­tempt­ing an im­mor­tal­ity rit­ual would ac­tu­ally have it work...

Call it one to a thou­sand, at a gen­er­ous over­es­ti­mate; it was not the case that roughly one wiz­ard in a thou­sand sur­vived their death. Though, ad­mit­tedly Harry didn’t have data on how many had at­tempted im­mor­tal­ity rit­u­als first.

What if the Dark Lord is as smart as us? said Raven­claw Three. You know, the way Trelawney proph­e­sied him be­ing our equal. Then he would make his im­mor­tal­ity rit­ual work. P.S., don’t for­get that ‘de­stroy all but a rem­nant of the other’ line.

Re­quiring that level of in­tel­li­gence was an ad­di­tional bur­den­some de­tail; prior odds of a ran­dom pop­u­la­tion mem­ber be­ing that in­tel­li­gent were low...

But Lord Volde­mort wasn’t a ran­domly se­lected wiz­ard, he was one par­tic­u­lar wiz­ard in the pop­u­la­tion who’d come to ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion. The puz­zle of the Mark im­plied a cer­tain min­i­mum level of in­tel­li­gence, even if (hy­po­thet­i­cally) the Dark Lord had taken longer to think it through. Then again, in the Mug­gle world, all of the ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent peo­ple Harry knew about from his­tory had not be­come evil dic­ta­tors or ter­ror­ists. The clos­est thing to that in the Mug­gle world was hedge-fund man­agers, and none of them had tried to take over so much as a third-world coun­try, a point which put up­per bounds on both their pos­si­ble evil and pos­si­ble good­ness.

There were hy­pothe­ses where the Dark Lord was smart and the Order of the Phoenix didn’t just in­stantly die, but those hy­pothe­ses were more com­pli­cated and ought to get com­plex­ity penalties. After the com­plex­ity penalties of the fur­ther ex­cuses were fac­tored in, there would be a large like­li­hood ra­tio from the hy­pothe­ses ‘The Dark Lord is smart’ ver­sus ‘The Dark Lord was stupid’ to the ob­ser­va­tion, ‘The Dark Lord did not in­stantly win the war’. That was prob­a­bly worth a 10:1 like­li­hood ra­tio in fa­vor of the Dark Lord be­ing stupid… but maybe not 100:1. You couldn’t ac­tu­ally say that ‘The Dark Lord in­stantly wins’ had a prob­a­bil­ity of more than 99 per­cent, as­sum­ing the Dark Lord started out smart; the sum over all pos­si­ble ex­cuses would be more than .01.

And then there was the Prophecy… which might or might not have origi­nally in­cluded a line about how Lord Volde­mort would im­me­di­ately die if he con­fronted the Pot­ters. Which Albus Dum­ble­dore had then ed­ited in Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall’s mem­ory, in or­der to lure Lord Volde­mort to his doom. If there was no such line, the Prophecy did sound some­what more like You-Know-Who and the Boy-Who-Lived were des­tined to have some later con­fronta­tion. But in that case, it was less likely that Dum­ble­dore would’ve come up with a plau­si­ble-sound­ing ex­cuse not to take Harry to the Hall of Prophecy...

Harry was won­der­ing if he could even get a Bayesian calcu­la­tion out of this. Of course, the point of a sub­jec­tive Bayesian calcu­la­tion wasn’t that, af­ter you made up a bunch of num­bers, mul­ti­ply­ing them out would give you an ex­actly right an­swer. The real point was that the pro­cess of mak­ing up num­bers would force you to tally all the rele­vant facts and weigh all the rel­a­tive prob­a­bil­ities. Like re­al­iz­ing, as soon as you ac­tu­ally thought about the prob­a­bil­ity of the Dark Mark not-fad­ing if You-Know-Who was dead, that the prob­a­bil­ity wasn’t low enough for the ob­ser­va­tion to count as strong ev­i­dence. One ver­sion of the pro­cess was to tally hy­pothe­ses and list out ev­i­dence, make up all the num­bers, do the calcu­la­tion, and then throw out the fi­nal an­swer and go with your brain’s gut feel­ing af­ter you’d forced it to re­ally weigh ev­ery­thing. The trou­ble was that the items of ev­i­dence weren’t con­di­tion­ally in­de­pen­dent, and there were mul­ti­ple in­ter­act­ing back­ground facts of in­ter­est...

...well, one thing at least was cer­tain.

If the calcu­la­tion could be done at all, it was go­ing to take a piece of pa­per and a pen­cil.

In the fire­place at one side of the Head­mas­ter’s office, the flames sud­denly flared up, turn­ing from or­ange to bright billious green.

“Ah!” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall into the un­com­fortable non-silence. “That would be Mad-Eye Moody, I sup­pose.”

“Let this mat­ter bide for now,” the Head­mas­ter said in some re­lief, as he too turned to re­gard the Floo. “I be­lieve we are about to re­ceive some news re­gard­ing it, as well.”

Hy­poth­e­sis: Hermione Granger
(April 8th, 1992, 6:53pm)

Mean­while in the Great Hall of Hog­warts, as the stu­dents who didn’t have se­cret meet­ings with the Head­mas­ter bus­tled about their din­ner around four huge ta­bles -

“It’s funny,” Dean Thomas said thought­fully. “I didn’t be­lieve the Gen­eral when he said that what we learned would change us for­ever, and we’d never be able to re­turn to a nor­mal life af­ter­ward. Once we knew. Once we saw what he could see.”

“I know!” said Sea­mus Fin­ni­gan. “I thought it was just a joke too! Like, you know, ev­ery­thing else Gen­eral Chaos ever said ever.”

“But now—” Dean said sadly. “We can’t go back, can we? It’d be like go­ing back to a Mug­gle school af­ter hav­ing been to Hog­warts. We’ve just… we’ve just got to stay around each other. That’s all we can do, or we’ll go crazy.”

Sea­mus Fin­ni­gan, next to him, just nod­ded word­lessly and ate an­other bite of veld­beest.

Around them, the con­ver­sa­tion at the Gryffin­dor table con­tinued. It wasn’t as re­lentless as it’d been yes­ter­day, but now and then the topic wan­dered back.

“Well, there must’ve been some sort of love tri­an­gle,” said a sec­ond-year witch named Sa­man­tha Crowley (she never an­swered when asked if there was any re­la­tion). “The ques­tion is, which ways was it go­ing be­fore it all went wrong? Who was in love with who—and whether or not that per­son loved them back—I don’t know how many pos­si­bil­ities there are—”

“Sixty-four,” said Sarah Varya­bil, a blos­som­ing beauty who prob­a­bly should’ve been Sorted into Raven­claw or Hufflepuff in­stead. “No, wait, that’s wrong. I mean, if no­body loved Malfoy and Malfoy didn’t love any­one then he wouldn’t re­ally be part of the love tri­an­gle… this is go­ing to take Arith­mancy, could you all wait two min­utes?”

I, for one, think it perfectly clear that Granger is Pot­ter’s moirail, and that Pot­ter was aus­pis­tic­ing be­tween Malfoy and Granger.” The witch who’d spo­ken nod­ded with the self-satis­fac­tion of some­one who has just pre­cisely nailed down a com­pli­cated is­sue.

“Those aren’t even words,” ob­jected a young wiz­ard. “You’re just mak­ing them up as you go.”

“Some­times you can’t de­scribe a thing us­ing real words.”

“It’s so sad,” said Sherice Ngaserin, who ac­tu­ally had tears in her eyes. “They were just—they were just so ob­vi­ously meant to be to­gether!”

“You mean Pot­ter and Malfoy?” said a sec­ond-year named Col­leen John­son. “I know—their fam­i­lies hated each other so much, there’s no way they couldn’t fall in love—”

“No, I mean all three of them,” said Sherice.

This pro­duced a brief pause in the hud­dled con­ver­sa­tion. Dean Thomas was quietly chok­ing on his lemon­ade, try­ing not to make any sounds as it trick­led out of his mouth and soaked into his shirt.

Wow,” said a dark-haired witch by the name of Nancy Hua. “That’s re­ally… so­phis­ti­cated of you, Sherice.”

“Look, you all, we need to keep this re­al­is­tic,” said Eloise Rosen, a tall witch who’d been Gen­eral of an army and hence spoke with an air of au­thor­ity. “We know—be­cause she kissed him—that Granger was in love with Pot­ter. So the only rea­son she’d try to kill Malfoy is if she knew that she was los­ing Pot­ter to him. There’s no need to make it all sound so com­pli­cated—you’re all act­ing like this is a play in­stead of real life!”

“But even if Granger was in love, it’s still funny that she’d just snap like that,” said Chloe, whose black robes com­bined with her night-black skin to make her look like a dark­ened silhou­ette. “I don’t know… I think maybe there’s more to this than just a ro­mance novel gone wrong. I think maybe most peo­ple haven’t got any idea at all what’s go­ing on.”

Yes! Thank you!” burst out Dean Thomas. “Look—don’t you re­al­ize—like Harry Pot­ter told us all—if you didn’t pre­dict that some­thing would hap­pen, if it took you com­pletely by sur­prise, then what you be­lieved about the world when you didn’t see it com­ing, isn’t enough to ex­plain...” Dean’s voice trailed off, as he saw that no­body was listen­ing. “It’s com­pletely hope­less, isn’t it?”

“You hadn’t figured that out yet?” said Laven­der Brown, who was sit­ting across the table from her two fel­low former Chaotics. “How’d you ever make Lieu­tenant?”

“Oh, you two be quiet!” Sherice snapped at them. “It’s ob­vi­ous you both want the three of them for your­selves!”

“I mean it!” Chloe said. “What if what’s re­ally go­ing on is differ­ent from all the, you know, nor­mal things that all the or­di­nary peo­ple are talk­ing about? What if some­body—made Granger do what she did, just like Pot­ter was try­ing to tell ev­ery­one?”

“I think Chloe’s right,” said a for­eign-look­ing boy wiz­ard who always in­tro­duced him­self as ‘Adrian Turnipseed’, though his par­ents had ac­tu­ally named him Mad Drongo. “I think this whole time there’s been...” Adrian low­ered his voice om­i­nously, ”...a hid­den hand...” Adrian raised his voice again, “shap­ing all that’s hap­pened. One per­son who’s been be­hind ev­ery­thing, from the be­gin­ning. And I don’t mean Pro­fes­sor Snape, ei­ther.”

“You don’t mean—” gasped Sarah.

“Yes,” Adrian said. “The real one be­hind it all is—Tracey Davis!

“That’s what I think too,” Chloe said. “After all—” She glanced around rapidly. “Ever since that thing with the bul­lies and the ceiling—even the trees in the forests around Hog­warts look like they’re shak­ing, like they’re afraid—

Sea­mus Fin­ni­gan was frown­ing thought­fully. “I think I see where Harry gets his… you know… from,” Sea­mus said, low­er­ing his voice so that only Laven­der and Dean could hear.

“Oh, I to­tally know what you mean,” Laven­der said. She didn’t bother to lower her own voice. “It’s a won­der he didn’t crack and just start kil­ling ev­ery­one ages ago.”

“Per­son­ally,” Dean said, also in a quieter voice, “I’d say the re­ally scary part is—that could’ve been us.

“Yeah,” said Laven­der. “It’s a good thing we’re all perfectly sane now.”

Dean and Sea­mus nod­ded solemnly.

Hy­poth­e­sis: G. L.
(April 8th, 1992, 8:08pm)

The Floo-Fire of the Head­mas­ter’s office blazed a bright pale-green, the fire con­cen­trat­ing in on it­self into a spin­ning emeral­dine whirlwind, and then flared even brighter and spit a hu­man figure into the air -

There was a blur of mo­tion as the re­solv­ing figure snapped up a wand, smoothly spin­ning with the Floo’s mo­men­tum like a ballet dance step, so that his firing arc cov­ered the en­tire 360-de­gree arc of the room; and then just as abruptly, the figure stopped in place.

In the first in­stant that Harry saw that man, be­fore Harry even took in the eye, he no­ticed the scars on the hands, the scars on the face, like the man had been burned and cut over his en­tire body; though only the man’s hands and face were visi­ble, of all his flesh. The rest of the man’s body was hid­den, en­cased not in robes, but in leather that looked more like ar­mor than cloth­ing; dark gray leather, match­ing the man’s mess of grayed hair.

The next thing that Harry’s vi­sion com­pre­hended was the brilli­ant blue eye oc­cu­py­ing the right side of the man’s face.

One part of Harry’s mind re­al­ized that the per­son whom Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall had named ‘Mad-Eye Moody’ was the same as the one Dum­ble­dore had called ‘Alas­tor’, within the mem­ory Dum­ble­dore had shown Harry; an image from be­fore what­ever event had scarred ev­ery inch of the man’s body and taken a chunk out of his nose -

And an­other part of his mind no­ticed the jolt of adrenal­ine. Harry had drawn his wand in sheer re­flex when the man had spun out of the Floo like that, there’d been some­thing about it that felt like am­bush, Harry’s hand had already started to level his wand for a Som­nium be­fore he’d man­aged to stop him­self. Even now the ar­mored man was hold­ing his wand level, not pointed at any par­tic­u­lar per­son but cov­er­ing the whole room, and that wand was already in perfect line with his eyes, like a sol­dier sight­ing down a gun. There was dan­ger in the man’s stance and the set of his boots, dan­ger in the leather ar­mor he wore and dan­ger in that brilli­ant blue eye.

When the scarred man spoke, ad­dress­ing the Head­mas­ter, his voice was edged. “I sup­pose you think this room is se­cure?”

“There are only friends here,” Dum­ble­dore said.

The man’s head jerked to­ward Harry. “That in­clude him?

“If Harry Pot­ter is not our friend,” Dum­ble­dore said gravely, “then we are all cer­tainly doomed; so we may as well as­sume that he is.”

The man’s wand stayed level, not quite point­ing at Harry. “Boy al­most drew on me just then.”

“Er...” Harry said. He no­ticed that his hand was still tightly hold­ing the wand, and con­sciously re­laxed his hand and dropped it back to his side. “Sorry about that, you looked a bit… com­bat-ready.”

The scarred man’s wand moved slightly away from where it had al­most pointed at Harry, though it didn’t lower, and the man let out a short bark of laugh­ter. “Con­stant vigilance, eh, lad?” said the man.

“It’s not para­noia if they re­ally are out to get you,” Harry re­cited the proverb.

The man turned fully to­ward Harry; and in­so­far as Harry could read any ex­pres­sion on the scarred face, the man now looked in­ter­ested.

Dum­ble­dore’s eyes had re­gained some of the brilli­ant twin­kle that they’d had be­fore the Azk­a­ban break­out, a smile be­neath his silver mus­tache as though that smile had never left. “Harry, this is Alas­tor Moody, called also Mad-Eye, who will com­mand the Order of the Phoenix af­ter me—if any­thing should hap­pen to me, that is. Alas­tor, this is Harry Pot­ter. I have ev­ery hope the two of you shall get along fan­tas­ti­cally.”

“I’ve heard a good deal about you, boy,” said Mad-Eye Moody. His one dark nat­u­ral eye stayed fixed on Harry, while the point of brilli­ant blue spun fran­ti­cally, seem­ing to ro­tate all the way around within its socket. “Not all of it good. Heard they’re call­ing you the De­men­tor Spooker, in the Depart­ment.”

After some con­sid­er­a­tion, Harry de­cided to re­ply with a know­ing smile.

“How’d you pull off that one, boy?” the man said softly. Now his blue eye was fixed on Harry as well. “I had a lit­tle chat with one of the Aurors who es­corted the De­men­tor there from Azk­a­ban. Beth Martin said it came straight from the pit, and no-one gave it any spe­cial in­struc­tions along the way. Of course, she could be ly­ing.”

“There wasn’t any sneaky trick to that one,” Harry said. “I just did it the hard way. Of course, I could also be ly­ing.”

Dum­ble­dore was lean­ing back in his chair, chuck­ling in the back­ground, like he was just an­other de­vice in the Head­mas­ter’s Office and that was the sound he made.

The scarred man turned back to face the Head­mas­ter, though his wand stayed pointed low and in Harry’s gen­eral di­rec­tion. When he spoke his voice was gruff and busi­nesslike. “I have a lead on a re­cent host of Voldie’s. You’re cer­tain his shade is in Hog­warts now?”

“Not cer­tain—” Dum­ble­dore be­gan.

“Say what?” Harry in­ter­rupted. After hav­ing nearly con­cluded that the Dark Lord didn’t ex­ist, it was a shock to hear it be­ing dis­cussed that mat­ter-of-factly.

“Voldie’s host,” Moody said shortly. “The one he pos­sessed be­fore he took over Granger.”

“If the tales speak true,” Dum­ble­dore said, “there is some de­vice of power which binds Volde­mort’s shade to this world; and by that means he may bar­gain with a host for pos­ses­sion of their body, con­fer­ring on them some por­tion of his power and his pride—”

“So the ob­vi­ous ques­tion is who’s gained too much power too quickly,” Moody said abruptly. “And it turns out that there’s a fel­low who’s gone and ban­ished the Ban­don Ban­shee, staked an en­tire rogue vam­pire clan in Asia, tracked down the Wagga-Wagga Were­wolf, and ex­ter­mi­nated a pack of ghouls us­ing a tea-strainer. And he’s milk­ing it for all it’s worth; there’s been talk of the Order of Mer­lin. Seems to have turned into a charmer and a poli­ti­cian, not just a pow­er­ful wiz­ard.”

“Dear me,” mur­mured Dum­ble­dore. “Are you cer­tain that he is not rely­ing on his own skills?”

“Checked his grades,” Moody said. “Record shows Gilderoy Lock­hart re­ceived a Troll in his Defense O.W.L.S., didn’t bother with the N.E.W.T. Just the sort of sucker to take the deal Voldie was offer­ing.” The blue eye whirled crazily within its socket. “Un­less you re­mem­ber Lock­hart as a stu­dent, and think he had enough po­ten­tial to do all that by him­self?”

“No,” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. She frowned. “Not a chance, I should say.”

“I fear I must agree,” Dum­ble­dore said with an un­der­tone of pain. “Ah, Gilderoy, you poor fool...”

Moody’s grin was more like a snarl. “Three in the morn­ing work for you, Albus? Lock­hart should be at his home tonight.”

Harry listened to this with in­creas­ing alarm, won­der­ing if even the Ministry had any rules about mag­is­trates need­ing to is­sue war­rants—never mind the ille­gal vigilante or­ga­ni­za­tion Harry now seemed to have joined. “Ex­cuse me,” Harry said. “What ex­actly hap­pens at three in the morn­ing?”

There must have been some­thing in Harry’s voice that gave him away, be­cause the scarred man whirled on him. “You have a prob­lem with that, boy?”

Harry paused, try­ing to figure out how to phrase this to the stranger -

“You want to take him down your­self?” pressed the scarred man. “Get re­venge for your par­ents, eh?”

“No,” Harry said as po­litely he could. “Hon­estly—look, if we knew for cer­tain he was a will­ing host for You-Know-Who, that’s one thing, but if we’re not sure and you’re head­ing off to kill him—”

“Kill?” Mad-Eye Moody snorted. “It’s what’s locked up in his head,” Moody tapped his fore­head, “that we need from him, boy. If we’re lucky, Voldie can’t wipe the sucker’s mem­o­ries as easy as in his liv­ing days, and Lock­hart will re­mem­ber what the hor­crux looked like.”

Harry men­tally noted down the word hor­crux for fu­ture re­search, and said, “I’m just wor­ried that some­one in­no­cent—what sounds like a pretty de­cent per­son, if he did do all that him­self—might be about to get hurt.”

“Aurors hurt peo­ple,” the scarred man said shortly. “Bad peo­ple, if you’re lucky. Some days you won’t be lucky, and that’s all there is to it. Just re­mem­ber, Dark Wizards hurt a lot more peo­ple than we do.”

Harry took a deep breath. “Can you at least try not to hurt this per­son, in case he’s not—

“What is a first-year do­ing in this room, Albus?” de­manded the scarred man, now whirling to face the Head­mas­ter. “And don’t tell me it’s for what he did when he was a baby.”

“Harry Pot­ter is not an or­di­nary first-year,” the Head­mas­ter said quietly. “He has already ac­com­plished feats im­pos­si­ble enough to shock even me, Alas­tor. His is the only in­tel­lect in the Order which might some­day match that of Volde­mort him­self, as you or I never could.”

The scarred man leaned over the Head­mas­ter’s desk. “He’s a li­a­bil­ity. Naive. Doesn’t know a bloody thing about what war’s like. I want him out of here and all his mem­o­ries of the Order wiped be­fore one of Voldie’s ser­vants plucks them straight out of his mind—”

“I’m an Oc­clu­mens, ac­tu­ally.”

Mad-Eye Moody di­rected a nar­row look at the Head­mas­ter, who nod­ded.

And then the scarred man turned to face Harry, their gazes meet­ing.

The sud­den fury of the Legili­mency at­tack al­most made Harry fall off his chair, as a blade of white-hot steel cut into the imag­i­nary per­son at the fore­front of his mind. Harry hadn’t had a chance to prac­tice since Mr. Bester’s train­ing, and Harry very nearly lost his grip on the imag­i­nary per­son the back-of-his-mind was pre­tend­ing to be, as that per­son’s world turned into sear­ing lava and a fu­ri­ous probe of ques­tions. Harry al­most lost his grip on only pre­tend­ing to hal­lu­ci­nate, only pre­tend­ing to be the imag­i­nary per­son that was scream­ing in shock and pain as the Legili­mency tore apart his san­ity and re­shaped him to be­lieve that he was on fire -

Harry man­aged to break eye con­tact, drop­ping his eyes to Moody’s chin.

“You’re out of prac­tice, boy,” Moody said. Harry wasn’t look­ing at the man’s face, but his voice was deadly grim. “And I’ll warn you of this but once. Voldie isn’t like any other Legili­mens in recorded his­tory. He doesn’t need to look you in the eyes, and if your shields are that rusty he’d creep in so softly you’d never no­tice a thing.”

“Duly noted,” Harry said to the scarred chin. Harry was more shaken than he’d have ad­mit­ted; Mr. Bester hadn’t been any­where near that pow­er­ful, and had never tested Harry like that. Pre­tend­ing to be some­one hurt­ing that much had… Harry couldn’t find words for de­scribing what it felt like to con­tain an imag­i­nary per­son in that much pain, but it hadn’t been nor­mal. “Do I get any credit for be­ing an Oc­clu­mens in the first place?”

“So you’re think you’re all grown up already, eh? Look me in the eyes!”

Harry strength­ened his shields, and looked once more into the dark grey eye and the brilli­ant blue.

“Ever watched some­one die?” asked Mad-Eye Moody.

“My par­ents,” Harry said evenly. “I re­cov­ered the mem­ory in Jan­uary when I went in front of a De­men­tor to learn the Pa­tronus Charm. I re­mem­ber You-Know-Who’s voice—” A chill went through Harry’s body, his wand twitch­ing in his hand. “My main tac­ti­cal re­port is that You-Know-Who could speak the Killing Curse in less than half a sec­ond, but you prob­a­bly already knew that.”

There was a gasp from Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall’s di­rec­tion, and Severus’s face had tight­ened.

“All right,” Mad-Eye Moody said softly. A strange, thin grin twisted up the lips within the scarred face. “I’ll make you the same offer I’d make to any trainee Auror. Land one touch on me, boy—one hit, one spell—and I’ll con­cede your right to talk back to me.”

“Alas­tor!” ex­claimed Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall’s voice. “Surely that’s an un­rea­son­able test! Mr. Pot­ter, what­ever his other mer­its, does not have a hun­dred years of fight­ing ex­pe­rience!”

Harry’s eyes made a light­ning dart around the room, pass­ing over the pe­cu­liar de­vices, glanc­ing past Dum­ble­dore and Severus and the Sort­ing Hat, set­tling briefly here and there. Harry couldn’t see Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall from where he was, but that didn’t mat­ter. There was only one de­vice he’d re­ally wanted to look at, and the point of all the other glances had just been to con­ceal which one.

“All righty,” Harry said, and hopped off his chair, ig­nor­ing Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall’s in­hala­tion and the Po­tions Master’s snort of dis­be­lief. Dum­ble­dore’s eye­brows had lifted, and Moody was grin­ning like a tiger. “Be sure to wake me up in forty min­utes if he does get me.” Harry set­tled into a du­elist’s start­ing stance, his wand held low. “Let’s go, then—”

Harry opened his eyes, his head feel­ing like it had been stuffed with cot­ton wool.

Every­one else was gone from the Head­mas­ter’s office, the Floo-Fire dimmed; only Dum­ble­dore still waited be­hind the desk.

“Hello, Harry,” the Head­mas­ter said quietly.

“I didn’t even see him move,” Harry mar­vel­led, mus­cles creak­ing as he sat up.

“You were stand­ing two paces away from Alas­tor Moody,” said Dum­ble­dore, “and you took your eye off his wand.”

Harry nod­ded, as he took the Cloak of In­visi­bil­ity out of his pouch. “I mean—I was tak­ing the du­el­ing stance so that he’d think I was a stan­dard idiot and un­der­es­ti­mate me—but I have to ad­mit, that was im­pres­sive.”

“So you planned it all along, Harry?” Dum­ble­dore said.

“Of course,” Harry said. “Note how I’m do­ing this as soon as I wake up, rather than paus­ing to think of it.”

Harry drew the hood of the Cloak over his head, and glanced back up at the wall clock he’d sur­rep­ti­tiously glanced at ear­lier.

It had then shown around twenty-three min­utes af­ter eight, and now it was five min­utes af­ter nine.

Min­erva stared as the boy put him­self into the du­el­ing stance, his wand held low. For a sec­ond Min­erva won­dered if Harry might pos­si­bly—no, that was com­pletely ridicu­lous, it was Mad-Eye Moody and that was be­yond im­pos­si­ble. Of course that was what she’d thought about his par­tial Trans­figu­ra­tion, too...

“Let’s go, then,” Harry said and fell over.

Severus gave a sin­gle chuckle. “Mr. Pot­ter has his points, I must con­fess,” the Po­tions Master said. “Though I would never say it while he was awake, and if you re­peat the words I shall deny them, for the boy’s ego is quite large enough already. Mr. Pot­ter does have his points, Mad-Eye, but du­el­ling is not among them.”

Mad-Eye’s own chuckle was lower and grim­mer. “Oh, yes,” said Mad-Eye. “Only fools duel. Stand­ing like that and wait­ing for me to at­tack, what was the boy think­ing? Why, I ought to give him a scar, to re­mem­ber this oc­ca­sion—”

“Alas­tor!” barked Albus, just as she cried “Stop!”, Severus dashed for­ward, and Mad-Eye Moody de­liber­ately lev­eled his wand on Harry Pot­ter’s body.


Mad-Eye’s body seemed to al­most flicker as he spun on his wooden foot like light­ning, faster than she’d ever seen any­one move with­out magic, the red Stun­ning Hex pass­ing through the sud­denly empty air and barely miss­ing Severus to crash into the op­po­site wall, and by the time her eyes jerked back to Moody there were sev­en­teen ra­di­ant orbs in the pat­tern of a Sag­itta Mag­ica, visi­ble for only an in­stant be­fore they streaked brilli­ance and struck some­thing that fell to the floor with a thud -

“Hello again, Harry,” said Dum­ble­dore.

“I can­not be­lieve that guy’s re­ac­tion time,” Harry said, brush­ing off his Cloak as he stood up from where he’d been ly­ing in­visi­ble on the floor, un­seen by his pre­vi­ous self. “I can’t be­lieve his move­ment speed ei­ther. I’m go­ing to have to figure out some way to zap him with­out speak­ing an in­can­ta­tion that gives it away...”

- and then Mad-Eye ducked hard and fast, his hands hit­ting flat on the floor. She al­most didn’t see the two tiny white threads pass­ing through the space he’d been, but her eyes went to the blue spark when the threads im­pacted on one of the Head­mas­ter’s de­vices, and by the time she man­aged to turn her eyes back, Mad-Eye had spun smoothly up to his feet, his wand was danc­ing un­see­ably fast and there was an­other thud­ding sound -

“Hello again, Harry.”

“Par­don me, Head­mas­ter, but could you let me go down your stairs, and then come back up again, be­fore I make the fi­nal jump back­ward? This is go­ing to take longer than one hour of prepa­ra­tion—”

Min­erva gaped at Mad-Eye Moody, who hadn’t low­ered his wand in the slight­est; and Severus had a look on his face that was al­most like shock.

“Well, boy?” said Mad-Eye Moody. “What else have you got?”

Harry Pot­ter’s head ap­peared, float­ing in mi­dair as an in­visi­ble hand drew back the hood of his in­visi­bil­ity cloak.

“That eye,” said Harry Pot­ter. There was a strange fierce light in the boy’s eyes. “That isn’t any or­di­nary de­vice. It can see right through my in­visi­bil­ity cloak. You dodged my Trans­figured taser as soon as I started rais­ing it, even though I didn’t speak any in­can­ta­tions. And now that I’ve watched it again—you spot­ted all my Time-Turned selves the mo­ment you Flooed into this room, didn’t you?”

Mad-Eye Moody was smil­ing, the same teeth-bared grin she’d seen him wear as they’d faced off against Volde­mort him­self. “Spend a hun­dred years hunt­ing Dark wiz­ards, and you see ev­ery­thing,” said Moody. “I once ar­rested a young Ja­panese who tried a similar trick. He found out the hard way that his shadow replica tech­nique was no match for this eye of mine.”

“You see in all di­rec­tions,” Harry Pot­ter said, that strange fierce light still in his gaze. “No mat­ter where that eye is point­ing, it sees ev­ery­thing around you.”

Moody’s tiger-grin grew wider. “There’s no more of you in this room, now,” Mad-Eye said. “Think that’s be­cause you’ll give up af­ter this time, or be­cause you’ll win? Any bets, boy?”

“It’s my fi­nal at­tempt be­cause I de­cided to stake my last three hours on one shot,” said Harry Pot­ter. “As for whether I win—”

There was a blur filling the whole air of the Head­mas­ter’s office. Mad-Eye Moody leapt to one side with blind­ing speed and an in­stant later Harry’s head darted back­ward as he cried “Stu­porfy!

Three shim­mers in the air went past Harry’s mov­ing head, just as a red bolt erupted from Harry’s lo­ca­tion, shoot­ing past Moody as he dodged in yet an­other di­rec­tion -

If she’d blinked, she would have missed it, the red bolt mak­ing an an­gled turn in mi­dair and slam­ming into Moody’s ear.

Moody fell.

Harry Pot­ter’s float­ing head dropped to the height of a first-year on their hands and knees, then dropped fur­ther to the ground, his face show­ing sud­den ex­haus­tion.

Min­erva McGon­a­gall said, “What in Mer­lin’s name just—”

“So you went to Flitwick, then,” Moody said. The re­tired Auror was now sit­ting in a chair, drink­ing long draughts from a restora­tive in a bot­tle he’d taken off his belt.

Harry Pot­ter nod­ded, now sit­ting in his own chair in­stead of perched on an arm­rest. “I tried the Defense Pro­fes­sor first, but—” The boy gri­maced. “He… wasn’t available. Well, I’d de­cided it was worth risk­ing five House points, and if you say a risk is worth it, you can’t com­plain when you have to pay up. Any­way, I figured that if you had an eye that saw things other peo­ple couldn’t see, then as Isaac Asi­mov pointed out in Se­cond Foun­da­tion, the weapon to use is a brilli­ant light. Read enough sci­ence fic­tion, you know, and you’ll read ev­ery­thing at least once. Any­way, I told Pro­fes­sor Flitwick that I needed a Charm that would make a huge num­ber of shapes, bright and flick­er­ing and filling the whole office, but in­visi­ble, so only your eye could see them. I had no idea what it would even mean to cast an illu­sion and then make it in­visi­ble, but I figured if I didn’t men­tion that out loud, Pro­fes­sor Flitwick would just do it any­way, and he did. Turns out there was no spell like that I could cast my­self, but Flitwick Charmed me a one-time de­vice for it—though I had to per­suade him that it wasn’t cheat­ing, since noth­ing could pos­si­bly be cheat­ing against an Auror who’d lived long enough to re­tire. And then I still didn’t see how I could hit you, when you were mov­ing that fast. So I asked about tar­geted spells, and that was when Flitwick showed me that hex I cast at the end, the Sw­erv­ing Stun­ner. It’s one of Pro­fes­sor Flitwick’s own in­ven­tions—he’s a cham­pion du­el­list as well as a Charms Master—”

“I know that, son.”

“Sorry. Any­way, the Pro­fes­sor says he left the du­el­ling cir­cuit be­fore he got a chance to use that spell, since it only works as a finish­ing move on an un­shielded op­po­nent. The hex gets as close to the tar­get as pos­si­ble along its origi­nal tra­jec­tory, and then once it de­tects that the tar­get is get­ting more dis­tant again, the hex turns in mi­dair and heads straight for the tar­get. It can only swerve once—but the in­can­ta­tion sounds very close to ‘Stu­pefy’ and the hex is the same red color, so if the en­emy thinks it’s a reg­u­lar Stun­ning Hex and tries a nor­mal dodge, that mi­dair re­tar­get­ing will finish them off. Oh, and the Pro­fes­sor re­quested that none of us talk about his spe­cial move, just in case he does get a chance to use it dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion some­day.”

“But—” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. She glanced at Mad-Eye Moody, who was nod­ding his ap­proval, and at Severus, who was keep­ing his face de­cid­edly blank. “Mr. Pot­ter, you just stunned Mad-Eye Moody! The most fa­mous Dark wiz­ard hunter in the his­tory of the Auror Office! That should’ve been im­pos­si­ble!”

Moody let out a dark chuckle. “What’s your an­swer to that one, kid? I’m cu­ri­ous.”

“Well...” Harry said. “First of all, Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, nei­ther of us were fight­ing se­ri­ously.”

“Nei­ther of you?”

“Of course,” Harry said. “In a se­ri­ous fight, Mr. Moody would’ve dropped all my copies im­me­di­ately with­out wait­ing for them to at­tack. And on my side, if it was ac­tu­ally nec­es­sary to take down the most fa­mous Auror in the his­tory of the office, I’d get Head­mas­ter Dum­ble­dore to do it for me. And be­yond that… since that wasn’t a real fight...” Harry paused. “How can I put this? Wizards are used to du­els where peo­ple fight back and forth with spells for a while. But if two Mug­gles with guns stand in a small room and fire bul­lets at each other… then who­ever hits first, wins. And if one of them is de­liber­ately miss­ing his shots, giv­ing the other per­son one chance af­ter an­other—like Mr. Moody gave me one chance af­ter an­other—well, you’d have to be pretty pa­thetic to lose.”

“Oh, not that pa­thetic,” Moody said with a slightly threat­en­ing grin.

Harry didn’t seem to no­tice. “You might say that Mr. Moody was test­ing me to see if I would try to fight him, or try to win. That is, whether I’d carry out the role of some­body fight­ing—use stan­dard spells I already knew, even though I didn’t ex­pect the con­se­quences of that ac­tion to be vic­tory—or if I’d search through un­usual plans un­til I found some­thing that could win. Like the differ­ence be­tween a stu­dent who sits in class be­cause that’s what stu­dents do, ver­sus a stu­dent who cares enough to ask them­selves what it takes to ac­tu­ally learn a piece of ma­te­rial, and prac­tices how­ever nec­es­sary—you see, Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall? When you look at it that way—re­al­ize that Mr. Moody was giv­ing me chances, and that I shouldn’t at­tack in the first place un­less I think I can win—then I don’t come out look­ing so well, since it ac­tu­ally took me three tries to get him. Plus, like I said, in a real fight Mr. Moody could’ve turned him­self in­visi­ble, or put up shields—”

“Don’t go rely­ing too much on shields, boy,” Mad-Eye said. The leather-clad Auror took an­other sip from his restora­tive flask. “What you learn in your first year at the academy doesn’t stay true for­ever, not against the strongest Dark Wizards. Every shield ever made, there’s some curse that goes straight through it, if you’re not quick enough to cast the counter. And there’s one curse that goes through ev­ery­thing, and it’s a curse any Death Eater will use.”

Harry Pot­ter nod­ded gravely. “Right, some spells are im­pos­si­ble to block. I’ll re­mem­ber that, in case any­one casts the Killing Curse at me. Again.”

“That kind of clev­er­ness gets peo­ple kil­led, boy, and don’t you for­get it.”

A sad-sound­ing sigh from the Boy-Who-Lived. “I know. Sorry.”

“So, son. You had some­thing to say about when Albus and I go af­ter Lock­hart?”

Harry opened his mouth, then paused. “I won’t tell you how to run a war,” the Boy-Who-Lived said even­tu­ally. “I don’t have any ex­pe­rience at that. All I know is that there are con­se­quences. Please be ad­vised that my own as­sess­ment is that Lock­hart is prob­a­bly in­no­cent, so if you can avoid hurt­ing him with­out too much risk—” The boy shrugged. “I don’t know the cost. Just please, if you can, be care­ful not to hurt him if he’s in­no­cent.”

“If I can,” said Moody.

“And—you’re aiming to look through his mind for ev­i­dence about the Dark Lord, aren’t you? I don’t know what the rules are in mag­i­cal Bri­tain about ad­mis­si­ble ev­i­dence—but ev­ery­one’s always guilty of break­ing some law or an­other, there’s just too many laws. So if it’s not about the Dark Lord, don’t turn him in to the Ministry, just Oblivi­ate him and go, okay?”

Moody frowned. “Son, no­body gains power that fast with­out be­ing up to some­thing.

“Then leave it for the or­di­nary Aurors, if and when they find ev­i­dence the or­di­nary way. Please, Mr. Moody. Call it a quirk of my Mug­gle up­bring­ing, but if it’s not about the war I don’t want us to be the evil po­lice who break into peo­ple’s houses in the mid­dle of the night, rum­mage through their minds and send them off to Azk­a­ban.”

“I don’t see the sense of it, son, but I sup­pose I could do you the fa­vor.”

“Is there aught else, Alas­tor?” in­quired Albus.

“Yes,” said Moody. “About that Defense Pro­fes­sor of yours—”

Hy­poth­e­sis: Gilderoy Lock­hart: END

Hy­poth­e­sis: Dum­ble­dore
(April 9th, 1992, 5:32pm)

As Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell slowly raised up his tea, the teacup jerked in mi­dair, send­ing the dark translu­cent liquid just barely slop­ping over the side, so that only three sin­gle drops crawled down the side of the teacup. Harry would have missed it, if he hadn’t hap­pened to be watch­ing closely; for Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’s hand was perfectly steady on the cup be­fore and af­ter.

If that small jerky mo­tion ad­vanced to a con­stant tremor, it would be the end of any non-wand­less magic for the Defense Pro­fes­sor. Wand­work had no room for trem­bling fingers. How much that would ac­tu­ally hand­i­cap Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, if at all, Harry couldn’t guess. The Defense Pro­fes­sor was cer­tainly ca­pa­ble of wand­less magic, yet still tended to use a wand for larger things—but for him that might only be a con­ve­nience...

“In­san­ity,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, as he care­fully sipped from his tea—he was look­ing at the teacup, not at Harry, which was un­usual for him—“can be a sig­na­ture all its own.”

The Defense Pro­fes­sor’s small office was silent, the sound-warded room quiet in a way the Head­mas­ter’s office never could be. Some­times the two of them both hap­pened to finish ex­hal­ing or in­hal­ing at the same time; and then there was an au­di­tory empti­ness that was al­most a sound in it­self.

“I’ll agree with that in one sense,” Harry said. “If some­body tells me that ev­ery­one is star­ing at them and that their un­der­wear is be­ing dusted with thought-con­trol­ling pow­der, I know they’re psy­chotic, be­cause that’s the stan­dard sig­na­ture of psy­chosis. But if you tell me that any­thing con­fus­ing points to Albus Dum­ble­dore as a sus­pect, that seems… over­reach­ing. Just be­cause I can’t see a pur­pose doesn’t mean there is no pur­pose.”

“Pur­pose­less?” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. “Oh, but the mad­ness of Dum­ble­dore is not that he is pur­pose­less, but that he has too many pur­poses. The Head­mas­ter might have planned this to make Lu­cius Malfoy throw away his game for vengeance on you—or it might be a dozen other plots. Who knows what the Head­mas­ter thinks he has rea­son to do, when he has found rea­son to do so many strange things already?”

Harry had po­litely de­clined tea, even know­ing that Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell would know what it meant. He’d con­sid­ered bring­ing his own can of soda—but had de­cided against that as well, af­ter re­al­iz­ing how easy it would be for the Defense Pro­fes­sor to tele­port in a bit of po­tion, even if the two of them couldn’t touch each other with di­rect magic.

“I have seen a lit­tle now of Dum­ble­dore,” Harry said. “Un­less ev­ery­thing I have seen is a lie, I find it difficult to be­lieve that he would plot to send any Hog­warts stu­dent to Azk­a­ban. Ever.”

“Ah,” the Defense Pro­fes­sor said softly, the tiny re­flec­tion of the teacup gleam­ing in his pale eyes. “But per­haps that is an­other sig­na­ture, Mr. Pot­ter. You have not yet com­pre­hended the per­spec­tive of a man like Dum­ble­dore. If he must, in some suffi­ciently no­ble cause, sac­ri­fice a stu­dent—why, who would he choose, but she who de­clared her­self a hero­ine?”

That gave Harry some pause. It might just be hind­sight bias, but that did seem to con­cen­trate some of that hy­pothe­ses’s prob­a­bil­ity mass onto fram­ing Hermione in par­tic­u­lar. Similarly, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had pre­dicted in ad­vance that Dum­ble­dore might tar­get Draco...

But if it’s you be­hind all of this, Pro­fes­sor, you might have shaped your plans to frame the Head­mas­ter, and taken care to cast sus­pi­cion on him in ad­vance.

The con­cept of ‘ev­i­dence’ had some­thing of a differ­ent mean­ing, when you were deal­ing with some­one who had de­clared them­selves to play the game at ‘one level higher than you’.

“I see your point, Pro­fes­sor,” Harry said evenly, giv­ing no hint of his other thoughts. “So you think it most prob­a­ble that it was the Head­mas­ter who framed Hermione?”

“Not nec­es­sar­ily, Mr. Pot­ter.” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell drained his teacup in one swal­low and then set it down, the cup mak­ing a sharp rap as it de­scended. “There is also Severus Snape—though what he might think to gain from this, I could not guess. Thus he is not my prime sus­pect ei­ther.”

“Then who is?” Harry said, some­what puz­zled. Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell surely wasn’t about to re­ply ‘You-Know-Who’ -

“The Aurors have a rule,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. “In­ves­ti­gate the vic­tim. Many would-be crim­i­nals imag­ine that if they are the ap­par­ent vic­tims of a crime, they shall not be sus­pected. So many crim­i­nals imag­ine it, in­deed, that ev­ery se­nior Auror has seen it a dozen times over.”

“You’re not se­ri­ously try­ing to con­vince me that Hermione—”

The Defense Pro­fes­sor was giv­ing Harry one of those slit-eyed looks that meant he was be­ing stupid.

Draco? Draco had been in­ter­ro­gated un­der Ver­i­taserum—but Lu­cius might have had enough con­trol to sub­vert Aurors to… oh.

“You think Lu­cius Malfoy set up his own son?” Harry said.

“Why not?” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said softly. “From Mr. Malfoy’s recorded tes­ti­mony, Mr. Pot­ter, I gather that you en­joyed some suc­cess in chang­ing Mr. Malfoy’s poli­ti­cal views. If Lu­cius Malfoy learned of that ear­lier… he might have de­cided that his former heir had be­come a li­a­bil­ity.”

“I don’t buy it,” Harry said flatly.

“You are be­ing wan­tonly naive, Mr. Pot­ter. The his­tory books are full of fam­ily dis­putes turned mur­der­ous, for in­con­ve­niences and threats far less than those which Mr. Malfoy posed to his father. I sup­pose next you will tell me that Lord Malfoy of the Death Eaters is far too gen­tle to wish his son such harm.” A tinge of heavy sar­casm.

“Well, yes, frankly,” Harry said. “Love is real, Pro­fes­sor, a phe­nomenon with ob­serv­able effects. Brains are real, emo­tions are real, and love is as much a part of the real world as ap­ples and trees. If you made ex­per­i­men­tal pre­dic­tions with­out tak­ing parental love into ac­count, you’d have a heck of a time ex­plain­ing why my own par­ents didn’t aban­don me at an or­phan­age af­ter the In­ci­dent with the Science Pro­ject.”

The Defense Pro­fes­sor did not re­act to this at all.

Harry con­tinued. “From what Draco says, Lu­cius pri­ori­tized him over im­por­tant Wizeng­amot votes. That’s sig­nifi­cant ev­i­dence, since there’s less ex­pen­sive ways to fake love, if you just want to fake it. And it’s not like the prior prob­a­bil­ity of a par­ent lov­ing their child is low. I sup­pose it’s pos­si­ble that Lu­cius was just tak­ing on the role of a lov­ing father, and he re­nounced that role af­ter he learned Draco was con­sort­ing with Mug­gle­borns. But as the say­ing goes, Pro­fes­sor, one must dis­t­in­guish pos­si­bil­ity from prob­a­bil­ity.”

“All the bet­ter the crime,” the Defense Pro­fes­sor said, still in that soft tone, “if no one would be­lieve it of him.”

“And how would Lu­cius even Me­mory-Charm Hermione in the first place, with­out set­ting off the wards? He’s not a Pro­fes­sor—oh, right, you think it’s Pro­fes­sor Snape.”

“Wrong,” said the Defense Pro­fes­sor. “Lu­cius Malfoy would trust no ser­vant with that mis­sion. But sup­pose some Hog­warts Pro­fes­sor, in­tel­li­gent enough to cast a well-formed Me­mory Charm but of no great fight­ing abil­ity, is vis­it­ing Hogsmeade. From a dark alley the black-clad form of Malfoy steps forth—he would go in per­son, for this—and speaks to her a sin­gle word.”


Legili­mens, rather,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. “I do not know if the Hog­warts wards would trig­ger for a re­turn­ing Pro­fes­sor un­der the Im­perius Curse. And if I do not know, Malfoy prob­a­bly does not know ei­ther. But Malfoy is a perfect Oc­clu­mens at least; he might be able to use Legili­mency. And for the tar­get...per­haps Aurora Sinis­tra; none would ques­tion the Astron­omy Pro­fes­sor mov­ing about at night.”

“Or even more ob­vi­ously, Pro­fes­sor Sprout,” said Harry. “Since she’s the last per­son any­one would sus­pect.”

The Defense Pro­fes­sor hes­i­tated minutely. “Per­haps.”

“Ac­tu­ally,” Harry said then, putting a thought­ful frown on his face, “I don’t sup­pose you know off­hand if any of the cur­rent Pro­fes­sors at Hog­warts were around back when Mr. Ha­grid got framed in 1943?”

“Dum­ble­dore taught Trans­figu­ra­tion, Ket­tle­burn taught Mag­i­cal Crea­tures, and Vec­tor taught Arith­mancy,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said at once. “And I be­lieve that Bathsheda Bab­bling, now of An­cient Runes, was then a Raven­claw prefect. But Mr. Pot­ter, there is no rea­son to sup­pose that any­one be­sides You-Know-Who was in­volved in that af­fair.”

Harry shrugged art­fully. “Seemed worth ask­ing the ques­tion, just to check. Any­way, Pro­fes­sor, I agree it’s pos­si­ble that some out­sider Legilimized a mem­ber of Hog­warts staff—and then Oblivi­ated them af­ter­ward, there’s no way any­one would for­get that part. But I don’t think Lu­cius Malfoy is a prob­a­ble can­di­date for the mas­ter­mind. It’s pos­si­ble but not prob­a­ble that all of Lu­cius’s ap­par­ent love for Draco was just a sense of duty, and that it all went up in a puff of smoke. It’s pos­si­ble though not prob­a­ble that ev­ery­thing Lu­cius did in front of the Wizeng­amot was just an act. Peo­ple’s out­sides do not always re­sem­ble their in­sides, like you said. But there’s one piece of ev­i­dence that doesn’t fit at all.”

“And that would be?” said the Defense Pro­fes­sor, his eyes half-lidded.

“Lu­cius tried to re­ject a hun­dred thou­sand Galleons for Hermione’s life. I saw how sur­prised the Wizeng­amot was, when Lu­cius said he was re­fus­ing it de­spite the rules of honor. The Wizeng­amot didn’t ex­pect that of him. Why wouldn’t he just take the money while act­ing all in­dig­nant and pre­tend­ing to grit his teeth? He wouldn’t ac­tu­ally care that much about throw­ing Hermione into Azk­a­ban.”

There was a pause. “Per­haps the role he was play­ing ran away with him,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. “It does hap­pen, Mr. Pot­ter, in the heat of the mo­ment.”

“Per­haps,” Harry said. “But it’s still one more im­prob­a­bil­ity to be pos­tu­lated—and by the time you have to add up that many ex­cuses in a the­ory, it can’t be at the top of the list any­more. Any­thing else in par­tic­u­lar you think I ought to think about, within the range of all other pos­si­bil­ities?”

There was a long silence. The Defense Pro­fes­sor’s eyes dropped down to look at the empty teacup be­fore them, seem­ing un­usu­ally dis­tant.

“I sup­pose I can think of one fi­nal sus­pect,” the Defense Pro­fes­sor said at last.

Harry nod­ded.

The Defense Pro­fes­sor didn’t seem to no­tice, but only spoke on. “Has the Head­mas­ter has told you any­thing—even a hint—about Pro­fes­sor Trelawney’s prophecy?”

Huh?” Harry said au­to­mat­i­cally, con­vert­ing his own sud­den shock into the best dis­sem­bling he could man­age. It prob­a­bly was at the wrong level to fool Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell but Harry cer­tainly couldn’t take time to think be­fore re­ply­ing—wait, but how on Earth would Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell know about that—“Pro­fes­sor Trelawney made a prophecy?”

“You were there to hear its be­gin­ning,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said, frown­ing. “You called out to the en­tire school that the prophecy could not be about you, since you were not com­ing here, you were already here.”


And that was as far as Pro­fes­sor Trelawney had got­ten be­fore Dum­ble­dore had grabbed her and van­ished.

“Oh, that prophecy,” Harry said. “Sorry! It went clear out of my mind.”

Harry thought he’d put too much force into the end state­ment, and was 80%-ex­pect­ing Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell to say, Aha, now Mr. Pot­ter, what is this mys­te­ri­ous other prophecy you went to such lengths to deny -

“That is fool­ish,” the Defense Pro­fes­sor said sharply, “if in­deed you are tel­ling me the truth. Prophe­cies are not triv­ial things. I have racked my brain much over the lit­tle that I heard, but such a small frag­ment is sim­ply too lit­tle.”

“You think the one who’s com­ing is the one who might’ve framed Hermione?” said Harry. As his mind al­lo­cated yet an­other hy­poth­e­sis, un­cer­tain pred­i­cate refer­ent, he-who-is-com­ing.

“With no offense meant to Miss Granger,” the Defense Pro­fes­sor said with an­other frown, “her life or death does not seem that im­por­tant. But some­one was to come—one who, in your in­ter­pre­ta­tion, was not already there—and some­one so sig­nifi­cant, and un­known as a player… who knows what else they may have done?”

Harry nod­ded, and men­tally sighed be­cause he was go­ing to have to redo his Lord-Volde­mort odds calcu­la­tion with yet an­other piece of ev­i­dence in the mix.

Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell spoke with eyes half-lidded, look­ing out like through slits. “More than the ques­tion of whom the prophecy spoke—who was meant to hear it? It is said that fates are spo­ken to those with the power to cause them or avert them. Dum­ble­dore. My­self. You. As a dis­tant fourth, Severus Snape. But of those four, Dum­ble­dore and Snape would of­ten be in Trelawney’s pres­ence. You and I are the ones who would not have spent much time around her be­fore that Sun­day. I think it quite likely that the prophecy was meant for one of us—be­fore Dum­ble­dore took the prophet­ess away. Did the Head­mas­ter say noth­ing more to you?” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’s voice was de­mand­ing now. “I thought I heard too much force in that de­nial, Mr. Pot­ter.”

“Hon­estly, no,” Harry said. “It had hon­estly slipped clear out of my mind.”

“Then I am rather put out with him,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said softly. “In fact, I think that I am an­gry.”

Harry said noth­ing. He didn’t even sweat. It might’ve been a poor rea­son for con­fi­dence, but on this par­tic­u­lar score, Harry did hap­pen to be in­no­cent.

Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell nod­ded once, sharply, as though in ac­knowl­edg­ment. “If there is noth­ing more to say be­tween us, Mr. Pot­ter, you may go.”

“I can think of one other sus­pect,” Harry said. “Some­one you didn’t put on your list at all. Would you an­a­lyze him to me, Pro­fes­sor?”

There was an­other of those mo­ments of silence that was al­most a sound in it­self.

“As for that sus­pect,” the Defense Pro­fes­sor said softly, “I think you shall pros­e­cute him on your own, Mr. Pot­ter, with­out help from me. I have heard such re­quests be­fore, and ex­pe­rience leads me to re­fuse. Either I will do too good a job of pros­e­cut­ing my­self, and con­vince you that I am guilty—or else you will de­cide that my pros­e­cu­tion was too half-hearted, and that I am guilty. I will re­mark only this in my defense—that I would have needed a very good rea­son in­deed to jeop­ar­dize your frag­ile al­li­ance with the heir to House Malfoy.”

Hy­poth­e­sis: The Defense Pro­fes­sor
(April 8th, 1992, 8:37pm)

″ I fear I must take my leave,” Dum­ble­dore was say­ing gravely. “I promised Quirinus… that is to say, I promised the Defense Pro­fes­sor… that I would not make any at­tempt to un­cover his true iden­tity, in my own per­son or any other.”

“And why’d you make a fool promise like that, then?” snapped Mad-Eye Moody.

“It was an un­alter­able con­di­tion of his em­ploy­ment, or so he said.” Dum­ble­dore glanced at Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, a wry smile briefly flit­ting over his face. “And Min­erva made it clear to me that Hog­warts re­quired a com­pe­tent Defense Pro­fes­sor this year, even if I had to haul Grindelwald out of Nur­men­gard and pre­vail on old af­fec­tions to per­suade him to take the po­si­tion.”

“I did not quite phrase it in that fash­ion—”

“Your ex­pres­sion said it for you, my dear.”

And so soon the four of them—Harry, Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, the Po­tions Master, and Alas­tor Moody aka ‘Mad-Eye’ - were en­sconced all by them­selves in the Head­mas­ter’s office.

It was strange how the Head­mas­ter’s office seemed… un­bal­anced… with­out the Head­mas­ter in it. If you didn’t have the an­cient wiz­ened mas­ter to make it all seem solemn, you were just four peo­ple try­ing to have a se­ri­ous meet­ing while sur­rounded by bizarre, noisy gid­gets. Clearly visi­ble from where Harry had perched him­self on his chair’s arm was a trun­cated-con­i­cal ob­ject, like a cone with its top snipped off, slowly spin­ning around a pul­sat­ing cen­tral light which it shaded but did not ob­scure; and each time the in­ner light pul­sated, the as­sem­bly made a vroop-vroop-vroop sound that sounded oddly dis­tant, muffled like it was com­ing from be­hind four solid walls, even though the spin­ning-con­i­cal-sec­tion thingy was only a me­ter or two away.

Vroop… vroop… vroop...

And then there were the var­i­ous still-breath­ing bod­ies of Harry Pot­ter he’d stashed in one quiet cor­ner, clean­ing up a mess that was his own in more ways than one. (Only one body wasn’t in­side a copy of the In­visi­bil­ity Cloak; but then it merely took a small effort of con­cen­tra­tion for Harry to per­ceive his other selves be­neath the Cloak of which he was mas­ter—an effort which Harry had care­fully not put forth ear­lier, to avoid get­ting ad­vance tem­po­ral in­for­ma­tion he wanted to de­ter­mine by his own de­ci­sion.) The sad thing was that by this point, hav­ing his own body visi­bly ly­ing in a cor­ner didn’t seem all that crazy. It was just… Hog­warts.

“All right, then,” Moody said, look­ing rather sour about it. From within his leather ar­mor, the scarred man took out a black folder. “This is a copy of what Amelia’s peo­ple put to­gether. She al­most cer­tainly knows we’ve got it, but it’s all off the books, that clear? Any­way—”

And Moody told them who the Depart­ment of Mag­i­cal Law En­force­ment thought ‘Quirinus Quir­rell’ re­ally was. A seem­ingly or­di­nary Hog­warts stu­dent (though tal­ented enough that he’d been only nar­rowly beaten out for the Head Boy po­si­tion) who’d gone va­ca­tion­ing in Alba­nia af­ter his grad­u­a­tion, dis­ap­peared, re­turned af­ter 25 years, and then been caught up in the Wizard­ing War -

“It was mur­der­ing the House of Mon­roe that made Voldie’s name,” Moody said. “Un­til then, he was just an­other Dark Wizard with delu­sions of grandeur and Bel­la­trix Black. But af­ter that—” Moody snorted. “Every fool in the coun­try flocked to serve him. You would’ve hoped the Wizeng­amot would turn se­ri­ous, once they re­al­ized Voldie was will­ing to kill their own sa­cred selves. And that’s just what the bas­tards did—hope that some other bas­tard would turn se­ri­ous. None of the cow­ards wanted to step in front. It was Mon­roe, Crouch, Bones, and Long­bot­tom. That was nearly ev­ery­one in the Ministry who’d dare say a word that might give Voldie offense.”

“That was how your House came to be en­no­bled, Mr. Pot­ter,” in­jected the solemn voice of Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “There is an an­cient law that if any­one ends a Most An­cient House, who­ever avenges that blood will be made Noble. To be sure, the House of Pot­ter was already older than some lines called An­cient. But yours was ti­tled a Noble House of Bri­tain af­ter the end of the war, in recog­ni­tion that you had avenged the Most An­cient House of Mon­roe.”

“Flush of grat­i­tude and all that,” Mad-Eye Moody said sourly. “It didn’t last, but at least James and Lily got a fancy ti­tle and a use­less medal to take to their graves. But that’s leav­ing out eight years of com­plete hor­ror af­ter Mon­roe dis­ap­peared and Reg­u­lus Black—he was Mon­roe’s pri­vate source in the Death Eaters, we’re pretty sure—was ex­e­cuted by Voldie. Like a dam break­ing and gore flood­ing out, drown­ing the whole coun­try. Albus bloody Dum­ble­dore him­self had to step into Mon­roe’s shoes, and that was barely enough for us to sur­vive.”

Harry listened with an odd sense of un­re­al­ity. Some of it felt right, matched up with ob­ser­va­tion—es­pe­cially with the speech Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had made be­fore Christ­mas—and yet...

This was Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell they were talk­ing about.

“So that’s who the Depart­ment thinks is your Defense Pro­fes­sor,” Mad-Eye Moody finished up his ac­count. “Now what do you think, son?”

“Well...” Harry said slowly. It is also pos­si­ble to have a mask be­hind the mask. “The ob­vi­ous next thought is that this ‘David Mon­roe’ per­son died in the war af­ter all, and this is just some­one else pre­tend­ing to be David Mon­roe pre­tend­ing to be Quirinus Quir­rell.”

“That’s ob­vi­ous?” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “Dear Mer­lin...”

“Really, boy?” said Mad-Eye Moody, his blue eye spin­ning rapidly. “I’d say that’s a lit­tle… para­noid.

You don’t know Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, Harry did not say. “It’s an easy the­ory to test,” Harry said out loud. “Just check whether the Defense Pro­fes­sor re­mem­bers some­thing about the war that the real David Mon­roe would’ve known. Though I sup­pose, if he’s play­ing the part of David Mon­roe pre­tend­ing to be some­one else, he has a good ex­cuse to pre­tend he’s pre­tend­ing he doesn’t know what you’re talk­ing about—”

“A lit­tle para­noid,” said the scarred man, his voice ris­ing. “Not para­noid enough! CONSTANT VIGILANCE! Think about it, lad—what if the real David Mon­roe never came back from Alba­nia?”

There was a pause.

“I see...” Harry said.

“Of course you do,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said. “Don’t mind me, please. I’ll just sit here quietly go­ing mad.”

“In this line of work, if you sur­vive, you learn that there’s three kinds of Dark Wizards,” Moody said grimly; his wand wasn’t pointed at any­one, it was an­gled slightly down­ward, but it was in his hand. It had never left his hand since the mo­ment he’d en­tered the room. “There’s Dark Wizards that have one name. There’s Dark Wizards that have two names. And there’s Dark Wizards that change names like you and I change clothes. I saw ‘Mon­roe’ go through three Death Eaters like he was snap­ping twigs. There’s not many wiz­ards that good at age forty-five. Dum­ble­dore, maybe, but not many oth­ers.”

“Per­haps that is true,” said the Po­tions Master from where he was lurk­ing. “But what of it, Mad-Eye? What­ever his iden­tity, Mon­roe was surely the Dark Lord’s en­emy. I’ve heard Death Eaters curse his name even af­ter they thought him dead. They feared him well.”

“So far as Defense Pro­fes­sors are con­cerned,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said primly, “I shall take it and be grate­ful.”

Moody swung around to glare at her. “Just where the devil was ‘Mon­roe’ all those years he was gone, eh? Maybe he thought he could make a name for him­self in Bri­tain by op­pos­ing Voldie, and van­ished away when he found out he was wrong. Then why’d he come back now, hah? What’s his new plan?”

“He, ah...” Harry ven­tured ten­ta­tively. “He says he always wanted to be a great Defense Pro­fes­sor be­cause all the best fight­ing wiz­ards have taught at Hog­warts. And he kind of is be­ing an in­cred­ibly good Defense Pro­fes­sor, ac­tu­ally… I mean, if he just wanted to keep up a dis­guise, he could get away with much slop­pier work...”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall was nod­ding firmly.

“Naive,” Moody said flatly. “I sup­pose you all haven’t won­dered if your Defense Pro­fes­sor set up the whole House of Mon­roe to be wiped out?”

What?” cried Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall.

“Our mys­tery wiz­ard hears about a miss­ing kid from a Most An­cient House of Bri­tain,” Moody said. “Steps into the shoes of ‘David Mon­roe’, but stays away from the real Mon­roe fam­ily. But even­tu­ally the House is bound to no­tice some­thing wrong. So this im­poster some­how prods Voldie into wiping them all out—maybe leaked a pass­word they’d given him for their wards—and then he was a Lord of the Wizeng­amot!”

There seemed to be a fight go­ing on in­side Harry’s mind be­tween Hufflepuff One, who’d never trusted the Defense Pro­fes­sor in the first place; and Hufflepuff Two, who was far too loyal to Harry’s friend, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, to be­lieve some­thing like that just be­cause Moody said so.

It is kind of ob­vi­ous, though, ob­served his Slytherin part. I mean, do you ac­tu­ally be­lieve that un­der nat­u­ral cir­cum­stances, any­one would end up as the last heir to a Most An­cient House AND Lord Volde­mort kil­led his fam­ily AND he has to avenge his mar­tial arts sen­sei? If any­thing I’d say he went too far over the top in set­ting up his new iden­tity as the ideal liter­ary hero. That sort of thing doesn’t hap­pen in real life.

This from an or­phan who was raised un­aware of his her­i­tage, com­mented Harry’s In­ner Critic. With a prophecy about him. You know, I don’t think we’ve ever read a story about two equally des­tined heroes com­pet­ing to see who’s cliched enough to take down the villain -

Yes, replied the cen­tral Harry over the dis­tant vroop-ing noise in the back­ground, it’s a very sad life we lead and YOU’RE NOT HELPING.

There’s only one thing to do at this point, said Raven­claw. And we all know what it is, so why ar­gue?

But, Harry replied, how do we test ex­per­i­men­tally whether or not Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell is the origi­nal David Mon­roe? I mean, what sort of ob­serv­able be­haves differ­ently, de­pend­ing on whether he’s the real David Mon­roe or an im­pos­tor?

“What do you want me to do about it, Mad-Eye?” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall was de­mand­ing. “I can’t—”

“You can,” the scarred man said, glar­ing at her fiercely. “Just fire the bloody Defense Pro­fes­sor.”

“You say that ev­ery year,” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall.

“Yes, and I’m always right!”

“Con­stant vigilance or no, Alas­tor, the stu­dents must be taught!”

Moody snorted. “Pfah! I swear the curse gets worse ev­ery year, as you lot get more and more re­luc­tant to let them go. Your pre­cious Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell would have to be Grindelwald in dis­guise, to get him­self sent off!”

“Is he?” Harry couldn’t help ask­ing. “I mean, could he ac­tu­ally be—”

“I check Grindie’s cell ev­ery two months,” Moody said. “He was there in March.”

“Could the per­son in the cell be a ringer?”

“I ad­minister a blood test for his iden­tity, son.”

“Where do you keep the blood you use as a refer­ence?”

“In a safe place.” Some­thing like a smile was stretch­ing the scarred lips. “Have you con­sid­ered the Auror Office af­ter you grad­u­ate?”

“Alas­tor,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said re­luc­tantly. “The Defense Pro­fes­sor does have a… health con­di­tion. I sup­pose you will call it sus­pi­cious in it­self—but it is by no means cer­tain that it will be any ill-do­ing on his part which pre­vents us from re­new­ing his em­ploy­ment.”

“Yes, his lit­tle nap­ti­mes,” Moody said darkly. “Amelia thinks he stepped into the path of a high-level curse. Sounds to me more like a Dark rit­ual gone wrong!”

“You’ve no proof of that!” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said.

“That man might as well be wear­ing a sign say­ing ‘Dark Wizard’ in glow­ing green let­ters over his head.”

“Ah...” Harry said. It didn’t seem like an es­pe­cially good time to ask what Mr. Moody thought of the ‘not all sac­ri­fi­cial rit­u­als are evil’ stand­point. “Ex­cuse me, but you said ear­lier that Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell—I mean the old David Mon­roe—I mean the Mon­roe from the sev­en­ties—any­way, you said that per­son used the Killing Curse. What does that im­ply? Does some­body have to be a Dark Wizard to use it?”

Moody shook his head. “I’ve used it my­self. All it takes is power and a cer­tain mood.” The gri­mac­ing lips were show­ing teeth. “The first time I cast it was against a wiz­ard named Ger­ald Grice, and you can ask me what he did af­ter you grad­u­ate Hog­warts.”

“But why is it Un­for­give­able, then?” Harry said. “I mean, a Cut­ting Hex can kill some­one too. So why’s it any bet­ter to use a Re­ducto in­stead of Avada Ke­dav-”

“Shut your mouth!” Moody said sharply. “Some­one might take it the wrong way, your say­ing that in­can­ta­tion. You look too young to cast it, but there’s such a thing as Polyjuice. And to an­swer your ques­tion, boy, there’s two rea­sons why that spell’s in the black­est book. The first is that the Killing Curse strikes di­rectly at the soul, and it’ll just keep go­ing un­til it hits one. Straight through shields. Straight through walls. There’s a rea­son why even Aurors fight­ing Death Eaters weren’t al­lowed to use it be­fore the Mon­roe Act.”

“Ah,” said Harry. “That does seem like an ex­cel­lent rea­son to ban—”

“I’m not finished, son. The sec­ond rea­son is that the Killing Curse doesn’t just take a pow­er­ful bit of magic. You’ve got to mean it. You’ve got to want some­one dead, and not for the greater good, ei­ther. Killing Grice didn’t bring back Blair Roche, or Nathan Re­hfuss, or David Capito. It wasn’t for jus­tice, or to stop him do­ing it again. I wanted him dead. You un­der­stand now, lad? You don’t have to be a Dark Wizard to use that spell—but you can’t be Albus Dum­ble­dore, ei­ther. And if you’re ar­rested for kil­ling with it, there’s no pos­si­ble defense.”

“I… see,” mur­mured the Boy-Who-Lived. You can’t want the per­son dead as an in­stru­men­tal value on the way to some pos­i­tive fu­ture con­se­quence, you can’t cast it if you be­lieve it’s a nec­es­sary evil, you have to ac­tu­ally want them dead for the sake of be­ing dead, as a ter­mi­nal value in your util­ity func­tion. “A mag­i­cally em­bod­ied prefer­ence for death over life, strik­ing within the plane of pure life force… that does sound like a difficult spell to block.”

“Not difficult,” Moody snapped. “Im­pos­si­ble.”

Harry nod­ded gravely. “But David Mon­roe—or who­ever—used the Killing Curse against a cou­ple of Death Eaters even be­fore they wiped out his fam­ily. Does that mean he already had to hate them? Like, the mar­tial arts story was prob­a­bly true?”

Moody shook his head slightly. “One of the dark truths of the Killing Curse, son, is that once you’ve cast it the first time, it doesn’t take much hate to do it again.”

“It dam­ages the mind?”

Again Moody shook his head. “No. It’s the kil­ling that does that. Mur­der tears the soul—but that’s just the same if it’s a Cut­ting Hex. The Killing Curse doesn’t crack your soul. It just takes a cracked soul to cast.” If there was a sad ex­pres­sion on the scarred face, it could not be read. “But that doesn’t tell us much about Mon­roe. The ones like Dum­ble­dore who’ll never be able to cast the Curse all their lives, be­cause they never crack no mat­ter what—they’re the rare ones, very rare. It only takes a lit­tle crack­ing.”

There was a strange heavy feel­ing in Harry’s chest. He’d won­dered what ex­actly it had meant, that Lily Pot­ter had tried to cast the Killing Curse at Lord Volde­mort with her last breath. But surely it was for­give­able, it was right and proper for a mother to hate the Dark Wizard who was com­ing to kill her baby, mock­ing her for how she couldn’t stop him. There was some­thing wrong with you as a par­ent if you couldn’t cast Avada Ke­davra, in that situ­a­tion. And no other spell could’ve gone past the Dark Lord’s shields; you’d have to at least try to hate the Dark Lord enough to want him dead for the sake of dead, if that was the only way to save your baby.

It only takes a lit­tle crack­ing...

“Enough,” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “What would you have us do?”

Moody’s smile twisted. “Get rid of the Defense Pro­fes­sor and see if all your trou­bles mys­te­ri­ously clear up. Bet you a Galleon they do.”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall looked like she was in pain. “Alas­tor—but—will you teach the classes, if—”

“Ha!” said Moody. “If I ever say yes to that ques­tion, check me for Polyjuice, be­cause it’s not me.”

“I’ll test it ex­per­i­men­tally,” Harry said. And then, as ev­ery­one looked at him, “I’ll ask Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell a ques­tion that the real David Mon­roe would know—like who else was in the Slytherin class of 1945, or some­thing like that—hope­fully with­out mak­ing it ob­vi­ous. It won’t be defini­tive proof, he could’ve stud­ied the role, but it would be ev­i­dence. Still, Mr. Moody, even if Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell isn’t the origi­nal Mon­roe, I’m not sure that get­ting rid of him is a free ac­tion. He saved my life twice—”

What?” de­manded Moody. “When? How?”

“Once when he knocked down a bunch of witches who were sum­mon­ing me to­ward the ground, once when he figured out that the De­men­tor was drain­ing me through my wand. And if Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell wasn’t the one who set up Draco Malfoy in the first place, then he saved Draco Malfoy’s life, and things would be a lot worse if he hadn’t. If the Defense Pro­fes­sor isn’t be­hind it all—he’s not some­one we can af­ford to just get rid of.”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall nod­ded firmly.

Hy­poth­e­sis: Severus Snape
(April 8th, 1992, 9:03pm)

Harry and Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall now stood on the slowly turn­ing stairs, turn­ing with­out de­scend­ing; or at least one Harry stood upon those stairs—his other three selves had been left be­hind in the Head­mas­ter’s office.

“Can I ask you a pri­vate ques­tion?” Harry said, when he thought they were far enough away not to be heard. “And in par­tic­u­lar, pri­vate from the Head­mas­ter.”

“Yes,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said, not quite sigh­ing. “Though I hope you re­al­ize that I can­not do any­thing which con­flicts with my du­ties to—”

“Yes,” Harry said, “that’s ex­actly what I need to ask you about. In front of the Wizeng­amot, when Lu­cius Malfoy was say­ing that Hermione was no part of House Pot­ter and that he wouldn’t take the money, you told Hermione how to swear that oath. I want to know, if some­thing like that comes up again, if your first duty is to the Hog­warts stu­dent Hermione Granger, or to the head of the Order of the Phoenix, Albus Dum­ble­dore.”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall looked like some­one had hit her in the face with a cast-iron fry­ing-pan, a few min­utes ear­lier, and now she’d been told that some­body was about to do it again, and not to flinch.

Harry flinched a lit­tle him­self. Some­where along the line he needed to pick up the knack of not phras­ing things to hit as hard as he pos­si­bly could.

The walls ro­tated around them, be­hind them, and some­how, they de­scended.

“Oh, Mr. Pot­ter,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said with a low ex­ha­la­tion. “I… wish you wouldn’t ask me such ques­tions… oh, Harry, I wasn’t think­ing then, not at all. I only saw a chance to help Miss Granger and… I was Sorted into Gryffin­dor, af­ter all.”

“You’ve got a chance to think now,” Harry said. It was all com­ing out wrong, but he had to say it any­way, be­cause—“I’m not ask­ing you to be loyal to me. But if you do know—if you are sure—what you’ll do if it comes down to an in­no­cent Hog­warts stu­dent ver­sus the Order of the Phoenix a sec­ond time...”

But Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall shook her head. “I’m not sure,” the Trans­figu­ra­tion Pro­fes­sor whispered. “I don’t know if it was the right choice even then. I’m sorry. I can’t de­cide such awful things!”

“But you’ll do some­thing if it hap­pens again,” Harry said. “In­de­ci­sion is also a choice. You can’t just imag­ine hav­ing to make an im­me­di­ate de­ci­sion?”

“No,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said, sound­ing a lit­tle stronger; and Harry re­al­ized that he’d ac­ci­den­tally offered a way out. The Pro­fes­sor’s next words con­firmed Harry’s fears. “Such a dread­ful choice as that, Mr. Pot­ter—I think I should not make it un­til I must.”

Harry gave an in­ter­nal sigh. He sup­posed he had no right to ex­pect Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall to say any­thing else. In a moral dilemma where you lost some­thing ei­ther way, mak­ing the choice would feel bad ei­ther way, so you could tem­porar­ily save your­self a lit­tle men­tal pain by re­fus­ing to de­cide. At the cost of not be­ing able to plan any­thing in ad­vance, and at the cost of in­cur­ring a huge bias to­ward in­ac­tion or wait­ing un­til too late… but you couldn’t ex­pect a witch to know all that. “All right,” Harry said.

Though it wasn’t right at all, not re­ally. Dum­ble­dore might want that debt re­moved, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell would also want Harry out of that debt. And if the Defense Pro­fes­sor was David Mon­roe, or could con­vinc­ingly ap­pear to be David Mon­roe, then Lord Volde­mort tech­ni­cally hadn’t ex­ter­mi­nated the House of Mon­roe. In which case some­body might be able to pass a Wizeng­amot re­s­olu­tion re­vok­ing the Noble sta­tus of House Pot­ter, which had been granted for aveng­ing the Most An­cient House of Mon­roe.

In which case Hermione’s vow of ser­vice to a Noble House might be null and void.

Or maybe not. Harry didn’t know any­thing about the le­gal­ities, es­pe­cially not whether House Pot­ter got the money back if some­one man­aged to send Hermione to Azk­a­ban. Just be­cause you lost some­thing might not mean the pay­ment was re­turned, legally speak­ing. Harry wasn’t sure and he didn’t dare ask a mag­i­cal so­lic­i­tor... would have been nice to be able to trust at least one adult to take Hermione’s side in­stead of Dum­ble­dore’s, if an is­sue like that threat­ened to come up.

The stairs they were upon ceased ro­tat­ing, and they were be­fore the backs of the great stone gar­goyles, which rum­bled aside, re­veal­ing the hal­lway.

Harry stepped out -

A hand caught at Harry’s shoulder.

“Mr. Pot­ter,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said in a low voice, “why did you to tell me to keep watch over Pro­fes­sor Snape?”

Harry turned around again.

“You told me to keep watch, and see if he’d changed,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall went on, her tone ur­gent. “Why did you say that, Mr. Pot­ter?”

It took a mo­ment, at this point, for Harry to think back and re­mem­ber why he had said that. Harry and Neville had res­cued Le­sath Les­trange from bul­lies, and then Harry had con­fronted Severus in the hal­lway and, at least ac­cord­ing to the Po­tions Master’s own words, ‘al­most died’ -

“I learned some­thing that made me worry,” Harry said af­ter a mo­ment. “From some­one who made me promise not to tell any­one else.” Severus had made Harry swear that their con­ver­sa­tions wouldn’t be shared with any­one, and Harry was still bound by it.

Mr. Pot­ter—” be­gan Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, and then ex­haled, the flash of sharp­ness dis­ap­pear­ing as quickly as it had come. “Never mind. If you can­not say, you can­not say.”

“Why do you ask?” Harry said.

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall seemed to hes­i­tate -

“All right, let me be more spe­cific,” Harry said. After Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had done it to him sev­eral times, Harry was start­ing to get the hang of it. “What change have you already ob­served in Pro­fes­sor Snape that you’re try­ing to de­cide whether to tell me about?”

“Harry—” the Trans­figu­ra­tion Pro­fes­sor said, and then closed her mouth.

“I ob­vi­ously know some­thing you don’t,” Harry said helpfully. “See, this is why we can’t always put off try­ing to de­cide our awful moral dilem­mas.”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall closed her eyes, drew in a deep breath, pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed it sev­eral times. “All right,” she said. “It’s a sub­tle thing… but wor­ry­ing. How can I put this… Mr. Pot­ter, have you read many books that young chil­dren are not meant to read?”

“I’ve read all of them.”

“Of course you have. Well… I don’t quite un­der­stand it my­self, but for so long as Severus has been em­ployed in this school, stalk­ing about in that awful stained cloak, there has been a cer­tain sort of girl that stares at him with long­ing eyes—”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing?” Harry said. “I mean, if there’s one thing I did un­der­stand from those books, it’s that you’re not sup­posed to ques­tion peo­ple’s prefer­ences.”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall gave Harry a very strange look.

“I mean,” Harry said again, “from what I’ve read, when I’m a bit older there’s some­thing like a 10% chance that I’ll find Pro­fes­sor Snape at­trac­tive, and the im­por­tant thing is for me to just ac­cept what­ever I—”

In any case, Mr. Pot­ter, Severus has always been en­tirely in­differ­ent to the stares of those young girls. But now—” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall seemed to re­al­ize some­thing, and hastily said, her hands ris­ing in ward­ing, “Please don’t mis­take me, Pro­fes­sor Snape cer­tainly has not taken ad­van­tage of any young witches! Ab­solutely not! He has never even so much as smiled at one, not that I ever heard. He has told the young girls to stop gap­ing at him. And if they stare at him re­gard­less, he looks away. That I have seen with my own eyes.”

“Er...” Harry said. “Sorry, but just be­cause I’ve read those books doesn’t mean I un­der­stood them. What does all that mean?

“That he is notic­ing,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said in a low voice. “It is a sub­tle thing, but now that I have seen it, I am cer­tain. And that means… I am very much afraid… that the bond which held Severus to Albus’s cause… may have weak­ened, or even bro­ken.”

2 + 2 = …

“Snape and Dum­ble­dore?” Then Harry heard the words that had just come out of his mouth, and hastily added, “Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that—”

“No!” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “Oh, for pity’s sake—I can’t ex­plain it to you, Mr. Pot­ter!”

The other shoe fi­nally dropped.

He was still in love with my mother?

This seemed some­where be­tween beau­tifully sad, and pa­thetic, for around five sec­onds be­fore the third shoe dropped.

Of course, that was be­fore I gave him my helpful re­la­tion­ship ad­vice.

“I see,” Harry said care­fully af­ter a few mo­ments. There were times when say­ing ‘Oops’ didn’t fully cover it. “You’re right, that’s not a good sign.”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall put both hands over her face. “What­ever you’re think­ing right now,” she said in a slightly muffled voice, “which I as­sure you is also wrong, I don’t want to hear about it, ever.”

“So...” Harry said. “If, like you said, the bond that held Pro­fes­sor Snape to the Head­mas­ter has bro­ken… what would he do then?”

There was a long silence.

What would he do then?

Min­erva low­ered her hands, gaz­ing down at the up­turned face of the Boy-Who-Lived. One sim­ple ques­tion shouldn’t have caused her so much dis­may. She’d known Severus for years; the two of them bound, in some strange way, by the prophecy they’d both heard. Though Min­erva sus­pected, from what she knew of the rules of prophecy, that she had only over­heard it her­self. It had been Severus’s acts which had brought about the prophecy’s fulfill­ment. And the guilt, the heart­break which had come of that choice, had been tor­ment­ing the Po­tions Master for years. She couldn’t imag­ine who Severus would be with­out it. Her mind went blank, try­ing to imag­ine; her thoughts an empty parch­ment.

Surely Severus was no longer the man he’d once been, that an­gry and ter­ribly fool­ish young man who’d brought the prophecy be­fore Volde­mort in ex­change for be­ing ad­mit­ted into the Death Eaters. She’d known him for years, and surely Severus was no longer that man...

Did she re­ally know him at all?

Had any­one ever seen the real Severus Snape?

“I don’t know,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall fi­nally said. “I truly don’t know at all. I can’t even imag­ine. Do you know any­thing of this, Mr. Pot­ter?”

“Er...” Harry said. “I think I can say that my own ev­i­dence points in the same di­rec­tion as yours. I mean, it in­creases the prob­a­bil­ity that Pro­fes­sor Snape isn’t in love with my mother any­more.”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall closed her eyes. “I give up.”

“I don’t know of any­thing wrong he’s done apart from that, though,” Harry added. “I as­sume the Head­mas­ter cleared you to ask me about this?”

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall looked away from him, star­ing at the wall. “Please don’t, Harry.”

“All right,” Harry said, and turned and hur­ried out into the hal­lways, hear­ing Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall more slowly walk­ing af­ter, and the rum­bling sound of the gar­goyles mov­ing into place.

It was the morn­ing af­ter next, dur­ing Po­tions class, that Harry’s po­tion of cold re­sis­tance boiled over his cauldron with a green froth and mildly nau­se­at­ing smell, and Pro­fes­sor Snape, look­ing more re­signed than dis­gusted, told Harry to stay af­ter class. Harry had his own sus­pi­cions about this af­fair, and as soon as class let out—Hermione, as usual for the last few days, be­ing the first to flee out the door—the door swung shut and locked be­hind the de­part­ing stu­dents.

“I apol­o­gize for ru­in­ing your po­tion, Mr. Pot­ter,” Severus Snape said quietly. There was upon his face the strange sad look that Harry had seen only once be­fore, in a hal­lway some time ago. “It will not be re­flected in your grades. Please, sit down.”

Harry sat back down at his desk, filling up the time by scrub­bing a bit more at the green stain on the wooden sur­face, as the Po­tions Master in­canted a few pri­vacy spells.

When the Po­tions Master was done, he spoke again. “I… do not know how to broach this topic, Mr. Pot­ter, so I will sim­ply say it… be­fore the De­men­tor, you re­cov­ered your mem­ory of the night your par­ents died?”

Harry silently nod­ded.

“If… I know it must not be a pleas­ant mem­ory, but… if you could tell me what hap­pened...?”

“Why?” Harry said. His voice was solemn, definitely not mock­ing the plead­ing look that Harry had never ex­pected to see from that per­son. “I wouldn’t think that would be a pleas­ant thing for you to hear ei­ther, Pro­fes­sor—”

The Po­tions Master’s voice was al­most a whisper. “I have imag­ined it ev­ery night these last ten years.”

You know, said Harry’s Slytherin side, it might not be such a good idea to give him clo­sure, if his guilt-based loy­alties are already wa­ver­ing -

Shut up. Over­ruled.

It wasn’t some­thing that Harry could ac­tu­ally bring him­self to deny. He took one sug­ges­tion from his Slytherin side, and that was it.

“Will you tell me ex­actly how you came to learn about the Prophecy?” Harry said. “I’m sorry to make this a trade, I will tell you af­ter­ward, only, it could be re­ally im­por­tant—”

“There is lit­tle to say. I had come to be in­ter­viewed by the Deputy Head­mistress for the po­si­tion of Po­tions Master, and so I was wait­ing out­side the room of the Hog’s Head Inn when the ap­pli­cant be­fore me, Sy­bill Trelawney, came to seek the po­si­tion of Pro­fes­sor of Div­ina­tion. As soon as Trelawney finished speak­ing her words, I fled, for­sak­ing my chance at Hog­warts’s Mastery, and went to the Dark Lord.” The Po­tions Master’s face was drawn and tight. “I did not even pause to con­sider why that rid­dle might have come to me, be­fore I sold it to an­other.”

“A job in­ter­view?” Harry said. “Where you and Pro­fes­sor Trelawney both hap­pened to be ap­ply­ing, and Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall was in­ter­view­ing? That seems… like rather a large co­in­ci­dence...”

“Seers are the pawns of time, Mr. Pot­ter. Coin­ci­dence is be­neath them, and they are above it. I was the one meant to hear that prophecy and be­come its fool. Min­erva’s pres­ence made no fi­nal differ­ence to how it came about. There was no Me­mory Charm as you sup­posed, I do not know why you thought that, but there was no Me­mory-Charm, there could have been no Me­mory-Charm. The voice of a seer has a qual­ity, an enigma which even Legili­mency can­not share, how could that be im­bued in a false mem­ory? Do you think the Dark Lord would be­lieve my mere words? The Dark Lord seized my mind and saw the mys­tifi­ca­tion there, even if he could not seize the mys­tery, and so he knew the prophecy had been true. The Dark Lord could have kil­led me then, hav­ing taken what he wanted—I was a fool in­deed to go to him—but he saw some­thing in me I do not know, and took me into the Death Eaters, though on his terms rather than mine. That is how I brought it about, brought it all about, from be­gin­ning to end, always my own do­ing.” Severus’s voice had gone rather hoarse, and his face was filled with naked pain. “Now tell me, please, how did Lily die?”

Harry swal­lowed twice, and be­gan his re­count­ing.

“James Pot­ter shouted for Lily to run away with me, that he would hold off You-Know-Who.”

“You-Know-Who said—” Harry stopped, the chills go­ing all over his own skin, his own mus­cles tight­en­ing as if in prepar­ing for a seizure. The mem­ory was re­turn­ing strongly, now, ac­com­panied by cold and dark­ness in as­so­ci­a­tion. “He used… the Killing Curse… and then he came up­stairs some­how, I think he must have flown, I don’t re­mem­ber any foot­steps on stairs or any­thing like that… and then my mother said, ‘No, not Harry, please not Harry!’ or some­thing like that. And the Dark Lord—his voice was so high, like wa­ter whistling out of a teaket­tle only cold—the Dark Lord said—”

Stand aside, woman! For you I am not come, only the boy.

The words were very clear in Harry’s mem­ory.

“—he told my mother to get out of his way, that he was only there for me, and my mother begged him to have mercy, and the Dark Lord said—”

I give you this rare chance to flee.

“—that he was be­ing gen­er­ous and giv­ing her a chance to run, but he wouldn’t bother fight­ing her, and even if she died, she couldn’t save me—” Harry’s voice was un­steady, “—and so she ought to get out of his way. And that was when my mother begged the Dark Lord to take her life in­stead of mine—and the Dark Lord—the Dark Lord said to her—and his voice was lower this time, like he was drop­ping a pose—”

Very well, I ac­cept the bar­gain.

“—he said that he ac­cepted her offer, and that she should drop her wand so he could kill her. And then the Dark Lord waited, just waited. I, I don’t know what Lily Pot­ter was think­ing, it hadn’t even made sense in the first place, what she said, it wasn’t like the Dark Lord would kill her and then just leave, when he’d come there for me. Lily Pot­ter didn’t say any­thing, and then the Dark Lord started laugh­ing at her and it was hor­rible and—and she fi­nally tried the only thing left that wasn’t aban­don­ing me or just giv­ing up and dy­ing. I don’t know if she even could’ve, if the spell would’ve worked for her, but when you think about, she had to try. The last thing my mother said was ‘Avada Ke-’ but the Dark Lord started his own curse as soon as she said ‘Av’ and he said it in less than half a sec­ond and there was a flash of green light and then—and then—and then—”

“That’s enough.”

Slowly, like a body float­ing to the sur­face of wa­ter, Harry re­turned from wher­ever he’d been.

“That’s enough,” the Po­tions Master said hoarsely. “She died… Lily died with­out pain, then? The Dark Lord… did not do any­thing to her, be­fore she died?”

She died think­ing that she’d failed, and that the Dark Lord was go­ing to kill her baby next. That’s pain.

“He—the Dark Lord didn’t tor­ture her—” Harry said. “If that’s what you’re ask­ing.”

Be­hind Harry, the door un­locked it­self and swung open.

Harry left.

It was Fri­day, April 10th, of 1992.