Chapter 23: Belief in Belief

Every­body wants a rock to wind a piece of string around J. K. Rowl­ing.

“And then Janet was a Squib,” said the por­trait of a short young woman with a gold-trimmed hat.

Draco wrote it down. That was only twenty-eight but it was time to go back and meet Harry.

He’d needed to ask other por­traits to help trans­lat­ing, English had changed a lot, but the old­est por­traits had de­scribed first-year spells that sounded an awful lot like the ones they had now. Draco had rec­og­nized around half of them and the other half didn’t sound any more pow­er­ful.

The sick feel­ing in his stom­ach had grown with each an­swer un­til fi­nally, un­able to take it any more, he’d gone off and asked other por­traits Harry Pot­ter’s strange ques­tion about Squib mar­riages, in­stead. The first five por­traits hadn’t known any­one and fi­nally he’d asked those por­traits to ask their ac­quain­tances to ask their ac­quain­tances and so man­aged to find some peo­ple who’d ac­tu­ally ad­mit to be­ing friends with Squibs.

(The first-year Slytherin had ex­plained he was work­ing on an im­por­tant pro­ject with a Raven­claw and the Raven­claw had told him they needed this in­for­ma­tion and then run off with­out say­ing why. This had gar­nered many sym­pa­thetic looks.)

Draco’s feet were heavy as he walked through the cor­ri­dors of Hog­warts. He should have been run­ning but he couldn’t seem to muster the en­ergy. He kept on think­ing that he didn’t want to know about this, he didn’t want to be in­volved in any of this, he didn’t want this to be his re­spon­si­bil­ity, just let Harry Pot­ter do it, if magic was fad­ing let Harry Pot­ter take care of it...

But Draco knew that wasn’t right.

Chill the dun­geons of Slytherin, gray the stone walls, Draco usu­ally liked the at­mo­sphere, but now it seemed too much like fad­ing.

His hand on the door­knob, Harry Pot­ter already in­side and wait­ing, wear­ing his cowled cloak.

“The an­cient first-year spells,” Harry Pot­ter said. “What did you find?”

“They’re no more pow­er­ful than the spells we use now.”

Harry Pot­ter’s fist struck a desk, hard. “Damn it. All right. My own ex­per­i­ment was a failure, Draco. There’s some­thing called the In­ter­dict of Mer­lin—”

Draco hit him­self on the fore­head, re­al­iz­ing.

“—which stops any­one from get­ting knowl­edge of pow­er­ful spells out of books, even if you find and read a pow­er­ful wiz­ard’s notes they won’t make sense to you, it has to go from one liv­ing mind to an­other. I couldn’t find any pow­er­ful spells that we had the in­struc­tions for but couldn’t cast. But if you can’t get them out of old books, why would any­one bother pass­ing them on by word of mouth af­ter they stopped work­ing? Did you get the data on the Squib cou­ples?”

Draco started to hand the parch­ment over -

But Harry Pot­ter held up a hand. “Law of sci­ence, Draco. First I tell you the the­ory and the pre­dic­tion. Then you show me the data. That way you know I’m not just mak­ing up a the­ory to fit; you know that the the­ory ac­tu­ally pre­dicted the data in ad­vance. I have to ex­plain this to you any­way, so I have to ex­plain it be­fore you show me the data. That’s the rule. So put on your cloak and let’s sit down.”

Harry Pot­ter sat down at a desk with torn scraps of pa­per ar­ranged across its sur­face. Draco drew his cloak out of his book­bag, drew it on, and sat down across from Harry on the other side, giv­ing the pa­per scraps a puz­zled look. They were ar­ranged in two rows and the rows were about twenty scraps long.

“The se­cret of blood,” said Harry Pot­ter, an in­tense look on his face, “is some­thing called de­oxyribonu­cleic acid. You don’t say that name in front of any­one who’s not a sci­en­tist. Deoxyribonu­cleic acid is the recipe that tells your body how to grow, two legs, two arms, short or tall, whether you have brown eyes or green. It’s a ma­te­rial thing, you can see it if you have micro­scopes, which are like telescopes only they look at things that are very small in­stead of very far away. And that recipe has two copies of ev­ery­thing, always, in case one copy is bro­ken. Imag­ine two long rows of pieces of pa­per. At each place in the row, there are two pieces of pa­per, and when you have chil­dren, your body se­lects one piece of pa­per at ran­dom from each place in the row, and the mother’s body will do the same, and so the child also gets two pieces of pa­per at each place in the row. Two copies of ev­ery­thing, one from your mother, one from your father, and when you have chil­dren they get one piece of pa­per from you at ran­dom in each place.”

As Harry spoke, his fingers ranged over the paired scraps of pa­per, point­ing to one part of the pair when he said “from your mother”, the other when he said “from your father”. And as Harry talked about pick­ing a piece of pa­per at ran­dom, his hand pul­led a Knut out of his robes and flipped it; Harry looked at the coin, and then pointed to the top piece of pa­per. All with­out a pause in the speech.

“Now when it comes to some­thing like be­ing short or tall, there’s a lot of places in the recipe that make lit­tle differ­ences. So if a tall father mar­ries a short mother, the child gets some pieces of pa­per say­ing ‘tall’ and some pieces of pa­per say­ing ‘short’, and usu­ally the child ends up mid­dle-sized. But not always. By luck, the child might get a lot of pieces say­ing ‘tall’, and not many pa­pers say­ing ‘short’, and grow up pretty tall. You could have a tall father with five pa­pers say­ing ‘tall’ and a tall mother with five pa­pers say­ing ‘tall’ and by amaz­ing luck the child gets all ten pa­pers say­ing ‘tall’ and ends up taller than both of them. You see? Blood isn’t a perfect fluid, it doesn’t mix perfectly. Deoxyribonu­cleic acid is made up of lots of lit­tle pieces, like a glass of peb­bles in­stead of a glass of wa­ter. That’s why a child isn’t always ex­actly in the mid­dle of the par­ents.”

Draco listened with his mouth open. How in Mer­lin’s name had the Mug­gles figured all this out? They could see the recipe?

“Now,” Harry Pot­ter said, “sup­pose that, just like with tal­l­ness, there’s lots of lit­tle places in the recipe where you can have a piece of pa­per that says ‘magic’ or ‘not magic’. If you have enough pieces of pa­per say­ing ‘magic’ you’re a wiz­ard, if you have a lot of pieces of pa­per you’re a pow­er­ful wiz­ard, if you have too few you’re a Mug­gle, and in be­tween you’re a Squib. Then, when two Squibs marry, most of the time the chil­dren should also be Squibs, but once in a while a child will get lucky and get most of the father’s magic pa­pers and most of the mother’s magic pa­pers, and be strong enough to be a wiz­ard. But prob­a­bly not a very pow­er­ful one. If you started out with a lot of pow­er­ful wiz­ards and they mar­ried only each other, they would stay pow­er­ful. But if they started mar­ry­ing Mug­gle­borns who were just barely mag­i­cal, or Squibs… you see? The blood wouldn’t mix perfectly, it would be a glass of peb­bles, not a glass of wa­ter, be­cause that’s just the way blood works. There would still be pow­er­ful wiz­ards now and then, when they got a lot of magic pa­pers by luck. But they wouldn’t be as pow­er­ful as the most pow­er­ful wiz­ards from ear­lier.”

Draco nod­ded slowly. He’d never heard it ex­plained that way be­fore. There was a sur­pris­ing beauty to how ex­actly it fit.

But,” Harry said. “That’s only one hy­poth­e­sis. Sup­pose that in­stead there’s only a sin­gle place in the recipe that makes you a wiz­ard. Only one place where a piece of pa­per can say ‘magic’ or ‘not magic’. And there are two copies of ev­ery­thing, always. So then there are only three pos­si­bil­ities. Both copies can say ‘magic’. One copy can say ‘magic’ and one copy can say ‘not magic’. Or both copies can say ‘not magic’. Wizards, Squibs, and Mug­gles. Two copies and you can cast spells, one copy and you can still use po­tions or magic de­vices, and zero copies means you might even have trou­ble look­ing straight at magic. Mug­gle­borns wouldn’t re­ally be born to Mug­gles, they would be born to two Squibs, two par­ents each with one magic copy who’d grown up in the Mug­gle world. Now imag­ine a witch mar­ries a Squib. Each child will get one pa­per say­ing ‘magic’ from the mother, always, it doesn’t mat­ter which piece gets picked at ran­dom, both say ‘magic’. But like flip­ping a coin, half the time the child will get a pa­per say­ing ‘magic’ from the father, and half the time the child will get the father’s pa­per say­ing ‘not magic’. When a witch mar­ries a Squib, the re­sult won’t be a lot of weak wiz­ard­ing chil­dren. Half the chil­dren will be wiz­ards and witches just as pow­er­ful as their mother, and half the chil­dren will be Squibs. Be­cause if there’s just one place in the recipe that makes you a wiz­ard, then magic isn’t like a glass of peb­bles that can mix. It’s like a sin­gle mag­i­cal peb­ble, a sor­cerer’s stone.”

Harry ar­ranged three pairs of pa­pers side by side. On one pair he wrote ‘magic’ and ‘magic’. On an­other pair he wrote ‘magic’ on the top pa­per only. And the third pair he left blank.

“In which case,” Harry said, “ei­ther you have two stones or you don’t. Either you’re a wiz­ard or not. Pow­er­ful wiz­ards would get that way by study­ing harder and prac­tic­ing more. And if wiz­ards get in­her­ently less pow­er­ful, not be­cause of spells be­ing lost but be­cause peo­ple can’t cast them… then maybe they’re eat­ing the wrong foods or some­thing. But if it’s got­ten steadily worse over eight hun­dred years, then that could mean magic it­self is fad­ing out of the world.”

Harry ar­ranged an­other two pairs of pa­pers side by side, and took out a quill. Soon each pair had one piece of pa­per say­ing ‘magic’ and the other pa­per blank.

“And that brings me to the pre­dic­tion,” said Harry. “What hap­pens when two Squibs marry. Flip a coin twice. It can come up heads and heads, heads and tails, tails and heads, or tails and tails. So one quar­ter of the time you’ll get two heads, one quar­ter of the time you’ll get two tails, and half the time you’ll get one heads and one tail. Same thing if two Squibs marry. One quar­ter of the chil­dren would come up magic and magic, and be wiz­ards. One quar­ter would come up not-magic and not-magic, and be Mug­gles. The other half would be Squibs. It’s a very old and very clas­sic pat­tern. It was dis­cov­ered by Gre­gor Men­del who is not for­got­ten, and it was the first hint ever un­cov­ered for how the recipe worked. Any­one who knows any­thing about blood sci­ence would rec­og­nize that pat­tern in an in­stant. It wouldn’t be ex­act, any more than if you flip a coin twice forty times you’ll always get ex­actly ten pairs of two heads. But if it’s seven or thir­teen wiz­ards out of forty chil­dren that’ll be a strong in­di­ca­tor. That’s the test I had you do. Now let’s see your data.”

And be­fore Draco could even think, Harry Pot­ter had taken the parch­ment out of Draco’s hand.

Draco’s throat was very dry.

Twenty-eight chil­dren.

He wasn’t sure of the ex­act num­ber but he was pretty sure around a fourth had been wiz­ards.

“Six wiz­ards out of twenty-eight chil­dren,” Harry Pot­ter said af­ter a mo­ment. “Well, that’s that, then. And first-years were cast­ing the same spells at the same power level eight cen­turies ago, too. Your test and my test both came out the same way.”

There was a long silence in the class­room.

“What now?” Draco whispered.

He’d never been so ter­rified.

“It’s not definite yet,” said Harry Pot­ter. “My ex­per­i­ment failed, re­mem­ber? I need you to de­sign an­other test, Draco.”

“I, I...” Draco said. His voice was break­ing. “I can’t do this Harry, it’s too much for me.”

Harry’s look was fierce. “Yes you can, be­cause you have to. I thought about it my­self, too, af­ter I found out about the In­ter­dict of Mer­lin. Draco, is there any way of ob­serv­ing the strength of magic di­rectly? Some way that doesn’t have any­thing to do with wiz­ards’ blood or the spells we learn?”

Draco’s mind was just blank.

“Any­thing that af­fects magic af­fects wiz­ards,” said Harry. “But then we can’t tell if it’s the wiz­ards or the magic. What does magic af­fect that isn’t a wiz­ard?”

“Mag­i­cal crea­tures, ob­vi­ously,” said Draco with­out even think­ing about it.

Harry Pot­ter slowly smiled. “Draco, that’s brilli­ant.

It’s the sort of dumb ques­tion you’d only ask in the first place if you’d been raised by Mug­gles.

Then the sick­ness in Draco’s stom­ach got even worse as he re­al­ized what it would mean if mag­i­cal crea­tures were get­ting weaker. They would know for cer­tain then that magic was fad­ing, and there was a part of Draco that was already sure that was ex­actly what they would find. He didn’t want to see this, he didn’t want to know...

Harry Pot­ter was already halfway to the door. “Come on, Draco! There’s a por­trait not far from here, we’ll just ask them to go get some­one old and find out right away! We’re cloaked, if some­one sees us we can just run away! Let’s go!”

It didn’t take long af­ter that.

It was a wide por­trait, but the three peo­ple in it were look­ing rather crowded. There was a mid­dle-aged man from the twelfth cen­tury, dressed in black swathes of cloth; who spoke to a sad-look­ing young woman from the four­teenth cen­tury, with hair that seemed to con­stantly frizz about her head as if she’d been charged up by a static spell; and she spoke to a dig­nified, wiz­ened old man from the sev­en­teenth cen­tury with a solid gold bowtie; and him they could un­der­stand.

They had asked about De­men­tors.

They had asked about phoenixes.

They had asked about drag­ons and trolls and house elves.

Harry had frowned, pointed out that crea­tures which needed the most magic could just be dy­ing out en­tirely, and had asked for the most pow­er­ful mag­i­cal crea­tures known.

There wasn’t any­thing un­fa­mil­iar on the list, ex­cept for a species of Dark crea­ture called mind flay­ers which the trans­la­tor noted had fi­nally been ex­ter­mi­nated by Harold Shea, and those didn’t sound half as scary as De­men­tors.

Mag­i­cal crea­tures were as pow­er­ful now as they’d ever been, ap­par­ently.

The sick­ness in Draco’s stom­ach was eas­ing, and now he just felt con­fused.

“Harry,” Draco said in the mid­dle of the old man trans­lat­ing a list of all eleven pow­ers of a be­holder’s eyes, “what does this mean?”

Harry held up a finger and the old man finished the list.

Then Harry thanked all the por­traits for helping—Draco, pretty much on au­to­matic, did so as well and more gra­ciously—and they headed back to the class­room.

And Harry brought out the origi­nal parch­ment with the hy­pothe­ses, and be­gan scrib­bling.


Wizardry isn’t as pow­er­ful now as it was when Hog­warts was founded.


1. Magic it­self is fad­ing.
. Wizards are in­ter­breed­ing with Mug­gles and Squibs.
. Knowl­edge to cast pow­er­ful spells is be­ing lost.
4. Wizards are eat­ing the wrong foods as chil­dren, or some­thing else be­sides blood is mak­ing them grow up weaker.
5. Mug­gle tech­nol­ogy is in­terfer­ing with magic. (Since 800 years ago?)
6. Stronger wiz­ards are hav­ing fewer chil­dren. (Draco = only child? Check if 3 pow­er­ful wiz­ards, Quir­rell /​ Dum­ble­dore /​ Dark Lord, had any chil­dren.)


A. Are there spells we know but can’t cast (1 or 2) or are the lost spells no longer known (3)? Re­sult: In­con­clu­sive due to In­ter­dict of Mer­lin. No known un­castable spell, but could sim­ply have not been passed on.

B. Did an­cient first-year stu­dents cast the same sort of spells, with the same power, as now? (Weak ev­i­dence for 1 over 2, but blood could also be los­ing pow­er­ful wiz­ardry only.) Re­sult: Same level of first-year spells then as now.

C. Ad­di­tional test that dis­t­in­guishes 1 and 2 us­ing sci­en­tific knowl­edge of blood, will ex­plain later. Re­sult: There’s only one place in the recipe that makes you a wiz­ard, and ei­ther you have two pa­pers say­ing ‘magic’ or you don’t.

D. Are mag­i­cal crea­tures los­ing their pow­ers? Dist­in­guishes 1 from (2 or 3). Re­sult: Mag­i­cal crea­tures seem to be as strong as they ever were.

“A failed,” said Harry Pot­ter. “B is weak ev­i­dence for 1 over 2. C falsifies 2. D falsifies 1. 4 was un­likely and B ar­gues against 4 as well. 5 was un­likely and D ar­gues against it. 6 is falsified along with 2. That leaves 3. In­ter­dict of Mer­lin or not, I didn’t ac­tu­ally find any known spell that couldn’t be cast. So when you add it all up, it looks like knowl­edge is be­ing lost.”

And the trap snapped shut.

As soon as the panic went away, as soon as Draco un­der­stood that magic wasn’t fad­ing out, it took all of five sec­onds to re­al­ize.

Draco shoved him­self away from the desk and stood up so hard that his chair skit­tered with a scrap­ing noise across the floor and fell over.

“So it was all just a stupid trick, then.”

Harry Pot­ter stared at him for a mo­ment, still sit­ting. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. “It was a fair test, Draco. If it had come out a differ­ent way, I would have ac­cepted it. That’s not some­thing I would ever cheat on. Ever. I didn’t look at your data be­fore I made my pre­dic­tions. I told you up front when the In­ter­dict of Mer­lin in­val­i­dated the first ex­per­i­ment—”

“Oh,” Draco said, the anger start­ing to come out into his voice, “you didn’t know how the whole thing was go­ing to come out?”

“I didn’t know any­thing you didn’t know,” Harry said, still quietly. “I ad­mit that I sus­pected. Hermione Granger was too pow­er­ful, she should have been barely mag­i­cal and she wasn’t, how can a Mug­gle­born be the best spel­l­caster in Hog­warts? And she’s get­ting the best grades on her es­says too, it’s too much co­in­ci­dence for one girl to be the strongest mag­i­cally and aca­dem­i­cally un­less there’s a sin­gle cause. Hermione Granger’s ex­is­tence pointed to there be­ing only one thing that makes you a wiz­ard, some­thing you ei­ther have or you don’t, and the power differ­ences com­ing from how much we know and how much we prac­tice. And there weren’t differ­ent classes for pure­bloods and Mug­gle­borns, and so on. There were too many ways the world didn’t look the way it would look if you were right. But Draco, I didn’t see any­thing you couldn’t see too. I didn’t perform any tests I didn’t tell you about. I didn’t cheat, Draco. I wanted us to work out the an­swer to­gether. And I never thought that magic might be fad­ing out of the world un­til you said it. It was a scary idea for me, too.”

“What­ever,” Draco said. He was work­ing very hard to con­trol his voice and not just start scream­ing at Harry. “You claim you’re not go­ing to run off and tell any­one else about this.”

“Not with­out con­sult­ing you first,” Harry said. He opened his hands in a plead­ing ges­ture. “Draco, I’m be­ing as nice as I can but the world turned out to just not be that way.”

“Fine. Then you and I are through. I’m go­ing to just walk away and for­get any of this ever hap­pened.”

Draco spun around, feel­ing the burn­ing sen­sa­tion in his throat, the sense of be­trayal, and that was when he re­al­ized he re­ally had liked Harry Pot­ter, and that thought didn’t slow him down for a mo­ment as he strode to­ward the class­room door.

And Harry Pot­ter’s voice came, now louder, and wor­ried:

“Draco… you can’t for­get. Don’t you un­der­stand? That was your sac­ri­fice.”

Draco stopped in mid­stride and turned around. “What are you talk­ing about?”

But there was already a freez­ing cold­ness in Draco’s spine.

He knew even be­fore Harry Pot­ter said it.

“To be­come a sci­en­tist. You ques­tioned one of your be­liefs, not just a small be­lief but some­thing that had great sig­nifi­cance to you. You did ex­per­i­ments, gath­ered data, and the out­come proved the be­lief was wrong. You saw the re­sults and un­der­stood what they meant.” Harry Pot­ter’s voice was fal­ter­ing. “Re­mem­ber, Draco, you can’t sac­ri­fice a true be­lief that way, be­cause the ex­per­i­ments will con­firm it in­stead of falsify­ing it. Your sac­ri­fice to be­come a sci­en­tist was your false be­lief that wiz­ard blood was mix­ing and get­ting weaker.”

That’s not true!” said Draco. “I didn’t sac­ri­fice the be­lief. I still be­lieve that!” His voice was get­ting louder, and the chill was get­ting worse.

Harry Pot­ter shook his head. His voice came in a whisper. “Draco… I’m sorry, Draco, you don’t be­lieve it, not any­more.” Harry’s voice rose again. “I’ll prove it to you. Imag­ine that some­one tells you they’re keep­ing a dragon in their house. You tell them you want to see it. They say it’s an in­visi­ble dragon. You say fine, you’ll listen to it move. They say it’s an inaudible dragon. You say you’ll throw some cook­ing flour into the air and see the out­line of the dragon. They say the dragon is per­me­able to flour. And the tel­ling thing is that they know, in ad­vance, ex­actly which ex­per­i­men­tal re­sults they’ll have to ex­plain away. They know ev­ery­thing will come out the way it does if there’s no dragon, they know in ad­vance just which ex­cuses they’ll have to make. So maybe they say there’s a dragon. Maybe they be­lieve they be­lieve there’s a dragon, it’s called be­lief-in-be­lief. But they don’t ac­tu­ally be­lieve it. You can be mis­taken about what you be­lieve, most peo­ple never re­al­ize there’s a differ­ence be­tween be­liev­ing some­thing and think­ing it’s good to be­lieve it.” Harry Pot­ter had risen from the desk now, and taken a few steps to­ward Draco. “And Draco, you don’t be­lieve any more in blood purism, I’ll show you that you don’t. If blood purism is true, then Hermione Granger doesn’t make sense, so what could ex­plain her? Maybe she’s a wiz­ard­ing or­phan raised by Mug­gles, just like I was? I could go to Granger and ask to see pic­tures of her par­ents, to see if she looks like them. Would you ex­pect her to look differ­ent? Should we go perform that test?”

“They would have put her with rel­a­tives,” Draco said, his voice trem­bling. “They’ll still look the same.”

“You see. You already know what ex­per­i­men­tal re­sult you’ll have to ex­cuse. If you still be­lieved in blood purism you would say, sure, let’s go take a look, I bet she won’t look like her par­ents, she’s too pow­er­ful to be a real Mug­gle­born—”

“They would have put her with rel­a­tives!”

“Scien­tists can do tests to check for sure if some­one is the true child of a father. Granger would prob­a­bly do it if I paid her fam­ily enough. She wouldn’t be afraid of the re­sults. So what do you ex­pect that test to show? Tell me to run it and we will. But you already know what the test will say. You’ll always know. You won’t ever be able to for­get. You might wish you be­lieved in blood purism, but you’ll always ex­pect to see hap­pen just ex­actly what would hap­pen if there was only one thing that made you a wiz­ard. That was your sac­ri­fice to be­come a sci­en­tist.”

Draco’s breath­ing was ragged. “Do you re­al­ize what you’ve done?” Draco surged for­ward and he seized Harry by the col­lar of his robes. His voice rose to a scream, it sounded un­bear­ably loud in the closed class­room and the silence. “Do you re­al­ize what you’ve done?

Harry’s voice was shaky. “You had a be­lief. The be­lief was false. I helped you see that. What’s true is already so, own­ing up to it doesn’t make it worse—”

The fingers on Draco’s right hand clenched into a fist and that hand dropped down and blasted up un­stop­pably and punched Harry Pot­ter in the jaw so hard that his body went crash­ing back into a desk and then to the floor.

Idiot!” screamed Draco. “Idiot! Idiot!

“Draco,” whispered Harry from the floor, “Draco, I’m sorry, I didn’t think this would hap­pen for months, I didn’t ex­pect you to awaken as a sci­en­tist this quickly, I thought I would have longer to pre­pare you, teach you the tech­niques that make it hurt less to ad­mit you’re wrong—”

“What about Father?” Draco said. His voice trem­bled with rage. “Were you go­ing to pre­pare him or did you just not care what hap­pened af­ter this?”

“You can’t tell him!” Harry said, his voice ris­ing in alarm. “He’s not a sci­en­tist! You promised, Draco!”

For a mo­ment the thought of Father not know­ing came as a re­lief.

And then the real anger started to rise.

“So you planned for me to lie to him and tell him I still be­lieve,” Draco said, voice shak­ing. “I’ll always have to lie to him, and now when I grow up I can’t be a Death Eater, and I won’t even be able to tell him why not.”

“If your father re­ally loves you,” whispered Harry from the floor, “he’ll still love you even if you don’t be­come a Death Eater, and it sounds like your father does re­ally love you, Draco—”

Your step­father is a sci­en­tist,” Draco said. The words com­ing out like bit­ing knives. “If you weren’t go­ing to be a sci­en­tist, he would still love you. But you’d be a lit­tle less spe­cial to him.”

Harry flinched. The boy opened his mouth, as if to say ‘I’m sorry’, and then closed his mouth, seem­ing to think bet­ter of it, which was ei­ther very smart of him or very lucky, be­cause Draco might have tried to kill him.

“You should have warned me,” Draco said. His voice rose. “You should have warned me!

“I… I did… ev­ery time I told you about the power, I told you about the price. I said, you have to ad­mit you’re wrong. I said this would be the hard­est path for you. That this was the sac­ri­fice any­one had to make to be­come a sci­en­tist. I said, what if the ex­per­i­ment says one thing and your fam­ily and friends say an­other—”

You call that a warn­ing?” Draco was scream­ing now. “You call that a warn­ing? When we’re do­ing a rit­ual that calls for a per­ma­nent sac­ri­fice?

“I… I...” The boy on the floor swal­lowed. “I guess maybe it wasn’t clear. I’m sorry. But that which can be de­stroyed by the truth should be.”

Hit­ting him wasn’t enough.

“You’re wrong about one thing,” Draco said, his voice deadly. “Granger isn’t the strongest stu­dent in Hog­warts. She just gets the best grades in class. You’re about to find out the differ­ence.”

Sud­den shock showed in Harry’s face, and he tried to roll quickly to his feet -

It was already too late for him.


Harry’s wand flew across the room.

Gom jab­bar!

A pulse of inky black­ness struck Harry’s left hand.

“That’s a tor­ture spell,” said Draco. “It’s for get­ting in­for­ma­tion out of peo­ple. I’m just go­ing to leave it on you and lock the door be­hind me when I go. Maybe I’ll set the lock­ing spell to wear off af­ter a few hours. Maybe it won’t wear off un­til you die in here. Have fun.”

Draco moved smoothly back­ward, wand still on Harry. Draco’s hand dipped down, picked up his book­bag, with­out his aim wa­ver­ing.

The pain was already show­ing in Harry Pot­ter’s face as he spoke. “Malfoys are above the un­der­age magic laws, I take it? It’s not be­cause your blood is stronger. It’s be­cause you already prac­ticed. In the be­gin­ning you were as weak as any of us. Is my pre­dic­tion wrong?”

Draco’s hand whitened on his wand, but his aim stayed steady.

“Just so you know,” Harry said through grit­ted teeth, “if you’d told me I was wrong I would have listened. I won’t ever tor­ture you when you show me that I’m wrong. And you will. Some­day. You’re awak­ened as a sci­en­tist now, and even if you never learn to use your power, you’ll always,” Harry gasped, “be look­ing, for ways, to test, your be­liefs—”

Draco’s back­ing away was less smooth, now, a lit­tle faster, and he had to work to keep his wand on Harry as he reached back to open the door and stepped back out of the class­room.

Then Draco shut the door again.

He cast the most pow­er­ful lock­ing Charm he knew.

Draco waited un­til he heard Harry’s first scream be­fore cast­ing the Quie­tus.

And then he walked away.

Aaah­h­hhh! Finite In­can­tatem! Aaaahhh!

Harry’s left hand had been put into a pot of boiling cook­ing oil and left there. He’d put ev­ery­thing he had into the Finite In­can­tatem and it still wasn’t work­ing.

Some hexes re­quired spe­cific coun­ters or you couldn’t undo them, or maybe it was just that Draco was that much stronger.


Harry’s hand was re­ally start­ing to hurt, now, and that was in­terfer­ing with his at­tempts to think cre­atively.

But a few screams later, Harry re­al­ized what he had to do.

His pouch, un­for­tu­nately, was on the wrong side of his body, and it took some twist­ing to reach into it, es­pe­cially with his other arm flailing around in a re­flex, un­stop­pable at­tempt to fling off the source of pain. By the time he man­aged it his other arm had man­aged to throw away his wand again.

“Med­i­cal ah­h­hhh kit! Med­i­cal kit!”

On the floor, the green light was too dim to see by.

Harry couldn’t stand. He couldn’t crawl. He rol­led across the floor to where he thought his wand was, and it wasn’t there, and with one hand he man­aged to raise him­self high enough to see his wand, and he rol­led there, and got the wand, and rol­led back to where the med­i­cal kit was opened. There was also a good deal of scream­ing, and a bit of throw­ing up.

It took eight tries be­fore Harry could cast Lu­mos.

And then, well, the pack­age wasn’t de­signed to be opened one-handed, be­cause all wiz­ards were idiots, that was why. Harry had to use his teeth and so it took a while be­fore Harry fi­nally man­aged to wrap the Num­b­cloth over his left hand.

When all feel­ing in his left hand was fi­nally gone, Harry let his mind come apart, and lay mo­tion­less on the floor, and cried for a while.

Well, Harry’s mind said silently into it­self, when it had re­cov­ered enough to think in words again. Was it worth it?

Slowly, Harry’s func­tional hand reached up to a desk.

Harry pul­led him­self to his feet.

Took a deep breath.



It wasn’t much of a smile, but it was a smile nonethe­less.

Thank you, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, I couldn’t have lost with­out you.

He hadn’t re­deemed Draco yet, not even close. Con­trary to what Draco him­self might now be­lieve, Draco was still the child of a Death Eater, through and through. Still a boy who’d grown up think­ing “rape” was some­thing the cool older kids did. But it was one heck of a start.

Harry couldn’t claim it had all gone just as planned. It had all gone just as com­pletely made up on the spot. The plan hadn’t called for this to hap­pen un­til De­cem­ber or there­abouts, af­ter Harry had taught Draco the tech­niques not to deny the ev­i­dence when he saw it.

But he’d seen the look of fear on Draco’s face, re­al­ized that Draco was already tak­ing an al­ter­na­tive hy­poth­e­sis se­ri­ously, and seized the mo­ment. One case of true cu­ri­os­ity had the same sort of re­deem­ing power in ra­tio­nal­ity that one case of true love had in movies.

In ret­ro­spect, Harry had given him­self hours to make the most im­por­tant dis­cov­ery in the his­tory of magic, and months to break through the un­de­vel­oped men­tal bar­ri­ers of an eleven-year-old boy. This could in­di­cate that Harry had some sort of ma­jor cog­ni­tive deficit with re­spect to es­ti­mat­ing task com­ple­tion times.

Was Harry go­ing to Science Hell for what he’d done? Harry wasn’t sure. He’d con­trived to keep Draco’s mind on the pos­si­bil­ity that magic was fad­ing, made sure Draco would carry out the part of the ex­per­i­ment that would seem at first to point in that di­rec­tion. He’d waited un­til af­ter ex­plain­ing ge­net­ics to prompt Draco into re­al­iz­ing about mag­i­cal crea­tures (though Harry had thought in terms of an­cient ar­ti­facts like the Sort­ing Hat, which no one could du­pli­cate any­more, but which con­tinued to func­tion). But Harry hadn’t ac­tu­ally ex­ag­ger­ated any ev­i­dence, hadn’t dis­torted the mean­ing of any re­sults. When the In­ter­dict of Mer­lin had in­val­i­dated the test that should have been defini­tive, he’d told Draco up front.

And then there was the part af­ter that...

But he hadn’t ac­tu­ally lied to Draco. Draco had be­lieved it, and that would make it true.

The end, ad­mit­tedly, had not been fun.

Harry turned, and stag­gered to­ward the door.

Time to test Draco’s lock­ing spell.

The first step was sim­ply try­ing to turn the door­knob. Draco could have been bluffing.

Draco hadn’t been bluffing.

Finite In­can­tatem.” Harry’s voice came out rather hoarse, and he could feel that the spell hadn’t taken.

So Harry tried it again, and that time it felt true. But an­other twist at the door­knob showed it hadn’t worked. No sur­prise there.

Time to bring out the big guns. Harry drew a deep breath. This spell was one of the most pow­er­ful he’d learned so far.


Harry stag­gered a lit­tle af­ter say­ing it.

And the class­room door still didn’t open.

That shocked Harry. Harry hadn’t been plan­ning to go any­where near Dum­ble­dore’s for­bid­den cor­ri­dor, of course. But a spell to open mag­i­cal locks had seemed like a use­ful sort of spell any­way, and so Harry had learned it. Was Dum­ble­dore’s for­bid­den cor­ri­dor meant to lure peo­ple so stupid that they didn’t no­tice the se­cu­rity was worse than what Draco Malfoy could put on it?

Fear was creep­ing back into Harry’s sys­tem. The pla­c­ard in the med­i­cal kit had said the Num­b­cloth could only safely be used for up to thirty min­utes. After that it would come off au­to­mat­i­cally, and not be reusable for 24 hours. Right now it was 6:51pm. He’d put on the Num­b­cloth about five min­utes ago.

So Harry took a step back, and con­sid­ered the door. It was a solid panel of dark oaken wood, in­ter­rupted only by the brass metal door­knob.

Harry didn’t know any ex­plo­sive or cut­ting or smash­ing spells, and Trans­figur­ing ex­plo­sive would have vi­o­lated the rule against Trans­figur­ing things to be burned. Acid was a liquid and would have made fumes...

But that was no ob­sta­cle to a cre­ative thinker.

Harry laid his wand against one of the door’s brass hinges, and con­cen­trated on the form of cot­ton as a pure ab­strac­tion apart from any ma­te­rial cot­ton, and also on the pure ma­te­rial apart from the pat­tern that made it a brass hinge, and brought the two con­cepts to­gether, im­pos­ing shape on sub­stance. An hour of Trans­figu­ra­tion prac­tice ev­ery day for a month had got­ten Harry to the point where he could Trans­figure a sub­ject of five cu­bic cen­time­ters in just un­der a minute.

After two min­utes the hinge hadn’t changed at all.

Who­ever had de­signed Draco’s lock­ing spell, they’d thought of that, too. Or the door was part of Hog­warts and the cas­tle was im­mune.

A glance showed the walls to be solid stone. So was the floor. So was the ceiling. You couldn’t sep­a­rately Trans­figure a part of some­thing that was a solid whole; Harry would have needed to try Trans­figur­ing the whole wall, which would have taken hours or maybe days of con­tin­u­ous effort, if he could have done it at all, and if the wall wasn’t con­tigu­ous with the rest of the whole cas­tle...

Harry’s Time-Turner wouldn’t open un­til 9pm. After that he could go back to 6pm, be­fore the door was locked.

How long would the tor­ture spell last?

Harry swal­lowed hard. Tears were com­ing into his eyes again.

His brilli­antly cre­ative mind had just offered the in­ge­nious sug­ges­tion that Harry could cut his hand off us­ing the hack­saw in the toolset stored in his pouch, which would hurt, ob­vi­ously, but might hurt a lot less than Draco’s pain spell, since the nerves would be gone; and he had tourni­quets in the healer’s kit.

And that was ob­vi­ously a hideously stupid idea that Harry would re­gret the rest of his en­tire life.

But Harry didn’t know if he could hold out for two hours un­der tor­ture.

He wanted out of this class­room, he wanted out of this class­room now, he didn’t want to wait in here scream­ing for two hours un­til he could use the Time-Turner, he needed to get out and find some­one to get the tor­ture spell off his hand...

Think! Harry screamed at his brain. Think! Think!

The Slytherin dorm was mostly empty. Peo­ple were at din­ner. For some rea­son Draco him­self wasn’t feel­ing very hun­gry.

Draco closed the door to his pri­vate room, locked it, Charmed it shut, Quieted it, sat down on his bed, and started to cry.

It wasn’t fair.

It wasn’t fair.

It was the first time Draco had ever re­ally lost be­fore, Father had warned him that los­ing for real would hurt the first time it hap­pened, but he’d lost so much, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair for him to lose ev­ery­thing the very first time he lost.

Some­where in the dun­geons, a boy Draco had ac­tu­ally liked was scream­ing in pain. Draco had never hurt any­one he’d liked be­fore. Pu­n­ish­ing peo­ple who de­served it was sup­posed to be fun, but this just felt sick in­side. Father hadn’t warned him about that, and Draco won­dered if it was a hard les­son ev­ery­one had to learn when they grew up, or if Draco was just weak.

Draco wished it were Pansy scream­ing. That would have felt bet­ter.

And the worst part was know­ing that it might have been a mis­take to hurt Harry Pot­ter.

Who else was there for Draco now? Dum­ble­dore? After what he’d done? Draco would sooner have been burned al­ive.

Draco would have to go back to Harry Pot­ter be­cause there was nowhere else for him to go. And if Harry Pot­ter said he didn’t want him, then Draco would be noth­ing, just a pa­thetic lit­tle boy who could never be a Death Eater, never join Dum­ble­dore’s fac­tion, never learn sci­ence.

The trap had been perfectly set, perfectly ex­e­cuted. Father had warned Draco over and over that what you sac­ri­ficed to Dark rit­u­als couldn’t be re­gained. But Father hadn’t known that the ac­cursed Mug­gles had in­vented rit­u­als that didn’t need wands, rit­u­als you could be tricked into do­ing with­out know­ing it, and that was only one of the ter­rible se­crets which sci­en­tists knew and which Harry Pot­ter had brought with him.

Draco started cry­ing harder, then.

He didn’t want this, he didn’t want this but there was no turn­ing back. It was too late. He was already a sci­en­tist.

Draco knew he should go back and free Harry Pot­ter and apol­o­gize. It would have been the smart thing to do.

In­stead Draco stayed in his bed and sobbed.

He’d already hurt Harry Pot­ter. It might be the only time Draco ever got to hurt him, and he would have to hold to that one mem­ory for the rest of his life.

Let him keep scream­ing.

Harry dropped the rem­nants of his hack­saw to the ground. The brass hinges had proved im­per­vi­ous, not even scratched, and Harry was be­gin­ning to sus­pect that even the des­per­a­tion act of try­ing to Trans­figure acid or ex­plo­sives would have failed to open this door. On the plus side, the at­tempt had de­stroyed the hack­saw.

His watch said it was 7:02pm, with less than fif­teen min­utes left, and Harry tried to re­mem­ber if there were any other sharp things in his pouch that needed de­stroy­ing, and felt an­other fit of tears welling up. If only, when his Time-Turner opened, he could go back and pre­vent -

And that was when Harry re­al­ized he was be­ing silly.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been locked in a room.

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall had already told him the cor­rect way to do this.

...she’d also told him not to use the Time-Turner for this sort of thing.

Would Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall re­al­ize that this oc­ca­sion re­ally did war­rant a spe­cial ex­cep­tion? Or just take away the Time-Turner en­tirely?

Harry gath­ered up all his things, all the ev­i­dence, into his pouch. A Scourgify took care of the vomit on the floor, though not the sweat that had soaked his robes. He left the over­turned desks over­turned, it wasn’t im­por­tant enough to be worth do­ing with one hand.

When he was done, Harry glanced down at his watch. 7:04pm.

And then Harry waited. Se­conds passed, feel­ing like years.

At 7:07pm, the door opened.

Pro­fes­sor Flitwick’s puff-bearded face looked rather con­cerned. “Are you all right, Harry?” said the squeaky voice of Raven­claw’s Head of House. “I got a note say­ing you’d been locked in here—”