Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality puzzle-solving post

If you haven’t read Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, I strongly recommend it. If you’re reading this blog, I estimate a 90% chance you’ll love it. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t read this post, because I’m going to spoil everything up through the currently-posted chapter (chapter 95), but if you have read it, read on.

Eliezer once said that he intends his fiction as a puzzle to be solved, so here I’m going to try to solve it. If you didn’t take the above paragraph seriously enough, SPOILERS AHOY!

Let’s start with the story’s background. It appears that in this version, “Voldemort” was a persona created by Tom Riddle to give him an enemy to defeat under another persona, “David Munroe.” (See chs. 34, 84, 86, 92.) The wizarding world loved “David Monroe,” talked about him as the next Dumbledore, and he probably could have become Minister of Magic if he wanted, but he was angling for absolute power, and felt the wizarding world wasn’t uniting behind him strongly enough.

As a result, he decided to become Voldemort full time because that was “more pleasant” (ch. 84). He could have taken over Magical Britain had he really tried, but for whatever reason he didn’t try. Perhaps that was because he wasn’t initially planning on having Voldemort win and, as Voldemort later says of someone else in a different context, “Perhaps the role he was playing ran away with him” (ch. 85).

Then came the prophecy. According to Snape, in this version of the story the prophecy went as follows (ch. 86):

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, 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.

Note that this differs slightly from how the prophecy went in canon:

“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 will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies …”

One of the central premises of Methods is that its version of Voldemort is much smarter than canon Voldemort, which creates a strong presumption against Voldemort having been tricked into going to his doom. More likely, Voldemort heard the prophecy and realized that, rather than trying to prevent it from being fulfilled, he need to manipulate how it would be fulfilled.

This might seem like story logic rather than the kind of reasoning a truly smart person would follow, but the Methods verse has time travel that mysteriously always creates a stable time loop no matter what anyone does, and if you know that’s how the world works, accepting that you can’t fight fate becomes the rational thing to do.

So now Voldemort needs to arrange a situation where:

  • Voldemort has marked Harry as his equal
  • Harry has power Voldemort knows not
  • Harry has the power to vanquish Voldemort
  • Voldemort then destroys all but a remnant of Harry

So what did Voldemort do? For starters, give Harry his scar, and almost certainly give Harry the mysterious dark side that plays such a big role in Methods. Given Voldemort’s repeated offers to help Harry become the next Dark Lord (ch. 19 onwards), it seems likely that he thinks doing that would help fulfill the prophecy in a way favorable to him.

It is less clear whether Voldemort made Harry into a horcrux, as in canon. Against the horcrux theory, in ch. 10 the Sorting Hat tells Harry:

I can tell you that there is definitely nothing like a ghost – mind, intelligence, memory, personality, or feelings – in your scar. Otherwise it would be participating in this conversation, being under my brim.

Also, ch. 85 says, “His ‘dark side’, so far as Harry could tell, was a different way that Harry sometimes was.”

On the other hand, in canon, the Sorting Hat didn’t have a conversation with the bit of Voldemort’s soul that was stuck to Harry either, so maybe a small piece of soul isn’t enough for the Sorting Hat to talk to. Dumbledore says in ch. 79 that the bit of soul bound to a horcrux would be “less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost.” Harry’s dark side also seems very Voldemort-like: it thinks everyone should die (Humanism arc) and is very afraid of death (ch. 56). On the whole, I think Harry is still a horcrux in this version of the story, but Eliezer may have changed that to some other kind of magical bond between Voldemort and Harry. (There are a few places in the story that seem to suggest legilimency has some mind-control applications, so maybe that’s what it was.)

In any case, it seems likely that part of the purpose of the bond is to allow Voldemort to possess Harry. In ch. 79, Dumbledore suggests that perhaps Voldemort took advantage of Hermione’s anger to possess her, and Harry’s dark side is triggered by his anger. It seems like there’s a good chance that Voldemort plans on taking over Harry’s body permanently, destroying “all but a remnant” of Harry by completely overwriting his original personality.

Once concern I had about the theory that Voldemort will try to permanently possess Harry is that there’s some indication that possession takes a toll on the possessed body. At the beginning of the year, the body Voldemort was using to be Quirrell was that of a young-man, and Quirrell’s non-Voldemort mode was frightened and twitchy but could pass for normal. Now, the body is greatly aged and when Voldemort isn’t possessing it, it’s reduced to a crawling zombie. However, as pointed out to me in this thread, it’s possible that because Voldemort doesn’t plan on using that body for more than a year, he’s been deliberately burning it up in dark rituals.

Whatever Voldemort’s plan is, because we’re dealing with smart!Voldemort here, I assume he’s already found a way around the weird interaction between his and Harry’s magic (ch. 54). It could be as simple as stabbing Harry, or having a subordinate kill Harry, or casting a spell that will kill Harry indirectly, but I expect there will turn out to be some magic loophole that allows for, say, possession.

That’s what I’ve figured out as the plot so far, but as for how the story will end, I’m less sure. I made a prediction about Snape here (the quote I was thinking of is from ch. 77: “Severus is one of the most important pieces our own side possesses, in that war.”) Dumbleore seems to have the Elder Wand, as in canon, and I expect that will be important somehow. And I suspect that Harry may have inadvertently given Voldemort key information in ch. 26 that would allow Voldemort to find the Resurrection Stone.

I’m scratching my head over what the deal with the Philosopher’s Stone is. We learn in ch. 27 that the Weasley twins have been through the corridor where the Philosopher’s Stone was hidden in canon, and in ch. 70 Parvati claims that “everyone in Gryffindor’s been through it by now” (though this may be hyperbole). In chs. 77 and 79, we learn that Dumbledore set up the corridor as a trap for Voldemort, Voldemort knows it was a trap, and as far as Dumbledore knows Voldemort resisted the temptation of the trap. A few possibilities:

  1. The Philosopher’s Stone is in the corridor as in canon. The Gryffindors who’ve been through the corridor were prevented from getting it using the Mirror of Erised trick that Dumbledore used in canon. Voldemort has refrained from walking into the obvious trap.
  2. On the other hand, if the Gryffindors can get through the corridor, why couldn’t Voldemort? Perhaps Dumbledore’s trap was more about detection spells, and Dumbledore is perfectly aware of what the Gryffindors have been doing, but is still waiting for Voldemort to spring the trap. But what if Voldemort stole the Stone, as he claimed in ch. 77, possibly by using information about the Hogwarts wards gleaned from Slytherin’s Monster?
  3. Alternatively, the Philosopher’s Stone may be the rock Dumbledore gave to Harry, so even if Voldemort tried evading the wards as is (2), and even if he could subvert the Mirror of Erised, he still couldn’t get the Stone. I’m not entirely sure how that theory works, but something has to be up with that rock. Unless the rock was a bit of misdirection on Dumbledore’s part.

If Voldemort never died (or never went down below one body), I think that would tend to favor (1): the Philosopher’s Stone is simply irrelevant to Methods. In any case, I think Dumbledore suspected “Quirrell” of bringing the Dementor to Hogwarts as a distraction so he could steal the Philosopher’s Stone, but the Dementor really had nothing to do with that.

There are also a whole bunch of Checkov’s guns and foreshadowing that may be going off. Also some general observations that may be unimportant. A partial list:

  • At this point, I think there’s a good chance of the story climaxing on the Ides of May, see ch. 17.
  • Roger Bacon’s diary is definitely a horcrux, but this may end up not mattering. It’s possible it plays no specific role in Voldemort’s plan, and he just figured another horcrux couldn’t hurt.
  • Voldemort is totally granting all three wishes (ch. 34).
  • There are a couple really creepy moments where Voldemort (as Quirrell) makes stealth allusions to having killed his parents. (Or is it just his father, like in canon?) I count two instances: “I resolved my parental issues to my own satisfaction” (ch. 20) and “My own family is long since dead at the Dark Lord’s hand” (ch 34).
  • The Galleons buried in the backyard (ch. 36) are a major Checkov’s gun, possibly not to be used for Harry’s arbitrage scheme, but something like buying equipment or paying a bribe.
  • The tearing apart the stars thing (chs. 21, 89) may very well be literal, if Harry ascends to godhood and remakes the universe. Heck, given that you apparently can’t fight fate in this universe, it probably is.

I should probably be giving that last one more weight than I have. There seem to be a number of subtle cues that Harry will go ultra-powerful and it will almost end very badly, but there will be some very clever solution to the dilemma. Not sure how that will work, though.

Okay, hmmm… actually, I think Harry’s ascension to godhood must be an important part of Voldemort’s plan, because Harry will have to be very powerful before he’s powerful enough to destroy all of Voldemort’s well-hidden horcruxes (Pioneer Plaque and also probably horcruxes hidden in locations Harry suggests in ch. 46). Since magic and science appear to use different conservation laws (p. 78), maybe Harry could try to do some conservation law arbitrage for free energy, which would give him destroy-the-solar-system power, and which I suppose he could then try to use for other purposes.

Wow. I think that actually may be the correct answer. Except I’m not sure what the crucial final puzzle will be that Harry will need to solve to prevent either destroying the world or a Voldemort victory. Hmmm, maybe the power that Voldemort knows not will turn out to be something to do with Harry’s attitude towards death (see: humanism arc)?

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