Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe belongs to J.K. Rowling; the author of this story appreciates her continuing indulgence of those of us who are so attached to it we can't resist tweaking it a little.
Grateful appreciation also goes out to my Beta, Musings, who must be the hardest working woman in the fan fiction business.
Flourish & Blotts: He's a veteran of the Siege of Hogwarts; he's one of the original members of Dumbledore's Army; and now he has written a book, "Harry Potter: The Man who has Started Living," the first authorized biography of the wizarding world's greatest hero. Anthony Goldstein will be with us for the next two hours to talk about his book, and to answer your questions about his old classmate. Anthony, welcome to the Flourish and Blotts Book Hour.
Anthony Goldstein: Thank you, glad to be here.
F&B: When your book was announced as a work in progress, it immediately became the most anticipated event in the history of wizard publishing; but I suppose after everything you experienced in '97 that didn't faze you at all.
AG: Oh, I don't know if I would go that far. [laughter] We can't – we don't 'choose' what to fear and what not to fear in a reasonable and common-sense way. And Harry Potter is probably the clearest proof of that; I think Harry would literally rather fly down a dragon's throat than talk about himself to strangers.
F&B: But in one sense, he's doing exactly that, or at least doing it through you, by giving you this extraordinary opportunity to tell his story. What is it that made such a notoriously private, publicity-resistant character take this step?
AG: Because even though he wasn't eager to talk about himself, or make himself the center of attention and discussion, he was becoming more and more exasperated and disgusted by all the mythology growing up around him. He did want the basic truth of his life story to be told, so that the fantasies wouldn't have the field to themselves.
F&B: And the most obvious follow-up question is: why pick Anthony Goldstein as his authorized truth-teller? You were never known to be close friends.
AG: No, we weren't, and I still wouldn't presume to call myself a close friend, though we were always friendly enough. But a biography by, say, Ron Weasley might not serve the purpose as well, because nobody would think Ron could be a real biographer. That is, people would figure Ron's ultimate loyalty would be to Harry, not to the facts.
F&B: And for you it's the opposite?
AG: That's a hard thing to claim, because nobody who fought alongside Harry is going to be able to avoid feeling a strong sense of loyalty and gratitude towards him. All I can say is that I took the task of being biographer very seriously, and that meant being prepared to do justice to a very complex character; one who has not always done the right thing and the admirable thing, as Harry would be the first to admit – to insist on – himself.
F&B: And at least one leak indicates that your book does contain a revelation which Harry would very much rather not have become public knowledge, and we'll be sure to get to that later in the discussion. But this is the first book you've written, so Harry couldn't have picked your name because he had been impressed by your dedication to objectivity; how did you get close enough to get the nod here?
AG: Basically, my work with the Ministry. One of the projects I was working on after graduating from Hogwarts came to Harry's attention and we renewed our old acquaintance from there.
F&B: That's rather suspiciously brief, you know. Can you tell us more about this project? I know you worked as an examiner of magical artifacts, especially cursed artifacts. Which one had a connection to Harry?
AG: I can't say, I'm terribly sorry. It involves an episode which – everybody involved in it agreed it would serve no purpose to make it public.
F&B: Weren't you a public employee, though? Wasn't this public business?
AG: Not really; this particular artifact was judged to fall under privacy laws.
F&B: Now it's public record that your assignment after Hogwarts was to work on the extensive collection of dark objects once belonging to the late Lucius Malfoy. Can you say whether it was it one of the items seized from the Malfoy estate?
AG: Yes, I think there's no harm in confirming that. It was a particularly nasty bit of Dark magic which had passed through Lucius Malfoy's hands and at one time had come to – affected – actually posed a threat to Harry, and he was naturally very interested in the fate of this object. I'm afraid that's really all I'm going to say about it.
F&B: We'll be back in just a minute with Anthony Goldstein, after a few words from Flourish and Botts.
F&B: The title of your book is obviously a play on Harry's most-used nickname, "The Boy Who Lived"…Am I right in assuming that he always hated that phrase?
AG: Oh absolutely. It never failed to set his teeth on edge when he heard it…
F&B: Okay, so won't he be rather annoyed that your book's title will remind everybody of Harry's old 'title'?
AG: I certainly hope not, and I don't believe it will, because the point really – I think, pretty obviously, the point of the title was to emphasize the differences, to underscore how far he's come from being "the boy who lived." That he isn't a boy any longer, that he's an adult, and that he isn't just to be defined as the one known survivor of the Killing Curse, but rather he's going about actually making a life for himself.
F&B: Should we be surprised at the kind of life he's making for himself? After all, he could be living out every heterosexual male's top one hundred fantasies, but instead he got married right out of Hogwarts to his old schoolmate – his best friend's sister – and started raising an infant and changing diapers. He could be continuing the battle against evil as an Auror, but instead he took a teaching job at his old school, and it isn't even Defense Against the Dark Arts, it's what would be considered a kind of second-rank position, flying instructor.
AG: Madame Hooch's old job, yes.
F&B: It seems very… unexceptional, for such an exceptional individual.
AG: No question. You could say that the basic story of Harry's life is that he grew up in wretchedness, he had greatness thrust upon him, and he has somehow achieved ordinariness. It's an unusual and maybe unsettling story, and it is quite extraordinary to find such an extraordinary individual so passionately longing for the ordinary, but clearly this is the life he has wanted, because everybody who knows Harry, even casually, like me, can see that this is by far the happiest he's ever been.
F&B: But many people can't help feeling disappointed, can't help asking themselves, 'is this worthy of the vanquisher of the Dark Lord?'
AG: Well, I would ask such people to think for a moment about what they're implying when they say that. I mean, how exactly do we have the right to feel disappointed if Harry Potter doesn't follow the script we have in our heads about the right way for heroes to end up? It's as if we're saying that he somehow owes us his life and his life choices, precisely because we all owe him our lives and our freedom. And that's quite a bizarre train of reasoning, I would think. Or – look at it this way: instead of feeling let down by the… bourgeois ending, or whatever you call it, to Harry's epic career, maybe we should feel reassured by that story, maybe we should take heart from it, because it means our own little humdrum lives are actually the stuff of dreams. Harry did – literally – dream night after night of having the kind of life so many of us take for granted.
F&B: Possibly then, Harry never was what people took him to be. What sorts of misconceptions do people have about Harry Potter?
AG: First of all, he's not all that powerful a wizard.
F&B: Oh, come on.
AG: I'm not saying he isn't very strong; he is the most powerful wizard in his graduating class at Hogwarts. But further than that, I would hesitate to – I wouldn't be confident of making any stronger claim than that. And he simply cannot do the sorts of things people regularly say they've heard he could do or saw him do with their own eyes. But despite what you may have read, it turns out that – alas – Harry can't turn dragons into dachshunds with a flick of the wand, or send out waves of love which heal the traumas of abused children halfway across the globe, etc., etc., etc. He was only eighth in his class in O.W.L.s, after all.
F&B: I take it the list was dominated by Ravenclaws as usual… like yourself perhaps?
AG: If you force me to say, I must confess: I was second.
F&B: Very impressive! Who was fir… oh, right, stupid question.
AG: Yes, if you need more than one guess for that one, you don't have an Arithmancy career in your future. Now the point isn't that Hermione or myself or Terry or Mandy are stronger wizards than he is, it's just that if Harry were as… omnipotent… as people sometimes seem to think, why couldn't he have just, say, wandlessly confunded all the examiners into giving him Os. Or…well, you get what I mean.
F&B: But he was first in Defense, surely?
AG: He was, but even there… I've beaten Harry in practice duels. He won most of the time, but I've beaten him. So has everybody in the D.A. Seamus Finnegan even got Harry to have scrolls made up for each of us, with a Veritas charm, saying "I hereby acknowledge that [name] out-dueled me on [the following date(s)], Signed, Harry Potter."
F&B: I imagine that's quite a handy card to play if you're trying to make a pickup.
AG: Or win a bar bet. Seamus says that scroll kept him in Guinness halfway across Ireland until word spread and people stopped taking him up on it.
F&B: And I'm now looking at Anthony's scroll, which has three dates inserted – doesn't mention how many losses, I notice.
AG: Oh, we didn't see the point in keeping track of those. [Laughter] In my case it would have been over twenty.
F&B: Who did best against him?
AG: Ginny did. She got him eight, nine times. They're still arguing about number nine.
F&B: So Harry went into marriage with open eyes, one might say.
AG: Yes, if he had had any illusion that she was a woman to be trifled with, a few well-placed hexes probably did the job setting him straight.
F&B: And – I know I shouldn't ask this, but…
AG: Ron. Ron couldn't beat him, and got frustrated, and lost some more, and got more frustrated and went to extra practice and learned more difficult spells and came in and lost again, and lost again, and it got to the point where… It was like wizard Kabuki, this unchanging set of rituals; Ron would get ready for the moment of truth with Harry, and would pace back and forth, and talk to himself, and Harry would try to say something cheery and encouraging and Ron would get furious because he thought Harry was being condescending and Hermione would have to calm them both down before they killed each other. Then there was more pacing and muttering, and just when they had settled down enough to start again, guaranteed, Ginny would make some crack and set Ron off again… Needless to say, by this point the rest of us had dropped all pretense that we were still working out with one another like we were supposed to, and were just openly watching and enjoying it all.
F&B: But you said that everybody beat Harry at least once, so presumably Ron had his day.
AG: Yes, it was on his twenty-fourth try. We know that was the number, because Ginny was making sure to keep track, and let Ron know about it. And Ron really carried it off splendidly when he finally got Harry's wand; he drew himself up full height, stared haughtily at Harry and declared "I guess you know now, Potter, that nobody beats Ron Weasley twenty-four times in a row!" And we all laughed and cheered like crazy while Ron took a victory lap or two or three.
F&B: How did Harry take it?
AG: He seemed genuinely happy and relieved, I'd say, and he played along with Ron's triumphal march very well. What he didn't like was when Ron refused to let Harry have a rematch. At first he thought Ron was just making a joke about 'retiring on a note of conquest,' but Ron stuck to it and Harry got quite genuinely pissed off after awhile. He said it was because the whole point of the D.A. practice duels was to improve our skills and fitness, not to score points, and Ron was undermining that. And maybe that was part of what got Harry so frustrated, but I have to think it was Harry's competitive nature playing the bigger part. Because one thing that everybody learned very quickly about Harry was that he could be beaten, but you didn't want to be the one to face him after he lost to somebody else, and you didn't look forward to facing him again if you'd won your last match against him. I don't think he ever lost two matches in a row, or lost a return match.
F&B: But with all this you're telling us, about Harry's prowess, doesn't it go against your claim that Harry isn't really all that powerful? You've described him as dominating his class, winning what sounds like well over eighty percent of the time. Ron, who we know is a very formidable fighter…
AG: Yes, he proved that in real-life combat…
F&B: …Ron can't touch him. Sounds like a tremendously powerful wizard.
AG: Yes, but the people he's dominating are other seventeen-year-olds. I think you'd find that most of the wizards and witches who became Aurors, for example, would have whipped their classmates just as consistently; Harry's not really exceptional in that regard. And another thing about his success is that it wasn't really based all that much on magic.
F&B: What was it based on, then? Not his charm and good looks, presumably?
AG: No, but I would say it's mostly his physical talent, not his magical ability. He has amazing reflexes, and he's very hard to take aim at, he's so good at ducking and dodging. Which isn't the sort of thing usually made part of song and story, you know, how the great hero threw himself to the side and rolled over and ran behind a rock…
F&B: But the reflexes certainly were part of his magical success; we all saw that on the Quidditch field.
AG: Exactly; we're really talking about the same abilities that made him such an extraordinary Seeker. And it's clear that these have almost nothing to do with magic, because… [pauses]
I'll tell you a story, something I witnessed myself. Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione hang out quite a lot at Muggle universities, mostly because Hermione always has a lecture or concert she wants to see, and afterwards they'll tend to wander into the student union and drink coffee or maybe something stronger and play some Muggle games with the students. One of the games that's popular at uni is called table tennis, which – I guess the best short description is that two Beaters face each other, about six feet apart, and try to whack the Bludger past one another, only the Bludger is just a tiny, hollow ball weighing an ounce or so and the bats are just hand-sized.
F&B: I think we get the picture.
AG: Okay, the custom is, the winner keeps playing until he's beaten, so there's a line of challengers waiting their turn. Well. Harry played this once or twice during his Muggle years, and he decided to take his turn in the challenge line. The champ had won about six consecutive matches by the time Harry came up. Harry examined the bat, took a few practice swings, and in about six minutes proceeded to beat the previous champ fifteen-nil. Because no matter how hard the poor sod smashed the little Bludger, Harry was somehow always right there already, or flicking his wrist to block it with his bat. Then the next student comes to challenge Harry, and loses fifteen-nil in about five minutes. Harry is having a wonderful time, but Hermione is more and more frantically hinting that it's time to go. We do manage to get out of there before people start asking too many questions about this table-tennis prodigy, and Hermione wants to know why Harry couldn't have just lost a few points each match to avoid drawing attention. Harry was quite offended by this. He would no more throw a point than he would have won a point by using magic against a Muggle. As far as he was concerned, you play fairly and you play to win, every point of every game.
F&B: A very Gryffindor attitude, wouldn't you say?
AG: Very much so, which makes it all the more intriguing that the Sorting Hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin.
F&B: This is true?
AG: This is what Harry says.
F&B: 'Harry's darkest secret revealed in scandalous biography'!
AG: Molly Weasley certainly thought so; when Harry let that fact slip, she was so upset she sent a Howler to the Sorting Hat.
F&B: I didn't know you could do that.
AG: I'm not sure it got there, but Molly insisted on sending it; she was quite scandalized that the hat could even consider doing such a terrible thing to her poor boy. And make no mistake, Molly sees Harry as one of her boys.
F&B: Why do you suppose the hat wanted Harry in Slytherin? I guess now we'll have to try getting it on the show to explain itself, because it'll be getting more Howlers once this news spreads. Any ideas on whether the hat would be accommodating?
AG: I really couldn't say, but my suggestion would be, tell the hat how deeply impressed you've always been with his talents as a singer-songwriter.
F&B: We'll be back with more in a minute or so. Our guest, Anthony Goldstein.
F&B: Let's say you're right, and Harry Potter wasn't the wizarding prodigy we take him to be. What is there about Harry that gave him the ability to prevail?
AG: Well, we could talk about fate and destiny, but none of us really knows how that works, so we have to stick to his qualities and his situation. Most obviously, he is extraordinarily brave; that part is no myth. Well, let me take that back a little: his courage is absolutely genuine, but people still make something fake out of it. What I mean is, I've seen parents at Children's Quidditch berating their seven-year-olds for not being ready to take that Bludger in the face for the team, and almost invariably they end up throwing down Harry as their trump card: 'Do you think Harry Potter would be afraid?' Well, I know that's supposed to be a rhetorical question, but it has an answer: Harry certainly would be afraid if the situation were frightening enough. I've seen Harry shaking very badly, both before a battle and after it. But not during.
F&B: Which I guess is a fair enough way of defining courage: being able to keep the shakes suppressed long enough to get things done.
AG: And by that standard, Harry is supremely brave. Even his worst enemies won't say he lacks courage. They say he's foolhardy, and they have a point. Think of the twelve-year-old going out Basilisk hunting.
F&B: But that was to save Ginny Weasley, the future Mrs. Potter.
AG: Right. But he certainly wasn't thinking along those lines at the time; she was only eleven and he was twelve and they had exchanged maybe ten words. But she was his best friend's sister. So he and Ron, these two twelve-year-olds, went down to go face a Basilisk in order to rescue a girl who – logic tells us – had to have been already dead. Then Ron got temporarily trapped and Harry went looking for Ginny on his own; which, of course, was even madder. A more euphemistic way of saying it is that Harry had a very hyper-developed sense of responsibility. When I asked him what in the world had possessed him to do that he seemed genuinely puzzled, like 'How could I not go? It had to be done, Ginny was there, might still be alive.' By the way, 'It has to be done' has become a standing joke in the Potter-Weasley home. Whenever Ginny needs him to do some wretched chore or other she'll make a stern, stoical face, put on a melodramatic voice and say 'Harry, it has to be done.'
F&B: This brings up another point: he was the only one there, in the Chamber. How do you know he was telling the truth about what happened?
AG: In a way it's been one the crueler tricks fate has played on him, that many of his most extraordinary adventures he was forced to perform alone. That's given room to call him an attention-seeking liar, or delusional, and anybody who knows him at all knows that is the furthest thing from the truth. He has no desire whatsoever to cultivate the adulation of strangers; it does nothing at all for him, he would dearly love to be rid of it. That's one reason Rita Skeeter is still so ferociously hated by his family.
F&B: Well, but for the benefit of those who don't know him as well as you…
AG: OK, let's take this case. This was in the seventh year, when the issue was whether Harry was fit to lead us, and his friends were recounting all the things he had done – mind, Harry himself wouldn't do it…
F&B: …wouldn't say anything that might be construed as blowing his own horn?
AG: Precisely. So, naturally Ron talked about rescuing Ginny from the Basilisk, and this was the very question which was raised by a very atypically obnoxious Hufflepuff: how do we know Harry really did all that? And Ron Weasley gave the answer: "You admit there was a Basilisk, right? Harry went down there; after he came back, there was a dead Basilisk. You tell me what happened."
F&B: And after that rescue, naturally, Ginny developed a terrific crush on her rescuer.
AG: Actually, no. That is to say, the crush came first, really from the moment she met him, earlier that year. If you can call it a crush.
F&B: Why do you hesitate…
AG: Because I'm convinced it was more serious than that, even at such a young age. We're talking about some very intense feelings. It also endured, basically, six years of rejection, which doesn't happen with girlish crushes. I don't want to make her out as a kind of stalker, by the way, it wasn't anything remotely like that. For most of this time she hid it well enough that Harry assumed she had a crush once, she was over it, she'd moved on. So it was completely one-sided for years and years. But as oblivious as he was, Harry couldn't help being aware of those feelings during Ginny's first year – everybody still teases her about how during that time she would be reduced to fumbling, blushing silence whenever he came into the room – and probably that's another place where that hyper-developed sense of responsibility comes in. I'm pretty sure that even then, when he was twelve, he was thinking that he had a special obligation to try to save her, precisely because she was putting so much faith in him.
F&B: But nothing happened between them until after Hogwarts?
AG: I'll put it this way: there was nothing visible happening between them for the entire siege. And it would have been very, very difficult to hide it if there were. Everybody was constantly in one another's company – basically, we were all soldiers sharing a barracks, perpetually on duty, with the grapevine running full out, all the time, so no matter how good you are at creating Privacy charms and Silencing charms – and believe me, we got very, very good at that…
F&B: For purposes which don't require elaboration.
AG: For shagging, exactly. Well, really; there we were, a group of teenagers with no adults looking over our shoulders, constantly in intimate company with one another, and any decent actuary would have pegged our average life expectancy at about two weeks. You don't need to be a Ravenclaw to predict what's going to happen in those circumstances. Except it wasn't happening to Harry, either with Ginny or with anybody else. And it wasn't for lack of anybody elses. There was no shortage of offers to become Harry's special girl, and I don't mean subtle flirtation.
F&B: What did everybody make of that?
AG: A number of us suspected that Harry was gay. Especially when you take into account his previous history with girls, or lack of history. To the best of my knowledge – and I have researched this, believe it or not – during his time at Hogwarts, Harry was on two, count 'em two, dates. And one of them was compulsory – he was required to bring a partner to the Triwizards Ball in his fourth year, and went with Parvati Patil. So it could be literally said that Harry had been on one voluntary date during his schooldays. And that wasn't with his future wife.
F&B: Who was it with?
AG: It was with Cho Chang, who describes it as a disaster. Though she admits it was mostly her own fault. Without going into details…
F&B: …for which you'll have to buy the book.
AG: No actually they aren't in the book either, it's not that kind of book. Well, it's not a big secret really, because Cho made sure everybody in Ravenclaw got a minute-by-minute description at the time, and I remember our reactions very well. But the quick summary: here was a very beautiful girl who was obviously being quite – who was taking the initiative on herself to approach a boy she liked, who was making it very clear that she liked him and wanted to be his girlfriend, and he was acting in a manner which pushed her away. So all us clever Ravenclaws, who were of course already at age 15 or whatever enormously learned in matters of human psychology and human sexual response, or thought we were anyway, nodded sagely to one another and said: I bet he's gay.
F&B: Did Cho think so?
AG: No, she thought he was actually rejecting her in favor of Hermione Granger. Which, by the way – what may be the single most persistent 'fact' about Harry Potter that everybody knows, which isn't so, is that Hermione Granger was his first girlfriend. They were never romantically involved, never. And we knew it even at the time, which meant that we knew Cho was barking up the wrong tree, which reinforced many people's suspicions that he was gay. And those suspicions persisted, because – again – we never saw him with a girl, or talking about one. So during the siege, at least one gay student thought to test the waters by coming to Harry and remarking about how difficult it could be for gay men in a situation like this, with all the macho posturing, but how it wasn't right to stay in the closet and it ultimately was self-destructive to try.
F&B: And Harry's response?
AG: He was completely supportive of the student's right to equal dignity, and completely clueless that the poor fellow was making a pass at him. Harry even offered to make a speech about the subject, and fortunately the student persuaded him that wasn't necessary. Fortunately, because listening to Harry give a public speech on any subject matter was painful enough, but the thought of listening to a speech from Harry about sex – to this day it makes me shudder. It would have been unbearable. We would all have run out and thrown ourselves on Voldemort's mercy halfway through it.
F&B: Come on now, he can't be that bad.
AG: He is absolutely that bad. And all those witches and wizards who want him to become the next Minister of Magic, please, please stop casting whatever spells you're casting to try to make it happen, because one of the minister's prime duties is speechmaking. You have no idea what you'd be getting yourself into… [pauses]
Actually, I have to modify that. One on one, at least with strangers or casual acquaintances, he's pretty stiff and tongue-tied. In a group of two or three, he's sort of OK. With maybe five or six people, close friends around him, that's the ideal for Harry; he actually relaxes and allows some of his father to come through. From then on, every additional person he has to speak to doubles his anxiety level – you could plot it on a graph, it makes a nice little asymptotic curve – till by the time you get to, say, fifteen people, he sounds like an absolute bumbling idiot – which, needless to say, he is not. At the siege, he was trying to speak to 300 people. It was... unspeakable.
I also wanted to add something, since we were talking about Cho. The amount of abuse she's received from strangers – to her face and behind her back, in all sorts of gossip – is really unbelievable. I keep reading and hearing bout how she was this predatory harpy who used Dark Arts to get him interested and turned into a psychotic stalker when he rejected her; how she put all these curses on Ginny Weasley, and… the most ludicrous stuff. Basically, her 'crime' was being a teenager in a short-lived relationship…
F&B: …and who among us is without sin in that regard…
AG: Exactly. It also should be mentioned, though Cho herself doesn't like to, but really… that she and her family had an absolutely nightmarish year in '97, in some ways worse than we did at Hogwarts. The Chang family were waiting for a Portkey to Hong Kong when Voldemort staged his magical coup, and suddenly they were completely isolated, and obvious targets. It was well enough known that Cho had once dated Harry, and even if they broke up, she was almost certain to be prime bait or blackmail material to get at Harry if they could catch her. The Changs realized this and went into hiding, constantly moving from spot to spot when they felt the Death Eaters might be getting too close.
F&B: How does she feel about Harry now? Does she blame him for the family's ordeal?
AG: I don't think so, but – understandably – she doesn't like to do interviews about "My First Kiss with The Boy Who Lived."
F&B: Back in a moment with more from Anthony Goldstein, author of "Harry Potter: the Man who has Started Living," available starting Monday at Flourish and Blotts bookstores throughout Britain and Ireland.