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.
F&B: Before we get to listeners’ questions, as promised, we have to talk about the most sensational and most disturbing allegation which is reported to appear in your book. We hear from several sources that your biography claims to have convincing evidence that, in his sixth year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter attempted suicide and committed homicide. Do you in fact make that charge?
AG:Yes, I do. Being careful to include the caveat that “homicide” does not mean criminal homicide. I believe that Harry killed, but in self-defense.
F&B: That isn’t news, though; we know he killed Voldemort.
AG:I’m talking here about the deaths of some of Voldemort’s followers, not of Voldemort himself.
F&B: And you do charge that Harry attempted suicide?
AG:In essence, yes, I think he did. What counts as “suicide” is also something we could wrangle over, but maybe it’s best if I just tell the story as I found it, and let your listeners decide how much of it they believe, and – if they do believe the story – what they would call it, what Harry did.
F&B: Go ahead.
AG:Okay. Sixth year was, in many ways, the worst for Harry. He had lost his godfather, he was blaming himself for the death, and he’d been given this ‘present’ of being told it was up to him to stop Voldemort. Then, as the term went on, it seemed that Voldemort was acting at will, even in Hogwarts itself, sabotaging passageways, plucking students out and holding them hostage, sending taunting messages to Harry inviting him to come rescue them.
F&B: Did he try? To rescue the students, I mean.
AG:Everybody knew he would try, given half a chance, and that he would be walking into a deathtrap. So he wasn’t given half a chance. He was made a virtual prisoner and watched constantly. Naturally, Harry was getting more and more frustrated and angry, was lashing out at friend and foe alike—
F&B: —and also was feeling guilty, perhaps?
AG:And guilty. The students were being taken because of him, Harry couldn’t help thinking of it in those terms. It hit bottom when Dennis Creevey died. Dennis’s brother Colin virtually stalked Harry through the hallways, asking why he didn’t do anything for Dennis, saying he would have done something if it had been Ron or Hermione who’d been taken.
F&B: Is it possible that Colin had a point?
AG:It’s hard to see what Harry could have done for Dennis except die along with him. But Harry didn’t see it that way. When his friends tried to keep Colin away from him, Harry actually yelled at them, “Leave him alone; he’s got a right to say anything he wants; he’s lost his brother, don’t you understand?”
[Pause.] Then, just before Christmas Break, his mood took a sudden change; he was calm and cheerful, had a pleasant word for everybody, even smiled at all the usual Slytherin taunts.
F&B: It sounds as if he’d found some way to get past all those feelings of guilt and anger.
AG:It might sound that way, if you really could work your way through that burden that quickly, under those circumstances, without any visible effort. But if you don’t believe that such psychological magic can be performed, what it really sounds like is the calm of someone who has made up his mind that there’s no point getting upset about anything because it’s all going to end soon anyway. And this is clearly what Hermione was worried about, because she was very desperately begging him to talk to her, to talk to Dumbledore, to talk to somebody, and not to ‘do anything rash.’ Hermione was so frantic she wasn’t even bothering to keep this quiet and private; we could hear her halfway down the Great Hall sometimes.
F&B: But apparently she was wrong, wasn’t she? Or was there an attempt which was covered up?
AG:Well, let me continue first with what I witnessed myself, then we’ll get to what I researched later and whether that spells ‘cover-up’. After we all came back from Christmas break, Harry was not seen anywhere for the first week of second term. When he finally appeared, two Slytherin students – Crabbe and Goyle – were heard screaming threats and invective at him, including “murderer.” And a couple of days after that – according to persistent reports from credible witnesses – Harry was ambushed and attacked by Crabbe and Goyle, and barely escaped with his life. Crabbe and Goyle themselves fled the school and became Death Eaters. But nobody would say – for the record – what the motivation was for the attacks.
F&B: Do you think that you know?
AG:Even at the time, I thought it was pretty clear: Harry had somehow killed Crabbe’s father and Goyle’s father, who were both Death Eaters. Neither boy was the type to be particularly disturbed by the death of anybody who wasn’t close to them. But there was never any public report of the deaths of the two. So if Harry did kill them, how? And why? And where?
F&B: And how did he go from being suicidally depressed to being an avenger of Death Eater crimes?
AG:Right. When I took up this job – and don’t get me wrong it’s been a great privilege and mostly a great pleasure to be Harry’s biographer – I knew I would have to try to get answers to questions like this. But in this case, Harry flatly refused to give any answers, and so did all his friends and family members who might have any clue about where to get them. So, I had to try to look up what I could. And the first thing I looked for was a report on the deaths of the senior Crabbe and Goyle. The Ministry does keep track of these things, because they naturally want to know that all the old Death Eaters are accounted for in one way or another, so sooner or later I was bound to come across an official reference to them. And I did.
F&B: What was the official word, then?
AG:It comes from a very short parchment, dated January 1997—
F&B: —That is, just at the time you were speaking of: beginning of second term, Harry’s sixth year.
AG:That’s right. The parchment gives the date of death – which was just around the time Harry went “missing,” so to speak – and gives the cause of death as “WH-SD”, which is code for death “at a Witch or Wizard’s Hand, in Self-Defense.” For the killer’s name, it simply states “Underaged Wizard.” And it lists two others as “Witnesses”
F&B: And the names of the witnesses?
AG:They are given as “Underaged Witch” and “Underaged Wizard.”
F&B: And you’re assuming this could only be Harry – the killer – and Ron and Hermione, the witnesses?
AG:No, that would—
F&B: —Because if anything, the presence of two witnesses would point away from Ron and Hermione, wouldn’t it? I mean, I find it hard to believe they simply stood and watched while Harry was in a fight to the death—
AG:—No, I wouldn’t believe that either. But “witness” doesn’t necessarily mean passive witness in that sense; for legal purposes its key meaning is that they didn’t deal the fatal blows, and weren’t part of some conspiracy to deal them. Still, at this point I concede we can’t be jumping to conclusions.
But there’s more. The place where this all took place is given in code, indicating a location under some national wizarding security secrecy. But the Ministry isn’t terribly good at hiding things in code…
F&B: Should we feel worried by this, or reassured?
AG:A little of both I guess. It’s certainly fortunate for historians and biographers. In any case, it doesn’t take too much cross checking to find the building referred to in the code, and it turns to be Number 12, Grimmauld Place.
F&B: I have to admit, although you say that with a splendid dramatic air…