After the end: a Harry Potter counterfictional
[What exactly is a counterfictional? You can find the answer (and more examples) here.]
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a masterwork of young adult fiction, one that is at least as rich and will be just as enduring as C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. (Also, it made better movies. Just sayin’.) It has a devoted fan base, rich characters, an intricately-planned seven-volume plot, a stirring ending, and, um, I’ll just say it, a disappointing epilogue. Before you leap down my throat, please at least grant me that Rowling herself seems to have implicitly acknowledged that the epilogue leaves something to be desired. Otherwise, why in the world would she have spent so much time in interviews talking about what each of the characters did after the end of the seventh book?
In fact, these interviews have resulted in a rather odd pseudo-canon. You heard that Dumbledore was gay, right? Well, that’s never actually explicitly stated in the book. You knew that Ginny Weasley becomes a professional quidditch player, Hermione works in the Ministry of Magic, and that Harry and Ron became aurors, right? Not in any of the books they don’t. The one real piece of information that you get (other than who got married and the names of their kids) is that Neville Longbottom becomes Herbology professor at Hogwarts.
Which brings me, finally, to my point. J. K. Rowling, as brilliant as she is, totally screwed up. Or I should say, she’s wrong. Harry Potter does not become an auror. The books never say so, and if you read closely, you can figure out what it is that Harry really does after his final battle with Lord Voldemort.
Harry becomes Defense Against the Dark Arts (DADA) professor at Hogwarts, the youngest professor in Hogwarts history, and the first person to hold the job for more than a single year since Dumbledore denied it to Tom Riddle.
How do I know this? let me list the ways:
1. Harry has at least as much experience as any other possible candidate for the job.
In Rowling’s novels, holding the Defense Against the Dark Arts job is often detrimental to one’s health. By the end of Deathly Hallows, out of the six people who have held the DADA professorship (I’m going to ignore the Death Eater who holds the job under Snape in book 7), three are dead, one is locked up in Azkaban, one has no memory, and one wasn’t even actually the person who had been hired but stole the job by locking up that person in a box and quite literally stealing his identity. (The person who was supposed to have had the job but was locked up in a box? He’s dead too, just in case you’re keeping track.) After the Battle of Hogwarts, there’s no one around who has taught Defense Against the Dark Arts who could possibly pick up the job.
Except Harry. Who taught a wildly successful Defense of the Dark Arts class in secret during his fifth year at Hogwarts. Harry’s students, who called themselves “Dumbledore’s Army,” consistently praised his instruction, and played a key role in Valdemort’s defeat in the Battle of Hogwarts. Furthermore, the new Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, has long been a patron of Harry’s and keenly aware of his extraordinary talent.
And let’s not forget that Harry defeated Lord Voldemort in single combat. More than once. That has to count for something.
2. Harry is who Tom Riddle should have been.
Rowling spends as much time on the similarities and connections between Harry Potter and Tom Riddle as on their differences. They’re both orphans with incredible amounts of raw magical talent. They both share a deep need to prove themselves. They both suffered dearly in the muggle world. They both have extraordinary abilities, unusual even within the wizard world.
While Deathly Hallows establishes that Voldemort/Riddle uses the Defense Against the Dark Arts position as an opportunity to visit Hogwarts both to hide a horcrux (Ravenclaw’s diadem) and to find an artifact to use as a new horcrux, Dubledore also believes (as do I) that Riddle really wanted the job. Sure, Voldemort is enough of a bastard to curse a job that he never really even wanted, just to spite Dumbledore, but, at the same time, Voldemort is not a very subtle person, and Dumbledore is never totally sure what really happened. If Voldemort had placed a curse out of spite, he wouldn’t have made any secret of it. How much more damage would it have done Dumbledore if the world knew that Voldemort had placed a jinx right under his nose, and there was nothing Dumbledore could do about it? No, the subtle, secret hex is the action of a man who doesn’t want to admit that he’s been touched in a vulnerable place.
Voldemore wanted the job so badly that when he was turned down he made sure that no one else could have it either. Until Harry breaks the curse and takes the job for himself.
3. Harry cannot become an auror because Harry needs to die a peaceful death.
A major point in the resolution of Deathly Hallows is that the power of the Elder Wand will be broken if it is never taken from Harry and he dies a natural death. If Harry has any desire for this to happen, he would never, never become an auror, the job most likely to lead him to a violent death and the transferral of the Elder Wand’s power to a new owner.
Harry, instead would lead a quiet, retired life. Maybe as a teacher, in the most secure magical fortress in England, especially if there were a job with enough excitement to make the day-to-day a touch more interesting. Within a year, Harry would be holding “Dumbledore’s Army” extra-credit sessions in the room of requirement, open to all, but especially popular with Gryffindors.
After all, it’s worth remembering that Hogwarts is where Harry (and Tom Riddle) were really happy. I can imagine no better end than for Harry to live out his years celebrating Christmas in the great hall with staff and friends, cheering at Quidditch matches, and offering the occasional tip to the new Gryffindor seeker. Maybe one day there’d be a new student or two whose adventures were worth a book of their own.
Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.