“You’re a prefect? Oh Ronnie! That’s everyone in the family!”
Ron looked nervously at Harry. Harry betrayed nothing. You can be a wizard, Ron remembered, and you can be a man; it is good to be both, if you can, but if you must choose, it is better to be a man and not a wizard than a wizard and not a man.
“That — that doesn’t matter, Mum,” Ron said tentatively. “You should consider your children indifferently, only on the basis of the values you can trade with them, rather than automatically prefer us simply because we happen to have been born to you. It’s — it’s the trader principle, Mum.”
Mrs. Weasley let the crockpot slip from her hand.
“There’s no reason for my being a prefect to reflect upon you either negatively or poorly,” Ron said, his voice deepening. “My achievements are my own. Not yours.”
Harry almost smiled. Ron was becoming a person at last.
The Sorting Hat leapt from the stool and began to sing aloud. The entire school was transfixed.
Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry’s purest.”
“An obsession with ancestral purity,” whispered Harry out of the side of his mouth, “is the rankest, lowest form of collectivism. It is racism and laziness disguised as filial pride. A man’s character is not inherited. It is forged by steel and jaws and trains and bulging forearm muscles. This is a doctrine for, and by, brutes.”
Cho Chang took notes with an adoring pen. It was natural for her to venerate Harry, as it is natural for all true women to venerate great men; the uterus makes a natural storage space for admiration.
“A genius is a genius,” Harry continued, “regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same family—and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his last name.” He looked impassively at Draco, who shook under the moral purity of Harry’s gaze.
The Hat sang on:
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest.”
“Sound enough,” Harry said. “Though it could stand to mention property rights. Remember that wealth is merely the byproduct of the intelligence and the work of individuals. ‘As you cannot have effects without causes, so you cannot have wealth without its source: without intelligence.'”
Hermione applauded spontaneously. Cho Chang glared at her. They were competing for that scarcest of resources: a real man.
Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name.”
Harry nodded. There was no need for words, so he spoke none.
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot
And treat them just the same.”
Harry’s jaw trembled manfully, like if a steam shovel were to tremble from being full of too many rocks. “This is disgusting,” he said. “It is Communism. I won’t stay and listen to it.”
“It’s been fourteen years, and still not a day goes by that I don’t miss your dad,” Sirius said.
“That sounds like a waste of both time and personal energy,” Harry said, smoking a pipe. “I can assure you no one in the grave spends their time missing you.”
“Hem-Hem…Thank you, headmaster, for those kind words of welcome,” Umbridge said. “The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of a vital importance. Although each headmaster has brought something new to this…historic school, progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged. Let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices that ought to be…prohibited!”
Harry leapt from off his bench and drew his wand. “This sounds despicably like regulation,” he cried. “Regulation is the enemy of the good.”
Umbridge — whose face resembled nothing more than a surprised toad — quickly trundled Harry off to her office on the third floor, which was full of chintz and floral wallpaper and was absolutely nothing like being on a train. It was like some sort of woman’s room. But not the good kind of woman, the kind who wrapped her naked shoulder in steel and cool black fabric and the kind of sensuality only success in the world of business can bring. The other kind.
“That was unwise, boy,” she hissed, thrusting a quill into his hand. “You will write ‘I will not tell lies’ a hundred times with this until it is etched permanently onto your skin.”
Harry looked coolly at her, like if an iceberg were to make eye contact with you and remain unimpressed. He lifted the quill as if to begin, then immediately chopped off his own hand with it.
Professor Umbridge screamed as the hand continued to draft architectural designs for several minutes on the floor.
Harry wrapped his wrist and placed it efficiently behind his back before making her a low bow. “There is the hand, Professor,” he said, inclining his head wryly to the floor. “You make ask it to do whatever you wish. I remain free.”
Professor Umbridge called out in a quavering voice after Harry’s retreating figure. “Potter — Harry — sir –”
He turned and looked at her.
“Tell me about this freedom,” she said haltingly. “The freedom of the individual.”
Harry’s lips curved into a smile the way a prow curves into the lines of a mighty ship.
“No,” he said, and walked away.
Snape loomed up out of the darkness of the empty Potions room. “Let us get these ridiculous Occlumency lessons over with,” he said, placing his wand on the desk beside him. “Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked so easily — weak people in other words –”
“–are of little value on the open market,” Harry finished for him. “I quite agree.”
Snape looked at him with something strange brimming in his eyes. “I believe I’m going to respect you after all, Potter,” he said.
“That doesn’t matter,” Harry said. “Whether you respect me or not, I remain myself.”
Snape respected him even more for saying that.
“Do you see, Harry? Do you see the flaw in my brilliant plan now? I had fallen into the trap I had foreseen, that I had told myself I could avoid, that I must avoid.”
Harry looked keenly at him.
“I cared about you too much,” said Dumbledore simply. “I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth, more for your peace of mind than my plan, more for your life than the lives that might be lost if the plan failed. In other words, I acted exactly as Voldemort expects we fools who love to act.”
“I do see the flaw,” Harry said. “How embarrassing for you.” He rose to leave. “My only loyalty is to the truth, which is the highest form of good, and expresses itself in the form of money.”
“Wait,” Dumbledore called out after him. “There is a room in the Department Of Mysteries that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than the forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of many subjects for study that reside there.”
“The only room I care about,” Harry replied, “is the one with all the money in it.”
“Do you mean the bank?” Dumbledore asked.
Harry waved his stump about impatiently. “It has many names. I call it the Freedom Room.”
“Please,” Dumbledore continued desperately, “Listen to me, Harry. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all. That power took you to save Sirius tonight. That power also saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests. In the end, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your h–”
“It was my self-mastery and intrinsic sense of worth,” Harry said firmly, “and nothing more. Anyone raised by the free market would have done the same.”
“I’ve been thinking about something Dumbledore said to me,” Harry said.
“What’s that?” said Hermione.
“That even though we’ve got a fight ahead of us, we’ve got one thing that Voldemort doesn’t have.”
Ron looked at him. He was so close to guessing it, but he wasn’t quite there yet.
“Something worth fighting for,” Harry said. “A commitment to individualism, a rigorous methodology, and a comprehensive philosophical framework that provides a realistic alternative to emotionalism and the nanny state.”
Behind him, Cho Chang took notes. “I’m so glad my old boyfriend is dead,” she said, “so that I have time to write all this down.”
Harry said nothing.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.