“Cho Chang,” Harry called from across the hallway, and quickly closed the distance between them, like some sort of sexually compelling locomotive. “The Yule Ball is tomorrow. I wish to acquire you for it. Say yes, now, with your mouth, before I cruelly crush it against my own, like some sort of sexual flower.”
“Oh. Harry,” Cho said, “I’m sorry but someone’s already asked me. And well, I’ve, I’ve said I’ll go with him.”
“I refuse to allow you to live in the world of the mediocre,” Harry said, eyes flashing flint and fire. “You are the only acceptable mate for me. I will hold you in my arms in front of our peers at the Yule Ball. Reconcile yourself to your fate, and wear something red or purple.”
“Harry, I’m sorry, but –”
“You’ll wear your hair down,” he said carelessly. “It suits you best that way. I have nothing left to say to you at present. I don’t think I’ll kiss you just yet. Go make whatever feminine preparations you have to make before tomorrow night.”
“Your watch is off by fourteen seconds,” he said before turning to leave. “Unless you plan on making imprecision a habit, I suggest you correct it before I see you again.”
“Harry,” Hermione called out breathlessly, scurrying to catch up with him, only no one could ever catch up with him, for he walked alone, “I got you a Christmas present. Happy — Happy Christmas, Harry.”
It was a sweater she had knitted herself with the answer to every exam they’d be taking for the rest of the year magically and invisibly sewn into the fabric. Harry tossed it in his book bag.
“I got you a present too,” Harry said. Hermione’s smile widened.
“My present is the truth,” he said. “You don’t look very good in green. I don’t know why you’re always wearing it.”
“If you want to know what a man’s like,” Dumbledore said, “take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Harry leaned back in his chair. “No man is my equal.”
“Harry,” Dumbledore said sadly, “you must not compare others so harshly against yourself. It is our duty to those weaker than ourselves to–”
“I don’t make comparisons. I never think of myself in relation to anyone else. I just refuse to measure myself as part of anything.”
“You preach selflessness,” Harry said, “but what you really mean is slavery to the collective.” And with that, Harry awarded himself six O.W.L.s — which was his right as an individual — and Disapparated to Hogsmeade.
“The drinking age is fundamentally oppressive,” he explained to Madame Rosmerta. “Under a truly federalist system, youthful drinking is rightly governed by the laws of common sense and natural consequences. One fire-whiskey, please.”
Malfoy flashed his SUPPORT CEDRIC DIGGORY/POTTER STINKS badge from across the table. Ron sneered. “Cedric Diggory,” he said. “Thinks he’s so great. He’s not so great.”
“Jealousy is a quality of the womanish and the poor,” Harry said, without malice, finishing a simple dish of plums. “I suggest you free yourself from it.”
The merpeople brandished their spears fiercely. Harry looked around. Ron, Hermione and Gabrielle Delacour drifted lazily through the water, arms bound uselessly behind their backs. Where was Fleur? And where was Krum?
Harry turned to face the merpeople. “The true test is not whether a Triwizard Champion can perform an act of charity — an act of mercy — whether I am capable of saving these victims, these leechers, these children. I can, I assure you. The question is whether I can do without them, whether I can exist solely as my own entity. Whether I can perform an act of accomplishment.”
Harry carefully began placing the heaviest stones he could carry over the rope connecting Ron and Hermione, until they were hopelessly enmeshed in the lake bed.
“The answer, of course,” he said clearly, “is that I can.” He swam away. He swam alone. He had lost the task, perhaps, but he had won the only tournament that truly matters — the tournament of self.
“I hope you’re not expecting me to apologize,” Harry said without looking up the next day when a very muddy and a very angry-looking Ron and Hermione appeared in front of the door to his study. “And don’t come any closer. You’ll track lake water all over my new rug.”
“Listen, Harry,” Cedric asked. “The third challenge. Do you have any idea what it’s about? I can’t seem to figure out the last clue for the life of me.”
“If you want my advice, Cedric, you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?”
Cedric shook his head. “How do you always manage to decide?”
“How can you let others decide for you?”
“Do you always have to have a purpose? Do you always have to be so damn serious? Can’t you ever do things without reason, just like everybody else? You’re so serious, so old. Everything’s important with you, everything’s great, significant in some way, every minute, even when you keep still. Can’t you ever be comfortable–and unimportant?”
“No.” Harry turned away. “I have to go think about trains now. Excuse me.”
“Kill the spare,” whispered a hazy voice out of the darkness, and Harry heard “AVADA KEDAVRA,” and he saw a flash of green light, and Cedric was dead.
“A pity,” Harry said. “He would have made quite a fine architect, had he lived.”
“Quiet, boy!” Voldemort hissed. “I have you now.” He turned to face his followers, who were not being recompensed financially according to their service, which was ridiculous. “You know of course, that they have called this boy my downfall? You all know that on the night I lost my powers and my body, I tried to kill him. His mother died in the attempt to save him — and unwittingly provided him with a protection I admit I had not foreseen… I could not touch the boy. His mother left upon him the traces of her sacrifice… This is old magic, I should have remembered it, I was foolish to overlook it… but no matter. I can touch him now.”
“How dare you laugh at your death, you impertinent boy,” Voldemort snarled.
“My mother’s death was unnecessary,” Harry said. “It is not because she refused to honor her own life that you cannot touch me. It is because I have self-respect.”
“Impossible!” Voldemort cried. He shot all sorts of magic at Harry, but it didn’t work.
“Self-respect is something that can’t be killed. The worst thing is to kill a man’s pretense at it.” Harry turned to Voldemort’s followers. “You are fools — mediocre fools — because you work not for money but for the approval of others, for the approval of another man.”
“And what of that man?” Voldemort asked dangerously. “What do you think of me, Potter?”
“But I don’t think of you,” Harry said. He Disapparated back to Hogsmeade. “I only think about trains.”
He ordered another fire-whiskey and thought about trains.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.