What Harry Potter Doesn't Know
A/N: One of the first fanfictions I really loved was Make A Wish by Rorschach's Blot. In that tale, Harry traipsed from country to country trying to take a vacation but instead found himself in many funny, dangerous situations. I, and many others, have surely borrowed plenty from it. This is my attempt to play on the idea. Here, Harry isn't a world traveler getting into trouble; he's just a young wizard trying to pick a career. You can imagine just how much trouble he will eventually get into.
The Day The Advice Blew Up
Harry had made the mistake of giving an interview to the Daily Prophet after the Battle of Hogwarts. He hadn't wanted to, he was publicity shy and still feeling more than a little sad about the deaths that happened at Hogwarts.
To be clear, when the idea appeared and seemed inevitable, Harry made the mistake of not trying hard enough to wriggle out of it.
How did Harry sitting for an interview become inevitable, you might wonder.
The blame was Harry's — or his fame's, at least — but Harry had many helpers in this particular disaster. First, Hermione saw the letter to Harry — okay, plucked it from his fingers before he'd finished reading it — and then said it was a good idea. Then Ron overheard it all in between slaughtering sausages at breakfast and thought it a great idea. Professor McGonagall wandered past, heard four words of Hermione's argument, and then encouraged Harry for reasons she didn't make clear. Hermione even dragged Harry to put the question to Dumbledore's scheming, winking portrait. The blasted thing just smiled widely when Harry asked him if it were a good idea.
A good idea?
It was, in fact, a terrible idea.
Not for the obvious pitfalls.
Rita Skeeter was too controversial to use so Harry didn't have to face down her acid-green quill.
Nor did Harry make a major mistake during the conversation. He didn't spill some dark secret. He didn't give any would-be dark wizards a clue about horcruxes, for instance. Nor even hint at the fact that Voldemort had made himself semi-immortal.
The problem Harry made seemed small at the time even though it would steamroll into a massive personal crisis of sorts. One more irritating and persistent than acute and deadly.
Now, just so you don't think badly of Harry, you should know that he didn't blurt out that he was looking to marry or something like that. Harry didn't get a flood of marriage offers or invitations to the Lockhart Dating Circle for Elderly Matrons, which still met monthly even after Gilderoy's incapacitation.
No, what happened was less embarrassing than that. But also worse. In fact, Harry wound up finding his error worse than accidentally soliciting a hundred offers of marriage.
The brief mistake was this: three poorly considered words, throwaway words, uttered in front of a journalist.
Harry had performed well for the bulk of the interview. He was on friendly ground at Hogwarts and his interviewer seemed feeble enough not to present any difficulties. The interviewer was, in fact, feeble, plenty feeble. He was about one hundred forty-three years old and a one-time teacher in various muggle schools during the time when Grindlewald was active in Europe. The Prophet had drug him out of retirement after many of its regular staffers fled or disappeared during the Second Voldemort Insurrection. The old wizard's name was Samwise Beggargrin and the man made no bones that he disliked it, both his given and his family name. In fact, Harry did so well in the interview because he thought he would laugh if he used either name. So he made a point of just calling the elderly wizard 'sir.'
Had Harry called the man either Samwise or Mister Beggargrin, things would have gone worse for Harry, if that were possible.
(One thing Harry didn't know about his interviewer: Samwise still had very poor things to say about one particular pupil he'd taught, who much later took the name of Samwise and appended it to a fictional construct, a plodding, loyal gardener. Then again, Harry had never been allowed to read fantasy books as a child and so had never come across the Lord of the Rings or its Samwise Gamgee.)
Harry had been on his way to an Exceeds Expectations performance during the main part of the interview, especially the trickier questions. Probes into the war and the fight at Hogwarts. Harry got through them better than he thought possible.
Samwise the Interviewer winked and fell asleep twice and generally seemed disarming if not a little pitiable.
Perhaps Harry relaxed his guard.
Perhaps the young wizard just didn't know how to lie very well. (A fact that might have shamed both Harry's father and godfather to no end.)
"Anything else?" Harry asked.
"Any other questions, sir?"
Samwise leaned forward and inspected the results of the dictation quill. He really hadn't slept well the previous night, but an assignment was an assignment. He settled on one throwaway question more. (At least that was what he would later claim.)
Samwise Beggargrin nodded. "One more, I think."
"That's fine," Harry said.
Mr. Beggargrin asked, "What will you do next?"
Harry hadn't expected the question.
He hadn't prepared for it, like he had for the questions about the battle and Voldemort.
He snapped his mouth closed and tried to decide what to say, what to do.
It was a pity Harry had grown up the way he had.
Anyone experienced in the ways of the press — trained to it by a harridan like Augusta Longbottom or even the semi-insane Walburga Black — had a dozen ways to parse the question, render it harmless. For example, 'do, what do you mean' setting the interviewer back and making him narrow down his very broad question. Others might have gone for mysterious, like 'right now I just can't say.' Hinting that he had a plan and that it was secret for some reason.
Tempting, tantalizing, but giving nothing away.
There were dozens of things Harry could have done to not answer the question.
Harry could have gone ultra-minimal, just given a bashful smile and said nothing. It's hard to extract an answer from a smile.
Harry could have pulled out the old reliable, just said he was going to be an Auror. That had been his line for years, ever since Harry had first sat for career counseling.
He could have lied, just made something up. Play Quidditch. Track down Merlin's final grimoire. Join a monastery. Date every witch in France.
No, not Harry. He did none of these. Anyone who attempted to wrangle with the media had a tool box, but Harry didn't know he had one or he hadn't bothered to fill it full of tools. He had had politeness and a certain measure of obedience almost beaten into him from a young age. He wanted to honestly answer the question.
So he did.
Like a boy who handed over a heavy sack of gold just because a would-be mugger said please.
Harry said, "I don't know."
Samwise Beggargrin shook off the years he'd racked up on his body. He sat up straight, stared at Harry, and then ended the interview with a few words of thanks. Mr. Beggargrin collected his quill and rolled up his transcript. He grinned the whole damned time.
The journalist knew right then that he had his story.
Harry did not.
It wouldn't take the young wizard long to understand that three short words were enough to ruin a man, drive him insane, rocket his popularity up to unforeseen levels. Three words heard by the wrong people, at the wrong time.
Poor Harry, poor too-honest Harry.
In the coming days and weeks, Harry would spend a little time thinking about what he could have said. He would rehearse the last little interaction with Samwise Beggargrin and insert something different. "I'll join the Ministry." "I'll be heading off to Tibet — where they don't have reporters." "I'll join any Quidditch team other than Chudley." "I'll don a black cape and set out to solve injustices and fight famous creatures around the world." "I'll endow a magical orphanage."
He could have hinted at his plans to become a dueling master or a potions master (not everyone would have laughed at him). He could have said anything.
However, he didn't.
He said, to a reporter, that he didn't know.
Famous people might be idiots, might be interviewed twice a week about their claims for this or that insane idea, might have wool lint in place of a brain, but they were always sure about any scheme they were hawking. Never in doubt even if often wrong.
Harry hadn't learned that part of fame. Lockhart certainly had that as one of his many lessons when he'd tried to teach Harry about fame.
I Don't Know.
Harry didn't realize at the time that this was about the very worst thing he could have done. Why? Why not admit that he was young and exhausted and in need of some time to recover from the Battle of Hogwarts before deciding? Work up a bit of sympathy.
The problem might boil down to one little thing: Harry was trying to be just Harry, earnest Harry, helpful Harry. The young wizard forgot he was riotously famous, galactically famous. That meant there were rules for things that came out of his mouth, iron-clad.
Professionals — a publicity manager for Puddlemere, a gossip columnist for Witch Weekly, and Doris Crockford, the biggest blabbermouth in the Leaky Cauldron — were asked to parse the situation in the coming weeks but couldn't agree on which restaurant to convene in. After wrangling over that so that Doris won a day room in Leaky along with free lunch and dinner, the gossip analysts all did agree that Harry did the very worst thing any one in his position could do. (The Prophet printed a four part story about these deliberations, too. Best-sellers, all of them.)
Their published verdict: Harry admitted a weakness in public in such a way that he almost begged for advice. Not that he realized it, but everyone reading the paper in English, or any of the thirty-seven languages the article was translated into, did.
Harry Potter thought he said I Don't Know. What people reading the story interpreted was Please Help Me.
It really was a large difference.
Because Harry, as a fresh-minted adult, had just repeated his infantile trick of surviving a Killing Curse and ending a Dark Lord. If he'd been an Everyman and said the same thing, few would have read the article and perhaps a few of those few would have put quill to parchment. But Harry was Harry; fame was like oxygen to most of the people of the world. Everyone disclaimed they recognized it, like people once didn't recognize that the oxygen in the air was necessary for life itself.
So when Harry said I Don't Know, because of the timing and his fame and his deeds, those three words were like he'd detonated a liter of erumpent fluid underneath a tonne of hay. The world was on fire with little motes of ash and ember and conversation and letters of assistance.
Yes, many letters. That was the first point when Harry realized he'd screwed up. He'd had articles by Rita Skeeter spur letter writers before, but this was two orders of magnitude greater. Not a handful, a bushelful, letters by the barrel.
Indeed, the letters pursued him the next day and the day after and for three weeks after, coming all the way from magical Persia and Bangladesh and a remote settlement of magical fisherman deep in the Amazon. They included a moving photo of their most recent catch, a fish the general shape, size, and temperament of a maltempered Hungarian Horntail. As if that were supposed to entice Harry into becoming a fisherman in one of the wild places of the world.
But the bulk of the letters, and the photographs, came later. After the initial article, after the Prophet's hiring 'experts' to consult on how Harry handled the situation and a larger pool to suggest what Harry should do. Trying to live Harry's life in the pages of the paper and keep up its circulation numbers.
What would Harry do next?
For weeks there was scarcely any other topic to be had where gossips gathered.
Which made it somewhat difficult for Harry to go out into public. Everyone had advice. The ones who were too timid to put their ideas onto paper might not hesitate if Harry happened to be walking past.
That question set into motion great changes for Harry and for the people he knew and place where he lived.
That was also Harry responding with too-much-honesty.
The poor boy was a bit slow to learn.
If one were quite logical about things, it's possible to see a dozen ways that Harry could have survived this without it making a single change to how he lived.
He could have, but the event of spending three words "I don't know" (and the weeks of repercussions) was like coming across one of those branching paths in a fairy tale. Take the well-worn right path or peer into the overgrown foliage almost, but not quite, obscuring the left-hand path. Which to do?
In other versions of his story, Harry succumbed to pressure. He grabbed onto the simplest thing. He agreed to go back to Hogwarts or he signed up when Minister Shacklebolt gently drafted him into Auror training or he went into Quidditch. He picked an obvious path and didn't even question if there were other options.
This version of Harry was different.
Just a pile of little variations. Like Hermione being pushy one morning or Ron getting up early or Hagrid stopping to comfort Harry. The half-giant knew what a story in the Prophet could be like.
For the first two days, Harry had ignored the letters. He'd scooped them up, unopened, and carted them back to his room. He'd transfigured a box to hold them. He ignored them.
The third day was different because of Hermione Granger. She was just about to head to Australia to find her parents who she had memory charmed and then forced into hiding. She was nervous about finding her parents, perhaps even more nervous about restoring their memories. She might have permanently Lockharted them. So she was punchy that morning, a little sarcastic and mischievous.
She listened to Harry and Hagrid talk. Hagrid didn't have much advice, but he was a calming presence.
"Thanks, Hagrid," Harry said.
The Keeper of Keys smiled and trod up to the head table. Hagrid hadn't said much, but his face was so large it was more expressive than a screaming Quidditch team at times.
Hermione opened her mouth to ask Harry a question, but it promptly disappeared from her mind.
The owls descended then.
Flock after flock.
She counted. Thirty-seven new letters, which was more than the first day and even more than the day before. The problem was getting worse.
Harry just shook his head at all the letters. It reminded him of the few days just before he'd been told he was a wizard. Letters like these... Almost like someone was trying to recruit an 11-year-old Harry to come to Hogwarts - again.
Harry gave up his almost-finished breakfast just to deal with all the owls. The others who were up this early, including Hermione and even Ron, pitched in.
Ron handed over the letters he collected.
Hermione held onto hers, considering.
"How's the advice been running?" she asked.
Harry held his hand out.
"I don't know."
Harry grimaced when he realized what he'd said.
Hermione also pounced. "Those words, Harry. You need to expand your vocabulary." She was smiling. "So why don't you know?"
"I haven't been opening them."
"You care what total strangers think?" Harry asked.
"Well, no. But it's polite. They took the time…"
Of course Hermione cared about total strangers. There might be some knowledge tucked into one of the letters.
"May I have my letters?"
"If you open them now," Hermione said.
She handed them over. Then Harry opened them in lieu of finishing his breakfast.
He read all five and then gathered them together with the unopened letters. They'd all go into the box together. If this kept up, Harry might need to transfigure a second box.
"Harry, what did they say?" Hermione asked.
Even Ron looked interested.
"You didn't negotiate for that. Just that I had to read them." Harry didn't even bother to smile. He was fairly irritated at present. Both by Hermione and by the letter writers.
"Come on," Ron said. "She didn't think you were going to be as stubborn as she is. Oops."
Hermione nudged Ron in the ribs. She was a brute this morning.
"Nothing," Harry said.
"They said nothing."
"I don't believe that. That second letter was very long," Hermione said. She rarely missed much.
"I shouldn't have bothered. When has a letter from a Prophet article been worth anything? Don't you remember that exploding pus back during the Triwizard Tournament."
"I do. So, fess up. You read five letters. What did they say?" Hermione pushed.
"Alright. The one from the lawyer said I should be a law wizard, protect squib rights. There was one from a healer suggesting I should look into healing. A third one offered to sell me his store in Knockturn Alley, no questions asked. I think he meant that literally. The other two suggested I fly for a Quidditch team…"
"Which ones?" Ron asked.
"Ah, Falmouth and Portree."
"Nope, Chudley," Ron said. "Only the Cannons, Harry. Right?"
"What should we have expected from these letters?" Harry asked.
"I didn't read them. You didn't find them helpful?" Hermione asked.
Hermione nodded and then smiled. That evil smile she had, when she was about to perform a rare act of mischief. No one could hang around Harry Potter for seven years without developing at least a little capacity for making trouble.
"So what are you going to do?" Hermione asked.
Not the question he wanted to answer. Not for Hermione, not for anyone.
"I have a lifetime to answer that."
"I suppose you do. Not much of an answer, though. 'I'm not going to decide so that I can decide later.'"
Hermione was enjoying his pain.
Just a week or ten days earlier he was battling for his life. Give a guy a few days to breathe before the next deadline threatened.
"You get your tickets to Australia yet?" Harry asked.
"Yes, they weren't happy to issue a tourist visa to a British witch…."
"Harry, did you just try to change the subject?"
Yes. He wouldn't admit it, though. "No. I thought we were done talking about the letters."
Harry shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know what I want to do."
"You need to stop saying those words."
"There's a book on careers I can find for you…"
"Then it's decided…"
Decided? Nothing was decided. That was the problem.
"What's decided?" Harry asked. Like an idiot walking into a trap.
"If you don't pick something by September First, you're going back to Hogwarts with me." She made it sound like he would have to kneel down in front of a wooden block and have his head separated from his body. Instead of Nearly Headless Nick, it would be just be Headless Harry the Undecided.
"You'll study for your NEWTs and sit them next spring."
Definitely a threat. Worse than death.
Or maybe Harry was just putting his slant on things.
"I think that sounds fair," Acting Headmistress McGonagall said, passing by the table. "I'll hold you to that, Potter."
"But I didn't even say yes," Harry protested.
"There's nothing wrong with my hearing," McGonagall said. She winked at him and then moved along down the table, stopping here and there to talk with those still at Hogwarts.
"Merlin," Harry said. "Everyone's ganging up. What do you think, Ron?"
"Whoa, don't drag me in. I'm going to help out George, I think, at the store. He isn't doing so well since…"
Since his twin died in the Battle, Harry supplied.
Hermione just nodded at that. Not much she could say. Ron did have an unassailable story. And George would need the support.
"Alright, I guess I do need some training to do something."
Even that admission was like asking him to collect acromantula silk from the Forbidden Forest.
He did need training, though. Hogwarts hadn't really trained him in much other than general magic. Plus, Quidditch.
Harry had heard stories here and there of apprenticeships and job requirements and the mad scramble to study for NEWTs and apply for jobs. But he hadn't paid much attention. He'd had a dark specter chasing him, a deadly one. If Harry were honest, he didn't believe he'd survive to need a career. After all, he really hadn't survived. He'd been hit with a Killing Curse in the Forbidden Forest less than two weeks earlier and only arcane magic and Voldemort's stupidity had allowed Harry to survive.
Now, though, he needed to think careers.
Harry now had a future.
A future that might well involve more classes and NEWTs.
The problem was that Harry knew he wasn't bookish. He wasn't the ideal person to learn in a classroom setting by taking notes and reading books and writing essays. Give him a problem to solve, he was golden. Assign him a class and a reading list and a schedule of essays: it was like his brains leaked out his ears and puddled on his shoulders.
Harry knew he needed education.
He just didn't know if he could get it while sheltered in a castle overlooking rural Hogsmeade. Getting a few hours of instruction a week in Charms and Transfiguration. A few hours a week. Where did all the rest of his time go?
Harry didn't think he could answer that.
It was just another question he couldn't answer.
Even after a year spent mostly living in a tent, Harry didn't know much about the world. Except that Harry didn't like living in a tent and eating out of tins. What jobs could he have? He could tick off five options, the usual ones. Join the Ministry, join a Quidditch team, get a job with Gringotts, teach at Hogwarts, look into working at St. Mungo's.
Was that it?
No, obviously not. Bill Weasley worked for Gringotts, but he was inside tombs, not inside banks. Charlie Weasley worked with dragons. Harry tried to think of all the shops in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Harry could open a bar or a frilly tea shop or sell parchment and quills. There were more than a few more options — Harry just didn't know what they were.
Might as well spend some time doing something useful, like figuring out the world. After all, he needed something to do for the summer.
Better something productive than thinking about what had happened, what might have gone better. Harry didn't do grief all that well, either. Keep busy; blank out the mind.
"Harry?" Hermione asked. "You were dazing off there."
"I'm fine. Just thinking, Hermione."
She stared at him a minute to see if he might crack and tell her what he was really doing.
Harry looked between Hermione and Ron. "So, we have a deal. I have the summer to pick my next steps, otherwise I finish my schooling here and take my NEWTs."
"Yup," Ron said, smiling.
"I know what I have to pay if I fail. What do I get if I succeed?" Harry asked.
That left Hermione flummoxed.
"I don't know," she said.
Harry smiled. "I don't think you're supposed to use those three words. They get me into trouble."
He started laughing.
Hermione didn't join him.
Harry finished breakfast and went for a walk for ten minutes before joining up with the work details that were still ongoing to put Hogwarts back to rights.
All it took was ten minutes, but Harry realized how badly he'd handled everything. (He didn't realize then he had at least three weeks of additional letters.) He'd given on the question of whether he should do the interview and then he'd been foxed into making a decision on some kind of timeline. Harry had lost a lot of control over his life and he'd never had very much to start.
He decided to do something selfish for once. He was going to do what he'd been forced to do — but for a different reason. Because he wanted to. He was going to pick the best career he could.
He was going to talk to and listen to a lot of people, not just a couple. Hermione and the letter writers and others had bullied him into this situation, but now it was Harry's turn.
He got to decide.
First decision. Harry was moving out of Hogwarts that day. Maybe he could go back to Grimmauld Place. It wasn't in great condition, but he could try.
He needed to get out of this crazy place before he was forced to remain at Hogwarts forever.
Harry could almost see it. Hermione and Professor McGonagall making him come for his NEWT year and then keeping him on as a flying instructor or something, then making him teach Defense.
No, he needed to see the world. Not by traveling from spot to spot on a map. He needed to see what was right here. Pay attention to it. Ask some questions. Get curious about the mysteries he saw all the time.
He hadn't wanted to take Hermione's ultimatum, but he would.
He needed to find something to do. Something he'd enjoy for at least five years. He didn't think he was going to find his life's work with the first job he attempted, but he knew he could find something that would interest him for a few years.
He really thought hard about Kingsley Shacklebolt's offer to train as an Auror. Harry tucked that in the back of his mind. If he came to August 30th without a better idea, he would become an Auror-in-training.
There, Hermione, Harry thought. Like a child sticking out its tongue as a taunt.
He had a plan.
Now he just had to pull together a better plan. If he were honest with himself, he had about ninety days to understand the world, especially his particular place in it. The work of a lifetime and he had three months allotted.
It was particularly difficult for Harry.
He had to unlearn some behaviors, some safety precautions, too.
Like loosening his controls on his curiosity. Many people thought he was too curious. Not so. He had just been curious about the wrong things, dangerous things.
Now he needed to learn about the right things. Especially things that wouldn't get him hurt or killed.
Up to this point, curiosity had always been somewhat dangerous for Harry. Ask a question about his family and get Aunt Petunia screeching at him. Get curious about a few of Hagrid's hints and then he was dodging Devil's Snare and enchanted, flying keys. And on, and on.
A lot of bad luck. A lifetime's worth before Harry hit twenty.
Now Harry was slow to realize that this crazy world was his world, too.
He had always looked at the wizarding world as a spectator who took in something like a circus. He was there, he was paying to sit in the seats, but he wasn't a lion-tamer down in the center ring. Up until now, Harry hadn't considered himself to be one of the people capable of these feats. He had tread lightly in this world.
He was safe now to go about the world and learn the things he hadn't questioned before. He wasn't just a spectator. He was a participant.
He had earned the right to use magic, understand it, wield it.
For example, he needed magic to get the ruined house at Grimmauld Place back into shape.
He'd need to know a bit of magical history and maybe some diplomacy to make friendly with unhappy goblins.
Then there were the more difficult challenges, like how Harry politely told the new Minister for Magic that Harry was trying to find a job different from working inside the Ministry.
Things like that, the simple things in life. Mysteries he would have to conquer in short order if he was going to enjoy living the life he'd won in hard combat.
A/N: I have reworked this chapter into a story entitled The Wide World of Magic.