It was one of the Russians who said it. Something like, although my character is imaginary, people like him not only could exist but must exist, because our society is too crazy for him not to.
Or something like that.
It might’ve been Tolstoy, or Pushkin. Chekhov perhaps. Don’t quote me, it might’ve been Nabakov. Because, cards on the table, I haven’t read any of the Russians myself, but I saw this quote in the front of American Psycho and it’s fair to say it stayed with me.
It stayed with me because I had this idea for a story where Harry Potter was real and running in the election. I’d put him up against the regular faces, the career politicians and wacky businessmen and the cranky old guys who always looked scruffy as hell and he’d campaign just like the rest of them. It would be funny, I thought, seeing Harry running against them with his bolt scar and boyish charm, the first drop of optimism and youthful energy in the race since God only knows when.
The idea came to me while watching a televised debate. Seven dummies in a row dodging questions about this and that, making promises they couldn’t keep. Hard on crime, good on jobs. Something about the economy, immigrants, dictators abroad. They got this one question on this thing where companies inject pressurised liquid deep into the earth, cracking open rocks to get at the shale gas and petroleum there, and the presenter said about how it sometimes messes up the water supply and sometimes causes earthquakes and Candidate #1 said well, you see, we obviously take safety very seriously but…
Candidate #2 said okay, earthquakes, but these companies do renewables too and in fact 80% of their work is renewables and if we want a Green Revolution then perhaps a little bit of pressurised liquid might be…
Watching this exchange, it just dawned on me how we live these days. How low the bar is set.
What happened to heroes? I wondered. What happened to the men of stature? Men of values and morals and charm? Men who would sacrifice themselves for the greater good, lay down their lives for what they believed in?
Men like Harry Potter. I imagined him, standing there on the podium with a look on his face that said Jesus Christ is this the best we can do? A look that said okay listen, don’t worry, I’m Harry Potter.
I wasn’t entirely sure of the logistics vis-à-vis Harry’s appearance in the world of my story—like had he always existed in this reality or did he just walk in one day, unexplained—but I tried to not get bogged down in the details and just wrote the thing.
I gave him hashtags and slogans. I gave him ferocious support. I gave him the whole rollercoaster that is a campaign trail and had him overcome every obstacle with aplomb. In effect, I gave him an entire replicable campaign strategy, a key to beating off every attack, to winning the hearts and minds of every single person in this great country.
I gave him a happy ending.
I gave him the ability to win.
The story was picked up…
…and oh shit went viral…
…and you will not believe what happened next!
Everyone was bummed out because this old white guy was heading the polls or that old white guy was falling and you couldn’t watch ten seconds of news without some chinless chump repeating party lines.
The men running looked half-dead or vaguely plastic—a binary of zombies and androids in expensive suits, the sole two archetypes of political thought.
I think my story resonated with people because it offered a whole new vision. An alternative to that which we had grown accustomed. The idea of a candidate that shows up on your doorstep smiling and acting normally. Talking like a human being (and wearing his wizarding robes and waving his wand around and so on).
Doesn’t that sound fantastic?
Well, have I got news for you. My story was fictitious and its protagonist too but guess what? The Russian was right. It turns out he did exist. Harry Potter exists! After weeks of public dreaming thanks to my story, he turned up on the news one day. In a park somewhere, wearing casual clothes, Harry Potter on camera saying okay, okay, here I am. No-one was entirely clear on the logistics vis-à-vis his appearance in this world, but they didn’t dwell on it. I mean, where the hell does any politician come from? Have you ever gone to school with one?
Of course, some people laughed at Harry and immediately called the Potter campaign stupid but the thing about politics is that the more you laugh at something and call it stupid, the more you tease that thing into existence. Because stupid equals funny or shocking and if the news shows love anything it’s that. And if the news shows love anything more than funny and shocking it’s anything continually funny and shocking, a bottomless well of stupid, unbelievable things on a constant loop that they can play every second of every day until they are not that unbelievable anymore and guess what the boy wizard is running in the election now.
Harry Potter didn’t have any real policies of course, but so what? He’s Harry Potter. They brought me in as a campaign advisor and I penned an open-ed in a prominent newspaper to make his case.
He’s got a strong background in crisis management, I said, and ok a few wars but let’s be really honest with ourselves here and say that sometimes good has to defend itself against evil and any so-called good that refuses such a responsibility isn’t very good at all.
If you aren’t keyed into the whole Good vs. Bad thing Harry Potter has going on by now, I said, then I don’t know what to say to you. He’s a light in the dark, I said. He’s nice and right and proper. And as soon as the nice people are back in charge, I said, then the world will be a better place, I can promise you that.
And if you consider yourself a progressive, I said, then there’s only one way you’re voting because don’t forget, wizards are a marginalised group. If there’s a hierarchy of oppression then wizards are probably like somewhere between black people and the transgender, I said, but then again Harry was raised a human in a human world when really he was a wizard all along so I think it’s fair to say he knows a bit about growing up in the wrong body and all that. Plus, he’s friends with a half-giant, I said. And a poor kid, and he kissed that Asian girl one time if you remember correctly?
In fact, I said, not voting for Harry is discriminating against a marginalised group did you ever think about that?
And don’t forget Harry spent his childhood fighting against wizards who believe themselves pure and genetically superior to muggles and mudbloods, I said. Who better to fight the Nazis on the other side? Actually, I said, and I was proud of this line, he didn’t just spend his time that way, he was born that way. A chosen one, kind of like Martin Luther King or something. In fact, I said, if Martin Luther King was alive now and Rosa Parks and like Mister Rogers too then there’s only one way they’re voting you do know that don’t you?
We went ahead and got some T-shirts printed to that effect. I HAVE A DREAM, they read, underneath a picture of Harry’s face. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN. YES WE CAN. We made buttons and stickers and flyers. We made flags for cars and trucks. MAGIC TRUMPS HATE. I’M WITH HAR. NASTY WIZARD.
The internet responded. We became a merchandise machine. GRYFFINDOR FOR HARRY. RAVENCLAW FOR HARRY. HUFFLEPUFF FOR HARRY. SYLTHERIN AGAINST POTTER (haha). We ran television adverts, radio spots. We bought billboards, whole pages of magazines. MUGGLES FOR HARRY. I BELIEVE (In Harry). THE FUTURE IS MAGIC (with Harry Potter).
And the media, bless their hearts. One quick Wingardium Leviosa and Harry had them eating out of the palm of his hand. “As far as we’re concerned,” a reputable news anchor said in his morning address, tickled pink by an actual bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans that Harry had kindly gifted, “this election boils down to a choice between good versus bad, order versus chaos, values versus whatever it is you call that black hole at the heart of the opposition. Don’t dig around at random this election. Don’t risk a mouthful of bogies.”
This being the tribal cesspit that is politics, not everyone was onboard. They asked me to draft up some guidance notes for the grassroots campaigners. Some gentle advice to hurdle the tricks, traps and downright disinformation of the opposition.
● Don’t mention Harry’s personal wealth/privilege, which was the product of immense tragedy in any case.
● Don’t get into debates re. the validity of Harry’s frequent comparisons of the opposition to He Who Shall Not Be Named, or his likening of the aforementioned Dark Lord to Adolf Hitler.
● Don’t entertain the frankly ludicrous opinions of the loony left that the tensions of Harry Potter’s story are those between different forms of conservativism.
● Don’t let them bring up house elves because they really do enjoy serving witches and wizards thank you very much.
● Don’t let them compare quidditch to polo because what are you talking about they are nothing alike.
● Don’t go anywhere near the ‘Gringotts Question.’
● And don’t get drawn in to alleged events in Harry’s past or that of his relatives because it’s not credible or provable and it wouldn’t be relevant in any case even if his closest family turned out to have maybe one time bullied some people and made life hell for certain kids in a certain castle and come on man he’s Harry Potter.
Most importantly, I stressed, do remind people that Harry is nice, and if nice isn’t rewarded correctly, if nice doesn’t win out in the end, then we might as well turn all the nuclear launchers inward and press that big red button right now because what the hell is left?
The Home Straight
As the polling day approached, the campaign began to feel more like a procession. Harry drew great crowds at every stop, taking the time to listen and chat and do these neat little magic tricks for kids gathered there. People took to wearing robes, even carrying wands, and soon our events began to resemble assemblies at Hogwarts.
My team came up with the Sorting Hat app, which allowed people to answer fifty-eight simple questions and find out their true Hogwarts house from the comfort of their own homes. Using this information, we in turn were able to hone the specificity of our message, targeting the Hufflepuffs with Hufflepuff-friendly material and Ravenclaws with Ravenclaw-friendly material and further cement our grip on public opinion (and in turn supplement campaign funds by selling the data to third party organisations).
For the morning of the results, we planned a huge celebratory banquet. A secret ballot was conducted, a random selection of the Sorting Hat participants from all four houses invited to what promised to be the closest thing to Hogwarts a Muggle had ever seen. Harry promised to supply the Butterbeer and chocolate frogs and a handpicked array of celebrities would add the glitz, with special gantries built so that the news media could provide a fully cinematic coverage for various TV services.
We pictured the occasion in our minds. What lived it in our sleep. History was going to be made and we were to be a part of it. What a day it was going to be.
The Totally Unbelievable Thing
Only the weirdest thing happened. The totally unbelievable thing. I mean, put aside the sometimes inane answers in press conferences, and that one comment about elves again, and the fact that that solid testimony against his closest family members emerged that said they were involved in abuse and subsequent cover-ups at Hogwarts, and there was only one winner. Ignore the fact that he never bought his friends a single Christmas present and that he only won in quidditch because he had the best broom and that he took the hospitality of his impoverished best friend despite sitting on inherited millions and I really don’t know what more he could have done?
The people went to the polls, and the people got it wrong.
We tried to take it on the chin but when there is such a concerted effort, such a nefarious effort from so many directions then you’ll excuse us for being a little worked up. I mean, I don’t wish to sound paranoid but the lunatic fringe of our own party, that’s right, the so called good guys, ended up doing far more to ensure that Harry didn’t claim what was rightfully his than any of the opposition did. Like, okay, yeah, if a magic spell existed that could flatten Wall Street and cause a million bank notes to flood down every chimney in the country then Harry would be the first to cast it but we live in the real world and it’s important to remember that.
But of course the opposition weren’t blameless either and nor was the media and I hate to say it but neither was the general public. You can spin it any which way but from where I’m standing it looks like plain old discrimination has reared its head once again. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome or maybe they’re all bigots but at the end of the day they had a problem electing a wizard purely because he was a wizard and I think we have some serious soul-searching to do about that. Some nationwide thinking. Some questions to ask ourselves. Like, when exactly are we going to look the white Christian patriarchy in the eye and say, sorry boys, you’ve had a good run, but the game is up?
You shouldn’t worry about me though. I’m just someone who dared to dream. Worry about the country instead. Worry about the world. Okay I admit to being disappointed and okay okay in my darkest moments I’ll say that something akin to despair descended but I’ll be alright. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of thinking any other way. Keeping busy is helping—there’s a five-way auction brewing for the serial rights of my first full-length book, Harry Potter and the Flavour of Grievance. We’re expecting seven figures.
Besides, there’s always next time. When the right burns itself out on its own hate, when the left grows up a little and gets real, Harry will still be there. And one thing is for sure, Harry doesn’t hold a grudge. Harry does not play petty politics with the future of the nation. Harry is beyond all that.
And to those of you who think that’s far-fetched, then I have only one thing to say to you. Whatever you think you know about Harry has been planted by bad actors. He’s not sitting on vast wealth. He didn’t spend your campaign donations on a new broomstick or cauldron or whatever else the communists would have you believe. He didn’t, one-hundred-per-cent did not, sell your data to silicon valley or security firms or insurance companies or anyone else, and his father did not, would not, not ever, find himself involved in any scandal in any castle with any other big names in the wizarding world, be it during his school years or otherwise and if you believe that then I can only laugh because who do you think would spread such a rumour? Who might still be sore enough over the whooping of Viktor Krum in the 1994 Triwizard Tournament to spread malicious rumours and try to reclaim some national pride in their failed project? You believe what you want but it was a Russian who said it. One of the Russians.
Jon Doyle has an MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University and has just completed a PhD at Swansea University, where he worked on his debut novel. His writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Hobart, Barren Magazine, Necessary Fiction, 3AM Magazine, Full Stop, Review 31, Cardiff Review, New Welsh Review, The Fiddleback and others, and he is a fiction reader at Split Lip Magazine. He has also been awarded a grant by Literature Wales to work on a short story collection in 2019/20. Twitter: @Jon_Doyle Image: Quidditch © Anthony Vosper (cc-by-sa/2.0)