You will want to know who the unhappiest student to ever walk the halls of Hogwarts was.
I mean the one who probably deserved Hogwarts the least.
For unhappy, after all, must mean ungrateful in this case, and that must mean also undeserving. For Hogwarts is a home to so many! Hogwarts is a warm roaring fire or the cool spark of knowledge beyond the windows looking out onto the murky secrets of the lake, of the heart. Hogwarts is everything dead — portraits, alumni — coming back to life again, and forbidden adventure just beyond the reaches of the forest, and a humorous and twinkly-eyed Headmaster offering a lemon drop. So anyone who does not love Hogwarts surely does not deserve these rewards, does not deserve the warmth or the excitement or the secret knowledge Hogwarts gives one. He surely did not deserve it. And he knew he was undeserving.
Everything came easily to him. This is the first point we must make. Some people struggle with their magic. They hold out a hand to make a duck into a dove, and instead they produce a dragon which turns on them, or else a damselfly, or else they only kill the duck. Magic is at odds with these people. They might possess is, but in fact they are less worth bothering with than any Muggle, for Muggles simply walk on past magic, unheeding, and attend to their own business. They do not pervert it, or cause it to snap back angrily at them, as though they have no business mucking about with it.
But magic loved him. This is like being loved by the Fates. You do not have to try. The duck becomes a flock of doves, which in turn fly out of the tower window in a cloud of ethereal white, which return a moment later with berries and flowers and crowns of leaves, and drop one glorious gift before each gasping Gryffindor, each hale Hufflepuff maiden, before reverting, at last, to a common duck. And then there is applause. All eyes turn to you. Favored, talented, lucky, magical. All without the slightest effort.
Understand that this is a bit like being a fraud. Success so easily won means nothing. Classmates cluster about, good friends clasp you on the shoulder. And you only think, Well. Alright. But that was easy enough. And you begin to see that what really happened (not trying at all; suffering no pain; deserving no reward) is perceived as something very different (leaping ahead of the rest; exceptional without a doubt; deserving extreme praise). You begin to feel as though you were dreaming, and when you awoke, someone had thrown a disguise on you. The disguise was one of those crowns. They felt you deserved it the most.
For him, this did not happen only with magic. It happened, too, like a kind of happy accident, when he should give away, rather carelessly, a kind word. When he should blink his clear blue eyes in such a way that it seemed like he understood someone perfectly. When he helped a classmate with their homework, or without thinking obliterated someone else’s cruel Howler at supper. It cost him nothing to do these things. But more and more people saw this as evidence of greatness, of some lofty and noble soul. They would see the crown even if he did not intend them to. It caused him no small amount of discomfort. The Hat had warned him of this, told him that his life would be artificial, all keeping close his secret listlessness, and that he would be better served being honest about that, at least. For he was an artificial creature, often without meaning to be. The more he protested that he was not so wonderful, that he was not trying, the more eyes flickered down to his house scarf or his badge and replied that it must be false modesty. Which of course made him even grander to them. But he had done nothing worth their approval. Not really. He was a secret double-dealer, a hoax. This ate at him.
It ate at him more when he should read of the lives of the luckless. Those Fate cared nothing for. There were people living oceans away, in tin-roofed hovels, who could summon up magic as easily and wonderfully as he could. But no Hogwarts letter would ever come for them. They often had no local school. There were sick and mad people, some of them people he knew intimately, who likewise had no avenues for earning crowns. No one wanted to applaud them even if they should accomplish something great. It was better that they be locked away. There were even people in his own dormitory, separated by thin layers of bedhangings, who tried and tried and at last summoned up a dove, at last saw some glimmer of reward. But no one cared. Their eyes were not so blue, their demeanor not so easy and kind, their blood was perhaps a touch too muddy.
Oh, how good you are to care about people like that! others would say, simpering, when he explained this. Oh, you are such a hero.
But this would only anger him more. The great unfairness. It was not even really the people he cared about, after all. It was the awful broken system all around him. It was how here he was, reaping all the rewards the Hat had said he would, and yet he did not earn them. They were only thrust at him, because he was easy to love, powerful, not quite so muddy — because he passed by the skin of his teeth all those strange unspoken tests the Wizarding World set, before it could consent to crown you.
In his own family, there were those not half as lucky. And it was only by some quirk of fate that he was born the right shade, and in the right order, and with that ability to control his magic even when feeling very mad, and not have it control him. But he knew in his heart that to rearrange one chromosome or allele, just one, would have been to make him less lovable to the rest of the world. Perhaps he would have been a girl, abused in a field. Or a bitter young boy, born not quite so talented, ready to give up at age fifteen. Perhaps he would not have been the great crowning glory of the family. And what a random, ugly, chaotic truth that was.
He wanted always, in his own way, to replace the chaos with order. Order was a powerful word for him, intoxicating, like a spell. He searched and searched and searched for ways to bring the universe into some more sensible system, one that wasn’t marked by unfairness and cruelty. Some of these attempts were quite terrible. Those were the unnoticed ones. The ones people noticed were the ones that brought him accolades. There he was defeating dragons so that they would not turn on the hapless crowd, rescuing young and handsome schoolmates who did not deserve to be made into prizes, unraveling labyrinths, unpacking every lie at the heart of alchemy and mediwizardry, every misconception about blood that formed the basis for transfiguration and the dark arts.
There he was, seeming greater and greater, year after year. All the while committed to ending his own greatness, in a way. To bringing about a universe in which others, the people like him, who were quick and clever, could not take advantage, seize all the crowns for themselves. He learned to see the humor in this. He spoke very wryly of his successes, poking fun at himself. People (who he had begun to see as somewhat silly. Human and worth caring about, but still silly) called this evidence of great humility.
It was not. It was a reaction. It was the great lie he’d inadvertently created spinning out in a beautiful web. The more they believed the lie, the more power it gave him. The more power he had, the more he could work to end the lie.
Often he did the wrong thing. Valued the wrong person. Crowned with laurels the wrong side. He was not superhuman. He only seemed that way.
He wanted to do good. It became very funny to him that he could never do as much good as he liked, and never without also doing some evil, and never without receiving more than his fair share of the credit. How huge the lie, the mask seemed to grow then! It was such a silly thing, the mask.
But if you had wanted to go without credit, or to be seen as every bit the liar you are, the Hat would tell him. Then you would have been better served in Slytherin or Hufflepuff. Or even Ravenclaw.
An I-Told-You-So. For the four-way hatstall.
But do you know? He died without regrets. He had by then become accustomed to the school, which he had hated as a youth, for one day there had come before him a pair of frank green eyes, and they seemed to say:
Everyone thinks I’m a hero. But I’m not, not really. Who thrust this on me?
In this case it was not Fate or the personification of magic that had done it. Not completely. It was a man looking to end all that, a desperate man, a man sick of the system, unhappy. But Harry, Harry was not like him. Harry did great things because someone had to do them, because he had to, not as part of some great web of lies meant to end the system. Harry suffered more than he had to, and became a hero, and deserved his heroism. Harry was not dissatisfied. Harry had not become so jaded that he began to find most people very silly. Harry loved Hogwarts. Hogwarts, and its Head, loved Harry.
And Harry had earned it. You should not have to earn love. But, truly, the unhappiest student at Hogwarts had never understood how it could be so freely given. Particularly in a world like theirs, where so many people went without, and beyond this went without even a modicum of respect, never mind crowns. He’d known that to love must be a great thing, seen how its lack warped people. But he did not approve of the way the system parceled it out. Grand and powerful as he was, he waged war after war against the system.
This is why we remember him as the Greatest Wizard Who Ever Lived. The Supreme Mugwump. The one who stood above all the others as a leader, as Head Boy, as Triwizard Champion. The Greatest Head of Hogwarts.
But know that he was not happy there, not really, not at all. Not until Harry came.