A Letter from Hogwarts

The last time I wrote about this chapter, I focused on Harry’s interaction with Hagrid and on Hagrid’s explanation of Harry’s magic:

I really don’t have much to add, except that in this chapter, in the hut on the rock, Harry finally gets to read the letter that has been following him around for the past week. In contrast to Hagrid’s air of familiarity and intimacy, the letter itself is pretty straightforward and unsentimental:

Dear Mr. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on September 1. We await your own no later than July 31.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall,
Deputy Headmistress

I think we can assume that Lily’s letter was pretty much the same, though we don’t know who signed it. We do know, though, that Lily’s letter set Petunia off. As Petunia recalls:

Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that — that school — and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was — a freak.

What Petunia does not tell Harry or Hagrid (and what Harry won’t know for another 7 years) is that Petunia begged Dumbledore to allow her to go to Hogwarts alongside Lily. Petunia did not see Lily as a freak until Petunia felt left out. Lily’s letter, in other words, created the rift between the sisters, a rift that we do not see on that swingset in Snape’s memory of Cokeworth. Her own envy created it. Harry receiving his letter can only exacerbate that envy and the resulting rift.


The Hogwarts acceptance letter, though, is not supposed to cause so much drama (and trauma). It’s supposed to be a source of joy for the family. I got to have a bit of fun a few years ago writing the response of a different family when their half-blood daughter receives her letter. The entry was for contest called “A Year in the Life of a Hogwarts Student.” You can find the story originally posted here. Have fun…

The Secret Spell

The letter arrived just as mum started the seventh song in her step routine.

“RIGHT-KICK-2-3-4!
LEFT-KICK-2-3-4!
Now LEFT-ELBOW – RIGHT KNEE – 3-4.
RIGHT-ELBOW – LEFT-KNEE – 3-4.
FIST-PUMP LEFT – 3-4.
FIST-PUMP RIGHT – 3-4.”

When the owl emerged from the chimney, it connected with her right pumped fist, sending feathers flying. The startled bird screeched, dropped the letter, and darted back up the chimney to escape the Mad Muggle!

When mum saw the emerald-green ink on the envelope, she collapsed in a heap on the floor. “It’s your letter,” she blubbered. “Your letter from Hogwarts.”

She was such a sight that I barely had the presence of mind to run over and rip the letter out of her hands before she smudged the ink with tears!

Mum knew our world. She’d mingled with the witches during promotional tours for the Quidditch World Cup and heard dad do interviews about the fabled Battle of Hogwarts. The Daily Prophet called him a war hero, but he never thought he did anything special (“just what was needed to defend the castle”). Still, he had been the one to cast the secret spell.

Dad was the youngest survivor – the 4th year who snuck back in with Professor Slughorn and hid behind the rubble. When he emerged at the start of Voldemort’s one-hour truce, Professor McGonnagall found eight befuddled Death Eaters lying prostrate beside his hiding place, unable even to remember their names. So she allowed him to remain. Not one of those Death Eaters has since recovered enough of his wits to stand trial, and they are all still rotting in the prison ward at St. Mungo’s.

Dad never told the Ministry what spell he used, and they never asked specifics. He called it “Just something Professor Snape taught me a couple weeks before Dumbledore died, during a detention for casting a JellyLegs on that Malfoy prat in the Common Room.”

That’s why he gets interviewed every year on the anniversary by The Daily Prophet and even got recruited to appear in the first “Battle of Hogwarts Heroes Tour” when he was 17. That was the one where the Wizarding Wireless brought the Castle Defenders together to retrace the steps of Harry Potter in the wilderness and interview them on how it felt to “Walk where Harry Walked on (roughly) the Days that Harry Walked There.” Dad said it was a load of rubbish. Just publicity for the Wireless. But that’s how he met my mum – on the Heroes Tour, on Boxing Day, in a village beside the Forest of Dean.

She was an innkeeper’s daughter. He was a Pureblood Wizard whose family hadn’t spoken with him since the Battle. She taught him about Muggles. He taught her about Wizards. And he’d prepared her for my letter since the day I made the television turn on from two rooms down the hall.

“She’ll get a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry when she’s eleven years old,” he’d declared nearly once every week since then. And then he would turn to quiz me on all the House colors and mottoes before adding proudly: “It’s addressed in emerald-green ink – like the colors of Slytherin House.”

He always found the ink color amusing since his own letter had been addressed in Slytherin-green by the Head of Gryffindor. Mine would be addressed by someone else.

He wasn’t much help, though, when I asked why mum got all teary-eyed over my letter. He’d floo’d in from Glastonbury during an outreach to “At-Risk Pureblood Youth in the West Country” after his Hogwarts contacts told him that my owl went out. Mum’s eyes were puffy when he walked out of the fireplace, and I was in the kitchen with my head down, asking why she couldn’t just be happy.

Dad thought it must be because of something the Muggles called “empty-nest syndrome” (he got that idea from her telly). But that explanation made no sense since my little sister and brother weren’t going anywhere!

Finally, I just asked her.

“Oh, love, I am happy for you!” she replied, getting weepy once again. “And proud,” she smiled through the tears. “And excited!

“I’ll go with you and dad to Diagon Alley for your school supplies,” she added with a kiss. “And to the Platform to catch the school train,” she brushed the hair out of my eyes with her fingertips. “And I’ll try very, very hard not to embarrass you again with any tears. But it’s just that you’re the first to go, and you’ll be gone such a very long time.”

Once mum’s eyes dried, the blonde woman from the Daily Prophet arrived at our doorstep, demanding to interview the “Halfblood girl about how exciting it must be to follow her father’s footsteps.”

No sooner did the reporter start asking if I already knew any secret spells than my dad yelled “Not my daughter, you lying witch!” and disarmed her Quick-Quotes Quill with one of his own secret spells. He was threatening to stomp any beetles found on the property when we heard the pop. Dad said she “just apparated back to whatever rock she crawled out from.”

Dad had sheltered the family from his notoriety since before I was born, but that part of my life was clearly done.

“I’m afraid Hogwarts will be hard on you,” he warned me that night. “People will try to get close to you and learn more about the secret spell. And they’ll ask why Professor Snape entrusted it to me. That’s something I don’t even know! Maybe he used Legilimency, to find out where my loyalties really lay. No matter, though. You’ll be under a lot pressure. Do you still want to go? We could send you to Beauxbatons.”

“Oh daddy!” I cried. “I’ve been waiting for Hogwarts forever! To live inside the castle and learn magic where you learned it! What’s a little pressure? And now I’ve got my letter! Please don’t take it away from me!”

Then I hesitated before continuing, “But there’s still one thing I’d like to know.”

“Yes?”

“Did Professor Snape give you the counter-curse?”

Dad twisted his mouth into a mischievous little grin. “Now, that, my dear, would be telling.”


At-Home Video Reading: If you want to hear / watch this chapter read by Simon Callow, Bonnie Wright (Ginny), and Evanna Lynch (Luna), check out Chapter 5: Diagon Alley at Wizarding World.

The Boy Who Lived

I have to confess that I really love Chapter 1. I think last time I wrote about it, I may have said it reminded me in tone a bit of Tolkien’s opening to The Hobbit.

Actually, yes, I did.

In looking back, it appears that I wrote four consecutive blog posts about just this one chapter. In addition to the Hobbit comparison, I discussed the overwhelming presence of owls, drew up a  Chapter map (complete with explanation), and wrote another whole long post about Albus Dumbledore and sundry other issues. I really went “into the weeds” with this chapter when I wrote about it 10 years ago!

But in fairness, this brief introductory chapter accomplishes a lot. It sets up the conflict between the Dursleys and Harry and the recent and future conflicts between Harry and Voldemort, shows the secret world of the Wizards and its fear of being found out, introduces part of our main cast of Wizards, and hints at the recent war with Voldemort.

It’s a writing tour de force, and in it J.K. Rowling announces her presence on the literary stage.

The Power Dynamic

In terms of our broader themes, this chapter sets up various versions of power. We don’t know yet how it’s all going to play out, but we can clearly identify four power centers in the chapter:

Vernon Dursley – Vernon is a non-magical person who abuses power and people and gets “enraged” at anything that deviates from his conception of social norms (such as older people wearing weird attire). Yelling “at five different people” at work in the morning puts him in “a very good mood.” Yet after hearing rumors about the Potters from the “weirdos,” he shrinks into worry and insecurity. With just these small character details, Rowling establishes Vernon as an abuser who will soon be placed in the position of having to foster his “weirdo” nephew (Hint: This will not go well),  but she also establishes him as something of a paper tiger. Just put some pressure on him and watch him crumple.

Voldemort (a.k.a. “You-Know-Who”) – We don’t really meet Voldemort here, just hear about him. But from the conversation between Professor McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore, we find he is a magical person whom Wizards have feared for the past eleven years – feared so much that only Dumbledore will say his name. In fact, Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents the night before… and even tried to kill the boy. On a first read, this is where it gets confusing, because apparently trying to kill the boy made him disappear. Before the night he disappeared, Voldemort clearly possessed astounding powers, but used them to evil purpose. As the story progresses and he finds a way to return, his ill intent will thwart him over and over again. It’s almost like Rowling is saying that “power is not enough.” (Hint: It’s not!).

Albus Dumbledore – Dumbledore is, in many ways, the antithesis of Vernon Dursley and even moreso of Voldemort. He’s an older man, dressed weirdly, yet Professor McGonagall (who can transform herself from a cat into a human being!) defers to him. He speaks gently, consolingly, and with a certain amount of wisdom. He’s also a bit naive. He thinks that if he just explains the situation to the Dursleys in a letter, they will accept Harry and eventually tell him who he is. In addition, Dumbledore has a bit of humility, as we can see from this snippet of dialogue:

“But you’re different” [said Professor McGonagall]. Everyone knows you’re the only one You-Know-Who – oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.”

“You flatter me,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Voldemort had  powers I will never have.”

“Only because you’re too – well – noble to use them.”

McGonagall here effectively establishes Dumbledore as a man whose powers rival Voldemort’s but who restrains himself from using the more ignoble types of power. We will (much) later learn exactly why Dumbledore restrains himself, but for now, it’s simply worth noting that in the first chapter Rowling subtly establishes the possibility that life could have gone much differently for Albus Dumbledore had he just seized all the power he was capable of wielding. Instead, he has chosen a different path and consequently introduces us and the Dursleys to Harry.

Harry Potter – He’s just a baby, but he inexplicably broke Voldemort’s power just the night before. The implication here is that Harry has amazing powers of his own (we will later discover the extent to which this is true), and McGonagall argues that Dumbledore should not give him up to the Dursleys because…

“He’ll be famous – a legend – I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in the future – there will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name!”

Dumbledore wisely replies that anonymity with the Dursleys will be better for Harry until “he’s ready to take” the fame thrust on him by the Wizarding World.

Dumbledore is right on the face of it. He’s just missing one major detail: the Dursleys are not the people he hopes they will be. And then he leaves Harry on the doorstep to face his unwilling aunt and uncle.

Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley. . . . He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: “To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!”

It is a powerful conclusion to a magnificent opening chapter.

December 25, 2009 – The Series’ Most Shocking Moment, The Story of Harry’s Past, and What Was I Dead Wrong About?

On December 25, 2009 – when I had been blogging here for nearly 10 days – I wrote my first posts on the Chamber of Secrets forum… and quickly got sucked in.

Here are the three content posts that I wrote on my first full day on the CoS forum:

Most Shocking Moment in the Whole Series?

Most shocking moment(s) for me:

Finding out that Harry had to let Voldemort kill him in order to destroy the part of Voldemort’s soul that was in him. This was probably the single most shocking moment for me…. as I think it was for Snape.
(Or, I should say, it was the most shocking moment for Snape in the Harry plot. Lily’s death was the most shocking moment for Snape in the Snape plot).

Finding out that Snape was the Death Eater responsible for delivering part of the prophesy to Voldemort. That stunned me.

Snape’s death and exsanguination at the fangs of Nagini. If there’s any single scene that shows just the complete self-absorption, coldness and depravity of Voldemort, this is it. He didn’t kill Snape because he found out he was a spy. He killed Snape thinking him a trusted servant who (he believed) just happened to have something that he wanted – the allegiance of the Elder Wand. Does Voldemort have any soul left?

Fred Weasley’s death. I don’t know why, but I never suspected Rowling would lay the hand of death on one of the Weasley twins.

Harry naming his younger son Albus Severus. I thought it was perfect, and it brought tears to my eyes, but I had to read it a couple of times to believe it was real.

I was not, alas, shocked at the death of Albus Dumbledore. I thought Dumbledore had to die in order for the hero to complete his Quest. And I was not especially shocked that Snape killed him… mainly because I knew before I read the books that Snape had done something in the course of the story that led to a huge debate over whether he was good or evil. When I did finally read the books, I personally believed that Snape was Dumbledore’s man and that the killing was most likely planned… but I had no idea as to the details of the plan.

Was the Story of Harry’s Past Told to the Children?

We don’t actually know if the children know the story of Harry’s role during the Second Wizarding War. What the epilogue indicates is that they apparently don’t know their father is so famous.

I like to think that Harry told them the story, but that he told them that battling people trying to murder you is not all that glorious when it’s actually happening – which is the same message he gave the members of Dumbledore’s Army.

I’m betting that regardless of what he said or didn’t say, he shielded his children significantly from his fame. I think that’s indicated by Albus Severus’ reaction to the other kids gawking from the train. The Potter kids are going to learn soon enough how famous their father is once they get to Hogwarts. To me, that seems an appropriate time to let them know – at age 11, the same age Harry was when he found out that he was “The Boy Who Lived.”

What Were You Dead Wrong About?

I thought Lucius Malfoy would die a horrible, horrible death.

I thought the Deathly Hallows would be a place.

I believed the mission was to protect Harry, when it was really to get him to sacrifice himself (or rather, the part of Voldemort’s soul in him).

I was right about Snape and Dumbledore working together to ensure Dumbledore’s death, but I was wrong about the immediate cause of that collaboration.

I suspected that Severus loved Lily, but I never imagined that he knew her before Hogwarts, or that he was the first magic person she ever knew, or that Petunia knew him and remembered him talking about dementors.

I was wrong that no Weasley twin could die.

I assumed Dumbledore was just a kindly, benign, immensely powerful elderly wizard, when he was in fact a master strategist and military genius, willing to ask his men to make extraordinary sacrifices in order to win the war.

Waiting for Pottermore DH2: The Taunting

A fifth batch of emails has been sent out, and there’s still not one for me.

So with that in mind, Expecto Patronum! continues the “Waiting for Pottermore” series…

Note: While we continue the never-ending wait for the Pottermore email, we carry on bravely with our discussion of the DH2 movie…

“Severus Snape wasn’t yours,” said Harry. “Snape was Dumbledore’s. Dumbledore’s from the moment you started hunting down my mother.”

I, and a lot of people, waited for that line in the movie…
and it never came.

After thinking about it, though, I have a theory about why the filmmakers cut it.

It was redundant.

In the book, Harry needs to say it out loud (or think it internally) so that the reading audience gets the point of what he sees in the Pensieve. Yet even with several pages of Harry circling around Voldemort, proclaiming that Dumbledore planned his death with Snape, there remains a tiny contingent of readers who still insist that Snape was truly working for Voldemort and that Harry was merely taunting Voldemort with Snape’s loyalties. He didn’t really mean it. *shrug*

In the movie, though, it’s kind of impossible to miss, or explain away, Snape’s true loyalties. Film is a visual medium, and here is what the viewers (and Harry) get to see…

"You have your mother's eyes"


"... and you're special"


"He doesn't need protecting..."


"So... the boy must die?"


Sure, Severus cradling Lily’s body at Godric’s Hollow is extra-canonical. And sure, Severus never actually says “You have your mother’s eyes.” But movie-only viewers don’t have the advantage of reading the text… over and over and over again… and thinking about its implications. They need to have things spelled out visually. And this approach to the backstory does have JKR’s highest blessing:

“They do it perfectly in the film, that was a place I was very glad they were faithful to the book. Snape’s journey is important, it’s such a lynchpin of the books, the plot can’t function without Snape.” ~ J. K. Rowling

After witnessing the series of images from Snape’s demise through the Pensieve memories, the viewing audience has no question that Severus loved Lily from the time he was a child or that he had been working for Dumbledore – and against Voldemort – ever since the Dark Lord started hunting her down. Viewers don’t need Harry to tell them that. And so, in the movie, he doesn’t.

I’m disappointed, of course, to find one of my favorite moments missing. But I’m appeased by the recognition that it was not necessary to show it. How about you?

Let us know in the comments.

Waiting for Pottermore DH2: choices, choices, choices

Note: While we wait for the Pottermore email, we continue our discussion of the DH2 movie…

But first… you need to know about the most deeply horrible, astonishingly EVOL poll in the history of humankind:

It’s the Anglophenia Fan Favorites poll, in which we are given the choice of voting between Alan Rickman and Benedict Cumberbatch or between Colin Firth and David Tennant.

In fandom terms, that translates:

Professor Snape (or Colonel Brandon/Alexander Dane/Hans Gruber/ Sheriff of Nottingham) VS. Sherlock Holmes.

and…

Mr. Darcy VS. Barty Crouch, Jr. / The Tenth Doctor

Yikes! Those are choices that really hurt – probably at least as much as the choices the filmmakers had to face in translating the second half of Deathly Hallows to the screen.

Choices that hurt

Let’s say you’re doing a book that fans are passionate about. There are moments that fans have been dying to see…

Fred’s death, for example. Or Snape’s loss of Lily’s friendship. Or Dumbledore’s backstory. Or Snape saving Lupin’s life and telling the portrait not to say “Mudblood.” Or Harry taunting Voldemort with Snape’s true loyalties and giving Riddle one last chance at remorse.

But you’ve got this other audience to account for… the audience that never reads the books and only sees the movies and that could care less about the intricacies of wandlore.

How do you make a movie that gives the book-fans enough of what they want to see and is still comprehensible for the movie-only fans? That’s the dilemma that the filmmakers were faced with. And they left every single one of those “dying-to see” moments out… yet managed to leave most fans feeling satisfied.

Let’s talk about a few of those choices…

The Mudblood Incident

One of the key complaints I’ve heard from one small corner of the fandom is that the film’s portrayal of “The Prince’s Tale” makes Severus Snape look like an innocent victim by failing to present the “Mudblood” incident or its aftermath.

Okay, I personally wanted to see this material on the big screen, but after giving it some thought, I realized that it presents a devil’s snare of potential difficulties. Here is what I wrote about it on the CoS forum:

I would have liked to see them include the “Mudblood” incident too, but in thinking it over, I realized that its inclusion is fraught with all sorts of potential difficulties for other characters – difficulties that I doubt the filmmakers wanted to unleash, particularly given the raw emotional power of Rickman’s overall performance.

As soon as Rickman’s Snape starts showing the depth of his pain, he’s got the audience in the palm of his hand. If the pain had started sooner, beneath the portrait of the Fat Lady [when Lily cut off their friendship], it could have swayed movie-only audience opinion in directions that the filmmakers would not have wanted – like against Lily, for instance. That wouldn’t be fair, since he used the word [Mudblood] on her, but film is an essentially emotional medium, and film audiences love redemption stories – especially when a character is in love. Film audiences generally want to see all but the most monstrous characters given a second chance after they’ve blown it in a big way.

In that context, the filmmakers probably made the right decision to cut the incident. They could not really tell which character(s) would get hurt the most by showing it, and filmmakers like to know exactly what audience impact will be.

There are additional problems with its inclusion as well. David Yates used a portion of SWM (“Snape’s Worst Memory”) in the OotP movie, but he did not incorporate the “Mudblood” incident. Adding it for DH2 would require re-shooting the earlier scene or working some digital magic to insert Lily into it. And that, of course, would mean casting a third actress to play Lily’s part – and getting Alec Hopkin (Teen Snape) back to utter the unforgivable word. (ETA NOTE: The additional material with a third Lily that was originally shot for OotP and then cut would not help since Harry is in the frame – in completely the wrong clothes and without all of the battle grime and gore that we see in TPT).

In addition, I think that the complaint that the exclusion of the Mudblood incident makes Snape look like an innocent victim is a product of very short-sighted thinking. What is most visually striking about the incident (and film is a visual medium) is watching James Potter and the Marauders launch an unprovoked attack on Severus Snape. In all likelihood, including the incident in the film would make Snape look even more like a victim.

Little James is puckishly cute as he runs through the halls tipping over his “victims'” school books.

This James, though, is hardly “cute” as he attempts to remove “Snivelly’s trousers”:

I would humbly submit that the filmmakers just didn’t want to go there with James, particularly given that they will later need to present him sympathetically in the Forest… and there’s really very little story to get the movie-only crowd to buy in to that sympathetic portrayal once the filmmakers re-unleash SWM. It’s hard enough already for many book readers to make the leap of faith into believing that James simply changed, and book readers have information that the movie-onlies don’t possess.

The choice the filmmakers made, then, was to make nobody look very much like the victim, and nobody look very much like the perpetrator. For purposes of the film, it was probably a wise choice.

Weasley Loss and Gain

Some book fans are angry at not seeing Fred die. And one big question many fans have asked is, “How the heck did Percy get there?”

That’s a good question! But there are actually other people whose return is a bit confusing – for instance Cho Chang (what’s she doing there in the Room of Requirement when she graduated the year before?) and Luna Lovegood (how’d she get there ahead of Harry, when she’d last been seen at Shell Cottage?). In the case of the Ravenclaw girls, my assumption is that they are there mainly to answer Harry’s question about the lost diadem. And yes, they are supposed to be there, even if the film never quite lets us know how they arrived.

Percy, though, has one of the book’s more dramatic entrances into the Room of Requirement, and we never see that drama in the film. I do think, though, that the filmmakers’ decision (while perhaps making Percy’s sudden appearance confusing for book fans ) actually makes matters less confusing for the general movie audience. Percy’s estrangement from his family has never become an overt plot point in the films. We do see Percy doing Ministry duties at cross-purposes to Harry and Dumbledore, but that’s about as far as that subplot goes. And let’s face it, without the subplot, many movie-only fans probably don’t really remember who Percy is anyway.

So, that nixes Percy’s big entrance because the big entrance would simply not make sense. And sorry, but if we nix Percy’s big entrance, we also nix witnessing Fred’s death. Yeah, we could still see Fred die, but we wouldn’t see it in the context of his welcoming Percy back into the family and later Percy throwing himself on Fred’s dead body.

If we remove Fred’s death from the context of Percy’s return, we may as well see Fred lying already dead in the Great Hall. And that is the choice the filmmakers made. Rather than go for overkill by showing Fred die on the screen and then show his family mourn, the filmmakers went the more subtle route of showing him already dead, surrounded by his family.

Whether we actually see Fred die or not, this scene still has tremendous emotional impact. I have not gotten past it once without breaking into sobs.

Dumbledore’s Backstory

King’s Cross is a big disappointment to many people. The wandlore, the backstory, Dumbledore’s remorse – all of it is missing.

Most of the essentials, though, were presented in DH1. And when the filmmakers decided (ACK!!!) to negate Grindelwald’s big moment of defiance and remorse, they couldn’t exactly go deeply into the Grindelwald plot in King’s Cross. In fact, I predicted in November that this would happen.

At least Ciaran Hinds’ fabulous performance – bringing to life Aberforth’s hundred years of bitterness – implicitly verifies the depth to which Albus Dumbledore had sunk in his youth. If we want to know more detail about the manner in which Albus’ choices sacrificed his sister’s life, we can always consult the books – or at least the nearest Potter fan. :)

Honestly, though, I did miss the King’s Cross wandlore. I suppose I experienced a bit of it vicariously through the interaction between Harry and Ollivander at Shell Cottage. But after all we’ve seen of the wand, would it truly have been too much information for the general movie audience if Harry had briefly discussed the Elder Wand with Dumbledore?

Well, at nearly 1500 words, this post has now gone on too long (thanks for making it this far with me!). So  I think I’ll devote my next DH2 post entirely to the element I missed the most… and why I think it made sense for the filmmakers to cut it.

Until then…

Waiting for Pottermore: The Movie!

Well, a third set of Pottermore emails went out today, and I didn’t receive one. So I took the cue from my Waiting for Pottermore Top 10 List and went to Tyson’s Corner tonight to see the very last IMAX 3D showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. To tell the truth, it’s better in 2D. But hey, I didn’t have to wait as long to see the 3D version, and it was a rather intimate showing of the film.

Anyway, while I’m off busily writing about DH2, I thought you might find a way to entertain yourselves with this little movie. Enjoy!

ETA: OMG! GMTA!!! I just discovered that The Last Muggle posted this same video yesterday! But I solemnly swear I didn’t steal it from her. I found it in a social group on CoS.

Waiting for Pottermore: A Top 10 List

For Harry Potter fans, waiting has always been a part of the game.

We wait months and years for book releases, months and years for movie releases. And now we have worked ourselves up into a massive fandom frenzy, waiting anxiously for the early access opening of a website that most of us never knew existed more than three months ago.

As we await our Welcome emails, we may just need a few distractions…

So, here’s the Expecto Patronum! Top 10 list of things to do while waiting for Pottermore:

10. Refresh your email every 5 seconds, hoping it will make the elusive Pottermore Welcome message arrive in your Inbox that much sooner.
_______

9. Set your Web browser to report any small changes to the Pottermore homepage, and then tweet the rumor “OMG! The Chair moved half-an-inch! They must be getting ready to open the site!”
_______

8. Find combinations of words to add to the beginning of pottermore.com, just to watch the inevitable redirect:

    • minervasskateboard.pottermore.com
    • nitwitblubberoddmenttweak.pottermore.com
    • snapesmumsblouse.pottermore.com

_______

7. Have a conversation, using only HP quotes, just to keep in practice:

You have to admit Minister, you might not agree with Dumbledore, but he has style.
“Are you mental?”

_______

6. Find your Harry Potter character AND your Myers-Briggs type all in the same (outdated) Harry Potter character quiz!

Pirate Monkey's Harry Potter Personality Quiz

Is he really INTP? Nope! But I am. :)

_______

5. Practice up for your Sorting here
or here
or here
or here
or even here.
_______

4. Join the SnapeGPS Project and find canon phrases to help confused drivers find their way:

Turn onto route… three hundred and ninety four.

Out for a little drive… in the moonlight?

Recalculating… Does anything penetrate that thick skull of yours?

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3. Divert yourself by scouring Tumblr for amusing HP GIFs:

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2. Go to see Deathly Hallows 2. Just one more… OR two more… OR three more… times. Or perhaps re-read random chapters from the books!
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1. Remember, if all else fails, there’s always Potter Puppet Pals…

How Expecto Patronum! will spend its time waiting for Pottermore…

Yes, I know that #2 is the tame spot on the list, but I put it there to make a point. This is the next stop for Expecto Patronum!

As soon as I finish writing the end-of-term paper I’m working on, I will be re-visiting the DH2 film… and finally writing my long-awaited review. The first three times I saw the movie, I was just too emotionally overwhelmed to say anything coherent about it. Maybe fourth time will be the charm!

And once that mischief has been managed, I’ll start reading random chapters in the Harry Potter series – at reader request – while we wait for the main doors of Pottermore to open in October.

Of course, once the doors open for early access, I will report whatever I can. But the next big thrust in the re-read will take place once Pottermore is open to everybody and the entire Web can re-read the Harry Potter series from within the Pottermore experience.

So what do you plan to do while we are waiting for Pottermore – short of trading in your HP fandom for something involving Hobbits, or Time Lords, or Cylons, that is?

Pottermore: I’m In! Here’s How…

Well, I didn’t expect to try to get in to Pottermore as a Beta tester. I expected that getting early access would be really difficult, but when I read the Pottermore announcement shortly after midnight July 31 (UK time), I could not help but get caught up in all the excitement.

There wasn’t, as rumored, going to be some crazy round-the-Web scavenger hunt, and there were going to be 7 Days to get in to the Beta test group!

Naturally, I decided to give it a shot. And I decided to give it a shot on Day 1. I mean, how cool would it be to get in on Harry’s birthday – the day Harry got his own letter to Hogwarts?

Preparations

Since I was already hanging out on a fan site, I got a little bit of insider information. I learned that the first clue would be posted sometime after midnight Pacific time (8am in the UK), and that we would need to go to Diagon Alley.

The contest information had already indicated that the first day’s clue would focus on PS/SS. So Diagon Alley was clearly a reference to Chapter 5 in the first book. So of course, I skimmed the chapter and made notes before taking a nap and setting the alarm for 3am (US Eastern). It appeared that we would need to do some sort of calculation, so I particularly noted numbers in the Diagon Alley chapter.

Before taking my nap, I also made sure that I had the address I needed (http://quill.pottermore.com/) already typed in to the address bar on an open tab and that I had a calculator handy for the calculation. I didn’t want to be rushing around in excitement making mistakes if I figured out the clue.

The Clue

The clue didn’t arrive within 20 minutes of 3am, so I went back to sleep and woke up after a Pottermore dream at 4:30am. When I refreshed the Pottermore website, I saw this…

That was one number I had not written down!

But I did know where to find the Eeylops Owl Emporium because I had made a specific note of it. It was one of the first things Harry saw when he entered Diagon Alley! Five. Five breeds of owl. 5 * 49 = 245.

I couldn’t believe it had been so easy! I was pumping adrenalin as I opened up the tab with the address for the quill, typed 245 after the slash, hit Enter, and found myself trying to catch the Magic Quill!!!
(Note for anyone who wants to get into Pottermore: you have to do something with the Magic Quill. What you have to do has been different in each of the three challenges so far. But it is not hard to locate the Magic Quill).

Registration

Everything after that is a bit of a daze. After I clicked on the Magic Quill, I found myself on the registration page, then I saw my name on a list of magical people, and then I found myself having to choose a username. All the while, I was racing against the clock because I needed to get the registration completed before registration closed down for the day! Otherwise, catching the Magic Quill would not have mattered!

Anyway, I received a set of  5 possible usernames. They consisted of random Harry Potter words, coupled with a series of numbers. My choices, compared to a lot of people’s, actually seemed very good. I was ready to select one of the names at the top of the list when I found something in the middle:

AsphodelPhoenix

Seriously?!?!? I could have Asphodel and Phoenix in my username?

Asphodel is one of the ingredients in the very first question Severus Snape ever asks Harry:

“Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

(Answer: the Draught of Living Death)

And the Phoenix has been one of my favorite magical beasts since well before a wand with a Phoenix tail feather at the core chose Harry… or before Dumbledore befriended Fawkes or started an Order of the Phoenix!

All of my Top 4 characters are implied in that name. AsphodelPhoenix ties together Snape and Dumbledore, Harry and Riddle, and even (because there’s a plant involved) Neville! Just subtract Riddle from the list, and you know who my absolute favorite Harry Potter characters are!

Well, the choice was obvious, wasn’t it?!? And when I finished the registration process, I received a lovely piece of parchment confirming my name.

I wish I could say that the rest of the process went just as seamlessly, but I was one of the unfortunates who got caught in Yahoo Mail Limbo. It took me nearly 10 hours to get my activation email!

But hey, at least I didn’t have to wait as long as poor Evanna Lynch! (Luna in the Harry Potter movies). It seems that she had to wait about 18 hours!

So now, after recounting my own journey into Pottermore, I have something to pass on that I hope is useful to somebody.

The Numbers and the Books

It’s pretty obvious that the solution to the clue will always be a number, and that the number will be multiplied by something.

On Day 1, we had to multiply the solution by 49. Note that Pottermore is framing the challenge in terms of 7 Books, 7 Days, 7 Chances. 7 Days = 7 Chances, so we don’t really need to consider the final number. However, let’s look at the numbers so far…

Day 1: 7 books, 7 days (7 * 7 = 49)

Day 2: 7 books, 6 days (7 * 6 = 42)

Yes, it’s my understanding that on Day 2, the solution to the clue needed to be multiplied by 42. I predicted this, based on Day 1 using 7 squared. And if the pattern holds true, here are the rest of the numbers:

Day 3: 7 books, 5 days (7 * 5 = 35) – ETA (8/2/01): confirmed. The number was 35.

Day 4: 7 books, 4 days (7 * 4 = 28)

Day 5: 7 books, 3 days (7 * 3 = 21)

Day 6: 7 books, 2 days (7 * 2 = 14)

Day 7: 7 books, 1 day (7 * 1 = 7)

Note also, that on Day 3, the clue will focus on the third book, etc. So here are the remaining books you need to consider for the remaining days of the Beta test challenge:

Day 3: Prisoner of Azkaban

Day 4: Goblet of Fire

Day 5: Order of the Phoenix

Day 6: Half-Blood Prince

Day 7: Deathly Hallows

Pottermore Implications for the Expecto Patronum Blog

Once Beta testing is over and the entire public is allowed in to Pottermore, I will be re-focusing this blog on the Pottermore experience of re-reading the Harry Potter series.

Between now and then, I will re-read (and write about) some random chapters in the series. If anybody has any suggestions for favorite chapters to read, please let me know in the comments!

And with that, I’ll just say “Good luck on gaining early entry!”

The Remorse of Gellert Grindelwald

The 3-Way Duel between Albus Dumbledore, Aberforth Dumbledore, and Gellert Grindelwald that left Ariana dead
Credit: the fatal duel by *LoonyL

Well, I didn’t have nearly as dramatic a DH1 experience as Last Muggle did. No exploding cameras, no evacuated theaters, nothing! Actually, it was pretty uneventful.

We got into the theater with plenty of time to spare. We found great seats. And we saw pretty much the entire movie. Okay, I missed a couple of minutes during the camping sequence, right after the splinching scene, but thanks to the complete and utter normalcy of my viewing experience, I’ve had a couple of days to contemplate the film at my leisure.

I’ve been planning to look at several scenes in some detail, but I decided to devote this particular post to the one that really really bothered me in this otherwise EPIC WIN film… the scene in which Voldemort seeks information about the Elder Wand from Gellert Grindelwald.

As anybody who has read the series knows (and if you haven’t read the series, be warned that there are spoilers ahead): Gellert Grindelwald is the former “Most Dangerous Dark Wizard of All Time.” He was defeated by Albus Dumbledore in 1945 (as Harry learns from a Chocolate Frog card on his first trip on the Hogwarts Express).

Of course, the Dumbledore-Grindelwald story becomes much more complex when we reach DH. These two great Wizards were not merely adversaries. In youth, they were close friends (for a couple of months) before a three-way duel with Aberforth killed Dumbledore’s sister.

Dumbledore, we learn extra-canonically from JKR, was actually infatuated with Grindelwald during that time and was briefly seduced toward Dark Magic through that infatuation. The two young men sought the Deathly Hallows (the subject of The Tale of the Three Brothers), with Gellert having a particular fascination for the Elder Wand… which he stole from the wand maker Gregorovitch and which Dumbledore won from him in the legendary duel of 1945.

Because of the Grindelwald revelations in DH, Harry is put in the position of having to come to terms with Dumbledore’s past. He must recognize, as Sirius told him 3 years earlier, that the world is not divided up into “good people and Death Eaters.” Good people can have dark pasts. And apparently, even people who have committed dark horrors can find even a moment of light.

In the book, Voldemort visits Gellert Grindelwald (now an old, skeletal man) at Nurmengard prison:

Grindelwald: So you have come. I thought you would… one day. But your journey was pointless. I never had it.

Voldemort: You lie.


“Kill me, then!” demanded the old man. “You will not win, you cannot win! That wand will never, ever be yours – ”

And Voldemort’s fury broke: A burst of green light filled the prison room and the frail old body was lifted from its hard bed and then fell back lifeless, and Voldemort returned to the window, his wrath barely controllable.

So Book!Grindelwald taunts Voldemort, rather than betray Dumbledore and the Wand. Or as Harry tells his deceased former mentor:

“Grindelwald tried to stop Voldemort going after the wand. He lied, you know, pretended he had never had it.”

Dumbledore nodded, looking down at his lap, tears still glittering on the crooked nose.

“They say he showed remorse in later years, alone in his cell at Nurmengard. I hope that it is true. I would like to think he did feel the horror and shame of what he had done. Perhaps that lie to Voldemort was his attempt to make amends… to prevent Voldemort from taking the Hallow…”

“… or maybe from breaking into your tomb?” suggested Harry, and Dumbledore dabbed at his eyes.

You know, I was looking forward to watching the one decent, courageous moment in Grindelwald’s life be realized on the screen.

So what did the filmmakers do? They had Grindelwald give up Dumbledore as owner of the Elder Wand, and even reveal the Wand’s location in Dumbledore’s tomb. And then they had Psycho Killer Voldemort leave him in peace!

Logistically, yes, we do need to know why Voldemort goes to Dumbledore’s tomb. We do need to know why he finds the Wand there. But having Grindelwald reveal Dumbledore’s ownership of the Wand is not the only way to accomplish that. In fact, here’s a scenario that would accomplish the same thing without violating Grindelwald’s character arc:

Grindelwald: Kill me, then! You will not win, you cannot win! That wand will never, ever be yours.

Voldemort: Dumbledore! He took the Wand, didn’t he, when he locked you up in here! You’re protecting him!… Avada Kedavra!

Why is this so important when the Dumbledore backstory is largely missing from the movie? Well, for starters, Dumbledore’s backstory probably won’t be missing from DH2, where we can learn more from his brother Aberforth and the King’s Cross sequence.

But even more significantly, Grindelwald’s refusal to help Voldemort plays into the entire redemption theme of the series… and into the whole question of remorse.

The “R” word is huge in DH. Dumbledore experienced remorse after the death of his sister. Snape experienced remorse after the death of Lily. And seemingly, even Grindelwald – a man who went much further down the dark path than either of these two men – was sufficiently remorseful to protect Dumbledore and the Wand.

Obviously, what Harry learns about Dumbledore and Snape is most significant to his understanding of the transformative power of remorse. Yet he also learns along the way that even Grindelwald – the former “Most Dangerous Dark Wizard of All Time” – was able to turn back at least just a little… and in the face of death. Gellert Grindelwald, in his last moments, performed one small act that showed his remorse.

I personally would not underestimate the significance of Grindelwald’s act for the DH plot. Given that Harry had discussed it with Dumbledore only an hour or so earlier, it is highly likely that the remorse Harry saw in the old man served as one inspiration for the moment of mercy he offered to Voldemort – giving the Dark Lord himself one last chance at remorse.

By having Grindelwald show the opposite of remorse, though, the filmmakers violate the character’s story arc in a rather profound way and undermine a key theme of the series.

So tell me… if it was so easy for me to figure out how to get Voldemort to Dumbledore’s tomb without violating Grindelwald’s character, why was it seemingly so hard for David Yates and Steve Kloves?

Here’s Your Deathly Hallows on IMAX

Click to see Severus Snape walking through the AWESOME gate

“These are dark times, there’s no denying”

I saw it this morning, in the IMAX theater at Tyson’s Corner. And, in a word, it was AWESOME!!! (like the WB promo shown above)

It’s hardly a secret that Deathly Hallows is my favorite Harry Potter book. It’s also not a secret that I found the Half-Blood Prince movie… disappointing.

In HPB, the filmmakers wasted precious time burning the Burrow, when they could have been giving us another Pensieve memory of Tom Riddle’s family background or some additional face time with the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book.

I feared that, given the complexity of the DH narrative, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves would trash the story, chop it up, render it incomprehensible in an attempt to simplify it for movie-only viewers. I wondered if, in the end, moviegoers would understand who Dumbledore was, who Snape was, and how the twin themes of redemption and remorse that play out in these men’s lives ultimately help Harry confront Voldemort with the things the Dark Lord doesn’t understand.

Well, we won’t know the answer to that question until we reach the end of DH2. But DH1 gives me good reason to hope that the filmmakers will capture much of the richness of this narrative… and offer up a successful resolution to the Harry Potter saga.

For me, the DH movies carry the biggest stakes because they also carry the most profound part of Harry Potter’s story. I already knew going in to DH1 that the split would occur at Dumbledore’s tomb. And I knew just from watching the trailers that DH1 would include both Malfoy Manor sequences, the 7 Potters, Bill and Fleur’s wedding, the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic, the splinching scene, Ron’s confrontation with Harry, at least some of the visit to Godric’s Hollow, the destruction of the locket horcrux, the visit to Xenophilius Lovegood, and Voldemort’s retrieval of the wand.

Here are some other elements that I was hoping to see in DH1:

  • Dudley’s attempt to reconcile with Harry
  • Kreacher’s Tale (including a flashback to the Cave and Regulus’ heroism)
  • Some of Dumbledore’s backstory (and Harry’s struggle to come to grips with it)
  • Hermione’s conversations with the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black (including a flashback of Snape catching Neville, Ginny, and Luna trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor)
  • Harry’s dialogue with Ron after Ron confronts his fears and destroys the locket horcrux
  • Grindelwald’s refusal to betray Dumbledore’s possession of the Elder Wand to Voldemort
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers

Okay, so one of those wishes came true. But we missed Dudley, most of Kreacher’s Tale, nearly all of Dumbledore’s backstory, Phineas’ portrait, and (alas) Harry’s awesome “I thought you knew.”

I understand some of those decisions. Really, I do. Flashbacks would have dragged out the film (no matter how gratifying I find those strands of plot to be). And Dumbledore’s backstory can be covered more fully in DH2 at the Hogs Head and in King’s Cross.

But why not include the Dudley scene or Phineas’ portrait or Harry’s dialogue with Ron? And why, WHY, WHY violate the character of Gellert Grindelwald? (more on that in another post).

Regardless, the movie overall does about as fine a job with DH1 as I could have hoped. Here are some of the highlights:

  • An absolutely wrenching scene (told, not shown, in the book) in which Hermione obliviates her parents
  • Nearly the entire opening sequence at Malfoy Manor – with stunning performances by Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, and – really – the whole Death Eater cast
  • A truly creepy Bathilda Bagshot sequence
  • A beautiful Silver Doe/Retrieval of the Sword sequence – almost exactly as I had pictured it
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers – an EPIC WIN animation – including a narrative containing, I think, every word in the story

And of course, it sure didn’t hurt to be viewing all of this on an IMAX screen. I’ll be back later with a bit more analysis. But for now, I’ll just say that, overall, this film is TEH AWESOME!!! (And I wasn’t saying that after the last one).