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.

Ways to Read the Harry Potter Series, Part 2

This post originally appeared in an area of the Chamber of Secrets forum that is not open to the public. It was written in response to a another poster’s comment about people bringing their real life experience to the reading of the series.

Here is my reply…

I’m glad you brought that up… because that is actually where I wanted to go next with my own comments.

Yes, even though I strongly believe that reading should be grounded in the text, I am keenly aware that my worldview and RL experience and personality all color my experience of the text.

The point you made about Snape and Lily for example… I am Catholic. It’s not something I push on the text. It’s the air I breathe. For me, it is simply the structure of reality. And it definitely colors the way I respond to Snape’s devotion to Lily.

Now, before I get myself in trouble, let me add that I am not about to presume that my experience is some one-size-fits-all-Catholic experience of the text. I have had enough spirited debates on CoS with fellow Catholics to know that’s not so!

But when I first read the text, it was absolutely self-evident to me that Snape’s devotion to Lily (after her death) was the devotion of a man to a patron saint (or Dante to his Beatrice) – and that it ennobled him and helped bring about his redemption. It was only after I started reading fan discussions that the word “obsession” came up… and because of my experience of the text, I initially found that to be an utterly shocking and incomprehensible (and actually, painful) reading.

After having been around fandom for awhile now, though, I understand that many people – including some fellow Catholics – find the “obsession” reading to be just as self-evident as I find the “patron saint” reading. We clearly have different experiences of the text, probably based on our RL experiences, personalities, and experiences of literature.

However, I must emphasize that I was certainly not trying to force some “head canon” or “fanon” reading based on some pre-defined outcome. I had never even had (or read) a serious discussion of the series with HP fans! It was simply my honest response to the text, based on what I as a reader bring to the reading experience.

Stanley Fish is wrong imo that subjectivity = meaning. But he is right, I think, that the reading experience is colored by what the reader brings to it.

I’d also like to add to my answer to #6. I mentioned that even though I regard the text as primarily constructed, I think that JKR is talented at making her characters live and breathe.

I enjoy playing around with typing the characters according to Myers-Briggs typology. It works nicely with a character like Snape, who is pretty consistently an INTJ. But it’s tougher for many other characters – partly because they are constructed personalities and consequently might be needed to function according to one personality type at one point in their life and another personality type at another point in their life… and partly because no typology system can ever fully capture a person.

The point I’m making here is that – even though my brain often functions more like a database of tropes and techniques while I’m reading, and even though I fully understand that text is constructed – I still engage to some extent with the characters as if they were real people. I would never try to “type” them if I didn’t.

I’ll be back later to answer the last couple of questions. (I’m determined to finish this questionnaire!!!)

Privets and Whingings and Dursleys… oh my!

I actually did start something of a CoS re-read a couple of years ago. In fact, I wrote preliminary posts on the first couple of chapters of the book, but I never got in to the in-depth over-analysis that typically characterizes this blog. ;)

If you’d like to take a look at those original re-read posts, here you go:

Like the first CoS scene on Pottermore, my old post on chapter 1 put some emphasis on “the magic word.” So let’s take a look at Pottermore’s view of that scene.

Number 4, Privet Drive

At Zoom 1 (original zoom level), we see the exterior to Number 4, Privet Drive. According to JKR, she chose the name of the Dursley street after

that most suburban plant, the privet bush, which makes neat hedges around many English gardens.

She chose the name of their town because it

sounds appropriately parochial and sniffy, ‘whinging’ being a colloquial term for ‘complaining or whining’ in British English.

She chose the number 4 because she has

never been fond of the number four, which has always struck [her] as a rather hard and unforgiving number.

These little bits of information show the degree to which JKR thought about what she was doing. I may not share her take on the number 4 (I rather like the number myself) – and I’m not quite clear on why she created 4 Houses if she has such a dislike of the number – but I do think it’s obvious that even in the details of the Dursley address, JKR was attempting to create a composite of the Dursley family. And that’s just a little bit of wonderful!

When we look at the scene on Pottermore (Zoom 1), we see the pastel hues of the Dursley home, hints of the flowery wallpaper on the home’s interior, and the trim surburban plants set against the house. And through the window, there’s a picture on the wall that appears to portray somebody in a Smelting’s uniform. Young Vernon? Dudley? It’s certainly not Harry!

Oddly, though, on the Dursley’s front porch, there appear to be some wear-and-tear flaws in the plaster near the lamp. Is that nothing more than an artist’s rendering? Or is it part of JKR’s own conception? Is the exterior of their house not quite the exemplar of suburban perfection that Petunia would have it be?

At Zoom 2, we go through the door… to find a Smelting’s straw hat on the staircase (this must be Dudley’s!) and the door to the cupboard under the stairs padlocked. The padlock will be explained when we get to the argument in the kitchen.

And at Zoom 3, we reach the kitchen… just in time to see Dudley about to fall out of his chair when Harry tells him he forgot to say “the magic word.”

Just as we have three levels of zoom, the first part of the chapter is broken up into three parts (which do not actually correspond to Pottermore’s three levels of zoom):

  • An argument at breakfast
  • A summation of Harry’s background (and the fact that it’s his 12th birthday)
  • A rehearsal of everyone’s roles for that night’s dinner party

We’ll take a look at these in the next re-read post. But for now, I’d like to go back to some Pottermore material that sets the stage. I’m speaking, of course, of that lovely exclusive JKR content on the Dursleys.

Vernon and Petunia Dursley

We know from the first chapter of PS/SS that Vernon values normalcy and that Petunia thinks her sister is a freak. The Pottermore info fills in the gaps.

One of the most sought-after pieces of information, actually, is the name of the town that the Evans girls – and, by extension, Severus Snape – grew up in. Based on Snape’s speech patterns, fans have speculated that he grew up in the north of England, perhaps even in a large industrial city like Birmingham. Actually, though, he and Lily and Petunia grew up in the fictional town of Cokeworth. This is the town that Petunia left in order to make her way in London.

And actually, we’ve been in Cokeworth before! In fact, I described the Cokeworth incident in an ancient Expecto Patronum! post concerning the Flight of the Dursleys:

On this 7th day of letters from no one, the Dursleys find that none of their previous attempts to outrun the letters have succeeded. 100 or so letters await Harry at the hotel desk.

The next morning, at breakfast, they discover Hogwarts letters addressed to:

Mr. H. Potter
Room 17
Railview Hotel
Cokeworth

The text tells us that Cokeworth is a big city, and we know that it’s within a day’s drive of Little Whinging, Surrey – even if the driver is continuously changing course. I don’t know enough about driving in the UK to know how far a driver can get under these conditions. I’ll leave it to my UK friends to tell me whether or not it is plausible that Cokeworth is in the north.

But whatever the case, the “gloomy-looking hotel” where the Hogwarts letters hunt them down is on the outskirts of the same town in which Petunia, Lily, and Severus all grew up. Curiously, Petunia says nothing.

The Pottermore info also contains tidbits of information that have been alluded to before in the text:

  • That Petunia wanted to retreat as far into normalcy as possible in order not to be “tainted” by her sister
  • That she did not attend her sister’s wedding
  • That she did not congratulate her sister on either her wedding or the birth of her son. (In a particularly callous move, she threw the birth announcement in the bin – though she did register the name of her sister’s child, even if Vernon did not)
  • That she thought that she could “squash the magic out of Harry”

The truly new information focuses on Vernon and Petunia’s courtship and interactions with James and Lily. And this courtship info is often written in the same mocking tone that we find in the Dursley passages in the books. (Remember that wonderful Dursley intro in PS/SS: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much”?).

In the Dursley courtship, the “deliciously normal” junior executive “seemed a model of manliness to young Petunia.” {{{GAG! RETCH!!!}}}

He had a perfectly correct car, and wanted to do completely ordinary things, and by the time he had taken her on a series of dull dates, during which he talked mainly about himself and his predictable ideas on the world, Petunia was dreaming of the moment when he would place a ring on her finger.

When, in due course, Vernon Dursley proposed marriage, very correctly, on one knee in his mother’s sitting room, Petunia accepted at once.

It’s almost like something out of a romance made in hell! For those of you who have read A Game of Thrones, here’s an analogy: Rather than dream of true knights to rescue her from her peril, Sansa Stark instead dreams of a big beefy dullard to give her a “completely ordinary” and utterly predictable life. Petunia’s “true knight,” in other words, rescues her from anything faintly resembling romance.

And with that, I’d say we’ve had enough for our first post back on the re-read. Next time, we’ll focus more on the book itself and less on the Pottermore experience of it. :)

Waiting for Pottermore: Stupefied

Here’s an amusing follow-up to the last post on DH2. Enjoy!

And speaking of stupefied…

Luna is now a Gryffindor. Yep, Luna actress (and big HP fan) Evanna Lynch sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore.
(Many thanks to janinavalencia for finding and sharing that information).

Here’s what Evanna tweeted out about the experience:

Ahhhh umm errrrrr…. Just got sorted. Slight identity crisis. Need to sit down and process this… #pottermore

I’m in Gryffindor. #Pottermore #confusion #shock #pride #happiness #LUNADONTLEAVEME!!!

I don’t know what to do. I feel like Jo just told me I’m a man. I’m SO utterly confused.

Gryffindor! Woahhh what an honour! I’m so happy! But confused! But happy! BUT CONFUSED. #Pottermore #farewellravenclaw

Dammit, now I have to change my whole bleedin’ wardrobe!!! #pottermore #butredandgoldarenotmycolours

Sorry for the tweet explosion… I’m just…having a moment. #farewellravenclaw #pottermore #JowhathaveyouDONE?!

Sounds a bit stupefied herself, doesn’t she?

I guess we can now use this pic with feeling!

Luna in her Gryffindor Lion hat

Waiting for Pottermore DH2: The echo of a memory

Note: While we wait for the Pottermore email, we are talking about the DH2 movie…

DH2 covers my favorite half of my favorite book in the entire HP series.

We have the heist at Gringotts, the trip into Hogsmeade, the Battle of Hogwarts, the dip into the Pensieve, Harry’s walk into the Forest, the final duel with Voldemort, and 19 years later.

When I saw this film – 3 times in its first 10 days – my mind, and my emotions, were so completely blown that I couldn’t even write coherently about it. I mean, how do you write about this? …


Lily’s Theme


This spare musical theme plays over the opening title, drawing us into a Hogwarts surrounded by Dementors while a solitary Snape overlooks regimented rows of Hogwarts students marched grimly into the courtyard. Headmaster Snape – one of  the “abandoned boys of Hogwarts” – oversees a Hogwarts that is no longer his, but Voldemort’s.

That much I got on first viewing. Then I learned the music’s name: “Lily’s Theme.”

The woman’s voice rising above the drone on the fundamental tones = Lily’s.

Her voice serves as the music of Severus Snape’s soul – his inspiration, the thing that keeps him going despite the darkness surrounding him. And it connects him with Harry Potter, Lily’s son.

In Snape, the Lily theme resembles the echo of a memory, but a memory very much alive inside him. When the lush, full-bodied string section picks up the theme at Dobby’s graveside, though, we see the theme’s full embodiment in Harry.

Lily’s voice returns, growing stronger as Severus Snape slips from life. And her voice again marks Harry’s victory over Voldemort, a victory set in motion by his mother’s sacrifice.

There is an inexpressible quality to all of this. The effect cannot be captured in words – at least not by a writer of my own meager skills. And the movie has inexpressible moments like this in abundance – that stark opening, Snape’s demise, the Pensieve memories – all underscored by Alexandre Desplat’s powerful, often impressionistic score.

This is why it has taken me this long to write about this film. I do analysis, but how do you catch hold of and dissect these moments of the sublime?

I shall attempt to come down to earth in my next DH2 post and just talk about what I liked and didn’t like… and then why the filmmakers may have made some of the choices they made.

Until then, I hope you enjoyed the music I linked to in this post. It truly sets the mood for much of this film.

A Happy Potter Halloween

October 31 is without question the most important single calendar day in the Harry Potter series. Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents on October 31. And significant events occur on each of Harry’s first four Halloweens at Hogwarts.

Months ago, I wrote a post when the PS/SS re-read reached Harry Potter’s first Halloween Feast. Here’s a recap of that recap:

Halloween 1981. Probably the most important event in the series occurs on this Halloween – the murder of James and Lily Potter. With their murder, Harry Potter was orphaned, he acquired his scar (which is not merely a scar – but a piece of Voldemort’s soul), and as a result he became the “Chosen One” – the only one capable of destroying Voldemort.

But in addition to the impact on Harry, the deaths of Lily and James compelled a despairing Severus Snape to devote the remainder of his life to helping Dumbledore protect the Potter boy… and drove Wormtail to frame Harry’s godfather Sirius for the “murder of Peter Pettigrew” and a street filled with Muggles. Basically, this is the day that changed the lives of several of the major players.

Halloween 1991. Ten years after his parents’ murder, Harry spends his first Halloween at Hogwarts. At this point in the series, there’s no indication that Harry is aware that his parents’ deaths occurred on October 31. The Halloween Feast, though, is ruined by Quirrell’s famous “Troll in the Dungeons” announcement. Harry and Ron save Hermione from the troll, who has gone into the girl’s bathroom – thus starting the Trio’s friendship.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to keep an eye on Quirrell and head him off at the Philosopher’s Stone, Severus Snape goes into the corridor where Fluffy is guarding something. For his efforts, his Fluffy mangles his leg, awakening Harry’s suspicions of Snape.

Halloween 1992. Harry and the Trio are asked by Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost, to come to his 500th Death Day Party. Harry hears a voice (actually, the Basilisk speaking Parseltongue), and the Trio come face-to-face with the first attack by the “Heir of Slytherin.”

Halloween 1993. Harry is not allowed to go to the first Hogsmeade weekend. Instead, he has tea with Professor Lupin. When Snape brings Lupin his Wolfsbane Potion, Snape becomes suspicious of Lupin having Harry alone with him – fearing that Lupin is trying to hand Harry over to his school friend, the escaped “murderer” Sirius Black.

During the Halloween Feast, Sirius attacks the portrait of the Fat Lady, trying to force his way into Gryffindor Tower. In doing so, Sirius ends up wrongly confirming Snape’s suspicions about Lupin. Sirius’ actual co-conspirator is Hermione’s cat!

Halloween 1994. Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, making him the fourth champion in the Triwizard Tournament.

In later years, Halloween is not so clearly delineated. We don’t know exactly what happens on Halloween during the Umbridge era. All we know is that during the weekend after Halloween, Harry and the Weasley twins get a “lifetime ban” from Quidditch. What happens in 1996 and 1997 is something of a mystery.

Harry finally gets a good look at Halloween 1981 on December 24/25, 1997 – after his ill-fated trip to Godric’s Hollow. Nagini’s bite, and Harry’s subsequent delirium, cause him to “see” the attack on through Voldemort’s eyes.

Have a Happy Potter Halloween!

Guest Post: Draco dormiens nunquam titillandusa

by AnnieLogic

Guest blogger AnnieLogic provides a nice counterbalance to my much less favorable review of Draco’s first encounter with Harry Potter…

Draco holds a distinction: he is the first notable character to attempt to befriend Harry, while being unaware of the celebrity beside him. In fact, Draco tries to make small talk with Harry, while the latter is wearing scruffy hand-me-down Muggle clothes and a very obvious patch-up job on his broken glasses. Draco does not appear to snub Harry from the initial outset for the sake of appearances.

Yet Draco’s conduct and manner of address – notably in regards to his parents and how he intends to get his own way – remind Harry strongly of his cousin. These memories of Dudley, complete with a conglomerate of negative feelings associated with them, mean that Harry may be projecting onto an unfamiliar person. It provides wriggle room for a misunderstanding early on.

Due to feeling increasingly stupid about his lack of knowledge concerning the Wizarding World, Harry becomes uncomfortable at Draco’s enthusiastic talk of Quidditch and Hogwarts’ Houses. Even Hagrid (who, unlike Draco, knew how much in the dark the Dursley’s had condemned Harry to be) exclaimed later:

“Blimey, Harry, I keep forgettin’ how little yeh know — not knowin’ about Quidditch!”

Later the reader sees further that students place Hogwarts Houses – as well as the much-loved Wizarding sport, Quidditch – at the forefront of their minds, so Draco’s choice of a conversational subject was seemingly friendly and no different than that of other future students, or indeed adults.

The downward spiral continues as Draco talks disdainfully of Hagrid. Understandably, and compassionately, Harry is defensive of his first wizarding friend – who showed him kindness, generosity and acceptance. This trait of Draco’s – to belittle and taunt those he believes to be his inferiors – is exhibited in various topics throughout the first year: topics concerning family, social status, intellect and skill, wealth and provisions:

“I do feel so sorry,” said Draco Malfoy, one Potions class, “for all those people who have to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas because they’re not wanted at home.”


“Would you mind moving out of the way?” came Malfoy’s cold drawl from behind them. “Are you trying to earn some extra money, Weasley? Hoping to be gamekeeper yourself when you leave Hogwarts, I suppose — that hut of Hagrid’s must seem like a palace compared to what your family’s used to.”


“See, there’s Potter, who’s got no parents, then there’s the Weasleys, who’ve got no money — you should be on the team, Longbottom, you’ve got no brains.”


“Longbottom, if brains were gold you’d be poorer than Weasley, and that’s saying something.”

When Harry replies shortly to Draco’s enquiry about his parents, and Draco responds “Oh sorry” (a fairly standard, civil way to reply to a complete stranger), Harry seems to take unnecessary offence, thinking Draco doesn’t sound sorry at all. However, the notion is swiftly dispelled when Draco adds, “But they were our kind, weren’t they?” as if to imply non-magical folk are of scant enough worth to mourn their loss.

Perhaps Draco could have enquired as to what happened, or where and with whom does Harry now live. However, in some circles this would probably be considered extremely intrusive questions to ask a stranger – particularly if the stranger turned abrupt, which would be a warning sign not to delve further into private matters. Re-enforcing this, the reader later observes Molly on the platform scolding the insensitivity of her children – first Ginny, for wanting go look at Harry as if he were a specimen in a zoo; secondly, Fred and George for proposing to ask Harry questions about the fateful circumstances under which he lost his parents.

Draco goes on to express an intolerant view of Muggleborns. Introduced here is another of Draco’s traits: being a constant mouthpiece for his parent’s views, particularly parroting and using the name of his father, Lucius Malfoy, and its weighty lineage.

In Tales of Beedle the Bard, the notes reveal Lucius Malfoy strove to get that very book, which contains Muggle-friendly teachings, banned from the Hogwarts curriculum. This fact allows the reader an insight into how tight a rein Lucius exerted on what Draco was exposed to in his first eleven years. It doesn’t justify or excuse the character, it does however give an idea of how Draco’s personality and morals were strictly influenced and moulded – showing why he chooses to ally and associate with those of desirable profile (in his opinion), who are subservient to his wishes, or who possess suitable beliefs.

The set up for Draco alienating and developing a rivalry with Harry, is repeated when Draco insults and tries to trump Ron, and a newly developed bond, despite it being a retaliation to a veiled snigger at his name.

Throughout the story, in a developing pattern of animosity, Draco slowly descends from snotty spoiled child further into the bully and antagonist role.

AnnieLogic authors the LiveJournal custos noctis.