Santa Claus: Hogwarts Graduate?

How does a fat man fit down a skinny chimney? How could one person deliver toys to every child in the world in just one night? For that matter, how do all those toys even fit in his sleigh? Hard questions to answer. But with a bit of Harry Potter-style magic, it just might all make sense.

Floo powder

Now, it’s totally possible that a wizard Santa Claus would have a flying sleigh and some kind of magical species of reindeer. After all, if broomsticks, magic carpets, and even cars can be enchanted to fly, surely a sleigh could, too. But a wizard Santa Claus wouldn’t need the flying sleigh, and I find it far more likely that he would simply travel by floo powder, hence why muggles claim to have spotted him sneaking in through the fireplace.

Undetectable Extension Charm

If Newt Scamander can fit a menagerie of magical creatures in a small suitcase, Santa Claus could surely carry toys for all the children of the world in his sack. All he would need is a little magic.

Time Turner

Even with an enchanted sack that’s larger than it appears, Santa Claus would still need one very important thing: time. Luckily, that’s something a wizard can have an unlimited supply of, as long as he has a time turner handy. But, you ask, how would Santa Claus keep from getting burned out and exhausted, just like Hermione? Simple: he uses the Time Turner only one night a year. After that, he takes a nice long nap and lives out his days in ordinary 24-hour cycles until the next Christmas Eve.

House Elves

Who did you think was making all those toys? But there are other bits of evidence, too. House elves are good at going unnoticed and can travel anywhere by apparating, much like wizards. Perhaps Santa’s house elves do more than toy making for him: perhaps they also keep tabs on the children of the world and let Santa know who belongs on the nice list and who deserves coal in their stocking. They might even help with the deliveries on Christmas Eve night, reducing the number of times Santa has to use his time turner.

Muggle-Repelling Charms

But how on earth has no one found Santa’s workshop yet? For the same reason no one’s found Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, or that field where the Quidditch World Cup was held. It’s specially enchanted to keep Muggles away. It’s also possible, of course, that Santa’s workshop is protected by a Fidelius charm, perhaps with Mrs. Claus as the Secret Keeper. It all depends how far Santa Claus is willing to go to keep his workshop hidden even from his fellow wizards.

What about his age?

Santa Claus has theoretically been delivering toys to children all around the world for generations, and an old man the whole time. Now, wizards tend to live longer than muggles anyway. Dumbledore and Grindelwald were both around 115 years old when they died, and not of old age. Bathilda Bagshot must have been even older, since she was already an adult when the Dumbledore siblings were children. Besides their already long lifespans, there are ways for wizards to extend their lives further, some living hundreds of years. I can’t see Santa Claus drinking unicorn blood or resorting to dark magic of the type Voldemort uses, so I’m guessing he’s using a sorcerer’s stone to create elixir of life.

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The Virtues of Harry Potter: Loyalty

There’s more than one way to be a hero, and while the boldness and bravery of Gryffindor has its place, Hufflepuff traits are equally worthwhile. In fact, one of the most important Hufflepuff traits – loyalty – is a recurring theme in the books. Every character, regardless of house, has to figure out who and what they’re loyal to and faces conflicts forcing them to choose whether to be loyal or not.

This is not always an easy decision, and the characters don’t always choose right. For instance, the main trio squabble and fight like any normal teenagers, but they always make up and reunite by the end of the book. Even after Ron abandons Harry and Hermione in Deathly Hallows, he quickly regrets it and returns to them as soon as he is able. Dumbledore’s Army is defined by their loyalty to Harry, and Harry, likewise, is always loyal to Dumbledore, even in moments when it’s far from the easy thing to do.

Disloyalty, on the other hand, is one of the failings most strongly condemned in the series. Characters who reveal themselves to be two-faced or untrustworthy rarely get any sympathy. Peter Pettigrew is best known not as a former friend of Harry’s father, but rather, as the man who betrayed the Potters to Voldemort. Marietta Edgecomb’s betrayal of the DA, Percy Weasley’s decision to turn his back on his family, and Grindelwald’s betrayal of Dumbledore are all taken seriously. Only when characters turn away from the dark side is the decision to turn “traitor” portrayed positively, and only when it is grounded in loyalty to someone or something else. Snape changes sides out of loyalty to Lily, and Sirius “betrayed” his family by choosing Gryffindor and later joining the Order, both of which are portrayed positively. However, Igor Karkaroff was only trying to save his own skin when he betrayed the Death Eaters, and it doesn’t earn him any sympathy.

Can loyalty be taken to an unhealthy extreme? Yes, and its name is Bellatrix Lestrange. She is unfailingly – and even selflessly – loyal to Voldemort, but it doesn’t make her a better person. She is simply deranged and bloodthirsty and latching onto someone just as evil as her. In a similar way, Chastity Barebone from Fantastic Beasts is fanatically loyal to her mother, unlike her two siblings, and is by far the least sympathetic of the three. Her inability to question the Second Salemers’ cruelty is not in any way a redeeming trait.

In other words, loyalty should not be blind or unquestioning. We should choose our loyalties carefully and make sure the person or cause is deserving. However, loyalty – once given – is a promise that should not be broken lightly.

The Virtues of Harry Potter: Redemption

Last week, I talked about mercy as one of the virtues that shape Harry and Dumbledore’s choices. This week I’m going to talk about the flip side of all those second chances.

We all make mistakes. It’s only human nature to do so. However, there are different ways we can handle a wrong choice. We can refuse to admit we were wrong. We can decide it’s too late to turn back. Or we can acknowledge our mistakes and try our best to make them right. That’s not an easy decision to make, and it’s often harder to come back from a poor choice than it would have been to make the right choice in the first place. Truly attempting to atone for the wrong one has done is something that requires integrity and honor.

When it comes to this, the most obvious example most people probably think of is Snape. After Voldemort kills Lily Potter, Snape realizes he was wrong to become a Death Eater and changes sides. He can never bring himself to let go of his hatred for James (and by extension, Harry) or his surly, unpleasant attitude, but in spite of this, he agrees to help Dumbledore protect Harry, and, when Voldemort returns, to work as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix. I know that a lot of people have very strong opinions one way or another on Snape. My personal feeling is that he’s a bad person who did a lot of good things, or perhaps a good person who did a lot of bad things, and that the distinction between those is so blurry it’s hard to say which. But choosing to turn away from Voldemort was undoubtedly the right choice to make.

Snape is hardly the only example of such a change. I always find myself moved strongly by the story of Regulus Black. Regulus was raised to believe in the twisted ideals Voldemort stood for and joined the Death Eaters when he was sixteen years old. And yet, when he discovered the depths of evil Voldemort was willing to descend to, he dedicated himself to bringing him down. He even gave his own life to do so. He could easily have run and tried to hide, or attempted to bury his conscience and continued working for Voldemort. There was nothing self-serving or easy about Regulus’ choice, and it didn’t benefit him, but he did it anyway. There’s something very honorable about that, despite the bad choices that got him there in the first place.

Slughorn is a milder example. He’s not a bad person and never intentionally worked for Voldemort, but he was one of Tom Riddle’s teachers at Hogwarts and doesn’t like to admit that Tom was part of the Slug Club, his little group of favorites. He’s even more ashamed of a truth Harry and Dumbledore don’t manage to unearth until well into Half-Blood Prince: that he unknowingly played a part in Tom’s transformation into Voldemort. He attempts to conceal this information out of fear until Harry convinces him that the brave thing to do is to share what he knows with them. By the final book, however, Slughorn is finally willing to stand up to Voldemort and gathers reinforcements to help the “good guys” win the Battle of Hogwarts.

Even our heroes end up with regrets that push them to do better. Ron, for instance, makes a huge mistake when he walks out on Harry and Hermione in Deathly Hallows. As he tells them later, he wanted to return almost as soon as he had left – and although finding a way back isn’t easy, he arrives just in time to save Harry’s life and help him retrieve Gryffindor’s sword. The trio’s friendship returns as strong as ever, and they are united as they face the final battle with Voldemort.

And I mentioned Dumbledore last week, but it bears repeating: the fact that Harry’s own mentor figure made mistakes of his own in his youth is at first a world-shattering revelation for Harry, until he learns to accept Dumbledore’s imperfection. The whole situation not only explains why Dumbledore is so willing to offer second chances, but also gives credibility to the idea that they can be worthwhile. The remorse that Dumbledore felt over Ariana’s death led him to turn his intelligence and power toward good and to play a major part in the defeat both the most dangerous Dark Wizards present in his lifetime.

Sorting Hat Saturday: “Mad Eye” Moody

Continuing the project I started last week of sorting adult Harry Potter characters whose houses are unknown, this week I’m looking at Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. He was definitely a difficult one, both because he’s so secretive and because he embodies traits of every single house. He’s brave, he’s loyal, he’s intelligent, and he’s cunning. But which house does he fit into best?

Not Hufflepuff. That’s my first thought. While it’s true that he’s hard-working, as well as being loyal to Dumbledore and the Order, he’s so distrustful and paranoid that it’s almost impossible to imagine him among the team players of Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw is also unlikely. While Moody has a brilliant mind and is – like many Ravenclaws – a bit eccentric, he doesn’t seem to value knowledge for its own sake. He’s far too practical for that.

Gryffindor might be the logical choice. And yet, I’m not sure that’s a good fit, either. Moody’s bravery is different from Harry’s or Lily’s or even Dumbledore’s. In Order of the Phoenix, the portrait of a former Hogwarts Headmaster tells Harry, “We Slytherins are brave, yes, but not foolish … Given the choice, we would always choose to save our own skins.” There’s not a lot of evidence of that, though, in the characters’ actions. Many of the Slytherin characters are just cowards, no bravery involved at all, but then you’ve got Regulus Black sacrificing his life for a chance to bring Voldemort down – not exactly saving his own skin. I suppose Snape would describe himself as “brave but not foolish”, but I think it might be an even better description of Moody. For an Order member and an Auror, bravery is pretty much in the job description. But he is not “foolish” – ie. reckless and self-sacrificing in the way Gryffindors tend to be. In fact, he’s kind of paranoid about his own survival. He drinks only from his own flask because he’s afraid of being poisoned, and he trusts nobody, not even his fellow Order members.

What about the other Slytherin traits? He can be ruthless at times, for example suggesting that the Ministry take Karkaroff’s information and then send him back to Azkaban. And he’s cunning, too: while it’s the fake Moody who claims, “It was once my job to think as Dark Wizards do”, the comment seems fairly accurate and is taken in stride by those who know the real Moody well. Having been in the same House as many dark wizards at Hogwarts would only have helped him there. He’s clever and strategic enough not only to lay a false trail as to when Harry will be moved from Privet Drive, but also to realize that they still need to be prepared for battle. Besides, there’s the fact that his house was undisclosed in his Ministry file. That’s definitely something a Slytherin would do; a Hogwarts House gives valuable insight that could easily be used against you, or provide an element of surprise when the enemy doesn’t know exactly what to expect.

Dumbledore seems to trust Moody a great deal. Would he really place that kind of trust in a Slytherin? I think so, under the right circumstances. If Moody was a Slytherin, and if he went to Hogwarts during Voldemort’s rise to power (which he must have), he clearly chose not to associate with his future Death Eater peers, perhaps even gravitating toward Dumbledore as a teacher and role model. Dumbledore did not hesitate to trust Snape, and I strongly suspect that Mundungus Fletcher was also a graduate of Slytherin, so there’s no reason other members of the Order could not be as well.

The Virtues of Harry Potter: Mercy

At the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore explains to Harry that Voldemort “shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies”. This is something that becomes more and more apparent throughout the series. It’s no wonder that such a thing is so repulsive to Dumbledore, the man known – and sometimes ridiculed – for offering second chances. Not only would it never occur to Dumbledore to treat his own allies and supporters in such a merciless fashion, he likewise has more compassion for Voldemort’s own followers than Voldemort himself does.

Nearly everyone has doubts about Dumbledore’s decision to trust Snape – everyone but Dumbledore, that is. And while Dumbledore has knowledge the others don’t (namely, Snape’s true reason for changing sides), he’s also predisposed to believe the best of people. This is not too hard to understand after reading Deathly Hallows: he himself has what Rita Skeeter describes as a “murky past” and realized after the death of his younger sister that what he and Grindelwald had been planning was wrong. He later went on to defeat Grindelwald and become one of the most highly-respected good wizards in the world, but having once found himself in need of a second chance no doubt makes him more sympathetic towards others who have made poor choices.

This tendency of Dumbledore’s is perhaps most obvious in his death scene. While Draco Malfoy claims that Dumbledore is at his mercy, the Headmaster contradicts him: “It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now”. He spends the last few minutes of his life attempting to convince his would-be assassin to change sides. As we find out in Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore is already dying at this point, so he is certainly not doing this in an attempt to save his own life. He simply sees that Draco’s devotion to Voldemort is starting to waver and believes that offering a second chance is the right thing to do.

One of the key ideas in Half-Blood Prince is that murder is an act “against nature” that can damage the soul, with Voldemort as an extreme example of this. This may be why Harry is so reluctant to kill, even when fighting in a war.  His signature spell is expelliarmus, and even on the occasions when he does use a more powerful spell, it is always a non-lethal one. But it goes farther than that. On certain occasions, he even risks his life to save or avoid harming his enemies. He rescues Draco Malfoy from a room filled with fiendfyre, attempts to stop Peter Pettigrew’s silver hand from choking him, and refuses to attack Stan Shunpike, who is under the Imperius Curse. It becomes clear as Deathly Hallows progresses that Harry is not a killer and refuses to become one. Even in his final confrontation with Voldemort, he does not use Avada Kedavra, instead reverting to his signature expelliarmus and letting Voldemort’s own killing curse backfire.

In fact, let’s talk more about that scene. Harry, at that point, is aware of what kind of fate Voldemort will face after death, and he also knows that there is a way to repair some of the damage he’s done to his soul. In their final confrontation, Harry tries his best to convince Voldemort to “try for some remorse”, telling him it is his last chance. It’s not clear whether there really is any chance for Voldemort – Dumbledore is quite clear that he’s gone far beyond “ordinary evil” and that he was cruel and lacking in compassion even as a child – but the fact that Harry feels compelled to try speaks volumes about his attitude. He really is “Dumbledore’s man through and through”, and while his attitude toward second chances might not be quite as idealistic as the former Headmaster’s, he shares his mentor’s belief in their importance.

Sorting Hat Saturday: Hogwarts Graduates

For most of the Harry Potter characters, even the adults, it’s very obvious which Hogwarts house they were in when they were younger. For a few, however, we never find out, and while J.K. Rowling has given insight into some of these on Pottermore, others remain mysteries. So here are my thoughts:

It would be easy to assume that Aberforth Dumbledore was a Gryffindor to match his brother Albus, and he does have the bravery and impulsiveness associated with Gryffindor. However, he expresses a feeling of being overlooked and overshadowed by his brother, which likely would have grown stronger if he were in a different house, perhaps one that did not get as much respect. He is also extremely loyal, particularly to Arianna, and seems far more grounded than Albus, who was always full of brilliant ideas and big dreams. He does not mind working hard without any personal gain or ambition, first as Arianna’s caretaker and later at the Hog’s Head pub. While many others might have taken advantage of a famous relative to become famous themselves, Aberforth seems to shy away from the spotlight and prefer a simple life. Therefore, I think there’s a strong argument to be made for putting him in Hufflepuff.

Barty Crouch Sr. has all the traits of a textbook Slytherin. He is ruthless, ambitious, and willing to sacrifice others to preserve his reputation. However, he is also strongly opposed to dark magic, and Slytherin’s reputation as the darkest house would likely keep him away. I think the hat would have tried to persuade him, as it did with Harry, that Slytherin would be the best fit, but eventually given in and put him elsewhere. Where, you ask? I could see him as a very misguided version of either Gryffindor or Hufflepuff. On the one hand, he strongly values justice and law, in a very rigid way. He wants to see wrongdoers punished, and he’s dedicated his life to making sure they are. On the other hand, he’s not truly fair. He throws people in Azkaban without trials and secretly arranges to save his own Death Eater son despite publically disowning him at the trial. It takes a lot of bravery to stand up against evil, and he certainly makes a lot of enemies by doing so. Gryffindor might not be out of the question for him either.

Barty Crouch Jr., on the other hand, could only have been a Slytherin. He shared his father’s ruthless ambition but not his aversion to dark magic. Besides that, though, he was a master of trickery and disguise. He almost singlehandedly brought Voldemort back from the dead by manipulating a school competition, not by any means an easy task to pull off. He also managed to fool Dumbledore not once but twice: the first time as a young boy who Dumbledore seems to think may have been innocent of the crimes he was convicted of, and the second time disguising himself as one of Dumbledore’s old friends and colleagues, then spending a year teaching at Hogwarts undetected. The younger Barty Crouch was Slytherin to the core, which – come to think of it – was likely one of the factors playing into his strained relationship with his father. Not to mention that it might have given the elder Mr. Crouch a reason to believe that his son – who he’d certainly raised to hate dark magic and had previously been proud of – was in fact guilty, rather than simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Amelia Bones is surely a Hufflepuff like her niece. As one of the Wizengamot members presiding over Harry’s trial in Order of the Phoenix, she stands out among her peers as being level-headed and open to hearing Harry’s side of the story. She is there to hold a fair hearing, not simply to ensure Harry is expelled from school, which sets her apart from Fudge and Umbridge. This devotion to justice is exactly what made her a good Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and – unfortunately – a target for Voldemort. Names in Harry Potter often carry clues about the character as well, and Amelia comes from a Germanic root that means “work” – perfect for a hard-working Hufflepuff!

Rufus Scrimgeour might look like a Gryffindor at first sight, and he’s certainly brave. You’d have to be to spend most of your life as an Auror. However, my instincts are saying Slytherin. Scrimgeour does not crave power for its own sake, but he’s certainly convinced that he knows best how to fight Voldemort, and his methods are those of a Slytherin. His campaigns are, in fact, more about public perception than actual warfare. He wants the magical world to believe he’s accomplishing something, and if that means trying to bribe the Chosen One into being a Ministry puppet and sending a man who is almost certainly not a Death Eater to Azkaban, then so be it.

Mr. Ollivander is definitely a Ravenclaw, with his deep knowledge and understanding of wandlore. Harry mentions a couple of times that he is not entirely sure if he likes or trusts Mr. Ollivander, who seems more fascinated than horrified by the idea of Voldemort’s power. However, this is not because Ollivander is secretly a Voldemort sympathizer or because he craves that sort of power for himself. It’s an intellectual fascination. Ollivander has devoted his life to studying wands and magic, and Voldemort is an intriguing case study, if also a horrible person.

The Virtues of Harry Potter: Kindness

So many of the main characters are misfits in some way. From Ron with his hand-me-down robes, to the quirky Luna Lovegood and awkward, clumsy Neville Longbottom, to grown-up misfits like Lupin and Hagrid, almost every one of the more sympathetic characters is an outcast in some way. Yet Harry, who arrives in the Wizarding World as a celebrity and could have his pick of anyone in the school as friends, tends to be drawn to these outcasts, and it never even occurs to him to see himself as superior. In fact, at the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, he reassures Luna and Neville that they are cool and points out that none of the popular kids fought by his side the previous year, as they did.

The most unpleasant characters, on the other hand, never miss an opportunity to be mean. From schoolyard bully Draco Malfoy and mean girl Pansy Parkinson, to the slanderous Rita Skeeter, to the self-centered, uncaring Dursleys, cruelty extends far beyond Voldemort or even the Wizarding World. As Sirius tells Harry in Order of the Phoenix, “The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters”, and while Umbridge may not be the latter, she is also most certainly not the former. In fact, many Harry Potter fans find her as repulsive as Voldemort himself. There isn’t a single villain in the series who isn’t – usually among other more serious crimes – a mean-spirited bully.

Early on in his time at Hogwarts, Harry proves what kind of person he is. When he tells Draco Malfoy that he can tell the “wrong sort” for himself and chooses his brand new friendship with Ron over Malfoy’s sneering superiority, he aligns himself with the misfits and outcasts of Hogwarts. But he is far from the only character to do so. One of the early signs of decency in James and Sirius – even back when they were rebellious schoolboys rather than war heroes – was that they stood by Remus even after finding out he was a werewolf. Dumbledore, as an eleven-year-old boy, was willing to befriend a child with Dragon Pox who nobody else would go near, and the night he died, he insisted on being courteous even to his attackers.

Not all the “good guy” characters in the series are “nice”, of course. Aside from the morally ambiguous types like Snape and Mundungus Fletcher, we meet the gruff, battle-hardened Mad-Eye Moody, the stern Professor McGonagall, and James Potter, whose teenage behavior Harry finds repulsive when he sees him in Snape’s memories. But even these characters have a core of decency. James may have been unkind to Snape, but he also saved his life once and mellowed into a softer person as he matured. McGonagall is stern and no-nonsense, but she is fair to everyone and even stood up for Professor Trelawney, who she’d been critical of before, in the face of Umbridge’s cruelty. And in a time when the Ministry resorted to Death Eater-type tactics, Moody was notable for his refusal to do so. Treating others with respect and decency is an essential part of what makes the Order of the Phoenix so different from the forces they’re fighting against.