Albus Severus Potter

I  talk a lot about name meanings in Harry Potter, but I don’t usually focus much on the next generation kids, because most of their names are so obvious – particularly Harry’s children. However, it occurred to me earlier today that Albus Severus Potter, as portrayed in Cursed Child, actually has a lot in common with both of his namesakes.

Like Severus Snape, he …

  • Is a Slytherin
  • Has a childhood friendship with a girl named after a flower, which ends during their time at Hogwarts, at least partially because she does not approve of the people he chooses to be friends with
  • Is easily misled by someone with a connection to Voldemort
  • Plays a role in the fulfillment of a prophecy relating to Voldemort
  • Is a somewhat morally ambiguous character who ultimately chooses the side of good

Like Albus Dumbledore, he …

  • Is a misfit in his own family and does not always get along with them
  • Has a brother and sister who are closer to each other than to him
  • Makes friends with an unpopular classmate
  • Trusts a charming stranger with plans for world domination and gets sucked into their scheme, but later helps to stop them
  • Distrusts the Ministry of Magic, working behind their back even though they have the same goals
  • Wants to be seen as his own person, not his father’s son (for very different reasons)
  • Is highly ambitious, but craves recognition and respect rather than power

However, unlike Snape, he never truly gets involved with the Dark Side and is only tricked into helping with someone else’s evil scheme. He also never stops being a good person and is not cruel to others in the way that Snape was. He is able to reconcile with his family, whereas Dumbledore’s parents and sister died young and his brother never fully forgave him. He has a lot in common with them, but his story has a happier ending.

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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.

Ice Queens and Obscurials

You know who Credence from Fantastic Beasts reminds me of? Elsa from Frozen. Yes, you read that right. What do they have in common? Both are born with magic, and both try to suppress it, with disastrous results.

Of course, there are some major differences. While Elsa has a loving and supportive family who just have no idea how to help her, Credence is the son of a woman whose mission in life is to eradicate magic. Therefore, he suppresses his magic far more than Elsa does, to the point that he himself is not even aware he’s a wizard. While Elsa runs away from home after her powers are revealed, her loving sister finds her and helps her find a way to control them. Newt tries to fulfill a similar role for Credence after he is revealed as the Obscurial. However, Newt has only met one such person before and was not able to save her. Unlike Elsa’s ice magic, Credence’s suppressed powers are a death sentence, and all characters involved are shocked that he has managed to survive to young adulthood as an Obscurial.

It is not enough for Credence to acknowledge his powers or to accept that his mother is wrong about magic. In fact, Grindelwald is easily able to manipulate his desire to be a part of the Wizarding World long before either of them suspects what he is. When he becomes aware of his powers, his bottled-up anger is released, and if anything, the Obscurus in him seems to grow stronger. We’ll see how that plays out in future Fantastic Beasts movies, but if he ever manages to channel that power in a controllable way, it’s clear it won’t be an easy process.

I’m also reminded of Morgana from BBC’s Merlin series. Like Credence, she grew up in an environment that was completely hostile to magic, and she quickly had to come to terms with her magic, which she struggled to control. However, she soon gained control, and from that point on it was really her own anger, rather than her powers, that consumed her and caused her to lash out against others.

If anything, Elsa’s situation is more like Arianna Dumbledore’s. Arianna was fully aware she was a witch, and yet she still suppressed her magic and refused to use it. Her condition is described in a way that has convinced many people, me included, that she may have been an Obscurial. Arianna, like Credence, lived longer than most Obscurials, and I wonder if that might be because she grew up in a family of wizards who did not judge her and had at least some idea of how to help her.

However, being a Disney heroine, Elsa has something that none of the other characters I’ve mentioned have had: a happy ending. With her sister’s help, she is able to gain control of her magic, thaw the winter, and overcome her own fear and anguish.

There’s something about these stories that rings true, even though the magic powers part is fiction. Bottling up emotions never really works the way we intend it to, does it? Someday, that shaken-up bottle of emotion explodes all over everything. But besides that, the hostile environments these characters grew up in left their mark. Isolation and loneliness. Fear. Anger. Learning to hate or be afraid of themselves because of something beyond their control. In Credence’s case, outright physical abuse. Although all the characters I named have harmed or killed people, they all (aside from Morgana) come across as victims rather than villains, and it’s the people that drive them to those extremes that truly look horrible. I think the message, if there is one that we can apply to the real world, is that it’s very easy for hate and fear to breed more hate and fear, so that everyone involved ends up suffering. It’s better to look at others with kindness and understanding, and to love those around us regardless of their differences.

What if Helena Ravenclaw was Slytherin’s protégé?

Silly question, I know. She wouldn’t have even been in his house; she was a Ravenclaw, after all. But they have a lot in common. They both played a direct part in the founding of Hogwarts, Slytherin as one of the founders, Helena as a founder’s child and part of the first generation of students. They both grew apart from the other three founders and eventually fled the castle, never to return. They both did something or took something with them that left Hogwarts in a fractured state. And they both played an unknowing role in Voldemort’s rise to power, Slytherin as his ancestor and inspiration, Helena by telling him where to find Ravenclaw’s lost diadem.

Helena didn’t have the greatest relationship with her mother, so perhaps there was another teacher she saw as a role model instead – and there’s not much Gryffindor or Hufflepuff about her. Perhaps she looked up to Slytherin and wanted to be more like him; perhaps he even told her that if she weren’t Rowena’s daughter, he would have picked her for his own house. The lover who comes to find her when she runs away was a Slytherin, so perhaps she associated herself with Slytherin house in other ways as well.

Depending on the timing, her decision to steal the diadem and flee might even have been influenced by Slytherin’s own departure. She didn’t steal it out of longing for the wisdom it could bring, but rather, because she thought it would help her become greater than her mother. That’s pure ambition right there. If she witnessed Slytherin’s fight with Gryffindor and subsequent departure, if she knew what he had left lurking inside the school, if she saw the growing fracture between the houses and perhaps felt torn between her mother and her mentor, she might not have had much reason to want to stay.

The Sorting of Albus Dumbledore

Hatstalls are rare. In Harry’s generation, only Neville, Hermione, and Harry himself even came close. Albus Severus Potter was probably a hatstall, as were Minerva McGonnagall and Peter Pettigrew. Many Harry Potter fans see themselves as a combination of more than one house, and I would argue that most of the characters are as well, but the Sorting Hat rarely has such trouble picking out the house where a character will fit best, and it is almost never wrong.

Has there ever been a four-way hatstall? It seems doubtful. And yet, I can think of one character who just might fit the bill: Albus Dumbledore.

Dumbledore was a Gryffindor, and as far as we know, that’s all he was. A straightforward, moment-the-hat-touched-his-head Gryffindor. In fact, given that Pottermore calls McGonnagall and Pettigrew “the only hatstalls personally known to Harry Potter”, he probably wasn’t a hatstall, at least not in the technical sense of the hat taking 5+ minutes to decide. That doesn’t mean he can’t have been close, though, or that he doesn’t have strong traits of the other houses.

Gryffindor is obvious. Dumbledore founded the Order of the Phoenix, stood up to Voldemort when others were living in denial, and was never afraid to put his own life on the line. Not to mention Grindelwald. After all, “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends”.

Ravenclaw is pretty obvious, too. Dumbledore is one of the wisest and most knowledgeable characters in the series. He’s always full of ideas that are usually very close to the truth and figures things out about five steps ahead of everyone else. Pottermore describes Ravenclaws as “eccentrics” who are “often out of step with ordinary people”, and Dumbledore fits this description as well: from his quirky idea of saying “a few words” (“Nitwit, blubber, oddement, tweak!”) to his willingness to keep on telling the truth even in spite of efforts to silence him, Dumbledore is never overly concerned with how others see him. He is known for breakthrough discoveries such as the nine uses of dragons’ blood, and he always has a better idea of what’s going on than any other character, both due to his vast experience and knowledge as well as his innate intelligence.

Helga Hufflepuff valued fairness and equality, believing – contrary to her three co-founders’ ideas – that all magical children should be welcome at Hogwarts, not simply the bravest or most intelligent or those from all-magical families. This is the kind of attitude that Dumbledore embodies as well, drawing criticism from those who disapprove of his openness. He welcomes muggle-born students to Hogwarts, encourages Hermione in her campaign for House-Elf rights, converses with merpeople in their own language, and made special arrangements to allow a young Remus Lupin to attend Hogwarts even though he was a werewolf.

And finally, Slytherin. As a young man, Dumbledore was tempted by ambition, although he soon changed his mind and opposed Grindelwald instead of fighting alongside him. In his old age, he used some of the same tactics to serve a genuine greater good. He was still extremely clever, and one might even say cunning. He seemed to be able to predict what every character would do before they did it and what to say and do to achieve the outcome he wanted. He definitely had most of the series planned out before it ever happened.

As he tells Harry, “It is our choices, far more than our abilities, that show who we truly are”. Dumbeldore may well have chosen to be a Gryffindor, but that doesn’t cancel out the fact that he could have done well in any of the houses. In fact, one might say that he had the courage of a Gryffindor, the mind of a Ravenclaw, the heart of a Hufflepuff, and the intricate plans of a Slytherin.

Voldemort’s Mistake

When I was writing my Taylor Swift Slytherin playlist, I said this about “Getaway Car”:

It’s not that Slytherins are in any way incapable of loyalty, but they are loyal to themselves first, along with perhaps one or two others. The driver of a getaway car, the rebound boyfriend, or the partner-in-crime doesn’t factor into that.

I’ve always thought that one of Voldemort’s biggest mistakes – second only to underestimating love – was making himself an army of nothing but Slytherins – Slytherins who all had their own reasons for joining him, almost none of which were about loyalty to Voldemort.

Dumbledore describes Tom Riddle’s school friends – and by extension, the Death Eaters – as “the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish gravitating toward a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty”. That seems pretty accurate from what we see. The Malfoys and Barty Crouch Jr. are of the ambitious type, Wormtail and Snape are definitely the “weak seeking protection”, and Bellatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback are in it out of bloodlust. While they all gravitate toward Voldemort as a leader and are on board with his poisonous rhetoric, in a way, he’s just that getaway car driver.

No, that’s not quite right. For Bellatrix, he’s everything. Maybe for Barty Crouch Jr., too. Their primary loyalty is to Voldemort even more than to themselves. But they’re unusual exceptions among Voldemort’s followers. The Malfoys are loyal to their family first. Wormtail is loyal only to himself. Snape is loyal to the memory of Lily Potter before either Dumbledore or Voldemort. This is a group of people who, when they finally managed to capture Harry and his friends, spent so long arguing over who would summon Voldemort that they ended up escaping. There is basically no unity among them, and a common cause in name only; they’re in it for themselves. Their ambitions clash and their ruthless natures mean a lot of betrayals. In other words, they are all Slytherins and all want to be on top.

In contrast, the Order of the Phoenix is made up of people from all four houses, and Dumbledore’s Army is made up of three. From Hufflepuffs with their work ethics and unfailing loyalty, to Ravenclaws with their wisdom and creative thinking, to Slytherins who spy and work in secret, to Gryffindors burning with passion for a righteous cause, they are far from homogenous, and their members’ strengths complement each other. As the Sorting Hat warns at the beginning of the fifth book, the Houses are stronger together and, divided, don’t stand a chance.

Hesitant Vengeance: Hamlet and Harry Potter

I’m getting near the end of Prisoner of Azkaban in my re-read, which means I’m in the middle of the Marauders’ story and thinking about how tragic the Harry Potter books are from their point of view. I mean, all of them die young, one betrays his friends, another is framed for that betrayal and murder, and the fourth is ostracized from most of society for something that’s no fault of his own. There’s a little flicker of hope with James and Lily’s son and his destiny as the Chosen One, but none of them live long enough to see that happen. In preparation to write about that, I went back to look at those old posts I wrote last winter when I was reading Shakespeare. I was shocked to find that I’d never said anything about Hamlet, because I knew I’d written something comparing the themes of revenge and murder there to things that happen in the final few Harry Potter books. So, I dug this out of my unpublished drafts. Better late than never, right?


Revenge is not as central a theme in Harry Potter as in Hamlet, but the fact that it’s not is noteworthy. After all, the central character is a young man fighting his parents’ murderer, and many of the other heroes have suffered and lost loved ones at the hands of the villains. Neville’s parents, for instance, were tortured to insanity by the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Junior. In the Order of the Phoenix movie, when Neville first meets Bellatrix Lestrange, he responds to her mocking question about his parents by saying they are “about to be avenged”. However, vengeance is never his main motive, and he doesn’t kill any of the people involved in his parents’ torture. In fact, as far as we know, he doesn’t kill any people at all. Instead, his big moment of heroism consists of defying Voldemort in front of both assembled armies and destroying his last horcrux, making him mortal again. It’s the conclusion of an entirely different character arc, one about an awkward young boy learning to believe in himself and fighting for what he knows is right. Neville is, in a way, the opposite of Hamlet; instead of hesitating out of doubt, he hesitates due to low self-esteem, and when he grows past it it’s to find a greater purpose than revenge.

At the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, Draco Malfoy seems eager for revenge. While his father is not dead, he has been defeated and imprisoned, and the family has fallen out of Voldemort’s favor. Being recruited by Voldemort and tasked with murder must have seemed to him like a chance to get even, which he embraces without realizing what it entails. As the year goes on, he becomes more and more hesitant, until – facing a disarmed and helpless Dumbledore – he can’t bring himself to kill him. Like Neville, Draco is something of an inverted Hamlet; while Hamlet hesitates at first but later pursues revenge, Draco becomes hesitant later and never kills anyone. Rather than a tragic flaw, this is portrayed as evidence that he still has a conscience (however deeply-buried).

Neville and Draco are both foils to Harry, so it’s no surprise that similar themes appear in Harry’s own journey. Harry never hesitates to fight against Voldemort, and it’s impossible to say that revenge isn’t at least part of his motivation. In Half-Blood Prince, when Dumbledore asks him how he’d feel if he had never heard the prophecy, Harry replies, “I’d want [Voldemort] dead, and I’d want to be the one to do it”. However, when he faces Voldemort in Deathly Hallows, revenge is the least of his motives. His willingness to sacrifice his life shows that much. Rather, it’s his strong ability to love that drives him: both love for the people he’s lost to Voldemort and love for the people still living who he wants to protect. He would want to be the one to kill Voldemort even without the prophecy because he has seen the worst Voldemort is capable of and will do anything in his power to protect others from him. Any personal desire to see his parents’ murderer die is secondary to this overwhelming, self-sacrificing protectiveness and love.

There are a few moments, however, when he does seem to be motivated by revenge. After Dumbledore’s death, he chases after Snape, shouting out all kinds of curses, including one that he knows from past experience could be deadly. He implies several times in Deathly Hallows that he’d like to seek revenge against Snape, but of course, he never gets the chance. In Prisoner of Azkaban, he initially longs for revenge against Sirius, but later decides to prevent Peter Pettigrew’s murder, preferring to turn him in and clear Sirius’ name instead. He also attempts twice to use the cruciatus curse, which causes its victim immense pain. The first time, he’s unable to, even though Bellatrix has just killed one of his father figures; the second time, he uses it easily, and with much less provocation. In fact, Harry using an unforgivable curse when a stunning spell would have sufficed is one of the darkest moments of Deathly Hallows. These moments stand out because they are uncharacteristic for Harry. He is not usually hesitant, much less cowardly, but he is rarely cruel or vengeful.

In fact, Harry can be described as “reluctant” in one very important way: reluctant to kill. He fights in battles while trying not to cast any lethal spells, which is admittedly much easier when one is a wizard and can stun or disarm the enemy with magic. However, even the other heroes are surprised and dismayed. Once, after Harry refuses to kill a man he suspects to be under the imperius curse, Lupin tells him that “the time for disarming is past”. Harry nevertheless continues in a fairly consistent pattern throughout Deathly Hallows, stunning, disarming, and escaping from his enemies without doing them any lasting harm. The only life he takes is Voldemort’s.

I think it all comes down to what we as a society value. Today, we are less likely to celebrate those who take pursue revenge for its own sake, so we have to find new motivations for our heroes. They instead fight out of a sense of duty, or to protect others, or to defend themselves, all reasons for violence that are viewed more positively today than revenge. This is especially the case in a series like Harry Potter, which emphasizes the importance of love, allows for second chances, and describes murder as “an act against nature” which splits the soul and spoils any innocence a person might once have had. A Harry who acted mainly for revenge would have been much harder to make into a modern-day children’s hero and would not have fit in with the series’ view of the world, while a Hamlet who behaved like Harry Potter would have been out of place in a historical revenge tragedy, even one that often transcends the genre as Hamlet does.