Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Wow. It’s Harry Potter’s (and J.K. Rowling’s) birthday again, and it just hit me for the first time that I’ve now had this blog for over a year. It’s amazing how much has happened since then in the Wizarding World. Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, a patronus quiz on Pottermore, the 20th anniversary of Philosopher’s Stone, and the epilogue date quickly approaching … Harry Potter is always relevant to me, but it’s been a long time since Deathly Hallows, and this year it’s like someone opened the blinds and dusted away the cobwebs a bit.

That’s not to say everything this past year has been well-received. Cursed Child in particular – I personally enjoyed it, but yeah, Voldemort having a daughter is going a little too far. And I don’t think Newt and Tina will ever take Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s place in my heart, but they don’t have to. That’s not the point.

If nothing else, it’s nice to have an excuse for the nostalgia.

Happy birthday, Harry. And happy birthday, J.K. Rowling. Thank you for creating a world that means so much to me and to many, many others.

The Name

The name is a whisper
That quivers and shakes
And hangs in the air like a bomb
About to explode

The name is a secret
That everyone knows
But all refuse to say
You-Know-Who
And we all do
But no one forgets
The fear those three words hide

The name is a darkness
That lurks all around
And threatens all who oppose it
Too dangerous to put into words
He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named

The name is a lie
Carefully crafted
To hide from the shame
Of – possibly
Being ordinary
Casting aside Tom Riddle
To take on another identity

The name is a trap
For all who dare speak it
Disarming, unveiling
And bringing our enemies here
Swallow your pride
Keep the word inside
A matter of safety, not fear

The name is a power
Too great to be spoken
The Dark Lord whose army may
Conquer the world

The name is a voice
Rising over the silence
Refusing to go on in fear
A head held high
A heart at last daring
To say what all need to hear:
Voldemort.

We’re Ready

Can’t believe we’ve come this far
Eight years
It should have been seven, but
Life happens
Sometimes you can’t help it
Exams are passed
Trunks are packed
The old school train is ready
To take us back
One last time

Our scarves around our necks
House colors proudly displayed
Red, green, blue, yellow
The traits we value
The choices we’ve made
The family we’ve found in this castle

This time last year, chaos
The ruins of a battle
That built up over the years
Like a shaken bottle of soda
Or a potion grown stronger with age
There was no ceremony
No exam
In the aftermath, it would have seemed silly
But life goes on
And here we are

Most years, they say graduation
Means finally joining the real world
But the real world came for us early
What is graduation?
A slip of paper
A formality
We’ve already fought for our lives
Chosen
Who we are
What we stand for
It’s that night that defined us
Not the shell-shocked year that followed

Thestrals pull the carriages
We all can see them now
But they don’t scare me

We’ve endured
Through danger and chaos and wrong
We’ve made choices
No child should face
And chosen the right thing anyway
We’ve survived
Like a phoenix, we’ve risen to fight
Again and again
Whatever life brings
We’re ready

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire ch. 2-5

This is the first time and – if I remember right – the only time in the Harry Potter series that the Weasleys and the Dursleys meet. What happens when they do is fascinating!

It’s hard to imagine people with less in common than the Weasleys and the Dursleys. Apart from, obviously, the fact that one family is made up of wizards and the other proud to be muggles, the Weasleys are warm and loving, while the Durselys are cold and snobbish. The Weasleys are poor, while the Dursleys tend to judge others by how much money they have and what kind of cars they drive. The Weasleys have seven children of their own and still find room in their hearts for Harry, while the Dursleys – his blood relatives – treat him like dirt.

When the Weasleys come to pick Harry up for the Quidditch World Cup, it’s clear the Dursleys are scared out of their minds. It’s kind of ironic, given that they’ve only ever met good witches and wizards, but they really do seem convinced that all those with magic are terrifying freaks of nature. The Weasleys, on the other hand, seem bewildered, curious, and perhaps a bit appalled. Harry notices that Mr. Weasley seems to pity Dudley, while the twins just think he’s a spoiled brat and leave a piece of chocolate for him to find – chocolate that’s enchanted to make his tongue grow and grow and grow …

It’s nothing they wouldn’t have done to an unpleasant classmate at Hogwarts, but Mr. Weasley certainly doesn’t see it that way. That’s another thing that makes the Weasleys different from the Dursleys. While they know as little about the muggle world as the Dursleys do about the wizarding world, Mr. Weasley has made a career out of making sure other wizards respect muggles and leave them alone. He’s outraged to find his sons antagonizing a muggle with their joke products, even if it’s not because he’s a muggle. Later, when Voldemort’s followers use magic to terrorize a family of muggles at the Quidditch World Cup, it will become clear why he has such a strong reaction to this.

In a way, the Dursleys have a lot in common with the darker side of the Wizarding World. They’re not the muggle equivalent of the Death Eaters, by any means – the Second Salemers come closer to that – but they’re not so different from the snobby wizard families that see muggles as beneath them and muggle-borns as unworthy to learn magic. They, too, have judged other people simply for being different without bothering to learn anything about them.

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban ch. 19-22

Time travel is never easy to write – or to read! More than any other kind of fantasy, it defies all the laws that govern our world. It’s far easier to imagine waving a wand to levitate a feather, brewing a potion, or discovering a magical beast than traveling back in time to change the past, because there is simply nothing even close to an equivalent in the real world. The past is untouchable. Set in stone.

Sure, we can think about what we’d do if we could travel in time. Would you take life-saving medicine back to the days of the Bubonic Plague? Would you try to stop Hitler’s rise to power? Would you copy down the winning lottery numbers and go back in time to buy a ticket? Could you do any of those things without risking irreversible damage to time itself? It all seems to depend on which theories you buy into. In some fictional worlds, messing with the past at all is a risky business, while in others, time seems to fall into place around the time travelers as if they’d always been there. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban seems to be the latter, but there are subtle hints that it is in fact the former.

In the movie in particular, Harry and Hermione’s actions in the past only seem to explain things that came out of nowhere before. The patronus that saves them is a big one, but smaller scenes are added, such as Hermione imitating a werewolf’s howl and Harry throwing pebbles at their past selves to make them realize they have to leave. However, in the book, Hermione explains how dangerous time turning can be:

“We’re breaking one of the most important wizarding laws! … Professor McGonagall told me what awful things have happened when wizards have meddled with time. … Loads of them ended up killing their past or future selves by mistake!”

If it’s possible to kill your past self, then it sounds like the Grandfather Paradox is in full effect here. The consequences of doing such a thing are not fully explained. However, in Cursed Child, Albus Potter’s actions in the past inadvertently cause his father’s death, erasing him from existence. I’m not sure whether to apply Cursed Child logic to Prisoner of Azkaban, since it was written so long after and the time turners there seem to follow different rules (or at least allow the user to travel back much farther into the past). However, there are hints even in Prisoner of Azkaban that time travel is a messy, dangerous business.

There is still one important moment, though, when it seems that Harry has already changed the past before he goes back in time to do so (which makes time travel seem more stable and less risky than it might be otherwise). During the trip back in time, he casts a patronus, saving his past self. If he hadn’t already been there to cast the patronus, he wouldn’t have lasted long enough to go back in time and do so. The only things they change are things that they didn’t personally witness the first time around, or things that they did see, but didn’t fully understand. Is this simply because Hermione is careful and knows to keep out of sight? Or is that just the way time travel works – and if so, why all the sinister warnings about wizards who ended up murdering their past selves?

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban ch. 16-18

Well. It seems like all the pieces are falling into place. Professor Lupin is a werewolf, Sirius Black is innocent, and Peter Pettigrew has been hiding in the form of a rat for years. For the first time, we’re offered a glimpse at the previous generation that goes beyond Lily and James’ deaths. We learn about the Marauders’ childhood friendship, their rule-breaking exploits, and the tragic end to their story.

I’m still not sure who I pity the most. James and Lily, who died at 21 because of a friend’s betrayal? Sirius, who was framed for said betrayal and spent twelve years in prison, surrounded by creatures that suck all the happiness and hope out of you? Or Remus, who was left completely alone, believing two of his childhood friends to be dead and the third to be a traitor?

Harry Potter as a whole isn’t a tragedy, although it has elements of one. It deals with serious themes such as injustice and corruption. It puts its characters in horrible situations and often requires them to be far braver than any child their age should have to be. By the end of the series, many beloved characters have died, including all of those I mentioned above. And yet, there is always hope. The more tragic aspects of the story never outweigh the hopeful ones. In the end, good triumphs over evil and the world is set right, and Harry sends his children off to school nineteen years later in a world where “all was well”. A true tragedy would have left him dead in the Forbidden Forest. Order would still be restored, but at a much heavier price.

And yet, the stories of many minor characters are indeed tragedies. The Hogwarts founders, who were unable to coexist in peace and left behind a legacy of division rather than unity. Ravenclaw’s daughter and the Bloody Baron. Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Credence from Fantastic Beasts. Andromeda Black. Regulus Black. The Weasley twins. Neville’s parents. Cedric Diggory. There are only too many characters whose stories end tragically, whether due to a tragic flaw, a mistake realized too late, or simply bad luck and bad timing. The story of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs is all of those things. Their suspicion of each other, Peter Pettigrew’s cowardice and betrayal, Lupin’s uncontrollable condition, Sirius’ impulsive nature and unpleasant family, and a whole lot of bad luck all contribute to their eventual downfall.

Tragedies don’t usually end with a victory for the villain. Rather, they end with things set right, but at a horrible price. The Montagues and the Capulets stop feuding, but only after their teenage children’s suicide. Hamlet’s father’s murder is avenged, but Hamlet dies in the process, as do Ophelia, Polonius, and many other innocent people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Edgar survives and becomes king, but almost every other character is dead, including Lear and Cordelia. From Sirius Black or Remus Lupin’s point of view, the war against Voldemort is a tragedy as well: one in which good wins in the end, but at the cost of everyone they loved, as well as their own lives.

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.