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.

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Did Harry Apparate at Ten Years Old?

In the Harry Potter books, young witches and wizards who haven’t started learning magic yet often produce it without realizing exactly what they’re doing. Sometimes, it’s simple magic, like making flower petals open and close, or re-growing hair after an embarrassing haircut. However, sometimes young children produce magic that even adult wizards have trouble with. For example …

Levitation

“The girl had let go of the swing at the very height of its arc and flown into the air, quite literally flown, launching herself skyward with a great shout of laughter, and instead of crumpling on the playground asphalt, she soared like a trapeze artist through the air, staying up far too long, landing far too lightly” (Deathly Hallows 663)

While levitating objects is one of the first things Hogwarts students learn to do, levitating oneself is much more difficult. Very few wizards are capable of flying without a broom; only Voldemort and Snape are shown to do so, and everyone seems shocked that they can. And yet, young Lily Evans could already do something very similar.

Apparition

“Dudley’s gang had been chasing him as usual when, as much to Harry’s surprise as anyone else’s, there he was sitting on the chimney. The Dursleys had received a very angry letter from Harry’s headmistress telling them Harry had been climbing school buildings. But all he’d tried to do (as he shouted at Uncle Vernon through the locked door of his cupboard) was jump behind the big trash cans outside the kitchen doors” (Sorcerer’s Stone 25)

Apparition is like the wizarding equivalent of driving a car. You have to pass a test and get your license before you can do it outside of class, and you can’t take the test until you’re seventeen. And yet, that’s almost definitely what Harry did here. One minute, he’s trying to get away from Dudley’s gang, and the next, he’s magically disappeared and he’s up on the roof. Probably lucky he didn’t splinch himself, apparating without a clear destination in mind.

Vanishing spells

“One second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror. … The glass front of the boa constrictor’s tank had vanished” (Sorcerer’s Stone 28)

While not as extreme as some of the other examples, vanishing spells are not taught until fifth year at Hogwarts, and most of the students seem to have difficulty with them. Harry, just before his eleventh birthday, is able to vanish an enormous pane of glass. Of course, he doesn’t know what he’s doing yet.

Unforgivable Curses

“I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to” (Half-Blood Prince 271)

Dumbledore tells young Tom Riddle that he’s been using his magic “in a way that is neither taught nor tolerated at our school” (273). What he doesn’t tell him is that an adult using one of these curses on a fellow human will almost always receive a life sentence in Azkaban for it. Curses like the Imperius and Cruciatus should be well beyond the abilities of a child just starting at Hogwarts, but Tom already seems to have learned how to make them happen on command.

Legilimency

“‘Tell the truth!’ He spoke the last three words with a ringing force that was almost shocking. It was a command, and it sounded as though he had given it many times before. His eyes widened and he was glaring at Dumbledore, who made no response except to continue smiling pleasantly” (Half-Blood Prince 269-70)

Only a skilled occlumens can lie to the adult Voldemort, and eleven-year-old Tom Riddle already seems accustomed to being able to demand the truth. It seems like he’s learned to tell whether others are lying to him, although reading Dumbledore’s mind is more difficult. Alternatively, he could be trying to use the Imperius curse, which would force Dumbledore to tell the truth in a different way.

Perhaps what Dumbledore tells Tom Riddle is the answer: “At Hogwarts … we teach you not only to use magic, but to control it” (273). Young children’s magic in the Harry Potter series is spontaneous and uncontrollable. It’s not the power they lack at such a young age, but the ability to use it in any kind of consistent way. Much like any real-world talent, the raw ability won’t amount to anything unless it’s studied and refined.

A Poisoned House

I’ve been saying for a while now that the traits that define Slytherin house are not necessarily bad things. They can be taken to horrible extremes, certainly, but they don’t have to be. And yet, I can talk all I want to about ambition as a positive quality, and I can argue that clever plans don’t have to be just for villains, but the fact remains that that’s just not how Slytherin house is portrayed in the books. It doesn’t make sense for roughly ¼ of each incoming class to be destined for evil, and it doesn’t make sense for virtually no dark wizards to crop up in the other houses, but counterexamples from the Harry Potter books themselves are few and far between.

And yet, the reader clearly is supposed to have a more nuanced view, by the end, than simply “Slytherin is evil, Gryffindor is good”. Otherwise, why would Harry tell his son that it doesn’t matter where he’s sorted, even encouraging him by saying that one of Albus Severus’ namesakes was a Slytherin and one of the bravest men Harry ever knew? Regardless of Snape’s true loyalty, if Slytherin was really as horrible as the younger Harry believed, he surely would have encouraged his son to choose a different house, as Harry himself did. Was the sorting hat right, then? Would Harry have done well in Slytherin?

I don’t think so. I think that, given the threats that Harry faces and the challenges he has to overcome, he was far better off in Gryffindor with Ron and Hermione, than in Slytherin, where his classmates might have viewed him with hostility and suspicion, the rest of the school would have distrusted him twice as much, the rumors that he only defeated Voldemort because he himself was a dark wizard would have flourished, and – when Voldemort came back – he would not have had Ron and Hermione, nor the rest of the DA, to help him. Does that mean Salazar Slytherin wouldn’t have wanted Harry in his house, if he were alive? I think he would have. The hat considered putting him there for a reason. But what I’m getting at here is that Slytherin house was poisoned, and it wouldn’t have been the welcoming home that Gryffindor was to Harry.

What I mean when I say “poisoned” is that a certain former Slytherin made the house into something far worse than it had to be, and of course here I’m talking about Voldemort.

When he was at school, Tom Riddle’s first followers were some of his Slytherin classmates. Dumbledore describes them as “the forerunners of the Death Eaters” and the first to become Death Eaters. After he left school and began to build his army, he no doubt started with their connections: friends, siblings, and eventually children. For instance, one of his school friends had the last name Lestrange, and his descendants certainly became Death Eaters. Later on, allegiance to Voldemort was passed down in the families of Harry’s Slytherin classmates, such as the Malfoys. Because families are often put in the same house, and this seems especially the case with the “pure-blood” families Voldemort favored, it would be easy for the poison to spread throughout the house.

Pottermore describes Slytherins as a tight-knit group of “brothers” who “look after [their] own”. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it can lead to a twisted ideology becoming the accepted norm and loyalty to someone like Voldemort being spread quickly, from Voldemort’s original school peers and their families, to the other members of that house. Even people like Snape, whose family had no allegiance to Voldemort, and Barty Crouch Jr., whose father was passionately against the Dark Arts, went on to become Death Eaters. Voldemort initially tried to get a job at Hogwarts because he saw its potential as a place to recruit followers, and while he never managed to find many in the other three houses, by Harry’s time, there is not a single Slytherin student willing to stand against him. On the contrary, most of the ones we meet seem eager to join him. This is not simply a by-product of ambition and cunning. It’s the result of 50 years’ worth of poison.

So what does it mean that Harry can tell his son it’s okay for him to be a Slytherin? It represents the beginning of a healing process. With Voldemort dead, it is finally possible for the poison he left in Slytherin house to be washed away, even if the process is a slow and difficult one.

Why am I saying all this now? If it’s not already obvious, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has gotten me thinking about the epilogue again, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say once that comes out (only 2 days now!) But for now, I’ll leave you with eleven-year-old Albus Potter, who, like his father at the same age, is scared of being put in Slytherin, and is told that he can choose, but that any choice he makes will be okay. I think that’s awfully sweet, and definitely a sign that things have changed in those nineteen years.

Quidditch as a Metaphor

I was thinking about Quidditch last night. It just doesn’t make sense, does it? The golden snitch is worth 150 points, whereas each goal is only worth 10, so the team whose seeker catches the snitch almost always wins. There is literally one example in seven books and countless Quidditch games where a team was far enough behind to lose after their seeker caught the snitch. But if that’s the case – if it all comes down to one player on each team – then isn’t the rest of it pointless? You could argue that the beaters still have a useful role to play, but the chasers? The keeper? If you need a 150 point lead to win without the snitch, isn’t everything they do futile?

That sounds a lot like something else from the Harry Potter series, doesn’t it?

deathlyhallowsposter

Harry himself – who incidentally plays seeker on the Gryffindor Quidditch team – is the “Chosen One”, the only one capable of taking down Voldemort. Both sides fight to the best of their abilities, and it’s not as though the things they do are irrelevant. It matters a great deal that Ron and Hermione stand by Harry and help him. It matters whose side Snape was truly on. It matters that the Order of the Phoenix fight Voldemort throughout the last 3 books, and that many of the teachers and older students rally to defend Hogwarts at the end of Deathly Hallows. But in the end, it all comes down to Harry and Voldemort. “Neither can live while the other survives”, and the battle between them decides the outcome of the war.

But it gets better: near the end of Deathly Hallows, when Harry seems to be dead, his friends don’t simply surrender. They continue to fight. Neville turns down the chance to join Voldemort, pulls the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat (much as Harry did earlier in the series), and beheads Nagini, Voldemort’s snake. The battle continues, even with Harry supposedly gone – and not only are they fighting, they are winning: “Everywhere Harry looked, Death Eaters were folding under sheer weight of numbers, overcome by spells, dragging arrows from wounds, stabbed in the legs by elves, or else simply attempting to escape, but swallowed up by the oncoming horde” (page 735, American hardcover version). To continue the Quidditch metaphor, the defenders of Hogwarts are determined to win even without their seeker.

And yet, it is not until Harry reveals himself for one last duel with Voldemort that the battle is won. In the end, it was always meant to come down to the two of them.

Dementors and Boggarts

What do these two creatures have in common, aside from the fact that the latter turns into the former when Harry sees it? Well, a lot, actually.

Boggarts are a physical manifestation of fear. They look like giant spiders for Ron, dementors for Harry, and Professor McGonagall telling Hermione she failed all her classes, but they always take on the worst fear of the person facing them. They are defeated by the ridikulus spell, but the spell on its own means nothing. It’s laughter that defeats a boggart; all the spell does is morph one’s fear into something that can be laughed at.

Dementors are cloaked monstrosities that suck the hope and happiness out of the world around them. Unlike boggarts, they are not considered easy to defeat; while Professor Lupin teaches his third year students how to fight boggarts, he warns Harry that the magic used against dementors is far more advanced. However, much like ridikulus, it is not enough to simply shout “Expecto patronum!” and wave one’s wand. The Patronus Charm is fueled by happy memories, the very things that dementors drain away.

In other words, laughter is to a boggart what happiness is to a dementor. Both are dark creatures that represent a very real negative emotion, and both are stopped not simply by magic but by an equally real positive reaction.

Let’s take it a step further: Voldemort, the greatest evil in the Harry Potter series, is defeated by love. It is Lily Potter’s sacrifice, made out of love, that protects baby Harry and defeats Voldemort the first time around. Later, at the end of the fifth book, Dumbledore tells Harry that the line in the prophecy about “power the Dark Lord knows not”, refers to Harry’s ability to love, which is something Voldemort cannot even begin to comprehend. He himself is cold and unfeeling, and he constantly underestimates the things that others will do for love, eventually leading to his downfall.

Hate and evil can only be defeated by love. Despair can only be defeated by holding on to happy memories. Fear can only be defeated by finding a way to laugh at it.