Seven Sevens: A Harry Potter Retrospective

Inspired by the events of the reasonably recent B&B B&B episode, “Podcast Yes!” and bummed out by how many books I have which are still in Rubbermaid totes, I’ve gone through the Harry Potter books again for the first time in a couple of years. In lieu of doing separate posts on each book, which I’ve not only done (see my hour-by-hour readings of Deathly Hallows) but have also included, in some measure, on the B&B B&B, I thought it might be more fun to do Seven Sevens, in which I take seven concepts from the book that I’ve overlooked, or found interesting, and then found my seven favorite moments within that concept from the series. (This is emphatically not a measurement of importance, but simply a way for me to talk about some stuff I like. Hopefully, at this end of this I will be so Pottered out that I can’t talk about a book series that ended ten years ago any longer; alternately, I may be so tickled that there’s opportunity for a Seven More Sevens along the line.)

Seven Deaths

1- Fred Weasley

There’s not a single character whose death was as unbelievable as Fred’s; not only did I assume that he  and George were going to live forever, it seemed especially cruel to separate the two. But when Fred is killed, dying with a laugh on his face, the way I think many of us would have expected except a zillion years later, it was so shocking. I had to reread that death in the moment, and had to reread it a couple of times, before I could turn the page. I start to smell home in a book when I’m 200 pages out, and rereading the way I did, breaking the flow, was a sign of just how disbelieving I was. There may not be another moment in the series that affected me so strongly; many teenagers eat it over the course of the series, but no one does it quite like Fred. 

Break! Weasley Children Power Rankings:

  1. Ginny
  2. Fred
  3. Ron
  4. Bill
  5. George
  6. Charlie
  7. Percy

Fred is a much more important character, on the last reading, than I remembered him being. Somehow, he and George feel only about as important to the novels as their parents, but looking at the Harry Potter 200, Fred is brought up just shy of the times that Snape is mentioned (and about one hundred times more than George, which is telling). He is a pivotal figure in Harry’s childhood when it’s most normal, a surrogate big brother, a teammate in Quidditch, the laugh track in Harry’s TV show. He dispenses advice about professors, rule-breaking, and girls (“OI! Angelina!”) with aplomb. Occasionally, Fred is a key figure in Harry’s abnormal childhood as well, participating in Order-related activities, a founding member of the D.A., the recipient of Harry’s ill-begotten Triwizard winnings, and most importantly, part of the pair who gifts Harry the Marauder’s Map. 

Break! Magical Object Power Rankings:

  1. Tom Riddle’s diary
  2. Dumbledore’s Pensieve
  3. Harry’s invisibility cloak
  4. Marauder’s Map
  5. Harry’s Firebolt
  6. Hogwarts, A History
  7. Ron’s Spellotaped wand

Fred’s death occurs very late in Deathly Hallows, so late that it’s almost weird to place his death this high. Very little else happens in reference to it; it is merely enough that he’s been killed. And maybe that’s tribute enough to just how emotional it is for him to have gone: we’re just left with it. Other characters receive codas, whole chapters devoted to grief. We don’t ever get the chance to properly mourn Fred, a delightful chap if ever there was one.

2- Snape

It’s really the exact opposite of Fred’s. When I read Snape’s death – clunky as it is, to give Harry enough time to use a Pensieve to see Snape’s past and how close he was to being Harry Snape – I was not aghast, but I was not quite happy either. The events of the past two books (which I admit had convinced me that he was every bit the villain he played in the first few editions of the series) had softened me towards him a little. When Snape killed Dumbledore, it was almost too unbelievable; it was so ridiculous that it caused grave doubts within me. Not the “Dumbledore is not dead” type, but the “Man, that had to have had a reason beyond ‘Snape’s a baddie'” type. Placing Snape’s death here is more of a tribute to Snape’s life; dead before forty, having cheated death for nearly two decades, tripping at the finish, unable to escape his doom, the loser in love and from his own doing. His death, as noted above, is not one of the smoother literary moments in the series.

3- Dumbledore

When Nietzsche said that God is dead, he was providing a spoiler for Half-Blood Prince. One of the great truisms of the Potter series, aside from “Never put your wand in your back pocket lest you lose a buttock,” was that “Nothing really bad can happen as long as we’ve got Dumbledore.” And Dumbledore’s death snaps the safety net that Harry and company had been relying on for decades, perhaps even since Grindelwald made his play for power in the 1940s, and it fundamentally alters everyone’s plans. Harry gets the barest skeleton to run an autopsy on, and from it he is supposed to figure out how to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes. If there’s a downside to Dumbledore’s death from a dramatic perspective, it’s that it’s another clumsy conclusion courtesy of Rowling; Dumbledore’s funeral turns into something like the last episode of a long-running ’80s drama, in which everyone comes back to pay their respects before it all goes belly-up. Dumbledore’s death is also made slightly anti-climactic because of the continued existence of his potrait; one wonders if those should have been made less useful simply because of how potentially useful he is as a picture. (Talkin’ to you, Cursed Child.)

4- Hedwig

Hedwig’s death at the very beginning of DH was my proof that Rowling came to play. It is one of the most highly functional deaths in the series, second, perhaps, only to Dobby’s later on in the novel. For the Trio to be fully isolated, they must be totally unable to contact anyone, even as a last resort; Hedwig has to die so  that they can’t send mail. Similarly, Dobby, who we’ll hit later, had to die so that he can’t rescue them over and over again. It hardly makes Hedwig’s death any less sad; the deaths of animals, especially in conflict, is one of the little-told stories of wars both real and imagined, and Hedwig brings that home in a very personal way. One feels for Hedwig; Harry has her for six years, and in those six years, she does not have a particularly happy life. She spends the better parts of some summers trapped in a cage for no good reason; she suffers a broken wing in Order of the Phoenix; and, unable to escape, is collateral damage in DH. Poor thing. Just imagine if Hagrid had picked out a different owl in Eeylops’ that first day Harry spent in the wizarding world; how much happier would that creature have been?

5- Cedric

If Hedwig’s death signaled in DH that Rowling was not playing around, then Cedric’s death in Goblet of Fire makes it clear that the series, even before Voldemort is reborn, is about to be fundamentally different than its predecessors. Other characters face wicked fates in GoF; Mr. Roberts and his family are the victims of Muggle-baiting, Alastor Moody is kept in a trunk for several months, Imperiused and malnourished, and Barty Crouch, Sr. is a victim of patricide. Yet no one else is played for shock value as much as Cedric, and it’s startling how he’s not really played for pity. Rowling plays it back some after his death, but the reader senses that Dumbledore’s pseudo-eulogy for Cedric is as much a statement of political intention as it is a memorial. Even her description of his corpse, the way that he’s offed (“Kill the spare!”) is practically offhanded. He is simply a murder victim, another ghostly figure to show up under the Reverse Spell effect, and he is the Franz Ferdinand of Voldemort’s Second Coming.

6- Lily Potter

I wasn’t going to talk about the weird “Your mother died for your protection, Harry” jawn that underlies the whole series – is Harry the first person in the wizarding world to benefit from that kind of thing? – but there’s something about Lily Potter’s death, at age 21, which is remarkably tragic. In retrospect, it definitely seems as if the timeline was not fully considered at the outset; I have a hard time believing that Harry’s parents were supposed to have died that young. Even if they were out of school for three or four years at that point, is it normal in the wizarding world to get married that young, and to have kids that young? In any event, Lily Potter dies after a practically saintly life, younger than the people who grew up reading Potter books are now. The fact that she is the last person who Voldemort kills before the end of his first reign of terror puts me in mind of soldiers who die in the last weeks and days of a war, people who might have made it, but who were unlucky.

7- Dobby

At my university, graduating seniors can have a brick placed near the campus belltower with some words of their choosing upon it. A friend of mine picked “Here lies Dobby, a free elf.”  Those of you who listened to “Podcast Yes!” will remember Dobby’s death was the only thing that made Josh vocalize during his first DH reading. I was touched by Dobby’s passing, but I was never as fervidly pro-Dobby as many of my friends. To me, he was always the guy who tried to maim Harry in Chamber of Secrets more than the weird, hat-grabbing sartorialist of OotP or the gillyweed-snatching goof of GoF. Yet his devotion to Harry was always touching, and the way that it grew over the course of several books made him, if not one of my favorites, at least a character whose cameos I looked forward to.

Seven Laughs

1-

“Yeah, well, food’s one of the five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration,” said Ron to general astonishment.

J.K. Rowling wrote a series thousands of pages long, so on the whole it’s simpler for her to play the long game to bring things about than it would be for just about any author not named George R.R. Martin or Terry Pratchett. Seemingly insignificant things show up in one book, and then play significant roles later on. Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang both have brief , largely wordless cameos in PoA before becoming important characters in GoF and, in Cho’s case, in OotP too. The Lovegoods, characters who are sewn into the fabric of the last three books in the series, are mentioned offhandedly in GoF. The Hog’s Head, which becomes the scene of some intrigue in later books, is mentioned for the first time in PS/SS, and Hogsmeade is obliquely referenced as “the village.” Aberforth, tending bar at the D.A. interest meeting, seemed “vaguely familiar” to Harry; he’s told later that Mundungus was dressed as a witch because the proprietor doesn’t like Dung and has (poignantly, it turns out) “a long memory.” The Prewetts, who are mentioned as victims of Voldemort’s first war in PS/SS, show up again when Molly, their sister, gives Harry Fabian’s watch in DH. My personal favorite is the bezoar, which pops up for the first time in Snape’s famous obliteration of Harry in PS/SS, and comes around in HBP when Harry uses a bezoar to save Ron’s life.

It got to be such a recognizable quality in Rowling’s writing, sort of like the tendency to say that Dumbledore “flicked his wand for the fifth time,” or to add an adverb to describe how people say things, that it became sort of an Internet contest to decide which deeply minor thing would become fabulously important in DH. I vividly remember reading a post  on a mainstream Potter fan site which argued, not unconvincingly, that the denouement of DH would happen in Egypt, based on the fact that it had been referenced in PoA. Let that be a lesson unto us, I suppose; we could read literature as something to be enjoyed as opposed to a jigsaw puzzle to be solved.

Most of the long games that Rowling plays are dramatic. Sometimes, though, and these are especially golden, a reader’s patience is rewarded with a fabulous joke. After Ron has channeled OotP Harry for the better part of DH, after he complains about how the food is bad (and is chastised very academically by Hermione, who tells him that food can’t be conjured – so says Gamp), after the Trio have returned to Hogwarts, when we can feel the great climax coming, when they’re back at home, when the shoe is about to drop and it will be Hallows or Horcruxes that win the day: that’s when Rowling drops that fabulous one-liner. It’s a genuinely fantastic counterpoint of tension and humor, and I die laughing every time.

2-

“I said to him – didn’t mention names, of course – but I said I knew a werewolf personally, very nice man, who finds the condition quite easy to manage…”

“What did he say?” asked George.

“Said he’d give me another bite if I didn’t shut up,” said Mr. Weasley sadly.

This is a line I’ve come to appreciate more as I’ve grown up; I think I read that for the first time and like, genuinely thought Mr. Weasley was going to be a werewolf because of that St. Mungo’s experience. It’s at least as funny as Gamp’s on its own, but it’s also worth noting that it’s tinged with a little bit of dramatic irony in 2016; Bill, who gets mauled by a werewolf eighteen months later, is there when he says it. I can’t tell if that makes it funnier or not.

T-3

WHY ARE YOU WORRYING ABOUT YOU-KNOW-WHO? YOU SHOULD BE WORRYING ABOUT U-NO-POO, TH CONSTIPATION SENSATION THAT’S GRIPPING THE NATION!

and

“We’ll send you a Hogwarts toilet seat!”

I understand that it’s sacrilege not to make a Fred and George moment the funniest in this Seven; allow me to compensate with two of the finest pieces of toilet humor in recent literary memory, another one of those running gags which crosses all seven books in the series. We really got the measure of those two early on, bless them.

4-

“Ron,” said Hermione in a dignified voice, dipping the point of her quill into her ink pot, “you are the most insensitive wart I have ever had the misfortune to meet.”

Bonus points to this line from OotP, because it is separated from another scathing Hermione takedown, likewise directed at Ron: “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon…”

5-

Ron pulled out his Omnioculars and started testing them, staring down into the crowd on the other side of the stadium.

“Wild!” he said, twiddling the replay knob on the side. “I can make that old bloke down there pick his nose again…and again…and again…”

I’m not sure this one’s really like, an elite funny moment in the series, but in a world without electricity or TV or anything like that, Ron making his own gif has always appealed to me as a pleasingly relatable moment. He’s even figured out what kind of thing makes a good gif. The Internet is intuitive.

6-

“She has been petrified,” said Dumbledore. (“Ah! I thought so!” said Lockhart.)

Gilderoy Lockhart is the most frustrating human being on the planet. And yet his existence is (prepare the hot take siren) the first sign that Rowling really knew what she was doing. PS/SS is a masterpiece of children’s lit, fine, but there are as many holes in its plot as there are in any of the Potter books, and, through no fault of its own, doesn’t have the fullness that later Potter books do. (How could it?) In CoS, Lockhart is the newest thing going on; it’s not exactly a secret that PS/SS and CoS are essentially the same book. Happily, Lockhart makes himself known. For one thing, the trope of the one-year Defense Against the Dark Arts professor really starts with him, and it’s a key element of the series. Each book reflects its Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in some way, and those professors come to have steadily more important roles in each book. Lockhart, who is an annoyance as opposed to a villain, is the comic relief for what is otherwise a fairly dour book.

Break! Defense Against the Dark Arts Teachers Power Rankings:

  1. Impostor Alastor Moody
  2. Remus Lupin
  3. Harry Potter
  4. Severus Snape
  5. Gilderoy Lockhart
  6. Dolores Umbridge
  7. Quirinius Quirrell

No other Defense Against the Dark Arts professor fills that role, and few other comedic characters are as deftly written, for Lockhart must be a buffoon and a fraud, but a charming and debonair buffoonish fraud. He must be an obvious charlatan, someone who wants to show off (the Dueling Club, his published works) and yet fail to get away with it (removing Harry’s bones, failing to execute a Memory Charm on Harry and Ron). Ron sees through him right away; Hermione can’t help but fancy him. Future Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers will tread that line as well, which, to borrow a phrase from Evelyn Waugh, makes him “the forerunner”; Lupin, as the man who is more like Harry’s secret uncle than his responsible teacher much of the time; Moody, who is at once an excellent (if maybe not perfectly ethical) teacher and a Death Eater taking Polyjuice Potion; Umbridge, who is described as having “a personality like poisoned honey” on the book jacket; Snape, who is Dumbledore’s killer and the decoy which allows Harry to reveal himself dramatically as the master of the Elder Wand. I always look forward to Lockhart’s scenes when I reread CoS; I daresay I’d rather read Lockhart than Dobby. Heck, if Lockhart starred in a sitcom, I would make appointments to watch that.

Break! Harry Potter Spin-off TV Show Power Rankings:

  1. Rube and Ab – a buddy comedy in which Hagrid and Aberforth have significant disagreements about the direction the old family farm should take: dragons or goats? Guest stars pop up like fleas.
  2. The Professor – Gilderoy Lockhart, in a mockumentary sitcom about teaching.
  3. Grab and Coil – Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Coyle teach you how to wrap up things like extension cords and cords that are like extension cords but aren’t quite as long.
  4. Legends of Gryffindor Tower – House-elves, separated into pairs (Red Hippogriffs, Blue Basilisks, Green Thestrals, Orange Nifflers, Purple Puffskeins, and Silver Snakes), have to complete a series of team tasks without accidentally freeing themselves with a little help from Hermione’s “woolly bladders.”
  5. Chopped – Nearly Headless Nick hosts a talk show where the point is mostly to discuss the unfairness of not having been properly decapitated while he had the chance.
  6. Seamus Finnegan Blows S*** Up – Each episode would start small, but hopefully it would escalate to things like “houses” or “Ministry of Magic secret installations” by the end of the show.
  7. The Sorting Hat and the Messy Room – Each episode, the Sorting Hat fulfills its true destiny by going into a very messy room, accompanied by someone with arms and legs, and sorting it out until, at the end of the half hour, the room is very clean.

7-

And Odo the hero, they bore him back home,

To the place that he’d known as a lad,

sang Slughorn plaintively.

They laid him to rest with his hat inside out

And his wand snapped in half, which was sad.

“…terrible,” Hagrid grunted, and his great shaggy head rolled sideways onto his arms and he fell asleep, snoring deeply.

“Sorry,” said Slughorn with a hiccup. “Can’t carry a tune to save my life.”

“Odo the Hero” is not only a priceless selection of  drunken man-bonding, but fits the tune of “It Is Well With My Soul” perfectly, so perfectly that I’m actually curious if it’s supposed to be sung to the tune of that hymn. (That, by the way, is the result of tireless research that I did while staring at my copy of HBP one night.) The overlapping dialogue, in which Slughorn accidentally apologizes for being unable to sing, is the cherry on top.

Seven Magical Theories/Spells/Potions

1- Horcruxes

One of the key pieces of the series, which dates back to the first hundred pages or so of Sorcerer’s Stone, is the question of just how Voldemort managed to survive the Killing Curse. If Harry was the first person to survive the Killing Curse, then Voldemort might well have been the second, the Buzz Aldrin to Harry’s Neil Armstrong. Voldemort’s Horcruxes are the most fascinating piece of magic in the series, and it’s not terribly close. Nobody else is as magically creative, and no one else displays his fear and his insecurity so impressively. Like Dumbledore, whose fixation with candy-related passwords is at least harmless in practice (although his choices are a little weird: Cockroach Cluster? Acid Pop? and Fizzing Whizbees, which are flavored by little bugs?)…

Break! Magical Candy Power Ranking:

  1. Chocolate Frogs
  2. Cauldron Cakes
  3. Pumpkin Pasties
  4. Licorice wands
  5. Fizzing Whizbees
  6. Sugar Quills
  7. Peppermint Toads … and a very Honorable Mention to Skiving Snackboxes

Voldemort’s piratical prize-taking habits turn out to be his undoing. If he had been smart enough to banish some part of his soul into the upper atmosphere, preferably like, one of the plastic rings from a six-pack of cola, then he would be well-nigh invincible. Yet he doesn’t; it’s that good ol’ fashioned Achilles-style hubris that gets in the way. Harry immediately connects Horcruxes to Portkeys (which Dumbledore shows an affinity for in OotP), but Dumbledore heads him off. Voldemort, he says, would never put his soul into litter. And so we learn that Voldemort, like Harry, is more connected to Hogwarts than any place on earth, and that the pieces of his soul overwhelmingly connect to Hogwarts as far as he able to make them do so. Those which are not obvious Hogwarts connections are statements of lineage; once again, like Harry, Voldemort values his distant origins and loathes the people he’s forced to make his home with. The obvious comparison to Horcruxes is the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings series, but there’s – and I can hear the Tolkien people screeching from here – a little bit more going on with Horcruxes, at least on an emotional level. Within the original text, at least, there’s more said about the origins of the Horcruxes, from the time that Voldemort tries to consult Slughorn about it to the time Harry kills Voldemort for good. It’s a far more personal touch to a far more personal villain, the magic that makes this magic-centric series work. 

2- Occlumency

Mind-reading is one of the last common magical concepts to grace the Potter series, beginning in OotP, with Legilimency. The counter to Legilimency is Occlumency, which allows a wizard with enough control of his emotions to go blank – I’ve always conceived of it as playing dead with your thoughts – and become impossible to read. In short, how good you are at Occlumency dictates how much impunity you can lie with, which would make your marriage look like Revolutionary Road and your poker winnings vast. Like the Horcruxes, which tell us everything we need to know about Voldemort, Harry’s total inability to become even a developing Occlumens alongside Snape’s ability to master the discipline show us very clearly what kind of people they are. We already knew that Harry had all the emotional control of a toddler, but I’m not sure that as readers we could have known just how deeply Snape is able to control himself. That is our first hint, or at least our first really good hint, which shows that Snape is really on Dumbledore’s side; there’s more to Snape than we would have guessed. Indeed, going back even to Snape’s second appearance in PS/SS, when he takes the mickey out of Harry for no good reason, it seems like he just can’t help himself making Harry’s life miserable. As the books pile up, so too do the number of points that Snape jacks from Harry and Ron; I haven’t been counting, but there must be hundreds that he’s taken from Gryffindor just because he’s annoyed with some member of the Trio. (Fifty point deductions become almost routine, after Harry is downcast about losing two points in a week off of Snape.) One also remembers his tantrum at the end of PoA, and how he subsequently leaks to the whole school that Lupin is a werewolf. Whether or not those are “just” tantrums has to be called into question after learning about Occlumency; how much of that is just Snape putting on a show, and how much of that is Snape really feeling?  Occlumency requires a certain amount of zen – not a quality that we’d associate with Snape. Maybe it’s like what Erik has to do in X-Men: First Class to fully access his powers. To allow all of his emotions full play, even the repressed ones, creates a serenity from which he is most potent.

3- Disarming

Given Rowling’s command of language, especially at the level of roots and stems and etymology, I seriously doubt that the name of the Disarming Spell is accidental. There’s something wonderful about how Harry, time and again, disarms people; it’s a word that can alternately suggest that Harry takes away weapons (and implicitly brings peace), or that he surprises people, that there’s something about him that just brings  down people’s barriers. He certainly does all three; think about how undignified most people are when they come into contact with him for the first time, looking for the scar or uttering some exclamation. Simultaneously, given the right audience (i.e. one without Slytherins), Harry has enough charisma to inspire loyalty.

Disarming becomes something of a trademark for Harry after he uses  which Lupin scolds him for in DH, but it’s his in the same way that his attractive, deliberate mother was known for her skill at Charms or Potions, or the way his father, who became a different person in the last five years or his life, was recognized as a Transfiguration whiz; it is the exemplification of his Defense Against the Dark Arts know-how and his personality all in one.

4- Fidelius Charm

Brought up for the first time in PoA and explained by Professor Flitwick, the Fidelius Charm becomes a fallback throughout the rest of the books, perhaps most importantly when Dumbledore is made Secret-Keeper (another one of those lovely Potter turns of phrase which takes on different meanings depending on which word you emphasize) for Number 12, Grimmauld Place. Loyalty is one of those virtues which is praised frequently in the Potter books, beginning in CoS (“However, you will find that I have only truly left this school when none here are loyal to me” is the winner, though Dumbledore also tells Harry that only “loyalty” to him could have compelled Fawkes to join Harry in the Chamber of Secrets.) The Fidelius Charm is set up by people who mean to weaponize their loyalty. Alternately, the only way to destroy it is to break faith, which is, of course, how Harry becomes an orphan. Like the Patronus Charm (coming up soon), it’s a very clear magical expression of an emotional, spiritual trait.

5- Felix Felicis

Felix Felicis, “liquid luck,” is not only responsible for some of my favorite moments in the Potter series (drunk Hagrid is a pleasure that we often hear of but rarely get to see), and for one of the key plot points (Harry confirms Slughorn’s involvement in Horcruxes while using, returns to Dumbledore with Slughorn’s memory, and then Dumbledore is killed), but it also raises a wonderful question. If you had a little potion that could make your day go perfectly, what would you use it on?

It’s not hard to imagine most of us doing what Harry dreams of doing with it for most of the novel – seducing a romantic target – but then you wonder if there isn’t some responsibility that goes along with having that much good fortune on your side. Excepting the Marauder’s Map, there’s no bit of magic which combines so much fun with such high stakes.

6- Dolohov’s purple flame

This remains one of the more mysterious spells in the Potterverse, and one of the few spells before HBP which are nonverbal. People are occasionally seen doing food-and-drink related things with magic before and after Dolohov  famously curses Hermione with his nameless purple flame (a weird, though not inexplicable, workaround of Gamp’s Law), and of course Dumbledore and Voldemort conjure creatively and at will later in OotP. The fact remains that Dolohov’s purple flame, created nonverbally – while Death Eaters from Lucius Malfoy to Bellatrix Lestrange have to say “Accio Prophecy!” – is on a different playing field from the other spells blowing up the Department of Mysteries. It’s hypothesized that if Dolohov could have said the word, it would be deadly enough to kill, which puts it on the level of the Killing Curse for lethality: a level that no other curse, with possible exception of Sectumsempra, is on. This one’s wicked and mysterious.

7- Patronus

With apologies to several of the Prince’s spells – Levicorpus, Muffliato, Sectumsempra – the Patronus Charm has to take this final spot. Much has been made of the fact that you can conjure happiness with one’s Patronus, and weaponize that as much as truth in Veritaserum, or luck in Felix Felicis, or any number of other spells and potions which connect to traits, emotions, or senses. Interesting, too, that a Patronus is almost certainly an animal; I’m not sure that was intended in, say, PoA, but by OotP a Patronus might be an otter or a swan or a phoenix. If these were Neville Longbottom and the X, then doubtless Neville’s Patronus in Prisoner of Azkaban would have been a shining Mimbulus mimbletonia, and we would have opened up a whole wide world of Patronuses.

Break! Patronus Power Rankings:

  1. Goat (Aberforth)
  2. Otter (Hermione)
  3. Doe (Snape)
  4. Cat (McGonagall, not Umbridge)
  5. Boar (Ernie)
  6. Weasel (Mr. Weasley)
  7. Jack Russell terrier (Ron)

By my count, the only non-carnivorous or -omnivorous Patronuses belong to Harry and Snape, because of James and Lily. How wild is that?

Seven Supporting Characters

A quick note: to be a “supporting character,” I decided that they couldn’t be in the first column of the Harry Potter 200 Sporcle quiz, which I’ve linked to above, and is a joy to attempt if you’ve got twenty minutes and strong capability to handle frustration. In other words, these guys are not among the most-mentioned characters in the seven Potter books, and it disqualifies most teachers and students, as well as virtually all significant members of the Death Eaters and Order of the Phoenix.

1- Ollivander

Ollivander is the first character in the Potter books to recognize the magnificent scope of what Voldemort accomplished, defining Voldemort’s accomplishments as “Terrible, but great.” Dumbledore is the only other wizard (short of Death Eaters and sympathizers) to note just how impressive Voldemort’s magic is. Ollivander distinguishes himself early on. Not only is he a brilliant wandmaker, he has a unique point of view, one that becomes surprisingly important by DH, when the Wonderful World of Wands gains paramount importance. I’m deeply interested in the theoretical aspects of magic as espoused in the Potter books, and Ollivander helps us gain a deeper understanding of wandlore and the strange sentience of those magically imbued sticks.

2- Barty Crouch, Jr.

This is cheating. He’s mentioned more than all of the following characters combined in Goblet of Fire; they just call him “Moody” instead. Barty Crouch, Jr. is an enigma for most of the novel, either someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time (presumably because his dad never looked out for him) or someone who willingly participated in a heinous crime (presumably because his dad never looked out for him). Like Harry and Voldemort and Dumbledore, the absence of a father figure – or the disappointment he caused – is a key piece of his character. As I said in my Cursed Child review, parenthood is one of the silent themes of the series, at the heart of many issues but rarely mentioned in so many words. From his name to his actions, Barty Crouch, Jr. is a reaction to his more famous but identically lunatic father; both, in the end, use excessive force in an attempt to achieve order.

3- Firenze

Firenze is a curious individual, an outcast from his people and practically inscrutable to humans (except for Parvati and Lavender, who recognize that the human half of his body is hawt). What appeals to me about him is his approach to teaching, one that aligns philosophically with much of what I believe about pedagogy: the point is not to show how much the teacher knows, but to show that a great deal of the knowledge we have is malleable, changeable, and in the end as impossible to hold as a fistful of sand. Who knew that Firenze would have gotten along so nicely with Derrida?

4- Peeves

Peeves the poltergeist is probably the character whose removal from the Potter movies I regret most. Admittedly he would have seemed like overkill after the presence of John Cleese as Nearly-Headless Nick, but many of my favorite moments in the books involve Peeves being a complete tool. His legalistic bashing of Filch (“Shan’t say ‘Nothing’ if you don’t say ‘Please!'”) to his pleasure at being given good reason to destroy the school once Fred and George drop out in dramatic fashion, is endlessly amusing. Like Billy Joel’s Stranger, though he may be vindictive and unpredictable, Peeves “isn’t always evil/And he is not always wrong.”

5- Amelia Bones

Amelia Bones is the only high-ranking Ministry official in the books, as far as I can tell, who seems to be in government because she thinks she can do something good there. Cornelius Fudge, Dolores Umbridge, Rufus Scrimgeour: each of them is self-aggrandizing, each of them more concerned with preserving what gains they’ve made and saving face than doing right by their constituents. Amelia Bones understands that Harry’s done nothing wrong in protecting himself and Dudley from the dementors, and is impressed by his ability to do so at all. No one has a bad word for her; she has the decency to say hello to Arthur Weasley when virtually no one else on the Wizengamot does. Her death, which takes place between OotP and HBP and which follows the deaths of many of her family members in the first waris universally regarded with deep dismay. She’s good people.

6- Xenophilius Lovegood

In the drafts of DH, no doubt there is a line of dialogue which was expunged from the final draft:

“Chemtrails, young Potter! Chemtrails, controlling us! Muggle governments, using their jets to their own nefarious purpose!…”

Let’s just note that the most common Potter bumper sticker out there is the sign of the Deathly Hallows, which is described first as a piece of jewelry that Xeno Lovegood wears to Bill and Fleur’s wedding and is generally recognized as the symbol of a great wizarding conspiracy theory or a swastika equivalent. Real life is weird sometimes.

7- Dawlish

By any standard, Dawlish is a fabulous wizard. He had Hermione-like grades on his N.E.W.Ts. He became an Auror, a profession so difficult to get into that there are periods of years where no new Aurors are brought on. He is hand-chosen by Ministry officials to arrest and guard people like Dumbledore and Hagrid. And comically, Dawlish is on the wrong end of just about every attempt to do his job. Dumbledore hexes him twice. He’s lucky not to have gotten his arms ripped off by Hagrid. He gets Confounded at one point and stays under the spell so long that he can be dropped even by people like Dirk Cresswell. In other words, he is the Keystone Kop of the Potterverse, and it only gets funnier every time we hear that Dawlish has gotten the wrong end of the stick. 

Seven Moments in Dumbledore

1- Dumbledore and revelation

I don’t think Dumbledore is all that important a character in the first four books. As fondly as we may remember Richard Harris in the first two films, or as much as we cringe at Michael Gambon’s portrait of slurred-speech barbiturate-abusing Dumbledore in, say, the GoF movie (“HARRYDIDJOOPUTYERNAMEINTHEGOBBETOFFERR”), Dumbledore is really kept out of the flow of most of the plots. He’s primarily a talisman (like when Harry sees him in the stands in the Quidditch match Snape referees, or when he monologues about choices in CoS), and it takes four novels and change to put the man back in talisman. This isn’t to say he doesn’t matter at all, but to suggest that as a collective reading group, we have a recency bias about Dumbledore’s importance. After all, OotP was published thirteen years ago; it’s been a long time since we had to tangle with a Potter novel which did not put Dumbledore, even in absentia, near its heart.

The Dumbledore monologue in the last three chapters, replete with Life Lessons, is one of the staples of Potter books, and the best, most important one happens here at the end of OotP. Harry shouts and screams and breaks stuff, the picture of total irrationality: for the first time in the novel, the first time in 800 pages, one actually feels for Harry a little bit while he does his nut, seeing as Sirius has just been killed. Dumbledore’s Life Lessons are, like most of the rest of the book, a little bit melodramatic, touches of Dread Pirate Roberts without the irony. (The tl;dr of his response to Harry’s hurt is “Life is pain, highness,” which sounds better when Cary Elwes says it.)

When Dumbledore takes the floor from Harry, when he explains himself for his actions over the past fifteen years, it very nearly redeems the whole novel. He backs off the philosophy and gets to facts. The prophecy, which vaguely suggests that either Harry or Neville will have the power to defeat Voldemort utterly, boils down to Dumbledore’s philosophy, dating back to CoS, that it’s our choices which define who we are. That’s why it’s Harry, not Neville, who is the Chosen One; that’s why Harry’s parents are dead. (Keen readers, or at least informed ones, can’t help but think about Snape as he spied on Dumbledore and Trelawney that night at the Hog’s Head, and what his decision to run back to Voldemort with half the information will cost him.) It provides a structure, a rationale, to the rest of the series which, ironically, OotP doesn’t really have. We are also dealt an important piece of information; why didn’t Dumbledore just reveal more to Harry earlier, and thus save him a great deal of frustration and trouble and anxiety throughout the year? “I cared about you too much,” Dumbledore says to Harry, minutes after Harry’s most recent father figure was killed in front of him. (And another father figure will die, very similarly, in a year’s time. Harry’s really a fortunate guy.)

2- Dumbledore and Aberforth’s goats

I’ve always been interested in the strange interplay between Albus and Aberforth, and was very pleasantly surprised when it became a significant plot point in DH. The series dances around Aberforth as long as it mentions the Hog’s Head (all the way back to PS/SS), but it doesn’t mention his name until GoF. Hagrid, ashamed and abashed of his giant heritage, leaked to the whole wide world by Rita Skeeter, hides in his cabin. Harry/Ron/Hermione and Dumbledore are characteristic in their attempts to move him out. The kids are earnest. Dumbledore is referential. We learn that Aberforth got into some trouble for messing with goats with magic. “…but did Aberforth hide? No, he did not! He held his head high, and went about his business as usual. Of course, I’m not sure he can read…” 

3- Dumbledore and power

Yet another of the long games in Rowling’s writing has to do with Dumbledore’s Ministry career. Dumbledore has been a candidate, by acclamation, for Minister of Magic for some time, but he has always refused it in favor of remaining at Hogwarts. We finally learn in DH why Dumbledore doesn’t accept, or put his hat into the ring, for political advancement: it’s because he knows he shouldn’t. In Prince Caspian, Caspian is hesitant that he can do a good enough job to rule Narnia; Aslan takes that reticence as proof that he should lead. Douglas Adams is probably not the originator of this paradox, but he points out that the fact of running for office should disqualify the candidate from taking office. Dumbledore predates both of those pithy sayings, and thus has to learn the hard way; the last time he wanted power, he may have murdered his sister. 

The fact that no one really knows who killed Ariana that day in the Dumbledore basement – it could have been either brother or Grindelwald who killed her – is a brilliant twist. How much easier would it be for Dumbledore to shake it off if Grindelwald or Ab did it, or even if he did it? The inability to know for sure is what haunts him, and that’s what keeps him out of the Ministry, where he may have caused immense damage.

4- Dumbledore and earwax!

Poor Dumbledore. Would have been safe with a nice toffee, but…

5- Dumbledore and Umbridge

As a teacher, this moment ranks rather more highly for me than it would for other people who don’t work in a school setting. Even after Marietta Edgecombe has gotten the members of the D.A., and by extension Dumbledore, into a great deal of trouble, Dumbledore still sees her first as one of the students he is duty-bound to teach and protect. Umbridge, flustered by the fact that (a recently Obliviated) Marietta won’t answer her questions about the D.A. the right way, begins physically shaking her. Dumbledore doesn’t let her do that for very long; he hexes her, burning her hands temporarily, and saying very calmly, “I cannot allow you to manhandle my students, Dolores.” It’s a statement that I found deeply relatable; there’s a sense that every teacher I know has that you don’t let bad things happen to your kids.

6- Dumbledore and McGonagall

Rereading these books, my favorite character is absolutely Minerva McGonagall. She is the absolute best. Hermione has like, a 75% chance of being that British and starchy and brilliant when she gets to McGonagall’s age, and that’s why she is probably the series’ second-best character. Male coaches (and it’s always men who think this way) flatter themselves as “tough but fair,” when in fact all they are is homicidal. McGonagall can actually walk that line, as long as Gryffindor Quidditch isn’t involved.

Break! Best (British/Irish) Quidditch Team Names:

  1. Appleby Arrows: flight, elegance, vague danger
  2. Kenmare Kestrels: flight, points for originality, particularly good alliteration
  3. Wimbourne Wasps: flight, a bunch of different vowel sounds
  4. Caerphilly Catapults: flight, if somewhat awkward, totally unique, medial “p” making different sounds
  5. Montrose Magpies: flight, good on Jo for picking a corvid, good vowels
  6. Holyhead Harpies: flight, mythological background, all women team = all women name
  7. Ballycastle Bats: flight, puns, “castle” lends a little gravitas to “Bats”

She takes points from wrongdoers and gives them to high achievers. She lays out discipline for students consistently, and her lessons are devoted entirely to practice. And yet she finds room to give praise to students who deserve it, even when it’s outside her subject. I’ve always been a little touched by the boost she gives Neville when she tells him, after refusing to take him into N.E.W.T.-level Transfiguration with his A, that he ought to take Charms, where he earned an E. Neville’s grandmother isn’t a Charms fan (she failed it), but, as McGonagall says, she ought to be proud of the grandson she has, who fought in the Department of Mysteries. It’s a touching moment, and there are others which match it; in CoS she lets Harry and Ron talk to a Petrified Hermione, and throughout OotP she does what she can to be Harry’s guardian angel. (“Have a biscuit, Potter” remains one of the finer one-liners of the series.) 

I honestly don’t think the post-movie books were influenced that strongly by the films; Dumbledore is Dumbledore and Harry is Harry, regardless of what Michael Gambon or Daniel Radcliffe played, and that carries through the vast majority of other characters and settings. Then there are characters like the Marauders and their peers (Snape), who are totally distinct from their movie versions. There are some little shifts, though. Hermione gets a little less oppressively nerdy once Emma Watson got cute, for example. Only one character really seems different from beginning to end, and it’s McGonagall. I think she’s originally depicted as younger than Maggie Smith, what with her dark hair as she’s described in PS/SS. But Maggie Smith’s McGonagall became so beloved – because that’s what Maggie Smith does to people – that I think that crept into McGonagall, who is drawn as much older and wryer in the later books. 

Anyway, what I was ostensibly going to talk about was that time when Dumbledore announces the Triwizard Tournament will be played at Hogwarts, Fred yells, “You’re JOKING,” and Dumbledore is about to launch into one about a troll, a hag, and a leprechaun who walk into a bar before McGonagall gives him the hairy eyeball. Dumbledore, wisely, desists.

7- Dumbledore and sacrifice

Harry notes, ruefully and in the moment, that when Malfoy disarms him at the top of the Astronomy Tower, Dumbledore took the time to hide and protect Harry rather than defend himself. It’s the last spell he casts in a lifetime of brilliant spells, and it’s a lovely finish, a statement of looking to others rather than defending himself; simultaneously, it’s also a reflection of his situation. Would Dumbledore have protected Harry first even if he knew that he hadn’t set his own death in motion by destroying a Horcrux? It’s a salient question, and unanswerable.

Seven ‘Ships

Once again, I’ve restricted myself in my criteria here. If a couple got any kind of lasting time together in a Potter book, then I’ve left it out. If a couple ended up together, then obviously I’ve left it out. These are all couples that could have happened but didn’t (or at least we don’t have evidence for it, wink wink) for one reason or another. I accept how close this is to fanfiction. 

1- Harry/Susan Bones

There’s a buddy icon out there somewhere (hello, AIM! Middle-school me says he loves you forever!) which features Ron and Harry in bunks. Ron asks Harry, “Who do you like?” Harry, panicking, says, “Uh…Susan Bones.” Ron’s response: “WTF?” 

Even before that buddy icon – which I alternated with Harry using Sectumsempra on Malfoy for most of my freshman year of high school – I had harbored a soft spot for Harry and Susan Bones. I thought the two of them got on well. Both of them came from families which had been blasted apart by Voldemort. Both of them have similar loyalties: to Dumbledore, to their houses, to the D.A., and, interestingly enough, to Cedric Diggory. And Susan had the right kind of personality for Harry, I always thought. She was balanced and motivated and bright; whether or not Harry would have been great for Susan, it’s hard to say, but I think the two of them, in some alternate Potter reality, are at least as good a couple as Harry and Ginny.

2- Ginny/Luna

Speaking of, this one is one of the more popular ‘ships on my list. From the start, Ginny seems invested in protecting Luna, insofar as Luna needs to be protected. She recognizes Luna’s personhood underneath her strangeness, and does so from the first time we run into Luna in OotP. (Incidentally, is there another character who appears in so few of the Potter books who leaves so indelible a mark on the series’ fans? Sirius is up there, but after him, I’m hard pressed to say that Luna isn’t the winner in this competition.) Luna, for her part, seems perfectly friendly with Ginny as well. They seem like a good opposites-attract pair. One of them is pragmatic, physical, and straightforward; the other is theoretical and thoughtful and for all of that is even more blunt than her opposite number. 

3- Dumbledore/Grindelwald

Out of all of these ‘ships that I’ve pulled into dry dock, this is the one that I’m fairly sure actually happened. It’s not hard to imagine that their fascist-utilitarian project was so passionately wrought, in such utter forced solitude, that the two of them might not have gotten into something. If there’s proof that Dumbledore is gay somewhere in these novels, it’s almost certainly evoked in DH.

4- Neville/Luna

Neville and Luna are the square pegs for round holes. They are too awkward to live. They get made fun of by all comers, but even their friends seem to push them away, never wanting to rely on them. They are two of the three people who the Trio didn’t want coming along on a mission to the Department of Mysteries. (Ginny, curiously enough, is the third.) I don’t know if this actually makes them an interesting, or even good, couple, but they are the two awkward turtles we love to put together. It was not surprising, though, when it turns out that Neville has chosen the basically celibate life of of a Hogwarts teacher, and Luna has disappeared into the ether, the way we always knew she would. 

Break! Hogwarts Core Subjects Power Rankings:

  1. Transfiguration
  2. Charms
  3. Defense Against the Dark Arts
  4. Potions
  5. History of Magic
  6. Herbology
  7. Astronomy

It’s never really explained why the Hogwarts teachers are all single. Is it a happy accident? Or is it like real academia, where it’s not uncommon at all to find hordes of single people together because they’ve spent so much of their lives working towards a professional scholastic goal? Is it (I hope not) mandated? Anyway, this is the one that I think was most likely to happen which never came to be.

5- Harry/Hermione

Unless, of course, you were a Harmony person. I remember Emerson Spartz (making me one of six people to do so, doubtless) and his interview with J.K. Rowling where she sunk the good ship Harmony, pointing out that she’d dropped “anvil-sized hints” which backed the Heron crowd. Since then, Rowling has been pretty open in interviews about how, if she had to do this over again (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), she may well have killed Ron and had Harry and Hermione end up together. And although the Yule Ball is the absolute death knell for Harmony (though the groundwork is laid much earlier), one wonders if Harry and Hermione are not a better fit than Ron and Hermione. Is it cliche? Yeah. Is it a continuation of a theme, where Ron loses to Harry every single time? Sure is. And isn’t Ron maybe a little underachieving, on the whole, for Hermione, so underachieving that she is surprised whenever he does something good? And wouldn’t Harry, though guilty of “HARRY YES” more often than not, with his incredible resume and his driving ambition, be a cleaner fit with Hermione than Ron, who’s kind of a loafer? Is Hermione really going to enjoy pushing Ron to do more with himself for the rest of his life? Won’t they ever get tired of arguing? 

I still think that Harry and Ginny are probably a better match than Harry and Hermione. But me at 15 would be a little surprised to hear how open I am to boarding S.S. Harmony. When J.K. Rowling puts out a heavily revised version of DH in ten years, though, where she changes up the ending to her liking a little more, I will doubtless rue my foolishness. 

6- Ron/Eloise Midgen

There’s a great one-shot idea out there in which Ron is forced to go to the Yule Ball with Eloise Midgen, discovers how nice she is, realizes how vulnerable she must be to try to curse off her acne, introduces her to Fred and George, who are even now working on the product which will clear up blemishes and sell like hotcakes at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and then swear off Hermione for a young woman whose temperament is suited a little more neatly to his own. We can dream.

7- Harry/Draco

Is this still the most popular slashfic, maybe excepting the Fred and George twincest, of the fanfiction forums? It probably is. I confess that I am less enamored of this pairing than much of the Internet was ten years ago, although I think that Cursed Child shows how the two of them could, years later, decide to put away their differences and put up something else entirely. (Note: if I were to include Cursed Child in my Seven Sevens, Albus/Scorpius would be my number one ‘ship. I cannot tell you just how bummed out I am that the two of them didn’t end up together at the end of the play. More like Heteronormative Potter, am I right?

Hermione is the Real Hero, in Seven Proofs

1- Hermione reads Harry

“I mean – don’t you think you’ve got a bit of a – a – saving people thing?” Hermione asks Harry, coming as close as anyone does to elucidating the “Harry no/HARRY YES” dichotomy within the books themselves. Harry does have a bit of a saving people thing. If I were an early 20th Century psychoanalyst I would doubtless connect that back to the fact that he could not save his mother, that in point of fact his mother saved him, but I’m not a psychoanalyst of any time. Harry’s saving people thing is responsibility, but it’s a misplaced responsibility that in practice is much like the arrogance Snape constantly accuses Harry of harboring. Harry has, through his experience of the past four years, both expected to be the savior and, in the case of the second Triwizard task, actually begun to believe that’s one of his responsibilities. It’s the cause of Sirius’ death, and although Dumbledore attempts to take responsibility for that, that’s more Dumbledore’s own species of personal arrogance and self-aggrandizement than it is truth. 

Hermione, of course, is streets ahead of Harry when it comes to Sirius’ “capture.” She’s been more clearheaded than Harry throughout the entire novel, knowing when to push for D.A. meetings or for Occlumency practice. With that characteristic wisdom, she asks Harry how the two most wanted wizards on the planet could have gotten into the Ministry of Magic during daylight hours, and down to one of its most heavily guarded areas, without arousing suspicion. She asks Harry if his saving people thing siren isn’t going off prematurely. And when her plan to make sure Sirius is at home goes awry, she devises a plan on the spot to rid Hogwarts of Umbridge for good. If ever a Potter book should have been called “Hermione Granger and the X,” (maybe “Hermione Granger and the Piano on Her Back Named ‘Harry Potter’s Teenage Angst'”), it’s this one.

2- Hermione knows time travel

From the moment that Hermione solves the Potions-related logic puzzle in front of the Sorcerer’s Stone, we understand just how rigorous and analytical her mind is. It’s more than just her ability to do spells or memorize definitions, but she also proves to be the finest critical thinker below the age of majority in these novels. Part of what makes her especially good is her ability to eliminate possibilities and leave herself with a single, best option. In practice, it makes her rigid, sometimes unnecessarily so: consider the way that she treats the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions textbook. But in moments like the one where Harry suggests grabbing Pettigrew-as-Scabbers out from Hagrid’s house and killing him straightaway, Hermione intervenes. Time travel is much too fragile to fool with, she tells Harry. They’re around to save Buckbeak and Sirius, no more. Hermione could have let Harry do his thing (which would have ranked, in retrospect, as the most HARRY YES moment in the series)…

Break! HARRY YES Power Rankings:

  1. Harry goes to “save Sirius” from the Department of Mysteries; Sirius dies
    1. Harry tries to save Sirius by himself, reluctant to let Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, or Luna come with him, when he obviously would have needed help.
  2. Harry uses a curse he’s never seen the effects of before on Malfoy; nearly kills Malfoy, spends his last weekends at Hogwarts ever in detention.
  3. Harry gets into a yearlong…wand-measuring…match with Dolores Umbridge, who has literally all of the power in this situation; gets into trouble with literally everyone, makes self more emo.
  4. Harry follows Zabini back from the inaugural Slug Club lunch to spy on Malfoy; Malfoy freezes Harry and breaks his nose.
  5. Harry decides it’s better to try to drive a flying car to Hogwarts than send a letter with Hedwig; damages the Whomping Willow, gets into a bunch of trouble, and breaks Ron’s wand.
  6. Harry sneaks out of Hogwarts into Hogsmeade when literally everyone is telling him otherwise; needs Lupin to bail him out of significant trouble with Snape
  7. Harry tries to save all four hostages instead of just Ron, assuming they would have drowned otherwise; loses points, and worse than that, is such a literalist.

but decides, wisely, to make Harry hold back.

3- Hermione solves problems

In PS/SS, there are seven obstacles to the Sorcerer’s Stone: Fluffy, Devil’s Snare, the winged keys, a troll, the life-size wizard chess game, the Potions-logic puzzle, and the Mirror of Erised. 

Break! Obstacles to the Sorcerer’s Stone Power Rankings:

  1. Potions-logic puzzle
  2. Mirror of Erised
  3. Wizard chess
  4. Devil’s Snare
  5. Fluffy
  6. Troll
  7. Winged keys

Harry deals with one of those by himself: the Mirror of Erised. He gets partial credit for the winged keys (half a point, for catching the actual key) and Fluffy (a third of a point, for starting off the flute music). Harry gets 1.8etc. points, roughly. Ron gets points for wizard chess, Fluffy, and the keys: let’s give him 1.6etc. points. Hermione gets all the points for Devil’s Snare and the Potions-logic puzzle, as well as partial credit for Fluffy and the keys. She’s sitting at 2.6etc. points, very nearly lapping the field.

In CoS, Hermione has the bad luck to get Petrified before she can come back and tell Harry and Ron that it’s a basilisk in the pipes, tryin’ to kill people. In PoA, Hermione has the equipment to turn back time and gets Dumbledore’s hint to do so. In GoF, she practices Harry’s Summoning Charm with him enough so that he goes from being unable to do it to being able to Summon his broom from a great distance. We’ve covered her in OotP, in HBP she’s replaced by Dumbledore (sorry, Hermione), and in DH she keeps the Trio alive with food, spells, and preparation long enough to get them into Horcrux-killing position. Hermione’s legit, man. She does these things with Ron and Harry’s help, but also with them being teenage boy morons around her. Imagine being at the forefront of the anti-Voldemort movement and Britain and having to explain to your compeers that women do sometimes, in fact, have conflicting emotions.

She is so perfect that she may have well have sprung, fully-formed, from the draft of a Victorian novel. 

4- Hermione gets ready

In OotP, Harry snaps at Hermione when she tries to get Harry to wait a minute on trying to contact Sirius at Number 12, Grimmauld Place. “Did you think we were going to wait until after dinner or something?” Harry sneers at her. In DH…we’ll let Sean Parker explain:

Sean: You see, the shoe is on the other…

Amy: …foot?

Sean: Table. Which has turned.

Anyway, while Harry and Ron are caught with their pants down when Death Eaters attack Bill and Fleur’s reception (and lemme tell ya, I was so grateful that didn’t happen at my own reception), Hermione has a bag packed and ready for them when she wants it, using a spell that Ron and Harry have never heard of and couldn’t achieve even if they had. It’s only a microcosm of her ability to plan, something that has been gently teased in the form of all of those study guides she wrote out for Ron and Harry around exams, but it’s my personal favorite. It’s funny; I frequently ask myself what Ron and Harry would do without Hermione, but I am not much troubled by the question, “What would Hermione do without Ron and Harry?”

5- Hermione chooses Harry

Boy howdy, despite those “anvil-sized hints,” it was really something when Hermione stayed with Harry when Ron bailed on them during DH. Young adult literature relishes forcing teenagers to make adult’s decisions over and over again; not many of them ever struck me quite as strongly as Hermione’s willingness to let Ron go, maybe forever (these are dangerous times!), when she knows that Ron has always been jealous of Harry and that any motion she makes to help him out without Ron will be read as romantically motivated…phew. This, on top of the fact that Hermione has put her parents under a Memory Charm and sent them to Australia in the hopes of protecting them, and it’s never clearer that her devotion to hunting down Horcruxes and defeating Voldemort is every bit as strong as Harry’s.

Cursed Child, regrettably, casts Hermione and Ron into roles not unlike Mr. and Mr. Weasley; it’s not the kind of future that I had hoped for either one of them to end up with. Ron seems to have grown into being like Arthur, if a little bit more sloppy and a little better with money; the first word one associates with both is “kindly,” and the second is “non-threatening.” Hermione is like Molly if she were on androstenedione: she appears to be the perfect wife and mother, and she just happens to be Minister of Magic. It’s a somewhat disappointing end for Hermione, at least domestically. Ginny-with-Harry seems to have a similar problem; both women are significantly less independent and bullish once they get married, lacking the flair that they had at Hogwarts. The boys seem the same as ever, though. Harry very visibly makes the same sort of mistakes that he was so apt to make while in school, and Ron is still in the background of his own life. Perhaps the authors of Cursed Child wanted to make a point about adulthood rounding off rough edges off of pubescence; Ron in particular is slower to anger than he was as a teenager, and Harry is finally fulfilling pieces of his own life which have nothing to do with Voldemort. Why, then, does sanding off the rough edges mean extinguishing the fire in the series’ most likeable young women?

6- Hermione founds organizations

Hermione has a positively Marxist will to achieve common goals through organization; the ghost of Big Bill Haywood is strong within her. Whether or not S.P.E.W. is a good idea (Hermione occasionally reminds me of the worst of Buzzfeed morality), it’s a heartfelt one. Whether or not house-elves want freedom is probably beyond Hermione’s fortnight of books-only research to discern, but one has to applaud her willingness to give them a chance. That same desire for fairness, for equal treatment, is reflected in the way she treats Kreacher. The fact that Kreacher hurries along Sirius’ death, lying to Harry along the way, because no one heeds her advice, is the most concrete proof that she’s got her heart in the right place.

Similarly, while the D.A. is Harry’s Hogwarts equivalent of Capital, there’s no way Harry makes it happen with Hermione playing Engels. Not only is it her idea in the first place, she’s the one who engineers the Protean Charm which keeps everyone informed of meetings, jinxes the original roster, and helps maintain some level of leadership alongside Harry. It’s too bad that the D.A. was broken up just a couple of meetings before Hermione would have snuck “The Internationale” into Harry’s lesson plans.

7- Hermione gets even

Hermione doesn’t spend a lot of time getting mad at people, but she spends a lot of time getting even. It’s pretty great. Consider the following:

Draco Malfoy has spent most of the last couple years being mean to Hermione, calling her the most offensive slur wizards have, and outright attacking people she cares about, like Hagrid? Hermione loses it and slaps Malfoy. Getting even doesn’t have to be elaborate, as Hermione shows us. Sometimes it’s enough to just make a statement with one’s hands.

Ron doesn’t ask her to the Yule Ball because he’s too busy being an obnoxious little so-and-so, obsessed with finding some gorgeous girl to go with him? She shows up with Ron’s favorite Quidditch player, a famous international athlete, looking better than anyone believed possible. (I just thought about Hermione’s performance at the Yule Ball to its logical extent for the first time; this is such an intoxicating revenge fantasy that it’s almost a Carrie Underwood song.)

Rita Skeeter writes a nasty article about Hermione and the presumably tangled love life she’s weaving for famous men? Hermione finds out that Rita is an unregistered Animagus, traps her as a beetle in a jar for some unknown amount of time, and then blackmails her indefinitely. 

For normal people, that would probably be enough, but my personal favorite remains the way that she lets people write their names on a piece of paper that she’s going to jinx, and then doesn’t tell anybody. Hermione is metal. She should be someone’s wartime consiglieri in a mob movie.

Break! (It’s not really a break this time, as the post ends in a second.) Best Titles of Harry Potter Books Power Rankings:

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
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