J.K. Rowling, Giftedness, and the Ghost of Ravenclaw

Notes from a talk delivered at LeakyCon in Boston, MA, USA, on Saturday, October 12, 2019.  A shorter version of this talk was delivered at the Harry Potter Conference of Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, PA, on Friday, October 18, 2019.  Posted by request.

Good morning.  I’m going to be talking about a few aspects of how the seven-book series deals with the topic of giftedness.  I looked into the education of Hermione, which led to the portrayal of Ravenclaw, and eventually, to aspects of the author herself.  This last part I did cautiously, since I know it’s delicate territory. But what I found added such richness and dimension that I decided to include it, with as much love as I could.

The whole series is about a special school, so there is some equation of magical ability with giftedness.  But we soon find out that there are all kinds among wizards, too. The opening chapter pits Dumbledore’s style of giftedness against Voldemort’s, when McGonagall says Dumbledore is the only one Voldemort was frightened of.  Dumbledore replies, “Voldemort had powers I will never have,” and McGonagall says, “Only because you’re too — well — noble to use them.”  Dumbledore deflects that compliment.  Rowling is playing a truly long game of foreshadowing here; we won’t find out why he doesn’t think he deserves it until the end of the seventh book.

Some other gifted people we hear about:  Gellert Grindelwald. Quirrell, of whom Hagrid says, “Brilliant mind. He was fine while he was studyin’ outta books but then he took a year off ter get some first-hand experience. . . . ”  Barty Crouch, Sr., who speaks “over two hundred languages.” According to Sirius, “Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side.”  Snape can Occlude the (self-proclaimed) world’s greatest Legilimens and, as an “imaginative” but “dodgy” teen, surpassed the author of his school textbook as a potioneer. In all of these cases, these people’s extraordinary powers forced them to confront moral issues beyond what most people deal with, and generally speaking, they did not always do well.  Or, as Dumbledore put it, “Being — forgive me — rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”

Perhaps the purest embodiment of the potential creepiness of genius is Ollivander, who makes Harry shiver when he speaks reverently of Voldemort’s evil powers as “terrible, yes, but great.”  Ollivander is sorry that Voldemort destroyed Harry’s family. But his curiosity about absolute degrees of magical power keeps breaking through and overriding his moral considerations. This is, of course, what you want from someone whose calling is to see the true nature of each customer, without judgment.  But Harry isn’t sure he likes this person.

And in the midst of all these morally ambiguous, gifted adults, we have the education of Hermione Granger, whom Remus Lupin calls, nervously, “the cleverest witch of your age I’ve ever met.”

It all starts with “books and cleverness.”

You know the scene I’m talking about, right?  First-year Hermione has just brilliantly gotten Harry through Snape’s logic puzzle that contained deadly poisons and is about to drink down a potion that seals her decision to leave him to a fight that he might not survive.  Hermione tells Harry he’s a great wizard, he mumbles that he’s not as good as she is, and then this 12-year-old girl disavows her gifts: “Me! Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery and…”

Did anyone else find that passage painfully self-effacing?  Was anyone else surprised by it?

One of the trickiest things for me about that line was that in this male-centric story, Hermione was the girl sidekick I was identifying with, and hearing her put down her own giftedness  hurt.  I hadn’t seen any evidence to that point that she devalued books and cleverness, when they were clearly such sources of joy for her.  I figured the author was trying to make the point that heroism is attainable for anyone, not just top students. I wondered, though, about putting that message in the mouth of the character who faced hurtful ostracism because books and cleverness were so fundamental to her true self.   

I couldn’t help thinking…  They come to your house when you’re 11 and say, Those things you can do, that no one else can do?  We’ll take you to a special school where everyone else can do them, too. And then Hermione goes there, and… those promises don’t come true.  The children here are just as frustrating as the ones at home. And they laugh at her. I wondered, Where is Hermione’s anger?

I started looking at what this author had provided for Hermione by way of support for this character’s giftedness.  Which felt like a ridiculous way to put it, thinking of the author as responsible for the well-being of a character according to my concerns…but in an incredibly detailed story about the education of children, it is on topic to take note of where the author is directing the reader’s attention.  We’re supposed to notice that Harry needs friends, that Neville comes from an overbearing home, that Ron is self-conscious about money.  What do we do for the girl who arrives at school having memorized the textbooks? The one who Rowling, gifted writer and former Head Girl, acknowledged was based on herself at the same age?

When we look closely, we can catch glimpses of evidence, through moments when Hermione’s life is visible on the periphery of Harry’s story, that the Hogwarts staff recognizes Hermione’s need for an independent study track.

The first hint of this comes in Sorcerer’s Stone when Harry sets Hermione spying on Snape.

“I’m sorry, Harry!” she wailed. “Snape came out and asked me what I was doing, so I said I was waiting for Flitwick, and Snape went to get him, and I’ve only just got away.”

That would have been the last we heard of that, but later, Harry worries that his friends might get expelled for accompanying him through the trapdoor.

“Not if I can help it,” said Hermione grimly. “Flitwick told me in secret that I got a hundred and twelve percent on his exam. They’re not going to throw me out after that.”

It’s a startling moment.  So teachers communicate with her in secret, in a way that they never do with most students.  She’s almost like a peer of theirs in the mature way she keeps quiet about this status; she wasn’t going to say anything about it.  The word “grimly” makes an impact, too. For Hermione, studies are a matter of life or death.

Snape generally ignores Hermione, when he can.  This will be his basic policy toward this student for the whole time he is her teacher, although he pays the price for ignoring her when she exploits that tendency in order to set fire to his robes, steal from his stores, or sneak past him to retrieve Harry’s Invisibility Cloak.  But when we get to the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, we find that he has designed the potions puzzle as a custom-written final exam for her first year.

So he has been paying attention to her, after all.  He’s observed the way her mind works. He foresees that she will be with Harry until the very last stage.  With Hermione in mind, he has brewed the potions, selected bottles, and composed the rhyming verse. This is what it looks like when Snape teaches her, at last.

So Hermione comes upon the puzzle, and wonder of wonders, it relaxes her: “Hermione let out a great sigh and Harry, amazed, saw that she was smiling, the very last thing he felt like doing.”  She and Dumbledore share this trait: smiling with genuine happiness when they get to use their brains, even when they’re in mortal danger.  We see Dumbledore do this in the cave when he detects Voldemort’s boat: “‘Oho!’ said Dumbledore happily,” while Harry is staring at corpses.  Hermione “beams” this way, too.

Then she takes a long drink of the potion Snape has brewed for her, shudders, and tells Harry no, it’s not poison – “but it’s like ice.”  It is a chilling message:  she solves the puzzle and the potion tells her that she, with her books and cleverness, is not the protagonist of this story.  She turns around and leaves.  

In her second year, Hermione’s independent study track includes defense against Slytherin’s monster, which is trying to murder Muggle-borns like herself.  She discovers what the monster is and how it travels, she brews Polyjuice Potion and strategizes a covert operation, and when her half-blood and Pureblood friends seem reluctant, she tells them angrily that she is going to continue to fight for Muggle-borns.  She’s attacked for being a minority and this causes her to fall behind on several months of schooling, confirming her worry that Muggle-borns have to work harder for rights that others take for granted.  She needs to make up this time if she’s going to have a chance at survival, as her academic adviser knows. In an almost throwaway line, tucked into a humorous paragraph about choosing classes for third year, we see that “Hermione took nobody’s advice but signed up for everything,” setting the stage for her Time-Turner year.

McGonagall gets Ministry permission to sponsor Hermione’s third-year independent study track, the year she learns how exhausting it is as a minority to take the same time as everyone else to do twice the work.  We even get a grim but funny joke about Hermione missing out on Cheering Charms because she’s sleep-deprived, highlighting the psychological toll it takes. Her independent studies include paralegal work for Buckbeak’s defense and Jane Austen-style sleuthing about Harry’s Firebolt.  In her coursework, though, this is the only year Hermione’s Defense Against the Dark Arts studies suffer because of the teacher Dumbledore has hired for the year.  She’s usually able to work around teachers and keep up on her own, but this year, she fails part of her final exam, which brings me to the topic of Lupin vs. Snape as her teachers.

On two fronts, I have wondered:  where is Hermione’s anger? Where is her anger at the classmates who name-call her but cannot keep up with her, so that she must sit daily through coursework at a pace that is profoundly unsuited to her?  And I’ve wondered, where is her anger at Snape, who ignores her or insults her? Except for that one time he kills Dumbledore, she never seems to hold a grudge against him.

In book 3, while Harry and Ron aren’t talking to Hermione, she lets loose once.  They can’t guess what ails Lupin and she shoves by them and says, “Tuh.” I’ve heard people say Ron and Harry are not particularly observant, but I don’t think that’s it here; nobody else guesses, either.  It’s that Hermione is gifted and remarkably restrained about not expressing frustration with her peers.

And when Snape serves as Lupin’s substitute teacher, and heaps insults on Lupin for teaching the third-years things that he’d expect first-years to know, and calls Hermione an insufferable know-it-all for interrupting his insults with attempts to provide helpful information:  Hermione turns red and cries, but she doesn’t get angry. She even reprimands Ron for calling Snape a bad name.

Perhaps this is because Hermione agrees with Snape.  She’s too nice to say so, and far too community-minded, but she’s on the same page he is — 394, to be exact.  For once, instead of Hermione having to endure learning at the pace of her classmates, a teacher is expecting them to learn at Hermione’s pace.  Of course she’s the only one to do the assignment, and she gets out of it exactly what he intended.  Snape seems like just the kind of gifted person who should not be teaching introductory classes because he was practically born knowing how to do things and thinks most people are somehow faking it for obstinate, mysterious reasons when they have to take actual time to learn new material.  But his teaching style turns out to be so well-suited to this child that it even outweighs his charming personality. I think she might have found it refreshing that someone else thinks a first-year should know this material.

When I looked at Hermione studying under Lupin, I found, to my surprise, that he was a worse teacher for her than Snape.  Unlike Snape, Lupin understands the process of learning and gears his instruction to the general class level, making him a better teacher for the majority.  It would have been one thing if he simply neglected to make provisions for Hermione’s needs as a gifted student, but he does something more damaging: he actively suppresses her learning.  He teaches that exemplary class on boggarts through active practice, the opposite of “books and cleverness” or Umbridge’s policy of reading the theory only, and several students get practical experience in banishing boggarts, but the text draws our attention to the fact that two do not.  Lupin gives Harry and Hermione points for answering questions correctly even though they have not tackled the boggart.  

We get an explanation later about Harry:  Lupin knew Harry would have been bothered by this pointed exclusion, and explained that he was afraid Harry’s boggart would be too frightening for the others to see.  But we never get an explanation for why Hermione doesn’t get a turn, although the author includes Hermione saying aloud that she wishes she had. If we look at the scene, Lupin intercepts the boggart when it approaches Harry, it turns into the moon, then instead of calling on Harry or Hermione, Lupin calls Neville for a second turn.  Did Lupin take instruction time away from the gifted girl, assuming she could afford to lose it, in favor of a student who has special needs of a different sort? If you have gifted students in your life, you know that this is something that does happen: sometimes gifted students don’t even receive the same basic attention given to most of the class, or are expected to give up their own class time to help tutor their peers, and this results in gaps in their own learning.  Hermione outright fails the boggart portion of her final exam that year.

Or did Lupin step in because he was threatened by Hermione’s insight?  Later, in the Shrieking Shack, he asks, “Did you realize that the boggart changed into the moon when it saw me?”  Did he flinch in class at the thought of being seen by this perceptive child, so that he suppressed part of her education due to his own fear?  This is also something that happens to gifted students in real life. It’s counterintuitive, but the only thing we see Hermione learning in Defense Against the Dark Arts that year is not from the kind teacher but from Snape.

Hermione has three independent projects in her fourth year:  S.P.E.W., the Yule Ball, and the fight against tabloid journalists.  For gifted students, especially, the issue of attractiveness can be a loaded one, as Snape can attest.  Once Hermione reigns as the belle of the Yule Ball, at the midpoint of this seven-year timeline, she becomes impervious to taunts about her looks.

Fifth year is when Hermione’s independent studies most notably place friendship and bravery before books and cleverness.  She asserts, to the shock of Harry and Ron, that resistance and activism are “much more important than homework.” She sets up a guerrilla training camp, recruits an instructor, and demonstrates that censorship doesn’t work but underground journalism does.  Amazing. We get continued evidence that the actual teachers see her almost as a peer when McGonagall talks to Harry about Umbridge’s welcoming speech, on the memorable occasion that she offers him a biscuit. He says something almost insightful and she eyes him “for a moment” and says, “Well, I’m glad you listen to Hermione Granger at any rate.”  Hermione must have discussed the speech privately with McGonagall already.

Sixth year is the year of Snape, and therefore Hermione gets no independent studies or any special notice at all.  We learn that he only accepted “Outstanding” students into his N.E.W.T. Potions class, a piece of information that’s a bit of a relief — if this grumpy prodigy has to be in a classroom at all, he should probably only ever teach students who, like him, don’t need to learn the basics.  Hermione, though, has a miserable, rotten year in which she is trounced by both Harry and some “Half-Blood Prince” person in Potions, gets no House points for mastering nonverbal magic, is wrong about everything to do with Draco, and watches Ron date her roommate. She gets, at most, partial credit for coming close to identifying the Half-Blood Prince.

Seventh year, though, Dumbledore assigns her an independent study in Ancient Runes, and her senior project gets published.

Rowling addresses the issue of Hermione’s giftedness directly when Hermione invents the communication Galleons for the DA.  The others greet the coins with “a blank silence” and Hermione is “rather disconcerted,” feeling a classic sort of confusion familiar to many people who don’t know if they’re coming across as clever, obvious, or simply crazy.

“‘Well — I thought it was a good idea,’ she said uncertainly, ‘but…well, if you don’t want to use them…’”

To Hermione’s relief, Terry Boot, a Ravenclaw, demands to know why she isn’t in Ravenclaw, with her brains.  So the Galleons must have struck the others as a good idea, then. Thank goodness. She explains that the Sorting Hat almost put her there, “but it decided on Gryffindor in the end.”

We can see why Hermione ended up in Gryffindor, but any attempt to understand why someone did or did not get Sorted into Ravenclaw is impeded by the fact that Rowling, the queen of world-building, is uncharacteristically muddled when it comes to this Hogwarts House.

As many of us have noted, Ravenclaw is the most nebulously depicted of the Houses.  Are we blue and bronze, or blue and silver? Are we eagles or ravens? Are there any Ravenclaws in the Order of the Phoenix?  It’s almost as if, when it comes to Ravenclaws, there’s an attitude of, “Who cares?” When it’s time for Harry to hunt Horcruxes, he can rattle off items with precision except for the vague descriptor, “something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s.”  The other House artifacts are valuable and treated as such: the ring and locket are treasured, the glowing cup is in a vault, the sword is celebrated, but the tiara is a piece of crap. It’s described as battered and tarnished, shoved amongst mountains of garbage atop the bust of an ugly old warlock in a wig.  

After the books were finished, when Rowling started identifying the Houses of more characters, do you remember the reader outcry against all the villains being Slytherin, and how, at some point, Rowling started to assign questionable or villainous characters to Ravenclaw, instead?  Lockhart, she said, was Ravenclaw; so were Trelawney, Ollivander, and Quirrell. I wonder if she originally meant Quirrell to be a Slytherin; after the Welcoming Feast, Harry dreams that Quirrell tells him to go to Slytherin and the other people in that nightmare — Malfoy, Snape, and Voldemort — are all Slytherins.

To me, Ollivander is the quintessential Ravenclaw.  He is intrigued by the possibilities of channeling Voldemort’s power through exceptional wands, but he also tells Harry he is sorry to say that he sold the wand that scarred him.  So it’s not that he’s completely amoral; it’s that he can simultaneously be moral and amoral, which is, I think, more chilling. We can’t be certain whether he’s going to have a conscience or immerse himself in value-free pursuit of pure knowledge.  Maybe this is why the world finds Ravenclaws creepy! The thing is, there’s nothing about being able to appreciate pure knowledge that precludes our having consciences and strong morals. 

But looking at Quirrell, Ollivander, and Lockhart, it’s clear that Rowling’s Ravenclaws come pre-installed with intellectual curiosity, but morals or conscience are optional.  Quirrell says he did once have “ridiculous ideas about good and evil,” but when he met Voldemort, he changed his mind to believe, “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it. . . .”  

Ollivander says that “the idea of the Dark Lord in possession of the Deathstick is, I must admit . . . formidable,” reminding Harry that he had always been unsure of how much he liked Ollivander:  “Even now, having been tortured and imprisoned by Voldemort, the idea of the Dark wizard in possession of this wand seemed to enthrall him as much as it repulsed him.”

Lacking conscience but still brilliant is how Rowling portrays Voldemort.  Dumbledore tells Harry, “Never forget, though, that while his soul may be damaged beyond repair, his brain and his magical powers remain intact.”  No wonder I get the sense that Rowling mistrusts Ravenclaws.

In a fandom where many readers are especially invested in the concept of the “death of the author,” which holds that stories must be understood without regard to the intentions or life circumstances of the author, it can be fraught to admit to looking to the author’s life and psyche to shed light on how the text came to be the way it is.  I tend to be quiet about doing so, mindful of how important “death of the author” is for some fans who want to retain a connection to the Harry Potter stories while feeling disagreement with the author. But for this topic, I decided to go there and see where it takes me, because in my view, Rowling demonstrates quite vividly that it is illuminating and rewarding to consider the author when engaging deeply with a piece of fiction.  I’m going to talk about a few instances that convinced me.

Most iconically, Rowling packaged the Harry Potter stories with information about herself and her intentions:  it’s part of the story that she was a single mother, humbled to be struggling and dependent on assistance instead of making a splash as a writer, the way she and others always expected of her.  We know her grief over her mother’s death informed all of the series, and that she longed to see and speak to her mother again, as Harry longs for his lost family. She wanted us to know these things, and I know I welcomed the way they enriched my understanding of the books, of her characters who rail against the burden of caregiving and then are ashamed of their ungraciousness.  I am not sorry that this background informs my reading.

Here is some other information about the author that has only deepened my understanding in a way that I welcome.  We know, partly because Rowling’s own father betrayed her by selling information to a tabloid, that she survived domestic violence in her first marriage; we heard her say, in a subsequent interview, that she was replicating family patterns she had learned as a child.  This information made me understand the Fidelius Charm as a magical version of what we Muggles call a “safe house.” We know that Rowling’s mother blossomed in her job working for a chemistry teacher Rowling disliked, who was one of the inspirations for the character of Snape.  This information helped me understand the complex dynamic of someone, in adulthood, revisiting their view of a teacher who had been cruel to them as a child but had been a friend to their mother.  

This background enriched my reading enough that I found it worthwhile to keep looking.  I had wondered why Rowling chose to write James and Lily marrying and becoming parents so young; I stopped wondering when I learned that Rowling’s parents had been that age when she was born.  When I first read in Deathly Hallows that Snape had seen Lily’s joyous ability to fly, I wasn’t sure if Rowling meant that her character actually, literally, flew — until I learned that her mother’s maiden name was Anne Volant, the French word for “flying.”  In a series that is so deliberate about the magic of names, and especially the names of mothers, learning the full name of the author’s mother enriched my understanding in a way that I would never want to give back.

The biggest gut punch came when I learned that Rowling’s father is named Peter James Rowling.  I resisted thinking about that for a while; it was too much. But I could not in any way make myself believe that this author, in particular, gave two major characters the same names as a family member by accident or coincidence.  I had wondered why James Potter was so difficult to find in the stories.  We get unflattering memories of him as a student, and we hear of his goodness as a young man, but when we see him as a father, he’s barely there:  when Voldemort kills him, unlike the complex view we get of Lily’s death, “James Potter fell like a marionette whose strings were cut.” We get a much more vivid portrait of Peter Pettigrew, making me wonder if Rowling wrote different aspects of her view of her own father into these two characters, one despicable, one heroic but elusive.

After making these connections, I couldn’t help wondering if considering the author might also help me gain insight into the portrayal of Ravenclaw House and why it’s so much more nebulous and ambivalent than the other three.  With HP, Cursed Child, and Fantastic Beasts, this author has given us Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Hufflepuff points of view. She hasn’t written a Ravenclaw story. What if it’s Ravenclaw, not Slytherin, that is her shadow House, the House of aspects about herself that frighten her, or that she wants to repress?

We meet the ghosts of Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Hufflepuff houses on Harry’s first night at Hogwarts.  Seven years and literally a million words later, on page 613 of Deathly Hallows, Harry asks Nearly Headless Nick this astonishing question: 

“Who’s the ghost of Ravenclaw Tower?”

I know some people like to rib Harry for times he’s unobservant, but in this case, I’m going to attribute this lacuna to the author, rather than the character.  

Nick points out a “young woman with long hair,” a ghost Harry had “passed several times in the corridor, but to whom he had never spoken,” who raises her eyebrows and drifts away through solid wall when she sees Harry looking at her.  According to Rowling, she had written this ghost into the series twice before, but never identified her, once in Harry’s first year as “the ghost of a tall witch,” once in Harry’s sixth year as “the ghost of a long-haired woman,” with no indication that they were meant to be the Gray Lady, or indeed, even the same ghost both times.  Page 613 of the final book is a supremely odd moment to be introducing a brand-new character, the last one until the Epilogue: Voldemort has begun his attack on Hogwarts, students are streaming out to safety, fighters are taking their stations. Is this really the time to be making introductions and wheedling information out of someone who is elusive, even for a ghost?

But Harry needs to find the Ravenclaw diadem, which Flitwick describes as “long since lost” — “Nobody has seen it in living memory!”

The Gray Lady confesses, with profound shame, that she stole the diadem from her mother because “I sought to make myself cleverer, more important than my mother.  I ran away with it.” I’m not sure Rowling intended this comparison, but we have found, at last, another force so powerful that it survives beyond death, just as love does:  guilt. She’s been so ashamed about something she did centuries ago that she can’t rest in peace. She confesses to Harry that she told Voldemort where to find the diadem: “He was . . . flattering. He seemed to . . . to understand . . . to sympathize. . . .”  Even as a ghost, she craved relief from this guilt.

Could it be that the author identifies with the Gray Lady, hating that she had once thought herself, with her intellectual promise, cleverer and more important than her mother?  At the end of book 7, is the author, like book 1 Hermione, disavowing “books and cleverness” in favor of greater things? I almost think that’s a stretch, but I find it hard to dismiss entirely, especially when we learn that Helena Ravenclaw was attacked by a possessive would-be lover.  The consideration that makes it most difficult for me to dismiss is the intense sense of shame and ambivalence around this part of the story, long past the point in the plot when we expect a whole new development to interrupt the momentum of a thunderous finale.  When Harry hears the Gray Lady’s story, he thinks, “— here at last was a secret he and Voldemort knew, that Dumbledore had never discovered.” The battered, tarnished old diadem is shoved into the cathedral-sized city of unwanted garbage, the collective guilt of centuries; and the Gray Lady stammers and whispers her shame to Harry in bitter and defensive tones, her urge to confess struggling against her cold desire to keep her shame secret; and the author who had regrets about her late mother and had once survived domestic violence showed, I think, enormous ambivalence and reluctance in being unable to finish her cathartic epic without blurting out, at the very last moment, that she had written a faint trace of a long-ago past version of herself into the books, although she had only been able to bring herself to write this ghost twice, nameless and voiceless and nearly invisible.  As if the author, herself, had felt too ashamed to show this part of herself to Dumbledore, but had only been able to confess it to Voldemort and then shoved it into the Room of Requirement like something dark or broken.

Rowling’s saga was almost over.  She was running out of Horcruxes.  Harry, Dumbledore, and Ron had already had the opportunity to destroy a Horcrux and confront something in themselves; another two were reserved for Hermione and Neville. 

Who killed Ravenclaw’s Horcrux?

Maybe if she hurried and dragged a part of herself out of its obscure hiding place, the part she could barely think about and couldn’t even always articulate in fantasy, there was still time for Harry to help her destroy a Horcrux and face something of her own.

Here’s how that Horcrux dies:

“A bloodlike substance, dark and tarry, seemed to be leaking from the diadem. Suddenly Harry felt the thing vibrate violently, then break apart in his hands, and as it did so, he thought he heard the faintest, most distant scream of pain, echoing not from the grounds or the castle, but from the thing that had just fragmented in his fingers.”

I hope this brought Rowling some peace.

Dumbledore takes up the story from here, talking to Harry from the afterlife about the damage he caused by seeking to set his clever self above being a caregiver for his loved ones.

“You cannot despise me more than I despise myself.”

“But I don’t despise you —”

“Then you should…  I resented it, Harry…  I was gifted, I was brilliant.  I wanted to escape. I wanted to shine.  I wanted glory. I loved my parents, I loved my brother and sister, but I was selfish… Trapped and wasted, I thought!  And then, of course, he came…. Grindelwald. You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me. Master of death, which we took to mean ‘invincible.’”

After the death of Ariana, Dumbledore refused the post of Minister of Magic:  “I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation.  I was safer at Hogwarts. I think I was a good teacher…”

That’s such an understatement, it’s almost funny.  Of course, Dumbledore was the greatest of teachers.  But it wasn’t the magic he most longed to cast. He didn’t have the internal ability to limit his desire for power, so he had to establish teaching as a form of self-protection, a way to keep himself occupied away from power.  He explained something similar to Harry in his sixth year:

“’You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!’ said Dumbledore loudly. ‘The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort’s!’”

Dumbledore was remembering his weakness for power when he deflected McGonagall’s praise for being too “noble” to assume the same powers as Voldemort.  Of course, Quirrell was wrong when he said, “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”  Harry said as much when Voldemort boasted during the final battle that he had “performed magic that Dumbledore himself never dreamed of.”

“Oh, he dreamed of it,” said Harry, “but he knew more than you, knew enough not to do what you’ve done.”

“You mean he was weak!” screamed Voldemort.  “Too weak to dare, too weak to take what might have been his, what will be mine!”

“No, he was cleverer than you,” said Harry, “a better wizard, a better man.”

Having once permitted his giftedness unchecked rein, having once put no limits and no protections on his ambition for invincible power and then having grieved endlessly for Ariana’s death, as well as the fascism he encouraged in Grindelwald, Dumbledore limited his destructive power by turning his genius to teaching, to spreading love and protection and gifts to others.

I hope Rowling is at peace with the Ravenclaw aspect of herself.  She did, after all, come to reign over the world with her giftedness, but I don’t think she used it to set herself above others.  I think she found ways to build her genius into the warmth of her children’s stories and her work with Lumos and other foundations, spreading love and protection and gifts to others.

“And my soul, Dumbledore?” The Snape-Dumbledore Relationship

Notes from a talk delivered at LeakyCon in Boston, MA, USA, on Sunday, October 13, 2019.  Posted by request.

Thank you for coming to think about what is, to me, the most difficult relationship to understand in Harry Potter.  There are things about Snape and Dumbledore that I’ve been trying to figure out since July 2007 and I’m still trying to get there.  I see the author’s perspective on this relationship changing, too, as she grows older. When she wrote Deathly Hallows, she was close to Snape’s age of 38 and she wrote Dumbledore as almost godlike.  In the Fantastic Beasts series, she writes Dumbledore as younger than she is now.

In 2016, Rowling wrote that McGonagall added Snape’s portrait to the headmistress’s office after a conversation with Harry.  When I picture that portrait gallery, Snape makes for an arresting addition: the very young protégé hand-selected by the legendary Albus Dumbledore to see Hogwarts through one grim, pivotal year in its history.  I wonder where she put his portrait. Is it next to Dumbledore’s, behind her desk? I wonder how these two portraits interact.

As we learn more about Dumbledore’s backstory, we see how he could be sure Snape’s repentance was real:  because Dumbledore recognized it from his own experience of facing his evil and renouncing it. This is a story that’s become especially urgent in the current political climate, something we can see being emphasized in the Fantastic Beasts films that were released in 2016 and 2018.  Considering that Dumbledore and Snape are both essentially reformed white supremacists who used their knowledge of evil to fight Dark Magic in ways not available to those who have always been pure of heart, I think their stories are worth considering now in a way that wasn’t as topical in the years when Obama was president and Godwin’s Law was still in place.

Dumbledore made significant bequests to Harry, Ron, and Hermione:  a Snitch, a Deluminator, a first edition, the sword of Gryffindor. In a similar spirit, he also left things to Snape:  the Headmaster job, the final message for Harry, and the Elder Wand, though that didn’t work out the way he intended. He left Snape the responsibility for everyone at Hogwarts, a powerful cover story that was years in the making, the private sanctum of the Headmaster’s office, and his personal gratitude for doing whatever it took to agree to kill Dumbledore and then survive a terrifying time without his mentor.

Rowling wrote such complexity into the Dumbledore-Snape relationship that we can see several different interpretations of their dynamic, including one that Snape believed for a time, before Dumbledore died:  that Dumbledore used Snape as a pawn. For a long time, I had difficulty believing that Snape could possibly have drawn strength from the memory of Dumbledore in his final year.  But that is what I think now, and I’ll go through why I think so, starting with the headmaster’s password.

Harry took Snape’s memories to the headmaster’s office and said, “Dumbledore!” without thinking, and the gargoyle let him through.  Until then, Harry and Snape had one shared password of sorts: Lily. When Harry saw Snape’s Patronus, without even knowing whose it was, it felt deeply familiar to him:  both Harry and Snape had been formed by love of the same person. We’ve just seen Harry spend a year struggling to work from Dumbledore’s instructions, sometimes losing faith.  The second shared password points us to the possibility that Snape has been going through the same struggles during the same year, in parallel. 

Remember how Harry raged against Dumbledore in Deathly Hallows?  Snape would have understood the feeling:

“Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don’t expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I’m doing, trust me even though I don’t trust you! Never the whole truth! Never!”

Remember Snape telling Dumbledore he might change his mind about killing him? “You refuse to tell me everything, yet you expect that small service of me!”  Dumbledore says, “You gave me your word, Severus.”

He was just as inexorable when Harry asked him in the cave, desperately, “Why can’t I drink the potion instead?”

“Because I am much older, much cleverer, and much less valuable,” said Dumbledore.  “Once and for all, Harry, do I have your word that you will do all in your power to make me keep drinking?”

For both Harry and Snape, when they keep their word to Dumbledore, what they get in return is Dumbledore’s gratitude that they have made him feel less alone, a rare experience for the most powerful wizard of the century at the end of his life.  When Dumbledore was weak from the poison in the cave, he said, “I am not worried, Harry. I am with you.” When Snape saved Dumbledore’s life from the curse in the ring, he said, “I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus.”

He asked them to help him in his weakest moments, called for them specifically to be with him through mortal peril and at his death, and they saw that this brought him comfort.  Dumbledore, asking for help for himself. They might have doubted his guidance in their own lives, but where Dumbledore’s needs were concerned, I have to think Harry and Snape must have realized, in time, that this meant Dumbledore loved them.

When Harry meets posthumous Dumbledore at King’s Cross, we see someone at peace:  “Happiness seemed to radiate from Dumbledore like light, like fire:  Harry had never seen the man so utterly, so palpably content.” Dumbledore mentions Voldemort’s obsession with the Elder Wand and says, “Poor Severus,” as though saddened but not self-recriminating, the way he sounds about Grindelwald or Ariana or Sirius.  At least in Harry’s vision, Dumbledore is content with how things have played out. How can he be content when the battle is still going on, Voldemort has not been defeated, and Harry has not yet made a choice to return and finish him off? The Dumbledore of Harry’s vision assures Harry that it’s up to him what to do next; there are no more directives from him.  This tells me something important about Dumbledore:

He cared more about keeping souls whole than winning the war.  It’s possible to read him as wanting to win the war against Voldemort above all things, and manipulating everyone ruthlessly into serving his plan, even if it meant deceiving them about their own lives.  But to me, this reading doesn’t seem right.

I remember feeling aghast, much as Harry did, when I first read in Half-Blood Prince that Dumbledore wanted Harry to agree to follow orders such as force-feeding him poison or saving himself and leaving Dumbledore to die.  I was appalled when Dumbledore said things like “Your blood is worth more than mine.” What? But Dumbledore is consistent in believing that only Harry is essential to win against Voldemort — not himself, not Snape.  It’s Harry’s fight, and his own job as a teacher is to do his flawed best to prepare Harry to fight it.

That goal can’t be dependent on a guaranteed victory in war.  Nobody can control that, especially when planning past their own deaths.  But Dumbledore can put all of his formidable teacher gifts toward guiding his students to take care of their souls.  It looks to me like he wanted that more than he wanted to impose his own posthumous agenda. This is the man who literally told Harry and Snape to kill him and make their own way! 

The contented Dumbledore of King’s Cross said, “Your soul is whole, and completely your own, Harry.”  In Rowling’s universe, as Hermione explains helpfully, “Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldn’t damage your soul at all.”  And the story of Dumbledore’s relationship with Snape is defined by the question:

“And my soul, Dumbledore?  Mine?”

Dumbledore and Snape have two different conversations about Snape’s soul.  The first begins with the not-entirely-reassuring words, “You alone know whether it will harm your soul” to kill Dumbledore.  That’s true, and it’s exactly what they need to consider, but this answer is not comforting

Much of “The Prince’s Tale” documents how Dumbledore tried to nudge Snape toward feeling remorse for the sake of his own soul.  It didn’t take. Year after year, whenever he checked to see if Snape could be honest about remorse for the life he had given Lily Potter’s child, the answer was no – Snape persisted in groundless bias, lying to himself that Harry was spoiled or craved notoriety to distract himself from the unbearable guilt of acknowledging that his long-ago hate crimes had led to Harry’s life as an abused orphan who is the number one target of a mass murderer.  As Hermione said, the pain of remorse can destroy you.

But when Dumbledore needed Snape to kill him, he hit upon the key for getting Snape to care for his own soul:  get Snape to do it for Dumbledore, not for his own sake.  We know that killing someone splits the soul and remorse is the only way to become whole again.  At first, Dumbledore tells Snape to kill him to spare Draco’s soul.  This makes it sound suspiciously like Dumbledore doesn’t think Snape’s soul matters as much.  The bravest man that Harry ever knew has the guts to ask what I think might be one of life’s hardest questions:  What about me?

The answer turns out to be unsparing, which is how we know it’s the right answer for Snape:  “You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation.”  Dumbledore brings up extremely plausible scenarios of what might happen if Death Eaters got their hands on him.  He’s rightly afraid.

So Snape is going to have to reintegrate his soul through remorse, the one thing that’s always been too difficult for him.

While Snape thinks about it, Dumbledore’s “blue eyes pierced Snape as they had frequently pierced Harry, as though the soul they discussed was visible to him.”  That’s a “look at me” moment. Dumbledore asks if Snape will be able to save his death, and the answer depends on both men seeing this tightly Occluded man for his truest self.

We humans can’t always take care of ourselves for our own sakes; it sometimes takes more than we have.  But we can do more than we thought possible when it’s to help someone else, if love is there.  This is not a bug; it’s a feature.  This is what makes love a powerful force.

That first conversation about Snape’s soul takes place after Dumbledore hurt his hand at the beginning of his last summer.  The second time is the following March, and Dumbledore’s answer shows character development that changes the story for me, and I think for them.

Snape asks Dumbledore, painfully, why he tells Harry secrets that he won’t entrust to Snape, and Dumbledore tries to explain that it’s not a matter of trust.  He can’t tell Snape he’s worried that Voldemort will kill him if he sees, through Legilimency, that Snape has learned about Horcruxes.  He misses the vulnerable jealousy in Snape’s question. Dumbledore is trying to get Snape to understand, instead, that Harry is a safer recipient for secrets because Voldemort will never possess Harry’s mind again:  “Lord Voldemort’s soul, maimed as it is, cannot bear close contact with a soul like Harry’s. Like a tongue on frozen steel, like flesh in flame —”

Is Dumbledore waxing poetic to Snape about the purity of Harry’s soul, again?  He is! Snape, with his world-class Occlumency, tries to get them back on track.

“Souls? We were talking of minds!”

Dumbledore does not take the hint.  He continues:

“In the case of Harry and Lord Voldemort, to speak of one is to speak of the other.  After you have killed me, Severus —“

Snape can’t take it anymore.

“You refuse to tell me everything, yet you expect that small service of me!” snarled Snape, and real anger flared in the thin face now. “You take a great deal for granted, Dumbledore! Perhaps I have changed my mind!”

It finally gets through to Dumbledore, who has been understandably preoccupied.  Snape knows Dumbledore loves pure Harry Potter; he’s asking if Dumbledore has come to love him, too, after Snape has given half his life to faithful service, putting himself in mortal danger for Dumbledore and pulling off feats of spycraft that no one else could.  You can’t plan to split your soul for someone and put yourself back together, alone, without love.

Dumbledore tells Snape to come to his office at the eleventh hour and reveals what he can about the final message to Harry, protecting Snape’s life by closing his eyes tightly while explaining anything that has to do with Horcruxes.  Snape is horrified and accuses Dumbledore of using him and Harry. Dumbledore finds this touching and asks if Snape has grown to care for Harry, and we know the complicated “no” Snape gives in reply:

“For him?  Expecto Patronum!

Dumbledore watches the silver doe fly out his window and his eyes fill with tears, after all this time.  There’s an immediate interpretation, one that’s never fully satisfied me: that Dumbledore is moved to see Snape’s devotion to Lily’s memory.  But there’s an additional one that resonates more for me, and I understand how this one would move Dumbledore to tears.

Snape had said to Dumbledore, “I thought…all these years…that we were protecting him for her.  For Lily.”

We.

All these years.

Dumbledore once tethered Snape to life with the words, “If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear.  Help me protect Lily’s son.”

It misses the mark, for me, to think that Snape’s demonstration of his doe Patronus indicated only a devotion to Lily’s memory.  I think there’s another answer right in front of us.  Snape once thought his life was worthless and finished, but Dumbledore saw a reason to offer him a second chance at life, if he had really loved Lily and could be guided by that love.  Snape accepted the offer because Dumbledore thought he might have something good left to give, something Snape didn’t see in himself at that time.

To point out the obvious:  Lily is dead. She’s at peace.  There’s nothing new for Snape there.  Dumbledore is the one who has been the inspiration for the second half of Snape’s life, engaging him with life-or-death work that challenges even this intensely gifted man.  This is a charged moment between Snape and Dumbledore. All the dangerous things Snape has done have not been because he has grown to care for the boy, but because he took Dumbledore’s directive to heart and still lives by it, as he demonstrates to Dumbledore with the sight of his luminous Patronus.  Of course Snape wants his extraordinary mentor to look at his soul, see its wholeness, and acknowledge that after all this time, Snape was worth a second chance.

When Harry once said he told Scrimgeour that he’s “Dumbledore’s man, through and through,” Dumbledore’s eyes watered and he could not speak, and Fawkes “let out a low, soft, musical cry.”  I think this exchange between Snape and Dumbledore, too, is a moment when Dumbledore learns that his life’s work of caring for his students’ souls has been worthwhile, despite his very many shortcomings.

Those are two of the three readings that led me to believe that the memory of Dumbledore empowered Snape in his last year:  Snape keeping his soul intact for Dumbledore’s sake rather than for his own, and Snape’s Patronus attesting to his love for Dumbledore as well as Lily.  The third comes during Snape’s memory of the long-lost second page of Lily’s letter, during the wrenching scene when he reintegrates his soul with remorse, leaving a trail for Harry in Sirius Black’s bedroom.

could ever have been friends with Gellert Grindelwald.  I think her mind’s going, personally! Lots of love, Lily.

I thought for years that Lily’s love was the only important thing on that page.

Then I realized that this letter was the first time Snape learned that Dumbledore, whose soul seemed surely more pure than Snape’s ugly, Dark-Marked soul, had once been Grindelwald’s friend.

Every crisis of faith that Harry goes through in Deathly Hallows regarding Dumbledore, Snape went through, too, during the same relentless year.  Harry felt growing fear at Rita Skeeter’s hints that Dumbledore “dabbled in the Dark Arts himself as a youth,” then shock as he read Skeeter’s biography and the incontrovertible proof, in Dumbledore’s own hand, that he had once been Grindelwald’s partner, ardent and fully invested, in plotting fascism.

Snape went through those realizations, too, at the same time.

The news about Dumbledore’s past, his former fascism and the death of Ariana, changed Snape’s perception of Dumbledore in a way that would have made Snape feel less alone, not more.

This put several things about Dumbledore in a different light where Snape was concerned.  His testimony to the Wizengamot that Snape “is now no more a Death Eater than I am.” His unwavering conviction, in the face of skepticism, that Snape’s change of heart was genuine and not an act.  His insistence on Snape, and no one else, to counter Dark Magic at Hogwarts: he recognized Snape as someone who understood how to fight Dark Magic because he knew what it took to cast it and he knew the greater power of wanting to reverse it.

So the times that Dumbledore had annoyed Snape by idealizing Harry Potter as pure of heart, he was comparing Harry favorably not to Snape but to himself.  We readers knew this, but Snape, always jealous of Dumbledore’s regard, had not, until he learned of Dumbledore’s past.

It made sense, too, of one of Snape’s least favorite parts of the cover story that Dumbledore invented for him as a double agent:  that he could not be trusted to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts because he might be tempted back to his old ways. There’s no evidence that Snape felt the slightest pull toward Dark Magic once he pledged himself to Dumbledore.  When Umbridge asked Snape, “Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused to appoint you?” he could not bring himself to mouth the lie, managing only to say, “I suggest you ask him.” But we saw in Crimes of Grindelwald where Dumbledore might have gotten the idea for this cover story.  He was once removed from the Defense post and knew, because he still saw Grindelwald in the Mirror of Erised, that he couldn’t be trusted with Dark Magic. 

Most of all, Snape’s understanding of Dumbledore’s guilt about his past gave new significance to the harshest words that Dumbledore speaks to anybody:  “You disgust me.” Dumbledore’s judgement of Snape, who sees nothing wrong with begging for Lily’s life in exchange for the lives of her husband and child, comes not from moral superiority but from recognition. 

Snape was an effective mentor for Draco because they both knew:  there was nothing disgusting Draco could do that Snape had not already done.  Snape was able to maintain that connection, that trust, by signaling: I know what you’ve done, and I am still here.

Knowing that Dumbledore, too, had once seen nothing wrong with letting people die for what he wanted would have given Snape a different understanding of the harsh words, “You disgust me.”  Dumbledore shared not only Snape’s self-loathing but his unresolved shame, and he remained close to Snape to the end of his life. 

Throughout the year that Snape was Headmaster, he kept the half of the letter that said Dumbledore had once been friends with Grindelwald.  It was evidence that the mentor who believed that Snape had it in him to revert all the way back to Dark Magic without harming his soul knew firsthand how much he was asking of Snape – knew it could be done and knew, from his own life, what kind of person a former fascist could become. 

The lesson of the Snape-Dumbledore relationship is learning how to make that happen.  Only someone who has managed this sort of change, someone who has the means to overpower others but knows not to attack, not to dominate, has the greatness to command the allegiance of the Elder Wand from Dumbledore.  This is the qualification that Dumbledore had in mind when he planned to pass the Elder Wand to Snape, what Grindelwald meant when he told Voldemort that the wand would never be his, and what Draco and Harry, who learned Expelliarmus from Snape, proved to have within them.

Voldemort kills Snape for possession of the Elder Wand.  That’s not how it was supposed to go. In King’s Cross, Harry asks:

“If you planned your death with Snape, you meant him to end up with the Elder Wand, didn’t you?”

“I admit that was my intention,” said Dumbledore, “but it did not work as I intended, did it?”

“No,” said Harry. “That bit didn’t work out.”

What did Dumbledore hope would happen, then? We know that in the Final Battle, when Harry and Voldemort cast Expelliarmus and Avada Kedavra at each other, the Elder Wand goes “spinning through the air toward the master it would not kill.” Dumbledore wanted the Elder Wand to recognize the mercy and protectiveness in Snape’s Killing Curse and transfer allegiance to Snape, quietly, without Snape having to lay a hand on it.  He expected Voldemort might violate his tomb and take the wand, but he had hoped that any spell Voldemort cast against Snape with it would fail because the Elder Wand would not kill its master.

Dumbledore also knew he could trust Snape to be the rightful owner of the Elder Wand because with all powerful magical objects, Snape handles them without greed, not for personal gain but to protect others. In his third year, Harry saw that his Invisibility Cloak, one of the Deathly Hallows, worked perfectly for Snape because Snape was using it in the belief that he would protect children from murderers. Dumbledore, in contrast, says he once borrowed the Cloak from Harry’s father “out of vain curiosity, and so it could never have worked for me as it works for you, its true owner.” The sword of Gryffindor cannot be owned but presents itself of its own volition to worthy Gryffindors, yet it permitted Snape to handle it. 

Dumbledore planned not to tell Snape about the Elder Wand for two reasons: it wouldn’t be safe and it wouldn’t be necessary. He didn’t want Voldemort to learn of Snape’s ownership through Legilimency and kill him. He also knew Snape would be a worthy owner, a Master of Death, whether or not he was conscious of owning a Deathly Hallow. In the “King’s Cross” chapter, the Dumbledore in Harry’s vision says he has found that “perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.”

But the flaw in the plan was that Dumbledore didn’t foresee Draco casting Expelliarmus, choosing the defensive spell Snape ingrained into him rather than the violence his father or Voldemort had groomed him to use.  Dumbledore had never been able to turn either Tom Riddle or Snape away from Dark Magic when they were students, but he lived long enough to see that Snape’s teaching reached Draco.

We can’t go back in time, but if we get a second chance, we can learn from the past and do better.  Dumbledore and Snape had their own history, reaching back to Dumbledore’s mishandling of the murder attempt on Snape as a student, but together, they did better for Draco and Harry.

There’s no way to know what might have happened if Dumbledore had had a mentor’s guidance when he met Grindelwald, or if Dumbledore had reached out to Snape when he was nearly killed rather than compounding his trauma by swearing him to silence and letting the Marauders go unpunished.  It’s not that anyone owed them such connections in order to prevent them from joining fascists – neither of them had any business joining hate movements anyway. But the lack of such connections didn’t help. Twenty years, a hundred years later, both Dumbledore and Snape tried to learn from their mistakes for Draco and Harry. 

Dumbledore’s gag order about the Marauders’ Prank contributed to the estrangement between Snape and Lily.  When Snape tried to warn her against the Marauders, she said, “You’re being really ungrateful. I heard what happened the other night.  You went sneaking down that tunnel by the Whomping Willow, and James Potter saved you from whatever’s down there –” That must have been galling for Snape, to be unable to defend himself and explain what had really happened.  But he kept his word to Dumbledore.

We see Dumbledore doing better for Harry at the beginning of sixth year, surprising him with the advice to tell Ron and Hermione about the contents of the prophecy:  “I think they ought to know. You do them a disservice by not confiding something this important to them. You need your friends, Harry.”

Dumbledore also learned from the “fiasco” of assigning Snape to teach Harry Occlumency instead of doing it himself.  There has to be mutual trust. The hostility between Snape and Harry doomed the lessons and Sirius died for it. The following school year, after Draco took the Dark Mark, Dumbledore charged Snape with keeping an eye on him instead of trying to do it himself.

When Draco nearly died from Sectumsempra, Snape enacted what he had learned from the mishandling of his own near-death.  He healed Draco immediately, “told the staff precisely what had happened,” commanded Harry to hand over his spellbook, and assigned Harry heavy detentions, with McGonagall’s full backing.  His quick action prevented Draco’s wounds from scarring and did something equivalent for Harry. Snape dragged the truth about the spellbook out of Harry, even if Harry denied it and hid the book itself.  It was no longer Harry’s uneasy secret, and as a result, it wouldn’t fester and cause him guilt, the way Slughorn’s secret memory of the Horcrux conversation tormented him. The severe detentions drove home the gravity of what had almost happened, but more importantly, they allowed Harry to serve his penalties and then walk free, lesson learned, with gratitude for the close call.  As Dumbledore said to Ginny at the end of Chamber of Secrets, “There has been no lasting harm done.” 

Through the openness of his actions, Snape turned Harry’s heedless use of Dark Magic into something Forgivable, forgiven.  Snape took the shame out of it for Harry and laid on the accountability. Harry and Draco were still underage at that point, by weeks, and Snape was an adult who took care of them.

Regret and accountability were part of the spell that Snape sang to heal Draco’s wounds.  Only someone who had cast this Dark Magic spell in the past and then regretted it would know how to heal it, and Snape’s magic had the extra power of his grief that his own long-ago inventions were still causing harm, hurting this child whom he had sworn to protect.  Draco has been pushing Snape away all year, yet when he was in danger, Snape’s protective response was absolute: I came as soon as I could.  I’ve got you. I’m here.  It’s in Snape’s nature to be where he’s needed, but in this case, Draco knows that this protection was doubly assured by his mother’s love. 

Snape agreed to Narcissa’s Unbreakable Vow.  He believed Draco was worth dying for, even after knowing every disgusting thing Draco had done as a Death Eater.  He reversed the curse wounds and Draco experienced that magic reversal in his very blood. Snape is the only other person at Hogwarts who can pass through the barrier that requires a Dark Mark and he can take Draco back out with him again.

There was no way that Dumbledore and Snape could have guaranteed that Snape watching over Draco would have the slightest effect.  But with the life debt to Snape in his blood, the first moment in a year that Draco had experienced healing rather than the mounting terror of Voldemort toying with him, Draco breached Dumbledore’s tower with Expelliarmus rather than attack so they could talk, in case Draco heard any cause for hope there other than killing Dumbledore. 

Dumbledore’s plan for the Elder Wand was for ownership to pass untouched to whoever defeated Dumbledore with magic intended to protect others rather than to harm, the only kind of magic powerful enough to command the Elder Wand’s allegiance.  He didn’t foresee that their care for Draco would work so well that given the option, Draco would choose disarmament and confession and hope for a second chance. That Draco did so is a gift to his teachers, whether or not he would eventually go on to renounce Dark Magic.

Draco’s Expelliarmus gave Dumbledore a moment to immobilize Harry so he could invisibly witness the exchange.  Harry saw Draco lower his wand and for the first time, mixed in with despising Draco, he gained a drop of pity that strengthened his understanding of his enemy.  Dumbledore made that happen before he died.

When Harry was about to die, he summoned the memories of his parents, Sirius, and Remus to strengthen him.  When Snape was about to die, he drew strength from thinking of Dumbledore.

In the Shrieking Shack, Voldemort tells Snape that he has violated Dumbledore’s tomb and stolen the Elder Wand.  In reaction, “Snape’s face was like a death mask. It was marble white and so still that when he spoke, it was a shock to see that anyone lived behind the blank eyes.”

With the words “death mask” and “marble white,” Rowling is calling back to the image of Dumbledore in his white marble tomb.  The blankness of Snape’s face shows that he is Occluding Voldemort as hard as he has ever Occluded in his life, hiding his reaction to the news of this desecration.  Together, I think these things show that Snape is grieving for his friend. As we learned from Harry, grief can Occlude: “Just as Voldemort had not been able to possess Harry while Harry was consumed with grief for Sirius, so his thoughts could not penetrate Harry now, while he mourned Dobby. Grief, it seemed, drove Voldemort out . . . though Dumbledore, of course, would have said that it was love. . . .”

Snape kept himself alive until Harry arrived, ensuring that Harry would be the last thing he ever saw.  Dumbledore did the same thing, keeping himself alive until Snape arrived so that Snape could be the last thing he saw.  Dumbledore didn’t want to die looking at Bellatrix or Fenrir Greyback or frightened little Draco Malfoy. He wanted to look into the eyes of someone who would take care of him and look after everything he worried about, so he could rest in peace.  He asked Snape to be the most important person in his death. Snape agreed, and he kept his word.

I find it moving to imagine their portraits next to each other.  I like to think about their mutual respect, and awe, and gratitude.  I think they would bicker, too, and be sarcastic the way they only ever were with each other.  I like to think of McGonagall working with their portraits behind her, making her even more intimidating.  I think she enjoys their company, silences them when she has to, and she knows, at last, that they’d both always deserved her trust.

 

Rough notes on Discussing HP in 2019

At MISTI-Con 2019, Irvin Khaytman (author of The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore) and I conducted a conversation on “Discussing HP in 2019,” during a time when fandom is grappling with a number of contentious issues.  Our actual discussion went differently, and I don’t have notes for Irvin’s half of it, but here are some of the rough notes I prepared ahead of the panel.


 

I have feelings about J.K. Rowling, about Cursed Child and the Pottermore Presents extras and Fantastic Beasts.  They’re probably different from your feelings.  I don’t know how, and won’t know unless I ask and I listen with as much fairness as I can, but they are.  I also know that if I listen to other people explain their feelings, I’ll probably want to talk about mine, and they might not be as evolved as I think they are.  Feelings about stories can be potent and based on deeply personal reactions.  In that sense, there’s something sacred to be honored within everyone’s feelings, and that makes this kind of conversation tricky.  I’m going to talk about a few strategies I’ve used to try to reduce discomfort and increase understanding.

One fan’s trash is another fan’s treasure

This is something I learned from the BBC Sherlock fandom.  I learned not to call something “garbage” when I hated it, because I found out too many times that I had hurt people who loved that thing or that character – sometimes for reasons I could never have imagined.  I learned to ask why people love what they love.

Know who is hearing you

Last month, I saw people discussing anti-trans things J.K. Rowling has said, worried that this means they should avoid downloading Wizards Unite or boycott the Wizarding World theme parks or stop writing fanfic in her universes, even though they wanted to.

If boycotting feels right to you, go for it.  But sometimes we don’t want to give up something, even when there are serious issues, because something about it gives us energy and joy and community.  In those cases, I think it’s absolutely worth it to hang on.  A few dollars more or less from me might make a difference to Warner Brothers.  But those few dollars will make a difference if I use them to support books by trans authors, or queer creators, or people of color.  If you buy a book, that author will feel the $1.65 royalty they get from you.  If you can afford it, give someone a dollar a month on Patreon so they can be supported in getting the content out there that you know we deserve.  Borrow books from the library and then recommend them on social media, or circulate recommendations whenever the topic comes up.  This is something you can do, it’s empowering, and it reaches people who can actually hear you.

Definitely vote with your wallet and get your objections out there.  But I believe in a dual track of action that also focuses on ways to direct our energy that can build community and nourish us.  It combats burnout.

Recognize that the story hasn’t changed; it’s the reader

I was appalled when I reread the Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson in Prisoner of Azkaban and recognized that Lupin coaching a class of third-years to mock Snape by imagining him in an old lady dress is a move that has anti-trans bullying in it.  It was uncomfortable because I remember laughing.  I remember loving a lot of passages that make me uncomfortable now.  I have to recognize that my perspective changes with age or greater awareness.  But I also try to recall that I actively made peace with some disturbing aspects of Harry Potter when I was younger – it was just so long ago that I don’t always remember it.  The anti-fat hatred, especially bad in the beginning of Chamber of Secrets:  many readers at the time went through a whole process of confronting it in this author and making decisions about whether to continue in the fandom or not.  Sometimes, when we’re confronted by the newness of Cursed Child or Fantastic Beasts, we remember the seven-book series as a monolith of goodness.  That’s not how we experienced them at the time.  There were serious shortcomings in them that we hashed out as a community through years of hiatus and re-readings.

This author specializes in the joy of re-reading

The first time I read the script for Cursed Child, I wasn’t sure what to think.  Every subsequent time I’ve read it, I’ve seen something new, and the more seriously I took it as literature, the more I got out of it.  It took me years to figure out a lot of things about the original series.  So Voldemort was present at Hogwarts for all of Harry’s first year?  What was Dumbledore’s plan for Snape and the Elder Wand?  Why, exactly, was Slughorn on the run from the Death Eaters?  What did Snape think Lupin was trying to do to Harry during book three?

Nobody has to reread Cursed Child, but if you’re at all curious, I encourage it.  There are things you can only get from re-readings.  I have never fully understood a story from this author on the first reading.  That’s what makes her a good writer in the first place and why her stories stay with people.  Cursed Child may have been written by Jack Thorne, but the layers in the story and the hints indicated by the wordplay reward re-reading in a way that feels familiar.

The soul of the story

Studies have shown that reading Harry Potter increases people’s empathy toward other groups, even groups that aren’t mentioned within Potterverse, such as gay people or refugees.

Many readers feel distress when Rowling fails to live up to the standards she taught in her own books:  for example, in her treatment of Native American cultures and religions in the Ilvermorny backstory.  I’ve seen what feels almost like self-blame on the part of fans who recoil from that kind of prejudice, but still feel a profound love for books that will always be a part of them.

Two years ago, I was part of a panel at Readercon called “The soul of the story,” moderated by Cecilia Tan.

The soul of the Harry Potter universe is love in its many manifestations, such as infant thriving, physical growth, grief, and empathy.  The flawed human author can convey the soul of the story without being any more able to live up to it than the rest of us. This explains why examinations of race and sexual identity thrive in HP fandom despite the author’s clumsy handling of such issues:  fans are responding to the soul of the story, not the text, and acknowledging the difference.

Rowling’s writing has always reflected her demographic:  white British Christian cishet educated woman, married with children.  I get the sense, sometimes, that some people worry that in order to be principled people, when they recognize an author’s biases, they must give up something they once loved and still do.  To this, I say:  if your interest naturally moves on, that is one thing.  But if you actively feel love, honor that and treasure it, and never be ashamed that you responded to the soul of the story and recognized that this is a different thing from the particulars of the story and the author’s limitations.

It can feel personal when Rowling fails to reach her own standards.  Especially if you read Harry Potter in your formative years and it influenced your sense of empathy and justice, you associate with these books a feeling of learning, of virtue, of how to be a loving person.  It can feel like Rowling personally lets us down when she falls short.  Dumbledore talks about something like that, when he says that being rather more clever than most people, the effects of his mistakes are “correspondingly huger.”  It helps me sometimes to keep in mind that it’s an artist’s gift to be able to convey a soulful truth that may be beyond their personal ability to achieve.

Death of the author doesn’t apply when the author is alive and still writing

I have heard the argument that once released, a story belongs only to the readers and not at all to the person who wrote it and continues to write it.  I’ve heard people argue that everyone in the world has the right to make more stories in the Harry Potter universe except the person who created it, who should be stopped.  I don’t understand those arguments or how people imagine they can be enforced.  Short of censorship and totalitarian control, we cannot stop a writer from continuing her work.  It’s on us to handle the weight of the authority of her words in ways we can actually control.  Irvin has his approach; I have mine, of viewing this influential author’s output as an ongoing work in progress and part of a larger cultural phenomenon that includes fan works.

What would you do if you were her beta?

Sometimes my friends or I are frustrated or angered by something a powerful author has written.  In those instances, one of my ways of restoring a feeling of my own power is to ask myself and others:  How would you mark up her writing and talk to her if she were your beloved friend and you were her beta?  Someone whose friendship you very much intend to keep?  It’s one thing to rant and rail, but if you know there will never be an answer, yet you still have feelings, at some point, I feel like you have to turn the rant into something more self-nourishing.

The point of thinking what constructive advice you would give as her beta is not, of course, that you will send her your thoughts and she will thank you and make all the changes you suggest.  The point is to turn the frustration into productive critical thinking that will absolutely benefit you in your own work, whether it’s your writing or your confidence in giving feedback to others.

Why I find HP worthwhile

A question during the hiatus before Deathly Hallows was whether HP would go on to be a classic, or whether it would be a soon-forgotten fad.  I find it exciting to track how these stories are transitioning right now into second-generation readership.  I find Potterverse incredibly useful for teaching how to read clues and layers, something I think is continuing with Cursed Child and the Fantastic Beasts series.

It still astonishes me that a woman became a billionaire by writing books for children.  That kind of wealth usually happens through exploitation and oppression, not from telling stories.  For something to become a bestseller, it has to speak to something emotional within people.  For something to become an international bestseller, across cultures, it’s an important phenomenon that tells us something important about being human at this moment.

Notes on Claudia Kim’s Nagini

I was honored to be part of the keynote panel at MISTI-Con 2019 alongside Bayana Davis, Constance Gibbs, and Lawrence Neals, “Evanesco Representation, Accio Inclusion:  Diversity in Harry Potter.”  Moderator Robyn Jordan of Black Girls Create sent out questions in advance.  Here are the answers I prepared to a couple of those questions.


I’m going to focus on my love for Claudia Kim’s portrayal of Nagini in Fantastic Beasts:  The Crimes of Grindelwald.

On September 25 of last year, they announced her character’s name.  Here is my five-item tweet as soon as I found out:

 

A Korean woman in Potterverse! *instant identification*

  1. Neville killed me, oh noes
  2. “milk Nagini” GROSSSSSS
  3. Impersonating Bathilda Bagshot’s corpse? That was a lot to ask of a snake!
  4. Ugh, I had to eat Charity Burbage
  5. OH MY GOD I ATE SNAPE

 

That was a fun morning.

I followed Claudia Kim’s Instagram with the video of her at a press event, saying, “I’m Nagini!  I’m blushing.”  She posted about running to watch Chamber of Secrets when it was on TV and captioned a screenshot of innocent little Neville with “Neville!  Ahhhh!” and a scared-face emoji and a snake emoji.  On her posts about the character, she wrote, “I love you, Nagini!”

Then I saw some of the backlash against the casting and storyline.

I tried looking through the arguments again for this panel, and they were so hurtful, I had to stop.  Many of the objections struck me as unintentionally racist, even though they were from people who seemed to think of themselves as allies.

After all that, when the movie was released, I liked Nagini in it.  I loved her two deleted scenes from the DVD and wish that both of hers had been kept in.  I know Nagini is not written as Korean, but she feels very Korean to me.

1.     What has been your experience as a non-white Harry Potter fan?

Some people objected to showing an Asian woman with such a tragic backstory or so unempowered, subservient to a white man.  One viral tweet said something sarcastic about Nagini not being a “strong independent female character.”  This confused me because this is Voldemort we’re talking about, right?  Who possessed people and killed babies?  Within a universe where magical people commonly have magical familiars, including Wormtail pretending to be a rat.  This fandom has handled tragic stories like Sirius losing 12 years to wrongful imprisonment and Regulus sacrificing himself as a teen with no guarantee it would work — and that was in the children’s version of this story.  The adult version, Fantastic Beasts, is about the treatment of humans and beasts — about “freaks” and “underbeings.”

Nagini’s story seems to fit right in, to me.  Is the Asian woman somehow not allowed to have a role in this story about the prejudices that led to World War II?

Here is what I really hear:

This role should have gone to a white woman for the comfort of viewers who are uneasy with the images in their own heads of Asian women.

What I hear is:  People were happier when there was no Korean woman in Potterverse.  They don’t want us if it makes them feel uncomfortable.

What “strong, independent” narrative for a Korean woman in 1927 would these critics suggest?  How do they want us to be for their approval?  Because we have an example like that, with its own issues, in Seraphina Picquery, who seems to be the only black woman holding high office in magical New York, and yet somehow she’s president.  The white characters in Fantastic Beasts have some degree of real-life historical context, but this black female character doesn’t seem to.

Some people objected to making an Asian woman into a “slave.”

Don’t people who died while enslaved by others deserve to have their stories told?

Some people objected that a character identified as Indonesian should not be played by a Korean actress.  I can see that.  But here’s how I saw that play out in real time:

A Korean actress joined the Potterverse, turned in a performance about resisting dehumanization and escaping trafficking, and then faced criticism, even mockery, on the press tour.  It made my stomach hurt to watch her go through that.  I’ve had the visceral experience of entering the room as the only Asian woman and feeling waves of disapproval, murmurs that my presence has turned something into a disaster for reasons that have nothing to do with my worth or my performance, with nothing I can do to fix it, only that they didn’t want a Korean woman there.

I hope more people take a minute to see more of the character Claudia Kim created.  I liked Nagini in the movie, but I loved her in her two beautiful deleted scenes with Ezra Miller.  They’re on the DVD extras — meaning the fullness of her character felt relegated to the margins.  They’re clearly lovers in those scenes.  In one, she encourages him to release his Obscurus peacefully and proves that it can pass through her without harm.  In the other, he sees the skin on her hand turning scaly and he kisses it.  They’re about the core of this Fantastic Beasts story.

2.    What are some examples of how the quest for representation negatively impacts true inclusion and equity?

I believe there were Korean fans recoiling from the thought that the first time a Korean body is represented in the wizarding world, it’s in a degraded status as a doomed young woman.  I can see that it might be better to be safely invisible to this Western film franchise, as usual, than to be portrayed on an international stage according to stereotype and fetish.  There’s plenty of Korean media doing a better job of projecting the image that Koreans want represented to the world.

There’s a different Korean narrative going on there, though, one that I can’t imagine was intended by Rowling and Yates, who created Nagini as Indonesian.

What was going on in Korea in 1927?  For one thing, there was no Korea.  Korea was brutally colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945, and that included slavery and trafficking of Korean girls on a massive scale.  Japanese schoolteachers were recruited to select victims from Korea’s most established families in a deliberate move to demoralize and destroy the culture, similar to the Lestrange storyline with the Kama family.  This issue was silenced for decades and it remains unresolved and a source of diplomatic conflict between Japan and Korea.  A few of the survivors are still alive.  A lot of them never told their own husbands and children.

For its many flaws, Fantastic Beasts is an international story about the oppressions that led to World War II.  The two films we’ve seen so far have been about the stories that those places don’t want to acknowledge:  witch hunts and politicized capital punishment in the U.S., racism and colonialism in France.  I can understand not trusting Rowling and Warner Brothers to tell the story of Korean women during that time.  However.

It is a destructive trap to hold that it’s somehow wrong or improper to tell in public the stories of Korean women who endured slavery and trafficking in the first half of the 20th century.  We’re not the only ones that happened to – not even in this movie series – and the survivors and their younger generations continue to pay the cost, like a blood curse.  Shame and silence only lead to more damage, with the greatest burden on the people who have suffered most already.  This is part of the global story that Fantastic Beasts is telling about then and about now.

Granger Leadership Academy 2019: Hogwarts House comments

Hello, alums of Granger Leadership Academy 2019!  Thank you to those who were part of our discussion on March 23, “The Functional, Thriving Activist.”  A few people have asked about the descriptions of ourselves, by House, that some fellow volunteers and I came up with when we were figuring out effective ways to work together.  Here are the notes I was using.


Hogwarts Houses:  Manage Your Volunteer Group Through the Magic of Sorting

I’m part of a volunteer group that has used our Hogwarts House affiliations to help us figure out good ways to work together while recognizing each other’s strengths and personalities.  We got the idea to do this after an incident when our group was mocked publicly by people doing similar work.  We had to discuss whether to respond and how.  This is the kind of thing I recall us saying, greatly paraphrased.  Can you guess the Hogwarts House of each speaker?

  • “I know I shouldn’t do this, but I really want to start an anonymous account and point out all the stuff theydo wrong.  I used to like them, but now I want to beat them.  Our next project will be so good, it’ll be their worst nightmare.  I don’t care how long it takes, I won’t rest until it’s perfect.”
  • “This makes me so angry.  I want to call them out on it.  Who cares if it burns bridges?  Anyone who’d side with them, I don’t want on my side anyway.  They’re being such jerks.”
  • “Honestly, I think we should take the high road.  I hate confrontation.  My stomach is in knots.”
  • “I strongly recommend a P.R. tactic of making no acknowledgment.  If we argue, people won’t care who was right or wrong; they’ll dislike us both.  We’ll just go on letting our work speak for itself.”

After several discussions where we were amused to find how predictable all of our responses were, some of us began to use our House affiliations as shorthand.  Others in our group had not Sorted themselves before and asked us to help them figure it out.  There were two reasons they wanted to do this as a group discussion rather than, say, taking the Sorting quiz on Pottermore:  It was a fun way for us to get to know each other, and online Sorting quizzes have a fundamental shortcoming.  You can answer a bunch of questions and get a result that still doesn’t feel like you.  But the Sorting Hat of the stories looks into your head, sees you, and then engages you in a dialogue about yourself and what you find important.  You have both the experience of recognition and the element of choice, of self-identification, which is a combination that makes the Sorting powerful magic.  Talking about ourselves with fellow volunteers, hearing what they thought our House should be, and why, and then identifying ourselves — that process comes closer to being Sorted by the hat.

In the climactic battle of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, there’s a moment when Harry thinks “help me,” and then Fawkes the phoenix appears with the Sorting Hat.  Harry jams the hat on his head and the Sword of Gryffindor clunks out of it.  Later, Dumbledore tells him that only a true Gryffindor could have pulled the sword out of the hat.  I’ve suggested to people that when Harry thinks “help me,” the Sorting Hat is a way of saying, “Help is coming…but who are you? What kind of help would work for you?”  Pulling the sword out of the hat doesn’t mean that Harry has proven himself worthy or that being a Gryffindor is better than anything else.  It means that the Sorting Hat is something that can help you look inside yourself and know what it would take for you to get your brain un-jammed.

If you’re someone like Harry, and a surge of adrenaline can help you overcome your numbness and fear to do what you must, then the sword of Gryffindor might come from the hat.  If you’re like me, a mess in crisis until there’s a chance to think, the hat might give you Ravenclaw’s diadem.  If you’re a Slytherin, maybe the hat would give you Slytherin’s locket and you would remember, “I will survive this.  I know I will eventually survive this,” and that would get you through.  If you’re a Hufflepuff, maybe Hufflepuff’s cup would remind you that even if you’re in mortal danger, you’re fighting for what’s just and right, for humble things that belong to everyone, and that will keep you going.

It’s not a test or a judgment.  It’s just a scan to see how you’re wired and give you the help that will reach you.

Here are some things that members of our group found about how we work together, according to House.  It’s only based on the few of us, so other people from these Houses might be entirely different!  But we found these things helpful to keep in mind.

Gryffindors:  Tons of energy, willing to listen and change their minds, sometimes chafe at apologizing for the sake of diplomacy rather than right or wrong, tend to be angry and self-righteous but will withdraw to think about things when asked to.

Ravenclaws:  We can change our minds when presented with evidence or persuasive cost/benefit analysis.  Emphasize that emotional cost to the group and to the public image is a factor just as much as pure logic.  Sometimes have to be talked down from overambitious, overly detailed projects. But if we say we’ll do a huge project on our own, let us.  Always communicate with us; silence makes us panic.

Hufflepuffs:  Exclusion or hierarchy seem to be missing the bigger picture to Hufflepuffs.  Hufflepuffs remind me of the gold light connecting the phoenix feather wands:  they tend to focus on ways that we are all the same at the core.  There is a drawback to this perspective, though.  The Hufflepuffs I know can’t always believe that others feel genuinely differently from how they do.  This can be an issue in activism when dealing with true evil, so Hufflepuffs have to be careful about that.

Slytherins:  Expect to be misunderstood.  Expect to have the worst assumed about them and therefore sometimes give up before they should.  Their hurt can look standoffish or superior.  It’s not; that’s their defense.  Often, they have good motives mistaken for bad.  Most sensitive of the Houses.

Ways we help each other out, by type

Based on these findings, we adjusted our approach to each personality type to help ourselves function more smoothly as a group.  Our goal was to see and accommodate everyone so spirits stayed high and so did creativity, output, and enjoyment of working with each other.

Slytherins:  We took seriously that slights wounded them deeply, even if they were too proud to show it — open acknowledgment worked better for them than telling them to get over it or rise above it.  They may not look it, but they need protectiveness most of all.

Gryffindors:  To save themselves and the rest of us, they suggested instituting a 24-hour policy before acting on any heated matter.  During that time, as many of us as possible would chime in, and the Gryffindors could reassess with cooler heads.  They themselves proposed this.

Hufflepuffs:  They warned us that they sometimes err too far on the side of people-pleasing, to their own regret.  Through this group, I learned something about Hufflepuffs:  they’re the most likely to keep quiet about their own discomfort.  They’re the most likely to get physically ill from holding it in.  They’re afraid they’re unimportant or being silly, or feel they ought to get over things privately, so they just keep their heads down and work even harder.  So by the time they finally do speak out, they’ve been dwelling on their grievances for much longer and it’s harder to get through to them.  We made a concerted effort to encourage the Hufflepuffs to state their misgivings early, early, early.  We had to make a note of it to ask them directly.  Sometimes, if it made things easier for them, we encouraged them to email one person privately first so they didn’t silence themselves for fear of whining.

Ravenclaws:  We tend to think that more information is better and have to be told when more is just overwhelming.  We go nuts when people aren’t communicating.  Uncertainty or incomplete information feel intolerable to us; it’s better to spell things out for us, just so we’re clear, rather than assuming we will “get the hint” or “everyone’s on the same page.”  Sometimes we change our minds and decide to contribute more work, even after we’ve said no, if we’re accidentally allowed to overhear how other people are doing things.

 

Strategies based on our strengths

Gryffindors are amazing at leading the charge, especially when things are going well.  We call on them to be our visionaries.  They are fairly low maintenance but do require pep talks and respond well to them.

Slytherins are amazing at strategy and energy when things are not going well.  They like to come from behind.  They are motivated by competitiveness and pure vengeance, both hot and cold.  Calls to their competitiveness to be more productive are a win-win and improved their morale and feeling of affection for team members.  Our Slytherins are the ones who are determined to top themselves every year, at risk to their own health, or who drop everything when there’s a hit to our community to produce a masterpiece of scholarship and refutation.

Hufflepuffs really do take on the thankless grunt work.  They have an attitude of “Someone’s got to do it” — they can’t let things fail.  The rest of us try to even things out by recognizing what they’re doing and identifying everything they don’t like to do so we can chip in and take care of the rest of it before they overwork themselves.  The Hufflepuffs in our group produce breathtaking things — but they can’t relax to produce them if they worry that there’s something important going undone.

Ravenclaws are good at editing.  We can do it precisely and without sentiment.  We can pinpoint what’s important and what can go.  This makes us good for PR.  We have good memories for what has caused controversy in the past, we can reframe, and we can also judge when to change a good policy because it’s too emotionally costly to some members of our group.

 

“And my soul, Dumbledore?”:  The Snape-Dumbledore Relationship

Note:  Dear good people, do not do what I did.  Do not throw out everything you prepared for writing a 20-minute talk on the day before the talk is scheduled because you’ve just realized that there’s something you really have to write about, so you have to scrap everything and start over.  That was not a pleasant 24 hours.  I do not recommend that experience and hope not to repeat it.

At any rate, here is what I ended up delivering at the Harry Potter Conference of Chestnut Hill College on October 19, 2018.


Welcome to the talk that I titled weeks ago, optimistically, “‘And my soul, Dumbledore?  The Snape-Dumbledore Relationship.”

My name is Lorrie Kim.  I’ve been writing about the Harry Potter series for over ten years, including a book called Snape:  A Definitive Reading that goes through the series from Snape’s point of view.  In July, I read my friend Irvin Khaytman’s book The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, which examines Dumbledore’s character through the series.  I thought I was ready to talk about Snape’s relationship with Dumbledore.

Yesterday, I threw out what I had already prepared and wrote these rough comments, based on words in Deathly Hallows that I first read eleven years and countless rereads ago but did not fully notice until Tuesday, something that had been sitting in plain sight until I was ready to understand its import and start making fresh connections.

And this is the magic that keeps me coming back to Harry Potter analysis.  There’s something new every time.  I hope you can forgive the rawness of these thoughts and accept, in lieu of polish, the excitement that comes of new ideas whenever we gather to discuss this story that still has fresh surprises for us.

This is the passage I read afresh on Tuesday.  We’re back in Grimmauld Place, tears dripping from the ends of our noses as we read the second page of Lily’s letter:

could ever have been friends with Gellert Grindelwald.  I think her mind’s going, personally!  Lots of love, Lily.

In 2016, I wrote about that passage:  “At last, we see what was on the missing second page.  Not much.  She couldn’t believe that a good man like Dumbledore could have been friends with the evil Grindelwald.  And then – oh.  Her love.  That’s what was on the second page.”  I went on to discuss this scene as the moment that Snape, who has just split his soul by killing his mentor, reintegrates it by experiencing remorse for destroying the family life of a one-year-old child– the one time in this series that Rowling shows us a character undergoing this excruciating process that is so painful it could destroy you.

I still stand by my 2016 reading that we were witnessing remorse.

I do not still stand by my words, “Not much.”  Because on Tuesday, it occurred to me that this moment is the first time Snape learns that Dumbledore, whose soul seemed surely more pure than Snape’s ugly, Dark-Marked soul, had once been Grindelwald’s friend.

Every crisis of faith that Harry goes through in Deathly Hallows regarding Dumbledore, Snape went through, too, during the same time, on even less information and assurance than Harry.

Remember Harry’s reaction upon reading Elphias Doge’s eulogy of Dumbledore in the Daily Prophet, which was published a few days after Snape went to Grimmauld Place?

He had never thought to ask Dumbledore about his past. No doubt it would have felt strange, impertinent even, but after all, it had been common knowledge that Dumbledore had taken part in that legendary duel with Grindelwald, and Harry had not thought to ask Dumbledore what that had been like.

And then remember Harry’s “revulsion and fury” when he read Rita Skeeter’s hints that Dumbledore “dabbled in the Dark Arts himself as a youth,” and it had to do with Grindelwald.  Harry’s growing fears about Dumbledore as he camped in the wilderness, no Horcruxes in sight, and then the shock as he read Skeeter’s biography and the incontrovertible proof, in Dumbledore’s own young adult hand, that he had once been Grindelwald’s partner, ardent and fully invested, in plotting fascism.

Snape went through those realizations, too, at the same time.

This was Harry’s agony as he learned of Dumbledore’s past:

“Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don’t expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I’m doing, trust me even though I don’t trust you! Never the whole truth! Never!”

Well.

We get few glimpses into Snape’s thoughts during his final year, but sometimes it’s not difficult to hazard a guess.

Parts of Snape’s situation were different from Harry’s.  He didn’t have any confidants; he had to process this information alone.  He had far less reason than Harry to believe that Dumbledore had loved him.  He didn’t hear Aberforth’s account of the story.

Unlike Harry, who responded to Hermione’s attempt to minimize Dumbledore’s friendship with Grindelwald as “a few months one summer when they were both really young” by retorting, “They were the same age as we are now.  And here we are, risking our lives to fight the Dark Arts,” the news about Dumbledore’s past, his former fascism and the death of Ariana, changed Snape’s perception of Dumbledore in a way that made Snape less alone, not more.

This news put several things about Dumbledore in a different light where Snape was concerned.  His testimony to the Wizengamot that Snape “is now no more a Death Eater than I am.”  His unwavering conviction, in the face of skepticism, that Snape’s change of heart was genuine and not an act.  His gratitude when Snape was able to halt the damage to his hand from the ring Horcrux:  “I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, to have you.”  His insistence on Snape, and only Snape, to counter Dark Magic at Hogwarts:  as long as Dumbledore had Snape, he was not alone as someone who understood how to cast Dark Magic and therefore how to fight it, understood both its appeal and how to resist it.

So the times that Dumbledore had annoyed Snape by idealizing Harry Potter as pure of heart, he was comparing Harry favorably not to Snape but to himself.  We readers knew this, but Snape, always jealous of Dumbledore’s affection for Potters father and son, had not, until he learned of Dumbledore’s past.

Most of all, Snape’s understanding of Dumbledore’s guilt about his past gave new significance to the harshest words that Dumbledore speaks to anybody:  “You disgust me.”  The moment that Dumbledore judges Snape, who sees nothing wrong with begging for Lily’s life in exchange for the lives of her husband and child, is a judgment that comes not from moral superiority but from recognition.  And that resonates with a familiar theme in J.K. Rowling’s writing:  the sentiment, “You cannot despise me more than I despise myself.”  Even her kindest characters speak with venom when feeling defensive and self-loathing.

Undeniably, Snape caused some real harm in his role as a teacher, but he achieved something worthwhile as well:  he continued to be available to Draco with guidance and protection, no matter how harshly Draco rejected his help, how much Snape’s heart sank as he watched Draco join Voldemort, how many crimes Draco committed, either eagerly or under duress.  He remained ready to assist if Draco was ready for a second chance, as Dumbledore had done for him.  With Snape, Draco knew:  there was nothing disgusting Draco could do that Snape had not already done.  Snape was able to maintain that connection, that trust, by signaling:  I know everything you have done, and I am still here.

Knowing that Dumbledore, too, had once seen nothing wrong with letting people die for what he wanted, would have given Snape a different understanding of the harsh words, “You disgust me.”  Dumbledore shared not only Snape’s self-loathing but his unresolved shame.  He knew everything Snape had done, and he remained with Snape to the end of his life.

Snape could recognize, then, some equality between himself and Dumbledore.  We can hear it in the way the two men talk to each other in the Prince’s Tale chapter when nobody else is around:  they are sardonic, angry and familiar and even immature.  We’ve seen Snape that way before, but never Dumbledore — except with Snape.  Dumbledore would not call any man but Snape by insults as intemperate and gratuitous as “a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort.”  Albus!  Unfair!

In her subtle way, Rowling lets us see that when Dumbledore asks Snape to kill him in Draco’s stead because “That boy’s soul is not yet so damaged,” Snape might have thought, at first, that this was one more instance of Dumbledore valuing someone, anyone, over Snape.  With that history, I think it was a brave thing for Snape to ask – although, granted, it was certain that nobody else would speak up for him – “And my soul, Dumbledore?  Mine?”

As always, whenever Snape craved trust and affection from Dumbledore, Dumbledore’s response was not comforting, not reassuring – but not nothing, either, even if Dumbledore’s responses to Snape generally come with more work and stern reminders to choose what is right over what is easy.

“’You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,” said Dumbledore.

Let us be clear what Dumbledore is saying, according to the rules of magic laid out in this world.  Killing splits the soul, even when done by request, out of love – the killer has to mean an Unforgivable Curse or it won’t work – and the way to reintegrate a split soul is to feel remorse, the near-fatally painful magic that Dumbledore checks periodically to see if Snape has been able to manage.  Up to this point, Snape never has.  If he accepts Dumbledore’s requests, to kill him and then protect the students of Hogwarts against the Carrows, he commits to feeling remorse and surviving it.

After Dumbledore makes his request, “his blue eyes pierced Snape as they had frequently pierced Harry, as though the soul they discussed was visible to him” – Dumbledore is performing Legilimency, and Snape is not blocking him.  “At last Snape gave another curt nod.”  Snape has had time to think about it.  He has made a choice.  He agrees to cross back over into evil, cast an Unforgivable Curse, and then return.

No one else in either the Order of the Phoenix – that is, the order that believes in second chances – or among the Death Eaters shares Dumbledore’s and Snape’s double status of having embraced evil and then fought against it.  This innocence is why Sirius, in Goblet of Fire, tells Harry, “There’s still the fact that Dumbledore trusts Snape, and I know Dumbledore trusts where a lot of other people wouldn’t, but I just can’t see him letting Snape teach at Hogwarts if he’d ever worked for Voldemort.”  After Snape kills Dumbledore, Tonks says, “But Dumbledore swore he was on our side!  I always thought Dumbledore must know something about Snape that we didn’t….” and McGonagall says, “He always hinted that he had an ironclad reason for trusting Snape.  I mean… with Snape’s history… of course people were bound to wonder… but Dumbledore told me explicitly that Snape’s repentance was absolutely genuine….  Wouldn’t hear a word against him!”  These people don’t have the experience to recognize, as Dumbledore recognized in Snape, what it looks like to embrace and then renounce evil.

Hermione tells an agonized Harry:  “He changed, Harry, he changed! It’s as simple as that! Maybe he did believe these things when he was seventeen, but the whole of the rest of his life was devoted to fighting the Dark Arts! Dumbledore was the one who stopped Grindelwald, the one who always voted for Muggle protection and Muggle-born rights, who fought You-Know-Who from the start […] and who died trying to bring him down!”

The lesson of the Snape-Dumbledore relationship is learning how this kind of change is possible.  Only someone who has managed this sort of change, someone who has the means to overpower others but chooses not to attack, not to dominate, has the greatness to command the allegiance of the Elder Wand from Dumbledore.  This is the qualification that Dumbledore had in mind when he planned to pass the Elder Wand to Snape, what Grindelwald meant when he told Voldemort that the wand would never be his, and what Draco and Harry, who learned Expelliarmus from Snape, proved to have within them.

Snape kept the half of the letter that said Dumbledore had once been friends with Grindelwald.  It was evidence that the mentor who believed that Snape had it in him to help Harry Potter bring down Voldemort and protect Hogwarts students knew firsthand how much he was asking of Snape, how far he was asking Snape to travel – knew it could be done.  Dumbledore’s former evil, establishing the foundations of a fascist ideology, lying to himself about the nature of Grindelwald, betraying the sister in his care, had damaging consequences…and look what Dumbledore became.  What he did with his second chance.

During Harry’s sixth year, when Dumbledore told Snape that Harry would have to let Voldemort kill him, Snape accused Dumbledore of using him, letting him believe he was protecting Harry for Lily’s sake when Dumbledore intended to sacrifice Harry to Voldemort.  Some readers have wondered if this is an accurate read and Dumbledore did use Snape as a pawn, but I think this turns out to be one of the times that Rowling sets up a supposition that she later disproves, by showing rather than telling.

It is Snape who ends that conversation before Dumbledore can answer his accusation of raising Harry like a pig for slaughter.  He stands up abruptly and responds to Dumbledore’s question, “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?” by casting a Patronus.  It’s a complex moment; Snape is not ready to hear more, doesn’t realize that he’s the one who has shut down the conversation, and his dislike of Harry is as wrong-headed as ever.  But the sight of the silver doe is beautiful, too, the sign of a soul that has a wholeness to it, and it brings tears to Dumbledore’s eyes.  After all this time, Dumbledore is right to retain faith in Snape; Snape is still striving to fulfill his pledge to Dumbledore, using his love for Lily as a guide:  “If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear.”  During this year when Dumbledore is dying of his own incurable folly in grabbing at a Deathly Hallow for his own use, it is a gift to Dumbledore to see that Snape is holding fast.

We see later that Dumbledore did not have an agenda to sacrifice Harry; his aim was to safeguard Harry’s soul, and once the Dumbledore of King’s Cross could affirm to him, “Your soul is whole, and completely your own,” Harry recognized that Dumbledore was at peace:  “Harry had never seen the man so utterly, so palpably content.”  This Dumbledore acknowledges that Harry has the choice to go back and finish Voldemort or to move on, but he does not seek to influence Harry’s choice; whatever happens with Voldemort, Dumbledore’s work is done.

Similarly, with Snape, we see that Dumbledore’s aim is to help Snape retain the wholeness of his soul and turn his guilt toward good by charging him with undergoing remorse and delivering a final message to Harry.  Along with that delivery, Snape was able to return the memories of Lily’s love that rightfully belonged to Harry and acknowledge, at last, how he had destroyed Harry’s family, in a move similar to Slughorn fighting past his shame to give Harry secrets that helped him end Voldemort.

We see, in the Prince’s Tale, that Snape was brusque with the portrait of Dumbledore when he took the sword to the Forest of Dean after Christmas; at the midpoint of the year, when Harry’s faith in Dumbledore was at its lowest, Snape’s was low, as well.  By the end of his life, had Snape reconciled some of his feelings toward Dumbledore, as Harry did in the King’s Cross chapter?

When I reread his last moments, I think the answer is yes.

Voldemort tells him that he has violated Dumbledore’s tomb and stolen the Elder Wand.  In reaction, “Snape’s face was like a death mask. It was marble white and so still that when he spoke, it was a shock to see that anyone lived behind the blank eyes.”

With the words “death mask” and “marble white,” Rowling is calling back to the image of Dumbledore in his white marble tomb.  The blankness of Snape’s face shows that he is Occluding Voldemort as hard as he has ever Occluded in his life, hiding his reaction to the news of this desecration.  Together, I think these things show that Snape is grieving for his friend.  As we learned from Harry, grief can Occlude:  “Just as Voldemort had not been able to possess Harry while Harry was consumed with grief for Sirius, so his thoughts could not penetrate Harry now, while he mourned Dobby. Grief, it seemed, drove Voldemort out . . . though Dumbledore, of course, would have said that it was love. . . .”

When Harry runs to Snape’s office to view his memories and the stone gargoyle asks for the password, we learn that he and Snape have been holding the same grief.

“Dumbledore!” said Harry without thinking, because it was he whom he yearned to see, and to his surprise the gargoyle slid aside.

During his year as headmaster, the unguessable word that guarded Snape’s space was a name that kept him as safe as any Fidelius Charm.  I know not everyone is at peace with the Dumbledore-Snape relationship.  For some, Snape might not have been good enough to be known as Dumbledore’s man.  For others, Dumbledore might have been too cold, too secretive, to deserve the role of safeguarding Snape’s true thoughts.  But I’m accepting it as the final word on what Snape thought of the man who entrusted him with his death.

I know I still have so many questions.  Maybe you do, too.  We can puzzle out a few of them together.

Cursed Child: Six Allegories

Modified from comments delivered at LeakyCon, Dallas, TX, August 10, 2018.

 

Welcome to “Coming to Terms with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”  My name is Lorrie Kim and I’m the author of Snape:  A Definitive Reading.  I got the idea for this session because I was seeing a lot of Potter fans feeling conflict about this play.  Disappointed, angry, or betrayed by it – but not able to put it aside or make peace with it.  Sometimes when you don’t love something, you can just stop reading, or move on, or dismiss it.  But sometimes that doesn’t happen.  I wanted to have a gentle, supportive discussion in which we hear from each other and try to find if there are ways we can come to terms with this play, feel at peace with how we feel about it.  I don’t have any conclusions prepared; I just wanted to see, if we talked about this in an open, supportive way, where it will take us.

 

Six allegories that make Cursed Child meaningful to me:

 

Allegory 1.  Harry’s gifts to his children

 

He gives James the Invisibility Cloak — Sirius and Remus taught him enough about his father to parent his Gryffindor son.  He gives Lily the fairy wings — Snape taught him enough about his mother’s ability to fly that he could pass that on to his daughter. But Albus, bullied as the “Slytherin squib,” needs “specific love,” everyday comfort and advocacy:  Harry never learned that.  All he can give Albus is a shabby old blanket.  That’s all Harry got:  15 months of parental love.  No, it’s not enough.  But everything Harry got, he will give to Albus.

 

Allegory 2.  Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow

 

One of the riddles in Hermione’s bookcase says:

 

I am the creature you have not seen.

I am you. I am me. The echo unforeseen.

Sometimes in front, sometimes behind,

A constant companion, for we are entwined.

 

In 1938, psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

 

Harry’s shadow has always been Voldemort, and when his fears form the “dangerous black cloud around Albus,” he hears Voldemort again.  In response, Albus forms his own shadow, Delphi.  His subconscious forms her into existence when he develops issues with his father.  Hermione tries to check out Delphi’s background, but says, “There’s no record of her.  She’s a shadow.

 

Jung said:  “If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it.”

 

If the adults understand what’s hurting the kids, they can restore the past to peace.

 

Jung said:  “Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications.”

 

Delphi has ever-changing, mutually contradictory stories.  She went to school.  She didn’t go to school.  She’s Diggory’s niece.  She’s Voldemort’s daughter.  She has a tattoo.  She can fly.  Every modification reflects a change in what Albus must work through regarding his father.

 

Jung said:  “But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

 

If the adults can’t connect emotionally with the kids, the kids’ distress will continue to dictate their families’ dynamics.  Harry and his friends want Delphi to come into the light, come into consciousness, so Albus’s deepest concerns can be recognized.

 

Jung said in 1945:  “A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.”

 

Harry attributes this “dangerous black cloud” not to himself but to the return of Voldemort, or werewolves, or hapless little Scorpius Malfoy.  His shadow self is in control.  This is what it looks like when the part of Voldemort that’s in him has a voice.  That’s why Harry sounds “out of character” when, for example, he orders McGonagall to track Albus using the Marauder’s Map.

 

Allegory 3.  Who is the Cursed Child?

 

Projection creates cursed children.  In adult Harry’s dream about the Dursleys running away from his Hogwarts letters, Petunia says, “The boy has cursed us!”  In a later dream, Petunia tells lies about James and Lily, and Harry hears Voldemort’s voice:  “I smell guilt, there is a stench of guilt upon the air.”  That’s what Voldemort said to his Death Eaters when he regained his body in Goblet of Fire, the rage of a child at the caretaker who has abandoned him.  It is the same warning as Dumbledore’s Howler to Petunia:  “Remember my last.”

 

There are three steps to the magic spell of creating cursed children — or adults, for that matter:  mistreat them, realize that we did, and punish them for knowing it.  Cursed Child  made me understand, finally, what it means that Voldemort’s Killing Curse “rebounded on him”:  when Voldemort saw that he had orphaned baby Harry, he identified with the baby, the only time we ever see him experiencing empathy, and he realized he had scarred someone for life as he had been scarred.  His Avada Kedavra on baby Harry was the only time that his attack on another person made him feel and understand the pain he had caused.  It made him remember his own pain and connect the two.  This triggering of his own trauma is enough to send him beyond death into the forest.

 

Adult Harry, in Cursed Child, has less damage than Voldemort — but he, too, is triggered against his will into the memories of his own trauma, the things that Voldemort stole from him when he was a baby and the truth that the Dursleys withheld from him as a child.  That’s what it means to say that Voldemort is back in Harry’s head, that his scar hurts again.  Nothing but seeing this old trauma damage his own child could spur Harry to go this deep into his own past, and he has to decide whether it’s too painful and he will sacrifice his relationship with his son, or if he will do what he’s never been able to do before and fully comprehend – relive – the murder of his parents.

 

Allegory 4.  Time-Turners are about psychological process, not science fiction

 

As with Rowling’s other magical devices, such as the Elder Wand, which can change ownership without even being touched, I understand Time-Turners best as symbolic, as allegorical.  As Hermione learned, there are two rules for using a Time-Turner:  change nothing, and you must not be seen.  There are safeguards.  When you go into the past, be anchored by a friend or guide; third-year Harry is anchored by Hermione, Hermione by McGonagall or Dumbledore.  The purpose of a Time-Turner is for you to be able to relive a moment from the past from a different perspective:  greater age and experience, but also literally from a different perspective, as Harry did with seeing himself cast a Patronus at dementors from the opposite bank of a lake.  What you gain in understanding from this new perspective, and the support of a friend, can have the power to save an innocent life — maybe more than one — and set people free.

 

If you are stuck in the past, especially because of trauma, and you revisit the past for a different perspective, supported by trusted people, that is the dynamic that Rowling encodes into the device of the Time-Turner.  As with all super-magical objects in Potterverse, such as the Deathly Hallows or the Sorcerer’s Stone in the Mirror of Erised, Time-Turners work best for people who use them to help others, not for personal gain.  Scorpius and Albus go into the past without any training, intending to “change everything,” and are seen.  When they are trapped in time by Delphi, Draco offers his own secret Time-Turner because he knows Harry will use it properly:  to reconnect with Scorpius and Albus, understanding how the Time-Turner is meant to work, and then to make good-faith efforts to gain new perspective on his own past so he can relieve its ill effects on Albus’s life.

 

Allegory 5.  The Alternate Universes are imagined by Albus and Scorpius

 

The boys try to work through their relationships with their fathers by going back in time — allegory for trying to understand where Draco and Harry are coming from, Albus looking for the real Harry behind the legend or Scorpius envisioning a world in which Malfoys are leaders.  The adults interact with these AUs because that’s what parents do, negotiate with the images their teenagers have of them.

 

This explains anomalies like Cedric Diggory becoming a Death Eater.  We readers met Cedric through teen Harry; only someone who never knew Cedric could think he’d become a Death Eater because of whatever scenario a 14-year-old boy could invent, ballooning into the sky like Aunt Marge, completely wrong in tone for anything associated with the Cedric that people knew when he was alive.  It explains why Ludo Bagman says “Mr. Dragon” in the Triwizard task. He knew the dragons were nesting mothers.  That’s not the real Ludo Bagman; it’s just Albus imagining the scene and gendering the dragon as male because he’s working through his father issues.  It explains how anyone trying to work out when or how Bellatrix and Voldemort could have reproduced runs into uncomfortable logistical questions.  Unlike us, Albus never got to know either of them; he didn’t know Bellatrix attacked children or that Voldemort was barely human, so he can ascribe parental sentiment to them more easily than we can.  All of the AUs as imagined by Albus and Scorpius contain only elements that they would have heard or read of, second-hand:  the same spells, the same people or incidents, but slightly misunderstood or misremembered, sometimes absurdly so, and I think the absurdity is intentional and meant to be a clue.

 

Allegory 6.  Albus’s feelings toward Harry

 

Delphi says to Voldemort what Albus would find too painful to say to Harry:  “I have devoted my life to being a child you could be proud of.”

 

Delphi attacks Harry with the cry, “Are you crawling away from me?  Harry Potter.  Hero of the wizarding world.  Crawling away like a rat.”  A teenage boy might well be this angry at a father who doesn’t have the guts to face his own child’s anger.

 

Voldemort was obsessed with Harry Potter because his entire life, Harry was the only force he’d ever encountered that was stronger than the power of his own murderous rage.  He was Voldemort’s only hope for help in containing and limiting that rage.  Albus, through Delphi, is able to express murderous rage to Harry as Voldemort, and still be loved.  This gives Albus the security to understand Harry’s effort in fighting through his own darkness to be a parent.  The use of a Time-Turner to witness Voldemort’s attack is an allegory to mean that Harry and Albus returned to the past to gain new perspective, supported by loved ones.  Then Delphi disappears because Albus no longer needs her.  Quote:  “And slowly what was there is no longer there.”