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.

 

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.”

 

Snape Celebration! [and trivia] at LeakyCon 2018

This is a modified version of a panel titled “Snape Celebration! Talk and Trivia” delivered at LeakyCon, Dallas, TX, on August 11, 2018.

Welcome to a celebration of Snape.  I love Snape, but I’m going a little dark in this talk.

Here are some of the complicated reasons I celebrate Snape.

He’s not materialistic.  Like Dumbledore, Harry, and Draco, and unlike Voldemort, he’s fit to “own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it.”  He teaches self-sufficiency:  wandless, nonverbal magic, which you need if you’re part of a resistance.

He’s always there when you need him.

He always knows what to do.

His character arc goes toward doing what is right and not what is easy, such as killing the only person remaining in the world who knew the best of him.

The fandom disagrees bitterly over this character, probably more than any other.  Yet we all read the same books and watched the same movies.  It’s not like there are two series of Harry Potter books, one pro-Snape and one anti-Snape; a single set of words created this character.  How was it done?  The author wrote this double agent, who rose to become the right-hand man of both generals on opposing sides of a war, as a character of almost perfect ambiguity.  Every sentence of his, every action, has at least two possible and contradictory interpretations.  This creates vastly more facets and more interpretations than most characters have, and more ways for readers to despise him or identify with him.

With Harry, Snape, and Voldemort, we get the question:  What do you do when you’re born, through no fault of your own, into a life where you don’t get enough love?  Harry starts out blameless and ends up realistically flawed but still true to himself; that was his challenge.  Voldemort doesn’t change much.  He nearly dies of emotion the first time he tries to kill Harry and he actually dies of emotion the last time.

Snape changes.  He goes from petty and oppressive to self-sacrificing and protective.  Every step along the way is difficult for him.  It does not come naturally.  Harry’s struggle was created by outside evil; it was forced on him as an innocent baby.  But what if you’re a person who brought struggle onto yourself by your own actions?  Your story doesn’t end after you commit a crime; you have to keep choosing what to do with your life, as Snape did with Dumbledore on the mountaintop after Lily’s death.  Not all of us are blameless inside.  Some of us have done harm, and we get to read this story, too.  You don’t have to feel beautiful or good or even innocent to do the right thing.  Anyone can choose to do the right thing, and to know who you really are on the inside, even if others can’t see it.

 

Who here read Harry Potter for the first time before November 2016?  Who here has read it since November 2016?  Is there anyone here who read it for the first time after that U.S. election?

When I first read of Snape’s Worst Memory, calling Lily a mudblood, the threat of ethnic cleansing didn’t feel as immediate to me, living in the U.S., as it does now.  At the time, I had to think through, intellectually, how frightening it must have been for Lily, knowing what Death Eaters wanted to do to Muggle-borns.  It doesn’t feel as hypothetical right now.  For the past two years, it’s been much easier to imagine feeling stricken that Voldemort’s followers were gaining power, then discovering that someone who considered themself my friend was attending their rallies, calling me by their hateful rhetoric, or magnanimously refraining from doing so because they considered me some sort of exception.  Story elements I had previously read as allegorical now seem, increasingly, to be grimly realistic, moving Harry Potter from fairy tale to nonfiction.  The Muggle-born Registration Commission is exactly what has been proposed for some ethnic and religious minorities in the U.S.  Incarceration without trial, suppression of the press, and above all, Voldemort’s signature tactic — attacks on children and destruction of the parent-child bond — yes, we have always had these things in the U.S., but not like this.

Do you remember when Snape begs Dumbledore to protect Lily?  Dumbledore asks the leading question:

 

“Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?”

“I have — I have asked him —”

“You disgust me,” said Dumbledore, and Harry had never heard so much contempt in his voice.  Snape seemed to shrink a little.  “You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child?  They can die, as long as you have what you want?”

 

The first time I read that exchange, I was taken aback.  It seemed almost unfair; it’s the harshest thing Dumbledore says in the series to anybody, including people who have committed worse crimes.  But now, considering the current crisis of family separation at U.S. borders, the implications of 20-year-old Snape’s oblivious thinking are glaring to me.  Family separation is precisely what the Harry Potter series is about.  The crime that Rowling did not name — whatever Tom Riddle did to the two other orphans in the cave, so that even though nothing happened, they were never the same after that — is exactly the kind of damage we’re seeing in children after weeks or months of government abuse.  Like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and other dystopias, the Harry Potter series has assumed greater relevance in U.S. cultural discourse in the past two years.  Snape as a reformed fascist who devotes the second half of his life to bringing down his former ideology gives me one fictional answer to the question:  What would it take for people spreading hate to realize what they have done?  What would that look like?

I know many in HP fandom dislike Snape and some seem worried, I think, that any sympathetic discussion of this fictional character might lead to excusing his harmful deeds or to having to forgive them.  I agree that excusing or minimizing harm is damaging in itself.  This is the point of Unforgivables in Potterverse, and Snape calling Lily a mudblood falls into that category — in “The Prince’s Tale,” Rowling refers to it as “the unforgivable word.”  Once you commit an Unforgivable, it cannot and should not be forgiven by others.  The victim owes you nothing.  They can choose to understand, but without excusing, and with no obligation to communicate or forgive.  It is your work, if you choose, to reintegrate your soul through remorse.

Snape is the one character in the series whom we witness as he experiences the near-fatal pain of true remorse.  Ugly-crying in Sirius Black’s bedroom, reading all the evidence of the love and normal family life that he destroyed for a baby, with the birthday teas and the cat and the ugly vase from relatives and the toy broom from the godfather — he reintegrates his soul, after splitting it with the killing of Dumbledore, by casting the excruciatingly painful magic that Hermione described:  “You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done.”

I think that was brave.  Most of us, at some point, hurt other people.  Really feeling what we’ve done requires courage.

Snape embodies the quality of protectiveness without affection. And I think that’s one of the hardest lessons that Rowling wrote into the series.  Of course we rush to save the ones we love, especially the vulnerable.  What about people we don’t know?  The ones we dislike?  The ones who would attack us if they could?

Several characters explore this question.  Snape resents having to protect Harry, but he finds it easier to be protective toward Harry after he gains emotional strength from doing the same for Draco, whom he does like.  Snape doesn’t just save Draco’s life; he sings shut Draco’s wounds with enormous care.  This healing tenderness gives Draco the emotional strength to recognize Dumbledore’s offer to protect his parents as love magic; he lowers his wand.  In the Triwizard tournament, Harry rescues Ron and the emotional strength of that relief makes it easier for him to rescue a child he doesn’t know — literally easier, since Ron helps him.  Ron and Harry try to drag Wormtail’s silver hand away from his throat.  Dumbledore carries Umbridge out of the forest.  They help Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle with the Fiendfyre, and Ron yells, “IF WE DIE FOR THEM, I’LL KILL YOU, HARRY!”  In the final battle, when a Death Eater threatens Draco, Harry Stuns the Death Eater and then Ron punches Draco from under the Invisibility Cloak.  Protectiveness without affection.

This is the point of the redemption scenes in Potterverse stopping short of reconciliation.  Snape never does like Harry; Draco and Harry nod at each other on the platform, but they don’t become friends or start dating; Dumbledore never sees Grindelwald again after defeating him in 1945.  Protecting our loved ones is instinct; extending protection to those we dislike, or those who attack us, or those we feel guilty about having hurt, requires more.  Snape learned to do that before he died — Snape refused to die until he accomplished that — Snape strengthened Harry in his final effort to offer redemption to Voldemort by giving Harry memories of Lily’s love.  Not easy, and I think it’s safe to say that Snape, and JK Rowling, didn’t make it look easy.  For the greatness of that achievement, I celebrate this character.

LeakyCon2017: Notes from Attendees

On September 2, 2017, I teamed up with Professor Shannon Sauro of Snapecast to present “A Celebration of All Things Snape” at LeakyCon 2017.  We asked audience members to jot down notes or questions if there were things they wanted to discuss.  Here are some of the notes we didn’t manage to get to, along with my replies or comments.

snape panel questions.jpg

Can teachers identify with Snape professional v personal?

Shannon asked the teachers in the audience to raise their hands.  Several of them offered descriptions of ways in which they did, and did not, identify with Snape in their teaching.

Once Voldemort returned, was Snape passing information to both sides?

As best as I can tell from the evidence, Snape and Dumbledore planned carefully to have Snape feed Voldemort just enough valid intelligence to avert suspicion.  They did not always arrange all the details, but understood that Snape had to maintain cover.  As an example, we see the portrait of Dumbledore remind Snape, in Deathly Hallows, to play his part convincingly during the Flight of the Seven Harrys; presumably, since portraits are memory aids rather than the actual people they represent, Snape was drawing on his long acquaintance with Dumbledore, imagining  how Dumbledore might have counseled him, to aid in perfecting his strategy.

Snape:  beard or no beard?

Shannon took a poll.  There was a small minority in favor of a bearded Snape, and one suggestion that he would be attractive with a mustache, but the rest of the room overwhelmingly preferred Snape clean-shaven.

Snape the unsung hero

This was the core of his bravery:  his certainty that none of his acts of resistance to Voldemort would be acknowledged during his lifetime, or perhaps ever.  I believe this is one reason why Harry considered Snape the bravest man he ever knew:  he did everything without the emotional support of knowing he would be recognized.

Snape is the epitome of Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Not every author believes in this theme, or to such a great extent, but J.K. Rowling made this point about Snape beginning with the first volume and amplified it with every subsequent volume.  Several of her characters turn out not to be what they appear, but her master spy has the most inscrutable cover by far.

Snape got killed by a SNAKE.  😦

Alas.  It was not an easy death.  It does demonstrate Voldemort’s doubt in his control over the Elder Wand.  If he’d cast a Killing Curse on Snape, and Snape had truly been master of the Elder Wand, Voldemort’s curse would have rebounded yet again.  Freeing Nagini to do the deed in his stead was a self-protective strategy.

“I’m in love with the SNAPE of you”

My absolute favorite comment.

Topic: Snape’s passing

There’s so much to be said about this!  Where to begin?

Snape’s ‘love’ for Lily:  Love or infatuation?

Ah, the pro-Snape and anti-Snape fandom disagreements continue!  Those delicately distasteful quotes around love suggest an argument waiting to happen, heh.  Personally, I don’t know if infatuation is any more or less accurate a term than love for the bond that Snape felt toward Lily; I would guess that some people can be unsafe to be around, even if they feel genuine infatuation or love, and Lily certainly was right to recognize that Snape was joining with people who wished her harm.

What do we know about Snape’s background?

The age and condition of the furniture in his sitting room at Spinner’s End suggest that the house remains much as it was during Snape’s childhood, and the location of the house tells us that his father’s family’s finances suffered with the decline of the town’s industry.  We don’t know much about Eileen Prince Snape after her Hogwarts days, but she was the only person accompanying 11-year-old Snape to Platform 9 3/4, so if he had contact with any other magical relatives, there’s no evidence of it in the story.

Snape’s parents’ back story?

The power difference between a magical person and a Muggle suggests that Eileen Prince married Tobias Snape willingly, for love or some other voluntary reason.  Child Snape’s comment to child Lily that his father didn’t like “anything, much” suggests that there were other tensions in Tobias Snape’s life and marriage than simply a hostility toward his wife’s and child’s magic.  The acknowledgment that Tobias and Eileen continually argued suggests that it was a relationship of two equals, despite one of them being magical and one not, rather than a case in which a magical person was using their powers to control the actions of their Muggle spouse.

Eileen’s surname Prince opens up the playful crossover AU (alternate universe) possibility that she was an Amazon from the island of Themyscira, a relative to Diane Prince, aka Wonder Woman.  Perhaps Eileen joined with Tobias Snape to have a child, intending to follow the Amazon custom of sending the child away if a boy, but once she realized that she’d given birth to an extraordinarily gifted son, she chose to leave the island to raise him herself.  If anyone writes such a crossover, please share!