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Essays

Puzzles, Red Herrings, Clues, and Mysteries

by Steve Vander Ark

"The truth...is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution."
     -- Albus Dumbledore (PS17)

What follows on this page is a discussion of some of my favorite mysteries of the Harry Potter universe. JKR is very good at sneaking little hints and clues into her books, tidbits that turn out to be important later. This really came home for me when the true nature of Scabbers was revealed in PA. What a delicious moment that was! And not only because it was totally unexpected but because it made me realize that everything in every book just might be a clue to something bigger. I'm not alone in this...discussions of who might really be whom and what's really going on fill the email lists and clubs. I'm not trying to recreate all those discussions here, believe me. What this page does do is offer some of the evidence from the books that fuel these discussions. You're free to draw your own conclusions. And if you want to discuss your thoughts on any of these matters, I heartily recommend a very active Harry Potter online group: WEB LINK - discussion groupHarry Potter for GrownUps.

Who are Harry's family?
I know, his parents are Lily and James Potter. But we know very little about these people. Sure, we know that Lily was Petunia Dursley's sister, but that's about it. Here are some details to consider:

  • Lily had dark red hair. There's a lot of red hair in the books, actually. The most obvious redheads are of course the Weasley family, and that's what we immediately think of. But they're not alone; in fact, I think they're something of a (forgive me) red herring. Besides Lily, there is one other major character whose hair is described as "auburn" and that's Dumbledore. Oh, not now, of course, but when he was encountered inside Tom Riddle's diary, when he was fifty years younger, he was mentioned as having auburn hair. So okay, was he maybe Lily's grandfather, Harry's great-grandfather?
    [OP37 rules this out definitely, since Dumbledore stated plainly that Petunia was Lily's "only remaining relative" (not counting Harry himself and Dudley).]

  • And then what about Tom Riddle's family? Might he be a relative of Harry's? He was named Tom after his father, whose name was also Tom Riddle, and Marvolo after his grandfather. Some folks have immediately jumped to the conclusion that Marvolo must be the elder Riddle who was also killed on that fateful evening fifty years ago. But wait, he's got another grandfather: his mother's father. His mother was a witch, after all, and let's face it, Marvolo certainly sounds like a wizarding name. So it makes sense to me that he might named after his grandfather on his mother's side. Who was...who?
    [This question was answered in HBP.]

  • Now remember all those people Harry saw in the Mirror of Erised. What happened to them all? Are they all dead? Did Voldemort kill them all, and if so, why? Was he trying to wipe out the family for some reason? I assume that the people Harry saw were from both sides of the family, although they are referred to as "the Potters." If not, then where are his family on his mother's side?
    [This question has been partially answered since SVA first asked it. In TLC, JKR said that James was an only child born rather late to his parents, that his parents weren't very important to the story, and that they had died of a disease that wizards sometimes suffer from. In OP37 it was stated that Petunia was Harry's only living relative, and the only living person having a blood relationship to his mother who could act as his guardian.]

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When did Arthur and Molly attend Hogwarts?
Okay, now we're getting into nitpicky stuff. I don't suppose this has any bearing on things, but it bugs me since I'm trying to create a complete timeline and right now there are big holes in it. I have narrowed down the dates for James, Lily, Sirius, Snape, and that whole crowd to the 1970's, which works okay, but it surprises me that there are no more specific clues in any of the books. We know a lot more details about other characters, even relatively minor ones. Charlie Weasley, for example, left school seven years before Harry got there, so we can determine what years he was there, when he was born, and so on. But James, Lily and their contemporaries are trickier to nail down, even though we are learning much about their exploits and adventures. So what? Well, I just get suspicious, that's all. If it seems like something's being left out or information is being withheld, I get curious.

And here's why this question gets to me. There is one niggling little comment in GF31 that suggests to me that--brace yourself--there just might be two timelines going on here. Molly Weasley fondly recalls a man named Ogg being the groundskeeper when she went to Hogwarts. Now she's older than Sirius and Lupin, granted, but not so much older that she would have gone to Hogwarts before Hagrid and Tom Riddle, which was fifty years ago. After Hagrid was expelled, however, he was given the groundskeeper position. How does this Ogg fellow fit into the picture then? Okay, this is very thin logic, since it assumes that the gamekeeper and the groundskeeper have always been one and the same person and it also assumes that Hagrid wasn't an assistant or anything for a while (which we know he was, but we don't know for how long). But perhaps, just perhaps, we're dealing more than one timeline. Maybe Molly and Arthur remember one timeline, a timeline that Voldemort changed somehow (changing time is a major no-no for wizards, we learned in PA, but I don't think that would have stopped him). Maybe Harry's big task is going to be to fix the past (Harry's present) so the future turns out the way it should, not the way it did the first time around (when Voldemort survived and somehow maybe even won). I'm not sure what I just said, but you get the drift...

And probably the strongest evidence of some kind of time twisting going on is the comment in CS18 that Voldemort is the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin. Some editions of the books have this "error" corrected, but other later editions have the word "ancestor" put back in. JKR herself suggested that the word "ancestor" might be used intentionally in an online chat session. We'll just have to see what happens next...
[JKR was making a joke in that interview. The correction is part of the master corrections list.]

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Who will end up in love with whom?
No idea. Sorry. We have some speculative essays on that topic, however.

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Why does just having that Triwizard Tournament mean nobody gets to play Quidditch for the whole year?
Boy, I wish I knew the answer to this one. No one got to play for the whole year. And no, it's not just that they play and we just don't hear about it. According to the book, Harry wishes at one point that he had Quidditch to take his mind off his worries. So no Quidditch, all year. I do have one suggestion, but it's pretty pathetic. Their Quidditch field is out of operation for the fall because they are using it to store dragons on and it's knocked out again in the spring for growing the maze (and that, according to the book, takes months.) You don't play Quidditch much in the winter, the weather is too bad.

But think about it...no Quidditch for an entire school year. What about people like Harry for whom Quidditch is an all-consuming passion? What about the folks who look to start a career as a Quiddich player, like Oliver Wood did? Is it fair to just drop the sports program, the sport which everyone in the wizarding world is mad about, so that a couple of students can compete in a tournament?

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Socks and wristwatches...
Have you noticed how little odd things seems to crop up a little more often than you might expect? That's the way it is with socks and wristwatches. I don't see any particular pattern in the wristwatches, to be honest with you. It's just that JKR keep mentioning them. Dudley gets a new one for his birthday. Harry looks at his quite often, and then gets frustrated when it stops working after swimming in the lake. The sun glints off the watch that George (or is it Fred) is wearing during a Quidditch game and off a watch worn by Pansy Parkinson as they are introduced to the nifflers. But except for that crazy suspicion of mine about two time lines and all that, I can't see where wristwatches could connect to anything. Just thought I'd mention it.

But socks...that's another story. There are just a couple of references here, but they are intriguing. First of all, when Harry asks Dumbledore what he would see if he looked into the Mirror of Erised, Dumbledore said that he would see himself with a nice new pair of thick socks (PS12). So, unless he was joking, which he certainly could be, socks are Dumbledore's deepest desire. Socks. Then think about this: who else wanted a sock more than anything in the world? Dobby. And we know that house-elves are just about the most powerful magic-using entities in the world, able to do incredible magic without even using a wand. So is Dumbledore wishing he could release the elves from their centuries of enslavement so they can use their awesome powers to fight Voldemort?
See: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Socks by Morag Traynor

© by Steve Vander Ark

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