Canon discussion

Puzzles, Mysteries, and Loose Ends


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

Puzzles, Mysteries, and Loose Ends

Stuff we still wonder about, even after book seven …

the other secret passage

“There are seven in all. Now, Filch knows about these four” — he pointed them out — “but we’re sure we’re the only ones who know about these. Don’t bother with the one behind the mirror on the fourth floor. We used it until last winter, but it’s caved in — completely blocked.” (PA10)

Behind a mirror on the fourth floor, eh? Where did it lead? And even more interesting…what made it cave in?

the foul kittens

Harry notices these kittens on plates on Umbridge’s wall every time he’s in her office. Are they really just decoration? What makes them so “foul” anyway? They’re just pictures of kittens, after all. Are they really guarding her office, perhaps? The film seems to indicate that when one of the cats slips off through a cat door after Harry and Hermione break into Umbridge’s office and she turns up a few moments later.

the boa constrictor

Did they ever find that poor boa constrictor? He was heading for Brazil, he said, but it’s safe to say that he didn’t make it there. Where is he now? Is it still out there somewhere?

Scabbers…Percy’s old rat

And just where did Percy get this rat? Considering what we know about Scabbers, we can’t help but wonder how he managed to insinuate himself into the Weasley family like that.

Stubby Boardman

This sticks out like, well, like Mark Evans’s last name. So is Stubby just a bit of fluff as well, included so that we would get a good idea of what The Quibbler was like? What a weird story.

the money in the fountain

Harry dumped hundreds of dollars worth of coins into the Fountain of Magical Brethren. This money will go to St Mungo’s. Will this windfall for the hospital result in something happening down the road? What if, for example, the money was used to research and discover a cure for the spell damage done to the Longbottoms?

Why did Lupin transform into a werewolf only when the full moon came out from behind the clouds?

Don’t werewolves automatically change shape at the full moon, whether or not there are clouds? And how long does it take to drink a potion? How could he have been so incredibly stupid as to forget to take it that night?

JKR’s partial answer: “The moon wasn’t up when he entered the Shrieking Shack.” (Sch2)

One problem with this answer is that the time of moonrise is dependent on the moon’s phase, and during the full moon, the moon rises near sunset and sets near sunrise, so the moon would have risen shortly after Harry, Ron, and Hermione left Hagrid’s. This really doesn’t answer the question, however. Of course, lycanthropy might easily work a little differently in the Potter universe; see remarks on werewolves in the Forbidden Forest.

What did the centaurs mean by ‘Mars is bright tonight’?

Firenze discussed this in OP27.

Mars is the god of war, which suggests that the Centaurs saw conflict coming. This was undoubtedly true, since Voldemort was wandering their forest and they were familiar with Harry Potter. I’m not sure that it would take a lot of divination ability to figure this out.

Fans have looked into the actual position of Mars on the night Harry was in the Forest (May 26, 1992, after 11 pm). Mars actually wasn’t visible in the sky over Scotland until about 3 am, having risen around 2 am, but then it was easily the brightest object in its part of the sky. Mars wasn’t in a particularly bright part of its cycle, however, being at magnitude 1.18. Since Rowling makes no effort to match her fictional world to real world dates, this is probably a moot point. But it’s interesting nevertheless.

Do the Hogwarts toilets really empty into the lake? Don’t the merpeople object?

Myrtle encounters Harry underwater during the Second Task and explains that she came through the toilet plumbing. Ew.

How did the Chamber of Secrets’ entrance, constructed almost a thousand years ago, get hidden inside modern plumbing?

The most reasonable explanation for this phenomenon is that Hogwarts castle adjusts over the years to changes in technology and architecture. After all, castles of the large stone variety weren’t being built anywhere in Britain a thousand years ago, meaning that Hogwarts probably started life looking quite a bit different than it looks now. So the Chamber, in the tradition of the staircases which lead somewhere different on different days and the disappearing chamber pot room, probably adjusted its entrance to fit the form of the magical castle to which it connects.

Has Neville ever learned to ride a broomstick?

What does Madam Hooch do with all her spare time when that one first-year flying lesson of the year is done?

We don’t know how many flying lessons are given to first-year students. We know there are more than one because it’s referred to as the ‘first’ one.

We know that Madam Hooch acts as referee for most of the Quidditch Cup matches held at Hogwarts (SS, CS, PA, OP), and at least occasionally oversees House team practices (PA).

However, she’s not seen at the staff table, which suggests that she’s not actually part of the staff at all.

Why did just having that Tournament mean no one got to play Quidditch for an entire year?

Speaking of the Triwizard Tournament, why was everyone so excited to go watch the second and third tasks? Why were there even stands set up? They couldn’t see what was going on under that Lake (we know this since Mercus has to explain to Dumbledore what transpired), nor could they see into the maze, or Moody wouldn’t have been able to manipulate events without everyone knowing. So what did the crowd do the whole time? And for this they gave up Quidditch?

Why did Fred and George never notice Peter Pettigrew on the Marauder’s Map when he was disguised as Scabbers?

In the nature of things, the twins would be using the Map outside class hours, at night, while sneaking around outside Gryffindor Tower. They’d be on the watch for anyone hanging around where they currently were and where they planned to go, not for anyone or anything safely tucked up in Gryffindor Tower for the night.

Up until Ron’s first year, when Percy first became a prefect, Scabbers was Percy’s pet rat. Percy is noted for rigidly following rules, and probably wouldn’t be out after curfew. He’d be out of the twins’ way, in Gryffindor Tower, and Scabbers likewise. The twins would have had no reason to seek Percy out on the map.

Also, none of the kids had ever heard of Peter Pettigrew, so if they did see his name, it wouldn’t have meant anything to them.

If Flamel’s age is given as being “665 last year” in an old book, doesn’t that mean that he is really much older than that now?

For example, if the ‘old book’ was a hundred years old, Flamel would be 766 now, not 666, right?

Assuming that the Nicolas Flamel of the Harry Potter universe is in any way similar to the Flamel of the real world, there is no conceivable way to rectify the dates of his birth and the age given in the old book Hermione discovers. However, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this discrepency. It is clear that the pictures in books are not the only things that move and change. The text must update itself as well, so as the years go by the age given by the book would change accordingly.

Are all the Slytherins nasty and ugly?

Do they all turn into Dark Wizards? Then what happens if you’re sorted into Slytherin but you’re NOT evil? Are you just out of luck?

Why was Peeves always respectful of the Bloody Baron?

How did Sirius order that Firebolt without giving himself away?

How did he get the money out of his vault? And for that matter, how did Mrs. Weasley get money out of Harry’s vault?

How did Crouch Jr. have time to become so powerful?

How could he learn all that powerful magic when he went to Azkaban as a very young man and spent the years after he escaped under the Imperius Curse? Yet he could fool the Goblet of Fire and out-duel Mad-Eye Moody? How could he learn enough about Moody to successfully impersonate him for nine months, fooling even Dumbledore, a close friend?

And since we’re on the subject of “not enough time,” when did Crouch Jr. or Voldemort find time to create Polyjuice Potion to allow Crouch to impersonate Moody? It takes at least a month to prepare the ingredients and brew that potion, according to CS.

Re-read the directions for brewing the potion. It does not take a month per se; one of the ingredients has to be gathered depending on the phase of the moon, and the timing was apparently at its most awkward when Harry, Ron, and Hermione were about to brew theirs, so they had to wait the longest possible time. The stewed lacewing flies are the most time-critical element, since they take three weeks regardless of when one begins work on them.

One possibility is that pre-prepared potion ingredients can be bought on the open market, for example, pre-stewed lacewing flies. Hogwarts students would not be able to do this (for one thing, they need to learn to do it themselves, so they don’t have access), but adult wizards and witches can go shopping.

Another possibility is that Wormtail began preparing Polyjuice Potion as soon as he and his master returned to Britain, just without adding the bit-of-the-person-to-turn-into until the last step. Apart from the fact that Pettigrew couldn’t risk showing his own face much in wizarding Britain, by that time the two had already questioned Bertha Jorkins and the plan to impersonate Moody may already have been hatched. Polyjuice Potion was bound to be useful no matter what.

Where do the female prefects bathe?

And does the mermaid on the wall watch people as they take baths?

What happened on November 1, 1981, to keep Harry and Hagrid busy until evening?

Where were they? Where did Hagrid see McGonagall to tell her that Dumbledore would turn up on Privet Drive?

How ‘real’ is the boggart version of something?

We see from Harry’s boggart that turned into a dementor that boggarts inherit the characteristics and magical powers of the form it takes or imitates (the dementor made the room icy cold…). So when Lupin faced it and it changed into a moon, why didn’t he automatically change into a werewolf?

Why change the Triwizard Cup into a Portkey?

Wouldn’t it have been easier for Moody to just change something else–a book, for example–and get Harry to touch it at some point? Why all the elaborate charade with entering Harry into the Triwizard Tournament, helping him to win, etc.?

How much money do the Weasleys have?

When Mrs. Weasley went into her vault at Gringotts, there was only one galleon and a few sickles. By looking at the back of Quidditch through the Ages or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we see that something that costs 14 sickles and 3 knuts equals 4 dollars. OK, so at that rate, the entire Weasleys’ fortune would be a grand total of around 10 dollars. They can’t afford books for Fred, George, Ron, Ginny, and Percy with that! Heck, they can’t even afford three books total!

Table of Contents



This essay was written in 2008, almost a decade ago. A few of these questions have been answered at least in part over those intervening years.

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