15 Post-Harry Potter Revelations from Pottermore

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Since J.K. Rowling launched Pottermore in 2012, the Harry Potter author has been steadily revealing secrets of the wizarding world, delving into the histories of beloved (and some not-so-beloved) characters, and discussing her thoughts on the books and characters. Here are a few things we've learned.

1. THE FIRST MEETING BETWEEN THE POTTERS AND THE DURSLEYS WAS A DISASTER.

Petunia had long hated being overshadowed by her witch sister, and her fiance and future husband, Vernon Dursley, hated all things that weren’t perfectly normal—so they were pretty much predisposed to hating all things magical. But it was the first meeting between the couple and Lily and James that really cemented that attitude:

James was amused by Vernon, and made the mistake of showing it. Vernon tried to patronize James, asking what car he drove. James described his racing broom. Vernon supposed out loud that wizards had to live on unemployment benefit. James explained about Gringotts, and the fortune his parents had saved there, in solid gold. Vernon could not tell whether he was being made fun of or not, and grew angry. The evening ended with Vernon and Petunia storming out of the restaurant, while Lily burst into tears and James (a little ashamed of himself) promised to make things up with Vernon at the earliest opportunity.

Of course, no amends were ever made. Petunia didn’t ask Lily to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, and, Rowling writes, “Vernon refused to speak to James at the reception, but described him, within James' earshot, as 'some kind of amateur magician.'” The couple didn’t attend James and Lily’s wedding, and the last letter Petunia received from the magical pair—Harry’s birth announcement—went in the trash.

Fun fact: Rowling reveals that, though many other characters went through name changes, Petunia and Vernon’s names were set from the start. “‘Vernon’ is simply a name I never much cared for,” she writes. “‘Petunia’ is the name that I always gave unpleasant female characters in games of make believe I played with my sister, Di, when we were very young. … The surname ‘Dursley’ was taken from the eponymous town in Gloucestershire, which is not very far from where I was born. I have never visited Dursley, and I expect that it is full of charming people. It was the sound of the word that appealed, rather than any association with the place.”

2. THE IDENTITIES OF ALL THE MINISTERS FOR MAGIC.

The Ministry of Magic was established in 1707 (it took over for the Wizard Council as the governing body of the wizarding community). Rowling has listed out all of the Ministers for Magic since then, along with short descriptions of their time in office. A few of our favorites include Basil Flack (1752), “Shortest serving minister. Lasted two months; resigned after the goblins joined forces with werewolves”; Evangeline Orpington (1849-55), “A good friend of Queen Victoria’s, who never realised she was a witch, let alone Minister for Magic”; and Wilhemina Tuft (1948-59), a “Cheery witch who presided over a period of welcome peace and prosperity. Died in office after discovering, too late, her allergy to Alihotsy-flavoured fudge.”

3. CORNELIUS FUDGE GAVE HIMSELF THE WIZARDING WORLD’S TOP HONOR.

The Order of Merlin First Class is awarded for “‘acts of outstanding bravery or distinction’ in magic.” Dumbledore received the award—a gold medal on a green ribbon—for defeating the Dark Wizard Grindlewald, a decision everyone agreed with. But when Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic, awarded it to himself for “a career that many considered less than distinguished,” there was “a good deal of muttering in the wizarding community.”

4. UMBRIDGE HAD A SQUIB BROTHER—AND A MUGGLE MOM!

You'd never guess from the books that the Mud Blood hating, all-around toad Dolores Umbridge was anything but a pure blood. But Umbridge was a half-blood, the eldest child and only daughter of wizard Orford Umbridge and muggle Ellen Cracknell. Her brother was a Squib. Her parents weren't happy, and, Rowling writes, “Dolores secretly despised both of them”:

Orford for his lack of ambition (he had never been promoted, and worked in the Department of Magical Maintenance at the Ministry of Magic), and her mother, Ellen, for her flightiness, untidiness, and Muggle lineage. Both Orford and his daughter blamed Ellen for Dolores's brother's lack of magical ability, with the result that when Dolores was fifteen, the family split down the middle, Orford and Dolores remaining together, and Ellen vanishing back into the Muggle world with her son. Dolores never saw her mother or brother again, never spoke of either of them, and henceforth pretended to all she met that she was a pure-blood.

The essay explains Umbridge’s rocket ascent through the Ministry of Magic, covers her failure to find a husband, and explains how she came to be on Voldemort’s side during his takeover. You can read the whole thing here.

5. MINERVA MCGONAGALL HAD A SAD CHILDHOOD.

Minerva McGonagall, future Hogwarts Transfiguration teacher and headmistress, was the first child of Reverend Robert McGonagall, a Muggle, and Isobel Ross, a witch. There was just one problem: Isobel didn’t tell Robert that she was a witch until after Minerva was born, a choice that broke the trust between the young witch’s parents. “Minerva, a clever and observant child, saw this with sadness,” Rowling writes:

Minerva was very close to her Muggle father, whom in temperament she resembled more than her mother. She saw with pain how much he struggled with the family's strange situation. She sensed too, how much of a strain it was on her mother to fit in with the all-Muggle village, and how much she missed the freedom of being with her own kind, and of not exercising her considerable talents. Minerva never forgot how much her mother cried, when the letter of admittance into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry arrived on Minerva's eleventh birthday; she knew that Isobel was sobbing, not only out of pride, but also of envy.

This knowledge directly affected McGonagall’s life after Hogwarts, when she met a Muggle named Dougal McGregor, “the handsome, clever and funny son of a local farmer.” They fell in love, and when he proposed, McGonagall accepted. But that very night, she realized their love could never be, because “Dougal did not know what she, Minerva, truly was ... Minerva had witnessed at close quarters the kind of marriage she might have if she wed Dougal. It would be the end of all her ambitions; it would mean a wand locked away, and children taught to lie, perhaps even to their own father. She did not fool herself that Dougal McGregor would accompany her to London, while she went to work every day at the Ministry. He was looking forward to inheriting his father’s farm.”

She broke off their engagement without telling him why—if she violated the International Statute of Secrecy, she would have lost her job at the Ministry, “for which she was giving him up,” Rowling writes. “She left him devastated, and set out for London three days later.”

6. WHY HARRY COULDN’T ALWAYS SEE THESTRALS.

This is something that has bothered many a Harry Potter fan: If thestrals are “invisible to all who have never been truly touched by death,” and if anyone who has seen someone die can see the thestrals, why couldn’t Harry see them after his parents died, or after witnessing Cedric’s murder in the graveyard?

Though she’s touched on it in interviews, Rowling is now making this part of canon, explaining that a person not only needs to witness death to see thestrals, but must also have gained an emotional understanding of what death means ... the precise moment when such knowledge dawns varies greatly from person to person.” Harry was just a baby when his parents died, and therefore couldn’t comprehend it. And after Cedric died, it took weeks “before the full import of death’s finality was borne upon [Harry].” Only after that had happened could he see the creepy (but “kindly and gentle”) thestrals.

7. SYBILL TRELAWNEY WAS MARRIED!

Unfortunately, it ended “in unforeseen rupture when she refused to adopt the surname ‘Higginbottom.’” Also fun: One of her hobbies is “sherry.”

8. ICE CREAM PARLOR OWNER FLOREAN FORTESCUE WAS KIDNAPPED AS PART OF A PLOT ROWLING DECIDED NOT TO USE.

Many a book reader has been puzzled by the Death Eaters’ abduction and killing of Florean Fortescue, the wizard, magical history buff, and ice cream parlor owner Harry meets in Prisoner of Azkaban. In one Pottermore extra, Rowling revealed that she had “originally planned Florean to be the conduit for clues that I needed to give Harry during his quest for the Hallows, which is why I established an acquaintance fairly early on … I imagined the historically-minded Florean might have a smattering of information on matters as diverse as the Elder Wand and the diadem of Ravenclaw, the information having been passed down in the Fortescue family from their august ancestor,” former Hogwarts Headmaster Dexter Florean:

As I worked my way nearer to the point where such information would become necessary, I caused Florean to be kidnapped, intending him to be found or rescued by Harry and his friends.

The problem was that when I came to write the key parts of Deathly Hallows I decided that Phineas Nigellus Black was a much more satisfactory means of conveying clues. Florean's information on the diadem also felt redundant, as I could give the reader everything he or she needed by interviewing the Grey Lady.

So, unfortunately, Rowling had the character meet his untimely end for no real reason at all. “He is not the first wizard whom Voldemort murdered because he knew too much (or too little),” Rowling writes, “but he is the only one I feel guilty about, because it was all my fault.”

9. DRACO MALFOY WAS RAISED TO BELIEVE HARRY WAS A GREAT DARK WIZARD.

One of many theories that went around after Harry survived Voldemort’s curse was that The Boy Who Lived was actually a great Dark wizard—and it was this theory that Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s father, clung to. “It was comforting to think that he, Lucius, might be in for a second chance of world domination, should this Potter boy prove to be another, and greater, pure-blood champion,” Rowling writes. Which is why Draco went out of his way to befriend Harry on the Hogwarts Express:

Harry’s refusal of Draco’s friendly overtures, and the fact that he had already formed allegiance to Ron Weasley, whose family is anathema to the Malfoys, turns Malfoy against him at once. Draco realised, correctly, that the wild hopes of the ex-Death Eaters – that Harry Potter was another, and better, Voldemort – are completely unfounded, and their mutual enmity is assured from that point.

Rowling also reveals that Draco could have had a very different last name; Smart, Spinks, or Spungen were all options.

10. SOME WIZARDS USE “NAMING SEERS.”

In the Harry Potter world, this “ancient wizarding practice”—in which a witch or wizard gifted with the sight “will predict the child’s future and suggest an accurate moniker”—will cost parents a lot of gold. But Rowling writes that it’s going out of vogue.

11. THERE’S ONLY ONE LICENSED MAKER OF FLOO POWDER IN BRITAIN.

This substance, invented by Ignatia Wildsmith in the 13th century, is made in Britain by Floo-Pow, “a company whose headquarters are in Diagon Alley, and who never answer their front door.” The price, 100 sickles for a scoop, has remained a constant for 100 years. Much like the recipes for Coke and Bush’s Baked Beans, the precise composition of Floo Powder, Rowling writes, is “a closely guarded secret”:

Those who have tried to “make their own” have been universally unsuccessful. At least once a year, St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries reports what they call a ‘Faux Floo’ injury— in other words, somebody has thrown a homemade powder onto a fire and suffered the consequences. As irate Healer and St Mungo’s spokeswizard, Rutherford Poke, said in 2010: “It’s two Sickles a scoop, people, so stop being cheap, stop throwing powdered Runespoor fangs on the fire and stop blowing yourselves out of the chimney! If one more wizard comes in here with a burned backside, I swear I won’t treat him. It’s two Sickles a scoop!”

12. THE MALFOYS WEREN'T ALWAYS SO HATEFUL OF MUGGLES.

Rowling reveals in the Malfoy family history that, at one point, they were quite close to Muggles they deemed worthy. “In spite of their espousal of pure-blood values and their undoubtedly genuine belief in wizards' superiority over Muggles, the Malfoys have never been above ingratiating themselves with the non-magical community when it suits them,” Rowling writes. This includes—according to rumor, anyway—trading in Muggle money and assets, annexing Muggle land, and procuring Muggle art and other treasures for the family collection.

They often hung out in Muggle social circles as well—but only wealthy Muggles, of course. “Historically, the Malfoys drew a sharp distinction between poor Muggles and those with wealth and authority,” Rowling writes. “Until the imposition of the Statute of Secrecy in 1692, the Malfoy family was active within high-born Muggle circles, and it is said that their fervent opposition to the imposition of the Statute was due, in part, to the fact that they would have to withdraw from this enjoyable sphere of social life.”

Once the Ministry of Magic—“the new heart of power”—was founded, the Malfoys “performed an abrupt volte-face, and became as vocally supportive of the Statute as any of those who had championed it from the beginning, hastening to deny that they had ever been on speaking (or marrying) terms with Muggles.”

13. LUCIUS MALFOY I WANTED TO MARRY A QUEEN.

It's not that surprising that a member of this ambitious and power-hungry would want to be royalty. “There is ample evidence to suggest that the first Lucius Malfoy was an unsuccessful aspirant to the hand of Elizabeth I, and some wizarding historians allege that the Queen's subsequent opposition to marriage was due to a jinx placed upon her by the thwarted Malfoy,” Rowling writes. This, of course, happened long before the Malfoys changed their tune on Muggles, and later, the scandalous story was “hotly denied by subsequent generations.”

14. FENRIR GREYBACK ATTACKED REMUS LUPIN BECAUSE OF SOMETHING LUPIN’S FATHER SAID.

During Voldemort’s initial rise to power, Lyall Lupin, Remus’s father, joined the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, where he encountered Fenrir Greyback, “who had been brought in for questioning about the death of two Muggle children.” Because the Werewolf Registry was poorly maintained, and Lupin’s colleagues didn’t see the signs, they believed Greyback’s claim that he was a Muggle tramp. “Lyall Lupin was not so easily fooled,” Rowling wrote. “He ... told the committee that Greyback ought to be kept in detention until the next full moon, a mere twenty-four hours later.” When his colleagues laughed at him, Lupin grew angry, calling werewolves “soulless, evil, deserving nothing but death.” After Greyback was released, he told his fellow werewolves how Lupin had described them, and vowed to get his revenge—which he did, shortly before Remus turned 5:

As [Remus Lupin] slept peacefully in his bed, Fenrir Greyback forced open the boy's window and attacked him. Lyall reached the bedroom in time to save his son's life, driving Greyback out of the house with a number of powerful curses. However, henceforth, Remus would be a full-fledged werewolf.

Lyall Lupin never forgave himself for the words he had spoken in front of Greyback at the inquiry ... He had parroted what was the common view of werewolves in his community, but his son was what he had always been—loveable and clever—except for that terrible period at the full moon when he suffered an excruciating transformation and became a danger to everyone around him. For many years, Lyall kept the truth about the attack, including the identity of the attacker, from his son, fearing Remus's recriminations.

15. AZKABAN HAS A REALLY DARK HISTORY.

Rowling writes that the North Sea island on which the prison is built has never appeared on any map, wizard or muggle. An early resident, a sorcerer named Ekrizdis who practiced the worst kinds of dark magic, lured Muggle sailors there and tortured and killed them. When he died, the concealment charms faded, and the Ministry became aware of the island’s existence. “Those who entered to investigate refused afterwards to talk of what they had found inside,” Rowling writes, “but the least frightening part of it was that the place was infested with dementors.”

See Also: 12 Post-Potter Revelations J.K. Rowling Has Shared

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios