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12 Intriguing (and Occasionally Bizarre) Harry Potter Fan Theories

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After Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in July 2007, author J.K. Rowling was adamant that the seventh book was the last. She has since continued to engage with fans regarding questions about the wizarding world, and has released exclusive snippets of canonical information via Pottermore, but she remains true to her word: no more Potter books (but we are getting a play!).

Instead, fans have had to make their own magic, filling in holes in the narrative with their own imagined solutions, based on a combination of careful research, close reading, critical analysis, and occasionally, a dash of wishful thinking. Some of these conjectures seem shockingly plausible, fitting perfectly within the events of the seven-book series and providing answers where Rowling’s original text has not; others are, to be blunt, totally bonkers—but fun all the same.

1. THERE'S A REASON HARRY'S CLASS SIZE IS SO SMALL.

In a chat with fans hosted by Scholastic.com in 2000, Rowling told an inquisitive reader that "there are about a thousand students at Hogwarts." Since then, fans have tried to puzzle out how that adds up: If there are 1000 students at Hogwarts, there should be roughly 35 students in each house each year. And yet, there only appear to be 10 Gryffindors in Harry's year. Is this just an oversight by Rowling, and there are other, unnamed members of Harry's class going about their business? One imaginative fan thinks not.

Tumblr user marauders4evr writes:

What if there were less students in the Hogwarts Class of 1998 because the period when the other kids would have been conceived (1979-1981) was when Voldemort’s reign of power was at its peak? Between the dozens of adults who joined the Order, the dozens of civilians who were killed in Death Eater raids, and the dozens of adults that didn’t want to bring a child into the world, just then…It’s actually entirely possible that there was a baby drought for a few years in the wizarding world, leading to a smaller class size a decade later.

While intriguing and logically plausible, Rowling most likely didn't think this one all the way through.

2. RON WEASLEY IS ACTUALLY A TIME-TRAVELING DUMBLEDORE.

One of the most persistently farfetched Potter theories is that idea that legendary wizard Albus Dumbledore is none other than freckle-faced Ron Weasley, grown up and gone back in time. The idea first surfaced in 2004, known memorably as the “Knight2King theory,” in which the authors extrapolated from a truly impressive amount of circumstantial evidence that Ron/Dumbledore are two sides of the same person. The idea was inspired by the Wizard’s Chess scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer's Stone in which Ron plays as both a knight and the king—the symbolic roles that Ron and Dumbledore, respectively, play in the greater wizarding war to come. While these seeds of a theory seem rational enough, the follow-through is less than convincing, relying on such superficial similarities as Ron/Dumbledore’s red hair, long nose, and fondness for sweets to build a case.

The theorists speculate wildly about how Dumbledore became so prescient and wise (by living two lives and traveling through time to witness certain events twice, of course) and determine that Dumbledore’s ideal Christmas gift of warm socks stems from his youthful (as Ron) ingratitude for his mother’s hand-knitted sweaters. It’s a wild ride, to say the least; luckily, the authors’ full list of meticulously cited claims is still available to read here.

Adherents to the Ron = Dumbledore theory resurface periodically, whether in earnest (no doubt enthralled by the sheer volume of so-called evidence the K2K originators compiled) or in jest (as in a recent series of tongue-in-cheek articles by Mallory Ortberg, in which she coins the name “Ronbledore” for the unlikely time traveler), but all of them seem to have missed the final word on the subject, which Rowling issued as far back as 2005 in response to the growing tide of Ronbledore truthers: “These theories open up exhilarating new vistas of possibility… but they’re wrong. Could it be that by speculating that Harry/Ron becomes Dumbledore, you are seeking reassurance that neither dies young?”

3. NEVILLE WASN'T BAD AT MAGIC—HE WAS JUST USING THE WRONG WAND. 

Hapless, fumbling Neville Longbottom spent his early years at Hogwarts botching spells left and right, and, despite coming from two powerful magical parents, considered himself “almost a Squib.” But his friendship with Harry, and the increasing danger to the wizarding world, provided ample opportunity for him to prove himself: He mastered the difficult Shield Charm second only to “brightest witch of her age” Hermione, and held his own during multiple duels with Death Eaters. Much of this can surely be attributed to the natural process of maturation and personal growth, but some fans think there was one pivotal change that made all the difference: Neville’s wand

Both Rowling’s original text and the Warner Bros. film adaptations make clear one basic tenet of wand lore: the wand chooses the wizard. For a witch or wizard, a visit to Ollivanders Wand Shop is the ultimate personality test, as the otherwise inert wands “choose” whether or not the person wielding them is destined to be its master. When the unique magical artifact’s potential aligns with the right witch or wizard, sparks literally fly, and the wand commits itself to a single master.

The corollary to such an enigmatic matching process is that a wizard using a wand that has not chosen him will never wield its full potential. A wizard may adopt another’s wand out of necessity, such as Ron Weasley inheriting his brother Charlie’s old wand to save the expense of a new one; in such instances, the wand will function sufficiently, but not excellently.

Unlike Ron, who begrudgingly accepted a family hand-me-down as simply the way things had to be in an impoverished household, Neville chose to adopt his father’s wand. Frank Longbottom had used the wand to do powerful magic during his time as an Auror, up to and including his final altercation with the Death Eaters who would ultimately torture him to the point of insanity. Knowing that the wand would otherwise go unused during his father’s interminable stay in the wizarding equivalent of the psych ward, St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, Neville took it as his own—and thus began his early years of bungled spells and constant struggle to make magic “work” with a wand that was never meant for him. 

Though there is no way to separate truth from coincidence, thus landing this particular theory squarely in the realm of “sounds right, but we may never know,” some fans believe that Death Eater Antonin Dolohov did Neville a huge favor by breaking his—or rather, his father’s—wand at the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. Neville was thus forced to go through the wand-choosing process for the first time, finally securing for himself a wand that he could truly call his own. In the years following, his magical prowess increased tremendously, fitting him to lead Dumbledore's Army in Harry’s absence, duel the most powerful Dark wizards at the Battle of Hogwarts, and even become an Auror, thereby following in his mother’s and father’s footsteps and making even his infamously disapproving grandmother proud. It would downplay Neville’s tremendous personal journey to attribute such drastic changes simply to his wand, but it certainly looks like that 13-inch cherry and unicorn hair from Ollivanders didn’t hurt. 

4. DUMBLEDORE IS DEATH.

In "The Tale of the Three Brothers"—from The Tales of Beedle the Bard, sort of the wizarding world's version of Mother Goose—three unnamed siblings come face to face with the personification of Death, who offers them their choice of gifts. The first brother, convinced of his own superiority, chooses the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in existence; the second brother requests the ability to resurrect loved ones from the dead, made possible by the Resurrection Stone; the third brother, humbly, asks only for Death not to pursue him, and is given the Cloak of Invisibility under which to hide. The three artifacts thus comprised the Deathly Hallows: real magical objects possessed by the Peverell brothers, and sought after for centuries after their deaths.

As if the lines between fact and fiction were not already blurred enough, some readers have astutely noticed parallels between the original brothers and another set of three “brothers”: Harry, Snape, and Voldemort. By their reckoning, Voldemort represents the first brother, lusting for power and seeking possession of the Elder Wand at all costs; Snape is the second brother, driven only by the desire to recapture his lost love; Harry is the third brother, ready to face Death and thus accepted as “an old friend.” 

Moreover, this interpretation posits that there’s a fourth character from whom all the Hallows originate: Death, otherwise known as Dumbledore. The Headmaster is the only one, prior to Harry, to possess each of the Hallows: he presents Harry first with the Cloak, then with the Stone, and is stripped of the Elder Wand by Draco Malfoy, who then loses it in a duel to Harry. He is, however indirectly, responsible for the deaths of both Snape and Voldemort, and when Harry “dies,” who is there to greet him? Dumbledore, welcoming him like an old friend.

The theory identifies some skillfully crafted parallels, drawing connections between what is merely the stuff of wizarding legend and the real-life events of the Second Wizarding War, but is it literally true? Not really. Though "The Tale of the Three Brothers" was a magical folk story, in Rowling's magical universe, the Peverell brothers themselves really did live and die, with the historical records to prove it. Cadmus and Ignotus both had children and passed on the Peverell lineage, such that Harry and Voldemort are both actual blood descendants of the brothers—so no, they are not literally their own many-times-great-grandfathers, which means Dumbledore isn’t literally Death, either. In the end, some things really are just symbolism.

5. HARRY'S LOVE FOR GINNY IS A DRUG-INDUCED ILLUSION.

This is a difficult theory to treat delicately, so it’s best to be blunt: certain readers (perhaps still-disgruntled supporters of a Harry/Hermione romance) claim that Ginny Weasley must have administered a love potion to Harry in order to induce his infatuation with her. They’re skeptical of the accelerated courtship between Harry and Ginny, who have been acquainted since Harry first encountered the Weasleys on Platform 9 ¾ en route to Hogwarts for the first time, when Ginny was childishly starstruck and Harry youthfully indifferent. In their view, romance should have bloomed sooner between the two, given Harry’s frequent presence at the Burrow and all their subsequent interactions at school, and the only explanation for its sudden onset during the events of Half-Blood Prince is an unnatural one: love potion. 

There was certainly a precedent set for the abuse of love potions within the sixth book: Merope Gaunt drugged handsome Muggle Tom Riddle to make him fall in “love” with her, thereby setting the course for Lord Voldemort’s loveless birth and orphan childhood; Romilda Vane tries to get her hands on The Chosen One with a sneakily dosed box of chocolates, but accidentally ensnares Ron instead. Ginny certainly would have had access to one of love potions the other girls are seen giggling over in her brothers’ joke shop, as well as possessing the wherewithal to brew up her own if necessary.

That’s means and perhaps motive, but what the theory fails to acknowledge is the implicit accusation that Ginny Weasley committed a very serious crime, the magical equivalent of giving someone roofies. While some fans may be perfectly content to accept this version of events, others argue that it undermines one of the story’s core themes: the triumph of love over darkness—the mother’s love that made Harry Potter into the Boy Who Lived, and the absence of it that turned Tom Marvolo Riddle towards evil. All things considered, that’s a harder pill to swallow than a teenage boy suddenly developing a crush on his best friend’s sister.

Rowling put the matter to rest in February 2014, when she confirmed while speaking at Exeter University that “Harry did love Ginny.”

6. HARRY AND SIRIUS ARE RELATED BY BLOOD.

Within the wizarding world, Harry enjoys a particular sort of social privilege: not only is he The Boy Who Lived, he is also the son of James Potter, of the pure-blood Potter family. Due to his Muggle upbringing, Harry pays little notice to his own blood status, let alone anyone else’s. However, wizarding genealogy indicates that the son of Muggle-born Lily Evans and nephew of decidedly unmagical Petunia may belong to an ancestral chain that goes back generations into pure-blood history. Though Rowling mentions James Potter’s parents only in passing as a wealthy couple who had a child quite late in life, some clever fans have connected the dots and think they might know exactly who Mr. and Mrs. Potter are.

The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black exemplifies the most rabid sort of pure-blood family, the kind which kept an elaborate family tree of their exclusively magical lineage dating back to the Middle Ages, and disowned any sons or daughters considered to be “blood traitors.” With their family motto of Toujours pur (“Always/Still pure”), the Blacks took cruel pride in burning off the names of such blood traitors from their family tree, preferring singed holes in the tapestry to acknowledgment of any impurity. Just as the tree links the Black family to the Malfoys, the Weasleys, the Prewetts, and other pure-blood families by marriage, it may also provide a link to Harry Potter himself, by way of Dorea Black’s marriage to Charlus Potter. These two, fans believe, are none other than James Potter’s elderly parents—Harry Potter’s grandparents.

Secondary to this is the possibility that Charlus and Dorea’s unnamed son was James’s father, thereby making Dorea Black Harry’s great-grandmother. Either of these possibilities suggest direct familial relationships between Harry and many of his loved ones: his wife Ginny may be his third cousin; his godfather Sirius his second cousin, twice removed; and Arthur Weasley, Andromeda Tonks, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Draco Malfoy various other forms of cousins. The third possibility is that Charlus Potter was a more distant relative of James Potter, leaving Harry as unentangled with the Noble House of Black as before—but without additional canonical information, each option is as likely as the next. 

7. THE HORCRUX IN HARRY IS WHAT MADE THE DURSLEYS HATE HIM.

As much of a burden as a baby suddenly dropped on your doorstep might be, the Dursleys’ antipathy toward the orphan in their care has always seemed unusually virulent. And while Harry may be an unwanted responsibility thrust upon them, there seems to be no justification for treating him as sub-human—unless some sort of external force were warping their own humanity.

Tumblr user graphicnerdity has proposed a rationale for the Dursley’s horrible behavior that, like all things in the wizarding world, has magical origins: namely, that the Horcrux within Harry is such a powerful negative influence that exposure to it over an extended period of time—say, the entire decade of Harry’s upbringing at Privet Drive—could naturally drive a good person to unkindness, and turn “your garden variety insufferable human beings into horrible, heartless monsters.” If the Horcrux contained in Slytherin’s locket could drive Ron to such jealousy that he would abandon his best friend in the middle of the woods while his life was in constant, immediate danger, it seems entirely plausible that such concentrated Dark Magic could steer the Dursleys to all sorts of atrocities. 

Alas, there’s a more mundane explanation as to why the Dursleys are such terrible people: They just really, really hate Harry. Petunia’s aversion to her nephew clearly stems from resentment of his mother, the magically gifted one of the two Evans sisters, the golden girl who left her dull Muggle sister behind. In Harry, Petunia has a reminder of the fascinating other world she was never permitted to join, staring back at her from green eyes identical to those of the sister she could never compete with.

Vernon, on the other hand, sees in Harry echoes not of his mother, but his father: charming but arrogant James Potter, who managed to offend Vernon once and never had the chance to make up for it, as Rowling revealed in a story published on Pottermore. At an optimistic meet-the-family dinner, Petunia introduced her new fiance to her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, and it all went terribly wrong. Vernon’s attempt to patronize James by asking what car he drove and assuming that all wizards had to live off unemployment benefits led to James’s flippant description of his top-of-the-line racing broom and the family inheritance of solid gold pieces piled up in Gringotts. Unable to win this game of one-upmanship, Vernon and Petunia left in a rage. Though James promised to a tearful Lily that he would make things right, their untimely deaths prevented any sort of reconciliation between the two couples, and so Harry was doomed to a truly terrible childhood. 

8. HARRY IS IMMORTAL.

This theory can be attributed to a level of close reading that would make any college English professor proud. Sybil Trelawney’s prophecy regarding the relationship between Harry and Voldemort, stored deep in the Department of Mysteries due to its potentially world-changing impact, is very particularly worded, with the relevant portion declaring that “either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.” The obvious interpretation, and the one borne out by the ending of the series, is that Harry is destined to kill or be killed by Voldemort; there is no other way.

There is, however, another way to interpret the prophecy, which Imgur user HPWombat identified: If either Harry or Voldemort must die at the hand of the other, it is conceivable that the one to survive remains immune to death through any other means. Harry vanquished Voldemort, thereby satisfying the condition of the prophecy that indicated he could—but it may be that Harry himself is now effectively immortal. Those familiar with the Greek myth of Tithonus and Eos will immediately recognize the tragedy of such a fate, but there’s an additional twist for Harry: By sacrificing his death, he will never have the opportunity to see his family, even in death. That’s the darkest possible ending by far. 

9. GILDEROY LOCKHART GOT HIRED AT HOGWARTS BECAUSE DUMBLEDORE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE FUNNY. 

For all his machinations and questionable morality, Dumbledore unquestionably possessed a fine sense of humor. As fans cast about for a way to justify the Headmaster’s completely uncharacteristic decision to hire flamboyant, self-aggrandizing, preening, insufferable celebrity author Gilderoy Lockhart as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, some of them concluded that he must have done it just for a laugh

It’s a fairly innocuous belief to hold, though it does leave the question open of how responsible it was for Dumbledore to hire a joke candidate for a real teaching position; however, Rowling has stepped in once again to patch up the hole. A character profile of Lockhart on Pottermore reveals the real reason Dumbledore gave such a bumbling fraud a position of authority. He was well aware that Lockhart had been faking his tales of defeating dangerous Dark creatures in far-off lands. Dumbledore had been personally acquainted both with two of the wizards whose accomplishments Lockhart had falsely claimed as his own, and Lockhart’s own failings as a former student at Hogwarts. Rather than attempting to expose him directly, risking the disbelief and knee-jerk support Lockhart’s adoring fanbase would undoubtedly have offered, Dumbledore led Lockhart back to the very same school environment that had once proved him mediocre and waited him to trip over his own feet. 

10. DRACO MALFOY IS A WEREWOLF.

One rather bonkers theory drastically reinterprets Draco Malfoy’s role in the sixth and seventh books, “Brittany & Nick” claim that Draco Malfoy is a werewolf, and they feel so strongly that this must be true that they’ve bought the domain name to share their theory with everyone.

The first step to convincing other Harry Potter fans of the Werewolf Draco is to debunk a common assumption, or rather, a common misconception: Draco Malfoy is not a Death Eater. Not once is he shown to have the Dark Mark with which the Dark Lord brands all his followers, and although he threateningly reveals “something on his arm” to the shady proprietor of Borgin & Burkes, the explicit omission of what this “something” is indicates that isn’t the first thing to come to mind.

If Draco isn’t a Death Eater, then what physical marking could he have that would scare a hardened proprietor of Dark artifacts into doing his bidding? Brittany and Nick think it's a werewolf bite. In that same interaction with Borgin, Draco even name-drops Fenrir Greyback, “a family friend” and one of Voldemort’s most loyal supporters, who happens to be a bloodthirsty werewolf. That’s not to say that Draco is proud of his new werewolf status, which would account for his unusually sickly appearance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; more likely, he was bitten by Fenrir under Voldemort’s orders, as the ultimate form of punishment for Lucius Malfoy’s repeated failures. (Keep in mind that the elder Malfoy’s mishandling of Tom Riddle’s diary led to the destruction of one-seventh of Voldemort’s very soul, and it seems ludicrous that his only punishment at the Dark Lord’s hands would be house arrest. Rather than punish Lucius directly and lose his unwavering support, it seems rational that Voldemort would instead inflict a horrible fate on Draco, who was more expendable.)

Brittany and Nick's final evidence pointing to the truth of Werewolf Draco is Narcissa Malfoy’s inexplicable decision to turn on the Dark Lord at the final moment, proclaiming Harry Potter to be dead while fully aware that he was yet capable of fighting back. A pure-blood mother to a pure-blood son would have little reason to turn on the leader promising a world built to cater to those just like them—unless her beloved child was somehow tainted, and no longer welcome in the new pure-blood order.

Fans of the films, of course, can easily throw a wrench in this theory by pointing out that on screen, Draco does in fact have the Dark Mark emblazoned on his right inner forearm, as he demonstrates to Dumbledore in the Astronomy Tower. (It's worth noting that the sixth film came out a couple of years after the release of the last book, which is presumably when Brittany and Nick were doing their theorizing.) If the films are considered canon—and, being approved by J.K. Rowling, there is no reason they shouldn’t be—then that single cinematic moment neatly debunks what was once a promising theory. Furthermore, a December 2014 Pottermore update provided some long-awaited backstory for the teenage antagonist, and confirmed that Draco did in fact accept “full membership of the Death Eaters,” determined to return the Malfoy name to its former glory in Voldemort’s regime.

Dark Mark notwithstanding, the events of the war did change Draco: if not from human to werewolf, then from a pureblood elitist to a better man than his father. Though his familial love never wavers, his hatred for Muggles fades, and he marries a fellow Slytherin with similarly reformed views (to his parents’ disappointment). Rowling ultimately expresses “high hopes that he will raise [his son] Scorpius to be a much kinder and tolerant Malfoy than he was in his own youth.” Unlike the werewolf theory, this transformation is for the better.

11. HERMIONE'S CAT, CROOKSHANKS, IS HALF-KNEAZLE. 

To the delight of most fans and the smug satisfaction of a select few, Rowling herself has verified a few suspicions over the years. Not the most urgent mystery, but a mystery nonetheless, the true nature of Hermione’s funny-looking orange cat Crookshanks may have frustrated readers who were convinced from the start that Hermione’s pet wasn’t any normal cat. With the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and an explicit follow-up on her personal website, Rowling confirmed that Crookshanks was, in fact, half Kneazle: a breed of highly intelligent magical feline with a plumed tail like a lion, capable of breeding with the usual garden-variety, non-magical cat. This explains Harry and Ron’s alarmed reaction upon first seeing Hermione’s fluffy new friend, as it appears to them to be “either a very big cat or quite a small tiger.” Crookshanks’s Kneazle heritage also accounts for his odd behavior, particularly toward Scabbers, Ron’s pet rat, later found to be Peter Pettigrew in his Animagus form; rather than the usual cat-and-mouse rivalry, Crookshanks demonstrated violent intent toward Scabbers because he sensed that he was a fraud. However, still being part cat, Crookshanks mostly occupied himself chasing gnomes, catching spiders, and being petted. Typical.

12. PROFESSOR MCGONAGALL IS A DEATH EATER.

Much like the Ronbledore theory, the conviction that Minerva McGonagall—Head of Gryffindor House and one of Dumbledore’s most trusted colleagues—is a traitorous Death Eater in disguise deserves some attention not for its validity, but for the sheer audacity of the conclusions it draws from a mountain of minor details. From the very first chapter of Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, Professor McGonagall’s latent “pureblood elitist ideals” are allegedly evident in her dismissal of Muggles as “not completely stupid.” Though uncharitable, a belief in the inherent superiority of wizards over non-wizards is standard within the magical community, and is not necessarily synonymous with the desire to eradicate the entire Muggle population.

Likewise, the theorist finds McGonagall’s taste for Quidditch, a divisive source of house rivalry and ill will, evidence of her latent maliciousness—although her fellow Quidditch fans include the likes of the Weasleys, Madam Hooch, and Oliver Wood, none of whom seem particularly inclined to evil.

Her chosen subject, Transfiguration, the theorist paints as the realm of the “shape shifting and manipulative”—again discounting the fact that Albus Dumbledore began his own illustrious Hogwarts teaching career as the Transfiguration professor. 

The greatest apparent argument that McGonagall must be trafficking with the forces of evil is her seeming disregard for Harry’s safety, as demonstrated by her conscripting him to the Gryffindor Quidditch team, even going so far as to provide him with a top-of-the-line racing broom; failing to prevent the basilisk attacks threatening the school during Chamber of Secrets; and allowing Harry to participate in the potentially fatal Triwizard Tournament. It’s clear that this author has some serious misconceptions about the violence associated with sports, which the overwhelming majority of athletes—both wizard and Muggle—manage to survive largely unscathed on a day-to-day basis, but also about the influence one professor could conceivably have against 1) a deadly magical creature that is, even by magical standards, nearly mythical, and 2) a binding magical contract that not even Dumbledore, a much more accomplished wizard, does not dare attempt to broach. It’s true, then, that she didn’t protect Harry from certain dangers, but it was neither within her purview nor her ability to do so.

Were Professor McGonagall truly the most successful double agent in Hogwarts, she would have to be a terrific actress. While Dame Maggie Smith certainly plays the aged witch with aplomb in the films, the Death Eater theory suggests that there are obvious cracks in McGonagall’s façade in the books. Her emotions are inconsistent with what one might expect at certain major events: while keeping vigil outside the Dursleys’ house immediately after the Potters’ death, she demonstrates few signs of grief, instead appraising the situation bluntly as “all very sad.” She sheds no tears for Cedric Diggory, and moves briskly about moving into Dumbledore’s office and assuming the position of Headmistress after his death. She could simply be called stoic, but she demonstrates deep feeling at other times, as when Harry, Ginny, and Ron emerge from the Chamber: she takes “great, steadying gasps, clutching her chest”—a dramatic reaction, but then again, these three children were covered in blood. At other such horrifying events, she “instantly turns on the waterworks. She turns into a blubbering ball of emotion.”

What, then, to make of this inconsistency? The Death Eater McGonagall theory suggests that it’s all an act, a calculated distraction to hide evil McGonagall’s true depth of disappointment whenever one of the Dark Lord’s murderous plots are thwarted (for instance, when Harry, Ginny, and Ron emerged from the Chamber, it was after destroying one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes—which may have explained why she was gasping). After all, “the other characters […] show their deep emotion in much more simple ways,” in their tone of voice or the touch of a hand or a shedding of a single tear, as opposed to McGonagall “turning into an emotional basket case.” How dare one individual express feelings differently than another? She must be a Death Eater! That, or a human being with a complicated, outwardly unfathomable inner life.

Death Eater McGonagall’s “true” emotions seem to surface in her interactions with one other character: Sybill Trelawney, Professor of Divination and the Seer who conveyed the prophecy that linked Harry’s fate with Voldemort’s. For this reason, the author posits, McGonagall openly demonstrates an extreme dislike for Trelawney, with a “childish” contempt for her colleague that can’t otherwise be explained—except as disdain for her ineptitude as a teacher, disgust for such useless practices being taught in an educational setting, and an irreconcilable clash of personalities. Disliking someone, after all, doesn’t make you a Death Eater, and as the events of Deathly Hallows prove, Minerva McGonagall was the furthest thing from one.

A version of this story ran in 2015.

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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The First Known Uses of 6 Common Typographic Symbols
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Many of the most common symbols on our keyboards have fascinating origin stories. Some, such as the zero, we now take for granted—yet the idea of denoting an absence of value was not present in Western mathematics until introduced from the East. Other symbols, such as the hashtag or at-sign, had a variety of uses until the internet ushered in a new way of communicating and fixed them with the meanings we know today. Below are six examples of the first known usage and subsequent history of some of the most common typographic symbols.

1. AT SIGN // @

The @ (or at-sign) is usually dated to 1536 in a letter from a Florentine merchant, Francesco Lapi, who used it to mean a unit of wine called “amphorae.” But a Spanish researcher claims to have found an even earlier usage in a 1448 document, where the symbol also referred to a unit of measurement (even today, Spaniards call the @ symbol arroba, which is also a unit of weight, and some other Romance languages have similar dual meanings). Either way, the researchers think that the symbol then moved to Northern Europe, where it eventually gained the meaning of “at the price.” Other explanations have also been offered, but whatever the exact root of the symbol, its meaning eventually became known as shorthand for at, and it was generally used in written financial transactions—for example, in noting “Bob sells James 4 apples @ $1.”

The sign had largely fallen out of use by the early 1970s, when computer scientist Ray Tomlinson was working at what is now BBN Technologies, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tomlinson, who was working for the government on a forerunner of the internet, was trying to figure out how to address messages sent from one computer to another when he noticed the little-used @ on his computer keyboard, and used it to send a prototype email. This precedent was soon adopted as the internet developed, and the at-sign is now, of course, central to our lives.

2. ZERO // 0

The absence of a value is a complex concept, one that many ancient civilizations struggled with. The idea of a zero ultimately came to the West from the mathematicians of India, where, as in a few other cultures, zero was initially used as a placeholder, for example to indicate a lack of units, as in the number 101.

The earliest surviving usage of a zero in India has been traced to an ancient mathematical text known as the Bakhshali manuscript, which is held at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In September 2017, radiocarbon dating indicated that the manuscript was produced as early as the 3rd or 4th century—providing us with the first known usage of zero some 500 years earlier than previously thought. As Oxford’s Bodleian Library says, “the symbol in the Bakhshali manuscript is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is this dot that evolved to have a hollow centre and became the symbol that we use as zero today. Secondly, it was only in India that this zero developed into a number in its own right, hence creating the concept and the number zero that we understand today."

The manuscript itself was discovered buried in a field in 1881 in what is today Pakistan. Written on 70 delicate leaves of birch bark, historians think it represents a training manual for Silk Road traders, teaching them concepts of arithmetic.

3. HASHTAG // #

Hashtag on an old typewriter key
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The origin of the hashtag (or pound sign as it's traditionally known in the U.S.) comes from scribes writing shorthand for the Latin libra pondo, which translates as "pound by weight." The abbreviation they used was lb, which was sometimes misread as 16. So, scribes took to drawing a line through the top of the two letters, which over time developed into the now familiar #. In the 1960s, the pound sign was chosen by Bell Laboratories to be a function key on their newly designed telephone keypad. (The Bell Labs team fondly nicknamed the symbol the “octothorpe,” possibly in honor of athlete Jim Thorpe.) Fast-forward to 2007, when early Twitter users wanted to be able to group and filter their feeds, so developer Chris Messina suggested they appropriate the method used in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) whereby users employed the pound sign or "hashtag" to signpost what they were chatting about. (Programmers knew the symbol as the hash, which was now being used to "tag" content.) This simple method soon caught on, and today the hashtag has become indelibly linked to the rise of social media.

4. ELLIPSIS // …

Originally, periods of silence were marked textually with a series of hyphens, but today the symbol of choice is the , a.k.a. the ellipsis. Dr. Anne Toner of Cambridge University spent years researching the ellipsis and finally discovered what she thinks is its first use—an English translation of Roman dramatist Terence’s play Andria printed in 1588. Although the play used hyphens instead of dots, the general idea caught on rapidly. (Toner notes that although there are only four “ellipses” in the 1588 translation, there are 29 in the 1627 version.) By the 18th century, dots started to replace the dashes, which an assistant professor from Southeastern University suggests may be connected to a medieval piece of punctuation called subpuncting or underdotting, which generally indicated something was incorrectly copied.

5. AMPERSAND // &

Ampersand symbol on an old metal block
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The ampersand originated in Latin when the word et (meaning and) was written in cursive script as a ligature (in which one or more letters are written together as a single glyph). One of the earliest examples was found daubed in graffiti on the walls of a house in Pompeii, where it was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. By the 8th century the ampersand became a recognizably distinct character, but the word ampersand did not come into use until the late 18th/19th century, when English school children would recite "and per se and" meaning “and by itself means and” to help remember the symbol (per se being Latin for "by itself"). One of the most thorough investigations into the typographic history of the ampersand comes courtesy of German graphic designer Jan Tschichold, who in 1953 published The am­persand: its ori­gin and de­vel­op­ment, in which he collected numerous examples of the ampersand from the 1st century onwards, visually charting its developing form.

6. PLUS SIGN // +

A variety of ceramic plus signs
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The plus sign used for addition in mathematics likely derives from a shorthand ligature for the Latin et meaning “and” and was probably in use for a long time before a surviving example appeared in print. One candidate for the earliest surviving usage is in French philosopher and polymath Nicole Oresme's Algorismus proportionum, a manuscript handwritten between 1356 and 1361, although scholars debate whether it's a true plus symbol. The first use of a plus sign in a printed book is more definitive, and can be found in a 1489 edition of Johannes Widmann’s Mercantile Arithmetic. Widmann also uses the minus sign for the first time in print in this volume—although both plus and minus signs relate not to addition and subtraction but to surpluses and deficits in business accounting. After this usage, the plus sign began to appear more frequently in German mathematical texts, and first appeared in an English text in 1557 in Robert Recorde’s The Whetstone of Witte—which also introduced the equals sign.

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