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7 Characters That Didn’t Make It Into the Harry Potter Books

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The books, movies, and play exploring the Harry Potter universe aren’t enough to satisfy some fans. Readers are ravenous for extra content, and J.K. Rowling has never been stingy about sharing it. Since publishing the series, she’s made several post-Potter revelations detailing tidbits that never made it into the official books. She’s also discussed a handful of early characters that were written out of the stories before they went to print. Here are the characters Rowling couldn’t find room for in the wizarding world.

1. MAFALDA

Hermione spends much of the Goblet of Fire coaching Harry through the Triwizard Tournament, flirting with Viktor Krum, and founding S.P.E.W. (the Society for Protection of Elfish Welfare). But in early drafts, she also spent time butting heads with Ron’s cousin. Mafalda was the daughter of Arthur Weasley’s second cousin, who’s briefly mentioned in the Sorcerer's Stone. In the fourth book, she was originally meant to stay with the Weasley clan for part of the summer and accompany them to the Quidditch World Cup. It soon became clear why her parents pawned her off on their relatives: Mafalda was a huge brat. "She turns out to be the most unpleasant child Mrs. Weasley has ever met," the author wrote at jkrowling.com.

She was also a Slytherin—a break in tradition for the Weasley name. But her house made her a useful resource to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The 11-year-old was to be an excellent eavesdropper, and any valuable information she overheard from the children of Death Eaters she conveyed to her cousin and his friends in an attempt to impress them. Had she made it into the books, Mafalda may have become one of Hermione’s greatest rivals at Hogwarts. "The best thing about Mafalda was that she was a match for Hermione," Rowling wrote. "To the latter's horror, Mafalda was highly gifted and a real show-off, so that Hermione was torn between deploring the rule-breaking and longing to join in and beat her."

Even though J.K. Rowling was fond of the character, Mafalda didn’t make it into the finished story. Having a first-year student, albeit a clever one, gather the intel necessary to move the plot forward proved too difficult to write. Rowling ended up creating the gossip journalist Rita Skeeter to fill the role instead.

2. MOPSY THE DOG LOVER

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The Potterverse is full of animal lovers, including fantastic beast-collector Hagrid and crazy cat lady Mrs. Figg. Another pet enthusiast was nearly added to the mix in Goblet of Fire. According to Rowling, the character, named Mopsy, was “a highly eccentric, dog-loving old witch” who “kept a pack of ill-assorted dogs [and] was on constant bad terms with her neighbors because of the barking and the mess.” When Mopsy saw Sirius in disguise as Padfoot, she took him for a stray and brought him into her flea-ridden home outside Hogsmeade.

Sadly, readers were never introduced to Mopsy. The book’s editor asked for the character to be cut because she didn’t add much to the plot—and Rowling had to agree. Instead, she gave Sirius an isolated cave to stay where Harry, Ron, and Hermione could discuss Barty Crouch Jr. without fear of being overheard.

3. PYRITES

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In one early draft of the series’s opening chapter, Rowling gave Voldemort a servant named Pyrites, which means “fool’s gold.” His job was to meet Sirius Black outside the Potters’ house at the time of their murder. As Rowling wrote on her website, “he was a dandy and wore white silk gloves, which I thought I might stain artistically with blood from time to time.” The character was a victim of the editing process, along many other early attempts at the first chapter.

4. MOPSUS

Another character included in early drafts of the Sorcerer's Stone was Mopsus, a blind wizard who was skilled at predicting the future, or divining. (He had no relation to Mopsy as far as we know—his name came from the famous seer of Greek mythology.) He was so talented that his abilities threatened to complicate the plot. Rowling said at a 2005 press conference, “If there was somebody who really could do divination at the time that Harry was alive, it greatly diminished the drama of the story because someone out there knew what was going to happen.”

The gifted but incompetent Professor Trelawney took his place as the series’s most prominent seer. In book four, Rowling recycled many of the traits she envisioned for Mopsus when writing Mad-Eye Moody.

5. DUDLEY’S WIZARD SON

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There could have been one more family at King’s Cross during the series’s epilogue. She considered giving Dudley Dursley a magical child for him to send off to Hogwarts at the same time as his cousin. Rowling ultimately abandoned the thought, writing on her website that “a short period of reflection convinced me that any latent wizarding genes would never survive contact with Uncle Vernon’s DNA.” Wizard child or no wizard child, Dudley remains on “Christmas Card” terms with Harry throughout his adulthood, according to Rowling.

6. PROFESSOR TROCAR

The world of Harry Potter is filled with ghosts, goblins, and werewolves. Vampires, though they exist in the universe, don’t show up as often. As Rowling explained on Pottermore, “The vampire myth is so rich, and has been exploited so many times in literature and on film, that I felt there was little I could add to the tradition.” She did, however, toy with the idea of writing a blood-sucking professor when first brainstorming the Hogwarts staff.

Professor Trocar wasn’t fully fleshed out—Rowling didn't even land on a subject for him to teach. Most of the time she invested in the character was spent picking out a name. A trocar is a sharp tool used to drain bodily fluids from a patient—an appropriate choice for a character who feeds on blood. Rowling made it clear that Trocar was not an early version of Snape, crushing the hopes of any “Snape-is-a-secret-vampire” fan theorists still out there.

7. HERMIONE’S SISTER

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Rowling never intended to make Hermione an only child. As she told the BBC in a 2004 interview, she always imagined Hermione as having a younger sister. After publishing a few books that contained no mention of the second Granger child, though, Rowling figured it was too late to introduce her in a graceful way. Her omission was probably for the best: It meant Hermione had one less family member to obliviate in the final book.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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