Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide Read online

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  pierced its tongue, igniting the gassy fumes rising from its stomach and causing the wyvern to explode.

  Elderly witches and wizards still use the saying ‘I’ll take Cadogan’s pony’ to mean, ‘I’ll salvage the best I can from a tricky situation’.

  Sir Cadogan’s portrait, which hangs on the seventh floor of Hogwarts Castle, shows him with the pony he rode forever more (which, understandably perhaps, never much liked him) and accurately depicts his hot temper, his love of a foolhardy challenge and his determination to beat the enemy, come what may.

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  Hogwarts is teeming with secrets. It seems from Harry’s explorations that every locked door and empty classroom conceals a rare magical object or fearsome monster of some kind. Let’s start with one of the most tempting but potentially devastating objects hidden in the grounds: the Mirror of Erised.

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  MIRROR OF ERISED

  BY J.K. ROWLING

  The Mirror of Erised is a very old device. Nobody knows who created it, or how it came to be at Hogwarts School. A succession of teachers have brought back interesting artefacts from their travels, so it might have arrived at the castle in this casual manner, either because the teacher knew how it worked and was intrigued by it, or because they did not understand it and wished to ask their colleagues’ opinions.

  The Mirror of Erised is one of those magical artefacts that seems to have been created in a spirit of fun (whether innocent or malevolent is a matter of opinion), because while it is much more revealing than a normal mirror, it is interesting rather than useful. Only after Professor Dumbledore makes key modifications to the mirror (which has been languishing in the Room of Requirement for a century or so before he brings it out and puts it to work) does it become a superb hiding place, and the final test for the impure of heart.

  The mirror’s inscription (‘erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi’) must be read backwards to show its true purpose.

  Albus Dumbledore, who brings it out of hiding, puts it back where he found it when it has achieved his purpose in Philosopher’s Stone. We must conclude, therefore, that the mirror was destroyed, along with all the other contents of the Room of Requirement, during the Battle of Hogwarts.

  J.K. Rowling’s thoughts

  Albus Dumbledore’s words of caution to Harry when discussing the Mirror of Erised express my own views. The advice to ‘hold on to your dreams’ is all well and good, but there comes a point when holding on to your dreams becomes unhelpful and even unhealthy. Dumbledore knows that life can pass you by while you are clinging on to a wish that can never be – or ought never to be – fulfilled. Harry’s deepest yearning is for something impossible: the return of his parents. Desperately sad though it is that he has been deprived of his family, Dumbledore knows that to sit gazing on a vision of what he can never have, will only damage Harry. The mirror is bewitching and tantalising, but it does not necessarily bring happiness.

  Dumbledore may have concealed what he truly saw when looking in the Mirror of Erised, but the Headmaster didn’t hide all of his memories. Over the years, the powerful Pensieve in the Headmaster’s office was used to let Harry explore Tom Riddle’s mysterious past, the Crouch family’s terrible history, and Slughorn’s greatest mistake. Like many items in the Headmaster’s office, a Pensieve is hard to come by and tricky to use.

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  ‌PENSIEVE

  BY J.K. ROWLING

  A Pensieve is a wide and shallow dish made of metal or stone, often elaborately decorated or inlaid with precious stones, and carrying powerful and complex enchantments. Pensieves are rare, because only the most advanced wizards ever use them, and because the majority of wizardkind is afraid of doing so.

  The perceived dangers of the Pensieve relate to its power over memory or thought. The Pensieve is enchanted to recreate memories so that they become re-liveable, taking every detail stored in the subconscious and recreating it faithfully, so that either the owner, or (and herein lies the danger) a second party, is able to enter the memories and move around within them. Inevitably, those with things to hide, those ashamed of their pasts, those eager to keep hold of their secrets, or protective of their privacy, will be wary of an object like the Pensieve.

  Even more difficult than the recreation of memories is the use of a Pensieve to examine and sort thoughts and ideas, and very few wizards have the ability to do so. Albus Dumbledore is seen using the Hogwarts Pensieve in this way, notably in Chapter Thirty of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when he adds thoughts to the Pensieve and Harry’s face turns into Snape’s; Dumbledore is reminding himself of the hidden connection between Snape and Harry (that Snape was in love with Harry’s mother, and is now – though immensely grudgingly – honour-bound to protect him).

  Traditionally, a witch or wizard’s Pensieve, like their wand, is buried with them, as it is considered an intensely personal artefact; any thoughts or memories left inside the Pensieve are likewise interred with their owner, unless he or she has requested otherwise. The Hogwarts Pensieve, however, belongs not to any individual but to the school. It has been used by a long line of headmasters and headmistresses, who have also left behind their life experience in the form of memories. This forms an invaluable library of reference for the headmaster or headmistress of the day.

  The Hogwarts Pensieve is made of ornately carved stone and is engraved with modified Saxon runes, which mark it as an artefact of immense antiquity that pre-dates the creation of the school. One (unsubstantiated) legend says that the founders discovered the Pensieve half-buried in the ground on the very spot where they decided to erect their school.

  The name ‘Pensieve’ is a homonym of ‘pensive’, meaning deeply, seriously thoughtful; but it also a pun, the ‘sieve’ part of the word alluding to the object’s function of sorting meanings from a mass of thoughts or memories.

  If you wanted to explore the castle forever and ever, you’d need to get hold of the Philosopher’s Stone. Before it was destroyed, obviously. But did you know that the stone has a history outside the wizarding world?

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  THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE

  J.K. Rowling’s thoughts

  I did not invent the concept of the Philosopher’s Stone, which is a legendary substance that was once believed to be real, and the true goal of alchemy.

  The properties of ‘my’ Philosopher’s Stone conform to most of the attributes the ancients ascribed to it. The Stone was believed to turn base metals into gold, and also to produce the Elixir of Life, which could make you immortal. ‘Genuine’ alchemists – the forerunners of chemists and physicists – such as Sir Isaac Newton and (the real) Nicolas Flamel, sought, sometimes over lifetimes, to discover the secret of its creation.

  The Stone is variously described as red and white in the many old texts in which it appears. These colours are important in most accounts of alchemy, and are often interpreted as having symbolic meaning.

  The Philosopher’s Stone isn’t the only mysterious artefact to appear to Harry in his hour of need. The sword of Gryffindor was goblin-made and studded with rubies, and was once owned by Hogwarts founder Godric Gryffindor. It was the appearance of the sword that appeased Harry’s doubts as to whether he was a true Gryffindor or not – as Dumbledore pointed out, ‘Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the Hat, Harry.’

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  THE SWORD OF GRYFFINDOR

  BY J.K. ROWLING

  The sword of Gryffindor was made a thousand years ago by goblins, the magical world’s most skilled metalworkers, and is therefore enchanted. Fashioned from pure silver, it is inset with rubies, the stone that represents Gryffindor in the hour-glasses that count the house points at Hogwarts. Godric Gryffindor’s name is engraved just beneath the hilt.

  The sword was made to Godric Gryffindor’s specifications by Ragnuk the First, finest of the goblin silversmiths, and therefore King (in goblin culture, the ruler does not work less than the others, but more skillfully). When it was fi