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