Rereading Harry Potter: 10 Questions I Have About The Magical World

Because I’m a cheater, I’m rereading the Harry Potter series in order to meet my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for this year. (Too lazy to hit the library for new books!) I reread the novels every year, but this is the first time I’ve really been reading with a critical eye. I sped through both Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets but as a Muggle fan of this amazing work of fiction, I still have questions about the mechanics of this universe. Here is a greatly condensed version of my running tally of enquiries:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone artwork

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone

  1. Why don’t we don’t hear about Sirius Black until book three? In this novel, we see Harry be introduced to his magical roots, and Hagrid has to hastily give him the story of what made him famous. He gets the Sparknotes version: Lord Voldemort, the greatest dark wizard of all time, killed his parents and tried to kill him when he was only an infant, and inexplicably, he could not. Dirty old Voldy was reduced to a shell of his former self, and Harry was left with his scar. This is Harry’s origin story. But, shouldn’t the fact that his parent’s very best friend betrayed them factor into that some how? Doesn’t that little bit of information have a profound effect on the mythology of this story?
  2. What happens to wizards who get expelled? We know that Hagrid was expelled in his third year, and that Dumbledore allowed him to stay on as Gamekeeper, but how does a situation like this play out for other expelled wizards? Hagrid’s wand is snapped and he is forbidden to perform magic. Does that include other forms of magic like potion making or divination? Since getting expelled is essentially like flunking out of school, are there adult remedial classes for wizards who never finished school? Or are they forbidden from magic forever and encouraged to join the muggle world like squibs?
  3. How is there is no faster magical way to find information than the library? Throughout the novel, we see Hermione sprinting to the library to research information. I understand that the magical world has largely shunned technology, but there must be a magical shortcut that works as the equivalent to a search engine. Not even an “Accio books about Nicholas Flamel” spell? That seems strangely archaic. I just feel like “because magic” should be a reasonable explanation. Why isn’t it?
  4. How do muggles get to Diagon Alley? Do muggle-borns’ parents get an extra letter with instructions on how to get access the wizarding world so they can buy their newly minted magical child’s school supplies? How does that affect the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy? Are they allowed to roam Diagon Alley during the term? Do their minds get wiped each year so that they can’t go blabbing about their witch and wizard children?
  5. How does this moving between portraits business work exactly? Is it limited to portraits in the same building? Or is it any portrait of the same person regardless of location? Since we find out later that the portraits can be used to deliver information, does that mean that all portraits of a particular person have all the knowledge of every other incarnation of that person? What happens when a new portrait is made? Can different portraits of the same person interact or does that rip a hole in the space-time continuum?

Artwork from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets

  1. Who does the laundry at Hogwarts? If giving clothing to house elves sets them free, does that mean they aren’t allowed to do the laundry? Dobby was set free when he was given a sock accidentally. Does that mean the children do their own laundry, or that there’s an unnamed laundry witch or wizard who does it for them?
  2. Do the petrified students have to repeat the year? The first attacks from the Chamber happen well before Christmas. That means that Justin Finch-Fletchey at the least missed two terms of classes. Considering that exams are cancelled at the end of the year, how is any of the students’ magical knowledge tested to see whether or not they should be promoted? Do students ever get held back at Hogwarts?
  3. How is enrollment in Hogwarts so low? Working with the numbers we know, there are only about 280 students at Hogwarts at any given time. (10 students per year, by 7 years, by 4 houses). If Hogwarts is meant to be the best of the wizarding schools and the only one in the UK, why aren’t there more students? Does that mean there’s competition to get in, hence the acceptance letters? Does it just mean that the wizard population of the UK is just very small? How is it that they conveniently produce no more children than can be accepted into Hogwarts? Or, since Hogwarts isn’t mandatory, is it that acceptance is first-come first-serve?
  4. Why didn’t Dumbledore fix Ron’s broken wand? In the final novel, Harry uses the Elder Wand to repair his broken wand. Why didn’t Dumbledore use it fix Ron’s wand instead of letting him run around with a defective and possibly dangerous one all year, especially since he knew the Weasleys were poor and likely couldn’t afford another? Was it simply so that he wouldn’t reveal his wand has super special death cheating powers? Or is Dumbledore just a dick? Why does Dumbledore continue to reward rule breaking (200 points apiece to Ron and Harry for rescuing Ginny) and steal the House Cup from Slytherin (again)?
  5. Why is Ginny’s PTSD from being possessed and nearly murdered by the greatest dark wizard of the age never addressed again? An 11-year-old girl spends an entire year pouring her soul into a dark artifact that possessed her, used her to attack her classmates and tried to kill her. Why doesn’t anyone think to get her some counseling? How come none of the other students ever seem ask her what happened in the Chamber? Are they just criminally dull and not at all curious?

Some of these questions are tongue in cheek, since realistically the only explanation I’ll ever get is “because magic” but I enjoy thinking way too hard about these things. Harry Potter is my fandom of choice and I’ll never outgrow it. Obviously, I don’t expect that J.K. Rowling fleshed out every minute aspect of this amazing world that she built, but it’s fun to think about and pose the questions for the fun of it. What about you? Are there any questions that the first two novels raised for you that you wish you could have answered?

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog BattyMamzelle. Republished with permission.

12 replies on “Rereading Harry Potter: 10 Questions I Have About The Magical World”

This is super fun! It makes me want to read the books again. :)

Now on to the questions:

8.) It’s so low, isn’t it!? I think it’s partially due to the size of the magical population, but I also think Harry’s year and the years around it are smaller then normal. They would have been born during the first war. Maybe people weren’t having as many babies?

9.) Oh Dumbledore. I hope he wasn’t being a dick. I’m hoping he didn’t know his wand was able to fix other wands. I mean, I kind of felt like that was Harry being extremely hopeful. He just defeated Voldemort and wtf not, he was going to fix his damn wand as well.

10.) This has always bothered me. It’s like never brought up again except in book 5 when Harry gets all pissy about being possessed and Ginny tells him to get over it. In my head, Ginny got help in the background. It helps that the books are mostly from Harry’s POV and he isn’t always the most observant of fellows.

Oh! And 3.) I agree wholeheartedly. There has to be a faster way to find information. I’m surprised Hermione didn’t have an outburst about it. She went from using a computer to searching books for hours and weeks with no success!?!? I know book 1 was written in the nineties, but still!

Re: #3

You’re forgetting that the books are SET in the early 90s as well (Harry was born in 1980, which makes him the same age as my sister). As someone who graduated high school in 1994, computers weren’t used the way they are now. Schools usually had only a handful of computers at the time, and only rich people had them at home. The internet existed, but only a small percentage of the population actually understood what it was. So no, Hermoine wouldn’t have used a computer the way you’re thinking. If she wanted to look something up, she had to do it the old fashioned way.

Well maybe, but you have to remember that the dates are all retconned after fandom did the math backwards from Nearly Headless Nick’s deathday party. JK has said she imagined then being set in current time originally, and it was her inability to do math that started that error.

I’m currently re-reading these too!

“1. Why don’t we don’t hear about Sirius Black until book three? ”

Sirius Black is mentioned in book one. Chapter one, page 14. Bottom paragraph Hagrid says,

“Young Sirius Black lent it to me.”

He was referring to the motorcycle he uses to bring Harry to Dumbledore/McGonagall on Privet Drive. That whole chapter basically explains that NO ONE knows what happened, and only that Harry Potter survived. They don’t even know if Voldemort is dead, but they know he’s gone. I assume only later during the trials is Sirius Black blamed.

“How do muggles get to Diagon Alley?”

I’ve been wondering this myself. Also how do they find the train platform? No one told Harry either. He just lucked out by running into the Weasleys.

If a muggle got a letter like that they’d likely ignore it, but they’d at least read it. So therefore it wouldn’t resend itself. They send Hagrid to help Harry to the bank and diagon alley, but we assume that’s a special case. I can only assume it isn’t, and that they must send a helper along to the rest of the muggle homes.

Yeah, I think I’ve always just thought Hagrid dropped the ball when it came to telling Harry how to get onto the platform. He grew up in the magical world, it probably didn’t even occur to him that Harry wouldn’t know. That’s my headcanon anyway. :)

As for muggle raised children receiving their letters, remember Dumbledore visiting Tom Riddle? He also offered to help him buy school supplies, but Tom refused. (I think I’m remembering that right). Anyway, I think it’s standard for muggleborns to receive a hand delivered note and some guidance from a staff member. As for Harry, I think they thought the Dursley’s would have told Harry he was a wizard and thus wouldn’t need a full introduction!

Re: Question 7.

Since JK is British and is working with that school system as her basis, I can chime something in here.

Whether or not you finish a year has absolutely nothing to do with how much you studied/what grades you got/whatever. Years are based on age only.

(My second oldest daughter hadn’t quite finished Kindergarten when we moved to the UK, and in fact the school district we came from wanted her to repeat it. Despite that, she was put straight into Year 2, where she would have been had she been born here. All the other kids had 2 years of full-time education plus possibly nursery compared to her. School didn’t care, put her in with them anyway. That’s how I know.)

I’m assuming she made it the same for Hogwart’s. Or extremely similar.

I’m going to disagree a bit with you on that. I live in the UK, and grew up in Ireland where we have a similar school system at primary level. Kids are sometimes held back a year (i.e.: made to repeat the year) if the school/parents thinks it’s necessary, but at primary school level I think they tend to be very reluctant to do that, especially in England, and would rather throw educational support into the mix (if it’s available, of course, which is another kettle of fish…). Non-state schools tend to be more flexible though.

6. The House Elves do the laundry. And pretty much any other housekeeping task you can think of, probably.

7. Good questions. It would be impractical to hold students back per se. It’s clear that if you don’t pass certain classes you aren’t allowed to move to the next level, but you could probably stay in your “year” and just take those classes again.

8. I doesnt’ seem like it, but there are very few wizards/witches in the UK. the gene pool among Wizards is fairly shallow, and even shallower among pure-blood wizards. Someone says “all wizarding families are related” and it’s true. It’s at the core of the argument for allowing Muggles and mixed-blood students, to broaden the gene pool.

9. Why does Dumbledore do any of the questionable shit he does? My guess is he didn’t want to reveal the power of his wand. Few suspected it was the Elder Wand because very few people believed it was a real thing. Also, Dumbledore expressed shame in seeking out the Deathly Hallows with Grindelwald (but he kept the wand anyway). As for knowing the Weasley’s were poor… yeah he could have helped but it seems Dumbledore was one of those “don’t mess with the space time continuum” people so maybe he felt interfering too much with the Weasely’s $$ situation was too invasive.

10. Very good question! There are so many students who needed therapy… are there wizard psychologists? Psychiatrists? Is there a Zanax charm?

My semi-knowledgable answers:

1. Real World Answer: We don’t hear about Sirius probably because JK hadn’t thought him up yet. Initially she wanted it to be 7 books in a series but since she was an unknown author and this was her debut work, it was unclear if the series would continue. Magical Answer: Dumbledore (for better or for worse) kept Harry on a need-to-know basis. Why would Harry need to know he had a relative in prison who snitched on his parents and killed one of their friends in addition to all the other shit Harry was dealing with in years 1 and 2?

2. Expulsions are rare enough that this isn’t an issue. From what I gather, students are only expelled if people die.

3. There’s a charm on the library to prevent students from Accio-ing anything from it. You know librarians run a tight ship.

4. There’s mention of Hermione’s parents being privy to the existence of Hogwarts before she got her letter. It’s also mentioned that the MoM monitors muggle children with potential. I assume muggle parents get special privileges to visit Diagon with their kids and perhaps attend other events (like Quidditch matches).

5. I’m sure I read somewhere (book 6 or 7?), when Scrimagour visits the British Prime Minister. There’s a portrait of Scrimagour hanging in 10 Downing Street and no one knows how it got there or who the guy is and they haven’t been able to remove it. Scrimagour uses this portrait to speak to the PM when all hell breaks loose in the Wizarding World. Anyway, it is said they Scrimagour has a portrait of the PMs office in his office. So two portraits can be connected by magic.

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