Featured in the September 2020 issue of The Rowling Library Magazine.

Harry Potter and the Unspeakable Horrors

1315 words.
By Oliver Horton.

Dirty deeds are not exclusive to Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange and the Death Eaters. Many characters in the wizarding world do terrible things. Events are not black or white. They are many shades of grey.

Voldemort’s crimes include patricide, attempted infanticide, grave robbing, regime change, mass murder… and he’s a terrible houseguest. Other magic folk are more selective in their unpalatable behaviour. While wickedness can be understandable, explainable, forgivable, bad acts should not be forgotten. The winners write the history but does that let them off the hook?

This article is (a) about the bad things that wizards do and (b) not at all balanced. 

1. Invasion of Privacy

Spying is a normal part of wizarding life. The Hogwarts’ postmaster knows exactly who’s in what bedroom at Four, Privet Drive from one day to the next and batty Mrs Figg is Dumbledore’s secret mole. Ron’s rat turns out to be a grown man, while Hermione’s cat passes gossip to an escaped convict. Mundungus cross-dresses as a hag down the pub, Rita Skeeter is an animagus bug and Dobby Apparates into Harry’s bedroom any time he likes. Is nowhere sacred? At least Sirius schedules his fireplace pop-ups. The dogfather gives Harry a tool to open locked doors. Psych! The Trio long ago mastered Alohomora. Even in Muggledom, the Prime Minister must put up with unscheduled magical visitors. A wizard arrives precisely when he means to! Profiting from paranoia, the Weasley Twins invent Extendable Ears to listen in on those few remaining private conversations. (“The safe word is Mollywobbles.”) Polyjuice Potion makes identity theft accessible even to 12-year-old schoolkids. Those same students already have an Invisibility Cloak for sneaking. Little wonder that, in HBP, Draco breaks Harry’s face on the train for eavesdropping. Malfoy must be sick of snoops. Even the portraits spy.

2. Roofies

Love potions are, in the stories, a woman’s weapon. Approved by a giggly Molly Weasley in Book Three, love potions emerge as hot product in her sons’ shop, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes – packaged in the Wonderwitch brand’s furious pink. Gender normative sells! Shameless Gryffindor student Romilda Vane spikes some Valentine chocolates and wins the temporary affection of food disposal unit Ron. But a cautionary tale comes to light via the Pensieve. Merope Gaunt potion’ed a local Muggle and gave birth to notorious buzzkill Lord Voldemort. The uncomfortable subtext on seduction drugs: no man would use a potion to score with the witches. Not even the sexually frustrated Ron Weasley, who takes every advantage of Fleur Delacour’s Gallic affection. C’mon, it’s fine. She’s practically family.

3. Incest

Pureblood means cousins marry. Imagine Sirius Black betrothed to Bellatrix, Narcissa or Andromeda. No wonder the family went loco when he came out as Gryffindor. Blood traitor! Meanwhile in Little Hangleton… the Gaunts take Salazar Slytherin’s pureblood legacy to the extreme. Inbred, deranged and living in a hovel, daddy Marvolo, son Morfin and daughter Merope have two Slytherin heirlooms and no prospects. The other wizarding families do not trouble themselves with the end of this noble-defiled bloodline: Marvolo and Morfin go to Azkaban and Merope is left free to ensnare a Muggle baby-daddy, the handsome landowner’s son Tom Riddle. But, prior to his mishap with the Ministry man, papa Marvolo surely had a plan to extend the family tree. Options are limited and inbreeding is on the table: had she not escaped, Merope’ s husband would be her near-feral brother. If not her father.

4. Abuse of Power

Powered by slavery (they’re sooo like us), the wizard world is rife with abuse of power. Some of these are kind of funny: who invites a vampire to a party full of teenage girls? Other are disturbing. A wizard will wipe your memory as soon as look at you! As ghastly as the Dursleys are, they live in fear and have no magic. Harry doesn’t even need a wand to blow up Vernon’s sister. Hagrid didn’t get the spell right when he gave Dudley a tail. He meant to turn him into a pig. Which is, hmm, not okay. The balance of power is held by the wizards yet a whole lot of magic folk turn up to intimidate The Dursleys, including Mad-Eye Moody and Albus Dumbledore. Even in the final book, when Harry and Dudley make peace, it’s the Muggle cousin who bears the burden. Harry kinda laughs and makes a joke at the big lad’s expense. Hey, wizard-boy! How about: “Sorry I threatened you with magic. Sorry my half-giant gave you a pig’s tail. Sorry the red-headed twins poisoned you. Sorry that monster nearly sucked your soul. Sorry you have to go on the run. And sorry for all the fat jokes.”

5. Seriously, Hermione!

Hermione Granger transforms from earnest, honest swot into a liar, a rule-breaker, a thief and a ruthless ab/user of magic. And, naturally, Dumbledore guides the behaviour modification via the Trio’s 160 House Points, the discrete loan of the Time Turner and other acts of faith. After the early Troll-side deceit in Book One, Hermione sets fire to Professor Snape (little wonder he dislikes her) and body-binds Neville. Book Four ends with the disclosure that she has kidnapped Rita Skeeter. Hermione blackmails the journalist in Book Five. She terrifies the House-elves by trying to trick them into freedom’s void. She horribly, visibly disfigures Dumbledore’s Army drop-out Marietta Edgecomb. In Book Six she confounds Cormac McLaggen and attacks Ron with a pecking, clawing flock of birds. Later Hermione steals Dumbledore’s forbidden books and, shockingly, condescendingly, rewrites her own parents’ memories. Magically brainwashed, the befuddled Grangers emigrate to Australia. Some months later, in Godric’s Hollow, Hermione steals Bathilda Bagshot’s copy of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. She doesn’t know Bathilda’s dead. She just wants the old lady’s book. This is Hermione Granger at 18-years-old. Two decades later, says JKR, she becomes Minister for Magic. After all, who would dare tell her no?

Dark Magic Addict

Dumbledore “wouldn’t give me the Defence Against the Dark Arts job, you know. Seemed to think it might, ah, bring about a relapse… tempt me into my old ways.” Severus Snape to Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

DO WE EVER REALLY KNOW SEVERUS SNAPE? The Prince’s Tale chapter in Book Seven, which explains all, is the only time we see Severus unmasked: real Snape forbids even an oil painting to say “Mudblood.” Because Snape is a spy and nothing he says (outside of the Pensieve) can be trusted. But lies reveal some truth. The best liars deviate from the facts as little as possible.

What if Snape is a recovering addict of dark magic?

He got in with the wrong crowd at school, picked up the habit and, soon enough, he was hooked. Next thing you know he’s got a tattoo, he’s not washing his hair, he’s wearing all black and he’s falling out with his childhood friend…

In Book Seven’s extended flashback in the Pensieve we see Lily Evans – the love of his life – unable to persuade Snape to give up the Death Eaters. When Snape wins the Defence Against the Dark Arts (DADA) post in Book Six, he teaches with a passion not seen in his Potions classes. He’s even kinda nice to Hermione. Dark magic high? By contrast, when he teaches a DADA class in Book Three, to cover for Lupin, he ends the book frothing like a mad man. “Fellow seems quite unbalanced,” observes Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic.

Snape has the best motive not to relapse into dark magic – love for Lily Evans. He is utterly repentant and determined to prove himself a good man. And his passion for Defence Against the Dark Arts may derive from fresh insight into Dumbledore’s plan. In Half-Blood Prince, Snape has reasons to want the students to pay close attention. They will need this stuff! The prior teaching has been lamentable.