Hogwarts an incomplete a.., p.4
Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, p.4Part #3 of Pottermore Presents series by J. K. Rowling
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.’
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 finished, Ragnuk coveted it so much that he pretended that Gryffindor had stolen it from him, and sent minions to steal it back. Gryffindor defended himself with his wand, but did not kill his attackers. Instead he sent them back to their king bewitched, to deliver the threat that if he ever tried to steal from Gryffindor again, Gryffindor would unsheathe the sword against them all.
The goblin king took the threat seriously and left Gryffindor in possession of his rightful property, but remained resentful until he died. This was the foundation for the false legend of Gryffindor’s theft that persists, in some sections of the goblin community, to this day.
The question of why a wizard would need a sword, though often asked, is easily answered. In the days before the International Statute of Secrecy, when wizards mingled freely with Muggles, they would use swords to defend themselves just as often as wands. Indeed, it was considered unsporting to use a wand against a Muggle sword (which is not to say it was never done). Many gifted wizards were also accomplished duellists in the conventional sense, Gryffindor among them.
Much like a magic wand, the sword of Gryffindor appears to be almost sentient, responding to appeals for help by Gryffindor’s chosen successors; and, similar to a wand, part of its magic is that it imbibes that which strengthens it, which can then be used against enemies.
J.K. Rowling’s thoughts
There have been many enchanted swords in folklore. The Sword of Nuadu, part of the four legendary treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann, was invincible when drawn. Gryffindor’s sword owes something to the legend of Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur, which in some legends must be drawn from a stone by the rightful king. The idea of fitness to carry the sword is echoed in the sword of Gryffindor’s return to worthy members of its true owner’s house.
There is a further allusion to Excalibur emerging from the lake when Harry must dive into a frozen forest pool to retrieve the sword in Deathly Hallows (though the location of the sword was really due to a spiteful impulse of Snape’s to place it there), for in other versions of the legend, Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, and was returned to the lake when he died.
Within the magical world, physical possession is not necessarily a guarantee of ownership. This concept applies to the three Deathly Hallows, and also to Gryffindor’s sword.
I am interested in what happens when cultural beliefs collide. In the Harry Potter books, the most militant of the goblin race consider all goblin-made objects to be theirs by right, although a specific object might be made over to a wizard for his lifespan upon a payment of gold. Witches and wizards, like Muggles, believe that once payment has been made, the object belongs to them and their descendants or legatees in perpetuity. This is a clash of values without a solution, because each side has a different concept of what is right. It therefore presents Harry with a difficult moral dilemma when Griphook demands the sword as payment for his services in Deathly Hallows.
Perhaps Hogwarts’ most enduring and sinister enigma is that of the Chamber of Secrets, a hidden area of the school created by the ambitious Hogwarts founder Salazar Slytherin. When Tom Riddle’s mysterious diary led Harry to discover the Chamber’s dark secrets in his second year, the legend was awakened once again. Although few have actually entered the subterranean chamber, its existence wasn’t kept entirely secret – after all, somebody had to adapt the hidden entrance once the school decided to build a bathroom on top of it.
THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
BY J.K. ROWLING
The subterranean Chamber of Secrets was created by Salazar Slytherin without the knowledge of his three fellow founders of Hogwarts. The Chamber was, for many centuries, believed to be a myth; however, the fact that rumours of its existence persisted for so long reveals that Slytherin spoke of its creation and that others believed him, or else had been permitted, by him, to enter.
There is no doubt that each of the four founders sought to stamp their own mark upon the school of witchcraft and wizardry that they intended would be the finest in the world. It was agreed that each would construct their own houses, for example, choosing the location of common rooms and dormitories. However, only Slytherin went further, and built what was in effect a personal, secret headquarters within the school, accessible only by himself or by those he allowed to enter.
Perhaps, when he first constructed the Chamber, Slytherin wanted no more than a place in which to instruct his students in spells of which the other three founders may have disapproved (disagreements sprung up early around the teaching of the Dark Arts). However, it is clear by the very decoration of the Chamber that by the time Slytherin finished it he had developed grandiose ideas of his own importance to the school. No other founder left behind them a gigantic statue of themselves or draped the school in emblems of their own personal powers (the snakes carved around the Chamber of Secrets being a reference to Slytherin’s powers as a Parselmouth).
What is certain is that by the time Slytherin was forced out of the school by the other three founders, he had decided that henceforth, the Chamber he had built would be the lair of a monster that he alone – or his descendants – would be able to control: a Basilisk. Moreover, only a Parselmouth would be able to enter the Chamber. This, he knew, would keep out all three founders and every other member of staff.
The existence of the Chamber was known to Slytherin’s descendants and those with whom they chose to share the information. Thus the rumour stayed alive through the centuries.
There is clear evidence that the Chamber was opened more than once between the death of Slytherin and the entrance of Tom Riddle in the twentieth century. When first created, the Chamber was accessed through a concealed trapdoor and a series of magical tunnels. However, when Hogwarts’ plumbing became more elaborate in the eighteenth century (this was a rare instance of wizards copying Muggles, because hitherto they simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence), the entrance to the Chamber was threatened, being located on the site of a proposed bathroom. The presence in school at the time of a student called Corvinus Gaunt – direct descendant of Slytherin, and antecedent of Tom Riddle – explains how the simple trapdoor was secretly protected, so that those who knew how could still access the entrance to the Chamber even after newfangled plumbing had been placed on top of it.
Whispers that a monster lived in the depths of the castle were also prevalent for centuries. Again, this is because those who could hear and speak to it were not always as discreet as they might have been: the Gaunt family could not resist boasting of their knowledge. As nobody else could hear the creature sliding beneath floorboards or, latterly, through the plumbing, they did not have many believers, and none, until Riddle, dared unleash the monster on the castle.
Successive headmasters and mistresses, not to mention a number of historians, searched the castle thoroughly many times over the centuries, each time concluding that the Chamber was a myth. The
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