How did you spend your Halloween, gentle readers? Did you gallivant about town, dressed in your finest Hogwarts robes, sipping Butterbeer and sharing Pepper Imps with unsuspecting Muggles? Or did you sit home, wand in your hand and Crookshanks look-alike on your lap, unwrapping the sweetest treat of all: new words from Planet Earth’s Headmistress, J.K. Rowling?!
Witches and wizards worldwide awoke Friday morning to discover six new stories on Pottermore, Rowling’s interactive, Harry Potter–universe–expanding website. The site had been teasing loyal digital students like yours truly with promises of a “Hallowe’en Trick or Treat,” and numerous Muggle outlets had reported that the proffered goodie would be a 1,700-word Dolores Umbridge backstory as hatefully scrumptious as Honeydukes’s finest blood pops.
But as usual, there was so much more lurking that the Muggles couldn’t see! In addition to the Umbridge bio, Rowling had penned five other tales, providing additional history on every Minister of Magic; the Thestrals; Azkaban Prison; wizard naming methods; and everyone’s favorite drunk, Professor Trelawney.
If you think this sounds like too much — if you’re worried that Rowling is becoming at worst George Lucas and at best a human version of the ever-gushing toilet in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom — let me offer you a draught of dreamless sleep: These stories are not meant for you. While casual readers could consume the core Umbridge story on Today.com, accessing the five other histories required navigating a Pottermore labyrinth that would give the Triwizard Tournament maze a run for its Galleons.1 No one who’s willing to do that much work to read about Thestrals wants this beautiful madness to stop.
Or it required, you know, Googling “How to find J.K. Rowling’s new Harry Potter stories” and then using a handy cheat sheet.
So, without further ado, let’s explore the six stories together, marveling at a no-duh confirmation, a shocking reveal, and a bonus nugget from each. If you’re planning to explore these tales further, note that the first part of the below subheads is the Order of the Phoenix chapter title in which each story appears, while the second part is the name of the bonus story. The highlighted object and “read about” prompt indicate the figure on which Pottermore visitors must click to unlock the bonus material. All images are screengrabs from Pottermore.
Requisite spoiler warning: If you don’t want to hear plot details from all seven Harry Potter books or learn how to find all six stories on Pottermore, run away! Though really, if that’s the case, why did you click on this post in the first place?
Dolores Jane Umbridge: Dolores Umbridge
No-duh confirmation: Umbridge is a raging bitch! The “special” ability listed on her bio is inventing the punishment quill she used to make Harry carve “I must not tell lies” into his own hand. Cool achievement, bro-ette. Umbridge tortured the Hogwarts kids because she failed to get over being left out in school; she “never succeeded in marrying” despite trying to woo multiple superiors; and she lived knowing that “those who got to know her best found it difficult to like her very much.” Though really, if we’re looking for proof that she’s a psycho, do we need anything more than this? “She liked anything decorated with kittens (though found the real thing inconveniently messy).” She likes fake cats, but not real cats? DIE, SHE-DEVIL!
Shocking reveal: Umbridge is a half-blood! Her mother was a Muggle and her brother was a Squib, and they both left to live in the Muggle world following a family rift. Like Voldemort and other deranged villains with zero self-awareness, delusions of grandeur, and deeply rooted prejudice, Umbridge lied about her parentage so that the cool kids would let her sit at the Death Eaters’ table.
JKR based Umbridge on someone she knew: After the bio, Rowling tacked on a brief addendum explaining that Umbridge is inspired by someone Rowling knew and loathed in real life. While she clarifies that this person did not look like a toad, torture children, or try to rule the world, Rowling does say that this mean muse had short, curly hair and wore “a tiny plastic bow slide.” In the past, Rowling has said that Gilderoy Lockhart was based on a self-centered buffoon she knew in real life, so this Umbridge inspiration has company — though that company presumably has flowing golden locks and perfect pearly whites.
The Atrium: Ministers for Magic
No-duh confirmation: The wizarding world is a tiny place. Numerous former ministers share surnames with characters from Harry’s time, including Parkinson, Diggory, Boot, Flint, and Lestrange. Worth noting: “Nobby Leach” served from 1962 to 1968, confirming all of our deeply rooted suspicions regarding Mike Leach’s magical abilities.
Shocking reveal: There might have been a doper minister than Kingsley Shacklebolt. On the night Harry became The Boy Who Lived and Lord Voldemort became Lord Vapormort, Minister Millicent Bagnold (1980-90) issued the following decree: “I assert our inalienable right to party.” Baller.
Coolest Muggle counterpart: Leonard Spencer-Moon (1939-48) hung around with Winston Churchill, which is pretty neat, but it’s hard to top Evangeline Orpington (1849-55), who was Queen Victoria’s bestie and who “is believed to have intervened magically (and illegally) in the Crimean War.”
The Carriages: Thestrals
No-duh confirmation: Thestrals are more tuned in to human emotion than most people are, “always allowing for the fright that the first sight of them tends to give the observer.” If only the average Slytherin possessed a shred of the sensitivity of this skeletal winged horse!
Shocking reveal: Thestrals are Western Europeans! They’re “native to the British Isles and Ireland, though they have been spotted in parts of France and the Iberian Peninsula.” But fear not: “Other parts of the world have their own equivalent to Thestrals.” Who wants to help me find the American Thestral and the American Department of Mysteries and take a little late-night flight?
A reminder that Luna Lovegood is incredible: “Luna Lovegood, who lost her own mother when she was young, saw Thestrals very soon afterwards because she is intuitive, spiritual and unafraid of the afterlife.”
Trelawney Is Sacked: Sybill Trelawney
No-duh confirmation: Prof Syb is “at least ninety per cent fraud.” Though Trelawney has true Seer’s blood as the great-great granddaughter of the legendary Cassandra Trelawney, and though she issued two genuine prophecies that shaped our hero’s life (and our lives, am I right?!), she largely relies on “fortune teller’s tricks.” Oh, Neville. Any fool could see you were going to drop that cup.
Shocking reveal: She was a Ravenclaw! This is genuinely surprising, given how brainiacs like Hermione and Professor McGonagall (Gryffindors both, but the point holds) mocked the discipline of Divination. And while some might chalk up Trelawney’s ability to trick to intellect, it feels more like Slytherin manipulation than true cleverness.
Sad spinster, explained: Trelawney wasn’t always a lonely drunk! She was married! But that dalliance “ended in unforeseen rupture when she refused to adopt the surname ‘Higglebottom.'” No wonder she always picked on Neville Longbottom. Those “bottom” triggers can be fierce.
Row Ninety-Seven: Naming Seers
No-duh confirmation: “Some wizards have a family tradition of names.” So no, cherished friends, you didn’t merely imagine that all of the Blacks are named after stars and constellations, “which many would say suits their lofty ambition and pride.”
Shocking reveal: Other wizards pay Naming Seers to gaze into their progeny’s future and pick the name that fits! This tends to work out as well as you’d imagine, as “mothers and fathers have often fretted themselves silly on the way home from the Naming Seer, wishing that they had not heard the Seer’s predictions about their child’s personality or future.” Imagine learning you’d just spawned something that really needed to be called “Millicent Bulstrode.” [Shudder.]
The cool families just roll with what suits them: “Other wizarding families (like the Potters and Weasleys) simply pick their favourite names for their children, and leave it at that.” Rock on, Ronald Bilius Weasley. Rock on.
The Tattered Veil: Azkaban
No-duh confirmation: Azkaban is hell on wizarding earth. When Ministry officials first entered, “the least frightening part of it was that the place was infested with Dementors.” THE LEAST FRIGHTENING PART. “The very walls of the building seemed steeped in misery and pain.”
Shocking reveal: Azkaban wasn’t actually built to be a prison — at least not a prison for anything other than one deranged man’s mind. The fortress and the island upon which it stood were magically crafted and concealed by a loon named Ekrizdis in the 15th century. The sorcerer, “who is believed to have been insane, was a practitioner of the worst kinds of Dark Arts. Alone in the middle of the ocean, he lured, tortured and killed Muggle sailors, apparently for pleasure.” What a charmer.
The jerk who took Azkaban mainstream: Damocles Rowle is the jackass who decided to turn this fortress of doom into a wizarding prison. This will SHOCK you, but Rowle “had risen to power on an anti-Muggle agenda” and was “sadistic by nature.”
Sadistic by nature, much like those of you who want Rowling to stop writing tales based in the Harry Potter universe and instead finish the Cormoran Strike series or something. But here’s the thing, people: She can do both, and more! She has already confirmed plans to write a bazillion more Strike books; she’s currently penning the screenplay for the film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a planned trilogy based on one of Harry’s Hogwarts textbooks; and she’s still finding plenty of time to write these bonus Pottermore offerings and to drive us all into fits of lunacy by sending cryptic tweets. Time-Turners may not be real, but Rowling’s ability to wow with her multitask creations certainly is. And our lives are more magical for it.