Hogwarts Professors I Have Known
by Robbie Fischer
The Harry Potter novels are filled with marvels. Flying cars, invisibility cloaks, mirrors that show you your heart’s desire, and many other magics fill our minds with wonder. Forbidden potions, screaming books, angry dragons, and unforgivable curses give us the creepy-crawlies. And what thrills can compare to playing Quidditch on flying brooms, dueling with magic wands, and exploring the secret depths of a haunted castle? Yet even among all these wonders, the characters remain the richest treasure of all. Such is JKR’s gift.
I think the characters are the reason we enjoy all the other magical entertainments of the Harry Potter series. Without characters you care about and believe in, the other details would be but preposterous gimmicks. You can enjoy them because you sympathize with the characters. You sympathize because you recognize them as people you know, either from your real life or from the life you have dreamed for yourself.
I have known quite a few characters from the Harry Potter stories. Particularly, I recognize some of the professors at Hogwarts as teachers I have met in real life.
I had a teacher like Professor Lupin once. Actually, I’ve probably had several teachers like him: teachers who believed in my abilities, and encouraged them; teachers who made me feel valuable simply by saying, ”That was well done.” One teacher, who especially encouraged my ambitions as a writer, actually singled me out as his once in a career special student. Special like Harry Potter. And ironically, it was that teacher who, when he could not teach for some reason, turned his class over to my personal Professor Snape.
Mr. J was a very eccentric teacher who had never had me in his own classroom; in fact, he taught in the Junior High School, while I was already in Senior High by the time I moved into town. Mr. J had my brother in his classroom, however; and my brother was often a trial for his teachers. Strike one. Then, my brother took up with Mr. J’s niece in one of the most dysfunctional teen love affairs in local memory. Strike two. And finally, Mr. J had personally quarreled with my father. Strike three. All this happened before I had ever met Mr. J.
One day after school, my best friend (who thought a great deal of Mr. J as a teacher) dragged me over to the Junior High to introduce me to Mr. J. He was sure we would get on famously. We found Mr. J in the principal’s office, where my friend had scarcely made the introduction before Mr. J made a cutting remark. I had learned never to take abuse like that without giving it back with interest. Mr. J seemed half shocked by my audacity, half inspired by the challenge to rise to even greater heights of viciousness. At the rate this introduction was going, a minute later, there would’ve been bloodshed. Fortunately, half a minute after making the introduction, my horrified friend removed me from the principal’s office by bodily force.
It was not the last time I had to contend with Mr. J. The teacher whose career peaked the year I was in his classroom, had to take a day off for reasons unknown. Guess who took his classes? And that is how I met my Snape, actually substituting for my Lupin. Every minute of that hour, Mr. J aimed a caustic remark at me. Everyone else in the class, who thought of Mr. J as an eccentric but vaguely likeable character, was shocked at the way he treated me, who had never been his student. All the respect I had earned in that classroom was shredded by Mr. J’s razor-sharp hostility. Anyone would have thought we’d had a long, unfriendly relationship by the way he singled me out for humiliation. Anyone would have thought I was the worst student the school had ever had.
So I have known Lupin and Snape. Who else? Well, I had a Prof. Binns once, in a graduate-level history class. Actually, I had him for two or three classes, before he suddenly died. (He did not actually come back as a ghost). Professor K lectured in a monotonous drone, with just enough of an Estonian accent to make his voice soothing without being interesting. The accent also made it hard for some people to understand what he was saying, so they had even more reason to be bored. He lectured sitting down at a desk in front of the classroom, looking down at his notes (never making eye contact with the students), and talking as if no one was there. His subject matter wasn’t as dry as Professor Binns, and occasionally he even said something mildly witty, but one had to listen with heroic attentiveness to catch the good bits. Professor K was the best cure for insomnia on the faculty, and there was no way to avoid him because he taught required courses that no one else would teach. Besides which, he was my academic advisor. Yaaaawn!
After Professor K died, I was given the opportunity to choose my new academic advisor. Naturally, I picked the teacher who was most nearly as boring (though the new guy’s affected Scottish accent, tendency to wear a kilt on formal occasions, and willingness to share a bottle with his students made him slightly more fun). Maybe you could say my new advisor was a male version of Prof. McGonagall, though he really wasn’t very strict. This is the teacher who told our class, “I can only give so many As in this class, and I can only read so many papers. So please write a term paper if, and only if, you seriously want to try for an A.” Another time, as I was waiting in line to hand him my 25-page research paper, I overheard this teacher telling a student, ”I’m not sure whether to give you an A or a B. After all, you only gave me three pages, and two of them were photocopied out of a reference book.”
I also knew Mad-Eye Moody. He was a ninth-grade physics teacher named Mr. G. Elderly, eccentric, and a bit creepy, he was rumored to be a bit demented. But just when you were counting on him to be a scatterbrained fool, watch out!
The kid at the desk next to mine, who was a bit of a Draco Malfoy, liked to pick on Mr. G. I particularly recall how this Draco kid laughed when Mr. G daubed his finger in a bit of battery acid and touched it to his tongue. ”The old loony eats battery acid,” the kid snorted. “It’s no wonder he’s gone mad.”
One day as he sat down in class, this Draco kid found a small metal bottle on his desk, with two wires poking out at one end. Draco picked it up by the wires and immediately dropped it with a howl of pain. While Draco threatened and swore and whined about losing all feeling up to his elbow, Mr. G quietly recharged the lawnmower alternator, using a Van de Graf generator. Then he put it back on Draco’s desk. Draco, who at times could be as thick as Crabbe and Goyle, picked up the alternator by the wires again, was shocked again, screamed again, and was outraged to find the rest of the class laughing at him. We all learned a new respect for Mr. G that day after he explained that the alternator was perfectly safe to handle as long as one didn’t touch the wires.
Another Hogwarts teacher I have known was the organist and choir director of the campus chapel. During my first year, I was the only student in the school who could play the organ. Prof. R made me his right-hand man, asking me to direct choir rehearsals in his absence, accompanying the choir, and often playing the organ during chapel services. The next year, other musically gifted students came along, and then I was off on an internship throughout my third year. During that year, even more new musicians came to the school, until Professor R had a completely new inner circle of talent. When I came back from my internship, Prof. R forgot to include me in the rotation of chapel organists. I went to him to ask why. Prof. R looked at me vaguely and said, “I’m sorry. Do you play the organ?” For years I was perplexed about how I could go from being the flavor-of-the-week to being nobody…until JKR wrote Prof. R into her story as Professor Slughorn!
And finally, I have known a Dumbledore. Dr. S wasnt the headmaster; he was only the head of a department. Not everyone liked or respected him. Many people avoided his classes, criticized his ideas, loathed his personality, even questioned his sanity. And to tell the truth, I had to take quite a few of his classes before I could even understand the majority of what he was talking about. Abrasive yet charming, hilariously irreverent, yet full of penetrating insights, I couldn’t stop taking Dr. S’s classes because I learned more from them than from any other classes. Some of it was stuff no one thought we should learn. Dr. S challenged many traditions I had thoughtlessly held to, as well as many of the clever new ideas that others had invented to take their place. More than anything else, Dr. S taught me to think honestly and responsibly. And he also had a strong commitment to the power of words.
Though he was never my adviseo or my thesis father or anything like that, Dr. S influenced my thinking and encouraged me to carry out my thoughts in action, as Dumbledore did for Harry. Also like Dumbledore, he had a rare gift for turning aside attempts to challenge his authority, using wit and truth as powerfully as other people use scheming and maneuvering. But what really makes Dr. S my Dumbledore is the combination of mind-blowing intelligence and rib-tickling whimsy. Half of the things he said in class left me grappling with strange new thoughts; the other half left me gasping with laughter and sometimes I laughed and grappled at the same time.
I’m not so cracked that I believe in all the wonders and magic of the Harry Potter world. But I believe in the people who fill that world, because I have known so many of them. Besides the teachers, I have known a Vernon Dursley, a Luna Lovegood, a Colin Creevey, perhaps a Lucius Malfoy, definitely a Cormac Maclagen, and several of the Weasleys. Those that I haven’t met, I would either like to know, or dread to meet – but I believe that every one of them could exist. And the rich characters, drawn from so many parts of life, are in my opinion, what enables us to suspend disbelief and accept the magical parts of the story. In a storybook world full of people you have known, anything can happen!