Worrying About the Cattermoles: How Growing Older Has Changed the Way I Read “Harry Potter”

by Megan Bidmead

I describe myself as being one of the lucky ones who grew up with Harry Potter. I was there at the midnight releases; I was one of the millions who read the fourth through the seventh books late into the night on release day, making fresh discoveries about my most beloved characters, watching them grow up alongside me. Ron, Hermione, and Harry became almost like friends, and like friends, I cared deeply about them.

In fact, I cared so much about them – and Luna and Neville and Ginny, the B Team that I loved as much as the trio – that the minor characters, the only briefly mentioned characters, never really got much of a look the first time around. Or the second time. Or the third time, even. Such was my overwhelming emotion while reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that my only feelings for the minor characters were brief pangs, rather than thoughtful pause and speculation.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I reread the Potter books recently in anticipation of my trip to Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, and I became obsessed with the Cattermoles.

A lot has happened in my life since I last read the books: jobs and house moves, new friendships blossoming and others fading. The most significant change, though, was parenthood. I wasn’t prepared for how much being a parent would inform my reading of Potter, other than giving me another excellent opportunity to read them. I mean, I cared deeply about Mr. and Mrs. Weasley before I had kids; I cared about them when I was a kid. But there was something about Molly’s boggart, this time, that made me cry. I’d never cried at that moment before, at Molly watching her worst fear come to life in front of her. I found it harrowing, of course. But I never cried.

Once I watched a documentary called J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life, and the interviewer fired questions at her. One of the questions was, “What scares you the most?”

She answered without much hesitation: “Losing the ones I love.”

I think my boggart would be the same as Molly’s, the same as J.K. Rowling’s greatest fear – the raw, instinctive terror of losing a loved one. Like many others, I cannot imagine anything that scares me more. The boggart was a brilliantly shocking introduction to how differently magic can interact with adults. The boggart, to Lupin’s class, was just a living bogeyman – a pastiche of spiders and mummies and banshees, fears that are things or beings, things that you can easily articulate (except in Harry’s case, of course). It’s not really until this moment at Grimmauld Place – with Molly staring in horror at the fake bodies of her loved ones – that you truly understand how serious the boggart can be.

But back to the Cattermoles.

When I got to the part in Deathly Hallows where the trio is preparing to get the Horcrux from Umbridge, I could feel this sense of impending doom, but I wasn’t sure why – the reintroduction of Umbridge, maybe? I mean, I hate her more than Voldemort, after all. When they got to the Ministry, and Ron faced an angry and soggy Yaxley, the dread continued to grow. When Mary Cattermole confirmed that yes, she was a mother to Maisie, Ellie, and Alfred, I realized what I had been dreading, and I put the book down for a little while. I am in no way at risk of being unfairly separated from my kids, but the mere thought of these terrified children not knowing if they’ll ever see their mother again really hit me. It’s my other greatest fear, option number two for the boggart: the fear of what will happen to my children if they lose me.

I think this is why the chapter “The Mirror of Erised” in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone really got to me this time. I’m not sure this is exclusively because I am a parent now; perhaps it’s just because I’m older and understand more of the world. When Harry pressed his hand onto the mirror and that terrible longing opened up inside him, I thought about the ones I miss in the world who are “beyond the veil.” I fully considered Harry trying to find his place in the world without his parents, dealing with life with this huge, yawning gap where his loved ones should have been. (Also, I cried. A lot. I do that much more nowadays, but that’s possibly a side effect of long-term exhaustion.)

This is what has hit me since the last Harry Potter reread: It’s more layered and nuanced than I thought, and part of what makes the series so good is what is left out, as much as what is kept in. What exactly happened to the Cattermoles? Did they get arrested? Killed? What happened to the children? Did Mary find her husband in time (the one that wasn’t Ron)? How did she get home? Were the children safe? I could look it up, I suppose, see if they have an entry on Pottermore, but I’m a bit scared to. Also, although their story seems to trigger a stomach-churning fear in me, it’s also excellent storytelling. You can’t know what happened to them: You’re following Harry. You’re with him in the chaos and the infuriating, suffocating darkness of not knowing. You’re with him as the world falls apart around him.

In my imagination, somehow, the Cattermoles get away. Reginald and Mary somehow meet, grab each other, and run home to their kids. They scoop them up and leave the country. They wait until the war is over, and then they return home, and their kids go to Hogwarts, and nobody dies or gets arrested and sent to Azkaban for no reason. Then again, in my imagination, Fred is alive. George has his ear. Lupin and Tonks get to see Teddy grow up. Colin lives to paparazzi another day.

Life isn’t like that, though, is it?

Life is hard, dark, and stressful. Love does not always save the day. People get taken away from each other; we make bonds and they are broken. Basically, it’s tough. As we walk through the world, it shapes us. Our fears and hopes develop and grow. The good and the bad, they chip away at who we are, turn us into something different. We look back on ourselves and we feel different than we used to.

Still, we’ll always have these stories. We’ll turn back to them again and again, as our new selves. And there are a million tiny layers in them to unfold and discover anew.