The Phoenix Files #6: James Potter

By Christopher Stephen

Hello everybody! I want to apologize for the past week’s hiatus. I know you were all dying to read this File, and I was dying to write it. Unfortunately, a number of unforeseen circumstances and a series of unfortunate events prevented it from being posted. I will do my best to ensure TPF will stay on schedule from here on. Please excuse my excessive rambling on this File, as it has been a crazy week.

Off the bat, I want to introduce you to a totally NEW column. It’s called The Phoenix Files!!! That’s right, TPF you’ve all come to know and love is changing—but only for the better, I assure you. Allow me to explain:

The column is called “The Phoenix Files.” I wanted a place where I could share my ideas with everyone about certain characters, taking them on one at a time. I’m going to continue to do that, so no worries. Every two weeks, true to current form, I’m going to put out a totally new, never-before-seen File on one of the HP characters. Note that this means I will still be writing an editorial every two weeks about a new HP character. For example, I am currently working on the next File, that of Nymphadora Tonks.

Here’s the change:

I want you to have your say, also, and not just on the forums. I know how important it is for people to get published on MuggleNet—it’s a big deal, as it should be. You can be proud and tell all your friends to read your article, and they can see it from anywhere in the world.

So, we’re going to change this a little bit. Because it’s The Phoenix Files, each character is going to have a Folder with three or four Files in it. The first File will be mine, and everyone will have a week or two to read it. Then, I will choose the best submissions to be posted in the Folder as well. For instance, my editorial on McGonagall has been up now for over a month, but I am planning to add two or three other editorials to her Folder within the next few weeks.

This should sound a little bit like The Burrow—it really kind of is! The only difference is that you’ll be restricted to talking about the characters I choose, and your editorials will have to have new/differing information from mine. You will all have a chance to read mine before submitting yours. But don’t worry, we’re going to be covering quite a few different characters in the future! You do not have to submit every week to be considered, and some people may get published more than once, even if others have submitted and never gotten published. Like I said before, individual Files are going to be considered individually, regardless of author or content.

“Great, Chris,” I hear you say, “So how do I submit a File?” Well, you simply e-mail me at christopherstephened at hotmail dot com like you would for feedback on one of my Files. I would personally prefer a Microsoft Word attachment only, but if you have Wordpad, that would be fine, as well. If I get any junk or viruses, the whole process will be immediately shut down, so don’t ruin it for everyone by trying to be funny.

Alright, so with that, I wish you happy writing, as I offer to re-open the first Folder, that of Minerva McGonagall! You have one week, until midnight EST on Friday, April 15th, to submit your Files! Good luck!!

Those of you who are observant will have already found an update to the first Folder of McGonagall already—Vanessa submitted an excellent editorial and was the first to be published. I await your own thoughts on McGonagall! Send them my way ASAP. And don’t forget about the CoS Forums, where you can discuss until your face turns blue!

Ah yes, James Potter. I find it odd that I am writing a File about a character who died prior to the first page of the first book, but here I am, here you are, and here I go:

Isn’t it odd that we all feel like we know James, when we’ve really only had glimpses of him from memories, “shadows,” and Pensieves? So there are a few basic things that we know about Mr. Potter that we need to address:

1. He attended Hogwarts at the same time as Lily Evans, Severus Snape, and the rest of the Marauders.
2. He (illegally) learned how to transfigure himself, and his animagus form was a stag.
3. He played Quidditch for Gryffindor.
4. He died prior to Lily (according to JKR, Book One, and revised editions of GoF) in the attack on Godric’s Hollow.
5. James and his parents accepted Sirius at their home during the summers.

So, how are any or all of these important? Let’s look at the first one:

He attended Hogwarts at the same time as Lily Evans, Severus Snape, and the rest of the Marauders. This means he must have had quite a lot of interaction with all of them—especially the Marauders and Lily. This is evidenced by the amount of time Harry spends with Ron, Neville, Dean, and Seamus, as well as the other Gryffindors (yes, Lily was in Gryffindor, too). He would also know Severus quite well, especially because he is such a memorable character. He would have also had relationships with the other students in other Houses (Harry and his friends know Ernie MacMillan, Justin Finch-Fletchley, and Susan Bones, for example). I think this is important for a few reasons. First, any of these relationships could have an impact on these characters’ and their children’s response to Harry. For example, if Susan Bones’s aunt attended Hogwarts at the same time as James, and, like Lily, thought him an “arrogant, bullying toerag,” it is possible that Madam Bones would treat Harry with a different attitude than someone who knew him only as the boy who made He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named disappear. This is obviously not the case with Madam Bones, who presided over Harry’s trial quite fairly, but JKR writes her characters so they are very human, and humans hold grudges. For example, could Seamus’s “mam” have recalled her experiences with a Potter when she quickly turned against Harry and his story in OotP? Who else do we know that could have a future impact on the series who may have attended Hogwarts with James? Are there any kids with a future impact whose parents could fall into this category? Speaking of Snape’s Worst Memory, how is it, if it is Snape’s memory, we are able to hear every word of conversation between the Marauders when Snape is lagging quite a way behind, with a group of (surely loud) giggling girls between them? Does this give us a hint that Pensieves do not just take the user’s memory? Or was Snape somehow eavesdropping? Included here, as Galadriel Waters points out, is the fact that James was tracing Lily’s initials on his paper—how did Snape know that was what he was doing, when he was several desks away?

Secondly, let’s address his education in becoming an Animagus. Where did he get this information? Surely it wouldn’t be in the normal library area; could it have been in the Restricted Section? Could his invisibility cloak have come in use? But I digress…once again, I must refocus myself (see Two Degrees of Separation in my signature on the CoS Forums for full information). James must have been extremely good at Transfiguration. I wonder if McGonagall knew he would be so good as to complete this very advanced magic. His animagus form was also a stag. Let’s examine this a bit more, especially since JKR said that animagi forms and Patronuses (Patroni?) reflect the identity of the wizard or witch using them. A stag, as defined on, interestingly has multiple meanings. First, it is an adult male deer (especially red deer), which was the first and only definition that came to my mind. They are very proud creatures, and James’s arrogance in Book Five certainly seems to reflect this as an appropriate form for him. Amazingly, it can also mean an animal, especially a pig, that has been (close your eyes, kids, and skip to the next line here) castrated after reaching sexual maturity. Don’t know about the one part, but “pig” could give us some hints—Lily certainly seems to think James is, to quote Jessie from “Saved By the Bell,” a “chauvinistic pig.” When used figuratively, pigs are boys or men who are too arrogant for their own good. I also think it’s important to note, as Karima, a loyal TPF reader did, that it took a lot of hard work for James to become an animagus, and this shows his loyalty to his friend Remus. Going to such great lengths just so he could accompany Remus one night a month is a quite a sacrifice. However, it also shows that he was not at all afraid of going against the rules. Breaking a school rule is a lot different than breaking a governmental law—and there are MoM (Ministry of Magic) laws that prevent people from becoming Animagi and not registering.

Part three: James played Quidditch for Gryffindor. There is some confusion about what he played. JKR told us at the beginning that James was a Chaser, but the first movie revealed that he was a Seeker like Harry. Because he was playing with the Snitch in Book Five, many have suggested he was definitely a Seeker, but that would be like an American football lineman throwing a football around even though he’s neither a receiver nor a quarterback, so it tells us nothing. I’m not sure it’s important where he played. It is quite possible that some of his natural athletic ability was passed on to Harry, which has given him a way to escape the horrors of the world around him. For Harry, this is extremely vital, and I’m sure quite a few of you can relate to having a way to forget about your worries. This also gives a reason for Snape to hate James—he was jealous of his abilities and popularity. This is probably not the only reason he loathed James (I would loathe him too if he turned me upside-down in front of the whole school), but it does give him extra motive. Don’t forget that James also saved Snape’s life when he was about to head to the Shrieking Shack to find Lupin as a werewolf. I wonder why he had such a sudden change of heart?

Fourth, I believe it’s important to analyze why he died first in the attack on Godric’s Hollow. First, I say “the attack” because we aren’t even sure that Voldemort killed him; we know his wand was used to kill both Lily and James, and it would make sense that he was the one using it, but we can’t be one-hundred-percent positive yet. (I believe Voldemort did all the dirty work that evening, against his custom, because of the partial prophecy he heard, but I also think it is more than feasible he had another person with him, possibly even Wormtail.) It is possible that one or more Death Eaters could have accompanied Voldemort to Godric’s Hollow that evening. So, Harry’s dad died first, because he was attempting to protect both Lily and Harry. As Harry relives in Book Three (thanks to the dementors), James shouts, “Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off—” followed by the sounds of someone stumbling from a room, a door bursting open, and a cackle of high-pitched laughter. This is the only information we have so far about James on the night of the murder. I personally think we can trust Harry’s “memories” here—they’ve been incredibly accurate so far throughout the series. I believe it is true that James died first, regardless of the “mistake” that showed up in GoF. For those of you who do not know yet, the first versions of GoF had James coming out of Voldemort’s wand in the graveyard BEFORE Lily, meaning that he would have died AFTER her (since they come out in reverse order). JKR has since denied this and every new version of GoF has been corrected for the error, but a few people still cling to the idea that JKR’s “mistake” was a Freudian slip.

Finally, it’s definitely important that James and his family allowed Sirius to come over during the summers. It shows a lot for them to take in someone from such a traditionally evil family. This trait is rare, both in the wizarding and Muggle worlds. It’s also important to note that Sirius liked it a lot there—this seems to suggest that the Potters were a righteous wizarding family, unlike the (appropriately Dark) Blacks. We know James inherited a huge fortune. How did he inherit it? From whom did he inherit it? When did James’s parents die, and how? We aren’t absolutely positive they are dead yet, but I’m pretty sure they are, otherwise they would have contacted Harry well before now. He also inherited the invisibility cloak as a family heirloom. We still don’t know how that came into Dumbledore’s possession after James died. It’s pretty apparent that James was the only son the Potters had, since in OotP, Sirius claims they sort of adopted him as “a second son,” not as another son. He also states that he “was always welcome at Mr. and Mrs. Potter’s for Sunday lunch.” He talks about this after he was seventeen. Exactly when did the Potters die? It must have been between the time James was about seventeen and the time when he was about twenty-one—approximately five years. They would have been much, much too young to have died of natural causes; Dumbledore is quite old. Is it possible they fought in a previous Dark wizard war (Grindelwald, or more recently)? Would they have had enemies? Notice that Sirius’s parents also died very young, for wizards (possibly on the opposite side of whatever war Harry’s grandparents were fighting). It seems as though wizards have been killing themselves off for centuries.

Another thing I wished to address is Galadriel Waters and her theory on James. I do hope she does not think I am picking on her; on the contrary, her theories and evidence help prod me into better discussion, hopefully in the same way TPF do for all of you. Basically, Waters believes Lupin and James switched places somehow (using some sort of complex “Switching Spell”), and that the “Remus J. Lupin” we all know and love is really James trapped in Lupin’s (werewolf) body, while Lupin died with Lily in Godric’s Hollow looking like James. I honestly think Waters is searching for something that isn’t there. While it’s true Lupin has very odd reactions to some things Harry says about his parents, we know he was best friends with James and knew Lily very well. I think he’s just reacting to someone talking about two of his best friends from Hogwarts who have since gone from this world. I assume he will act in the same way in Book Six whenever Sirius comes up. Nonetheless, we should keep an eye on Lupin, especially during Book Six.

A few more, rather random, less important thoughts:

As far as I can find, we don’t know Harry’s father’s middle name yet. James was probably in his early twenties when he was murdered.

McGonagall states that James (and Sirius) were among the brightest students, but were also huge troublemakers. It’s possible they were the worst Hogwarts has ever seen (including the Weasley brothers!). It’s obvious they were bright, as James became Head Boy.

Karima provided a perfect ending for this editorial. “It is said that the apple doesn’t fall far away from the tree!”

I want to say thanks to Karima, who provided much of the information and inspiration for this File, as well as to the HP Lexicon, which provided quite a bit of the information as well. Obviously, the usual credits go out to JKR and her Harry Potter series, Warner Brothers and their films, as well as Galadriel Waters and her two books.

I apologize if this File raised more questions than it answered, but part of my job is to simply make you aware of the many story—and plotlines that are ready for expanding come July. I also apologize that this was the longest and most rambling File yet! There was so much I wanted to say and no place to say it all!!

Thanks for reading! Remember to send your comments to christopherstephened at hotmail dot com and look out for when we open up the seventh folder by request, the folder of Nymphadora Tonks.