Emerson Spartz and Melissa Anelli – “The MuggleNet and Leaky Cauldron Interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling”
Emerson Spartz, MuggleNet: Who[m] do you discuss Harry Potter with?
J.K. Rowling: When I’m working on it, you mean? Virtually no one, which is, for me, it’s a necessary condition of work, I have this reputation for being reclusive. Now, that came, I’m not sure that it holds so true in America, but in Britain, you really can’t read an article on me, and I read probably a hundredth of what’s out there so I know it must be happening more, without the world reclusive being attached to my name. I’m not reclusive in the slightest. What they mean is that I’m secretive and I don’t do a lot of – I’m secretive because that for me is [a] necessary condition of work. It’s got nothing to do with the franchise, it’s got nothing to do with trying to protect “the property” – I hate it being called “the property” but other people call it “the property” – it’s because I think if you discuss the work while you’re doing it you tend to dissipate the energy you need to do it. You will meet, we’ve all met, a hell of a lot of people who stand in bars and discuss the novels they are writing. If they were writing they’d be at home actually writing it. Very occasionally I might tell Neil that, I say, I’ve had [a] good day, or II wrote [a] good joke, it made me laugh, whatever, but I would never discuss in details. And then once I’ve handed in the manuscript then my editors, and that’s Emma, who is my UK editor, and Arthur, who is my American editor, they would both see the manuscript at the same time. They collaborate on what they both think about it and then they come back to me and suggest things. Of course, it’s very liberating once someone’s read it to be able to then discuss it, so you know I’ve kept it quiet for 18 months while I’ve been working, and then you get this explosion because you really want to talk to someone about it now, so Emma and Arthur are the ones who get my first effusions, and then it’s wonderful to hear what they think. They were both very positive about this book, they really liked it. And then we have arguments as well, obviously.
Emerson: This is a strange question, but how many times have you read your own story?
Jo: That is not a strange question, it’s a very valid question because once the book is published I rarely reread. A funny thing is, when I do pick up a book to check a fact, which I obviously do a lot, if I start reading, then I do get kind of sucked in myself, and I may read several pages, and then I put it away and go back to what I’m doing, but if for example I was heading to the bath, and I wanted to pick up something to read, I’d never pick up one of my own books. Therefore there are thousands of fans who know the books much better than I do. My one advantage is I know what’s going to happen, and I’ve got a lot of backstory.
Melissa Anelli, the Leaky Cauldron: How many boxes is it, now, of backstory?
Jo: It really is hard to say because I’m so disorganized, but yeah, there’[re] boxes. It’s mainly in notebooks because the backstory is so valuable, so I mainly need that in a format I can retrieve because I lose stuff. So it’s harder to lose a book than it is a bit of paper.
Emerson: When Book 7 is out, will you keep the website open to keep answering questions?
Jo: Yeah, I don’t see the website closing, like on the stroke of midnight when the seventh book’s finished. No, definitely not. My feeling is, I couldn’t possibly answer all the questions, because the novel is the wrong form in which to, for example, present a catalog of your characters’ favorite colors. But people actually want to know. It’s that kind of detail, isn’t it? So I’m never going to answer everything that an obsessive fan would want to know in the novels, and the website is another way of doing that. Also, I think people will continue to theorize about the characters even at the end of Book 7 because some people are very interested in certain characters whose past lives are not germane to the plot. They’re not central to the story, so there is big leeway there still for fan fiction, just as there is… I mean, Jane Austen. I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and you wonder about the characters lives’ at the end of the story. They still exist, they still live, you’re bound to wonder, aren’t you? But I am as sure as I can be currently that [Book] 7 will be the final novel, even though I get a lot of really big puppy dog eyes. “Just one more!” Yeah, I think it will be [Book] 7.
Emerson: Seven books is a long series.
Jo: Yeah, exactly, I don’t think they’re going to say you wimped out, come on!
Melissa: If you were to write anything else on the Harry Potter series, would it be about Harry Potter himself or another character or a reference book?
Jo: The most likely thing I’ve said this a few times before, would be an encyclopedia in which I could have fun with the minor characters and I could give the definitive biography of all the characters.
Melissa: Okay, big, big, big Book 6 question. Is Snape evil?
Jo: [laughs] Well, you’ve read the book, what do you think?
Emerson: She’s trying to make you say it categorically.
Melissa: Well, there are conspiracy theorists, and there are people who will claim…
Jo: Cling to some desperate hope [laughs]…
Emerson and Melissa: Yes!
Emerson: Like certain shippers we know!
Jo: Well, okay, I’m obviously – Harry–Snape is now as personal, if not more so, than Harry–Voldemort. I can’t answer that question because it’s a spoiler, isn’t it, whatever I say, and obviously, it has such a huge impact on what will happen when they meet again that I can’t. And let’s face it, it’s going to launch 10,000 theories and I’m going to get a big kick out of reading them so [laughs] I’m evil but I just like the theories, I love the theories.
Emerson: I know Dumbledore likes to see the good in people but he seems trusting almost to the point of recklessness sometimes. How can someone so…?
Jo: … intelligent…
Emerson: … be so blind with regard to certain things?
Jo: Well, there is information on that to come, in [Book] 7. But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in Books 5 and 6 that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems, and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner? He has none of those things. He’s always the one who gives, he’s always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge. So I think that, while I ask the reader to accept that McGonagall is a very worthy second in command, she is not an equal. You have a slightly circuitous answer, but I can’t get much closer than that.
Emerson: No, that was a good answer.
Melissa: It’s interesting about Dumbledore being lonely.
Jo: I see him as isolated, and a few people have said to me – rightly, I think – that he is detached. My sister said to me in a moment of frustration… It was when Hagrid was shut up in his house after Rita Skeeter had published that he was a half-breed, and my sister said to me, “Why didn’t Dumbledore go down earlier, why didn’t Dumbledore go down earlier?” I said he really had to let Hagrid stew for a while and see if he was going to come out of this on his own because if he had come out on his own he really would have been better. “Well, he’s too detached. He’s too cold; it’s like you,” she said!” [laughs] By which she meant that where she would immediately rush in and I would maybe stand back a little bit and say, “Let’s wait and see if he can work this out.” I wouldn’t leave him a week. I’d leave him maybe an afternoon. But she would chase him into the hut.
Emerson: This is one of my burning questions since the third book: Why did Voldemort offer Lily so many chances to live? Would he actually have let her live?
Jo: Can’t tell you. But he did offer, you’re absolutely right. Don’t you want to ask me why James’s death didn’t protect Lily and Harry? There’s your answer; you’ve just answered your own question, because she could have lived and chose to die. James was going to be killed anyway. Do you see what I mean? I’m not saying James wasn’t ready to; he died trying to protect his family, but he was going to be murdered anyway. He wasn’t given a choice, so he rushed into it in a kind of animal way. I think there are distinctions in courage. James was immensely brave. But the caliber of Lily’s bravery was, I think in this instance, higher because she could have saved herself. Now any mother, any normal mother would have done what Lily did. So in that sense, her courage, too, was of an animal quality, but she was given time to choose. James wasn’t. It’s like an intruder entering your house, isn’t it? You would instinctively rush them. But if in cold blood you were told, “Get out of the way,” what would you do? I mean, I don’t think any mother would stand aside from their child. But does that answer it? She did very consciously lay down her life. She had a clear choice.
Emerson: And James didn’t.
Jo: Did he clearly die to try [to] protect Harry specifically given a clear choice? No. It’s a subtle distinction and there’s slightly more to it than that but that’s most of the answer.
Melissa: Did she know anything about the possible effect of standing in front of Harry?
Jo: No, because as I’ve tried to make clear in the series, it never happened before. No one ever survived before. And no one, therefore, knew that could happen.
Melissa: So no one – Voldemort or anyone using [the Killing Curse] – ever gave someone a choice and then they took that option [to die]…
Jo: They may have been given a choice, but not in that particular way.
Emerson: When Sirius was framed for the death of Pettigrew and the Muggles, did he actually laugh or was that something made up to make him look even more insane?
Jo: Did he actually laugh? Yes, I would say he did. Well, he did, because I’ve created him. Sirius, to me, he’s kind of on the edge. Do you not get that feeling from Sirius? He’s a little bit of a loose cannon. I really like him as a character and a lot of people really liked him as a character and are still asking me when he’s going to come back. [laughs] But Sirius had his flaws – I’ve sort of discussed that before – some quite glaring flaws. I see Sirius as someone who was a case of arrested development. I think you see that from his relationship with Harry in Phoenix. He wants a mate from Harry, and what Harry craves is a father. Harry is outgrowing that now. Sirius wasn’t equipped to give him that. The laughter – he was absolutely unhinged by James’s death. Harry and Sirius were very similar in the way that both of them were craving family connections with friends. So Sirius with James wanted a brother, and Harry has nominated Ron and Hermione as his family. This is the thing I found interesting. It might have been on MuggleNet’s comments. This is a while back when I was actually looking for fansites of the month (or whatever arbitrary time period I do). It was around the time I was reading comments for the first time, and there was something in there where kids were saying, “I don’t understand why he’s shouting at Ron and Hermione. I mean, I’d shout at my parents; I would never shout at my best friends.” But he has no one else to shout at. That was interesting from young kids because I just don’t think they could make that leap of imagination. He’s very alone. Anyway, I’ve wandered miles away from Sirius. He was unhinged. Yes, he laughed. He knew what he’d lost. It was a humorless laugh. Pettigrew, who[m] they, in a slightly patronizing way – James and Sirius, at least – allowed to hang around with them, it turned out that he was a better wizard than they knew. Turned out he was better at hiding secrets than they knew.
Melissa: You said that during the writing of Book 6 something caused you fiendish glee. Do you remember what that was?
Jo: Oh, God. What was it? It wasn’t really vindictive [laughs] – that was more of a figure of speech. I know what I’ve enjoyed writing; you know Luna’s commentary during the Quidditch match? [laughs] It was that. I really enjoyed doing that. Actually, I really enjoyed doing that. That was the last Quidditch match. I knew as I wrote it that it was the last time I was going to be doing a Quidditch match. To be honest with you, Quidditch matches have been the bane of my life in the Harry Potter books. They are necessary in that people expect Harry to play Quidditch, but there is a limit to how many ways you can have them play Quidditch together and for something new to happen. And then I had this moment of blinding inspiration. I thought, Luna’s going to commentate, and that was just a gift. It’s the kind of commentary I’d do on a sports match because I’m… [laughs] Anyway, yeah, it was that.
Melissa: That was a lot of fun. She’s fun.
Jo: I love Luna, I really love Luna.
Emerson: Why does Dumbledore allow Peeves to stay in the castle?
Jo: Can’t get him out.
Emerson: He’s Dumbledore, he can do anything!
Jo: No, no no no no. Peeves is like dry rot. You can try [to] eradicate it. It comes with the building. You’re stuck. If you’ve got Peeves, you’re stuck.
Emerson: But Peeves answers to Dumbledore.
Jo: Yeah. I see Peeves as like a severe plumbing problem in a very old building, and Dumbledore is slightly better with the spanner than most people, so he can maybe make it function better for a few weeks. Then it’s going to start leaking again. Would you want Peeves gone, honestly?
Melissa: If I [were] Harry I might, but as a reader, I enjoy him. I enjoyed him most when he started obeying Fred and George at the end of Book 5.
Jo: Yeah, that was fun. I enjoyed that. That was satisfying. [laughs]
Emerson: When I signed onto IM after the book came out, there were at least four or five people whose away messages were, “Give her hell from us, Peeves.” Everybody loved that line.
Jo: [laughs] Aww. Well, Umbridge, she’s a pretty evil character.
Melissa: She’s still out and about in the world?
Jo: She’s still at the Ministry.
Melissa: Are we going to see more of her?
Melissa: You say that with an evil nod.
Jo: Yeah, it’s too much fun to torture her not to have another little bit more before I finish.
Emerson: MuggleNet “Ask Jo” contest winner Asrial, who’s 22, asks, “If Voldemort saw a boggart, what would it be?”
Jo: Voldemort’s fear is death, ignominious death. I mean, he regards death itself as ignominious. He thinks that it’s a shameful human weakness, as you know. His worst fear is death, but how would a boggart show that? I’m not too sure. I did think about that because I knew you were going to ask me that.
Emerson: A corpse?
Jo: That was my conclusion, that he would see himself dead.
Emerson: As soon as it became clear this question was going to win, I started getting dozens of emails from people telling me I shouldn’t ask it because the answer was too obvious. Except they all disagreed on what the obvious answer was. Some were sure it would be Dumbledore, some were sure it would be Harry, and some were sure it would be death. A couple of follow-ups on that; then what would he see if he were in front of the mirror of Erised?
Jo: Himself, all-powerful and eternal. That’s what he wants.
Emerson: What would Dumbledore see?
Jo: I can’t answer that.
Emerson: What would Dumbledore’s boggart be?
Jo: I can’t answer that either, but for theories, you should read [Book] 6 again. There you go.
Melissa: If Harry [were] to look in the Mirror of Erised at the end of Book 6, what would he see?
Jo: He would have to see Voldemort finished, dead gone, wouldn’t he? Because he knows now that he will have no peace and no rest until this is accomplished.
Emerson: Is the last word of Book 7 still “scar”?
Jo: At the moment. I wonder if it will remain that way.
Melissa: Have you fiddled with it?
Jo: I haven’t actually physically fiddled with it. There are definitely a couple of things that will need changing. They’re not big deals but I always knew I would have to rewrite it.
Melissa: But it’s definitely still on that track?
Jo: Oh definitely. Yeah, yeah
Melissa: How do you feel that you’re starting the last book?
Jo: It feels scary, actually. It’s been 15 years. Can you imagine? One of the longest adult relationships of my life.
Melissa: Have you started?
Jo: Yeah. Realistically, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do real work on it until next year. I see next year as the time that I’m really going to write [Book] 7. But I’ve started and I am doing little bits and pieces here and there when I can. But you’ve seen how young Mackenzie still is, and you can bear actual witness to the fact that I do have a very small, real baby, so I’m going to try and give Mackenzie what I gave David, which is pretty much a year of uninterrupted “me time,” and then I’ll start writing seriously again.
Emerson: What prompted people to start referring to Voldemort as You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?
Jo: It happens many times in history. Well, you’ll know this because you’re that kind of people, but for those who don’t, having a taboo on a name is quite common in certain civilizations. In Africa, there are tribes where the name is never used. Your name is a sacred part of yourself and you are referred to as the son of so-and-so, the brother of so-and-so, and you’re given these pseudonyms because your name is something that can be used magically against you if it’s known. It’s a part of your soul. That’s a powerful taboo in many cultures and across many folklores. On a more prosaic note, in the 1950s in London, there [was] a pair of gangsters called the Kray Twins. The story goes that people didn’t speak the name Kray. You just didn’t mention it. You didn’t talk about them because retribution was so brutal and bloody. I think this is an impressive demonstration of strength, that you can convince someone not to use your name. Impressive in the sense that demonstrates how deep the level of fear is that you can inspire. It’s not something to be admired.
Emerson: I meant, was there a specific event?
Jo: With Voldemort? It was gradual. He was killing and doing some pretty evil things. In the chapter “Lord Voldemort’s Request,” when he comes back to request that teaching post in Book 6, you get a real sense that he’s already gone quite a long way into the dark arts. By that time a lot of people would be choosing not to use his name. During that time his name was never used except by Dumbledore and people who were above the superstition.
Melissa: Speaking of world events –
Jo: Chapter 1?
Melissa: Yeah, Chapter 1, and current world events, specifically in the last four years. Terrorism and the like; has it factored into your writing, has it shaped your writing?
Jo: No, never consciously, in the sense that I’ve never thought, “It’s time for a post-9/11 Harry Potter book,” no. But what Voldemort does, in many senses, is terrorism, and that was quite clear in my mind before 9/11 happened. I was going to read last night from Chapter 1. That was the reading until the 7th of July [bombings in London]. It then became quite clear to me that it was going to be grossly inappropriate for me to read a passage in which the Muggle prime minister is discussing a mass Muggle killing. It just wasn’t appropriate, as there are touches of levity in there. It was totally inappropriate, so that’s when I had to change, and I decided to go for the joke shop, which is all very symbolic because, of course, Harry said to Fred and George, “I’ve got a feeling we’ll all be needing a few laughs before long.” It all ties together nicely. So no, not consciously, but there are parallels, obviously. I think one of the times I felt the parallels was when I was writing about the arrest of Stan Shunpike. I always planned that these kinds of things would happen, but these have very powerful resonances, given that I believe, and many people believe, that there have been instances of persecution of people who did not deserve to be persecuted, even while we’re attempting to find the people who have committed utter atrocities. These things just happen, it’s human nature. There were some very startling parallels at the time I was writing it.
Emerson: Has the Sorting Hat ever been wrong?
Jo: Mhm. Do you have a theory?
Emerson: I have heard a lot of theories.
Jo: [laughs] I bet you have. No. [laughs] Sorry.
Melissa: That’s interesting, because that would suggest that the voice comes more from a person’s own head than the hat itself and that maybe when it talks on its own, it comes from…
Jo: … the founders themselves.
Melissa: Yeah. Interesting. How much of a role are the founders going to play in Book 7?
Jo: Some, as you probably have guessed from the end of [Book] 6. There’s so much that I want to ask you, but you’re supposed to interview me, so come on. [laughs]
Emerson: I know you get asked this in every interview, but the length of the book, has it changed at all?
Jo: [Book] 7? Shorter than Phoenix, you mean, Phoenix always being our benchmark of a book that’s really, really nudging the outer limits? I still think it will be shorter than Phoenix.
Jo: I don’t know. That is the honest truth, I don’t know. I have a plan for [Book] 7 that’s not yet so detailed that I could honestly gauge the length. I know what’s going to happen; I know the story, but I haven’t sat down and plotted it to the point where you think, “We’re really looking at 42 chapters” or “We’re looking at 31 chapters.” I don’t know yet.
Jo: Ohh, good.
Jo: No, I’m glad! Yes?
Melissa: Can we figure out who he is, from what we know so far?
Jo: Do you have a theory?
Melissa: We’ve come up with Regulus Black.
Jo: Have you now?
Jo: Well, I think that would be, um, a fine guess.
Melissa: And perhaps, being Sirius’s brother, he had another mirror. Does he have the other mirror, or Sirius’s mirror?
Jo: I have no comment at all on that mirror. That mirror is not on the table.
Melissa: Let the record note that she has drummed her fingers on her Coke can in a very Mr. Burns-like way.
Jo: Oh, I love Mr. Burns.
Emerson: If you had the opportunity to rewrite any part of the series so far, what would it be and why?
Jo: There are bits of all six books that I would go back and tighten up. My feeling is that Phoenix is overlong, but I challenge anyone to find the obvious place to cut. There are places that I would prune, now, looking back, but they wouldn’t add up to a hugely reduced book, because my feeling is you need what’s in there. You need what’s in there if I’m going to play fair for the reader in the resolution in Book 7. One of the reasons Phoenix is so long is that I had to move Harry around a lot, physically. There were places he had to go he had never been before, and that took time to get him there, to get him away. That was the longest non-Hogwarts stretch in any of the books, and that’s really what bumps up the length. I’m trying to think of specifics, it’s hard.
Emerson: Any subplots that you think could have been left out, in hindsight?
Jo: I find it very hard to pinpoint any because I feel that they were necessary. How can any of us judge? Even I, until [Book] 7 is finished, will not be able to look back really accurately and say, “That was discursive.” And maybe at the end of [Book] 7, I’ll look back and say, thinking about it, “I didn’t really need to be quite so elaborate in that place there.” Until it’s written it’s a hard thing to be accurate about. But certainly, there are turns of expressions that irritate me in hindsight. There are repetitions that drive me crazy in hindsight.
Melissa: Now that Dumbledore is gone, will we ever know the spell that he was trying to cast on Voldemort in the Ministry?
Emerson: Let the record show she made a funny sound with her mouth.
Jo: It’s possible, it’s possible that you will know that. You will know more about Dumbledore. I have to be so careful on this.
Melissa: Can we have a book just on Dumbledore? Like a life story?
Jo: Oh, all right then.
Emerson and Melissa: YES!
Jo: That’s not a binding contract! [laughs]
Melissa: No, it’s an oral agreement. Where’s Neil [her lawyer, not her husband]?
Emerson: How many wizards are there?
Jo: In the world? Oh, Emerson, my maths is so bad.
Emerson: Is there a ratio of Muggles to wizards?
Melissa: Or in Hogwarts.
Jo: Well, Hogwarts. All right. Here is the thing with Hogwarts. Way before I finished Philosopher’s Stone, when I was just amassing stuff for seven years, between having the idea and publishing the book, I sat down, and I created 40 kids who enter Harry’s year. I’m delighted I did it, [because] it was so useful. I got 40 pretty fleshed out characters. I never have to stop and invent someone. I know who’s in the year, I know who’s in which House, I know what their parentage is, and I have a few personal details on all of them. So there were 40. I never consciously thought, “That’s it, that’ s all the people in his year,” but that’s how it’s worked out. Then I’ve been asked a few times how many people and because numbers are not my strong point, one part of my brain knew 40, and another part of my brain said, “Oh, about 600 sounds right.” Then people started working it out and saying, “Where are the other kids sleeping?” [laughs] We have a little bit of a dilemma there. I mean, obviously magic is very rare. I wouldn’t want to say a precise ratio. But if you assume that all of the wizarding children are being sent to Hogwarts, then that’s very few wizard-to-Muggle population, isn’t it? There will be the odd kid whose parents don’t want them to go to Hogwarts, but 600 out of the whole of Britain is tiny. Let’s say 3,000 [in Britain], actually, thinking about it, and then think of all the magical creatures, some of which appear human. So then you’ve got things like hags, trolls, ogres and so on, so that’s really bumping up your numbers. And then you’ve got the world of sad people like Filch and Figg who are part of the world but are hangers-on. That’s going to bump you up a bit as well, so it’s a more sizable, total magical community that needs hiding, concealing, but don’t hold me to these figures, because that’s not how I think.
Melissa: How much fun did you have with the romance in this book?
Jo: Oh, loads. Doesn’t it show?
Jo: There’s a theory – this applies to detective novels, and then Harry, which is not really a detective novel, but it feels like one sometimes – that you should not have romantic intrigue in a detective book. Dorothy L. Sayers, who is [the] queen of the genre said – and then broke her own rule, but said – that there is no place for romance in a detective story except that it can be useful to camouflage other people’s motives. That’s true; it is a very useful trick. I’ve used that on Percy and I’ve used that to a degree on Tonks in this book, as a red herring. But having said that, I disagree inasmuch as mine are very character-driven books, and it’s so important, therefore, that we see these characters fall in love, which is a necessary part of life. How did you feel about the romance?
[Melissa puts her thumbs up and grins widely]
Emerson: We were high fiving the whole time.
Jo: [laughs] Yes! Good. I’m so glad.
Melissa: We were running back and forth between rooms yelling at each other.
Emerson: We thought it was clearer than ever that Harry and Ginny are an item and Ron and Hermione, although we think you made it painfully obvious in the first five books.
Jo: [whispers] So do I!
Emerson: What was that?
Jo: Well, so do I! So do I!
Emerson: Harry/Hermione shippers – delusional!
Jo: Well, no, Emerson, I am not going to say they’re delusional! They are still valued members of my readership! I am not going to use the word delusional. I am, however, going to say… now I am trusting both of you to do the spoiler thing when you write this up…
Jo: I will say, that, yes, I personally feel… Well, it’s going to be clear once people have read Book 6. I mean, that’s it. It’s done, isn’t it? We know. Yes, we do now know that it’s Ron and Hermione. I do feel that I have dropped heavy…
Jo: … hints. ANVIL-sized, actually, hints, prior to this point. I certainly think even if subtle clues hadn’t been picked up by the end of “Azkaban,” that by the time we hit Krum in Goblet…
But Ron… I had a lot of fun with that in this book. I really enjoyed writing the Ron/Lavender business, and the reason that was enjoyable was, Ron up to this point has been quite immature compared to the other two, and he needed to make himself worthy of Hermione. Now, that didn’t mean necessarily physical experience but he had to grow up emotionally and now he’s taken a big step up. Because he’s had the meaningless physical experience… let’s face it; his emotions were never deeply engaged with Lavender.
Jo: And he’s realized that that is ultimately not what he wants, which takes him a huge emotional step forward.
Emerson: So he’s got a little bit more than a teaspoon, now there’s a tablespoon?
Jo: Yeah, I think. [laughs]
Melissa: Watching all this, were you surprised when you first logged on and found this intense devotion to this thing that you knew was not going to happen?
Jo: Yes. Well, you see, I’m a relative newcomer to the world of shipping because for a long time, I didn’t go on the net and look up Harry Potter. A long time. Occasionally, I had to, because there were weird news stories or something that I would have to go […] check because I was supposed to have said something I hadn’t said. I had never gone and looked at fansites, and then one day I did and oh my God. Five hours later or something, I get up from the computer shaking slightly.
Jo: “What is going on?” And it was during that first mammoth session that I met the shippers, and it was a most extraordinary thing. I had no idea there was this huge underworld seething beneath me.
Emerson: She’s putting it in a positive light!
Jo: Well, I am, I am, but I want to make it clear that “delusional” is your word and not mine! [laughs]
Melissa: You’re making our lives a lot easier by laying it on the table.
Jo: Well, I think anyone who is still shipping Harry/Hermione after this book…
Emerson: [whispers] Delusional!
Jo: No! But they need to go back and reread, I think.
Emerson: Thank you.
Melissa: That is going to…
Jo: Will it make your lives slightly easier? I think so.
Melissa: I have to tell you, I’m looking forward to [this coming out], because, you know, a lot of this is predicated upon a necessary hate for another character. Ron has suffered horribly at the hands of Harry/Hermione shippers.
Jo: That bit makes me very uncomfortable, actually. Yeah, that bit does make me uncomfortable.
Emerson: Honestly, I think the Harry/Hermione shippers are a very small percentage of the population anyway.
Melissa: Yeah, if you do a general poll…
Emerson: They seem more prominent online, but that’s just because the online fandom is very…
Melissa: “Militant” was the best word I heard.
Jo: “Militant” is a beautifully chosen word. Energetic. Feisty.
Melissa: What does it do to you to see a character that you love, for people to express sheer hate…?
Emerson: Or vice versa.
Jo: It amuses me. It honestly amuses me. People have been waxing lyrical [in letters] about Draco Malfoy, and I think that’s the only time when it stopped amusing me and started almost worrying me. I’m trying to clearly distinguish between Tom Felton, who is a good looking young boy, and Draco, who, whatever he looks like, is not a nice man. It’s a romantic, but unhealthy and unfortunately all too common, delusion of – delusion, there you go – of girls, and you [nods to Melissa] will know this, that they are going to change someone. And that persists through many women’s lives, till their death bed, and it is uncomfortable and unhealthy and it actually worried me a little bit, to see young girls swearing undying devotion to this really imperfect character, because there must be an element in there, that “I’d be the one who [changes him].” I mean, I understand the psychology of it, but it is pretty unhealthy. So a couple of times I have written back, possibly quite sharply, saying, [laughs] “You want to rethink your priorities here.”
Jo: Again, your word!
Emerson: On our websites, we have a tendency to have very different stances on shipping. On the Leaky Cauldron, they tow this fine political line…
Melissa: Down the line. We say, “If that’s your thing, that’s your thing.”
Emerson: And on MuggleNet, we say…
Jo: [laughs] You say you’re delusional lunatics?
Melissa: He basically says, “If you don’t think this, just get off my site.”
Emerson: We say, “You’re clearly delusional!”
Jo: What’s that section on your site again, when you post the absolute absurdities that you’ve received?
Emerson: The Wall of Shame?
Jo: The Wall of Shame. We could have a Wall of Shame. We could have them pasted up here, some of the ludicrous things I receive.
Melissa: What kind of things?
Jo: Very similar stuff. Very similar. From pure abuse to just ramblings, we could say of an existential nature. Not from kids, from older people. What made me laugh out loud, I think, was your [Emerson’s] comment on there saying, “Please don’t try and send me a stupid email so you end up on the Wall of Shame.” Isn’t that human nature? It starts off as let’s expose these [laughs], and people are competing to be on there?
Emerson: Delusional, like I said. It’s my word of the day.
Jo: Sorry, I just snorted my drink. Sorry, go on.
Melissa: I wanted to go back to Draco.
Jo: Okay, yeah, let’s talk about Draco.
Melissa: He was utterly fascinating in this book.
Jo: Well, I’m glad you think so, because I enjoyed this one. Draco did a lot of growing up in this book as well. I had an interesting discussion, I thought, with my editor Emma, about Draco. She said to me, “So Malfoy can do Occlumency,” which obviously Harry never mastered and has now pretty much given up on doing, or attempting. And she was querying this and wondering whether he should be as good as it, but I think Draco would be very gifted in Occlumency, unlike Harry. Harry’s problem with it was always that his emotions were too near the surface and that he is in some ways too damaged. But he’s also very in touch with his feelings about what’s happened to him. He’s not repressed, he’s quite honest about facing them, and he couldn’t suppress them, he couldn’t suppress these memories. But I thought of Draco as someone who is very capable of compartmentalizing his life and his emotions, and always has done. So he’s shut down his pity, enabling him to bully effectively. He’s shut down compassion. How else would you become a Death Eater? So he suppresses virtually all of the good side of himself. But then he’s playing with the big boys, as the phrase has it, and suddenly, having talked the talk he’s asked to walk it for the first time and it is absolutely terrifying. And I think that that is an accurate depiction of how some people fall into that kind of way of life, and they realize what they’re in for. I felt sorry for Draco. Well, I’ve always known this was coming for Draco, obviously, however nasty he was. Harry is correct in believing that Draco would not have killed Dumbledore, which I think is clear when he starts to lower his wand, when the matter is taken out of his hands.
Emerson: Was Dumbledore planning to die?
Jo: Do you think that’s going to be the big theory?
Melissa and Emerson: Yes. It’ll be a big theory.
Jo: Well, I don’t want to shoot that one down. [laughs] I have to give people hope.
Melissa: It goes back to the question of whether Snape is a double-double-double-triple-
Jo: [laughs] Double-double-quadruple-to-the-power-of… yeah.
Melissa: … whether this had been planned, and since Dumbledore had this knowledge of Draco the whole year, had they had a discussion that said, “Should this happen, you have to act as if it is entirely your intention to just walk forward and kill me, because if you don’t, Draco will die, the Unbreakable Vow, you’ll die,” and so on.
Jo: No, I see that, and yeah, I follow your line there. I can’t. I mean, obviously, there are lines of speculation I don’t want to shut down. Generally speaking, I shut down those lines of speculation that are plain unprofitable. Even with the shippers. God bless them, but they had a lot of fun with it. It’s when people get really off the wall; it’s when people devote hours of their time to proving that Snape is a vampire that I feel it’s time to step in, because there’s really nothing in the canon that supports that.
Emerson: It’s when you look for those things…
Jo: Yeah, it’s after the 15th rereading when you have spots in front of your eyes that you start seeing clues about Snape being the Lord of Darkness. So there are things I shut down just because I think, “Well, don’t waste your time; there’s better stuff to be debating, and even if it’s wrong, it will probably lead you somewhere interesting.” That’s my rough theory anyway.
Emerson: What’s one question you wished to be asked and what would be the answer to that question?
Jo: Umm… such a good question. What do I wish I could be asked? Today, just today, July 16, I was really hoping someone would ask me about RAB., and you did it. Just today, because I think that is… Well, I hoped that people would.
Melissa: Is there more we should ask about him?
Jo: There are things you will deduce [from] further readings, I think – well you two definitely will, for sure – that, yeah, I was really hoping that RAB would come out.
Melissa: Forgive me if I’m remembering incorrectly, but was Regulus the one who was murdered by Voldemort?
Jo: Well, Sirius said he wouldn’t have been because he wasn’t important enough, remember?
Melissa: But that doesn’t have to be true, if [RAB] is writing Voldemort a personal note.
Jo: That doesn’t necessarily show that Voldemort killed him, personally, but Sirius himself suspected that Regulus got in a little too deep. Like Draco. He was attracted to it, but the reality of what it meant was way too much to handle. Oh, how did you feel about Lupin/Tonks?
Emerson: That was…
Melissa: I was surprised!
Emerson: I was surprised, but not shocked.
Melissa: I think I was a little shocked.
Jo: Someone out there, and I don’t know if it was on either of your sites. I nearly fell off my chair. Someone… This is when I do my trawls. I mean, I sound like I spend my life on the Internet, and that’s why I don’t get my novels finished more quickly. I swear that’s not true, and I’d like to make that clear for all the recording devices on the table. Because I’ve now got my site, I go looking for the FAQs and for fansites that I like to put up, so that’s how I find out comments and things. And someone out there, I could not believe it, had said it. Had said, “Oh no, Tonks can’t marry so-and-so, (God knows who it was) because Tonks is going to end up with Lupin, and they’re going to have lots of little multicolored werewolf cubs together,” or something.
Melissa: I’ve seen that!
Jo: Did you see that? Was that on Leaky, then?
Melissa: Maybe. No offense [to Emerson], but I don’t usually have time to read the MuggleNet comments.
Jo: I suppose, so many people are posting, that you would expect them to come up with virtually every possibility.
Emerson: Oh, yeah, they have come up with everything.
Jo: Ain’t it the truth. I know! I suppose if I did spend all my time on there, pretty much my whole future plot would be on there somewhere.
Emerson: How much time do you go on the fansites?
Jo: It really varies. When my site is quiet, it is genuinely because I’m working really hard or I’m busy with the kids or something. When I update a few times in a row, I’ve obviously been on the net. So the FAQs and that kind of stuff [are] just compiled by hard copy post that I get here and fansites. I go looking to see what people want [to be] answered. It’s fantastic, it’s sometimes frustrating, but I do want to make clear, I do not post in comments, because I know that’s been cropping up. You’ve both been really responsible about that, but that slightly worries me. I did go in the MuggleNet chatroom, it was hysterical. That was the first time I ever Googled Harry Potter. I was just falling into these things and Leaky… Actually, Leaky I already knew about, but I discovered MuggleNet that first-ever afternoon, and I went in the chatroom, and it was so funny. I was treated with outright contempt. [laughs] It was funny, I can’t tell you.
Emerson: I’d like to apologize for…
Jo: No, no, no, no, not in a horrible way, but “Yeah, yeah, shut up, you’re not a regular; you don’t know a thing.” You can imagine!
Melissa: One of our Leaky “Ask Jo” poll winners is theotherhermit. She’s 50 and lives in a small town in the eastern US. I think this was addressed in the sixth book, but “Do the memories stored in a Pensieve reflect reality or the views of the person they belong to?”
Jo: It’s reality. It’s important that I have got that across, because Slughorn gave Dumbledore this pathetic cut-and-paste memory. He didn’t want to give the real thing, and he very obviously patched it up and cobbled it together. So what you remember is accurate in the Pensieve.
Emerson: I was dead wrong about that.
Emerson: I thought for sure that it was your interpretation of it. It didn’t make sense to me to be able to examine your own thoughts from a third-person perspective. It almost feels like you’d be cheating because you’d always be able to look at things from someone else’s point of view.
Melissa: So there are things in there that you haven’t noticed personally, but you can go and see yourself?
Jo: Yes, and that’s the magic of the Pensieve, that’s what brings it alive.
Emerson: I want one of those!
Jo: Yeah. Otherwise, it really would just be like a diary, wouldn’t it? Confined to what you remember. But the Pensieve recreates a moment for you, so you could go into your own memory and relive things that you didn’t notice the time. It’s somewhere in your head, which I’m sure it is, in all of our brains. I’m sure if you could access it, things that you don’t know you remember are all in there somewhere.
Emerson: Our other “Ask Jo” question (the one about James and Lily’s sacrifices), was from Maria Vlasiou, who is 25, of the Netherlands. And then the third is from Helen Poole, 18, from Thirsk, Yorkshire – also one of the “Plot Thickens” fan book authors. It’s the one about Grindelwald, which I’m sure you’ve been gearing up for us to ask. Clearly.
Jo: Come on then, remind me. Is he dead?
Emerson: Yeah, is he dead?
Jo: Yeah, he is.
Emerson: Is he important?
Emerson: You don’t have to answer, but can you give us some backstory on him?
Jo: I’m going to tell you as much as I told someone earlier who asked me. You know Owen who won the [UK television] competition to interview me? He asked about Grindelwald. He said, “Is it [a] coincidence that he died in 1945?” and I said no. It amuses me to make allusions to things that were happening in the Muggle world, so my feeling would be that while there’s a global Muggle war going on, there’s also a global wizarding war going on.
Emerson: Does he have any connection to…?
Jo: I have no comment to make on that subject.
Melissa: Do they feed each other, the Muggle and wizarding wars?
Jo: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
Melissa: You’ve gone very quiet.
Melissa: We like when you get very quiet. It means…
Emerson: … you’re clearly hiding something.
Melissa: Our next winner question is from Delaney Monaghan, who is 6 years old, via her mother, Vanessa Monaghan. They’re from Canberra, Australia. “What is the significance, if any of the gum wrappers that Mrs. Longbottom keeps giving Neville?”
Emerson: Quick, go on the record [with what you think] before she answers.
Melissa: I think they’re a sad mark of an insane woman.
Jo: That was also asked of me this morning. That idea was one of the very few that was inspired by a real event. I was told what, to me, was a very sad story by someone I know about their elderly mother who had Alzheimer’s, and the elderly mother was in a closed ward. She was very severely demented and no longer recognized her son, but he went faithfully to visit her twice a week, and he used to take her sweets. That was their point of connection. She had a sweet tooth; she recognized him as the sweet-giver. That was very poignant to me. So I embroidered the story. Neville gives his mother what she wants, and (it makes me sad to think of it) she wants to give something back to him, but what she gives back to him is essentially worthless. But he still takes it as worth something because she’s trying to give, so it does mean something, in emotional terms. But the theories on the sweet wrappers are really out there.
Emerson: You can’t blame them.
Jo: I mean, she’s not trying to pass him secret messages.
Melissa: She’s not really sane.
Jo: No. You’re right. But that’s a classic example of, “Let’s just shut that one down,” because it doesn’t really lead anywhere very interesting even if they’re wrong.
Melissa: It’s probably one of the most touching moments in the books.
Jo: I think it is important as a character moment.
Melissa: Our third winner question is from Monique Padelis, who’s 15, of Surrey. How and when was the veil created?
Jo: The veil’s been there as long as the Ministry of Magic has been there, and the Ministry of Magic has been there, not as long as Hogwarts, but a long time. We’re talking hundreds of years. It’s not particularly important to know exactly when, but centuries, definitely.
Melissa: Was it used as an execution chamber or just studying?
Jo: No, it’s just studying. The Department of Mysteries is all about studying. They study the mind, the universe, death…
Melissa: Are we going back to that room, that locked room?
Jo: No comment.
Emerson: Dumbledore is unrivaled in his knowledge of magic. Where did he learn it all?
Jo: I see him primarily as someone who would be self-taught. However, he in his time had access to superb teachers at Hogwarts, so he was educated in the same way that everyone else is educated. Dumbledore’s family would be a profitable line of inquiry, more profitable than sweet wrappers.
Melissa: His family?
Jo: Family, yes.
Melissa: Should we talk about that a little more?
Jo: No. But you can! [laughs]
Melissa: What about Harry’s family, his grandparents? Were they killed?
Jo: No. This takes us into more mundane territory. As a writer, it was more interesting, plot-wise, if Harry was completely alone. So I rather ruthlessly disposed of his entire family apart from Aunt Petunia. I mean, James and Lily are massively important to the plot, of course, but the grandparents? No. And, because I do like my backstory: Petunia and Lily’s parents, normal Muggle death. James’s parents were elderly, were getting on a little when he was born, which explains the only-child, very-pampered, had-him-late-in-life-so-he’s-an-extra-treasure, as often happens, I think. They were old in wizarding terms, and they died. They succumbed to a wizarding illness. That’s as far as it goes. There’s nothing serious or sinister about those deaths. I just needed them out of the way so I killed them.
Melissa: That sort of shuts down Heir of Gryffindor [theories] as well.
Jo: Yeah. Well, yeah.
Melissa: Another one bites the dust.
Jo: Well, there you go. See, I’m aware that Half-Blood Prince will not delight everyone, because it does shoot down some theories. I mean, if it didn’t, I haven’t done my job right. A few people won’t particularly like it, and a lot of people aren’t going to like the death very much, but that was always what was planned to come. We still don’t know whether there was a genuine leak on that, or whether it was speculation that happened to be accurate.
Emerson: With this book?
Melissa: Remember the bets?
Emerson: Oh yeah.
Jo: Yeah, the betting scam. Well, we’re now 50/50. If you remember, on Phoenix, the betting went for Cho Chang, and it was exactly the same thing. Suddenly someone put up something like £10,000 on Cho Chang to die, and you wouldn’t think someone would waste that kind of money, so we think that they thought they had inside information. On the Dumbledore one, we still don’t know. Was there a genuine leak or did someone just guess, and get it right?
Emerson: I remember actually putting a poll up on MuggleNet asking people if they thought he was going to bite it.
Jo: And what was the result? That’s really interesting.
Emerson: The majority thought he was going to die in Book 6. Well, [Book] 6 or [Book] 7. Most thought it was going to be in [Book] 7. It was probably 65/35, but definitely, most thought he was going to die.
Jo: Yeah, well, I think if you take a step back, in the genre of writing that I’m working in, almost always the hero must go on alone. That’s the way it is; we all know that. So the question is when and how, isn’t it? If you know anything about the construction of that kind of plot.
Emerson: The wise old wizard with the beard always dies.
Jo: Well, that’s basically what I’m saying, yes.
Melissa: It’s interesting, because that moment… I think we all sort of felt like he was going to die as soon as he started imparting these huge swallows of wisdom. And the moment when Harry said, “I realize this, and my parents realized this, and this is about this choice,” we stopped, and we said, “All right, let’s let everyone catch up and talk about this because a) Dumbledore is dying, [and] b) this is the flag that signals that we’re going to power through to the end.” I feel like that was a defining moment of the entire series. Do you tend to agree?
Jo: Yes, definitely, because I think there’s a line there between the moment in Chamber of Secrets when Dumbledore says so famously, “It’s our choices that define us, not our abilities,” straight through to Dumbledore sitting in his office, saying to Harry, “The prophecy is significant only because you and Voldemort choose to make it so.” If you both chose to walk away, you could both live! That’s the bottom line. If both of them decided, “We’re not playing” and walked away… but it’s not going to happen because as far as Voldemort is concerned, Harry is a threat. They must meet each other.
Emerson: I remember thinking when I read Order of the Phoenix, what would happen if Harry and Voldemort just decided to…?
Jo: Shake hands, and walk away? We’ll agree to disagree!
Emerson: What if he never heard the prophecy?
Jo: And that’s it, isn’t it. As I said, that’s what I posted on my site.
Emerson: I’m glad you put that up.
Jo: It’s the “Macbeth” idea. I absolutely adore “Macbeth.” It is possibly my favorite Shakespeare play. And that’s the question, isn’t it? If Macbeth hadn’t met the witches, would he have killed Duncan? Would any of it have happened? Is it fated or did he make it happen? I believe he made it happen.
Melissa: If everyone would just shake hands and play a round of golf, everything would be fine.
Melissa: There are a lot of intense loyalty and bravery issues that are really tied to self-sacrifice, specifically in Book 3 – “You should have died rather than betray your friends.” And then, there’s a ton of that throughout. That’s a pretty intense message to pass to, say, an 8-year-old or a 10-year-old who is reading the book, saying we should die for our friends.
Jo: Obviously I imagine it in the context of a very highly charged situation. God forbid. I hope that in the general run of things, an 8-year-old would not be required to die for anyone, but we’re talking here about a fully grown man who was in, what I consider to be, a war situation. This was a full-fledged war situation. I think the question really is do you, as readers, believe that Sirius would have died? Because Sirius is saying that.
Emerson: Oh, absolutely.
Jo: Right, well, that’s what I believed. Sirius would have done it. With all his faults and flaws, he has this profound sense of honor, ultimately, and he would rather have died honorably, as he would see it, than live with the dishonor and shame of knowing that he sent those three people to their deaths, those three people [whom] he loved beyond any others, because like Harry, he is a displaced person without family. You’re right; it is an intense message, but I am ultimately writing about evil, and I have said before, I think, that I’m surprised when sometimes people say to me, “Oh, the books are getting so dark.” I’m thinking, “Well, which part of Philosopher’s Stone did you think was light and fluffy?” There is an innocence about it – Harry is very young when he goes to the school – but the book opens with a double murder. The possibility of death, I think, is present throughout Philosopher’s Stone, and I feel that there are a couple of really gruesome images in Philosopher’s Stone. I think the first book contains more gruesome imagery than the second, despite the giant snake, because the cloaked figure drinking the unicorn blood is pretty damn creepy. It was to me when I thought of it, and I really – right up until now, all these years later – think that the idea of the face in the back of the head [Voldemort sharing Quirrell’s body] is one of the most disturbing images in the whole book. (The whole book; I call it one big book. In the whole series.) So yes, it’s intense, I agree with you, but I would say it’s been pretty intense throughout. There are a lot of things in there that are disturbing, intentionally so, but I really don’t think I’ve ever crossed the line into shocking for shocking’s sake. I feel that I could justify every single piece of morbid imagery in those books. The one that I wondered whether I was going to be able to get past the editors was the physical condition of Voldemort before he went into the cauldron, do you remember? He was kind of fetal. I felt an almost visceral distaste for what I had conjured up, but there’s a reason it was in there and you will see that. And I discussed that with my editor and she was okay with it. In fact, she was more disturbed [by] the idea of the grave cracking open. I think it’s the desecration idea, isn’t it, again. There’s nothing really to see there. But again, it’s the violation of a taboo.
Melissa: What color are Ron’s eyes?
Jo: Ron’s eyes are blue. Have I never said that, ever?
Melissa: They’ve been dying for us to ask this.
Jo: Blue. Harry’s green, Ron’s blue, and Hermione’s are brown.
Melissa: What’s Ron’s Patronus?
Jo: Ron’s Patronus? Have I never said that either? Oh no, that’s shocking! [laughs] Ron’s Patronus is a small dog, like a Jack Russell, and that’s a really sentimental choice, because we’ve got a Jack Russell. He’s insane.
Melissa: This is not a short one, but I really want to ask you this: With all the fame and wealth you’ve amassed, how do you keep your kids grounded and normal and rooted in the real world?
Jo: It is my top priority in life. I think and I hope that we lead a pretty normal life, believe it or not. Surreal things happen where I walk out of my house and into an illuminated castle and so on, but that really has very little effect on them. I think as much as one can, we do lead a very normal life. We go out to the shops like anyone else, we walk around town like anyone else. That’s my feeling anyway. I also think that, importantly, all three children will grow up seeing Neil and I both working. There are no plans on either of our parts to stop working, put our feet up and go yachting around the world or anything, pleasant though that would be and does seem sometimes. We keep working, and I think that’s a pretty good example to set [for] your children, that whatever money you might have, self-worth really lies in finding out what you do best. It’s doing your proper job, isn’t it?
Melissa: Yeah. Have you discovered the two missing Gryffindor students?
Jo: Ohh! I was going to go and get that for you. I’m sorry I haven’t got it. I’ll put it on my site.
Melissa: Did Ginny send Harry the valentine?
Jo: Yeah, bless her.
Melissa: Was it a Tom Riddle thing, or Ginny Weasley?
Jo: No, Ginny Weasley.
Melissa: Well, she got paid back for it.
Jo: [laughs] Eventually.
Melissa: I think you set that up from the train compartment scene [in Book 1], where he was watching… All the relationships. That scene probably set [them] up.
Jo: I think so. I hope so. So you liked Harry/Ginny, did you, when it happened?
Emerson: We’ve been waiting for this for years!
Jo: Oh, I’m so glad.
Melissa: Oh my gosh, that kiss!
Emerson: It actually materialized!
Jo: It actually happened, I know! I felt a little bit like that.
Melissa: Had you been trying to get them…?
Jo: Well, I always knew that that was going to happen, that they were going to come together and then part.
Emerson: Were you always [unintelligible] it?
Jo: Well, no, not really, because the plan, which I really hope I fulfilled, is that the reader, like Harry, would gradually discover Ginny as pretty much the ideal girl for Harry. She’s tough, not in an unpleasant way, but she’s gutsy. He needs to be with someone who can stand the demands of being with Harry Potter, because he’s a scary boyfriend in a lot of ways. He’s a marked man. I think she’s funny, and I think that she’s very warm and compassionate. These are all things that Harry requires in his ideal woman. But I felt – and I’m talking years ago when all this was planned – initially, she’s terrified by his image. I mean, he’s a bit of a rock god to her when she sees him first, at 10 or 11, and he’s this famous boy. So Ginny had to go [on] a journey as well. And rather like with Ron, I didn’t want Ginny to be the first girl [whom] Harry ever kissed. That’s something I meant to say, and it’s kind of tied in. One of the ways in which I tried to show that Harry has done a lot of growing up… In Phoenix, remember when Cho comes into the compartment, and he thinks, “I wish I could have been discovered sitting with better people,” basically? He’s with Luna and Neville. So literally the identical thing happens in Prince, and he’s with Luna and Neville again, but this time, he has grown up, and as far as he’s concerned, he is with two of the coolest people on the train. They may not look that cool. Harry has really grown. And I feel that Ginny and Harry, in this book, are total equals. They are worthy of each other. They’ve both gone through a big emotional journey, and they’ve really got over a lot of delusions, to use your word, together. So I enjoyed writing that. I really like Ginny as a character.
Melissa: Does she have a larger importance? The Tom Riddle stuff, being the seventh girl…
Jo: The backstory with Ginny was, she was the first girl to arrive in the Weasley family in generations, but there’s that old tradition of the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and a seventh son of a seventh son, so that’s why she’s the seventh, because she is a gifted witch. I think you get hints of that, because she does some pretty impressive stuff here and there, and you’ll see that again.
Emerson: Why is Slytherin House still…?
Jo: Still allowed!
Emerson: Yes! I mean, it’s such a stigma.
Jo: But they’re not all bad. They literally are not all bad. Well, the deeper answer – the non-flippant answer – would be that you have to embrace all of a person, you have to take them with their flaws, and everyone’s got them. It’s the same way with the student body. If only they could achieve perfect unity, you would have an absolute unstoppable force, and I suppose it’s that craving for unity and wholeness that means that they keep that quarter of the school that maybe does not encapsulate the most generous and noble qualities, in the hope – in the very Dumbledore-esque hope – that they will achieve union, and they will achieve harmony. “Harmony” is the word.
Jo: Couldn’t they just shoot them all? NO, Emerson, they really couldn’t!
Emerson: Couldn’t they just put them into the other three Houses, and maybe it wouldn’t be a perfect fit for all of them but a close enough fit that they would get by and wouldn’t be in such a negative environment?
Jo: They could. But you must remember, I have thought about this.
Emerson: Even their common room is a gloomy dark room.
Jo: Well, I don’t know, because I think the Slytherin common room has a spooky beauty.
Emerson: It’s gotta be a bad idea to stick all the Death Eaters’ kids together in one place.
Jo: But they’re not all… Don’t think I don’t take your point, but we, the reader, and I as the writer… because I’m leading you all there. You are seeing Slytherin House always from the perspective of Death Eaters’ children. They are a small fraction of the total Slytherin population. I’m not saying all the other Slytherins are adorable, but they’re certainly not Draco; they’re certainly not Crabbe and Goyle. They’re not all like that, that would be too brutal for words, wouldn’t it?
Emerson: But there aren’t a lot of Death Eater children in the other Houses, are there?
Jo: You will have people connected with Death Eaters in the other Houses, yeah, absolutely.
Emerson: Just in lesser numbers.
Jo: Probably. I hear you. It is the tradition to have four Houses, but in this case, I wanted them to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake. So again, it was this idea of harmony and balance, that you had four necessary components, and by integrating them, you would make a very strong place. But they remain fragmented, as we know.
Emerson: Was James the only one who had romantic feelings for Lily?
Jo: No. She was like Ginny. She was a popular girl.
Jo: That is a theory that’s been put to me repeatedly.
Emerson: What about Lupin?
Jo: I can answer either one.
Emerson: How about both? One at a time.
Jo: I can’t answer, can I, really?
Emerson: Can you give us any clue, without [giving too much away]?
Jo: I’ve never, to my knowledge, lied when posed a question about the books. To my knowledge. You can imagine, I’ve now been asked hundreds of questions; it’s perfectly possible at some point I misspoke or I gave a misleading answer unintentionally, or I may have answered truthfully at the time and then changed my mind in a subsequent book. That makes me cagey about answering some questions in too much detail because I have to have some leeway to get there and do it my way, but never on a major plot point. Lupin was very fond of Lily, we’ll put it like that, but I wouldn’t want anyone to run around thinking that he competed with James for her. She was a popular girl, and that is relevant. But I think you’ve seen that already. She was a bit of a catch.
Melissa: How did they get together? She hated James, from what we’ve seen.
Jo: Did she really? You’re a woman; you know what I’m saying. [laughs]
Emerson: How on earth did Fred and George know that Ireland would win and Bulgaria would get the Snitch?
Jo: Well, I think that if you were really into Quidditch you could have predicted that. What they had…
Emerson: But how can you predict that, because you don’t know when the Snitch is going to show up.
Jo: It was a risk. They risked everything on it. That is Fred and George, isn’t it? They are the risk-takers in the family. You’ve got Percy at one end of the family – conform, do everything correctly – and you’ve got Fred and George, who just take a totally different life path and were prepared to risk everything. They risked all they had, which is as much as anyone can do.
Melissa: How did they figure out how to work the map?
Jo: Don’t you…? Well. This is how I explained it to myself at the time, and this does sound glib. Don’t you think it would be quite a Fred and Georgeish thing to say in jest and then see this thing transform? Can’t you just see them?
Emerson: But the exact word combination? Is that just a lot of luck, or Felix Felicis?
Jo: Or the map helped.
Melissa: Yep, yeah. You can see them sort of answering and joking with each other.
Jo: And the map flickering into life here and there when they got closer and closer, and finally they hit upon the exact right word combination and it just erupts.
Emerson: What on earth was Aberforth Dumbledore doing with those goats?
Jo: Your guess is as good as mine! [laughs]
Melissa: Excellent. And Dumbledore makes a little joke about him in this one, about knowing people in bars.
Jo: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, that’s right. And you of course see Aberforth very briefly.
Melissa: Does the gleam of triumph still have yet to make an appearance?
Jo: That’s still enormously significant. And let’s face it, I haven’t told you that much is enormously significant, so you can let your imaginations run free there.
Emerson: I think everybody realized it was significant when they read it but we didn’t see it materialize in 5 or 6.
Jo: Well, it still is.
Emerson: We’ve been waiting for the big revelation.
Jo: Absolutely, that’s for [Book] 7. That’s for [Book] 7.
Melissa: Here at the end you sort of get the feeling that we know what Harry is setting out to do, but can this really be the entire throughline of the rest of the story?
Jo: It’s not all of it. Obviously it’s not all of it, but still, that is the way to kill Voldemort. That’s not to say it won’t be an extremely torturous and winding journey, but that’s what he’s got to do. Harry now knows – well, he believes he knows – what he’s facing. Dumbledore’s guesses are never very far wide of the mark. I don’t want to give too much away here, but Dumbledore says, “There are four out there, you’ve got to get rid of four, and then you go for Voldemort.” So that’s where he is, and that’s what he’s got to do.
Emerson: It’s a tall order.
Jo: It’s a huge order. But Dumbledore has given him some pretty valuable clues, and Harry also, in the course of [the] previous six books, has amassed more knowledge than he realizes. That’s all I am going to say.
Emerson: It seems like it would be impossible. If Harry had gone to the cave, he never could have done it on his own, it seems like.
Jo: Well, I’m prepared to bet you now, that at least before the week is out, at least one of the Horcruxes will have been correctly identified by careful rereaders of the books.
Melissa: Someone put it to me last night, that if Ginny, with the diary…
Jo: Harry definitely destroyed that piece of soul. You saw it take shape. You saw it destroyed. It’s gone. And Ginny is definitely in no way possessed by Voldemort.
Melissa: Is she still a Parselmouth?
Melissa: Does she have a life debt to Harry from Book 2?
Jo: No, not really. Wormtail is different. Part of me would just love to explain the whole thing to you, [the] plot of Book 7. I honestly would.
Emerson: We wouldn’t want to hear it.
Jo: “Yeah, go on, we’re not listening!”
Emerson: Who is Harry’s godmother?
Jo: Didn’t have one.
Jo: Well, Sirius never had time to get a girlfriend, let alone marry.
Emerson: They could have just picked some other close friend of the family.
Jo: At the time that they christened Harry, they were in hiding. This was not going to be a widely attended christening, because he was already in danger. So this is something they were going to do very quietly, with as few people as possible, that they wanted to make this commitment with Sirius. And yeah. Can’t say much more.
Melissa: Can we do this again?
Jo: It’s a possibility.
Melissa: I mean, seriously, for a week.
Jo: Just lock me in some underground room.
Melissa: Well, my family is Sicilian, Jo.
Melissa: Hold on, we have to ask you one more question [puts on a pair of green glasses and takes out a green quill].
Jo: RITA! I’ve missed you!
Jo: I tell you, there is only one way to deal with the Rita articles, and that’s laugh, otherwise you’re going to go slightly mad. And of course, I now have my Rubbish Bin [on my site]. It’s really amazing how liberating that is, to be able to say directly to people who read the books, “That was rubbish.” It’s never important stuff, but taken as a whole, it can really mislead a person, I think. Anyway, Rita. I like this, very much.
Melissa: Isn’t this funny? They made this up for me.
Jo: That’s fantastic. Miranda Richardson is playing her in […] Goblet of Fire. I’m so looking forward to that.
Melissa: We’ve seen, we went to the set on a day that she was working.
Jo: Did you?
Emerson: She looks fantastic for the role.
Jo: She’s such a great actress.
Emerson: Oh, I have a question about that. When you write the books now, do you see the actors from the movies, or do you see your own characters?
Jo: My own characters. Every time.
Emerson: Their faces don’t infiltrate your head at all?
Jo: Not at all. I still see my Ron. I still see my Harry. I still see my Hermione. I was writing them for too long before the films came out for the film images to displace what’s in my head. I was lucky in that sense. I’d lived with these characters so long, it just couldn’t have any effect. Occasionally, I will. Ron/Lavender, I did kind of think of Rupert. I mean, it was always planned that way, obviously, but I would emerge for a coffee break, and I might have a wry smile about Rupert.
Melissa: Doing that?
Jo: Not so much doing it; he’ll be more than adequate to the task of doing it, but thinking about him attending the castings for Lavender, stuff like that. It just makes you smile once you know the people who are acting it. But I really mean what I’ve said before. You would have to go a very long way to find three better-adjusted people, given what they’ve been through, Rupert, Dan, and Emma. They’re incredible.
[Pause as we look at time]
Jo: I know.
Melissa: Sixty-six pages of questions, Jo.
Jo: Oh my goodness.
Emerson: Let’s just keep asking questions until she throws us out.
Emerson: Hagrid’s Keeper of the Keys title: does that mean anything?
Jo: Just simply that he will let you in and out of Hogwarts, so it’s slightly more interesting than that but it’s not loads more interesting. So again, that is something that people shouldn’t get too excited about.
Melissa: Will Harry and Ron ever read Hogwarts: A History?
Jo: Never. [laughs] It’s a gift to me, because all my exposition can be dressed up as, “When are you going to read it?” So Hermione fills in the reader as well, so I could never let them read it.
Melissa: Did Dobby know about the prophecy?
Melissa: Did he know about the Potters?
Jo: He knew their story, but obviously his knowledge would be narrowed down to what was known in the Malfoy household.
Melissa: Oh, here’s one [from our forums] that I’ve really got to ask you. Has Snape ever been loved by anyone?
Jo: Yes, he has, which in some ways makes him more culpable even than Voldemort, who never has. Okay, one more each!
Emerson: Why don’t witches and wizards Disapparate when they’re in danger?
Jo: Well. This is like all of these things. It’s tedious to stop and tell the reader when you’re writing an action scene but there would be ways of stopping that happening. Sometimes they do Disapparate, but very often, when you’re watching that kind of scene, it’s […] a place that you can’t Disapparate from, like Hogwarts. So that’s not an option when Harry is at school. There would be other reasons why you wouldn’t Disapparate. You might want to stand your ground and fight. But they do Disapparate sometimes. There has to be an equal and opposite action.
Jo: [to Melissa] Go on, hit me with it.
Melissa: Was there anyone else present in Godric’s Hollow the night Harry’s parents were killed?
Jo: No comment.
Jo: I’m sorry!