The Ice Cream Man Cometh
Consider former Headmaster Fortescue. His portrait (the corpulent, red-nosed wizard) was given a speaking part every time we visited Dumbledores office in Order of the Phoenix [pp. 473, 614, 821-822; All page references are to the U.S. hardback editions]. He was highlighted again in Half-Blood Prince [HBP, pg. 499]. J.K. Rowling is encouraging us to notice him. But why? Every other former headmaster or headmistress who’s gotten that much page time has also served some function in the story. Armando Dippet played a part in the diary memory in Chamber of Secrets, Phineas Nigellus was Sirius’ relative, and Dilys and Everard delivered Dumbledores messages. Other than having a brief conversation with Harry at the end of OotP, Headmaster Fortescue hasn’t done anything or been connected to anyone.
Or so it would seem.
But what if there’s actually a delicate, near-invisible spiderweb of clues that suggest Headmaster Fortescue is more important to the story than he first appears? We can best examine that web by starting with one question: Is it possible that Headmaster Fortescue was a descendant of Godric Gryffindor?
He had been inside Dumbledores office once before; it was a very beautiful, circular room, lined with pictures of previous headmasters and headmistresses of Hogwarts, all of whom were fast asleep, their chests rising and falling gently. [GoF, pg. 581]
Because his portrait hangs in Dumbledore’s office, we know Fortescue was a Hogwarts headmaster. That wouldn’t be a surprising career choice for someone who was related to one of the school’s founders.
“I have been hoping for this piece of evidence for a very long time,” said Dumbledore at last. “It confirms the theory on which I have been working, it tells me that I am right, and also how very far there is still to go.”Harry suddenly noticed that every single one of the old headmasters and headmistresses in the portraits around the walls was awake and listening in on their conversation. A corpulent, red-nosed wizard had actually taken out an ear trumpet. [HBP, pg. 499]
As Dumbledore prepared to explain the secret plan of Slytherin’s heir and how it related to stolen artifacts of the Founders, all of the portraits in the office were paying close attention. Only Fortescue, however, went so far as to pull out an ear trumpet. He did this despite the fact that he had no trouble listening in on conversations during his previous appearances. Use of the trumpet in this instance implies he was especially interested in the subject matter — another attribute that would make sense for a descendant of a founder.
Of course, even if we accept that there are faint signs Headmaster Fortescue may be related to a founder, we still need a reason to think that he’s specifically related to Gryffindor. Happily, Fortescue is the gift of circumstantial evidence that keeps on giving.
”Blatant corruption!” roared the portrait of the corpulent, red-nosed wizard on the wall behind Dumbledores desk. ”The Ministry did not cut deals with petty criminals in my day, no sir, they did not!””Thank you, Fortescue, that will do,” said Dumbledore softly. [OotP, 614]
Gryffindor was known for his bravery, and in this passage we see that Headmaster Fortescue is unafraid to speak his mind. More importantly, though, this was the moment when we learned his name.
We don’t know why JKR chose the name Fortescue, but she often selects names that relate to a character’s personality or background. Here are a few possible inspirations for her choice:
- Legend says that the name Fortescue derives from an incident in which Richard le Fort used his shield to save the life of William the Conqueror. Because of this, Richard became known as Fort Escu meaning strong shield.
- Fortes refers to bravery in Latin phrases such as fortes fortuna juvat (fortune favors the brave).
- The forte is the strongest part of a swords blade.
Someone who’s an accomplished warrior, is brave, or has something to do with a sword? Sounds a lot like Gryffindor to me.
He settled himself on the thronelike chair on which he had been painted and smiled benignly upon Harry.“Dumbledore thinks very highly of you, as I am sure you know,” he said comfortably. ”Oh yes. Holds you in great esteem.” [OotP, 822]
The unprompted kindness Headmaster Fortescue showed toward Harry at the end of OotP demonstrated that the portrait had taken special notice of Gryffindor House’s poster boy.
He felt much calmer, somehow, now that he was in Dumbledore’s office, knowing he would shortly be telling him about the dream. Harry looked up at the walls behind the desk. The patched and ragged Sorting Hat was standing on a shelf. A glass case next to it held a magnificent silver sword with large rubies set into the hilt, which Harry recognized as the one he himself had pulled out of the Sorting Hat in his second year. The sword had once belonged to Godric Gryffindor, founder of Harry’s House. [GoF, 582-583]
The Sorting Hat and Gryffindor’s sword are both kept on a shelf on the wall behind Dumbledore’s desk. Where does Headmaster Fortescue’s portrait hang? On the wall behind Dumbledores desk, of course! (See Exhibit C.) Its interesting that our suspected Gryffindor descendants portrait would be hanging very near the only two items known to have belonged to Gryffindor, and it gets even more interesting when we remember the evidence presented to us by one Terry Boot.
“And did you kill a basilisk with that sword in Dumbledores office?” demanded Terry Boot. ”That’s what one of the portraits on the wall told me when I was in there last year.” [OotP, 342]
Which portrait told Terry about how Harry used the sword to kill the basilisk? I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to suggest that it might have been the portrait that hangs near the sword (Exhibit E) and has taken an interest in Harry (Exhibit D).
Why does any of this matter to the plot? Because there’s reason to believe Headmaster Fortescue told someone else about Harry and the sword as well.
Harry didn’t have to do his homework under the blankets by flashlight anymore; now he could sit in the bright sunshine outside Florean Fortescues Ice Cream Parlor, finishing all his essays with occasional help from Florean Fortescue himself, who, apart from knowing a great deal about medieval witch burnings, gave Harry free sundaes every half an hour. [PoA, 50]
There are several things worth noting in this passage.
First, and most obvious, is the name connection. Florean Fortescue is probably related to Headmaster Fortescue. (We know they’re not the same person since all the portraits in Hogwarts are of dead people. It’s also unlikely to be a Mark Evans situation — each Fortescue has multiple appearances or mentions, making it a much larger slip to have them share the name if there’s no relation.)
Second, we see that Florean Fortescue knows his stuff when it comes to Muggle persecution of magical folk in medieval times. Since I’m sure none of you would nod off during one of Professor Binns’ history classes, you already know that the founding of Hogwarts was affected by the medieval Muggle versus wizard conflict. (They built this castle together, far from prying Muggle eyes, for it was an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution. [CoS, 150]) If the Fortescues are descended from Godric Gryffindor, it could explain why Florean is so familiar with the subject. To Florean Fortescue, it would be an important part of his family’s history.
Third, and most intriguing, is the timing. The passage quoted above occurred before the school year started in Prisoner of Azkaban — in other words, during the summer immediately following Chamber of Secrets. It was the first time Harry had been to Diagon Alley since pulling the sword out of the hat and defeating the basilisk, and Florean Fortescue chose that time to dote on Harry and give him all the ice cream he could eat. Why then? Recall the evidence we’ve reviewed so far, and you can probably make a good guess.
Suppose Headmaster Fortescue and Florean Fortescue are related, and are both descendants of Godric Gryffindor. After Harry pulled Gryffindor’s sword out of the Sorting Hat in CoS, he turned it over to Dumbledore. Albus being Albus, he probably wouldn’t have decided to keep the sword without the rightful owner’s permission. (Please note, since its a common point of confusion, that there is no evidence the sword was ever kept in Dumbledore’s office until after Harry pulled it from the hat.) Now suppose Florean Fortescue has a portrait of Headmaster Fortescue in his home or shop (much like how Sirius had a portrait of Phineas Nigellus in Grimmauld Place). The easiest way for Dumbledore to ask Florean Fortescue for permission to hold the sword for safekeeping would be to send a message via Headmaster Fortescue’s portrait. Dumbledore would’ve told the portrait about Harry’s adventure to explain how Gryffindor’s sword had been recovered. That would explain why Headmaster Fortescue knew that the sword had been used to kill the basilisk (Exhibit F) and why he was keenly aware of how much Dumbledore admired Harry (Exhibit D). It would also explain why Florean Fortescue was ridiculously nice to Harry that summer (Exhibit G). Florean had just recently heard the story of how Harry had shown himself to be a true Gryffindor, and was probably feeling an almost familial affection toward the kid.
The Foggy, Fortescued Future
I know better than to think I can get away with an essay like this so soon before the release of the final book without offering a theory concerning how this information might relate to Deathly Hallows. Luckily, I have a few possibilities to share. Please keep in mind that these are only guesses, however, and have little to no easily cited text evidence to support them.
- The Fortescues being descendants of Gryffindor would go a long way toward explaining why Florean was apparently dragged off by Death Eaters early in HBP. As far as Voldemort knows, he’s one Horcrux short of the six he’d like to have. (The Dark Lord knows the diary is gone, but is unaware that Dumbledore destroyed the ring.) With his love of things related to Hogwarts, Gryffindor’s sword is probably the item Voldemort would most like to have to complete his set of Horcruxes. Florean Fortescue would be the ideal person to kidnap in order to find out more about the sword, its powers, or its whereabouts.
- Speaking of the sword, it’s been speculated that the DH U.K. childrens cover art shows Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dobby in a Gringotts vault. Dobby is holding Gryffindor’s sword. If that speculation is correct, we can combine it with the idea of Fortescue as Gryffindor descendant to suggest that the group is in the Fortescue family vault. That would explain why so much of the treasure has a Gryffindor-esque look without meaning any of it necessarily belonged to Godric himself. It could also explain why Dobby is there with the sword in the first place — Dumbledore may have left instructions for the house-elf to return the relic to Gringotts for safekeeping.
- Does something seem odd about the idea of a kindly ice cream man being the de facto heir of Gryffindor? Working in food service can be a harrowing experience, but it’s generally not on the slaying dragons and rescuing damsels level. Were you imagining someone a little more…daring? Adventurous? Brave? Perhaps that’s the point. Godric Gryffindor valued those who had done brave deeds, and his descendant may turn out to be a mild-mannered restaurateur. Salazar Slytherin valued ambition and purity of blood, and his descendants were the content-in-their-squalor Gaunts and half-blood Tom M. Riddle. Helga Hufflepuff loved hard workers, and descendant Hepzibah Smith seemed quite happy to sit in her parlor shouting orders for her house-elf. Rowling may be making a point (or just having fun) by letting all of the modern descendants of the founders turn out to be in some way the opposite of what their ancestors would’ve hoped for. If that’s the case, we should probably look for someone flaky or foolish (a Lovegood or a Diggle, for example) to turn up as a descendant of Rowena Ravenclaw and complete the set.
Now you’ve considered the evidence. You’ve seen the flat-out speculation. Are the Fortescues related to Godric Gryffindor? Has that connection secretly been driving parts of the plot? Have nearly two years hanging around the Harry Potter online fandom transfigured my brain into a bowl of easily-convinced porridge? In only one week’s time, we’ll know for sure.