The Missing Halloweens – Part 1: A Pattern Established

by hpboy13

Before we begin, a big thank you to my editor Sophia Jenkins for helping me puzzle through this topic!

There are certain patterns in the Harry Potter books that fans have teased out across the years. Some are borne of the regularity of the books’ calendar (we’re always going to start near Harry’s birthday, and Voldemort will always attack at the end of the school year). Others, meanwhile, are like a calling card from Jo: a wink and a nudge, with a side of “let’s see if anyone cracks the code!” I’ve delved into them before: thinking about how Harry always gets a clue on Christmas and how Jo always provides a false suspect and an explanation of how something crucial works in Chapter 13 (in both Potter and non-Potter works!).

These patterns were a popular topic for discussion even as the books were coming out, eager as fans were to predict what would happen. In Ye Olden Days when only five books were out, Brandon Ford even created something of a rubric for the series.

Among the most ironclad of these patterns was Halloween. Brandon wrote that “Halloween is always important in giving us a real glimpse at the foe of the book, who will reveal himself in some way.” To further clarify, Halloween is when the book’s central mystery/conflict kicks off with a bang. Up until Halloween, we’re hanging out with Harry on summer vacation and as he goes to school, while Jo judiciously leaves clues and introduces characters. But on Halloween, they always find the equivalent of the first dead body of a murder mystery.

There is a second element also at play in this pattern: On Halloween, there will be suspicious behavior that points the finger at a suspect… who is always a red herring.


The First Four Books

To illustrate this pattern, let us go book by book and see how it fits.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Quirrell lets the troll into Hogwarts. This alerts us to the central conflict: Someone at Hogwarts is up to something nefarious, trying to get the mysterious object that was transported from Gringotts. That very night, the finger of blame points directly at Snape: “’What’s he doing?’ Harry whispered. ‘Why isn’t he down in the dungeons with the rest of the teachers?’ […] ‘He’s heading for the third floor’ (SS 173-174).

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the titular Chamber of Secrets is opened for the first time on Halloween, when the basilisk Petrifies Mrs. Norris. And the wrong suspect helpfully announces himself to the entire school.

‘Enemies of the Heir, beware! You’ll be next, Mudbloods!’
It was Draco Malfoy. He had pushed to the front of the crowd, his cold eyes alive, his usually bloodless face flushed, as he grinned at the sight of the hanging, immobile cat.” (CoS 139)

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the eponymous Sirius Black breaks into Hogwarts for the first time, setting up the central conflict of Sirius Black being after Harry. And Sirius is, of course, the false suspect: “The Fat Lady had vanished from her portrait, which had been slashed so viciously that strips of canvas littered the floor; great chunks of it had been torn away completely” (PoA 160).

Peeves attributes this to Sirius’s “nasty temper” (PoA 161), and even Dumbledore later points to this moment as the reason everyone believes Sirius to be the villain: “Sirius has not acted like an innocent man. The attack on the Fat Lady -‘” (PoA 392).

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the titular goblet spits out Harry’s name as a Triwizard champion, commencing the mystery of who put his name in and why. In the pandemonium afterward, a plethora of potential culprits come forth: Karkaroff takes center stage as an unpleasant piece of work, Snape is snarking unhelpfully, and Mr. Crouch is “hidden in shadow” with “an almost skull-like appearance” (GoF 277). Everyone we’ll end up suspecting (those three, along with Bagman) is all in the room with Harry, and the only one who comes out of it looking good is Mad-Eye Moody, who argues fiercely on behalf of Harry’s safety.


The Broken Pattern

This pattern was a bold one, and it stood out. There’s a reason that the play Puffs, all these years later, makes a reference to it: “And so, the school was off to an eventful, yet safe start. But all that would change on, you guessed it: Halloween” (Puffs 35).

In fact, the pattern may have been too clear. In the earliest days of editorials and forums, it was sussed out by intrepid fans. There were so many mysteries we had to ponder back then: What was Dumbledore’s “gleam of something like triumph,” and did it mean he was evil (GoF 696)? Would Sirius’s name be cleared? What was Trelawney’s first prophecy about? What would Wormtail’s key role in Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix be? Could one make a case for Harry/Hermione ending up together? It was a relief to know we at least had one thing we’d figured out!

When Order of the Phoenix was released, we all waited for the Big Bad to make a big explosive move on Halloween…

And nothing. The book was 870 pages long, yet there was not a single solitary mention of Halloween.

The intratextual mysteries were growing more compelling – what did the prophecy mean?! – but this was among the biggest mysteries on a meta-level. Why was there no Halloween? Some fans twisted theories into pretzels regarding what took place on Halloween in Order of the Phoenix, while others just shrugged at a one-time aberration.

But then Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released, and we were forced to realize the pattern was broken. It would seem that Jo, who was known to occasionally peruse fansites in the early days, had realized we’d gotten wind of the pattern. So she stopped adhering to the pattern in order to keep us on our toes.


So why dredge up all this ancient fandom history? Because I am curious about what would have happened on Halloween in the latter books. And that’s what I want to figure out in this series of editorials!

The utility of this exercise depends, of course, on how much one believes Jo planned the series out in advance. That is still a hotly debated topic in fandom today, and we may never agree on an answer. Did she have the series figured out blow by blow from the beginning, or did she just know the broad strokes? I’m a firm believer in the middle of the road: I think she knew all the important beats from the beginning and wove a story around them as she wrote. While doing research for these editorials, I’ve found more evidence that supports this conclusion.

So I believe there was, essentially, a Halloween incident planned for each of the books. And by looking at the events of the published books, as well as some apocryphal materials about the process of writing, it may be possible to reverse engineer Jo’s initial brainstorming of these Halloweens. Each of the last three books will be addressed in a separate editorial – if this seems like a worthwhile puzzle to you, let us dive right in!
Read Part Two for more on this series.

Ever wondered how Felix Felicis works? Or what Dumbledore was scheming throughout the series? Pull up a chair in the Three Broomsticks, grab a butterbeer, and see what hpboy13 has to say on these complex (and often contentious) topics!
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