[Show music begins]
Caleb Graves: This is Episode 198 of Alohomora! for July 23, 2016.
[Show music continues]
Caleb: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us for another really great episode of Alohomora!, no longer the global reread of the Harry Potter series formally. But we are digging into more and exciting topics about the series that we love. I’m Caleb Graves.
Kat Miller: I’m Kat Miller.
Rosie Morris: And I am Rosie Morris. And it is my pleasure today to introduce our fantastic guest, Cody Gordon. Cody, welcome to the show.
Cody Gordon: Thanks, guys. I’m happy to be here.
Caleb: Yeah, thanks for joining us for this episode. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little about you and how you got into Harry Potter.
Cody: Sure. I’m 27 years old, from Oklahoma. I started reading Harry Potter when I was about 11 years old. I actually started on the second book before I read the first one because that was the only one my library had in stock. I am a Slytherin [at] Hogwarts and a Thunderbird [at]… is it Ilvermorny?
Caleb: Wow. Yeah.
Rosie: Go Thunderbird!
Cody: Yeah, exactly.
Kat: And that means we have a quad today. All four Houses.
Cody: Oh, fantastic.
Caleb: We do.
Kat: That’s exciting.
Caleb: All three of you are Thunderbirds, right? Rosie just revealed on the recap – which, if you haven’t listened, you should go back and listen to it – that she’s a Thunderbird.
Rosie: I am indeed.
Caleb: So I’m the only Pukwudgie on here. [laughs]
Rosie: [laughs] Yeah. But isn’t that just a…?
Kat: I’m still not quite sure what that means. But yeah.
Rosie: But if we’re all different Houses at Hogwarts, but there are three of us in the same House in Ilvermorny, that’s just interesting showing that overlap and the differences.
Caleb: I’m obsessed with it. I love it so much.
Kat: Yeah. Eric did this great study and survey, and he has a friend from MIT who is analyzing all the results, and that article should come out on MuggleNet in the next day or two. So if you’re listening to this, definitely be on the lookout for that. He has something like 2,500 responses.
Caleb, Cody, and Rosie: Wow.
Kat: So that should be really interesting.
Caleb: But enough about Ilvermorny, I suppose, because this week we are talking about a totally new topic, one that I am so extremely excited about. I’ve been waiting so long for this because we are talking about my homegirl, Minerva McGonagall. This week we will be focusing on a specific character and the many things around her, which we will do for a couple of characters moving forward. But it will definitely not be the only thing we look at. But that is what we are looking at this week. And we’re super excited for it.
Kat: So I guess we’ll take a minute before we move on and thank our Patreon sponsor for this episode. And it is Leah Juster. Thank you, Leah, so much for sponsoring us on Patreon and being a huge part of this show. We could not do this without you.
Caleb: Thank you so much.
Rosie: Thank you, Leah.
Kat: Thank you. And if anyone out there listening wants to be a sponsor of Alohomora!, you can do so for as little as $1 a month. And we will continue over the months and years to come, hopefully, to continue [to] release little exclusive tidbits for our sponsors. We actually just hit a really great threshold, and we’re going to be doing [a] Let’s Play! of the video game, so that’s something really cool and fun to look forward to. So again, thank you, Leah, for sponsoring us on this episode.
Caleb: So for this episode that is focused on McGonagall – just like we did for Ilvermorny in our previous episode – we’re going to just take a second to mention the overall topics and themes that each of us wants to focus on as we draw out the discussion around her. So for me, I really want to bring out some of the things that show why she correctly and truly chose Gryffindor, and not Ravenclaw, in her Hatstall.
Kat: And I thought there was this great moment, when I was rereading her story, about when she and Dumbledore sat down and pretty much revealed their hearts to each other. And I’m really excited to explore that relationship a bit further.
Rosie: And for me, it’s just the fact that McGonagall is such an amazingly strong female character. It’s really important that we have these older important female characters in our stories as well, rather than just leading up to the Hermione Grangers of the world. McGonagall is proving that it was cool to be clever before it was cool.
Cody: To me, she represents the favorite teacher of every student, I would say. The hard but favorite. So yeah.
Caleb: Totally. All right, so we’re going to jump into this discussion. And side note, guys: There [are] a lot of facts that come pretty early. So I’m going to go through them relatively quickly just because there’s so much. But if you want to jump in on something, feel free to, if anything sticks out. So Minerva McGonagall. We know her, primarily, in the series as the Transfiguration professor, the Head of Gryffindor House, Deputy Headmistress, the Queen of Sorting…
Caleb: … the Watcher of the Dursleys, an Order member, and an Animagus. Her wand is nine and a half inches, fir, and dragon heartstring. We’ve talked about dragon heartstring a lot, but really quickly, these are the wands with the most power, capable of the most flamboyant spells. They tend to learn more quickly. They always bond strongly with the current owner. They are the easiest to turn to the Dark Arts but not of their own accord. And they are the most prone to accidents, being somewhat temperamental. The last part was interesting because I feel that is totally not Professor McGonagall.
[Cody and Rosie laugh]
Cody: Let’s really hope not.
Rosie: You could say that about the flamboyancy of the spells as well. But then I guess if she’s an Animagus, there must be some kind of flamboyancy to her that would require her to become [an] animal every so often. [laughs]
Kat: I don’t know. Think about that duel she had with Snape. I mean, if we were there…
Caleb: I was thinking of that earlier.
Kat: You could call that flamboyant.
Rosie: So there’s this hidden side to McGonagall that we don’t often get to see.
Caleb: Right. And as for the fir, I don’t know if we’ve hit a character that has fir before. I’m not going to try to think on that too long. But wands of this wood are called “the survivor’s wand.” And this was termed by Gerbold Octavius Ollivander, who is, I think, the grandfather or great-grandfather of the current Ollivander. And that’s because wizards who own it pass through mortal peril unscathed. Which is interesting because Minerva passed through both wars without being seriously hurt – seriously injured or killed – except for that one instance where she took so many Stunners. But she came out fine after that. There’s no doubt that this wood, coming as it does from the most resilient of trees, produces wands that demand staying power and strength and purpose in their true owners. And that they are poor tools in the hands of the changeable and indecisive. Fir wands are particularly suited to, of course, Transfiguration, and favor owners of focused, strong-minded, and occasionally intimidating demeanor. I thought that last bit was perfect.
Rosie: And that just is completely McGonagall.
Kat: Yeah, that couldn’t be more her.
Rosie: Do you think the fir idea is meant to be a pun? Which teacher has fur?
Caleb: Oh, right.
Kat: That’s cute. That’s cute.
Caleb: I didn’t think about that.
Kat: I hope so.
Rosie: I think that’s an English teacher thing. I’ve got so many kids [who] can’t spell “fur.” Or just… yeah. It’s one of those things. [laughs]
Kat: That’s cute.
Caleb: Yeah. It’s even got the squiggly line on my document right now, saying it’s misspelled.
Rosie: Oh, does it? [laughs]
Kat: That’s true.
Caleb: So a couple of other things about Minerva McGonagall: Generally, though, the name “Minerva,” of course, comes from the Roman goddess of wisdom, warriors, courage, strategy, [and] justice, among other things. Minerva was also the goddess of commerce and schools, which would, of course, connect her to being one of the Heads and teachers of Hogwarts. The name “Minerva” generally means “wise,” and the name “McGonagall” – specifically the “Gonagall” part – is from the Celtic name “Conegal,” meaning “the bravest.” So it’s a nice tie to her Gryffindor roots. And J.K. Rowling’s writings on this name I found really funny. It says,
“William McGonagall is celebrated as the worst poet in British history. There was something irresistible to me about his name and the idea that such a brilliant woman might be a distant relative of the buffoonish McGonagall.”
I was not familiar with this poet. Is this a thing, Rosie?
Rosie: I have never heard of him before. I am looking him up right now.
[Cody and Rosie laugh]
Kat: I was going to say, I have no idea who he is.
Caleb: There’s a pretty atrocious poem of his that Jo puts on Pottermore. I’m not going to read it all, but you can go on and look. It’s pretty uninspiring writing. But I don’t know how it gets the mark of the worst poet in British history.
Kat: Yeah. Jo states that he has an unintentional comedic value. So I’m kind of interested to read more about him. But also not interested at all.
Kat: So we’ll see. [laughs]
Caleb: Yeah. And some of her hobbies include needlework, correcting articles in Transfiguration Today, [and] watching Quidditch. And she supports the Montrose Magpies. So those are a couple of quick facts. And then getting into her early life, she was born October 4, 1935, to a Muggle father, who was named Robert McGonagall, a Presbyterian minister, and a witch mother, Isobel Ross, who was educated at Hogwarts. [Minerva] was born on the outskirts of Caithness in the Scottish Highlands. So Isobel, her mother, graduated top of her class in Charms, and she was also captain of the school Quidditch team. It didn’t mention what House she was in, so I’m really interested in that, given that we know Minerva was a Hatstall. I don’t think it says anywhere what her mother… I don’t know if she has enough on… Yeah, there’s nothing.
Kat: I feel like we could assume Ravenclaw, but that might not be necessarily right. I would guess or assume Ravenclaw because of the Hatstall and also because it says somewhere in the story… and I just read this and I can’t remember the exact quote, but that Minerva was like her mother but also the opposite of her in many ways. So that’s why I always assumed Ravenclaw for Isobel.
Caleb: That makes sense. And Minerva was named after her “immensely talented” grandmother – maternal grandmother, that is – and she showed small but unmistakable signs of magic from her earliest hours, and notably one of those being that the family cat did her bidding before she could even talk.
[Cody and Rosie laugh]
Caleb: So there was an instant connection with cats.
Rosie: I love that. [laughs]
Kat: I love how many cats there are in the series too. I feel like we could do a whole episode on cats in the series.
[Caleb and Kat laugh]
Rosie: Apparently. New topic. Go. [laughs]
Kat: That’s right. [laughs]
Caleb: So Isobel, her mother, did not tell Robert, her father, that she was magical for quite some time, and this is even after Minerva was born. But she did eventually tell him. She couldn’t handle it anymore; she felt… This is after Isobel had spent so much time feeling so far separated from her magical world, and it says that love endured between her parents, “but trust had been broken, and Minerva, a clever and observant child, saw this with sadness.” And this, as we will talk about in just a bit, certainly affected the way she handled things later in her life. And Pottermore briefly mentions that she has two younger brothers, Robert Jr. and Malcolm, who[m] we don’t know much about unless I’m forgetting something, but I feel like that they’re just briefly mentioned in that Pottermore story.
Kat: Yeah, I had totally forgot that she had two brothers.
Cody: I wasn’t even aware of it.
Kat: Wholeheartedly. Yep. Totally forgot.
Caleb: Yeah. So very little on the rest of her family, other than that short bit on her parents. But Minerva, of course, attended Hogwarts, approximately from 1947 to 1954, and as we’ve mentioned earlier, she was a Hatstall between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, which is interesting because Filius Flitwick was also a Hatstall, and he, of course, chose Ravenclaw, and it became something of a joke that the two carried on in their friendship that carried on years later. I had hoped that whenever they talked about this, it would’ve talked a little bit more about how rare the Hatstalls were and how many around then happened, and we don’t know. We know it’s a rare thing, but for McGonagall and Flitwick to have it… They’re relatively close in age, I would think, and it seems like a pretty close proximity, but it is interesting that we didn’t know about the Hatstall until after the series; of course, we didn’t know until Pottermore, so I was curious what people thought of that reading the series, if it was ever this idea like, “Man, she easily could’ve fit in Ravenclaw.”
Rosie: I worry that it’s another one of those things that has been created since the actual stories, and it’s just making people who have been Hatstalls on the quiz on Pottermore feel accepted because “Oh, there were these characters who were in the stories who were those things as well.” But if it is an actual thing and if it is something that Jo decided that she actually wanted for these characters, I guess it really shows that both of these characters value both intellect and bravery and passing that idea on and all that kind of stuff. So really, if you wanted anyone to be a teacher, it’s going to be a Hatstall between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. Because they are probably going to be the best at teaching. They value intellect but also value the loyalty and bravery and all of those different aspects that would make someone really work for you as a student and represent your best interest. So that would be why.
Kat: Do we see them interact too many times in the series? I’m trying to remember if they generally agree with each other and think the same way or if they have butt heads in anything that we’ve seen. Does anyone remember?
Caleb: Yeah, they don’t ever…
Rosie: I don’t think we’ve ever seen them fight.
Caleb: Yeah, I was rereading earlier the conversation they have after Dumbledore dies. McGonagall is pretty much soliciting opinions from everyone about what they should do. Flitwick suggests they should consult the governors, and that’s eventually what she goes with because they can’t really reach a consensus. So she does go with his opinion on that.
Cody: I always felt that Hatstalls could’ve easily fit in in the story, to be brought up. But I just don’t think… Either she just didn’t have a name for it yet maybe or what? Because I can easily see it being fit in to the story, but I would’ve figured if those were actually a thing, we would’ve heard about it. Especially during the Sorting Ceremonies.
Caleb: Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. I also wonder – given she had this interaction with the Sorting Hat that many other students would never have in this actual decision – if she ever, similarly to Harry, put the Hat back on to have a conversation later in life.
Kat: Hmm. That would be interesting. I don’t know, I don’t feel like she’s a person who doubts herself very often.
Caleb: That’s fair. Yeah.
Rosie: Especially if it was her choice as well to go with Gryffindor, then I feel that, yeah, she would’ve been confident in that decision.
Caleb: Yeah. Harry’s doubts were based on very different things than hers. Yeah. Wasn’t really faced with that. But at school, she was the most outstanding student of the year. She had a particular talent for Transfiguration, and she was taught by, of course, Dumbledore, and he helped her become a registered Animagus. She overlapped at school with Pomona Sprout, who would become a colleague of hers later at Hogwarts, and they became friends at school. She inherited both her mother’s talents and her father’s cast-iron moral sense. She had top grades in her OWLs and NEWTs. She was prefect, Head Girl, and winner of [the] Transfiguration Today Most Promising Newcomer award.
Caleb: It says, like her mother, she was a gifted Quidditch player, although a nasty fall in her final year (which came from a foul during the Gryffindor versus Slytherin match, which would decide the Cup winner) left her with [a] concussion, several broken ribs, and a lifelong desire to see Slytherin crushed on the Quidditch pitch.
[Cody and Rosie laugh]
Caleb: So it’s good to get that backstory. We see, as the series progresses, her love and passion for Gryffindor Quidditch come out. Good to know that there’s this story in the background. It’s great.
Kat: And it feeds into the backstory of Slytherin too, which I think is really wonderful. Good comparison for her. Yeah.
Caleb: Right. Yeah, because there is the clip from the Philosopher’s Stone/Sorcerer’s Stone film, the moment where Hermione goes to show Harry James’s shield saying that he was Seeker, and there’s that moment where it has got McGonagall’s name written next to him as a Chaser, and everyone’s always gone, “Oh, Minerva wasn’t at school at the same time,” that kind of thing, but it just says “M. McGonagall,” and we know that she has a younger brother called Malcolm. Was Malcolm at school at the same time as James?
Caleb, Cody, and Kat: Oh!
Kat: That’d be… Well, okay, so…
Rosie: Could that be the explanation? [laughs]
Kat: Maybe. I mean, he would have to be significantly younger.
Rosie: It happens. If Robert was in the middle, maybe.
Kat: But what…? Wait, let’s go back. What does it say about the brothers? Just says that they’re younger. It doesn’t say how much younger, right?
Caleb: Yeah, I’m trying to remember.
Rosie: Just says younger.
Caleb: Let’s see. So they had the children, the two boys after hen Isobel told Robert that she was magical. Then it just says, “Two more children, both sons, were born to the McGonagalls, and both, in due course, revealed magical ability. Minerva […] aided her mother in concealing from their father the accidents and embarrassments their magic sometimes caused.” So she was old enough to help. But I don’t see it as…
Kat: And that was before she got her letter, right? So she was under 11. Okay.
Caleb: Yeah, so she was under 11, so I don’t think this could be Malcolm.
Rosie: No, probably not.
Kat: Bummer. Although…
Caleb: Unless maybe Malcolm had a son.
Kat: I do like it. I think that it’s wonderful.
Rosie: And it’s movie canon anyway, so it’s never really perfect but never mind. [laughs]
Caleb: Yeah. Maybe Malcolm had a son.
Kat: Yeah. Or maybe that plaque isn’t for the year; maybe it’s just a best of the best.
Caleb: Oh yeah.
Rosie: That could be.
Kat: Who knows?
Caleb: That could be it. All right, after Hogwarts, poor Minerva ran into a rough patch, and this was probably the most interesting part of her story when it was revealed on Pottermore. It’s been – what? – a couple of years since this has been revealed? It’s interesting to think how far back that was. But similar to her mother, she fell in love with a Muggle boy by the name of Dougal McGregor, who “was the handsome, clever, and funny son of a local farmer.” It says that the two of them “shared a sense of humor, argued fiercely, and suspected mysterious depths in each other. Before either of them knew it, Dougal was on one knee in a ploughed field, proposing, and Minerva was accepting him.” And she prepared to go tell her parents about her engagement. However, as she did so, she really came to terms with realizing that she was following her mother in a very similar way. And she grew up, as we alluded to earlier, watching her mother be separated from the magical world that she loved so much, and it really affected her mom in a really terrible way, and Minerva didn’t want the same to happen to her. She didn’t want to mirror her mother’s hardship and difficulty going forward. And for herself, she saw the end of all of her ambitions if she followed through with this marriage, and “it would mean a wand locked away and children taught to lie, perhaps even to their own father,” which of course is what happened to her parents. So sadly, Minerva told Dougal that she changed her mind, and even more sadly, she couldn’t even tell him why she changed her mind because of the International Statute of Secrecy. Later, she learned that Dougal married the daughter of another farmer, which [will] come up in a bit when she gets to Hogwarts. But we see McGonagall go through the books, and she is just a single, fierce, unwavering woman. And we see that she never needs a man in the series, and that’s what makes her so strong; she doesn’t need the companionship of anyone. But to see this story in the background of someone she truly was in love with and someone who was so different from her was just so revealing for me.
Kat: And I think it’s – you pointed it out before – a moment where she’s a true Gryffindor, and I feel like this is one of them. Because that is an intensely brave thing to do, to really take yourself into account and realize that that is not the life that you want for yourself, the person you love, any potential children the two of you may have. And it might seem selfish to some people – and I think maybe it’s 2% – but I feel like she’s saving a life of sadness for many people and not just for herself. And I think that’s really brave, personally.
Cody: Is telling your spouse that you’re a witch or a wizard breaking the International Statute of Secrecy?
Caleb: So my guess is that if you marry someone, then that creates an exception to the Statute of Secrecy.
Cody: Oh, okay.
Kat: Right. They’re in the bubble.
Rosie: Yeah, they would have to swear by it as well. So Ted Tonks knows.
Cody: Oh, okay, that’s true.
Caleb: But yeah, I agree. I think this shows a really different side of her Gryffindor nature, and I think these are the kinds of moments where she shows us that it is perfectly okay and even desirable to be selfish in this way because you have to think of yourself. And if she [were] a different person – and other people would make a different choice because they weren’t as concerned about their ambition or what they could accomplish – that’s perfectly fine too. But the point was that she knew exactly what she wanted, and she made a pretty big sacrifice for it.
Kat: Yeah, and she wasn’t afraid to let go of something that she loved in hopes of maybe finding something that wouldn’t force her to live a lie. Which I think is great.
Rosie: And it’s so rare to see a character being presented in that way that they are allowed to make that choice and that can be considered a good thing. Sure, she is shown to have suffered from that decision because she never got the true love story that she wanted, but it was her choice, and it allowed her to do so many other great things. It is still such an amazing strength and such an amazing character choice that we never get to see in any literature story. Romance always seems to be the be-all-and-end-all in these stories, and to see someone reject it is actually really quite a refreshing thing to see.
Kat: Do you think there’s ever been a moment in her life where she’s regretted that decision?
Rosie: Well, from the rest of the information that we know about that story, it doesn’t end with her saying no. I would say she doesn’t regret it, but she misses it. If that makes sense.
Caleb: She carries it with her for sure. Yeah.
Cody: And I’m sure we’ll talk about this later, but I feel like this part of her story influences how she feels about leaving Harry with the Dursleys.
Kat: For sure. Yeah, because Harry will be living a life that is a lie. Basically.
Caleb: Separated from magic, the world he’s supposed to be in. Well, after backing out of the engagement, Minerva went to work at the Ministry of Magic, [where] she worked for two years in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. She thrived there – no surprise, she was very successful – but she did not like the atmosphere that she was in, and many of her co-workers at the time carried an anti-Muggle bias that she was very unfond of. And at the end of those two years, she was offered a promotion – it doesn’t say what, but I’m sure she was moving up through the ranks to be close to the head of the department – but she turned it down. And at that time, she sent an owl to Hogwarts asking for a teaching position, and that is when Dumbledore offered her the job. And then she transitioned into Hogwarts, which of course is how we know her as the Professor of Transfiguration. But when she was at Hogwarts, she found out that Dougal was married, which I briefly mentioned earlier. This devastated her, and Dumbledore is the one who consoled her. It says that he told her of his own family’s troubled past, and this began a very close and genuine bond between the two. And I know this is one of the things that you want to focus on, Kat, so if you want to have the thoughts to expand on it…
Kat: Yeah, I just really wanted to explore that conversation since we don’t get to see it. And I’m interested in coming up with some ideas on exactly how much they shared with each other because they really do have an incredible bond and trust each other. I feel like there’s a level of trust there that we don’t really see too many other times in the series, and I’m really interested in that discussion. How much do you guys think they told each other? Was Albus 100% totally and completely honest? Did he tell her that he was gay?
Caleb: Yeah, that’s a good question.
Cody: I don’t know if he’s ever really 100% honest with that kind of stuff.
Kat: Well, that’s the question, right? I feel like to have that bond, wouldn’t you need that transparency? I don’t know.
Rosie: See, I don’t think that would be the big secret that he would be keeping. I’m sure that he would have told her that he was gay. I think that the thing that would have gained her ultimate trust and would have been his biggest secret was the one thing that he had when he was drinking that potion in that cave. It was not knowing whether or not he was the one responsible for killing his sister. That would be the massive secret that I do think he would have told her in that story. I think this idea of keeping secrets and having someone in your family locked away and not being able to bring them into the wizarding world and keeping them apart… That is the big bridge between these two characters and their backstory that connects the two of them. And that would be what Dumbledore would try to console her with and say it was the right choice not to lock yourself into that situation because “look what happened to me and my family when this situation was locked away.” It’s his ultimate shame, and I do think… I would believe that he would have told her in that conversation, and that is why they both have that much of a close bond.
Kat: Yeah, there is that commonality between them, which… I like how that comes out in the ancillary information because I feel like if we knew more about this… Obviously, this doesn’t all fit into the series, but if there were even hints of it, I feel like it may have detracted from the other relationships that she has with the other characters and that Dumbledore has with the other characters too.
Caleb: Yeah, because I’m not sure. I also agree, Rosie. I think that most people who are close to Dumbledore probably knew he was gay, but only a couple [of] people really got this story. And I’m wondering other than… Who[m] do we know who has it? Who’s the character that Harry meets? Why is his name slipping my mind? At the wedding.
Kat: Elphias Doge.
Caleb: Elphias Doge, you’re right.
Kat: Doge. Yeah.
Caleb: Yeah. And McGonagall… I wonder, outside of the family, how many people actually know the bulk of this story? Well, I guess…
Kat: Pre-Rita Skeeter book. [laughs]
Caleb: Pre-Rita Skeeter book.
Rosie: Even Doge didn’t really know the true story. He knew the sanitized version, so I think you would have to be incredibly close to Dumbledore. And not many people got there to know it.
Caleb: Yeah. Somehow Bathilda knew… Well, I guess she… I don’t know if she knew from Grindelwald later or she just picked up on it or what, but she knew enough to tell Rita some version of the story.
Kat: Wasn’t she friends with Kendra? Isn’t that what it was?
Cody: Yeah. I feel like they lived right next to each other, didn’t they?
Kat: Oh, that’s right.
Rosie: But Kendra was dead by the time that Ariana was killed, wasn’t she? Am I getting that wrong?
Caleb: Yeah, I think that’s right.
Kat: But I feel like she was…
Rosie: Because that’s why Albus had to look after Ariana, and that’s when the fight happened, yeah.
Kat: Right. But she would at least still know about the family and their struggles.
Rosie: Yeah, she would’ve known about Kendra and Ariana being locked away. So yeah, she would’ve had that part of the story.
Caleb: So I guess my actual question would be, there are very few people Dumbledore would actually personally share this story with. And she is on probably one hand, if you counted, of people he would tell this to.
Rosie: And if that was the case, you can just imagine how distraught [and] devastated Minerva must have been for him to have felt the need to divulge that information in this conversation. The only way of showing that empathy and showing how much he feels her pain is by showing that ultimate pain that would’ve been that situation. So yeah, it would’ve been proven how much Dougal meant to Minerva.
Kat: And so I mean – and I know we’re not talking about him – that also humanizes Dumbledore a little bit, at least in our eyes. Because I know we’ve talked about him so many times being the puppet master, and I like thinking about the fact that he really opens himself up to McGonagall and that she does the same and that they have this hardened outer shell. But as we know, they’re just really internal softies, which I think is wonderful. I love it.
Caleb: And it’s interesting that they were able to get to that point because – keep in mind – Minerva was his student too. So for that kind of relationship to progress, having taught students – and I’m sure, Rosie, you can probably feel similarly – there are students you get close with, and there are some of my former students [whom] I still keep in touch with. But for it to get to this point, that’s pretty pronounced and incredible for it to get to that level.
Rosie: Yeah. But equally, I think once you become colleagues with people [who] have taught you, there’s a difference there as well. I’ve worked with some of my old teachers, and it feels awkward at first, but you do actually become friends with them, so it’s… yeah, it would develop a bit more. [laughs]
Kat: And I wonder, too, if it has something to do with the fact that being a “middle-aged wizard” lasts for, like, 80 years.
[Caleb and Cody laugh]
Kat: Because wizards… So you end up having significantly more things in common as you get to that part, that giant middle part of your life.
Rosie: Yeah. Especially if you’re Dumbledore. [laughs]
Kat: Right, exactly. Okay, so then explain this relationship further. McGonagall did not know about Horcruxes, so that was something that he kept from her. Do you think that they had any other real secrets between them?
Caleb: Hmm… I don’t think she would’ve… I can’t… Well, we don’t know of any secrets of hers that she would’ve kept from him. But as far as him…
Kat: I wonder if they celebrated holidays together and stuff. I don’t know, I just think that’s an adorable picture in my mind.
[Kat and Rosie laugh]
Caleb: Yeah. Would be.
Cody: We do get that scene of them when they stay for Christmas, right? When Harry stays at Hogwarts, and they have that little…
Kat: Yeah. I guess I mean outside of Christmas. Does Dumbledore meet her brothers? So… things like that. I was curious. Not sure.
Cody: Answer the question here: Do we ever know how she found out that Dougal was married?
Caleb: We don’t know how she found out, which is interesting.
Cody: Did she go […] visit him?
Kat: No, wait, wait, doesn’t it say that her mother is chatting about happenings in the town?
Caleb: Oh! That is right.
“Nevertheless, it was a shock to learn from the oblivious Isobel (in the middle of a chatty letter of local news)…”
Kat: There you go.
“… that Dougal had married the daughter of another farmer.”
Rosie: That fact that her mother could be that oblivious as well is so sad.
[Caleb and Cody laugh]
Kat: Because her mother… I mean, it’s insinuated that she’s pretty smart.
Caleb: But then again, her parents didn’t know that she was engaged. She never did tell them. Well, while at Hogwarts, she kept in touch with her old boss at the Ministry, a bloke by the name of Elphinstone Urquart. Very strange name. Well, he proposed to her. Minerva turned him down many times.
Caleb: But after she learned of Dougal’s death, which I guess we can assume was an early death, she felt freed from the pain of that, and she married Mr. Elphinstone. And the two bought a nice cottage in Hogsmeade, which is just such a nice life to imagine for her.
Kat: Well, wait, let’s see. So this was during her early years at Hogwarts. When did she start working there?
Caleb: Let’s see if we can get it here.
Rosie: Probably 1960s or ’70s.
Kat: Okay. So yeah, I was just thinking about when Dougal may have died. He might have been 50 or 60 at that point. Because she was born in the early 1900s, right? Right. So…
Rosie: Well, she went to Hogwarts 1947-1954, which meant that she must have been 11 in 1947.
Caleb: Yeah. So it says that she started Hogwarts in 1956 about. Yep.
Kat: Just trying to timeline in my head.
Rosie: It would’ve been an early death, I think, for Dougal.
Kat: Yeah, for sure. Definitely sounds like it.
Caleb: Right. And the Pottermore story on her specifically says as a feminist – she was known as quite the feminist – Minerva kept her own last name, which I love. But tragically, Elphinstone died of a Venomous Tentacula bite, after which Minerva permanently moved to Hogwarts; she couldn’t stay behind in the cottage that they shared together. They never had children, but it said that she was pretty close with her nephews and nieces who visited them. So I wonder if she kept in touch with them after, but it doesn’t really say.
Kat: I hope so.
Caleb: It says, […] “always a very brave and private person, she poured all her energies into her work, and few people – excepting perhaps Albus Dumbledore – ever realized how much she suffered,” which breaks my heart so much. [laughs]
Kat: It’s so sad.
Rosie: It’s such a sad story. [laughs]
Caleb: Yeah. So… I thought that the passage was interesting because if you’re thinking of someone who’s pouring themselves into their work and is so dedicated to this life of academia and teaching, that’s sort of bordering on her Ravenclaw proclivities. But when you put the spin on it that it was just something that took so much of her – it was such a movement of strength for her – I think that again really displays her Gryffindor [traits]. And that pretty much sums up everything about Minerva McGonagall’s life, leading up to when we first open the Harry Potter series. So there was definitely a full life there, and that’s why this Pottermore reading was so revealing whenever we got it. Because she’s such a prominent character the whole time, but we know next to nothing about her life prior to Harry coming into it. And it just makes you wonder about all these other characters we don’t know that much about, but it just puts so much meat to who is she as a woman, who she is as a person and teacher and everything.
Kat: Yeah, why she does everything she does.
Rosie: Especially for such a beloved character as well. We know her as our Head of House, basically, because we have seen the books through Harry’s eyes. So to then find out all of this tragic backstory, it’s just heartbreaking for a character that we feel so much for anyway. Poor Minerva. [laughs]
Caleb: Yeah, and I think just the thing for me is – and this is the thing that you wanted to focus on a lot, Rosie – going through the series, Harry is obviously our main character, and the female character we see the most is Hermione. The female adult we probably see the most, that we get the most from, is possibly Molly as far as more than just the facts of a person, but actually, who they are as a person. Maybe Tonks later in the series. But this really just shows how… I just really appreciate that Jo gave so much to a female character who’s so present in this series and who’s just so accomplished but has also been through so many struggles in life. It just really developed well.
Rosie: Definitely. I think we see so many different facets of the mother character in Harry Potter as well, like you said, with Molly. We see the new mother aspect with Tonks; we see Lily, obviously, as the ultimate sacrifice of a mother giving her life for her son. Even Petunia and Dudley, we see that element… and Narcissa and Draco and all of these different families. So to have a character like McGonagall, who is presented as such a strong woman, such an intelligent woman, such an academic woman… To have her backstory be this tragic and the ultimate idea of she didn’t get her first love – she did have a chance at a second love, but that failed too – and this whole summing it up as they never had children thing, it feels reductive to say that she didn’t succeed in that part of her life. I don’t like focusing on that issue because there is so much that she did achieve, and there is so much that she has managed that, yes, it was a tragic story, but look what she has done with her life. And she is the mother [whom] Harry grows up with because other than Aunt Petunia and Molly, when he is with the Weasleys, McGonagall is the mother figure. It is the person [whom] he goes to and the person [whom] the rest of the boys go to when they are hurt or sick. When he’s having the bad dreams, they go […] call McGonagall; when they’re in trouble, they get punished by McGonagall. She is the Head of House mother figure, and I really do feel that she feels like she has an element of Harry’s mother in her in some of the interactions that we see. Some of the ways that she looks at him and tells him off and all that kind of thing. It’s probably partly movie canon as well because that’s just so brilliant. But there definitely seems to be a mothering, maternal aspect of the relationship between her and Harry, [which] I love.
Caleb: All right, so we can move into looking at some of the moments we see her throughout the series. Of course, she’s the first magical character, I guess, we see in the series. Correct?
Rosie: Yeah, other than a few wizards [whom] Vernon sees on his way to work. She is the main one, yeah.
Caleb: Right. So she is there watching the Dursleys all day. She’s not a big fan. [laughs] She thinks they’re some of the worst types of Muggles. So she’s there to meet up with Dumbledore to drop off Harry that night, and we already talked about her relationship with Dumbledore a lot more, but this is a point where they don’t agree that this is the right thing to do. McGonagall doesn’t really have an alternative. So two things I was thinking of here [are], what else could she have done, and to explore this… I won’t call it “disagreement” because they didn’t argue, but just differing ideas on what needed to be done. Which leads to my second question: Did McGonagall even know about the love protection? Because if she did, it seems like she would’ve been more okay with this.
Cody: I don’t think she knew.
Caleb: Yeah, that’s what I think.
Rosie: Me neither.
Kat: I don’t see how Dumbledore could have shared that with her. It’s not really his information to tell. So to say.
Caleb: And he may have not been completely sure about that at the time either.
Rosie: That’s true. It literally just happened. How would he have known that he would’ve managed to survive because of that one particularity?
Caleb: So he may not have wanted to share it totally yet. Maybe he did later. But then we eventually meet her as Harry’s very strict, hard, Transfiguration professor and Head of House but shortly within his time in his first year, his fierce Quidditch supporter. And one of the first quotes we get from her in the classroom is “Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts. Anyone messing around in my class will leave.”
[Caleb and Cody laugh]
Caleb: Which is the tone I always taught whenever I was teaching in high school.
[Caleb, Cody, and Rosie laugh]
Caleb: I tried to… It was not Transfiguration obviously, but when you talked about this earlier, Cody, it made me think […] this is so true about the ideal teacher, who’s the hard, strict, make-sure-you’re-going-to-get-this-down [who] are the ones [whom] you truly become close with and love the most. And then one of her bigger displays of magic, even though she isn’t present when it happens, is in […] Philosopher’s Stone as the game maker of the chess game that’s protecting the Philosopher’s Stone. And I hadn’t really thought about this before, but I thought about this today how there’s an interesting contrast of McGonagall being the game maker of the chess and Ron being the solver of McGonagall’s puzzle. These are two characters that are different in a lot of ways. Both Gryffindors, obviously, but Ron is very loose and all over the place, and that drives McGonagall crazy in a couple of scenes, like when they show up late, his dancing, which we see a little bit more in the movie than in the book… But I thought that was an interesting contrast that Jo picked. I don’t know if she did it intentionally. Ron is the chess expert, so maybe he had to do that.
Rosie: There’s an interesting parallel between McGonagall and Hermione that runs all the way through the books. So for that kind of pairing between Ron and McGonagall is interesting. Just as if they’re being paired off as equals or as opposites, then his later relationship with Hermione is reflected in each of the challenges that he approaches with McGonagall. With the chess set, he’s proving himself, he’s being brave, he’s being the knight. With the dancing, he’s learning to dance with McGonagall because he can’t learn to dance with Hermione. There [are] interesting little mirrors throughout the series with the arguments that they have. [laughs]
Caleb: And I guess I didn’t really mention this, but it is interesting that she followed Dumbledore in teaching the same class that he taught. So that’s just another element to their long relationship, following even in the same subject. Another one of my favorite points, where we really get to see McGonagall come alive, is in Order of the Phoenix when she is the last line of defense against Umbridge in so many ways.
Caleb: With all of these new rules and everything coming in. And one of my favorite scenes is when Harry is in his career advising session with McGonagall talking about becoming an Auror. I’m just going to quickly read this because I love this passage. This is Umbridge talking after she keeps trying to chime in to say that Harry has not done a good job in Defense Against the Dark Arts. And she says “’Potter has no chance whatsoever of becoming an Auror!’ Professor McGonagall got to her feet [too], and in her case this was a much more impressive move. She towered over Professor Umbridge. ‘Potter,’ she said in ringing tones, ‘I will assist you to become an Auror if it is the last thing I do! If I have to coach you nightly I will make sure you achieve the required results!'” This is one of the first moments we really see… We mentioned briefly that McGonagall is sort of this motherly figure for Harry but really coming to his defense. In front of him, even.
Rosie: Do you think that’s more to do with her relationship with Harry or her relationship with Umbridge?
Caleb: That was my next question.
Caleb: Yeah, if she would’ve been as fierce with any of her Gryffindor students in front of Umbridge, I would say that she would come to the defense. But I wonder if it was a little bit more for Harry.
Cody: I would say probably it’s a 50/50 on that, really. Just the overall environment that she had that conversation in.
Rosie: Yeah. The two of them together are a perfect storm in this situation.
Kat: Yeah, I think that the passion and the venom behind her words is wholeheartedly directed and in direct response to Umbridge. But I feel like her reasoning and why she wants to do it is because she actually really does believe in Harry. Even though it seems as though this is mostly out of spite for Umbridge. If that makes sense?
Caleb: Right. Yeah. The interesting thing about that scene is, Harry leaves, and then the two of them, McGonagall and Umbridge, are still shouting and arguing with one another.
[Cody and Rosie laugh]
Caleb: I really would’ve liked to have seen how that ended. And how they both walked out alive.
Kat: Right? Oh, man. That’d be quite the duel, actually, because as much as I hate Umbridge, she’s obviously talented.
Caleb: Yeah. She’s a capable witch. Yeah. So she has one really great moment that I love in Half-Blood Prince. And this means even more, I think, knowing what she’s been through in her life. This is after they have learned that Dumbledore is dead. I should rewind a little bit. When Harry first tells her… I should’ve had this passage up too; I don’t have it in front of me.
Kat: What are you looking for? I can look it up.
Caleb: When Harry first tells McGonagall that Dumbledore is dead. The text in it is really good. It says something about McGonagall waivered. She’s such a rigid, firm, put-together person, and this, obviously, just completely rips the ground out from beneath her.
“‘Snape killed Dumbledore,’ said Harry.
“She stared at him for a moment, then swayed alarmingly; Madam Pomfrey, who seemed to have pulled herself together, ran forward, conjuring a chair from thin air, which she pushed under McGonagall.”
And this is where she starts to doubt Snape.
“‘Snape,’ repeated McGonagall faintly, falling into the chair. ‘We all wondered…but he trusted…always…Snape… I can’t believe it…'”
So this made me wonder what kind of relationship Snape and McGonagall even had.
Kat: Not a very good one.
Cody: No. I would imagine so.
Caleb: Yeah, because we see, of course, the scene in Deathly Hallows where the two of them duel quite an impressive duel. And I wonder how much of that is just bent on her rage in that moment. Is it just because she knows that Snape killed Dumbledore? But if there was anything in the background, if she… what she just thought of him in general. Maybe she wasn’t that crazy about him, but she seems in this moment to have trusted Dumbledore’s trust of Snape.
Rosie: I think she would have known Snape had been involved in the first war. I think she knows all of the reasons why everyone doesn’t like Snape, and the only reason why she accepted him and tolerated him and worked alongside him without any fuss was because of Dumbledore. I think she would have challenged him if Dumbledore hadn’t said it was fine for him to work there. So yeah, I think she would never have expected Dumbledore to be wrong about Snape. And of course, we know that he technically wasn’t and that it was all Dumbledore’s choice and all of that kind of stuff, which again makes me not really like Dumbledore because if their relationship was that close, why would you not prepare Minerva for the end if you knew that you were going to be dead within the year?
Kat: Because you know she would have tried to stop him. She’s that type of person. I mean, there’s no way she would just let him do that. There’s no way.
Caleb: And it seems like she never really got everything about this from even talking to his portrait because of the conversations she and Harry have toward the end of Deathly Hallows. At this point, she’s just going on whatever Harry says. She’s just doing everything she can to help him, but she doesn’t seem to be in the know of the background of everything that’s happened. So it’s interesting [that] she wasn’t able to… Because presumably, if Dumbledore wanted to, she could have gotten that information from his portrait. I’m going to assume she could have. But she’s not able to for some reason.
Rosie: Or Dumbledore could have left her a letter or something. Just anything useful would have been good there, Dumbledore. Thanks a lot. [laughs] But yeah. I think, yeah, she only tolerated Snape because Dumbledore told her to. So yeah, she hated him when [there] was Quidditch stuff. She hated him for always rubbing it in her face with House stuff. They were definitely rivals, and not particularly friendly ones.
Kat: Hmm. I think so. I think so, at first. I wonder: Do you think Harry talked to her after the fact?
Caleb: Yeah. I think so.
Rosie: And I think she would have asked Dumbledore’s portrait more specific questions and things probably, then, as well. She may have felt off about it, but I don’t think she would have rejected it ultimately. She would have come to terms with it, basically.
Caleb: So there is another quote in that same section, after they learn Dumbledore is dead. And I think… I started to mention earlier; her background makes this a lot more meaningful, and this is when, I believe, it’s Molly chastising Lupin for not accepting Tonks’s love, and Lupin says,
“‘This is… not the moment to discuss it,’ said Lupin, avoiding everybody’s eyes as he looked around distractedly. ‘Dumbledore is dead…’
“‘Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world,’ said Professor McGonagall curtly, just as the hospital doors opened again and Hagrid walked in.”
So the quote, I think, yes, speaks to Dumbledore, but I think the fact that Jo wrote that she said it curtly… It’s almost like there is a little pain in her voice as she says it.
Kat: I wonder who[m] she’s mad at. I mean, if it’s completely directed at Snape or if in this moment she’s… I mean, she’s probably a little upset with Dumbledore, wouldn’t you think?
Cody: Yeah. I would be.
Rosie: And probably Lupin as well, and the idea of abandoning children. She doesn’t like that.
Caleb: So then we roll into Deathly Hallows, where otherwise McGonagall would be the new Headmistress, I guess, assuming the Ministry’s blessing. But that is dismantled by the takeover by the Death Eaters. We know Snape returns as Headmaster. She, along with the other Hogwarts professors, [remains] to protect the students, and she pretty much is the leader of that defense to try to hold Hogwarts together as the Death Eaters terrorize the students. And we, of course, don’t see a lot of that because Harry, Ron, and Hermione are not at school. But we see her leading the defense of Hogwarts in the battle when everyone comes together. And it wasn’t until I reread some of these scenes [that] I really realized that McGonagall is the commander of this Hogwarts battle. There’s this really great line; let’s see…
“The enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall was dark and scattered with stars, and below it the four long House tables were lined with disheveled students, some in traveling cloaks, others in dressing gowns. Here and there shone the pearly white figures of the school ghosts. Every eye, living and dead, was fixed upon Professor McGonagall, who was speaking from the raised platform at the top of the Hall.”
I just… this moment… I’ve never really read this passage this way, but it struck me that all eyes are turned to her. She is the leader; she is this warlord that has to hold down the defense lines. It’s whatever she says; that’s what we are going with.
Rosie: She is the matriarch of Hogwarts.
Cody: Well, and just think about it. Voldemort and his followers have come to take her home, her friends, her family, everything away from her. And she’s got to protect it. And she does, so well.
Rosie: She’s had so much hardship in her life that she’s not going to let this one go. So much respect for McGonagall. [laughs]
Kat: So much.
Caleb: I know. And so I thought of… We earlier talked about how her Quidditch-playing days as a student really firmly rooted her rivalry, and [in] some ways animosity, toward Slytherin House, and that almost comes out in this one scene where they are getting ready for the battle to amp up. And she’s talking to the students and professors and specifically to Professor Slughorn, and she says,
“‘I shall expect you and the Slytherins in the Great Hall in twenty minutes also,’ said Professor McGonagall. ‘If you wish to leave with your students, we shall not stop you. But if any of you attempt to sabotage our resistance or take up arms against us within this castle, then, Horace, we duel to kill.’
“‘Minerva!’ he said, aghast.
“‘The time has come for Slytherin House to decide upon its loyalties,’ interrupted Professor McGonagall. ‘Go and wake your students, Horace.'”
She is not playing around at this point.
Caleb: So Cody, as a Slytherin, I was curious to see how you respond to her being very terse and to the point with Slughorn and the Slytherins here.
Cody: I mean, it’s come down to the wire at this moment. They need to decide. And yeah, she has the right idea with that. Although I feel… To be fair, I think J.K. Rowling didn’t represent… or not “represent,” but the Slytherins in the story are generic bad guys or the not-so-good people.
Caleb: I think that’s a fair critique.
Cody: And then later after the books were published, she’s tracked that back a little bit because she realizes that there are a lot of people [who] identify with that a little bit. But yeah, no, McGonagall has the right idea. I mean, they are in trouble, and they need to decide who[m] they’re going to stand with.
Rosie: It’s interesting that she would go that strongly against Horace as well, because I do think that Slughorn would always stand with the school. I don’t think he would skip out of there in this ultimate battle. We’ve seen him hide as sofas and all that kind of stuff earlier on, but by this point of the books, he stayed at Hogwarts without Dumbledore there to protect him, so he must feel some loyalty to the school, and to the students and to the staff there. So for her to thinly threaten him in this way is interesting. She doesn’t consider him to be one of the staff members [whom] she can trust and rely upon.
Caleb: Right. And I think this for me even more shows that she is just in this war, kill or be killed, and really, for me, ultimate Gryffindor mindset. I don’t say that ever to take away from people who are in other Houses who would also be very focused and strong in battle, but this is just… She is so focused on… This is “We’re going to get this done, and you’re with us or against us.”
Kat: She’s a fierce protector, and that comes out, I think, for sure.
Rosie: I think it’s also the moment where we really realize how serious this war is because McGonagall, who is always the one [who] is the stickler for rules, the stickler for the fact that we are in school and that you will be at lessons on time, you will not go out after lights out, you will not break any of the school rules… for her to then become, “Yes, we may still be in the school, but if you get in our way, we will kill you,” that shows you, “Okay, we’re not at school anymore. This is now war.” And it’s ultimately her choice of words in this particular moment that shows, “Okay, the fight has begun.”
Kat: And thank goodness because they needed a leader.
Cody: They did.
Kat: Very much so, and I feel like she’s the perfect person to do that. The only person.
Caleb: She’s the khaleesi of Hogwarts.
Caleb: And one of the most… Like you mentioned, Rosie, she’s coming down from this “rules only.” She’s showing more of her emotions and getting into this, and this really comes to a head [when] the Hogwarts army sees Hagrid coming back from the forest carrying what they believe is Harry’s lifeless body. And I’m not going to read this all, but Harry is just waiting for the screams to come, steeling himself to not react to it because he knows it’s going to be bad. But as they approach, there’s a scream of “NO!” and Harry thinks, “The scream was more terrible because he had never expected or dreamed that Professor McGonagall could make such a sound.” So one, that line is just such beautiful writing. It just makes me so emotional every time I read it. It’s just such good writing, but beyond that, it just really shows this progression of what has happened for Harry and McGonagall’s relationship and how much she really thought of him.
Cody: Oh, she definitely cared for him quite a bit. I mean, almost… I’m sure as a son, in a way.
Kat: Yeah, that’s what I was just thinking. And I was thinking about her past and how much she’s lost and how much she has… I don’t want to say “given up,” but let go of, [laughs] for lack of better words, the greater good and for really helping the success of everything that has happened. And I feel like, for her, this would be the ultimate terrible thing that could happen. It’s not about her dying or about anybody else, really. It’s 100% about Harry, and I think that that reaction wholeheartedly proves that.
Cody: Do you think that she thought Harry was the Chosen One?
Caleb and Rosie: Yes.
Kat: Hmm, I don’t [know].
Rosie: Because Dumbledore would have said.
Kat: Right, but do you think that she believes in that? [That] is the question.
Rosie: I think she believes that Voldemort would think it, and therefore, Harry needs to be protected. And if anyone is going to finish this fight, it’s going to be Harry because of everything that’s going on. I think logically it would make sense for Harry to be the one [who] needed to defeat Voldemort in that situation.
Caleb: Yeah. I’m going to temper what I said originally because I think that’s where she is by the end. Rosie, I do agree, but given the conversation she has with him in the Headmistress’s office – I should say – at the end of Half-Blood Prince because she’s trying to get Harry to tell her so much of what Dumbledore’s plan is. So I’m guessing she doesn’t know about the Prophecy. Maybe she does. But I think it’s important that Jo gives us the scene in Prisoner of Azkaban where McGonagall is very skeptical of everything Divination-related. She hates it; she thinks it’s terrible magic, if magic at all.
Kat: Wait, I think she does know because isn’t she in the pub when they talk about…? Or she’s in that scene where they talk about when Snape heard. Or is that just a movie-ism? Am I remembering wrong?
Caleb: I can’t remember for sure.
Rosie: There is a scene where Harry is underneath the Invisibility Cloak and listening to a conversation about Sirius.
Cody: Yeah, that’s when they’re talking about Sirius.
Kat: Right, but the prophecy gets mentioned, doesn’t it?
Caleb: I don’t think that early.
Rosie: I don’t think so. Not in Book 3.
Kat: Oh, right, okay. I’m mixing up my scenes.
Caleb: But it’s very possible she knew about it. And I think she would have been skeptical of the prophecy itself determining someone’s fate because she feels and has acted on too much her own free will and choice. But I do agree, Rosie, by the end… because of just the wheels turning everything. And we see it happen in Deathly Hallows; her main goal is holding off Hogwarts so Harry can get done what he needs to get done, so…
Kat: Yeah, I guess that’s what I was saying, that I’m not sure she would… if Dumbledore told her, which, actually, I don’t believe that he told her any of those things despite what I said a minute ago about her possibly being in that scene because I don’t… Honestly, just thinking about it now, I’m not sure. I think she would have had so many questions for him that he wouldn’t have been able to answer, and she doesn’t have blind faith like that. She is a facts person. And I feel like she would have had a hard time. Perhaps she would have wanted very much to believe him, but she would have had a rough time, I think.
Rosie: Yeah. That’s the thing; I don’t think Dumbledore would have told her any details. I don’t think he would have told her about the prophecy. I don’t think he would have told her anything like that. I think it would have been a kind of “At the end, when this battle happens, you need to protect Harry and make sure that Harry gets what he needs to get done, done.” I think that will be the remit of information that Dumbledore gives to McGonagall, and that is enough for her to act on and to feel like, okay, she can do that, but he can refuse to answer any more questions than that. And I think for her to see Harry dead in that scene is the ultimate failure [not only of] the plan but also of her protection. And I think that’s quite a personal scream of “No!” as well as… It’s [not only] a “No!” lacking hope for the battle, but it’s also a “No!” because this is Harry. This is her charge that she has failed to protect in this battle.
Kat: Because she would have done what Dumbledore asked without even knowing any more information even if she tried to get it. If he said, “No, no, no, no, no,” she would have said, “Okay, I’ll do it anyway.”
Caleb: Right, which is what she ultimately does for Harry too.
Kat: Right. Right, exactly. That’s right. That’s right. Ahh, which speaks to those levels of trust, right?
Rosie: It does.
Kat: Yeah, that’s a beautiful thing.
Caleb: She is a very trusting person once you get to that level.
Kat: Do you think she and Harry are friends? Not friendly, but friends. Do you know what I mean?
Rosie: Do you mean post-Hogwarts? Post-battle?
Caleb: So I was thinking about this earlier: in her retired life, how much she stays in contact with people. And I want that to be the case, but I almost just think she’s very solitary, which makes me really sad, but maybe she…
Rosie: I think Harry would look out for her, though.
Caleb: I hope so.
Rosie: He would send her Christmas cards, and it would be that kind of thing.
Kat: MShe would know the kids and all that, yeah. I hope so.
Caleb: And so thinking about how devastated she was at the thought that she had lost Harry made me think of how many of her current or former students she actually did [have] to see die in the Battle of Hogwarts. Of course, Remus died, and he was her former student. And Colin Creevey, we know, dies. Possibly Lavender. Lavender may have died; we still don’t really know what happened there. I feel like there may be one or two more Gryffindors, but…
Rosie: Was there one of the Patil twins in the end, did we decide?
Kat: Well, Fred.
Caleb: Fred, right, that’s what I’m thinking of.
Caleb: Right. So no, I think… No, both of the Patil twins survive. But yeah, so she had to watch… I mean, obviously, Harry meant a great deal to her, but all of her students, I’m sure, were… That had to be very difficult to process.
Kat: For all the teachers, even, really.
Caleb: Sure. And then to turn around, and we know that immediately following the battle, she was the Headmistress. We know that she retired at least by 2017 when Harry’s second son…
Caleb: … attended Hogwarts.
Caleb: So yeah, Albus Severus. So yeah, that was [me] wondering what her retired life might have been like. Maybe she returned to that cottage in Hogsmeade if she retained ownership of it [and] if that was not too difficult for her to go back to. I don’t know. I don’t know what she would have done.
Kat: Maybe it’s all about her knitting.
Caleb: Knitting, yeah.
Cody: Well, I always assumed that she would join a TV production company and play a crotchety old woman.
[Kat and Rosie laugh]
Kat: Perfect. Yeah, that sounds like McGonagall.
Caleb: Yeah, there you go. But yeah, that’s, I think, one of the last things that we can say about her. One of my favorite lines in the book is in the heat of battle in Deathly Hallows – and Jo still makes sure to enter a little bit of humor – Harry runs across to her, and he… McGonagall says, “’We shall secure the school against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named while you search for this – this object.’ ‘Is that possible?’ ‘I think so,’ said Professor McGonagall dryly. ‘We teachers are rather good at magic, you know.’”
[Cody and Kat laugh]
Caleb: Such a great line.
Kat: Did she have any other…? She didn’t have any other secondary education, right? She didn’t go anywhere after Hogwarts?
Caleb: Nope, I don’t think so. Not that we know of.
Rosie: Just Ministry training [for] whatever her job was.
Kat: Right. I wonder… I mean, besides… Do you think that Transfiguration was what she taught because that’s [what] she was offered or because she was passionate about that subject?
Rosie: Well, she was passionate enough to learn to become an Animagus, so I think she was passionate about it.
Cody: I’ve always had a question about her Animagus form. It’s always said that the cat form she has has her glasses pattern on it, right?
Cody: Is that a thing for everyone? I mean, did James Potter…? Didn’t he wear glasses?
Caleb: So I think it is a thing that you may have to do. I’m trying to remember. I think there’s a paragraph [on] Pottermore; I’m seeing if I can find it. No, it just says, “with its distinctive markings.” So maybe you have to have distinctive markings. Maybe that’s a requirement for an Animagus?
Cody: Oh yeah, because you have to describe what it looks like when you register.
Caleb: And that’s what she chose.
Kat: Do you think…? Well, that’s the thing: Do you think you get to pick that? Do you get to determine what you look like?
Cody: Oh, I definitely…
Kat: Like, “I want to be a gray tabby cat with square glasses”?
Cody: I like to think that it was her cat that she grew up with, that she wanted to look like.
Caleb: Oh yeah, maybe.
Kat: Aww, I hope so. That’s cute. [laughs]
Caleb: Yeah, I would think that you would pick.
Kat: Okay, but if you pick, why a rat?
Caleb: Well, that’s a whole other question.
[Caleb, Cody, and Kat laugh]
Caleb: I feel like we’ve talked about that on the show before maybe.
Kat: I’m sure we have.
Rosie: I’m sure we’ll have a Marauders topic, though, coming up.
Kat: Oh, no, Pottermore says you cannot choose your Animagus animal.
Caleb: Oh. Interesting.
Rosie: Yeah, I think it’s meant to be a reflection of your…
Cody: True self.
Rosie: … soul animal kind of thing. [laughs]
Caleb: Okay. Well, there you go. Huh.
Kat: And we do know that McGonagall is one of the few characters whose Animagus and Patronus are the same too. Something else to keep in mind, which is funny; let’s talk about that for a minute. Why…? I mean, I know she had a cat growing up, but what is it about cats that screams McGonagall?
Caleb: Yeah, because cats aren’t really Gryffindor-y.
Rosie: Ancient Egyptian gods of wisdom.
Caleb: Wisdom, yeah.
Kat: Hmm. They’re more solitary creatures [and] more independent. I suppose that fits her personality.
Rosie: Quite regal.
Kat: Yep, for sure. Sometimes they have a mean bite.
[Cody, Kat, and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: Especially being Scottish; Scottish wildcats are gorgeous creatures. She’s definitely got an element of Scottish wildcat to her.
Kat: You could say that. Huh.
Kat: All right, it makes a little… I mean, I never [did] not [think] she was a cat, but…
Cody: Well, of course, the Egyptian goddess was a cat. Her name was Minerva, I guess. So maybe that’s what ties into it.
Kat: Well, there you go.
Caleb: I started to wonder if McGonagall shows up in […] Cursed Child, but I also don’t want to know because I don’t want to know anything until I get into it.
[Cody and Rosie laugh]
Kat: I know, same. I was thinking that same thing when we were talking about it a few minutes ago. I was like, “Hmm.” But I wasn’t going to look it up to see.
Caleb: Yeah. So we’ll just leave it at that, that she’s retired [and] hopefully stays in touch with Harry and other people so that she has some fulfillment still, other than her needlework. But I think that we would be doing a disservice if we didn’t at least take a moment to give high praise to Dame Maggie Smith, who just brought this character to life in remarkable ways.
Kat: In a beautiful way. I feel like we… I just want movies about McGonagall.
[Caleb and Cody laugh]
Kat: But it has to be Maggie Smith. It can’t be anybody else. So somebody has to get on that real fast. [snaps fingers]
Caleb: Or we could do an origin story. Actually, I don’t want to open that door…
Cody: That would be so sad, though, right?
Caleb: … because then WB is going to hear that, and they’re going to hear the dollar signs crunching.
Cody: Eight movies, ordered now.
Kat: Right? Oh my goodness, yeah. But yeah, she is fan-effing-tastic. Love that woman.
Caleb: Yeah. All right, well, [are] there any lingering thoughts we have on this really remarkable character? I feel like we’ve really hit on a lot of things here.
Kat: I mean, let’s just talk for another four hours.
[Caleb, Cody, and Rosie laugh]
Kat: I’m down. I think our listeners would enjoy it.
Rosie: I’m sure this will not be the last time we talk about her.
Kat: No, probably not. We have the women of Harry Potter, which I’m sure we’ll get to at some point. She’ll make an appearance there for sure.
Rosie: And obviously, we’re going to have our cats-themed episode.
[Cody and Rosie laugh]
Kat: Right, exactly. Of course. Maybe we can close with a favorite quote or something, or a moment.
Rosie: That’s good.
Kat: I really like the “Have a biscuit, Potter” scene…
Caleb: Ah, that is a good one.
Kat: … because I feel that shows such restraint, and also, I think it reveals a bit about what she has dealt with as far as authority and choices in the past.
Cody: For me, it would probably have to be when she was reading the map as a cat out in front of the Dursleys’ house.
Caleb: Yep. That’s a good one.
Kat: That’s cute. What was she looking for? I mean, was she looking for the house?
Cody: I guess, yeah, she had to be looking for the house.
Rosie: I presume so.
Kat: Or maybe she was just bored waiting for Dumbledore and needed something to read.
[Kat and Rosie laugh]
Kat: That’s cute.
Rosie: Was the conversation after the trio defeat[s] the troll in the first book a movie-ism with the “sheer dumb luck” quote or is that from the book as well? Because I really like that line.
Caleb: I can’t remember.
Rosie: If it’s just a movie-ism, then props to Maggie for that one. [laughs]
Cody: Well, I’ve got it right here. Let’s see here.
Kat: Oh, wow, you guys can get your books open a lot faster than I can.
Caleb: While he’s looking, I think… [sighs] I want to say it’s when she comes to Harry’s defense so fiercely against Umbridge. It just evokes a lot of things for me, just someone… It makes me think of how I felt about my students, and it makes me just… It’s just such a strong moment of her really going to bat for Harry. I don’t know. There’s just something about that raw emotion where she just reacts. It’s very Gryffindor of her. It’s an outburst that I just really love.
Cody: No, I’m pretty sure it’s a movie-ism.
Rosie: Ahh, never mind. [laughs]
Cody: It says, “Well, I still say you were lucky, but not many first years could have taken on a full-grown mountain troll.” And yeah, it doesn’t say anything about…
Rosie: Does she not award them points?
Cody: She does award in the next… Yeah, she gives them five points each and then says, “You may go.”
Rosie: Okay. Yeah. Fair enough. Movie-ism, then. Never mind.
Kat: You can still really love it, so it’s okay.
[Kat and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: In which case, I’ll go for one of the very first McGonagall as a human character rather than a wizard character and go for the scene where she makes Harry Seeker. Just the trust in him from a very early age and letting him be… It’s just really nice. [laughs]
Kat: Shows how much she wants to win! She lets little old Harry Potter in there, right?
[Kat and Rosie laugh]
Caleb: All right. Well, I guess that wraps up our discussion on the very great – my homegirl – Minerva McGonagall. So we want to take a second to thank Cody so much for joining us for this episode. There was a lot to get through, and you had some really great thoughts on McGonagall, so thank you.
Cody: No problem. It’s been great. Thank you, guys.
Kat: Absolutely. If any of you guys out there listening want[s] to be on a future show, you can head over to the “Be on the Show!” page at alohomora.mugglenet.com. We also have a topic submit page up there, so if you have a topic like “Cats of Harry Potter” that you want to hear for the future, head over there and submit your topic. In order to be on the show you don’t need anything fancy – just a set of headphones with a little microphone in them and you’ll be all set. So come join us. Come talk Potter with us.
Rosie And you can talk Potter with us in very many different ways as well. You can find us on Twitter at @AlohomoraMN [and] over on Facebook facebook.com/openthedumbledore. Our website, as you know, is alohomora.mugglenet.com, and you can send us an owl over on audioBoom. You can find that on our website, alohomora.mugglenet.com. There is a little widget on the side. Just click the button and keep your message under 60 seconds, please, and you may hear yourself on the show.
Caleb: And one quick last reminder to check out our Patreon page; it’s at www.patreon.com/alohomora. There [are] a lot of different ways you can support us with different levels, but you can do it with just as little as $1 a month. And we have people who sponsor both our main discussion and our recap episodes, so make sure you’re listening to both. You can hear the great people [whom] we’re giving shout-outs to for supporting what we do. Thank you guys so much for keeping our show going.
Kat and Rosie: Thank you!
[Show music begins]
Caleb: All right, and that’s going to do it for this week’s episode of Alohomora! I’m Caleb Graves.
Kat: I’m Kat Miller.
Rosie: And I’m Rosie Morris. Thank you for listening to Episode 198 of Alohomora!
Cody: Open the Dumbledore!
[Show music continues]