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 Part 3

MA: One of our Leaky “Ask Jo” poll winners is theotherhermit, she's 50 and lives in a small town in the eastern US. I think this was addressed in the sixth book, but, “Do the memories stored in a Pensieve reflect reality or the views of the person they belong to?”

JKR: It’s reality. It’s important that I have got that across, because Slughorn gave Dumbledore this pathetic cut-and-paste memory. He didn't want to give the real thing, and he very obviously patched it up and cobbled it together. So, what you remember is accurate in the Pensieve.

 

MA: So there are things in there that you haven't noticed personally, but you can go and see yourself?

JKR: Yes, and that's the magic of the Pensieve, that's what brings it alive.

JKR: Yeah. Otherwise it really would just be like a diary, wouldn’t it? Confined to what you remember. But the Pensieve recreates a moment for you, so you could go into your own memory and relive things that you didn't notice the time. It’s somewhere in your head, which I'm sure it is, in all of our brains. I'm sure if you could access it, things that you don't know you remember are all in there somewhere.

 

MA: What about Harry's family — his grandparents — were they killed?

JKR: No. This takes us into more mundane territory. As a writer, it was more interesting, plot-wise, if Harry was completely alone. So I rather ruthlessly disposed of his entire family apart from Aunt Petunia. I mean, James and Lily are massively important to the plot, of course, but the grandparents? No. And, because I do like my backstory: Petunia and Lily's parents, normal Muggle death. James's parents were elderly, were getting on a little when he was born, which explains the only child, very pampered, had-him-late-in-life-so-he's-an-extra-treasure, as often happens, I think. They were old in wizarding terms, and they died. They succumbed to a wizarding illness. That's as far as it goes. There's nothing serious or sinister about those deaths. I just needed them out of the way so I killed them.

 

MA: Another one bites the dust.

[Laughter]

JKR: Well, there you go. See, I'm aware that “Half-Blood Prince” will not delight everyone, because it does shoot down some theories. I mean, if it didn't, I haven't done my job right. A few people won't particularly like it, and a lot of people aren't going to like the death very much, but that was always what was planned to come.

We still don't know whether there was a genuine leak on that, or whether it was speculation that happened to be accurate.

ES: With this book?

MA: Remember the bets?

ES: Oh yeah -

JKR: Yeah, the betting scam. Well, we're now 50/50. If you remember, on “Phoenix,” the betting went for Cho Chang, and it was exactly the same thing. Suddenly someone put up something like £10,000 on Cho Chang to die, and you wouldn't think someone would waste that kind of money, so we think that they thought they had inside information. On the Dumbledore one, we still don't know. Was there a genuine leak or did someone just guess, and get it right?

ES: I remember actually putting a poll up on MuggleNet asking people if they thought he was going to bite it.

JKR: And what was the result? That's really interesting.

ES: The majority thought he was going to die in book six — well, six or seven. Most thought it was going to be in seven.

JKR: Really. Yeah.

ES: It was probably 65/35, but definitely, most thought he was going to die.

JKR: Yeah, well, I think if you take a step back, in the genre of writing that I'm working in, almost always the hero must go on alone. That's the way it is, we all know that, so the question is when and how, isn't it, if you know anything about the construction of that kind of plot.

ES: The wise old wizard with the beard always dies.

JKR: Well, that's basically what I'm saying, yes.

[Laughter.]

MA: It's interesting, because that moment — I think we all sort of felt like he was going to die as soon as he started imparting these huge swallows of wisdom.

JKR: Mm.

MA: And the moment when Harry said, ‘I realize this, and my parents realized this, and this is about this choice,’ we stopped, and we said, “All right, let's let everyone catch up, and talk about this, because a) Dumbledore is dying, b) this is the flag that signals that we're going to power through to the end.” I feel like that was a defining moment of the entire series. Do you tend to agree?

JKR: Yes, definitely, because I think there's a line there between the moment in “Chamber of Secrets” when Dumbledore says so famously, ‘It's our choices that define us, not our abilities,’ straight through to Dumbledore sitting in his office, saying to Harry, “the prophecy is significant only because you and Voldemort choose to make it so.” If you both chose to walk away, you could both live! That's the bottom line. If both of them decided, “We're not playing,” and walked away… but, it’s not going to happen, because as far as Voldemort’s concerned, Harry’s a threat. They must meet each other.

 

JKR: It's the “Macbeth” idea. I absolutely adore “Macbeth.” It is possibly my favorite Shakespeare play. And that's the question isn't it? If Macbeth hadn't met the witches, would he have killed Duncan? Would any of it have happened? Is it fated or did he make it happen? I believe he made it happen.

 

MA: There are a lot of intense loyalty and bravery issues that are really tied to self-sacrifice — specifically in book three, “You should have died rather than betray your friends.” And then, there's a ton of that throughout. That’s a pretty intense message to pass to, say, an 8-year-old, or a 10-year-old, who is reading the book, saying we should die for our friends.

 

You're right, it is an intense message, but I am ultimately writing about evil, and I have said before, I think, that I'm surprised when sometimes people say to me, “Oh, you know, the books are getting so dark.” I'm thinking, “Well, which part of ‘Philosopher's Stone’ did you think was light and fluffy?” You know, there is an innocence about it, Harry is very young when he goes to the school, but the book opens with a double murder. The possibility of death, I think, is present throughout “Philosopher’s Stone,” and I feel that there are a couple of really gruesome images in “Philosopher’s Stone.” I think the first book contains more gruesome imagery than the second, despite the giant snake, because the cloaked figure drinking the unicorn blood is pretty damn creepy. It was to me when I thought of it, and I really, right up until now, all these years later, think that the idea of the face in the back of the head [Voldemort sharing Quirrell’s body] is one of the most disturbing images in the whole book. (The whole book; I call it one big book. In the whole series.)

So, yes, it's intense, I agree with you, but I would say it's been pretty intense throughout. There are a lot of things in there that are disturbing, intentionally so, but I really don’t think I've ever crossed the line into shocking for shocking's sake. I feel that I could justify every single piece of morbid imagery in those books. The one that I wondered whether I was going to be able to get past the editors was the physical condition of Voldemort before he went into the cauldron, do you remember? He was kind of fetal. I felt an almost visceral distaste for what I had conjured up, but there's a reason it was in there and you will see that. And I discussed that with my editor and she was okay with it. In fact, she was more disturbed with the idea of the grave cracking open. I think it's the desecration idea, isn't it, again. There's nothing really to see there — but again it's the violation of a taboo.

 

ES: Why is Slytherin house still –

JKR: Still allowed!

[All laugh]

ES: Yes! I mean, it's such a stigma.

JKR: But they're not all bad. They literally are not all bad. [Pause.] Well, the deeper answer, the non-flippant answer, would be that you have to embrace all of a person, you have to take them with their flaws, and everyone's got them. It’s the same way with the student body. If only they could achieve perfect unity, you would have an absolute unstoppable force, and I suppose it's that craving for unity and wholeness that means that they keep that quarter of the school that maybe does not encapsulate the most generous and noble qualities, in the hope, in the very Dumbledore-esque hope that they will achieve union, and they will achieve harmony. Harmony is the word.

ES: Couldn’t —

JKR: Couldn't they just shoot them all? NO, Emerson, they really couldn’t!

[All laugh]

ES: Couldn't they just put them into the other three houses, and maybe it wouldn’t be a perfect fit for all of them, but a close enough fit that they would get by and wouldn't be in such a negative environment?

JKR: They could. But you must remember, I have thought about this —

ES: Even their common room is a gloomy dark room—

JKR: Well, I don't know, because I think the Slytherin common room has a spooky beauty.

ES: It's gotta be a bad idea to stick all the Death Eaters' kids together in one place.

[All crack up again ]

JKR: But they're not all — don't think I don't take your point, but — we, the reader, and I as the writer, because I'm leading you all there — you are seeing Slytherin house always from the perspective of Death Eaters' children. They are a small fraction of the total Slytherin population. I'm not saying all the other Slytherins are adorable, but they're certainly not Draco, they're certainly not, you know, Crabbe and Goyle. They're not all like that, that would be too brutal for words, wouldn’t it?

ES: But there aren't a lot of Death Eater children in the other houses, are there?

JKR: You will have people connected with Death Eaters in the other houses, yeah,  absolutely.

ES: Just in lesser numbers.

JKR: Probably. I hear you. It is the tradition to have four houses, but in this case, I wanted them to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake. So again, it was this idea of harmony and balance, that you had four necessary components and by integrating them you would make a very strong place. But they remain fragmented, as we know.

 

ES: Was James the only one who had romantic feelings for Lily?

JKR: No. [Pause.] She was like Ginny, she was a popular girl.

MA: Snape?

JKR: That is a theory that's been put to me repeatedly.

ES: What about Lupin?

JKR: I can answer either one.

ES: How about both? One at a time.

JKR: I can't answer, can I, really?

 

ES: Can you give us any clue, without misleading us [Emerson misspoke; he meant “without giving too much away”] --?

JKR: I've never, to my knowledge, lied when posed a question about the books. To my knowledge. You can imagine, I've now been asked hundreds of questions; it's perfectly possible at some point I misspoke or I gave a misleading answer unintentionally, or I may have answered truthfully at the time and then changed my mind in a subsequent book. That makes me cagey about answering some questions in too much detail because I have to have some leeway to get there and do it my way, but never on a major plot point.

Lupin was very fond of Lily, we'll put it like that, but I wouldn't want anyone to run around thinking that he competed with James for her. She was a popular girl, and that is relevant. But I think you've seen that already. She was a bit of a catch.

MA: How did they get together? She hated James, from what we’ve seen.

JKR: Did she really? You're a woman, you know what I'm saying. [Laughter.]

So it's fine to love the school's bully but not the 'bad boys'?!  

MA: Here at the end you sort of get the feeling that we know what Harry’s setting out to do, but can this really be the entire throughline of the rest of the story?

JKR: It's not all of it. Obviously it's not all of it, but still, that is the way to kill Voldemort. That's not to say it won't be extremely an torturous and winding journey, but that's what he's got to do. Harry now knows — well he believe he knows – what he’s facing. Dumbledore's guesses are never very far wide of the mark. I don't want to give too much away here, but Dumbledore says, ‘There are four out there, you've got to get rid of four, and then you go for Voldemort.’ So that's where he is, and that's what he's got to do.

 

MA: Does she have a life debt to Harry from book two?

JKR: No, not really. Wormtail is different.  You know, part of me would just love to explain the whole thing to you, plot of book seven, you know, I honestly would.

 

JKR: At the time that they christened Harry, they were in hiding. This was not going to be a widely attended christening, because he was already in danger. So this is something they were going to do very quietly, with as few people as possible, that they wanted to make this commitment with Sirius. And — yeah. Can’t say much more.

 

ES: Oh, I have a question about that. When you write the books now, do you see the actors from the movies, or do you see your own characters?

JKR: My own characters. Every time.

ES: Their faces don’t infiltrate your head at all?

JKR: Not at all. I still see my Ron, I still see my Harry, I still see my Hermione. I was writing them for too long before the films came out for the film images to displace what’s in my head. I was lucky in that sense. I’d lived with these characters so long, it just couldn’t have any effect. Occasionally I will — Ron/Lavender, I did kind of think of Rupert. I mean, it was always planned that way, obviously, but I would kind of emerge for a coffee break and I might have a wry smile about Rupert.

 

MA: Oh, here’s one [from our forums] that I’ve really got to ask you. Has Snape ever been loved by anyone?

JKR: Yes, he has, which in some ways makes him more culpable even than Voldemort, who never has. Okay, one more each!

 

MA: Was there anyone else present in Godric’s Hollow the night Harry’s parents were killed?

JKR: No comment.