As the final film (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) unspools in Muggle theaters, there will be no real surprises for the fans, who know full well how the saga ends from having read the books (to pieces, in many cases). But even after watching that final scene at Platform 9 ¾ play out (through tears, I’ll wager, for more than a few), there will be unanswered questions about the wizarding world that J.K. Rowling conjured up.
No, not just what the appeal of drinking pumpkin juice could possibly be, or why eating chocolate helps when confronted by Dementors (chocolate helps with everything, after all). If I were to share a butterbeer with Rowling, here’s the top five questions I’d want to get answered:
#5: Why do witches and wizards celebrate Christmas?
As an ex-Catholic and ex-Fundamentalist Christian, I’ve always found it both funny and sad that some believers think the series promotes the work of Satan when it’s actually profoundly Christian. After all, its twin messages are that you should exercise your free will to selflessly do good rather than selfishly do evil, and that love is the answer to all things. (Not to mention that it portrays a young man giving up his life and being resurrected to save his world from a snaky figure who leads people into wrongdoing.) A resolutely moral tale in the tradition of Pilgrim’s Progress, it instills all the best values in children under the guise of simple entertainment. But that’s all subtext. I’m still trying to figure out why wizards and witches celebrate a holiday combining a religious belief they don’t hold with human traditions they weren’t raised in. Perhaps they simply enjoy any excuse to get presents and overeat, just like we Muggles do.
#4: Why do magical people need money?
Throughout the series, much is made of the fact that the Weasley family is poor while other families such as the Malfoys are rich. (Unsurprisingly, it’s the Malfoys who point this out at every opportunity.) Goblins oversee the gold-stuffed personal vaults at Gringott’s, the sole wizarding bank (which must surely be too big to fail). Even if you allow for one of Rowling’s rules, which is that items can be transformed but not created by magic, it still leaves unanswered the question of why wizards and witches need money. Even if they require it for buying essentials, why should having more of it be any better than having just enough? Surely you could conjure at least the illusion of whatever you’re lacking? (And isn’t that all that shopping does for you, anyway?) And where do they spend this money? The only shopping district we're told about is Diagon Alley, which is not exactly Rodeo Drive. And there doesn’t seem to be a grocery store anywhere near the Burrow. We might guess that they shop online, except it’s obvious that there is no magical internet, or they wouldn’t have to spend all that time doing research at the Hogwarts library.
#3: Why does magic work for some things and not for others?
Why is Ron stuck wearing dowdy old clothes to the ball in Goblet of Fire, while his father can rustle up a luxurious interior to a tiny pup tent at the Quidditch World Cup? Why doesn’t Ron just wave his wand and turn his fusty hand-me-downs into a magnificent tux? If you can transform one object to meet your desires, why not another? And while we’re on the subject, is there some rule that forbids turning your partner into someone else for the evening when that old magic just isn’t working for you anymore?
Dumbledore wand-ering what it's all for
#2: What is all that magic good for, anyway?
The hippogriff in the room no one talks about. Seven years of study at Hogwarts and a lifetime of practice to become an adept wizard or witch who uses those astounding skills for…what, exactly? Yes, they are fantastically handy when you need to fight off a dark lord, destroy horcruxes, play a game that involves flying, or simply make dinner without being stuck stirring the risotto. Party tricks take on a whole new meaning, and you can imagine the enormous kick of refining your magical skills and showing them off to your friends. But these people have a (literally) stupefying amount of power, from the ability to kill with a curse or a potion, to the wherewithal to tame a dragon, to the ability to transform into another person or creature. What’s the day-to-day use for all this incredible yet arcane knowledge? And with all that know-how at their disposal, why haven’t they used it to help the Muggle world? Merlin knows we need it. (We could also use some of that gold at Gringott’s to pay down the deficit.)
A familiar scene - Harry and Hermione talk while Ron listens in the background
And my #1 question: What in the world does Hermione see in Ron?
OK, I get it. Despite the fact that they’re a natural and obvious couple, pairing off Harry and Hermione would have been too pat. And Rowling knew that her readers would want to see the main characters end up with someone from the series that they knew and loved. So Harry makes the homoerotic choice of marrying his best friend’s look-a-like sister and Hermione is left with the option of a Weasley or a Longbottom. While Ron’s humor and all-too-human neuroses are endearing, and he is the loyalest of friends, I can’t imagine what the brilliant Hermione, the "most talented witch” of her generation, sees in him. What exactly do they talk about at the dinner table after they’re married? Both in the books and the movies, the lively dialogue takes place between Harry and Hermione, or Harry and Ron, but rarely between the two supposed lovebirds, unless they’re bickering. I guess it could be a sex thing, although that’s not obvious, given Ron’s surprise at learning that romance is “not all about wandwork.” But why we love someone is the ultimate puzzle, the answer to which can’t be found stashed in an orb in the Department of Mysteries. And as Voldemort himself painfully learns, love is the one force in the universe that can defeat magical folk just as it does Muggles.