Lessons from Neville Longbottom

If you know me, you know that I love Harry Potter. I see a great deal of myself in Hermione. I have a mild to moderate crush on Bill Weasley. I’m inspired by Professor McGonagall. I think that I might be Tonks. I love both Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. I could keep going on this train. But the elder I wax, the character who strikes me time and again is Neville Longbottom.

On the surface, he seems pretty straightforward. He’s clumsy and forgetful. He isn’t too smart or too attractive. His best subject is Herbology, which is a commonly overlooked subject at Hogwarts. He doesn’t appear to be terribly brave. He didn’t demonstrate any indication of magical ability for much of his childhood. He lives with his grandmother. His parents are permanent patients of St. Mungo’s thanks to the “skills” of Bellatrix Lestrange. And yet, in the spite of all of this-or perhaps because of it, he is a true Gryffindor.

Despite his normal awkwardness, Neville shows strength in difficult situations. In the first book, Ron tells the eleven-year-old blunderbuss “Neville, you have got to start standing up to people.” The Neville to whom Ron is speaking not likely to stand up to anyone. He is shy and nervous. He doesn’t actively seek attention. He isn’t about to stand up to one of his own friends-let alone a powerful Dark wizard.

Now as the books go on, we (and his friends) start to learn some of Neville’s backstory. He lives with his grandmother because his parents were horrifically damaged mentally after vengeful Death Eaters attacked them with the Cruciatus Curse after Voldemort’s 1981 fall from power. (You know, that whole thing where the most powerful Dark Wizard of the age was defeated by a toddler who was born the day after Neville. That.) His parents don’t remember who they are, let alone who he is. This greatly impacts Neville. To be honest, there is almost no way that a child couldn’t be impacted by this experience. Both in word and action, his family constantly tells him that he cannot live up to his parents’ legacy. He has had no reason not to internalize this idea.

However even in his early years at Hogwarts, Neville shows hints of the bravery that will one day be acknowledged even by Lord Voldemort. Near the end of their first year, he is not afraid to stand up to Ron, Harry, and Hermione when he sees them doing something he believes to be wrong. Professor Dumbledore later commends him for this saying that it is harder to stand up to one’s friends than one’s enemies. He also stands up to an enemy (Draco Malfoy) at another point, but that is supposedly easier than standing up to the Golden Trio.

Neville is also capable of remarkable love and faithfulness. He is loyal to his friends, but more than that, he is loyal to his parents. As he tells Harry in the fifth book, he is proud of being the son of Frank and Alice Longbottom. His parents thrice defied Lord Voldemort; that is decidedly something to be proud of. They may not know him; the only gifts his mother gives him may be gum wrappers. But they were good people who fought valiantly for what they believed was right. Neville does his best to carry their spirit on. As he grows older, he works to fight for the cause that his parents supported and to become a person who they would have been proud to call their son.

In many ways, Neville seems to be determined to be someone of whom his parents would have been proud. He wants to live up to their legacy. He isn’t content to reside in their shadow. A large part of this is a desire to make them proud, but I believe that it also comes from a desire to continue their legacy. Just because his parents’ minds were destroyed and Lily and James Potter died, that didn’t destroy the movement. There will be others who will rise to take their place.

Neville Longbottom shows us the importance of standing up for what we believe in and for always striving to be better. Perhaps our world needs more people like Neville.


Birthday Cakes for Harry Potter Characters

In my quirkier moments, I enjoy making birthday cakes for authors and fictional characters. Over the past several years, I’ve gotten into making cakes for the characters of the Harry Potter universe. So today, I’m taking you through the year and offering my recommendations for the appropriate cake for each character.

January 9: Severus Snape

Snivellus enjoys a spice cake made with molasses and a powdered sugar topping. Most people don’t know this. Dumbledore and Lily both did, so Snape’s years at Hogwarts were the happiest of his life because they ensured that he always had the birthday cake of his choosing.

January 30: Lily Evans-Potter

Lily gets two birthday cakes. James Potter would get his wife the most overly sentimental store-bought cake with overwhelming frosting flowers. On the other hand, Remus Lupin would secretly make her a beautiful double chocolate cake, the same cake that she always makes for his birthday.

February 6: Arthur Weasley

For Arthur Weasley, I choose a common grocery store box mix. Arthur loves all things Muggle, and while his wife is an excellent cook, I suspect that this birthday boy would be far more delighted by a “Muggle cake” than by a delicious concoction from his Molly-wobbles.

March 1: Ron Weasley

I felt like Ron needed something traditional like a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. He just wants it to be clear that it is his birthday and that has been remembered. He wants his name piped onto the top with candles indicating his age so that it’s clear whose birthday it is and how old Ron is.

March 10: Remus Lupin


Double chocolate cake with chocolate frosting; it’s the only thing our favorite werewolf would ever want. Lily always made it for him from their third year at Hogwarts.

March 27: James Potter

A cake with too many layers that is perpetually always falling over…a vanilla cake with raspberry jam between the layers; Sirius always helps make and stack the cake while Remus and Lily watch, wonder, and worry.

April 1: Fred and George Weasley

Fred and George get a funfetti cake made from scratch. It’s the only thing funny enough for them. Then, it gets brightly colored frosting and sprinkles on top. It’s fun. It’s exciting. Oh, and the cake itself is actually cinnamon-vanilla flavored. It’s a surprise, just like the twins.

May 15: Pomona Sprout

Carrot cake! And don’t forget the raisins. It’s absolutely perfect for our favorite Herbology professor prior to Neville Longbottom’s tenure. And be sure to go heavy on the cream cheese frosting; Professor Sprout loves a good cream cheese frosting.

June 5: Draco Malfoy

Draco gets a simple vanilla cake with white frosting. It’s simple. It’s classic. Would Lucius approve it? Absolutely not, but we’ll throw silver and green sprinkles on top in hopes of placating the Malfoy patriarch at least a touch.

June 28: Dobby

Dobby would be perfectly happy to just know that humans had remembered his birthday, and to this end, he wouldn’t care too terribly much what sort of cake he had. With that in mind, make him YOUR favorite cake; he’ll love it.

July 30: Neville Longbottom

Neville grew up with a good grandmother but no mother. I can’t see Augusta Longbottom making good “mom cake” birthday cakes, so I decided that I’d make sure that Neville always had a good “mom cake” for his birthday. So I went with the Texas sheet cake for Neville. It’s big. It’s homemade. It’s heartfelt. It’s warm and welcoming.

July 31: Harry Potter

I’ll never be able to move past the cake that Hagrid made for Harry. Harry will always get a simple two-layer chocolate cake with pink frosting and “HAPPEE BIRTHDAE HARRY” scrawled across the top in bright green frosting.

August 11: Ginevra Weasley

A strawberry cake with chocolate frosting and Bertie Botts Beans on top for decoration-it’s girly inside with a dark outside.

August 22: Percy Weasley

An angel food cake decorated with royal icing lends a touch of class to a birthday party that doesn’t have much. It’s hard to be Percy Weasley. Your brothers are all absurd; no, your whole family is absurd. No one else even tries to reach your level of urbane sophistication.

September 19: Hermione Granger

A German chocolate cake that Ron is not allowed to ruin make will suit the brains of the Golden Trio. After growing up with Muggle dentists, Hermione likes sweet things and really well-made things. To that end, her mother-in-law always makes sure that Hermione’s German chocolate cake is pleasing both to the eye and the stomach.

October 4: Minerva McGonagall

No cake for Professor McGonagall; just a good old-fashioned Scottish shortbread with raspberry coulis. It’s simple, straight-forward, and delicious.

October 17: Filius Flitwick

Professor Flitwick’s birthday trifle will charm any and all comers. Pound cake, fresh blackberries, and freshly whipped cream make for a simple but delightful dessert.

October 30: Molly Weasley

For the matriarch of the Weasley family, an apple cake with a cinnamon streusel is recommended. She wants it to be made in a bundt pan; her sons think that is ridiculous.

November 3: Sirius Black

Sirius gets a Starlight cake (from the Betty Crocker cookbook) with cinnamon and pecans mixed in-because being in Azkaban for 12 years will turn you into a bit of a nutter. The Starlight is a reference to the astrological references in the Black family naming schema. The frosting for the middle of this two-layer cake is yellow while the outside is frosted in red; both colors reference his pride to be the first Gryffindor from the Black family.

November 29: Bill Weasley

Bill’s wife is French, and he spent several years of his life in Egypt. So Bill’s cake is a bit outside the box. Instead of a standard cake, Bill has a brioche with a savory filling inspired by the Middle East. To this end, I make a brioche with a spinach-mushroom-goat cheese filling between the layers. There is an abundance of garlic, onion, and turmeric in this birthday cake. It’s flavor-filled, a little eccentric, and thoroughly delightful-just like Bill Weasley.

December 6: Rubeus Hagrid

Hagrid would make himself a rock cake. We don’t recommend that you follow suit. If you want something that he and you would both enjoy, go for a rum-infused pound cake.

December 12: Charlie Weasley

Charlie wouldn’t care too much what kind of cake he had. He just wants it to be shaped like a dragon. He likes almond cake best because it goes well with all of the nuts needed to create the spines of the dragon.

December 31: Tom Riddle

Most of Tom Riddle’s problems in life come from the fact that he never had a birthday cake. Any remaining problems came from the fact that he was conceived while his father was under the influence of a love potion. But the lack of birthday cake was a substantial contributing factor in his downfall. Basically, skip the celebration of his birthday, and go enjoy New Year’s Eve.

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

So we’re all clear on this: I really like Harry Potter. I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I listen to the soundtracks. I’d seriously consider naming a daughter Hermione. Do we all understand that?

Okay, good…that said, it shouldn’t surprise you that I would go to an opening night showing of the new addition to that universe: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. After all, it is a Harry Potter film (!!!) set in New York (!) in the 1920s (!!). I was going to learn more about the American Wizarding World. (!!!!!!!!!!) How could this go wrong?

via comingsoon.net

via comingsoon.net

Honestly, there are many ways that it could have gone wrong, but for the most part, this movie stayed the course. It carried on the themes that I love from the books and the original movies. It helped that J.K. Rowling wrote the film and David Yates who directed four of the eight HP movies directed it. That provided the film with stability and continuity.

The film introduces us to Newt Scamander who we only previously knew as the author a Hogwarts textbook-Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-and as the grandfather of Luna Lovegood’s husband Rolf Scamander. Through the original series, I’d always thought of Newt as an old man, but meeting him in the movie (as played by Eddie Redmayne) was a delightful surprise. Newt is adorable, nerdy, socially awkward, and curious. He’s incredibly passionate about the magical beasts that he cares for. Redmayne brings a level of clear Hufflepuff generosity to the role. (It probably helps that both he and his character are from the Badger house.) Redmayne brings a level of endearing awkwardness to his character that helped me to understand why he could be likable to some of his contemporaries and irritating to others.

The supporting cast was good. Colin Farrell makes a brilliantly complex Percival Graves. Katherine Waterston plays Tina Goldstein as a strong woman who is determined to do what is right regardless of what her authority figures tell her. Tina makes a good role model for young girls. Dan Fogler is delightful as Jacob Kowalski, the No-Maj who serves as our representative as we explore the Wizarding World of New York and Newt’s magical beasts. Fogler was bumblingly endearing and did a great job of conveying the wonder, delight, and confusion of encountering such a colorful and unusual new world. Eza Miller’s turn as the complicated Credence Barebone was haunting and intriguing.

Rowling did a great job of creating intriguing characters. I wanted to know more about Scamander’s life. How did he get those beasts? Why was he expelled from Hogwarts? What is his relationship to Albus Dumbledore? I’m hoping that the future movies will answer some of these questions.

Farrell kept me guessing throughout the film, and I loved it. I knew he was a complex character. I didn’t necessarily like him, but I was curious. The script kept me guessing. It was fun to wonder what his actual motivations were.

The script wasn’t brilliant. It was good, but it wasn’t great. The plot was relatively easy to follow. It kept me engaged. It appealed to my love of the Harry Potter universe. I loved the references to what I already knew. However, it didn’t strike me as the greatest movie of the year. It left me with questions that probably won’t be answered in future movies.  I felt like some things were just thrown into the movie to appease me as a fan. (Did I really need that twenty-second Hogwarts vs. Ilvermorny argument? No, because I don’t know enough about Ilvermoney yet? What houses were Tina and Queenie? Don’t let me with unresolved threads like that.) I felt like some characters needed more development. I wanted a better explanation of need for secrecy in the American Wizarding World. Why did it have to be so hidden from the No-Majs? (I’m guessing it comes from things like the Salem Witch Trials, but I’d like that explained to me.) I also wonder if that’s what life was like in Britain during the 1920s or were relationships between wizards and muggles more open in Britain at the point? Was muggle-wizard intermarriage banned in Britain too?

So what did I love? The colors/cinematography, the music, and the CGI…this movie was aesthetically beautiful. The settings, the costumes, the beasts-they were all gorgeous. I loved looking at the colors that the artists used to create the beasts. The CGI artists did an amazing job of bringing the beasts to life. It was easy to believe that they were real. The costuming was also gorgeous. The colors, the textures-it was all beautiful. I loved the visual feast.

And the music…I love the music from the original soundtracks, so I was thrilled that James Newton Howard was taking on the soundtrack. It was gorgeous. It helped guide the mood and draw me into the film. I don’t think that it deserves an Oscar, but it was delightful.

Overall, I give it four out of five. It was good but not great. I enjoyed it, and I’ll probably see it again. I’ll probably buy the DVD. I’ll definitely see the next movie. I can’t wait to see where this goes from here. Hopefully, the plot will be stronger, and the movie will be even better than this one.


(Now I want a Quidditch Through the Ages movie.)

Kreacher’s Love

I just finished rereading the Harry Potter series for the third or fourth time. I love those books, and I learn something different from them each time. I’m nearing the end of the seventh book, and in this reading of that particular book, I’ve put more attention towards the House Elf, Kreacher, than I have in previous readings.

 Kreacher from harrypotter.wikia.com

When we meet him, Kreacher is a House Elf belonging to the Black family. The Blacks are an ancient wizarding family who are very strong believers in the importance of pureblood supremacy. Nearly every member of this family hates all wizards who do not share their “pure blood” or their love of that purity. They also hate Muggles. This is the world in which Kreacher has lived, and it is all that he knows. He is loyal to this family and their beliefs. He shares their beliefs and opinions.

By some twist of fate, the Black house becomes the base for the Order of the Phoenix, an organization that works against everything that the Black family believes. He is not kind to the members of the Order. He obeys Sirius Black (his “owner” and the only “good” Black) because he must according to the magic that governs his race/species. But he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to do this and it is offensive to his beliefs.

When Harry Potter, Sirius Black’s godson, inherits Kreacher after Sirius passes away, Kreacher makes it clear that he disdains his new master. And Harry doesn’t seem too pleased to own Kreacher either. He won’t free Kreacher because he and the other members of the Order fear that the House Elf would (out of a sense of loyalty to the Black family) tell the Death Eaters what he has learned from living in the Order’s headquarters. But Harry doesn’t like Kreacher, and he doesn’t want to deal with him.

However, in the seventh book, something changes. Harry, Ron, and Hermione find themselves in the Black home (12 Grimmauld Place) again for a short time. During this stay, Harry gives Kreacher a locket that had belonged to the Black family. suddenly, Kreacher’s demeanor towards Harry changes. He is kind to Harry and his friends. He is even kind to Hermione who he had always treated rudely previously. Hermione had once observed that Kreacher is kind to those who are kind to him, and that is proved to be true.

But when 12 Grimmauld Place ceases to be a safe place for Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Kreacher does not abandon them or their cause. Instead of fleeing to the Death Eaters, he somehow makes his way to Hogwarts, and we next meet him he is leading the House Elves of Hogwarts into battle against Lord Voldemort.

I think that we can learn a lesson about love from Kreacher. Real love isn’t just there when it’s convenient the way that Miss Cissy (Narcissa Black-Malfoy) or Miss Bella (Bellatrix Black-Lestrange) are for Kreacher. Love doesn’t mock us or treat us cruelly like Sirius Black does to Kreacher.

No, love is faithful. Love is persistent. Love keeps coming after us even when we reject it-perhaps because we don’t recognize it as such. Much like Hermione’s treatment of Kreacher, love never stops seeking the ultimate good of the other. Hermione doesn’t necessarily understand Kreacher, but to be honest, he’s a complex little dude.

Eventually, Harry starts to treat Kreacher with kindness, and that kindness is rewarded. Kreacher repays kindness with kindness. And he and Harry start to build some semblance of a relationship. This relationship never fully develops into its full potential largely because of the war.

Regardless, Kreacher shows me an important lesson about love-namely, love (either romantic or platonic) may not always look like we expect, but real love will suffer long. Real love is patient. Real love seeks the highest good of the other. Real love isn’t just there when it is convenient or when it wants something. Real love isn’t just nice to the other when it wants something. No, real love suffers with you and seeks your highest good.

That isn’t necessarily perfectly played out in Kreacher, but his story-and especially the way that Hermione persists in kindness towards him regardless of how he treats her-gives us an unusual but beautiful reminder of what real love is.