Here’s one that’s sure to make you feel old: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first of seven books in the hugely popular J.K. Rowling franchise about the titular boy wizard, will celebrate its 19th anniversary this year. It is easy enough to explain the vast popularity of the book and film series as Rowling’s capacity to develop complex, layered characters that evoke emotion while building a high concept, fantastical narrative based around well-written text. But that alone doesn’t explain an obsessive fandom that continually hungers for more Potter even nine years after the release of the last book and six years past the final movie release.
Beyond seven books and eight movies, the internationally-beloved HP empire has grown to include the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park, a soon-to-be-adapted-to-film spinoff titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and even a stage adaptation set to premiere in London’s West End later this year. Through the revolutionary Pottermore.com website, Rowling has tried to quench the thirst of Potter lovers by offering little bits of content to offer more information about their favorite characters.
But there are things that even a fervent fan base doesn’t know some times. Between nuggets that Rowling has subtly dropped and trivia tied to the production of the books and films, secrets abound about what is probably the most beloved literary franchise in recent history. Just as Potter continues to live on, so too do these 15 things that most HP fans don’t know:
15. Sorry, Twilight
There always seemed to be a connecting force that prompted comparisons between Harry Potter and Twilight, two popular teen lit series that rose to prominence in close proximity to one another and both featured relatable character set amidst fantastical circumstances. Of course, this set off something of a rivalry among the hardcore fan bases of each respective series. But to say that they were similarly popular would not be fair to the HP universe. In truth, the least successful film on the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, still managed to rake in $90 million more than the most successful Twilight movie.
14. The Nearly-Headless Singer
HP fans were nearly treated to a musical performance by a ghostly, floating John Cleese during Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. According to the book, Harry and Hermione attend a “deathday” celebration to honor the 500th anniversary of the botched execution of Cleese’s aptly named Nearly-Headless Nick character. The scene, which features the Hogwarts ghost belting out “The Ballad of Nearly-Headless Nick,” was ultimately cut from the film due to time constraints.
13. A Slytherin Troublemaker
Draco Malfoy was down one goon in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the final film of the series. Despite being written into every book and appearing in the first six movies, Vincent Crabbe was nowhere to be found in Part 2. That’s because actor Jamie Waylett had run afoul of the law with repeated substance abuse incidents, including a 2009 arrest in which he was found with marijuana and an illegal knife stashed in his car. Waylett was later arrested for his participation in the 2011 London Riots, as well as possession of a Molotov cocktail. Perhaps he got a little too into character.
12. McGonagall Played Quidditch?
Hardcore Potter fans have long speculated on the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone appearance of a Quidditch plaque from 1971 etched with the name “M.G. McGonagall.” Curiously, this plaque only appears in the movie version and is never referenced in the book series. Although the timing doesn’t quite fit within Professor Minerva McGonagall’s tenure as a student, it could be her name recognized as head of the championship-winning Gryffindor House. Other theories have suggested the honor might belong to her younger brother, Malcolm McGonagall.
11. Why Snape Hates Neville
It could be argued that the only student Severus Snape ever showed as much apparent enmity towards as Harry was Neville Longbottom. While Snape’s treatment of Harry was revealed to be a disguised form of protection (and probably some resentment for his resemblance to his father, James), his hatred of Neville is never fully explained. As any hardcore HP fan will tell you, though, Neville could have been the Chosen One given his similar birthday and shared status as the son of Order of the Phoenix members. Snape, then, resents Neville for not becoming the Chosen One and, thus, sparing the life of his beloved Lily Potter.
10. A Shared Birthday
J.K. Rowling didn’t have to look far for inspiration in deciding on her main character’s birth date. Harry’s birthday of July 31st, 1980 makes him exactly 14 years – to the day – younger than the author, herself. This year, with her fictional hero set to turn 36, Rowling will be celebrating her 50th birthday. Apropros of nothing, the July 31st birthday is also shared by late British actor Richard Griffiths, who starred in the films as Harry’s cruel muggle uncle, Vernon Dursley.
9. Senior Student
For the most part, the Harry Potter film series succeeded in its casting of young actors who were able to grow up together over the course of filming seven movies. But that wasn’t the case with Scottish actress Shirley Henderson, who played ghostly Hogwarts student Moaning Myrtle. Henderson was 37 at the time that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was filmed, making her the oldest actress to ever portray a Hogwarts student. She is actually one year older than Rowling!
8. The Car That Flew Away
A mystery emerged in the aftermath of the release of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when one of the flying cars that played into several of Harry and Ron’s mis-adventures was stolen. The flying Ford Anglia, being housed in Cornwall’s South West Film Studios, was stolen in 2005 before eventually being found in 2006 near a castle in England, probably after its burglar realized that it couldn’t actually fly.
7. Harry’s Stunt Double
As the series progressively grew darker and more violent, the movies required more intense action scenes over time. That placed greater demand on the actor’s stunt doubles to make the magical rebellion against Voldemort’s army of Death Eaters look realistic. Unfortunately, that came at a steep price for David Holmes, a competitive gymnast who served as a stunt double for Radcliffe’s Harry. While filming Deathly Hallows, Part 1, Holmes broke his neck after being flung into a wall at the Warner Bros studios during a stunt gone wrong. He was paralyzed from the waist down in the accident and now modifies and drives race cars.
6. Ginny Became a Star
Among the many savory nuggets from Pottermore, Rowling has released some of the now-Ginny Potter Daily Prophet reports from the Quidditch World Cup. These help capture all of Ginny’s post-Hogwarts success, all of which has transpired since the story of the book series wrapped up. Now, on top of being a wife to Harry and a mother of James Sirius, Albus Severus, and Lily Luna Potter, Ginny is also a professional Quidditch player and a reporter for the Daily Prophet.
5. Harry and Voldemort Are Related
First they shared a piece of their soul and the ability to speak to snakes (Parseltongue), and now they apparently share a family tree. A trip through the origins of wizarding families – and Rowling, herself – revealed that Harry and Voldermort share a common ancestry through the Peverells, who inspired “The Tale of the Three Brothers” story from The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The author has also acknowledged that this is common in the wizarding world, as most wizard families carry some degree of relation if you go back far enough.
4. D-Rad Isn’t Perfect
Their birthdays may fall eight days apart, but let’s not confuse the heroic, iconic Harry with his talented portrayer. Daniel Radcliffe has gotten his life together since, but even he acknowledges going through some dark periods while filming the latter movies in the series. The actor admits that he would get blackout drunk on the nights after filming had wrapped and even delved into drugs at one point. While he remains a smoker, the now 26-year-old has cleaned up his act, although he and Rupert Grint have indicated in interviews that they’ve grown apart.
3. Nicholas Flamel Isn’t Fictional
In the written version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Nicholas Flamel is frequently mentioned as the wizard and alchemist who first discovered the Stone. Unlike most of the many figures built into Potter lore, Flamel is a real person. A French writer who lived in Paris in the 14th century, Flamel’s name carried on as a rumored alchemist who was believed to have discovered the mythical stone that would turn lead into gold. You might have also heard his name cited in other novels and films, including Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code.
2. Rowling’s Story
What made HP such a worldwide success was how even within the broad scope of a fantasy series about a magical wizarding world, it contained a level of humanity that readers and viewers could form a connection to. It certainly helped that Rowling put much of herself into the stories. On top of sharing Harry’s birthday, Rowling wrote Hermione largely by harkening back to her own childhood. Even the ghoulishly creepy Dementors were written to represent depression and were borne out of Rowling’s own struggles with the disease.
1. True to Character
Harry Potter had already become an established, lucrative movie saga by the time famed director Alfonso Cuaron came aboard to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third film in the franchise. In order to get to know the three main stars of the film, Cuaron asked each of them to write an essay about their characters. Each actor treated the assignment while remaining in character, so Emma Watson wrote a 16-page essay with over-achieving Hermione in mind, Daniel Radcliffe wrote a simple one-pager befitting Harry and Rupert Grint, summoning his inner Ron Weasley, never turned a paper in.