Six Brilliant Moments of Foreshadowing in the Harry Potter Series
Everyone loves Harry Potter. (Well, everyone cool does, anyway.) We could spend a whole day—if not a whole lifetime—trying to figure out why, recounting our favorite parts, and listing the various reasons why it’s such an important story to tell. Not only does the series address issues like intolerance, prejudice, and oppression, it’s also a story about WIZARDS doing COOL MAGIC STUFF! What's not to like?
But another great thing about Harry Potter is that J.K. Rowling is a very savvy storyteller on the level of plotting. She drops such small but meaningful clues throughout the seven books that even the biggest fans don’t catch until their fifth or tenth reread. So, in the spirit of Easter, here are some of my personal favorite foreshadow-y Easter eggs from across all seven books.
(WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS)
1. The Bezoar
In the very first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone to the rest of the world, because apparently America doesn’t know what a philosopher is), Severus Snape, being the smug Potions professor that he is, decides that he wants to humiliate Harry on his first day in class and asks him difficult questions. One of them is:
“Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”
Jump forward to book six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry finds an old Potions book with handwritten notes in the margins. One of these notes (written by Snape himself) mentions bezoars as a poison antidote. When Ron is accidentally poisoned later on in the book, Harry remembers the bezoar and feeds it to him, saving Ron’s life.
It's one thing to have Harry recall an earlier part of the book in Half-Blood Prince. It's another, way awesomer thing to call back all the way to Hogwarts year 1, day 1. And it’s definitely a mark of excellent and consistent worldbuilding.
2. The Locket
This is possibly my favorite bit of foreshadowing in the whole series. In book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and Co. end up at Sirius’ old family home. They clean the house top to bottom under Molly Weasley’s orders. Begrudgingly, they clean an old cabinet full of useless knick-knacks, including:
“…a heavy locket that none of them could open…”
Jump forward to book six, and we learn that good ol’ Voldy has horcruxes that need to be destroyed. One of the horcruxes? A locket.
“Wait, that locket?” Yes, that locket. The one they were carelessly manhandling and threw away in the previous book. Perfect. I love you, Jo.
3. Sirius Black
This is a relatively small one compared to poison antidotes and destroying part of a dude’s soul, but it still delights me every time. You all know Sirius Black, yes? Azkaban escapee and Harry’s godfather? BFFs with Lupin and the late James Potter, also known as Padfoot? Ex-owner of a seriously awesome motorcycle that could fly?
In the first book, in the first chapter, we see Dumbledore on Privet Drive in order to receive baby!Harry and leave him on the Dursleys’ front step. When Hagrid comes to deliver baby!Harry, he’s flying a motorcycle. Where did he get it, you ask?
“Borrowed it, Professor Dumbledore, sir. […] Young Sirius Black lent it to me.”
Rowling set up this major character in the very first chapter of the series, a character who wouldn’t actually show up until book three. Unsuspecting readers probably dismissed the name, figuring it wouldn’t be important in the grand scheme of things.
But look how wrong they were.
4. The Room of Requirement
Where would the series be without Dumbledore and his cryptic, frustrating clues? Dumbledore is like a walking, talking Easter egg, because every other sentence out of his mouth ends up serving some sort of purpose. Seriously, go reread the books and see how much more he makes sense when you know everything that happens.
Done reading? Okay, you know the Yule Ball that happens in book four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? Harry is stuck eating with the other champions and the heads of the schools. Luckily, Harry sits next to Dumbledore and hears the headmaster’s anecdote about finding a room in Hogwarts full of chamber pots when he desperately needed to pee.
“Only this morning, for instance, I took a wrong turning on the way to the bathroom and found myself in a beautifully proportioned room I have never seen before, containing a really rather magnificent collection of chamber pots. When I went back to investigate more closely, I discovered that the room had vanished.”
That’s Hogwarts for you. But in Order of Phoenix this suddenly makes sense. Harry finds a room that grants him exactly what he wants, which is a place to secretly study spells. Dumbledore had found the Room of Requirement way before Harry did, a room manifesting the finder’s wishes beyond its doors. Very crafty.
5. The Vanishing Cabinet
In book two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry comes across a gnarly store called Borgin and Burkes. Inside, he looks around at all the creepily awesome stuff (come on, who wouldn’t want a Hand of Glory?) until the Malfoys come in. He ducks into a large cabinet to hide from them.
In Order of the Phoenix, Fred and George are up to shenanigans and trap Slytherin Graham Montague in a broken vanishing cabinet in Hogwarts, which makes Montague disappear in a weird space where he can hear things happening in both Hogwarts and Borgin and Burkes. Nothing much to look at here—all just magic stuff, Hogwarts is a crazy place, moving along.
But wait. In Half-Blood Prince, this cabinet—both of them—come back into play. Together, these vanishing cabinets make whoever or whatever that passes through them end up on the other side. And guess what? Since there’s one at Hogwarts, the Death Eaters are able to use it to infiltrate the school. Ruh-roh.
6. Aberforth Dumbledore
This was a punch in the spleen when I found it after reading the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At some point, Dumbledore mentions his estranged brother Aberforth to Harry, saying nothing much beyond the fact that he’d once been guilty of performing inappropriate charms on a goat.
In Order of the Phoenix, the kids at Hogwarts are pretty much over the whole Umbridge thing and decide to form their own Defense Against the Dark Arts class in secret (see number 4, “Room of Requirement”). They can’t talk about it at school, so they go to the nearby town of Hogsmeade. Specifically, they go to the Hog’s Head, which smells of goats. Then they see the barman.
“He was a grumpy-looking old man with a great deal of long gray hair and beard. He was tall and thin and looked vaguely familiar to Harry.” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
So there’s a creepy familiar goat guy, good to know. Then in Deathly Hallows, we find out the link: creepy familiar goat guy is Aberforth. And he was nearby this whole time. Watching. Being creepy with goats.
There are probably a million Easter eggs in this series, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. You can’t deny that Rowling knew what the heck she was doing when she penned Harry’s story, and as writers and readers we can learn a lot about storytelling from these books.
What are some of your favorite clues in Harry Potter?
Tara is the author of TIMEKEEPER (Sky Pony Press, Fall 2016) and runs on tea, cake, and the occasional latte. She can usually be found lurking in the wild foothills of the Bay Area writing books and wrangling cats. Follow her on Twitter: @EachStarAWorld.