The main character in the books and movies are typically the most boring characters for a good reason. They’re so bland that they have little to nothing that makes them special, which makes them the ideal neutral mask for the reader to live out their fantasies.
The idea behind the neutral mask is that as a reader, or audience member as the theory extends to all mediums, we want our main characters to be bland, so we can pretend that we are them. It’s why a book’s secondary character is so much more interesting because they’re basically dragging us along for the ride.
The video linked above from Cracked After Hours (probably one of my favourite Internet series) asks a simple question to prove this theory, give me a direct quote from Harry Potter?
It’s a lot more difficult than you might think even if you are able to pop off a few lines from the books or movies. You have to admit that characters like Ron “Bloody Hell” Weasley or Hermione “I’m going off to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled” Granger.
The point being is that your protagonist and secondary characters all have a chance to bask in the spotlight whether through a memorable quote or being the Chosen One, but what about the background characters?
Most of the time these characters have to hope that they’ll get a funny one-liner one day or the author will find an interesting way to use them in a short story.
Most of the time, they’re forgotten, but not to me.
Justin Finch-Fletchley, Ernest Macmillan, and Hannah Abbot
In a mirror universe, Harry Potter was never intended to be the protagonist. That privilege was actually given to a Hufflepuff student whose two friends perfectly mirror Harry’s ginger and buck-tooth entourage.
Justin Finch-Fletchely is a muggle-born student who attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry along with his two friends Ernest Macmillan (who is pure-blooded like Ron) and Hannah Abbot (who is muggle-born like Hermione).
They’re the same types of characters, but were relegated to a Hogwarts house that has about as much play in the grand scheme of things as a tea left knows the history of the East India Company.
Hannah and Ernie are a little different than Harry’s followers in that they’re both kind of jerks.
In the second movie and book, Ernie and Hannah have a discussion about Parselmouths and how they’re usually awful people in close proximity to Harry “Speaks like a Snake” Potter. They also harass Harry by wearing “Potter Stinks” badges during the Triwizard Tournament.
However they do manage to redeem themselves by becoming members of Dumbledore’s Army and Ernie is one of Harry’s most staunch supporters in saying that Voldemort *Shhhhhhhhh!* sorry… You Know Who has returned to power.
“Personally I think this is really important, possibly more important than anything else we’ll do this year, even with our O.W.L.s coming up. I, personally, am at a loss to see why the Ministry has foisted such a useless teacher on us at this critical period. Obviously, they are in denial about the return of You-Know-Who.” — Ernest Macmillan
The two also stay for the final battle at Hogwarts choosing to stick around rather than escape like the other students. They go from being bullies to being some of the most supportive members of the books’ cast of secondary characters.
However, this brings us to Justin Finch-Fletchley.
Justin is a muggle-born wizard and didn’t show up for his last year of school. So what happened to him? Did he go into hiding knowing that Voldemort’s forces were coming to get him? Did he and his family… die?!
The point is, we simply do not know. During his time at Hogwarts, Justin went through a lot. In second year, he was petrified by a basilisk… and well that pretty much sums up his contributions to the story.
However, he and his friends as a whole play a large role as the story unfolds. They go from being Harry’s enemies to being some of his biggest supporters, but they don’t get much time in the spotlight.
It would be amazing to read a little more about this secret trio in Hogwarts.
Barnabus Cuffee and his layout designer
Journalism in Harry Potter is fucked. I’m sorry to swear, but there’s really no other way to describe just how bad the journalists, reporters, and photographers act throughout the course of the book series. Rita Skeeter is probably the prime examples most would draw upon to talk about the journalistic ethics of shape-shifting wizards, but there’s another wizard who is rarely held accountable.
Barnabus Cuffee is the editor of The Daily Prophet. A former Hogwarts student and member of Horace Slughorn’s Slug Club, Cuffee’s tenure as editor of the paper is fraught with danger, intrigue, politics, and Horcruxes, but he shows little to no resolve as an editor.
As an editor of a newspaper myself, I can tell you that most journalists would rather quit their jobs than let someone else tell them what to run. It’s why this day and age of advertorials is so filled with ethical considerations, but Cuffee takes the cake in being controlled.
When leaned on by the Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge, Cuffee starts to run exposes on Harry Potter calling him “The Boy That Lies” using only sources provided to them by the Ministry of Magic. They don’t go out to find good sources rather they simply talk to nobodies who don’t know what’s going on. It makes the paper seem little more than just a rag with a chip on its shoulder, but it gets worse.
Under the Death Eaters, the Daily Prophet continued to publish ridiculous stories on muggle-born wizards stealing magic away from the pure-blooded masses and other stories that would likely get you a hearing from a human rights committee in our world. Cuffee was the editor throughout this entire time and never once thought about resigning his position or protesting what he was being told to publish.
Sure, he probably had a wand up to his head and some snatcher slowly saying Aaaaaaaaavaaaaaaaadaaaaaaaaaakaaaaaaaaadaaaaaaabraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa… over the course of two years, but he still had a choice. And I want to know what was going on in that newsroom.
The Quibbler really doesn’t interest me because it’s just one person curating the entire publication. The Quibbler would have a whole newsroom filled with witches and wizards. It’d be like The Newsroom, but with magic. I want to see Cuffee sweat when he realizes he needs to print a redaction and apology to Harry Potter and Dumbledore, I want to see the hostile take over of the Death Eaters, and see how much wizard coffee they all consume.
Also, what the hell is up with the newspaper’s layout designer? As someone who does layout for a living, I really started to wonder what the hell witches and wizards are thinking if this is the way they put their newspapers together. The stories don’t have bylines from writers and sometimes columns just seem to end without a page to visit for the rest of the story.
They have the ability to put moving pictures in their newspaper and they squander the chance with super-confusing design choices that require you to flip the newspaper around in order to read. Layout blasphemy.
Caractacus Burke and Borgin
Caractacus Burke and Borgin are the owners of Knockturn Alley’s premiere magical pawnshop where they buy pretty much anything. We’re first introduced to the shop in the second book when Harry Potter accidentally transports himself inside using Floo Powder. He spies on Lucius Malfoy selling a number of dangerous objects to Borgin that would incriminate him if found inside his home.
Borgin makes it pretty clear that he’s a supporter of the old ways being a pure-blooded supremacist, but he’s a very mysterious character. According to online resources, Borgin and Burke’s was founded in 1863. That would make Borgin and Burke well over 100 years old during the events in 1992, so either they have a supply of the Sorcerer Stone’s elixir or they’re simply immortal for the purposes of the story.
That being said, we know very little of Borgin and Burke’s shop. From what we know, it is home to all kinds of magically dark artifacts including, for a time, holding one a locket that belonged to Salazar Slytherin and a number of artifacts belonging to the founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For a time, the shop also employed Tom Riddle where it helped the soon-to-be dark wizard expand upon his magpie-like tendencies.
We also know that the shop has a Vanishing Cabinet that connects directly to Hogwarts, which is something that Arthur Weasley should probably have found considering the Ministry of Magic raids the shop in the sixth book.
Anyway, aside from a few quotes here or there, a memory from Dumbledore’s Pensieve, and a deleted scene in the second movie, we don’t know anything about the mysterious owners of Knockturn Alley’s seediest establishment.
I’d love to read a short story that expands upon the shop’s history or even gives us some details about how the owners interact with one another. We know they’re partners, but we never actually get a chance to see them in the same place. What if they’re one in the same person? What if Burke is living on the back of Borgin’s head like Voldemort lived on the back of Professor Quirrell’s head?
The story would be like a magical edition of Museum Secrets that would take us on a journey through the oldest, darkest, and strangest objects in the shop while learning a little more about the owners.
There are so many sub characters in the Harry Potter universe that serve as fertile ground for short stories and fan fiction, but I don’t expect to ever read anything official from them out of J.K. Rowling.
It’s this reason why fan fiction and Harry Potter are like peanut butter and jelly. People want to know more about a character, so they try to imagine what they’re like outside the context of the story.
These characters just somehow managed to captivate fans enough to spawn some kind of response from the community who wanted to know more.