7 Plot Holes (or Nitpicks) in the Harry Potter Books

Updated on October 29, 2019
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Filipe is a Msc in Management student living in Lisbon, Portugal. Despite that, he usually prefers to write about his more geeky interests.

7 Glaring and Minor Plot Holes in the Harry Potter Books

  1. The Philosopher's Stone: Dumbledore's Delay: Dumbledore takes an inexplicably long time to return to Hogwarts from the false alarm "urgent matter" at the Ministry of Magic.
  2. The Chamber of Secrets: Silent Hissing: Nobody at Hogwarts can hear the basilisk hissing in the pipes.
  3. The Prisoner of Azkaban: Helena Ravenclaw? Helena Ravenclaw doesn't appear on the Marauder's Map.
  4. The Goblet of Fire: The Plan (All of It): The elaborate plan to get Harry to the graveyard doesn't make much sense.
  5. The Order of the Phoenix: Except Ginny and Trelawney: Harry mistakenly says that nobody but Death Eaters refer to Voldemort as "The Dark Lord."
  6. The Half-Blood Prince: Parseltongue Translators: How and when did Dumbledore learn to understand Parselmouth?
  7. The Deathly Hallows: Hermione and the Thestrals: Hermione can't see Thestrals, yet she rides one while disguised as Harry at the beginning of the book.

1. The Philosopher's Stone: Dumbledore's Delay

Starting off with the first book, this a plot hole that most people are familiar with, but it is too pertinent not to mention. The premise for the book's climax is that the trio have to go down the trapdoor alone because Dumbledore is away. He received an urgent owl from the Ministry in London and left the school. We later learn that there was no urgent matter at the Ministry and that the owl had been sent by Quirrel to keep Dumbledore away from Hogwarts while he went after the Philosopher's Stone.

The plot hole is that the trio learns of Dumbledore's absence in the afternoon, and by the time they go down the trapdoor, it's clearly night time. Dumbledore isn't back yet, meaning he took quite a few hours to get to the Ministry, discover that there was no urgent matter to handle, and then come back.

Of course, we know that given the teleportation options available to Dumbledore, this should not have taken several hours. Floo Powder, Portkeys or Apparition through Hogsmead were all suitable options that would have taken no time at all to get Dumbledore to London and back. Certainly, recognizing that there was nothing going on at the Ministry would not take a long time, either.

While the plot hole is very plain and simple, the implications are what's interesting here for me. At the end of the book, Harry theorizes that Dumbledore might have wanted to give Harry a chance to face Voldemort on his own. Furthermore, in The Deathly Hallows, it's made clear that Dumbledore suspected Quirrel during Harry's first year. Dumbledore himself says that it was important to teach Harry what he needed to know and let him test his strengths to prepare him to face Voldemort.

At the same time, in The Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore does admit that he did not expect Harry to have to face Voldemort at age eleven. Nevertheless, I think a reasonable argument could be made that Dumbledore deliberately delayed his return to Hogwarts to allow Harry to face Quirrel alone. One might say that's quite negligent and devious for a school headmaster, even if it were all part of the grand plan.

2. The Chamber of Secrets: Silent Hissing

The plot hole for the second book in the series does not bear any serious implications, but it is interesting when one thinks about it. We learn at the end of the book that the monster inside the titular Chamber of Secrets is a basilisk (a giant snake, essentially).

We also discover that the serpent has been traversing through Hogwarts to attack Muggle-borns through the school's pipes. This ties into the fact that Harry, as a Parselmouth, has been hearing voices inside the walls throughout the whole story. This voice can only be heard by Harry, as other characters tell him that they can't hear anything within Harry's vicinity.

The plot hole is quite simple: Even though the other characters cannot understand Parseltongue, they should be able to hear the hissing that Harry is unknowingly translating in his head. When Harry talks to the snake that Malfoy conjures, all those around him hear Harry and the snake hissing, and yet no one hears the basilisk's hiss inside the walls.

Given that the basilisk is quite large and that Harry can hear the voice well enough to understand the words and know where in the castle it's coming from, one would expect at least someone else in the school to notice a strange hissing coming from the walls.

3. The Prisoner of Askaban: Helena Ravenclaw?

This plot hole does not belong solely to The Prisoner of Askaban, but I put it here because this is the book in which our hero gets the Marauder's Map. The map itself is an incredible tool; however, its magical properties are somewhat inconsistent and never fully explained.

For the purposes of this plot hole, it's important to know that what is known is that the map can be used to track the positions of the Hogwarts ghosts (according to the Harry Potter Wiki), and of Peeves as well (Harry sees him on it in the book).

It's also important to know that the map seems to register the true identity of beings; it's not constricted by magical enchantments or nicknames (Peter Pettigrew did not appear as Scabbers when in rat form; same with Barty Crouch Jr.).

Now, Harry spends a lot of time looking at the map throughout the series. A LOT of time. And while yes, there are hundreds of students within Hogwarts, and thus, a lot of points on the map, it's fair to assume that Harry must have seen the names of everyone he knows personally on the map at least once.

My question is: How is it that he never saw the name of Helena Ravenclaw on the map⁠—the true identity of the Gray Lady? Just as Harry notices Pettigrew on the map and is taken aback by it, so it should have happened with Helena. One could say that she might be listed as the Gray Lady, but seeing as the map appears to see through any given nicknames, I would expect it to show her real name, same with Nearly-Headless-Nick and the other ghosts.

You could argue that the Marauders might never have discovered the true identity of the Gray Lady and so she is listed as such on the map, but that's a flawed argument as the map is able to show the identity of hundreds of students who were not alive when the Marauders were.

One could also argue that maybe the map's enchantments are tied with school records, which is how it's able to keep track of new students, but not the names of the ghosts. However, that would rule out, for example, Crookshanks, who is also listed on the map.

This all becomes a matter of speculation, but ultimately, I think there is a good argument in favour of the Gray Lady appearing as Helena Ravenclaw, and it being odd that Harry never noticed her, given that the name Ravenclaw would certainly draw his attention, especially in The Deathly Hallows.

4. The Goblet of Fire: The Plan (All of It)

This one should also be a pretty familiar plot hole to you, as it is often mentioned among fans. Voldemort's plan to get Harry to the Little Hangleton graveyard, while very engaging to read, is, in my opinion, way too unnecessarily convoluted from a practical standpoint.

The idea was essentially for Barty Crouch Jr. (as Moody), to guide Harry through the Triwizard Tournament, leading him to the cup so that he could be teleported alone and with no witnesses to the graveyard. There, he would provide the last piece needed to resurrect Voldemort, and then be killed.

This plan is immediately met from many with the obvious question of "Why go through all the trouble of guiding Harry through the tournament? Why couldn't Crouch enchant a random item in his office, invite Harry into it alone, have him touch the item and voilá?" There are several arguments that could be brought up against this hypothesis:

  1. Only Dumbledore can create portkeys out of Hogwarts. Crouch had to use the Cup because Dumbledore had already enchanted it; therefore, he only had to modify it: This argument, while reasonable, is actually not that supported. It's never stated that Dumbledore had already enchanted the cup, and when Crouch confesses, he literally states that he "Turned it [the cup] into a Portkey," implying that it wasn't a portkey before.
  2. The transportation had to be done during the tournament to mask Harry's death (or disappearance) as an accident: Let's assume that Voldemort's plan worked in the maze, and Harry went to the graveyard alone and died there as planned. We don't know whether Voldemort would have made Harry's corpse touch the cup and be taken back to Hogwarts, or if he would have kept Harry's body there in Little Hangleton. In the first scenario, the crowd is faced with a dead Harry and the cup. Harry (if hit with the Killing Curse, as is to be expected), would have no mortal wounds on him, so the cause of death would probably be pretty clear (at least to Dumbledore). All the other champions would be ruled out as suspects, as they would already be back at the entrance, or they would be inside the maze still, but why would any one of them kill Harry and then make him touch the cup? The obvious suspect would be Moody, as he placed the cup in the maze, and even more so in the second scenario where neither Harry or the cup come back. Any way you slice it, Dumbledore is too smart to see Harry's death as accidental, so the plan of keeping Voldemort's return a secret even from Dumbledore was bound to fail. Moody is just way too suspicious, and Veritaserum is always on hand. If Dumbledore suspected Moody in the book due to the simple act of "removing Harry from his sight," these other acts would have been far more suspicious. And this brings us to argument three.
  3. Voldemort wanted Crouch to remain at Hogwarts as a spy: As I've already explained, Crouch would certainly have been discovered, even if the plan went as planned. The simple act of being the one to place the cup in the center of the maze, even volunteering to do it, is just way too suspicious for Dumbledore not to see through.

Ultimately, all the alleged advantages or obstacles that led Voldemort to go with the tournament plan are either unsubstantiated or insignificant as the outcome of a successful plan whether by the cup or a random item is the same: Harry dead, Crouch discovered, Dumbledore finding out about Voldemort's return. As such, I believe the plan's unnecessary complexity remains a plot hole.

5. The Order of the Phoenix: Except Ginny and Trelawney

This plot hole is a pretty short one, and while amusing, it's probably just a lapse of the author. Or, if you want to make that argument, it could be considered a moment of Harry deliberately forgetting something in order to further his own accusation.

So, in the book, during one Harry and Snape's Occlumency lessons, Harry calls out Snape for referring to Voldemort as "The Dark Lord." Harry points out that only Death Eaters use that term to refer to You Know Who, and so indirectly accuses Snape of maintaining some degree of loyalty to Voldemort right to his face.

Of course, Harry should know that what he is saying is false. Both Ginny and Trelawney have used the term in the past to refer to Voldemort, Ginny in the Valentine's Day poem she wrote to him in the Chamber of Secrets, and Professor Trelawney in the prophecy she made to Harry in the Prisoner of Askaban. He might not be remembering that when he says this, or JK might not have remembered herself, but in any case, it's a curious minor plothole.

6. The Half-Blood Prince: Parseltongue Translators

This one is somewhat related to the one in Chamber of Secrets but more localized to the character of Dumbledore. In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore shows Harry several memories he collected over the years concerning the history of Voldemort. In some of those memories, Harry witnesses Voldemort's mother, uncle, grandfather and Tom Riddle himself conversing in Parseltongue with each other, all of them being Parselmouths due to being descendants from Salazar Slytherin.

Harry, of course, is able to understand the conversations due to his own ability to speak the language. However, this fact presents an interesting question: Given that Dumbledore was clearly aware of the contents of those conversations before showing them to Harry, how was he able to understand them, given that he is not a Parselmouth?

Now, you could immediately, and rightly, argue that JK already resolved this question by stating that Dumbledore was able to understand Parseltongue, despite not being able to speak it. However, knowing this raises some other interesting and unanswered questions, specifically: How did Dumbledore learn to understand the language? Why did he go out of his way to do so? And when did he do it?

The first question has many different possible answers already presented by fans. Some argue that Dumbledore might have learned it from Grindelwald, others claim that Dumbledore might have even been distantly related to Salazar Slytherin, and others simply explain it by Dumbledore learning it by being a badass genius guy and studying the language. Despite being the most humorously phrased, I personally believe the third one the most. First, because the other two are simply derived from speculation and quite stretchy assumptions, and the second reason I'll explain in just a bit.

Question number two can be answered by a simple, very credible hypothesis that Dumbledore wanted to know more about the language due to its connection to Voldemort (if you go by my hypothesis that Dumbledore learned it later in life, and not from Grindelwald).

The question of when might seem superfluous, but in fact, I believe it is the most relevant and connects both to the second reason why I think Dumbledore learned Parseltongue later in life, and to the Chamber of Secrets plot hole. If Dumbledore had learned Parseltongue from Grindelwald, or from being descendant from Slytherin, he would have been able to understand the Basilisk speaking inside the walls during both Riddle and Harry's time. The fact that he didn't leads me to believe that he learned it between Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince, which is quite interesting given that he never so much as mentions it to Harry.

But even that does not answer the question of how one really learns Parseltongue, as it's meant to be a language that you can't pick up like Spanish, French or any other language. Well, my theory is that there might be Parseltongue speakers out there to whom Dumbledore could have reached out to help him understand the language.

While Parselmouths are mostly related to Slytherin in the story, they are not exclusive to that bloodline. Parselmouth is described as "not a very common gift," and even Dumbledore says that it can be found "among the great and the good" as well. So, the existence of Parselmouths in the world who are just regular people not related to Slytherin is perfectly plausible. However, despite this theory, I find the lack of definitive answers to these questions to be a plot hole in the story and one that is worthy of mention on this list.

7. The Deathly Hallows: Hermione and the Thestrals

The plot hole for the last novel in the series, The Deathly Hallows, is actually not that egregious at all, but it's one I actually never saw being mentioned by fans, and it is interesting to me. At the beginning of the book, before the Battle of the Seven Potters, Moody lists the pairs that will be departing from Number Four Privet Drive, and their method of transportation⁠—some going by brooms, others Thestrals, and Harry and Hagrid using Sirius' motorbike.

When Moody gets to Hermione (who is now looking like Harry), he says that she'll be going with Kingsley by Thestral, and Hermione looks pleased with this, with Harry noting that "Hermione too lacked confidence on a broomstick."

The plot hole here is quite simple and straightforward. If one thinks back and looks at all the events in the story and Hermione's place in them, they'll realise that up to this point in the series, Hermione has never watched anyone die, and thus, should not be able to see Thestrals. She cannot see them in Order of the Phoenix, and when Sirius dies, she's unconscious.

Likewise, no one sees Dumbledore die in Half-Blood Prince besides Harry and the others at the Astronomy tower. And yet, a method of transportation is chosen for her in Deathly Hallows that she cannot look at, and she's pleased to know it, which is quite perplexing. One would think that despite her lack of comfort on a broomstick, she would still prefer it to riding hundreds of feet high on something she cannot see, looking down and seeing nothing but the ground below.

So those are some plot holes from the Harry Potter books I found worthy of note. Obviously, they don't detract in any way from my enjoyment of the series, nor did I point them out as a manner of criticism. Some of them are quite nitpicky and I am well aware of that, which is why I reiterate that none of these influence my opinion of the series. It's just a fun little game that lets me dig deeper into this series I like so much.

I know there are others out there, so if you would like to share them, please leave a comment below and consider checking out my other Harry Potter articles. As always, thank you for reading.

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