Now that we have a release date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, everyone in the Potter fandom is burning to know how Harry is going to boot Voldemort from his position of power and stomp him and his Horcruxes into oblivion. Theories and speculation run amok: Will Harry use an Unforgivable Curse? How is love going to factor in here? Will Harry die in the process? How will Harry be able to do all of this with Dumbledore, his greatest source of information about his worst enemy, off to his next great adventure?
Unfortunately, I am not in possession of a crystal orb, and even if I were I suspect my inner eye would need a total overhaul to do anything with it. However, we all know Jo loves to leave us clever clues. The answer is quite easy if you follow the right ones. Jo has said Harry has picked up more information in his six years at Hogwarts than he realizes. 1 So Harry has more answers than he knows in his quest to vanquish the Dark Lord.
Looking back into the books, a giant clue jumps out at me. Dumbledore gave Harry the answer to his quest in his first year at Hogwarts:
Harry stood up.
“Sir—Professor Dumbledore? Can I ask you something?”
“Obviously, you’ve just done so,” Dumbledore smiled. “You may ask me one more thing, however.”
“What do you see when you look in the mirror?”
“I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks.”
“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.” 2
Well, had we known then what we were reading, we would have stared just as Harry did! The truth would have smacked us in the face with all the shocking force of a rock-filled stocking. Obviously, Dumbledore is telling us that the way to beat Voldemort cannot be found in a book, but in a sock.
Socks! Socks! There it is! The answer to all our hopes for Voldemort’s vanquishing. The ever-present and oft-mentioned theme that Jo continues to trot out for our amusement. Or so we think. Dumbledore seems so casual in his reply, and even Harry is not sure he is serious. But I think Dumbledore is referring to something much more significant: the way to vanquish Voldemort.
Hold on, you say? How can soft, wooly footwear be in any way relevant to the Dark Lord and his possible defeat? (de-feet?) Follow the footprints!
Foot trouble can make a person very cranky! Just look at another famous villain of children’s literature, the Grinch of the beloved story How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. The author noted the cause of the Grinch’s continued sour attitude toward Christmas, “could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.” 3
Need more convincing? Take a look at another fabled Dark Lord, the good-looking-youth-turned-heavy-metal Sith Lord, Darth Vader of the Star Wars Saga. What an irritable sort he was, and very evil! I think it is entirely possible this turn to the Dark Side was because both of his feet had been cut off! 4 Surely that can’t make him very happy.
So what does this mean regarding our own Tom Riddle? Well, he never had much love in his life, as we saw in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The orphanage is described as a “grim place in which to grow up,” 5 and young Tom’s blankets are “thin.” 6 Perhaps his socks are just as threadbare? Cold toes were most likely an early problem for him.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, after his rebirthing ceremony, Voldemort emerges from the cauldron. Wormtail puts robes on the newly created body of his Dark Lord, 7 but Voldemort never gets any socks or even a pair of sandals. Even in June, bare feet in a graveyard are bound to get cold, and I shudder to think of his poor little tootsies on that cold Ministry of Magic stone floor a year later. There is never any mention of Voldemort receiving or wearing a foot covering of any sort later in the books, either. The man needs some socks! No wonder he is so grouchy all the time. Voldemort’s foot exposure problems could be a crucial weakness Harry can exploit.
Let’s look at the clues Jo has carefully sorted into our laundry basket of hints and red herrings.
The first time we see Harry after he has outgrown baby booties is in his cupboard on Privet Drive. He has just awakened from a nice dream of Hagrid and flying motorbikes, and rolls out of bed to look for socks. 8 Straightaway in the series the first thing we see Harry in search of is… socks! Coincidence? I think not.
Soon after, it is mentioned that Harry’s birthday gift from the Dursleys the year before consisted of “a coat hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon’s old socks.” 9 There is another coat hanger theory hanging out there, which I find quite ridiculous. I mean, how can something so mundane as a coat hanger be significant in the fight against the battle to defeat the most evil wizard of all time? The crazy theories some people dream up! Therefore, I feel confident discounting the importance of a silly coat hanger. The socks, however, are a blatant clue of Jo’s. Here we see Jo show them to us as a symbol of the Dursleys’ care of Harry – reluctant, unenthusiastic care – but care nonetheless. Unfortunately, their care of Harry is quite lacking in some areas, as are the socks. Having been owned by Uncle Vernon at one time and apparently a foul mustard color, 10 surely Vernon wore them quite a bit to match his puce facial expressions. Most likely, they are now knobbly, worn, and probably have a hole or two. I could say the same for the Dursleys care of Harry, but without the mustard color of course. The Dursleys provide care for Harry with houseroom and food to an extent, but they do not provide love for Harry and leave him and his feet exposed out in the chilly air. Therefore, socks equal care in this instance.
At Christmas (but before Dumbledore lays the answer to Harry’s ultimate quest at his feet), another clue is presented to us – gift wrapped, even. Ron opens his hand-knitted maroon sweater, a gift from his mother. In quick procession the rest of the Weasleys parade in wearing or carrying theirs. Harry even receives one! These gifts, made by the caring hands of Molly Weasley for her family and Harry, whom she treats as a son, are truly expressions of the love she has for her family. (Well, that and she didn’t want them running around naked.) This will be a crucial component in the demise of Lord Voldemort.
Chamber of Anklets
Socks continue to present themselves during the second book as well, one of the most notable lines being that Molly fusses over the state of Harry’s socks during his summer stay at the Burrow. 11 Molly, the loving mother figure who takes Harry into her family and treats him as her own. But the major sock clue comes at the end of the book, and involves of all things, a house-elf.
Anyone wonder why Harry chose to put the diary into a sock instead of say, his underwear or a shoe? 12 Well, besides the fact that getting his Fruit-of-the-Looms off could have been quite tricky, Jo chose to have a sock be the liberating garment to free Dobby from his slavery to make a very important point: Socks equal freedom! Just as a sock freed Dobby from oppressive servitude to the Malfoys, a sock will be the tool used to free Harry from his life of being hunted by the most evil wizard of all time.
Prisoner of Argyle
This third year of Harry’s school career passes with little focus on socks. However, it is important that it is a pair of Vernon’s old socks Harry keeps his Sneakoscope in to keep it from going off. 13 Is it possible these are the very same socks given to Harry for his tenth birthday? If so they are still woefully inadequate to serve Harry’s true needs. All they did was hide the danger surrounding Harry and Ron that was the rat Peter Pettigrew. It appears that socks can have incredible power, which can be dangerous if used incorrectly.
Ron is holding a pair of freshly unwrapped maroon socks on Christmas Day, but drops them to inspect Harry’s new Firebolt more closely. 14 Here again Jo slips in a tiny recurring theme. Molly’s love for her children manifests itself in her homemade socks. Molly, the eternal mother hen, knows that warming the feet is the first step to warming the heart.
Goblet of Feet
When Harry celebrates Christmas in Goblet of Fire, socks leave a permanent impression on our theory-obsessed brains. No less than three pair of socks are given as gifts in the Gryffindor Tower dormitory. Dobby presents Harry with a hand-knitted mismatched pair, Harry returns the favor with Uncle Vernon’s horrid mustard colored ones, and Ron bestows upon Dobby his own Molly-knitted pair of maroon socks, so that Dobby can properly mis-match his attire. 15 Clues fly all over that tower room in the form of knitted footwear! Dobby, due to his freedom, is able to use his wages to buy yarn and knit socks. Harry uses a pair of old socks to gain freedom from the guilt of not buying Dobby a present.
As if this isn’t enough, after Dobby provides Harry with the gillyweed that allows him to save Fleur’s little sister and Ron, Harry expresses his gratitude by buying Dobby a wide selection of socks. 16 Why socks? Surely Dobby would have been overjoyed to receive any type of clothes. We find out later in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that Dobby has been collecting all of the clothes Hermione had been leaving out in her efforts to free Hogwarts house-elves. 17 Why not buy Dobby a hat, some gloves, a dashing new waistcoat? Well, besides the fact that socks hold a sentimental value for Dobby, a pair of gloves would not have continued the pattern of socks Jo has systematically hung out on her clothesline of clues for us to see. Socks keep popping up in important places for us to take note of, like homemade sock puppets in a puppet show.
Order of the Knee Sock
During Harry’s fifth year, less attention is paid toward the sock theme, with only a few notable occurrences. Molly is rolling up maroon socks for Ron when she is informed of Ron’s new prefect badge. 18 After Ron spends some time displaying his badge in different places and the twins threaten to permanently stick it to his forehead, he tenderly wraps his prefect badge in a pair of maroon socks for travel to Hogwarts. 19
This may seem trivial at this point in the story, but if you look at the sock symbolism this is quite an interesting clue. Molly, well known for her sock knitting talents, is again linked to them as she helps the students pack for school. Ron expresses love for his prefect badge with the protective power of his socks. The twins, while used here to give us a laugh, also present us with an interesting tidbit: They can perform a Permanent Sticking Charm. This could be a very advantageous charm to have in Harry’s arsenal. If Fred and George can do it, Hermione certainly can. She has already proved herself worthy of performing N.E.W.T. level Protean Charms as a fifth year student. 20 More on this later.
Half Sock Prints
In Harry’s sixth year he wins a small vial of the Felix Felicis potion with the help of an old Potions book. He wraps it in a pair of socks for safekeeping. 21 This proves to be a very valuable weapon later on, helping secure the memory from Slughorn and keeping Ron, Hermione and Ginny safe during their battle with the Death Eaters. 22 Harry even considers taking some to influence his relationship with Ginny when he discovers his feelings for her are more than brotherly. 23 This is a very important potion, and Harry chooses to keep it rolled up in a pair of socks. This surely is not an accident.
Socks are an important motif in the books, used for more than just warming feet. Jo clearly believes in the power of socks as she keeps bringing them to our attention again and again. Protection, expressions of love (for people or prefect badges), and procuring freedom are all ways socks have been used in Harry’s six years at Hogwarts so far.
Unraveling The Dark Lord
So how will socks be used to defeat the most evil wizard of all time in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? It’s not so much the socks but what they represent. Throughout the series socks have been used to show an emotion that Voldemort knows not: love. Socks knitted by a loving mother, socks given to free a house-elf, socks given to show appreciation and love for a service done, used to lovingly wrap a special badge, and even protect a special vial of potion. Voldemort has a podiatry problem. His feet are chilly and exposed to the elements! The man desperately needs a pair of socks. Perhaps a pair of maroon socks hand-knitted by a loving Molly Weasley? Of course, it is not likely Voldemort will submit to wearing socks easily. One cannot send him a pair of Weasley socks by brown owl and expect him to exclaim in delight and immediately put them on. But put them on he must. Once his Horcruxes are successfully destroyed, Harry’s mission is to use socks full of love to vanquish Voldemort once and for all.
Ron and Hermione have pledged that they will be by Harry’s side in his dangerous quest, 24 and Ron’s socks along with Hermione’s skills will be crucial to Harry’s mission. Hermione, perhaps after a visit to her beloved Hogwarts library, will be able to put a Permanent Sticking Charm on a pair of Ron’s Molly-made, love-filled socks. The trick then will be how to get them on Voldemort’s feet. Perhaps Draco will finally redeem himself by using the Trip Jinx on his Dark Lord? Would Crabbe and Goyle at that point still do Draco’s dirty work by wrangling Voldemort’s surely filthy feet into a pair of socks? Perhaps Snape will perform the dubious “honors,” proving he is truly Dumbledore’s man after all. Or possibly Harry will feel this is his fight to finish, distasteful as it is. That would be amusing, considering Harry once tried to put a hat on his own foot. 25
Once the socks are in place, it is almost certain Voldemort will be unable to remove them. After all, the Permanent Sticking Charm used by Sirius’s mother (now that’s a woman who really needed a pair of slippers!) defied all attempts by the Order to remove the items affected by it.26 The power of motherly love, much like that of Lily Potter, resides in each strand of the cozy and warming Weasley footwear. Each fiber of these socks will combine with the Permanent Sticking Charm to make the ultimate weapon for Harry and his crew. It has been hinted at time and again that love is the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Harry’s nemesis. And so it shall.
We’ve already seen the way Voldemort reacts to love: he was unable to possess Harry after thoughts of Sirius filled him with emotion; 27 Harry, full of his mother’s sacrificial love, burned Quirrell every time the Voldemort-possessed DADA teacher touched him; 28 then of course there is the famous Boy Who Lived incident that obliterated Voldemort’s first body.
Surely these socks, coupled with Harry’s blood still bearing Lily’s love, will burn You-Know-Who from the bottom up and the inside out as soon as they are placed on his feet. The warming power of love will creep into those once-cold toes, and send fiery surges of love up towards his heart. Consumed by the emotion he detests so much, Voldemort will endure mortal agony before he is destroyed forever and enters into his next grand adventure, the thing he fears above all. Ron may feel differently about the color maroon once Lord Voldemort is vanquished forever.
1. Anelli & Spartz, “TLC/MN Interview Part Three.”
2. Rowling, Sorcerer’s Stone, 214.
3. Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 3.
4. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
5. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 268.
6. Ibid., 273.
7. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 643.
8. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 19.
9. Ibid., 43.
10. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 408.
11. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 42.
12. Ibid, 337–8.
13. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 76.
14. Ibid, 223.
15. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 407–409.
16. Ibid., 520, 535.
17. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 384–5.
18. Ibid., 163.
19. Ibid., 168.
20. Ibid., 398–9.
21. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 191–3.
22. Ibid., 612.
23. Ibid., 472.
24. Ibid., 651.
25. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 337.
26. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 79, 117.
27. Ibid., 816.
28. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 294–5.
Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Three.” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005. /#static:tlcinterviews/jkrhbp3 (accessed 21 Feb 2007).
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998.
Dr. Seuss. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. New York: Random House, 1957.
Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. Directed by George Lucas. Beverly Hills: Lucasfilm Ltd., 2005.