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J.K. Rowling digs into Dolores Umbridge in new Pottermore story

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Imelda Staunton
Everett Collection

Your first Halloween treat today: Reading Pottermore‘s latest feature, a 1700-word exploration of the despicable Dolores Umbridge—written, naturally, by J.K. Rowling herself.

The Harry Potter author calls Umbridge—onetime Hogwarts professor, current Azkaban resident, and one of the primary antagonists of the series’ fifth installment—”one of the characters for whom I feel the purest dislike.” She reveals that Umbridge was inspired by a real person, a former teacher or instructor of Rowling’s whom she “disliked intensely on sight.” (This admission should be a pretty big deal for hardcore Potterheads, since Rowling has claimed previously that smarmy Gilderoy Lockhart is the only Potter character based directly on a real person.)

“The woman in question returned my antipathy with interest,” Rowling continues. “Why we took against each other so instantly, heartily and (on my side, at least) irrationally, I honestly cannot say.” Umbridge’s “pronounced taste for twee accessories” is a detail apparently borrowed from the character’s real-life analog. Another detail, Umbridge’s love of kittens, is taken from another person Rowling once knew: “I once shared an office with a woman who had covered the wall space behind her desk with pictures of fluffy kitties; she was the most bigoted, spiteful champion of the death penalty with whom it has ever been my misfortune to share a kettle.”

The author also gives several more important details about Umbridge’s life and background—she’s the only daughter of a Muggle mother and a wizard father (which helps explain her obsession with Pureblood wizards); she also has a brother who’s a Squib, a.k.a. born of a magical parent but without any magical powers of his own; “nasty things tended to happen” to anyone who dared ask about her family;

Rowling’s Umbridge writing represents nearly a third of the 5500 words of new material that debuts today, to mark the advent of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on Pottermore. According to a press release, Rowling has also penned “a look at the magical and mysterious creatures Thestrals, the Dark history of the wizarding prison Azkaban, thoughts on the character Sybil Trelawney, details of all who have held the position of Minister for Magic, and an introduction to the ancient wizarding practice of Naming Seers.”

You can access it all at Pottermore—provided you have an account—or at Today.com, which is hosting the story for those who haven’t yet delved into the series’ online home.

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