Harry Potter has been around for over 20 years now. The series is almost old enough to legally crack open a butterbeer. If you're a Harry Potter fan, or even just someone who was alive in the late 90's, you probably feel like you know everything about the books. You can name them all backwards and forwards, you know every plot twist, and (like it or not) you know which characters get married and what they name their wizard kids. But you might be surprised to learn that there are still a few tricky references buried in the series that you never picked up on. Here are twenty brilliant references in Harry Potter, for the 20 years we've all been calling Hogwarts home.
I'm not going to bother with a basics, because you probably know them already: "Minerva" was the Roman goddess of wisdom. Fluffy looks an awful lot like Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the Ancient Greek underworld. And yeah, "Slytherin" sounds a bit like "slither in" or "sly therein." Almost all of the spells in the Wizarding World play around with Latin, and pretty much every name has some hidden significance (except for maybe Lavender Brown?). So here are some of the most clever historical and mythological references in the Harry Potter books, because Harry Potter always has something new to offer:
1The man with two faces
In Roman mythology, Janus Quirinus is a god with two faces. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Quirinus Quirrell secretly has Voldy's face on the back of his head.
2Narcissa, Bellatrix, and Andromeda are straight out of World War II
Rowling based the three Black sisters on three of the historical Mitford sisters: Diana, Unity, and Jessica. Diana, like Narcissa, married a prominent fascist. Unity became a personal favorite of Hitler, much like Bellatrix and Voldemort. And Jessica was an advocate for Civil Rights and far to the left of the political spectrum, much like Andromeda running off to marry the Muggleborn Ted Tonks.
3Argus Filch is all-seeing
"Filch" means to steal, and "Argus" was a many-eyed, all-seeing monster in Greek mythology. Mrs. Norris is also the name of a nasty woman in the novel Mansfield Park.
4A "Squib" is a broken firecracker
Much like poor Argus and his inability to do magic, a "squib" is a firecracker that can't shoot sparks.
5Fawkes tried to blow up parliament
Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes, is named after Guy Fawkes, who historically tried to blow up the British Houses of Parliamentt with gunpowder.
6Hedwig protects orphans
Harry's snowy owl, Hedwig, is named after St Hedwig of Silesia, whose mission in life was to protect abandoned and orphaned children.
7Sirius is a star
The "Dog Star," specifically, which is another name for Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Almost all of the Blacks are named after stars and constellations, including Bellatrix, Arcturus, Andromeda, and Regulus.
8The Weasleys are royalty
While their last name is just a play on "weasel," their first names are all from English royalty. Ginny's name, for instance, is short for Ginevra, a version of Guinevere, the queen of Camelot. Arthur's name is from King Arthur, of course, who had a famous rivalry against a Roman general named Lucius.
9Deer are magical
Specifically, the white deer (or perhaps the silvery white deer) in Celtic mythology acts as a messenger from another world. Seeing a white deer often meant that it was time to set off on a quest.
10Hermione was meant to turn to stone
Hermione shares her name with Queen Hermione from the Shakespeare play The Winter's Tale, who is turned into a statue (don't worry, she gets better). Our Hermione, of course, is petrified by the basilisk in book two.
11Don't give your kid a wolf-ish name...
...or they will definitely be bitten by a werewolf. Remus Lupin gets his first name from the twins Romulus and Remus, who were nursed by a she-wolf. His last name comes from the Latin "lupus," meaning "wolf." And Fenrir Greyback gets his name from the giant wolf Fenrir of Norse mythology, and his last name from the gray wolf.
12Professor Trelawney has a seer's name
Sybill Trelawney's first name comes from the sybils of ancient Greece, who would go into trances and foretell the future. Trelawney also mentions her grandmother, Cassandra, who's named after a Trojan prophet who was cursed to always tell the truth and never be believed.
13Unicorns only like virgins
When professor Grubbly-Plank brings unicorns to class, she says that they prefer girls—a reference to the Old English myth that a young, female virgin is the only one who can tame a unicorn.
14Durmstrang means "storm and stress"
The name of the European wizarding school Durmstrang comes from the individualist German literary movement "Sturm und Drang," or "Storm and Stress" in English. Sounds like high school...
15Voldy's wand was unlucky
Voldemort's wand was made of yew, which symbolizes immortality. It's considered unlucky, though, since yew trees often grow in graveyards.
16But Harry's wand was very lucky
Harry's wand, however, is made of holly, which is used to ward off evil (classic Harry).
17Merope Gaunt's son was always going to be the worst
In Greek mythology, Merope is the name of Oedipus' adoptive mother. Of course, little Oedipus grows up to kill his biological father (like Voldy) and marry his biological mother (Voldy...doesn't do that, I don't think).
18The Evans sisters' names fit them quite well
In Victorian England, every flower has a very clear meaning in the so called "language of flowers." Lilies symbolize beauty and innocence. In Greek mythology they're associated with motherhood, and in Christianity with the Virgin Mary (Lily's son does die and then come back to life). Petunias, on the other hand, symbolize anger and resentment.
19Nicholas Flamel was a real person
Flamel was a French businessman and philanthropist in the late 14th century. He wasn't really an alchemist, though (at least, that's what the history books want you to think).
20Dobby's name pretty much means "house elf"
Last but not least, in Old English folklore a "dobbie" or "Master Dobbs" is a benevolent elf or brownie who helps around the house.