With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them due in cinemas later this year, JK Rowling has just treated us to a data dump of detail about the history of American magic – or, more specifically, the foundations of Ilvermorny. You know, the American equivalent to Hogwarts where US witches and wizards learn their craft.
The information comes in the form of a brand new story released on Pottermore – but for those of you at work (or without a spare 15 minutes to plough through all the new facts), we’ve taken it upon ourselves to break down some essential details for you.
1. Ilvermorny was founded in the 17th century by Isolt Sayre, a young woman from Ireland whose parents were murdered (so far, so Harry Potter) by her mother’s estranged sister Gormlaith Gaunt (yes, Gaunt. Y’know the ancestors of Tom Riddle AKA Lord Voldemort). Gormaith was also a direct descendent of Salazar Slytherin and, suffice to say, a whole lot worse than Petunia Dursley.
2. After being kidnapped by Gormaith and kept isolated for years, Isolt eventually escaped, stealing her aunt’s wand and making for America aboard a ship. Once there she acquired some companions – two young boy wizards, a No-Maj (that’s American for Muggle) man called James and a creature known as a Pukwudgie, described by Rowling as “a short, grey-faced, large-eared creature distantly related to the European goblin.” He doesn’t stick around two long but plays a crucial role in the protection of Ilvermorny later on.
3. Yes, Ilvermorny – the American version of Hogwarts. Together the foursome founded it, first as a stone cottage which grew over the years to become a magnificent castle. Isolt married James and together they raised and taught the boys – Webster and Chadwick – witchcraft and wizardry. They also had two little girls, Martha and Rionach, but the family’s happiness was soon under threat.
4. You see, Gormlaith just happened to be a skilled tracker and, with Ilvermorny still in its fledgling stages, she caught wind of her niece’s new venture and set out to destroy it. The odds were stacked in her favour – she had powerful magic, the element of surprise, and the fact that Isolt’s stolen wand responded to her command. But…
5. She didn’t bargain on the young wizards – Webster and Chadwick – hellbent on protecting their home. It’s no spoiler than Ilvermorny lived on to welcome generations of witches and wizards through its doors, although we’re not going to spoil exactly how it survived – JK Rowling can tell that story far better than us.
6. A few centuries have since passed but Isolt, James, Chadwick and Webster’s presence lives on at Ilvermorny. Each named one of the school’s four houses: the Horned Serpent (chosen by Isolt), the panther Wampus (Webster), the Thunderbird (Chadwick) and the Pukwudgie (James). A carving of each beast sits in the school’s entrance hall and, come the sorting ceremony, each pupil stands between the four enchanted beasts waiting for them to indicate their desire to have them in their house. (Fancy being sorted? Ilvermorny now has its own sorting quiz!)
7. The school’s robes are blue and cranberry, honouring the Ilvermorny’s first joint headmistress and headmaster, Isolt and James – “blue because it was Isolt’s favourite colour and because she had wished to be in Ravenclaw house as a child; cranberry in honour of James’s love of cranberry pie.”
8. William the Pukwudgie became the school’s private security/maintenance service and to this day Ilvermorny still counts a number of Pukwudgies among its staff, including one elderly creature named William. He laughs at the suggestion he once knew Isolt and James but no one knows for sure how long Pukwudgies live…