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Dumbledore's Army

Alice's Message: Why Mrs Longbottom's long green dress holds the key to the identity of the Half-Blood Prince

By Snapdragon

Post date: January 30, 2005

[Note from Zsenya: July 23, 2005. Sadly for this essay, J.K. Rowling squashed the gum wrapper theory in an interview. But don't stop reading! The thought process is real detective work!]

'This was the only way I could come up with of answering Harry's letter without resorting to a code - and codes are breakable.'     --   Sirius Black

The Secret Chapter

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling does something amazing, and unparallelled in modern literature. It's the closest thing to real magic I've ever seen - and figuring it out was the most fun I've had with a book since... well, ever.

Jo has made an entire chapter of the story disappear, weaving it so skillfully between the lines of the books that no-one has noticed it's there. For us, the tale begins with Dumbledore setting baby Harry on the Dursleys' doorstep and leaving him to an uncertain future, but in Order of the Phoenix she shows us the true beginning - Sybill Trelawney's prophecy, and Albus Dumbledore's battle to save the children of his friends.

The secret chapter is the Longbottoms' tale. It tells how Frank and Alice protected their son. It tells of the hunt for Voldemort and how the Longbottoms came tantalisingly close to finishing him off for good. It tells of blackmail and corruption in the Ministry, and how Voldemort was almost ready to unleash a terrible weapon. Frank and Alice were the Mulder and Scully of their day - and now they're back. They alone know the identities of the Half-Blood Prince and the true Heir of Gryffindor, and they're going to have to make their move soon or the Wizarding World will dissolve into chaos.

And Jo has given us a gift beyond price - a key. Using this key we can reconstruct the missing chapter in it's entirety - and that's the real magic.

And the key? It's the Droobles Best Blowing Gum wrappers that Alice gives Neville in the Closed Ward at St. Mungos. Jo even hints at this on her website with the Doxy puzzle. Alice is desperately trying to give her son a message, and that message is the Longbottoms' story - all of it. Of course it's not easy to disentangle it, but there are lots of hints to help us, and some clues in unlikely places, and with each step along the way I've seen something in a new light, or seen some throwaway remark take on a new and unexpected significance. It's been a real treasure hunt, tracking down all the hidden pieces. It's a challenge set by a real mistress of the art - so if you think you're up to it, step this way...

Analysis

We'll start with one of the fundamental rules of Cryptanalysis;

If you thoroughly understand the coding system used, and can make an accurate guess as to part of a coded message, then you can decode the rest of the message by purely mechanical means.

And let's remind ourselves of that scene in the Closed Ward;

Neville's mother had come edging down the ward in her nightdress. She no longer had the plump, happy-looking face Harry had seen in Moody's old photograph of the original Order of the Phoenix. Her face was thin and worn now, her eyes seemed overlarge and her hair, which had turned white, was wispy and dead looking. she did not seem to want to speak, or perhaps she was not able to, but she made timid motions towards Neville, holding something in her outstretched hand.
'Again?' said Mrs Longbottom, sounding slightly weary. 'Very well, Alice dear, very well - Neville, take it, whatever it is.'
But Neville had already stretched out his hand, into which his mother dropped an empty Drooble's Best Blowing Gum wrapper¹.
'Very nice, dear,' said Neville's grandmother in a falsely cheery voice, patting his mother on the shoulder.
But Neville said quietly, 'Thanks, Mum.'
His mother tottered away, back up the ward, humming to herself. Neville looked around at the others, his expression defiant, as though daring them to laugh, but Harry did not think he'd ever found anything less funny in his life.
'Well, we'd better get back,' sighed Mrs Longbottom, drawing on long green gloves. 'Very nice to have met you all. Neville, put that wrapper in the bin, she must have given you enough of them to paper your bedroom by now.'  OotP 456 (UK)

Knowing that Alice's message consists of some unspecified number of gum wrappers isn't a lot to go on - but realising that it is a message gives us quite a lot of information in itself. For example;

  • The Longbottoms (Alice at least) must be sane.
  • Since no-one can reasonably feign madness for 14 years, something has cured them.
  • They must have a reason for concealing their recovery. This could be something that puts their lives, or Neville's in danger.
  • The message is specifically for Neville. Granny Longbottom seems to be unaware that anything is going on.
  • Alice must have reason to believe that Neville can figure it out.
  • So, how do we get our foot in the door?

    Well, since it's a message from Alice to her son, then while the contents are obscure, there are only so many ways it can end. Working with the gum wrapper letters the most likely ending seems to be "God bless, Mum", so let's try that. Since there are two M's in mum, we know that that part of the message uses (at least) two wrappers;

          R   O             E   T     L O W I N          
        D R O O B L E S   B E S T   B L O W I N G   G U  
    G O D   B L E S S                                    
    M U M                                           B B G

    A close look at the letters left over almost certainly gives us the previous line as well, an indication we're on the right track...

    W I L L   S E N D   O W L   S O O N     B O R R O    
                                            I   G T   U  
    G O D   B L E S S                       E E   T      
    M U M                                     B B G B B G

    So we've been able to guess at part of the message, and it's told us something about the way the message is coded as well - It's in English! But that's only part of the story. To really understand what's going on, we have to write a message of our own...

    Using the letters in the gum wrappers, write about a hundred and fifty words of doggerel. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's in reasonably grammatical English.

    For example;

    SLOW BLUE MOLE INSERTS NINETEEN SEEDS UNDER OLD ELM IN WOODS. TEN SEEDLINGS GROW TO BE BIG TREES...

    Now we count all the letters. (Anyone who's read the Sherlock Holmes story The Dancing Men will recognise the technique). Whatever Alice's message is, because it's written in English as well (and in all probability even uses some of the same words), the letter frequency will be similar.

    Whatever text you come up with, the letter distribution will be something like;

    Letter Number of
    Instances
    Letter Number of
    Instances
    B 57 N 84
    D 84 O 132
    E 159 R 80
    G 72 S 132
    I 79 T 82
    L 99 U 76
    M 59 W 32

    With some mathematical jiggery pokery we can work out that if Alice's message were 150 wrappers long, it would use the following letters in about these quantities...

    Letter Number of
    Instances
    Number of
    letters used
    Letter Number of
    Instances
    Number of
    letters used
    B 450 102 N 150 150
    D 150 150 O 450 235
    E 300 284 R 150 142
    G 300 128 S 300 235
    I 150 141 T 150 147
    L 300 177 U 150 135
    M 150 105 W 150 57

    OK, so what does this mean?

    Well, we can be pretty sure that in Alice's message the D's, N's R's, T's and E's are all used up, and B's, G's L's and O's - there are heaps left over. So Alice must be tearing letters off the wrappers to make the numbers of letters come out right. Every wrapper has the bottom left corner torn off, while most also have the letters O, W and L missing. Even so we still have lots of O's left over. Neville's gum wrapper collection is beginning to look pretty tatty...

    Anyway, this gives us the basis for a kind of scoring system - something we're going to need if we're to tell the difference between a good solution and a bad one;

    "Tear off" the bottom left hand corner of each wrapper before you start. (That gets rid of 2 B's and a G);

    D R O O B L E S
      E S T        
      L O W I N G  
      U M          

    After using as many of the letters as you can in your solution, look at the letters left over;

    1. Each combination of the letters O,W,L score zero.
    2. L's and O's score one apiece.
    3. G's, B's, M's and S's score 2 apiece.
    4. All the other letters score 10 apiece

    Next, divide the score you get by the number of wrappers. A good solution is the one with the lowest score.

    I know that sounds complicated, but it's simply a way of using as many of the letters as is reasonably possible, without having to resort to words like BEBLUBBERED (and yes, that word does lurk in the nether recesses of the Oxford English Dictionary). It's also based on the assumption that Jo is likely better at this than I am, and will therefore have the lowest possible score.

    So to recap, we've discovered that Alice is trying to send Neville a message using the Droobles Best Blowing Gum wrappers. The message is in English. It's an anagram of sorts, but not all the letters are used. We have the basis of a scoring system, which will help us judge how well a particular solution fits the skewed letter distribution we're working with. And finally, we have some intriguing questions which need to be answered. In fact, we have everything we need to take the next step - the hunt for clues.

    The Hunt for Clues

    Everyone's been poring over Order of the Phoenix looking for clues to what's going to happen next, consequently, everyone's missed the clues to the Longbottoms' tale, because they're nearly all pointers to events that happened in the past, or to things which concern the Longbottoms in the present. Knowing that, some will leap out at you, while others are pretty well disguised (For instance, you need an atlas to figure out that DURRES is a city in Albania) but there are enough clues to fit the puzzle together. Sometimes the trick is to ask yourself the right question - such as, why does Moody draw attention to Elphias Doge's stupid hat?

    I'm going to be selective here, and just point out some passages which point to the beginning of Alice's message. If you want to have a go at tackling the whole thing, then nearly all the clues you need are in Order of the Phoenix, but there are some in the other books as well.

    So why does Alice give the message to Neville, and not Mrs Longbottom?

    This shows how attentive you have to be to little nuances. Remember this quote? It's where Moody is showing Harry the photograph of the original Order of the Phoenix.

    'And there's Dumbledore beside me, Dedalus Diggle on the other side ... that's Marlene McKinnon, she was killed two weeks after this was taken, they got her whole family. That's Frank and Alice Longbottom -'
    Harry's stomach, already uncomfortable, clenched as he looked at Alice Longbottom; he knew her round, friendly face very well, even though he had never met her, because she was the image of her son, Neville.  OotP 158 (UK)

    Anyway, that's why Alice gives Neville the message - the resemblance between them isn't lost on her either - that's why she knows Neville will work out what she's trying to say.

    Now let's see if we can lever that door a little wider...

                          D   O O B L       B   S T   B L O W I N G   G U  
                          D                       T     L O W I   G        
    O U R   S O N   R E S E M B L E S   M E                                
                                                                           
                                                                           
                                                                      B B G

    We need to add another couple of wrappers to really see where this is going. Remembering our scoring system, we'll tear off the corners to remove BBG, and let some O's and OWL's sink to the bottom.

    O U R   S O N   R E S E M B L E S   M E     W I L L   G U E S S        
    D R O O B L E   B E S T   B L O W I N G   G U M   U N M   D D L E D    
                                O                             I N G        
                                        S T O R I     S T                  
              O O O     O W L   O W L             T                        
                                                    B B G B B G B B G B B G

    Now we add wrappers one at at time until it resolves into a complete sentence - it turns out we need two more;

    O U R   S O N   R E S E M B L E S   M E     W I L L   G U E S S        
    D R O O B L E S   B E S T   B L O W I N G   G U M   L E T T E R S      
    U N M U D D L E D   T E L L   O U R   S T O R I E S                    
                                                                           
    D D   L   B B   I I I   G G G   S S   T   W W   N N N   M M            
    O O O O O O O O O   O W L   O W L   B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    Now it makes sense. It scores an undistinguished 23, although the letters left over suggest there's more to come. We'll revisit it later and see if we can't improve on that once we have more idea of where it fits into the overall message.

    What was wrong with the Longbottoms, and how were they cured?

    Dumbledore gave Harry a very sharp look.
    'Has Neville never told you why he has been brought up by his grandmother?' he said.
    Harry shook his head, wondering, as he did so, how he could have failed to ask Neville this, in almost four years of knowing him.
    'Yes, they were talking about Neville's parents,' said Dumbledore. 'His father, Frank, was an Auror just like Professor Moody. He and his wife were tortured for information about Voldemort's whereabouts after he lost his powers, as you heard.'
    'So, they're dead?' said Harry quietly.
    'No,' said Dumbledore, his voice full of a bitterness Harry had never heard there before, 'they are insane.'  GoF 523 (UK)

    Is Mimbulus a cure for insanity? Mimbulus fits the letters we have nicely, and Mimbulus Mimbletonia is practically signposted in book 5;

    'Mimbulus Mimbletonia,' he said proudly.
    Harry stared at the thing. It was pulsating slightly, giving it the rather sinister look of some diseased internal organ.
    'It's really rare,' said Neville, beaming. 'I don't know if there's one in the greenhouse at Howarts, even. I can't wait to show it to Professor Sprout. My Great Uncle Algie got it for me in Assyria. I'm going to see if I can breed from it.'
    Harry knew that Neville's favourite subject was Herbology but for the life of him he could not see what he would want with this stunted little plant.
    'Does it - er - do anything?' he asked.
    'Loads of stuff!' said Neville proudly. 'It's got got an amazing defensive mechanism. Here, hold Trevor for me...'  OotP 169 (UK)

    We get to find out one more of Mimbulus's amazing properties, but we have to wait until almost the last page of the book;

    Hermione was reading the Daily Prophet again, Ginny was doing a quiz in The Quibbler and Neville was stroking his Mimbulus Mimbletonia, which had grown a great deal over the year, and now made odd crooning noises when touched.  OotP 762 (UK)

    And what put it together for me was the Healer at St Mungos;

    'Gilderoy does seem to be getting back some sense of himself; and we've seen a real improvement in Mr Bode, he seems to be regaining the power of speech very well, although he isn't speaking any language we recognise yet.'  OotP 452 (UK)

    The point is, St Mungos definitely don't want Bode to recover - in fact they're probably doing all they can to prevent it. Malfoy is bribing Fudge to make sure Voldemort's activities stay secret. Despite their attempts Bode is recovering. Whatever is healing the Longbottoms is affecting Bode as well - because he's within earshot of it...

    L I S T E N I N G   T O   M I M B U L U S S   O D D   N O I S E S      
    R E S T O R E D   O U R   L O S T   M I N D S                          
                              O O B L   S     E S T               G       M
                                B     E E     E       U N D E R   G G G U M
                            R O O B L E     B                              
    O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L             B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    Again, the score isn't that great, but we don't have the whole picture yet.

    What's really going on at St Mungos - why can't Frank and Alice just check out?

    Remember careers advice?

    'Well, I don't fancy Healing.' said Ron on the last evening of the holidays. He was immersed in a leaflet that carried the crossed bone-and-wand emblem of St Mungo's on it's front. 'It says here you need at least "E" at NEWT level in Potions, Herbology, Transfiguration, Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts...'  OotP 578 (UK)

    And then there's this scene, which Harry witnesses at St Mungos;

    'And look, Broderick, you've been sent a pot plant and a lovely calendar with a different fancy Hippogriff for each month; they'll brighten things up, won't they?' said the Healer, bustling along to the mumbling man, setting a rather ugly plant with long, swaying tentacles on the bedside cabinet and fixing the calendar to the wall with her wand.  OotP 453 (UK)

    In other words, when the Healer puts the Devil's Snare on Bode's bedside table, she knows exactly what she's doing. More to the point, Alice realises as well (after all, she's probably got an E in Herbology too.) She even tries to explain to Neville what's going on....

    D U B I O U S   B L O O M S   L O N G   T E N D R I L S   S U G G E S T
    B O D E   W I L L   D I E                                              
                    W E   M U S T   G O   S O O N   E L S E                
                                  T                           N       M   M
                          B R   R     E       R       O O                  
    O W L O W L                                     B B G B B G B B G B B G

    Despite that, Bode dies. But it partly explains why the Longbottoms are being secretive about their recovery. While their deaths would be suspicious, if it came to a choice between having the Longbottoms recovered and on the loose, or dead - Voldemort would choose dead in an instant.

    Mrs Longbottom's Long Green Dress

    This is (believe it or not), the most important piece so far. To anyone trying to decode Alice's message it shines like a beacon of hope, not only because it's five words of perfect crib², but it tells us something startling as well - JK Rowling wants us to figure this out. After all, if it was a knee-length black skirt it would be no help to us at all.

    As usual, let's start with the quote...

    'And - oh, Mrs Longbottom, are you leaving already?'
    Harry's head span round. The curtains had been drawn back from the two beds at the end of the ward, and two visitors were walking back down the aisle between the beds; a formidable-looking old witch wearing a long green dress, a moth-eaten fox fur and a pointed hat decorated with what was unmistakeably a stuffed vulture and trailing behind her looking thoroughly depressed - Neville.  OotP 453 (UK)

    Three wrappers gives us a start;

    M R S   L O N G B O T T O M                                            
                                                                           
    L O N G   G R E E N   D R E S S           E               I         U  
                          D                       W I L L                  
                          D   O O B   E S     E S T           I            
                                  B                 S M U               U  
    O W L O W L             O                                              
                                            B B G B B G B B G              

    Of course, Mrs Longbottom's dress isn't significant because it's green - it's because it's long. Long enough to conceal something perhaps? The word we're looking for is smuggle. For that we need two more wrappers;

    M R S   L O N G B O T T O M   W I L L   S M U G G L E                  
    I N T O               D R O     B   S     E S             I         U M
    U N D E R   L O N G   G R E E N   D R E S S               I            
                                        S     E S T                        
                        D D   O O B   E S     E S T                        
                                  B         M U               L E       U  
    O W L O W L O W L O W L       B                           I            
                          O O O               B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    So now the question is - smuggle what into where? It's a fair bet the where is St Mungos. As to what - if you look at the letters we already have, we may have answered our own question. We need one more wrapper to resolve it...

    M R S   L O N G B O T T O M   W I L L   S M U G G L E   B R O O M S    
    I N T O   S T   M U N G O S   U N D E R   L O N G   G R E E N          
    D R E S S                                                 I            
                          D     O B L E S     E S T     L O W I            
          D U M B L E D O R E     B     S     E S T   D U     I         U  
                                        S     E E       B                  
    O W L O W L O W L O W L                                   I            
                          O O O         B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    This is like finding the corner-piece of a jigsaw, and now we have enough pieces to start putting it together.

    Synthesis

    All the pieces are now in place. Now we drop them all from a great height and see what emerges from the wreckage;

    O U R   S O N   R E S E M B L E S   M E   W I L L   G U E S S   D R O O B L E S   B E S T   B L O W I N G   G U M   L E T T E R S
    U N M U D D L E D   T E L L   O U R   S T O R I E S                                                                              
                                                                                                                                     
    L I S T E N I N G   T O   M I M B U L U S S   O D D   N O I S E S   R E S T O R E D   O U R   L O S T   M I N D S                
                                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                     
    D U B I O U S   B L O O M S   L O N G   T E N D R I L S   S U G G E S T   B O D E   W I L L   D I E   W E   M U S T   G O        
    S O O N   E L S E                                                                                                                
                                                                                          O B   B E E I                              
                                                                          D     R         O B   B                                    
                                                                                        O O B   E             I     M                
                                                                                                E                                    
    M R S   L O N G B O T T O M   W I L L   S M U G G   E   B R O O M S   I N T O   S T   M U N G O S   U N D E R     O N G          
    G R E E N   D R E S                                                             D                                               M
                                                                                                                                     
                                O O O O           B                             G G                                                  
    O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L                                                                
                                      B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    Notice how slotting the separate pieces together has reduced the score. We still have lots of letters left over, but now most of them are low scoring ones - a sign we're going in the right direction. We now add wrappers a few at a time, the trick is knowing when to stop....

    O U R   S O N   R E S E M B L E S   M E   W I L L   G U E S S   D R O O B L E S   B E S T   B L O W I N G   G U M   L E T T E R S
    U N M U D D L E D   T E L L   O U R   S T O R I E S                                                                              
                                                                                        O O B           E S             I N G        
    L I S T E N I N G   T O   M I M B U L U S S   O D D   N O I S E S   R E S T O R E D   O U R   L O S T   M I N D S                
                                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                     
    D U B I O U S   B L O O M S   L O N G   T E N D R I L S   S U G G E S T   B O D E   W I L L   D I E   W E   M U S T   G O        
    S O O N   E L S E                                                                                                                
                                        M I S T I T L E D                                   B   B E E                   I N G        
                                                                  M U R D E R   U S             B                                    
                                                                                                E         D   M B   E D O R E        
                                                                                                                                     
    M R S   L O N G B O T T O M   W I L L   S M U G G L E   B R O O M S   I N T O   S T   M U N G O S   U N D E R     O N G          
    G R E E N   D R E S S                                                                                                           M
                                                                                                                                     
                        O O O O O O O O O       B B B                           G G                                                  
    O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W   L                                                  
                          B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    There's suggestion of murder in the air, and finally we begin to see Voldemort's (The Mistitled Lord's) hand in all of this. We need just one more quote;

    Healer Miriam Strout, who was in charge of Mr Bode's ward at the time of the incident, has been suspended on full pay and was unavailable for comment yesterday, but a spokeswizard for the hospital....  OotP 483(UK)

    O U R   S O N   R E S E M B L E S   M E   W I L L   G U E S S   D R O O B L E S   B E S T   B L O W I N G   G U M   L E G E N D S
    U N M U D D L E D   T E L L   O U R   S T O R I E S                                 O O B   E       E S T       O   I N G       M
                                                                                                                                     
    L I S T E N I N G   T O   M I M B U L U S S   O D D   N O I S E S   R E S T O R E D   O U R   L O S T   M I N D S                
                                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                     
    D U B I O U S   B L O O M S   L O N G   T E N D R I L S   S U G G E S T   B O D E   W I L L   D I E   W E   M U S T   G O        
    S O O N   E L S E   M I S T I T L E D   L O R D   W I L L   M U R D E R   U S   T O O                                            
                                                                                                B E           R         I   G        
            M E S S E N G E                                                                     B U T                   I            
                                        U N D E R   S T R O U T S   N O S E                               D   M B   E D   R E        
                                                                                                    S E E M                          
    M R S   L O N G B O T T O M   W I L L   S M U G G L E   B R O O M S   I N T O   S T   M U N G O S   U N D E R   L O N G          
    G R E E N   D R E S S                                                                                                            
                                                                                                          I                          
                    O O O O O O O O O O O       B B B B B B B         M         G G G                                                
    O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L                                        
        B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    Ah, there she is... and now we begin to understand why the Longbottoms are biding their time - until our bodies mend.

    O U R   S O N   R E S E M B L E S   M E   W I L L   G U E S S   D R O O B L E S   B E S T   B L O W I N G   G U M   L E G E N D S
    U N M U D D L E D   T E L L   O U R   S T O R I E S                                           S     E   T           I N G        
                                                                                    D R O O B L E S     E S T     L O   I N G     U M
    L I S T E N I N G   T O   M I M B U L U S S   O D D   N O I S E S   R E S T O R E D           L O S T   M I N D S   U N D E R    
    S T R O U T S   N O S E   B U T   W E   M U S T   S E E M   I L L   U N T I L   O U R   B O D I E S   M E N D                    
                                                                                                                                     
    D U B I O U S   B L O O M S   L O N G   T E N D R I L S   S U G G E S T   B O D E   W I L L   D I E   W E   M U S T   G O        
    S O O N   E L S E   M I S T I T L E D   L O R D   W I L L   M U R D E R   U S   T O O                 S                          
                                                                                                                            G   E    
    B O R R O W   T W O   B R O O M S                   S     I                         U       E                           G   S    
                                                          G O L D E N   B I R D                           D U M B L E D O R E S      
    W I L L   S O O N   B E   T I M E                                       M E S S E N G E R         E             O       E        
    M R S   L O N G B O T T O M   W I L L   S M U G G L E   B R O O M S   I N T O   S T   M U N G O S   U N D E R   L O N G          
    G R E E N   D R E S S                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                     
              O O O O O O O O O O O O O O     B B B B B B B B         M M       G G G G G                                            
    O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L     B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G
        B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    And now the passage finally comes into focus;

    O U R   S O N   R E S E M B L E S   M E   W I L L   G U E S S   D R O O B L E S   B E S T   B L O W I N G   G U M   L E G E N D S
    U N M U D D L E D   T E L L   O U R   S T O R I E S                                                                              
                                                                                                                                     
    L I S T E N I N G   T O   M I M B U L U S S   O D D   N O I S E S   R E S T O R E D   L O S T   M I N D S   U N D E R            
    S T R O U T S   N O S E   B U T   W E   M U S T   S E E M   M U T E   U N T I L   O U R   B O D I E S   M E N D                  
                                                                                                                                     
    D U B I O U S   S E E M I N G   B L O S S O M S   L O N G   T E N D R I L S   S U G G E S T   B O D E   W I L L   D I E          
    W E   M U S T   G O   S O O N   E L S E   M I S T I T L E D   L O R D   W I L L   M U R D E R   U S   T O O                      
                                                                                                                                     
    B O R R O W   T W O   B R O O M S                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                     
    W I L L   S O O N   B E   T I M E   D U M B L E D O R E S   G O L D E N   B I R D   W I L L   B E   M E S S E N G E R            
    M R S   L O N G B O T T O M   W I L L   S M U G G L E   B R O O M S   I N T O   S T   M U N G O S   U N D E R   L O N G          
    G R E E N   D R E S S                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                     
    O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O   B B B B B B B   S   G G G G G G G   L L   I   E                                              
    O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L O W L                       B B G B B G B B G B B G
        B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G B B G

    Substituting the word mute for ill helps reduce the overall score, and even makes more sense. We now have a (very) respectable score of 2.76.

    So we've discovered how Frank and Alice regained their sanity, and why they've kept it secret until they're ready to make their escape. We've learned of a dark conspiracy at St Mungos and that Strout has been set to watch over them. Now we know how they plan to break out, and how they're going to tell Neville when the time comes (I have faith in Neville figuring it all out in time, although I think he might have to go to Hermione for help) - and perhaps we've even answered one of the questions from the March chat...

    Q: Will poor Harry be stuck at the Dursleys' all next summer?
    A: Not all summer, no. In fact, he has the shortest stay in Privet Drive so far.

    After all, Neville's got to borrow some brooms from somewhere....

    Coda

    Well, that's how the message starts, and we've already seen how it ends. The other nine-tenths I'll leave up to you. The rest of it works the same way - if you can guess part of a stanza, the letters will give you the other half - and the scoring system really does seem to work (aim for 5 or less). Jo's been brave enough to play fair with us, there really are enough clues to figure it out.

    I'd like to give you more of it, but at the same time, I don't want to ruin the surprises that I think Jo has in store (well, anymore than I already have). If you want to make the journey for yourself then you've earned the right to know - so good luck, and I hope this has helped. The feeling when a turn of the letters gave me the name of the Half-Blood Prince was amazing - and that's not the biggest surprise.

    If you're happy to wait for July 16th - then that's fine too. I have the feeling that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is going to be the best yet, and a real roller-coaster ride to boot. I just wanted you to know that in Order of the Phoenix Jo Rowling has done something very special - and hopefully this little glimpse of the treasure hidden in-between it's pages will help you appreciate "Phoenix" just a little more.

    Oh, and my one cast-iron prediction for book 6 - we'll find out that Doge's hat was a STETSON.

    G O D   B L E S S  
    S N A P D R A G O N

    1. In the American Edition it is a "Droobles Blowing Gum wrapper", possibly the work of an over-enthusiastic editor. In the UK editions it is invariably referred to as "Droobles Best Blowing Gum".
    2. Crib: a piece of evidence (usually a captured code book or length of plaintext) which provides clues for the breaking of a cryptogram - Robert Harris (Enigma)

    The following footnote was added on April 19th

    April 19th 2005

    Looking at the whole of Alice's message, I've been surprised at how fluent it is. It reads like a normal letter, the kind of thing you or I might write (except for the subject matter, of course) - the only difference being that there are no definite or indefinite articles. Looking back at my essay, that first stanza I presented seems kind of stilted, so now that I've had enough of a break to come back to it fresh, I thought I'd revisit it and see if I could improve on it.

    Of course, the rules remain the same:

    1. Anything you start with has to be rooted in canon.
    2. It has to make sense, particularly to Alice, but in the general context of the story as well.
    3. Anything you come up with, while it can form new canon in the context of the message, it mustn't contradict existing canon. In other words, if one part of Alice's message introduces a new character, then he can be referred to in another part of the message, but he can't appear "out of the blue".
    4. It has to score as low as is reasonably possible using the scoring system discussed earlier.

    Plus, I've tried to enforce two new rules:

    5. It has to be in good, grammatical, natural sounding English.
    6. I've made one of the guidelines I originally used into a new rule. Originally it was "add wrappers as needed, but be careful not to add too many." Now it becomes: The message must use the minimum number of wrappers to express a particular point. This makes sense if Alice is having to scavenge wrappers out of bins or something - she won't have used any more than is strictly neccesary.

    Anyway, I won't bore you with the whole process this time. I started out by removing two wrappers, and rewriting the line, which, to me, seemed the least "natural":

    Will soon be time, Dumbledore's golden bird will be messenger

    became:

    In summer, we will send Dumbledore's bird

    As well as sounding more fluent, it makes the Longbottom's escape plan clearer. Unfortunately, in the process Strout had to go - but she gets a mention later in the message anyway, so I can live with that. "Borrow two brooms" also disappeared, which is a real shame, but it's possible that because I liked that line so much, I'd distorted the sense of the words in order to keep it, when in fact I should have let it go much earlier. (You tend to find that if something is really meant to be in there, then no matter how you try and get rid of it, it keeps re-appearing). Anyway, it didn't re-appear, so I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

    What I ended up with was the following 22 wrapper stanza:

    Our son resembles me, will guess Droobles Best Blowing Gum legends tell our stories.
    Mimbulus's singsong sounds restored our lost minds, but we need time until our bodies mend.
    Bloom's wriggling tendrils tell us Bode is going to die, so we must seem mute, else Mistitled Lord will murder us too.
    In summer we will send Dumbledore's bird.
    Get Mrs Longbottom to smuggle brooms into St Mungos, bundled under long green dress.

    ooooooooooooooooooo bbbbbbbb gggg ssss ll e
    owlowlowlowlowlowlowlowlowlowlowlowlowlowl

    It scores 2.86, slightly more than the previous version, but I could reduce it by changing "bloom" into "blossom". I think it reads better the way it is though.

    Even though it's undergone some changes, the sense of the message has held up pretty well, so I'm confident that when we find out what the real message is, it's opening stanza will be close to the one above.

    Coda

    Finally, I'd like to leave you with a mystery:

    There's a quote in Chamber of Secrets:

    "What interests me most," said Dumbledore gently, "is how Lord Voldemort managed to enchant Ginny, when my sources tell me he is currently in hiding in the forests of Albania." -- 242 (UK)

    When I discovered that, I knew Albania must be mentioned in Alice's message - but it doesn't fit the letters, so how?

    Looking in an atlas found me the second largest city in Albania, DURRES, and a town called BUTRINT. Butrint got me nowhere, but when I tried DURRES, a whole section of the message clicked into place.

    Anyway, I think Jo has pulled the same trick twice, and it really has me wondering about Luna, her father, and their holiday plans. The second largest city in SWEDEN is GOTEBORG, which is a perfect fit for the DROOBLES letters, and a little too much of a coincidence if you ask me.

    Let me take an example from our world:

    Scenario 1. You are an activist in the "Free Tibet" movement, and you want to take a film crew to Tibet to interview it's political leaders for a BBC news programme.

    Your visa application is turned down flat.

    Scenario 2. You are an activist in the "Free Tibet" movement, but this time you keep your interests somewhat under wraps. Instead, you write a series of articles for a fringe publication about sightings of the Yeti and it's mating habits. You apply to take a film crew to Tibet allegedly to make a nature programme for the Discovery channel....

    Crumple Horned Snorkacks anyone?

    G O D   B L E S S  
    S N A P D R A G O N

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