Harry Potter Numerology: Eleven (Transformation)

[This is the sixth essay in a series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. The previous essay — “Harry Potter Numerology: Seven (Completion)” — was published on October 2, 2012.]

A particular number that occurs frequently, and at significant moments, in the Harry Potter series (but fails to get much notice by Potter scholars) is the Number Eleven. But it is a very important number.

The Number Eleven was often avoided by medieval scholars, who believed that –wedged as it was between the perfection of 10 and the wholeness of 12 – it must be an evil number. Eleven “was always interpreted in medieval exegesis ad malam partem, in a purely negative sense” (Schimmel, 189). 16th Century numerologist Petrus Bungus claimed that eleven “has no connection with divine things, no ladder reaching up to things above, nor any merit” (quoted in Schimmel, 189). (But honestly, what can you expect from a man named “Bungus”?!)

A more modern view of Eleven is that it is a “master number” (i.e. doubles, such as 22, 33, 44, etc.). This could be a difference of interpretations between medieval scholars who thought in terms of sin and redemption, and New Age numerologists who tend to think in terms of growth and opportunities. Drayer states that “the appearance of a master number…reflects the wisdom and maturity that are necessary to effectively handle more choices and responsibilities in life” (91). A master number is formed with two identical digits. Together, says Drayer, the two have the power of creating something greater than any single digit alone. For instance, 11 includes all the qualities of 1 and 2 (unity and opposites), and the two number ones also stand side-by-side to form a doorway between two planes of existence: I I (Drayer, 93-94).

Fitting for a number that is also a doorway, the Number Eleven in Harry Potter signals transformation – a movement from one state into another. Whenever we encounter an Eleven, something is about to change. Harry Potter thought he was a Muggle until the very minute he turned eleven-years-old, when Hagrid arrived to “transform” him into a wizard (SS, III, 45), or at least transform his knowledge of himself. Also, Voldemort had been in power eleven years when the Avada Kedavra curse he cast at Harry backfired and transformed Old Voldy from a flesh-and-bone being into “something barely alive” (GOF, II, 20). At Ollivander’s, Harry received a magical wand that was eleven inches long, not 10-3/4” or 9-7/8”, but exactly eleven inches (SS, V, 84). And, of course, a witch or wizard uses his or her wand to transform things.

When entering the Ministry of Magic for his hearing on the improper use of underage magic, Harry’s wand is measured. “Eleven inches, phoenix-feather core, been in use four years,” the security wizard reports (OOP, VII, 128). It’s an odd moment: what’s the purpose of that little scene? Well, let’s unravel it using the secrets of Eleven and Four: Harry is about to face a transformative moment (11) and it will be destabilizing (4). And that’s exactly what happens. In the hearing, Harry is transformed from the heroic “Boy Who Lived”, into the tragic “Boy Who Lied”. He becomes a pawn in the Ministry’s disinformation campaign.

Eleven as a time or a place also signals a transformative moment. The Hogwarts Express leaves King’s Cross Station at precisely eleven o’clock (SS, VI, 93), and Harry first learned about Sirius Black when staying in Room #11 at the Leaky Cauldron (POA, III, 46). The Hogwarts Express transforms young people into wizardry students, and Sirius Black transformed Harry into a godson. In Horace Slughorn’s real memory, when the clock struck eleven, he dismissed the other students back to their common rooms, but Tom Riddle lingered behind to ask about Horcruxes (HBP, XXIII, 496). This was transformative knowledge for Riddle.

If all of that doesn’t convince you that eleven signals a transformation in the Harry Potter series, I’ll eat the Sorting Hat!

Drayer, Ruth A. Numerology: The Power in Numbers. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2003.

Schimmel, Annemarie. The Mystery of Numbers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

About Kris Swank

Kris Swank is Library Director at Pima Community College, Northwest Campus, and studies fantasy literature at the Mythgard Institute. She has contributed to Tolkien Studies, Mythlore and Silver Leaves journals, has published fantasy poetry, a Minoan murder mystery, and co-authored an epic fantasy short story for the Swedish music CD, Radio Rivendell Compliation, Vol. 2: The Book of War.

3 thoughts on “Harry Potter Numerology: Eleven (Transformation)

  1. I am definitely one of those guilty, Kris, of neglecting the number 11. I had no idea that the number appeared in so many crucial places until you pointed them all out! Clocks striking 11, the HE pulling away at 11, Harry staying in room #11–wow.

    What would be cool to do now is to examine chapter 11 in each novel to see whether the magical 11 analysis applies at that level as well….

  2. Thanks! I think the case for The Number Eleven in HP is one of the strongest that JKR was consciously using number symbolism in her works. Here are a few more interesting 11’s. Who (or what) gets transformed in each case?:

    *Quidditch matches start at 11am (SS:XI, CS:X, PA:XIII).
    *Harry’s detention with Filch takes place at 11pm (SS:XV)
    *Dumbledore arranges to escort Harry from Privet Drive to the Burrow at 11pm (HBP:III).
    *Top students at Hogwarts earn 11 O.W.L.s (HBP:V)
    *Ron earns his spot as on the Quidditch team flying a Cleansweep Eleven (HBP:XI)
    *The Delacours arrive at the Burrow to meet the Weasleys at 11am (DH:I)

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