Harry Potter Numerology: Twelve (Abundance) … and half as much of Six

[This is the seventh and final essay in the series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. The previous essay --"Harry Potter Numerology: Eleven (Transformation)" -- was published on October 16, 2012.]

Did you remember to turn your clock back this Sunday morning? Well, if you didn’t, go do it now… and while you’re there notice the round clock face with twelve numerals making a full circle. That’s the perfect introduction to the Number Twelve in Harry Potter.

The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Etruscans were all duodecadic: built upon the Number Twelve. By observing nature, these ancient civilizations noted that the moon and sun moved through 12 houses (the 12 signs of the zodiac), there were 12 months of the year, 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of night. In religion, there were 12 gates of the Egyptian heaven, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. The Chinese zodiac was divided into 12-year cycles (Schimmel 192-193, 197).

For many cultures, the Number Twelve has symbolized “the closed circle”. The sun returns to its starting point after a cycle of 12 months. The hands of the clock return to 12 after a full turn about the clock face. “The 12 became an important round number” in the ancient world (Schimmel 193).

The Number Twelve seems to serve the same purpose in Harry Potter’s world. Each book covers the space of roughly 12 months, typically opening during Harry’s summers on Privet Drive and wrapping up at the end of the school year the next spring, or looking at it a different way, at the beginning of another summer: a new cycle.

Rowling also uses 12 to represents a good round number, an abundance of something… lots. When Rowling needs to express a great size, great distance, or a lot of something, she uses 12. Let’s look at some ways that Twelve equals “a lot” (this list was compiled by Doreen Rich and Michele L. Worley for the Harry Potter Lexicon)—

  • Dumbledore’s watch has 12 hands
  • Dumbledore discovered the 12 uses of dragon’s blood
  • 12 Christmas trees decorate Hogwart’s Great Hall during the holidays
  • Harry tells Neville, ‘You’re worth twelve of Malfoy.’ (PS, 13)
  • Professor McGonagall tells Harry for the twelfth time “No, Potter, you can’t have it back yet.” (POA, 12)
  • The best students (e.g. Bill, Percy, Barty Crouch Jr.) earn 12 O.W.L.s
  • The troll in the bathroom is 12-feet tall
  • Nagini the snake is 12-feet long
  • Buckbeak’s wings are 12-feet wide
  • Aunt Marge has 12 dogs
  • Sirius Black was in Azkaban for 12 years
  • Mundungus Fletcher puts in a claim for a 12-room tent after the Quidditch World Cup
  • “Pigwidgeon plummeted twelve feet before managing to pull himself back up again…” (GOF, 21)
  • Harry fell “twelve feet onto his already injured leg, which crumpled beneath him.” (GOF, 31)

But when you think about it, Muggles & Magicals regularly use 12 to refer to an abstract notion of “a lot”… only we usually say “a dozen”—

  • “‘You have told me this at least a dozen times already,’ said Mr. Malfoy, with a quelling look at his son.” (COS, 4)
  • “‘Why do they have to move in packs?’ Harry asked Ron as a dozen or so girls walked past them.” (GOF, 22)
  • “In the small vegetable patch behind Hagrid’s house were a dozen of the largest pumpkins Harry had ever seen.” (COS, 7)
  • “Through the dungeon wall burst a dozen ghost horses, each ridden by a headless horseman.” (COS, 8)
  • “Trotting toward them were a dozen of the most bizarre creatures Harry had ever seen.” (POA, 6)
  • “they saw a gigantic, powderblue, horse-drawn carriage… pulled through the air by a dozen winged horses” (GOF, 15)
  • “Dozens of heavy spellbooks came thundering down on all their heads;” (COS, 4)

Dozens. Twelve. A whole lot. A good round number. Full-circle. These are all different ways to express the idea of wholeness.

The Number Six, or half-a-dozen, is used in a similar, but lesser way: it expresses a handful of something, a bunch (this list was compiled by Michele L. Worley for the Harry Potter Lexicon)—

  • “See, they’re not too bright,” said George, seizing five or six gnomes at once. (CS3)
  • After a quick half a dozen bacon sandwiches each, they pulled on their coats… (CS4)
  • “Six or seven Muggles in all. I believe your father works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office?” (CS5)
  • “Fred and George must’ve flown that car five or six times and no Muggle ever saw them.” (CS5)
  • Nothing seemed to give Colin a bigger thrill than to say, “All right, Harry?” six or seven times a day (CS7)
  • “you need about half a dozen wizards at a time to overcome a dragon” (GF19)
  • “Half a dozen mermen were pulling him away from Hermione, shaking their green-haired heads, and laughing.” (GF26)
  • “Half a dozen house-elves came hurrying forward, looking disgusted.” (GF28)
  • “I reckon we had abou’ six or seven o’ them convinced at one poin’.”
    “Six or seven?” said Ron eagerly. (OP20)
  • Harry turned: no fewer than six or seven Thestrals were picking their way through the trees (OP33)
  • They returned to the common room, which was empty apart from a half dozen seventh years (HBP9)

So, now we’ve come full-circle in our exploration of number symbolism in the Harry Potter novels, from the all-encompassing unity of One, the divisive Two, stable Three, wobbly Four, a bunch of Sixes, the complete Seven, transformative Eleven and now back to the beginning of the circle with Twelve.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I think seven essays – particularly respecting Rowling’s use of the Number Seven in her novels – is the perfect number of essays to complete the series. I will now close out with my favorite Number Twelve—

  • The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, London.

Sources:

Rich, Doreen, with Michele L. Worley. “The Number Twelve.” The Harry Potter Lexicon. April 13, 2001, last updated 1 May 2006. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/essays/essay-number-twelve.html.

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

Worley, Michele L. “The Number Six.” The Harry Potter Lexicon. August 20, 2005, last updated May 1, 2006. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/essays/essay-number-six.html.

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.

One thought on “Harry Potter Numerology: Twelve (Abundance) … and half as much of Six

  1. This has been a fantastic series, Kris!

    Wow, these lists are thorough–I’d never thought about the respective use of a dozen and half a dozen. And now I totally wish I knew what the twelve hands on Dumbledore’s watch were supposed to do.

    I’ve heard–possibly inaccurately–of the number twelve bearing a relationship to authority, perhaps exactly because it symbolizes wholeness or a complete circle. At any rate, the Twelve Olympians, twelve tribes of Israel, and twelve apostles would seem to go along with that. As might the Order’s location at number twelve, Grimmauld Place.

    Now I want to go read Order of the Phoenix again.

    Coming up soon: twelve days of Christmas. ;)

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