Silvanus Kettleburn – or Professor Kettleburn to his students – was the Care of Magical Creatures teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, before he retired and was replaced by Rubeus Hagrid in Harry’s third year. Professor Kettleburn might not have appeared in the Pensieve – after which this article series is named – but you may need to take a second look at your memories to remember reading about him.
Well, we have to admit – we didn’t actually meet him! Dumbledore mentioned him in his start-of-term speech in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: ‘I am sorry to tell you that Professor Kettleburn, our Care of Magical Creatures teacher, retired at the end of last year in order to enjoy more time with his remaining limbs.’
You’re probably thinking that this is going to be a very short article if all we know is that Silvanus Kettleburn retired and had some nasty run-ins with magical creatures. However – just like Dumbledore collected memories to share with Harry in the Pensieve – we’ve done a little investigating of our own, and found some information on the Hogwarts teacher, shared with us by J.K. Rowling herself.
Son of a magical father and a magical mother, Silvanus Kettleburn was sorted into Hufflepuff house on his arrival at Hogwarts. According to J.K. Rowling, he was ‘an enthusiastic and occasionally reckless man whose great love of the often dangerous creatures he studied and looked after led to serious injuries to himself and, occasionally, others’. Also, ‘he was prone to underestimating the risks involved in caring for creatures such as Occamys, Grindylows and Fire Crabs’ – sounds like another Care of Magical Creatures teacher we know and love, doesn’t it? Professor Kettleburn was, it seems, a loveable eccentric.
The first unusual thing about Silvanus was his wand – chestnut, eleven-and-a-half inches, whippy, with a phoenix feather core. The phoenix feather is the rarest of all core types – interestingly Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort also shared this core – you can read more about wands here. It also seems that Silvanus wasn’t very good at learning from his magical creature-related mistakes. Apparently, he had ‘no fewer than sixty-two periods of probation during his time of employment at the school (a record that still stands)’. Also, J.K. Rowling tell us that he ‘once famously caused the Great Hall to catch fire after enchanting an Ashwinder to play the Worm in a play of “The Fountain of Fair Fortune.”’ ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’ is a story written by Beedle the Bard and appears in his tales – if you’d like to find out more about it, here’s an article for you.
By the end of his career at Hogwarts, Silvanus only had one arm and half a leg due, we assume, to the injuries caused to him by the magical creatures he’d worked with all his life. On his retirement however, Albus Dumbledore came to the rescue and ‘presented him with a full set of enchanted wooden limbs’. How thoughtful!
Silvanus retired to Hogsmeade, and we can understand why – imagine being able to visit the Three Broomsticks and Zonko’s Joke Shop every day? And it had a great owl post office so you could keep in touch with all your friends! Inadvisably, despite his wooden limbs, Silvanus still continued to visit dragon sanctuaries in his spare time, which meant that his wooden prosthetics were frequently set on fire and had to be replaced regularly.
Professor Kettleburn had a fearlessness and encyclopaedic knowledge of magical creatures that no doubt inspired many a young witch or wizard to continue studying beasts – maybe even to become Magizoologists. And the fact that he had sixty-two periods of probation, yet was still allowed to teach at Hogwarts, according to J.K. Rowling, ‘was evidence of the great affection in which staff and students held him.’ He was clearly a hero to many.
Heroism comes in all shapes, sizes and varieties, and after he retired, J.K. Rowling shared with us one specific act of Kettleburn’s heroism. Silvanus was retired and living in Hogsmeade by the time the Battle of Hogwarts came around, and he was unable to join the effort against Lord Voldemort and his forces due to the state of his limbs. However, ‘determined to play his part, he clambered into his attic and threw his entire stock of Flobberworms out of the skylight at passing Death Eaters. While this may not have had much effect on the outcome of the battle, it was generally felt to show the right spirit.’ Some wisdom here: ‘You don’t have to be a sword-wielding Gryffindor to be a hero; sometimes, all it takes is having your heart in the right place’.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting about Silvanus Kettleburn, even more readily than Bob Ogden slipping your mind. Mentioned in the Harry Potter books only twice, knowledge of this fearless Care of Magical Creatures is certainly something to show off about.