If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter series — and I am — this last run-up to a book release has you sort of twitchy. Spoilers — or potential spoilers — lurk around most every corner, and sometimes in seemingly innocuous places. Simply browsing ’round the web may find you like a squeamish fan of scary movies at a particularly suspenseful scene — hands over your eyes, carefully peeking to see if the coast is clear, ready to jab the back button at the first sight of trouble.

‘Course, once you’ve closed the cover on Deathly Hallows it’s only natural you’ll want to talk about it… depending on the ending you may need to. (I suspect that book six spontaneously generated such instant support groups the world over.) Or maybe, like me, you’ll just want to share the experience of an exhilarating read with other folks who appreciate the Harry Potter series for what it really is — some damn fine storytelling. But how to talk about it without spoiling the story for other folk? In code, of course.

For long-time Internet folk like me, the go-to encoding method is Rot13… a time-honored cypher that isn’t merely as old as the Internet, it was in use in Caesar’s day. Each English letter in a Rot13 message is replaced with the letter 13 places forward or backward in the alphabet, so that “Albus Dumbledore” becomes “Nyohf Qhzoyrqber.” Lots of Internet apps — Usenet news readers in particular — have Rot13 translation built right in… just highlight the cyphered text and translate it with a click. There are also extensions for Firefox — like leetkey — that’ll do the same. Don’t have a built-in? Just go to the Rot13 web site itself and use its translation tool.

Another simple cypher — and one that I find especially appropriate for the Harry Potter series — was a favorite of Leonardo DaVinci. That would be, of course, mirrored writing. I suggest it’s especially appropriate because J.K. Rowling used it herself in naming the Mirror of Erised — or, desire, mirrored.1 Thus, “Albus Dumbledore” now becomes, “Albus Dumbledore”. The beauty of this cypher is that it doesn’t make what you write unreadable without a decoder… rather it makes it unlikely to be read without real effort. And that’s just about right for spoilers.

To do this trick, simply wrap what you want to say with the BDO HTML tag, which controls whether text is read left-to-right, or right-to-left. In the example above, the actual tag looks like this:

<bdo dir="rtl">Albus Dumbledore</bdo>

Most important of all, no matter what cypher you might use, be sure to note the possibility of spoilers in your titles and subject lines, both on message boards in any story-related emails you might send.

‘Course, there’s no need for any message you might send me… I won’t be reading my email ’til Monday next week at the earliest. I’m not taking any chances.

  1. I wonder if we’ll see a return of the mirror in Book 7? []

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