|"We must've been through hundreds of books already and we can't find him anywhere —"|
Ghost Plots are aspects of a story which are altered or omitted from a book before it goes to print.
J. K. Rowling used the term 'Ghost Plots' for the stories that were never mentioned or published in any books so far. Rowling indicated that Ghost Plots tended to be "superfluous to requirements" and "had to be sacrificed for the bigger story". Thus, Ghost Plots tended to be more peripheral or tangential to the story, making them a hindrance to a tighter more focused plot. Sometimes, Rowling originally had two characters playing the same role, making one of them redundant.
Some Ghost Plots were removed quite early in writing process, while others were removed later (as indicated when Rowling accidentally gave details of ghost plots in answer to fan questions). It is possible that some of what appear to be red herrings were remnants of ghost plots removed further along the writing process.
Known Ghost plots
- Dean Thomas's father: Rowling originally planned for Dean Thomas to find out about his biological father being a wizard, why he left and why he was killed. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dean mentions that his biological father left when he was young and that he does not know whether his father was a muggle or a wizard. Rowling said that she sacrificed Dean's backstory for Neville's - though what we know of Neville's backstory seems to have been known by Neville all along.
- Arthur Weasley's death: The family dynamics would have changed and actions and words attributed to Arthur in later books would be portrayed by someone else, if Rowling had gone ahead with her original plan to kill Arthur off.
- Godric's Hollow, Pyrites and the opening chapter: Rowling changed the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, several times. She started with James and Lily in hiding with Harry on a remote island instead of Godric's Hollow. Hermione Granger's father saw their murder from the mainland and went out to see what had happened. She then abandoned that idea and wrote a chapter in which the reader saw Voldemort enter Godric's Hollow. In an early draft, they were betrayed by a muggle rather than Peter Pettigrew. Furthermore, Pyrites originally had a role in the betrayal of James and Lily Potter. The chapter portrayed the scene at Godric's Hollow rather than Vernon Dursley's day, where Pyrites met Sirius Black at the scene.
- Mafalda the Weasley cousin: Mafalda was very intelligent with the sort of belligerence common in Slytherin members such as Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson. Rowling said she was dropped because Rita Skeeter did a better job of providing necessary information and having both characters was redundant.
- Florean Fortescue: Rowling admits that Florean's presence in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was originally meant to set up a subplot where Harry later turns to Florean for information in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. However, Rowling subsequently decided to use Phineas Nigellus Black and Helena Ravenclaw instead to pass on this information.
- Hermione Granger's sister: Hermione had a younger muggle sibling which Rowling never got around to introducing, having decided it was far too late to introduce her when five books went by without her mention.
Rowling has many reasons for removing ideas and information from her books, such as them being peripheral to the main story. She has stated that she sometimes included a "throw-away detail" from a ghost plot in the books, indicating that ghost plots can be canon in such instances.
For example, Dean Thomas speaks about his father in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when he wonders what happened to him and whether he was a wizard. However, Rowling had abandoned spending time exploring that subplot in favour of major events that were central to the plot of the book. In some way, it still made sense for Rowling to include a remnant from a known ghost plot in the book as it would not contradict her work.
Not all known ghost plots were removed because they were peripheral to the main story. Arthur Weasley's death was removed from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for personal reasons, because Rowling decided she wanted one of the few good fathers in the books to live. The removal of this ghost plot did not shorten the story since the circumstances which may have caused Arthur's death — a bite from Nagini while he was hidden in the Hall of Prophecy at the Ministry — remained intact. It still allowed Rowling to explore the coverup for the bite and involve Sirius in the plot regardless of whether Arthur lived or died.
Her choice to keep Arthur opened the door for him to have a part in future books — meaning that he had to be written in and given things to do or say. It is not known whether Rowling invented a part for Arthur in subsequent books from scratch or whether she borrowed bits and pieces of storyline for him originally assigned to other characters.
Rowling also had ghost plots that were abandoned completely, meaning they cannot be canon and no longer have any major bearing on future events, such as Hermione's sister. Her early ideas of what happened at Godric's Hollow have no real place in canon as the events of that night were explored and spoken about at great detail, that the sudden involvement of a muggle or Pyrites would make little sense.
Rowling has in time, forgotten for a moment that she removed a particular ghost plot and mentioned them in response to questions. She subsequently admitted on Pottermore that when she said something in an interview that did not match the book, it was due to a ghost plot.
Her main reason for having so many ghost plots is because she created lots of information for ideas from the seventeen years she was writing her books. She enjoyed knowing pieces of information as it created a background for her story and gave her the option of putting in throwaway details when she needed them creatively.