Monthly Archives: December 2015

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Ten

Here we go again. A belated Season’s Greetings of whatever flavour you desire to you all. This was mostly typed up while I was in a food coma, so let’s blame any mistakes on that.

A note about last chapter’s flying lessons; on the subject of Meaningful Names. Hooch means moonshine liquor. I am completely at a loss to suggest what this has to do with anything; almost all the other teachers have a vague attempt at an aptonym.

Content warnings this time: minor bullying, major sports-related rants, McGonagall is a terrible person.

Chapter Ten: Hallowe’en
(there’s no apostrophe in the US version, and we tend not to use it in the UK any more either)

Today’s illustration that I’m too lazy to show you is the artist’s impression of a troll. It seems
to have spikes for some odd reason, and the perspective is a little wonky, but can’t complain.

To Draco’s apparent astonishment the next morning, Harry and Ron have not in fact been expelled. I don’t think that was the point, book. There’s no reason he would think they’d be expelled just for breaking curfew. He just wanted to hopefully get them into trouble, and if not at least make them miss sleep and get cold and bored and feel silly sitting around waiting for him. Admittedly we’re never actually told what the school rules are – possibly because there aren’t any beyond the few we’ve already seen, and each member of staff makes them up according to their mood at the time or the house affinity and level of plot-importance of each student. Certainly the main rule seems to be ‘do whatever the hell you want, just don’t get caught’. In any case, although Draco’s obviously ignorant of the power of protagonist-hood, he’s not an idiot.

It’s interesting that Harry and Ron never confront Draco about what happened. It seems entirely in character for them to go and laugh at him for not showing up, to mock him for being too scared (even though that was obviously not why he wasn’t there) or even to try to reschedule the duel since they both seem to be labouring under the delusion that they can do any magic at all. Nor does Draco mock them for actually falling for his scheme and going to sit in an empty room half the night. In fact, this whole scene will never be mentioned again by anyone. It’s almost as if there was no point to it whatsoever except to tell us that there’s a three-headed dog behind the secret door.

Harry and Ron seem totally unaffected by their encounter with Fluffy, and are described as ‘tired but perfectly cheerful’. We’re told that by morning they ‘thought that meeting the three-headed dog had been an excellent adventure and they were quite keen to have another one’. I can see them feeling this way a few weeks after the fact – your brain reacts oddly to adrenaline, and after a while you’d remember the excitement but would have forgotten the fear, since a single encounter with no injuries or other negative consequences wouldn’t have caused any trauma – but a few hours later? No. Particularly not for Harry, who was Muggle-raised and has never seen or heard of real monsters before; you can perhaps slightly handwave Ron, who has at least encountered enough weird magical creatures to be more able to accept the idea that there’s a monster in the school, but Harry should be wetting himself and too scared to go anywhere for a week or two yet. (Also, considering they enjoyed it so much and are so keen to repeat the experience, neither of them ever suggest going back for another look.)

Harry also tells Ron about the mysterious package from Gringotts, and they spend a long time wondering what it is. Since all they know about it is that it’s about two inches long, and presumably valuable, dangerous or both, they don’t get anywhere.

Far more sensibly, Neville and Hermione don’t give a fuck what the dog is guarding and just want to stay away from it. Additionally Harry also tells us that Hermione’s not speaking to them; as we’ll see throughout this chapter, nobody seems to have told Hermione that, since actually she’s interacting with them exactly the same way she always has – i.e. as little as possible except when they’re doing something stupid. Given how rarely she speaks to them anyway, I don’t know what Harry’s even basing this on. He does add that since she’s ‘such a bossy know-it-all’ he and Ron are pretty happy that she’s ignoring them; again, Harry, she usually ignores you, because you’re dicks to her and her actual friend Neville. She doesn’t like either of you, why would she speak to you unless she has to?

Anyway, all Harry and Ron really want now is ‘a way of getting back at Malfoy’. Why? His trick didn’t work, and he has no idea they fell for it, and they inexplicably enjoyed the consequences; what is there to get back at him for? Ignoring this lack of logic, Harry’s plot-controlling powers duly provide, a week later. (Let us observe that ‘getting back at Malfoy’ involves a phallic symbol. I will go down with this ship.) Six large owls bring him a long thin parcel at breakfast in the Great Hall one morning, attracting the attention of literally everyone and utterly amazing him, even though he was present for the stupid conversation between McGonagall and Wood last chapter and should be able to guess what this is. Another owl follows with a letter, and in defiance of all human behaviour Harry opens that first, which is lucky because it tells him not to open the parcel at the table (let’s note that they were brought by separate owls and he has no reason to believe them connected, so it’s really quite stupid of the sender to have relied on Harry opening them in any particular order).

Incidentally, although ‘post‘ was changed to ‘mail‘ for the US version, they didn’t change ‘parcel‘ to ‘package‘. Maybe they don’t want to make the Draco/Harry ship any more obvious than it already is.

The letter is from McGonagall.

It contains your new Nimbus Two Thousand, but I don’t want everybody knowing you’ve got a broomstick or they’ll all want one. Oliver Wood will meet you tonight on the Quidditch pitch at seven o’clock for your first training session.
Professor M. McGonagall

If you don’t want everyone knowing he’s been sent a broom, maybe don’t send him something broom-shaped at breakfast time in front of everyone? Just saying. There’s no reason why she couldn’t have given the broom to Wood to give to Harry at this training session later, except then Harry wouldn’t get to look special enough. I’m assuming most of the other students can tell from the shape that this parcel is a broom; if any of them attempt to protest this blatant rule-breaking, we never hear about it, though I expect most of the older students are cynical enough not to bother.

Once again, I ask why the school buys this broom for him. Harry is stinking rich and has a vault full of gold. He can afford a dozen most-bestest-awesomest-specialist-ever broomsticks if he wants. Hell, the way this universe works, the manufacturers would give him one for free and put a sign up in the shop telling everyone that this is the broom Harry Potter uses.

Also, by 7 p.m. it’s probably going to be dark, and this is either during the dinner break or immediately after it. I really wish we had any idea of the actual school hours, but I’m sure there’s a more sensible time to schedule this. Like, say, the weekend.

A gleeful Harry and envious Ron leave the Great Hall to go and drool over the new toy privately. Draco, Crabbe and Goyle follow them out and Draco does nothing to deny the ship: ‘Malfoy seized the package from Harry and felt it.’ Okay, okay, I’ll stop. I’ll try to, anyway, but the book seems determined to make this canon.

Draco very astutely points out that this is a broom, and that first years aren’t allowed them. This rule actually makes no sense anyway – not letting first years try out for the team is very arbitrary, any sport-focused school would let a blind three-legged dog play on their team if it was good enough, but even assuming that’s age restricted, why can’t the first years bring their own brooms just to fly for fun? It seems the other year groups are allowed to, despite that being its own flavour of stupid, and the fact that they don’t seem to bother is just authorial laziness.

I’m told that a lot of schools actually do have a policy like this that forbids new students to bring their own stuff, for whatever reason. I can’t really comment personally, since I don’t play an instrument and the school system made damned sure that I never enjoyed any sport enough to want to play it outside lessons, but we had to supply our own tennis rackets and hockey sticks, so I’m still going to call bullshit and say that the only reason for this rule to exist is so it can be broken for Harry.

[Mitchell adds: I did think of an interesting parallel, in that in my experience a lot of American universities don’t allow resident freshmen to keep cars on campus, but that’s usually done for space considerations because parking is at a premium. While brooms are a personal vehicle, they’re much easier to store than cars, so there isn’t a similar justification available here. And Hogwarts students don’t actually seem to get any opportunities to leave the school unless it’s on chaperoned trips to Hogsmeade in later books, so unless they play Quidditch (or, I suppose, engage in recreational flying, which despite seeming like a thing Potterverse wizards would do isn’t ever something we see…), they have no need for them either.]

Narratively, this is just stupid. Imagine that instead, first years are allowed their own brooms and are allowed to try out for the Quidditch team, although they usually don’t bother because naturally the older and more experienced students tend to get onto the squad. Imagine that after McGonagall sees Harry magically being really good at flying, she gives him a telling-off and takes points from him – and Draco – for the whole incident, and then suggests as he’s leaving that he seems pretty good at this, Quidditch tryouts are this weekend and maybe he should go. Imagine that he has a fair audition along with a bunch of other interested students, and his smaller size makes him fast and agile enough for him to be legitimately picked for the team, and afterwards Wood has a talk with him and suggests various models of broom he might want to buy for himself. (As an added bonus, this could even preserve McGonagall’s motivation of wanting him for the team if so desired, while making her significantly less obnoxious about it.)

Compare this version with the book. In both of them, Harry is special and awesome and gets an opportunity first years don’t get. In one of them, he actually earns it on his own merit; in the other, he gets it handed to him on a silver platter. Which version makes Harry a) look like an underdog fighting to achieve cool things and more likeable as a character, and b) look like a spoiled entitled brat who never has to try because most of the adults in charge are unfairly biased towards him? I don’t want to read about a child sitting and waiting for the universe to arbitrarily give him things. I want to read about a child learning to do cool shit for himself and proving that he actually is better than the others and deserves rewards for his efforts.

We’ll be discussing this again at the end of the book, when any reader with any sense should decide ‘fuck Harry’ and be firmly on the side of the actual underdogs. Children don’t like unfair situations. Witness every sibling fight ever – if a parent doesn’t know the situation and sides with the wrong child by mistake, it usually triggers a massive tantrum, because that’s not fair and children know from a very early age that it’s not how things are supposed to go. Conversely if the parent picks the right child, the loser will cry a bit but generally won’t make anywhere near as much fuss, because they know they screwed up.

The reason so many fans don’t react like that is hard to explain. There is something about Rowling’s writing – though it’s hardly exclusive to her – some quality or phrasing that encourages you to read in a way that skims the surface of the story and accept what the narrative tells you. It took both Mitchell and me several readthroughs to say ‘Hey, hang on a minute…’ in the earlier books. Later books were much more blatant, and frankly the writing was lazier, and it was easier to see – though we were also growing disillusioned with the series anyway and less willing to believe it. We’ve wanted to do an essay on this for quite some time, but it’s really hard to put into words, and even after many hours of discussion we’re still not sure how Rowling did it. Part of it is just that this is what happens when you spend a series inside the head of only one character; we all know unreliable-narrator exists, but it’s not always easy to remember that. But the sheer strength of the world’s response to Harry Potter is a lot harder to explain – we’ll be trying to talk about some of the factors we’ve picked out as this spork continues, but we won’t get everything.

Moving on, then. In isolation, I don’t have a problem with Harry getting the occasional bit of favouritism. Children don’t object to unfairly winning those fights, after all. And he is the hero, and he’s had a fairly rubbish life so far, and he can have a bit of good luck. But it shouldn’t be on this scale, for a start, and it certainly shouldn’t happen all the damned time. There’s nothing fun in reading about a child who gets everything handed to him for nothing, but over and over again in every book the universe will bend around Harry, and Dumbles and co. will break every rule  to make sure he gets ALL THE THINGS. It’s both extremely boring and might well make readers sympathise with the people who get screwed over to make it possible, rather than with him.

It also kills all suspense, because by now everyone’s already guessed the end of this book, and after next book you can confidently guess that this is how every book of the series is going to end. Harry isn’t an underdog, he’s an arsehole who leaves a lot of bewildered victims in his wake (victims who are expected to cheer for him and not allowed to be upset by it, no less), and gets dozens of victories handed to him all the time at everyone else’s expense (and often in ridiculously contrived ways just to make sure he never has to put any actual effort in), and who wants to read about that?

Anyway, back to the plot. Ron has already forgotten his envy to wallow in status by proxy, and sneers at Draco for not having a super-special Nimbus Two Thousand, only a Comet Two Sixty, whatever the difference is. Ron, sweetie, you clearly don’t understand how wealth works. This broom only came out at the end of the summer, and Draco’s not going to be able to access his own broom until the Christmas holidays at the earliest because he doesn’t have super protagonist powers; if he’s as keen on flying as he seems, he’s absolutely going to get a Nimbus for Christmas, especially because his daddy (who is very cool) loves him.

Also, we know that next book the aforementioned cool daddy is not only going to buy his son the newer, better super-special broom, but he’s also going to buy one for every person on his son’s house team. Because Lucius Malfoy, one of the (supposed) villains of the series, is less of an arsehole than Dumbledore and McGonagall. Go figure. Not only that, but Harry and co. are going to be utterly outraged about it. Because favouritism is only okay when Harry benefits. See also IOIAGDI, It’s Okay If A Gryffindor Does It.

Honestly, a Comet sounds like it would be better than a Nimbus anyway. Which is going to be faster and more awesome, a shooting star or a cloud? Considering all the effort Rowling went to in order to give almost everything Meaningful Names, it seems odd she didn’t bother here.

Presumably getting annoyed with constantly being insulted when he hasn’t actually done anything, Draco snaps back that Ron doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he couldn’t afford half the handle, and his family must have to save up twig by twig. In case you hadn’t guessed by now, brooms are analogous to cars and this is car porn and all that matters is how much it costs and how shiny and phallic it is. I assume that’s one reason why I find it so boring. We also noted certain unpleasant parallels to Twilight… yet another series which loves to go on and on about how wonderful its protagonists are for owning expensive vehicles. It’s not necessarily an uncommon cultural assumption, but we’ve always found it stupid.

Flitwick randomly shows up at this point, materialising at Draco’s elbow. If we take this literally as him being as tall as an eleven year old’s elbow… wow, he really is insanely short. And described as squeaking, which doesn’t help. Anyway, you may be wondering why Flitwick, instead of the supposedly super-observant McGonagall who’s actually invested in this stupid scenario? So we can show just how deep the rot goes. Draco protests to the Charms teacher – also Head of Ravenclaw, therefore supposedly neutral and also not going to like another house being obscenely favoured – that hey, Harry’s got an illegal broom…

” ‘Yes, yes, that’s right,’ said Professor Flitwick, beaming at Harry. ‘Professor McGonagall told me all about the special circumstances, Potter. And what model is it?’
‘A Nimbus Two Thousand, sir,’ said Harry, fighting not to laugh at the look of horror on Malfoy’s face. “

So, the deputy headmistress (who as I’ve said many times in fics should not also be a head of house anyway; never mind that Rowling also doesn’t seem to realise that school administrators do actual work, and would be very unlikely to also teach, let alone full-time) has persuaded the Headmaster to break school rules for one student, and only one student. And the other teachers know about this blatant favouritism, and are totally okay with another house getting an advantage that their own house isn’t allowed? There is absolutely no other explanation for this except that Dumbles brainwashes all his staff. There’s no other reason they’d be not only fine with this but actively happy about it.

And what ‘special circumstances’? The fact that McGonagall likes him? Fuck off. The only thing I can think of is that ‘special circumstances’ means McGonagall’s/the Gryffindor team’s desperation to fill the seeker position, which… no. Just no.

As an aside, imagine if Snape were the teacher in question here. We already know he’s immune to the Dumbledore Kool-Aid. Imagine Draco appealing to his own head of house for something approaching justice (as I imagine he does offscreen about ten minutes after this scene) and getting a weary look in response and a sour, ‘Yes, I know. The Headmaster is a bastard and he hates us. You’re going to have to get used to it, I’m afraid; there’s nothing I can do.’

Gosh, I wonder why the Slytherins don’t like Harry. Especially since he now rubs salt into the wound by saying it’s actually thanks to Draco that he’s been given this shiny new toy at the expense of the other houses. Possibly literally, since although there’s no mention of it there must be some form of taxation in the wizarding world because there’s nowhere else they could get money from, and the lack of school fees means Hogwarts must be government-funded. The parents of the other students are probably paying for Harry to be given advantages over their own children.

Harry and Ron walk off laughing like the little arseholes they are, and Harry gloats that it’s true because if Draco hadn’t grabbed the Remembrall none of this would ever have happened. Oh, trust me, Draco knows that – I don’t believe he ever pulls a stunt like that again, actually, and sticks to verbal insults. Because he’s intelligent and learns from his mistakes.

” ‘So I suppose you think that’s a reward for breaking rules?’ came an angry voice from just behind them.”

See, Hermione knows this is unfair bullshit. Of course Harry thinks this is a reward for breaking rules, because that’s exactly what it is. Naturally, despite his supposedly deprived upbringing, he doesn’t appreciate what’s being done for him here and just sneers that he thought she wasn’t speaking to them, echoed by his lackey Ron who says for her not to stop now because it’s doing them good. Again, Harry, she clearly is speaking to you as often as she ever did, I’m not sure why you think she isn’t. She doesn’t even bother replying to this, just walks off, and Harry and Ron spend the rest of the day drooling over the shiny thing.

[Mitchell adds: I honestly think the book’s constantly pointing out that ‘Hermione isn’t speaking to them’ despite the fact that she is clearly speaking to them is a bit of narrative cheating. Rowling knows that Hermione is one of the main characters and will become their friend later, even if the characters don’t, so it’s important that the reader know who she is and be kept up-to-date on what she’s doing to some degree. And she’s trying to set up an arc where they don’t get along until a certain moment later… but she’s not good at managing these things simultaneously.]

Sadly at this point we’re going to have to talk about Quidditch, as Harry frolics off to his training session with his new stick. To start us off, does anyone know why it’s capitalised? You don’t capitalise the names of sports. It’s not Football, it’s football. I know literally everything in this series is written with Unnecessary Capitals, but even so. (Mitchell’s just pointed out it really ought to be called ‘broomball’ or something like that, which is just… yeah. No.)

And my second question is, why is there only one sport in the wizarding world? It really is Quidditch or nothing. They also have exactly one card game – Exploding Snap – and two board games, chess and Gobstones. And we know they also have exactly one solo singer and exactly one pop group, and apparently no fiction beyond one book of children’s stories and no art at all except creepy sentient portraits and a few ugly statues. This is a very, very stagnant culture. No wonder most people are such idiots; there’s nothing for their brains to do once they leave school.

Harry skips down to the Quidditch pitch, which is actually a complete stadium containing hundreds of seats in raised tiers, because reasons. Going by what we see later, it’s pretty much compulsory for every student to go and watch every match, and apparently for the staff as well, but even then there can’t be enough people to justify a stadium. I suppose there would need to be some sort of structure for the seats since you’d have to be high up to be at eye level with the gameplay, but it’s a castle full of wizards, I’m sure they can levitate some benches for the few who actually want to watch. Obviously the pitch has no markings, but there are three golden posts at either end with vertical hoops on top.

Harry spends half a page flying around, just to remind us all that he’s awesome at flying. We’re still not told how he’s controlling the broom, of course. Fuck it, it’s magic. Wood shows up and calls him down, and he’s somehow carrying a large wooden crate under one arm, which would be impressive if it weren’t physically impossible. This is the first time Wood’s actually seen his new team member fly, so he’s probably quite relieved to find out he actually is good at it and didn’t just get in based on his name.

Wood starts explaining the batshit rules of this batshit game. There are four different-sized balls in the crate; ball number one is red and about the size of a football (soccer ball to some of you). There are seven players on a Quidditch team; three of them are called Chasers for no discernible reason, and they play with this ball (which is called the Quaffle; the wonky capitals are painful) and throw it through the golden hoops to score. Each goal is worth ten points. Each team has a Keeper – Wood, in Gryffindor’s case – who defends the goals and tries to stop them scoring. All pretty reasonable so far, and Harry helpfully describes it to the readers as ‘basketball on broomsticks with six hoops‘. Wood doesn’t understand this, though we’ll see later in this scene that he’s not ignorant of Muggle sports.

Then Wood hands Harry a club, described as a rounders bat in the UK version and a small baseball bat in the US version, and indicates two of the other balls in the crate. They’re black, a bit smaller than the Quaffle, and are chained down inside the box and appear to be struggling.

Okay, you know what, I hereby refuse to keep capitalising this shit. I will grudgingly keep Quidditch in case it’s named after someone, but I’m not doing the rest, it’s stupid.

(According to Quidditch Through the Ages the name is a corruption of the place it was invented, ‘Queerditch Marsh’… but I don’t think that’s really a valid excuse for the capitalisation, and while fantasy authors love to do this sort of fake etymology it isn’t really how languages work most of the time. She obviously backfilled that name afterwards, anyway.)

Unaccountably, Wood lets one of these balls loose. Why would you do this. It turns out these balls are basically cannonballs – we’re not told what they’re actually made of, but they fly very fast and they’re not much smaller than a football and somehow they’re enchanted to attack the players. They’re aptly called bludgers (one of the rare silly names of Rowling’s that works well; credit where credit’s due), and the one that’s been released now flies at Harry and tries to smack him in the face, forcing him to hit it with the bat ‘to stop it breaking his nose’. It flies off, comes back for another go, and Wood jumps on it and wrestles it into submission before chaining it back inside the crate. He blithely explains that these two balls fly around all match, and two of the other players – known as beaters – chase them with bats and try to smash them into members of the other team, or at least keep them away from their own team.

This is such an issue that even Harry is actually concerned. He asks if the bludgers have ever killed anyone, and Wood says cheerfully, ‘Never at Hogwarts. We’ve had a couple of broken jaws but nothing worse than that.’ Okay, one, I don’t believe that. If a cannonball smacks you in the mouth, it’s going to kill you. Two, broken jaws are actually serious, and almost never heal properly. Three, how would Wood know? I can’t imagine anyone tells new students that this fun new sport might be fatal. Also this implies that outside Hogwarts people are killed by these things, probably quite often. Probably not always players, either, there’s nothing to ensure these things won’t fly into the crowd and attack spectators. Or fly off into the sunset and attack random people a long way away. There’s also no safety gear. In the films, the keepers get ugly helmets, but the books don’t even have that and nobody gets any sort of protection.

This is yet another example of the books’/the wizarding world’s careless attitude toward danger and horrifying disregard for violent personal injury (we’ve already seen Neville injured twice, and more in his backstory…), but here it’s almost as if there’s a kind of culture shock for Harry. In the future he’ll forget about this and become as inured to it as the rest of them. I really can’t tell whether it’s a consequence of magical healing existing in the setting (although that seems to have very arbitrary limitations based on the whim of the plot), or Rowling just really loves slapstick and hasn’t realised she isn’t writing cartoons and/or has no conception of how fragile human bodies can actually be.

You know what could have saved this? Having them not be actual solid balls. As far back as ancient Rome, they used inflated sheep’s bladders to make a kind of football. (They also used them for condoms, but that’s another story.) Something like a beach ball or pillow flying around, with just enough weight to be a distraction, would be funny and would add challenge to the gameplay. At least, it would if there were responsible adults around whose only job was to catch anyone who falls off their broom (or some kind of magical levitation field to function as safety net), but in fact this never happens and if you fall you’re fucked. This must happen a lot, since most of the players are having to fly hands-free and are busy catching balls or waving clubs around and there’s no way you can hang on to a stick with just your legs. Instead, we have dangerous missiles flying around with enough force to shatter bones, and the only reason to implement something like this is to kill people. Particularly since they don’t have an off switch and stay active when the game is over, as we see here.

Wood attempts to change the subject from the deathballs, saying that Harry doesn’t have to worry about them, to which Harry adds, ‘unless they crack my head open’. It’s a shame he’s so rarely capable of normal reactions, I enjoy reading him much more when he acts like a sane person. Wood reminds us that the Gryffindor beaters are the Weasley twins, who are so good at it that ‘they’re like a pair of human Bludgers themselves’. This is perfectly true; the twins are indeed like sentient sadistic cannonballs who exist to cause chaos and hurt people.

No, we are never going to let the malicious sentient cannonballs go. They are absolutely horrifying, and nobody else seems to notice or care. Even most of the fandom who complain about the sport don’t seem to have a problem with the bludgers.

Moving on, Wood explains what Harry’s going to do. Namely, break the game. He’s the last member of the seven, known as the seeker, and his job is to chase the last ball around and catch it before the other team’s seeker does. This last ball is gold and about the size of a walnut. It’s called the snitch, and it has little silver wings. No, we’re never going to get an explanation for why the quaffle can’t fly when the other three can, or why the snitch has wings but the bludgers don’t.

Quidditch Through the Ages does actually explain that last point. Instead of a ball they originally used a live bird called a snidget, and the seeker’s job was to catch it and kill it, so now the snitch has wings to remind everyone of how terrible this game used to be. I quite like this as an explanation, though it’s yet another instance of gratuitous animal cruelty from Rowling (this one’s not as bad as some of the others because, sadly, it does seem like the kind of thing people would actually have done; see the existence of things like cockfighting or bear-baiting or whatever. Humans are horrible sometimes).

Incidentally, as we know, snitches were retconned in the final book to be one-use only. There’s no sign of that here, and won’t be in any of the other books until then. Because that’s really stupid.

And the reason that the seeker breaks the game is that although ordinary goals are only worth ten points, catching the snitch is worth one hundred and fifty points and immediately ends the match. So if the seeker catches it, their team win. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the team do. They might as well not be there. The seeker is the only one that matters – so, naturally, that’s the position Harry gets.

To be fair, the fans didn’t like this either. I assume Rowling got a lot of complaints, and rather than attempt to change the rules and add any sort of balance to the game she instead buggered around in Goblet of Fire creating a ridiculously contrived situation to demonstrate that see, it’s totally possible for the other team to win really, honest it is!!!

This did not fool anyone.

More than that, we see so little of flying and are given no idea of what’s actually involved in it. Harry can just do it. There’s no mention of aching muscles afterwards, for example, or anything else that would indicate some sort of genuine effort. Going by what the narrative tells us, you just sit there and the stick does all the work and all you have to do is hold your hand out at the right moment – it seems to be very rare for a seeker to miss. So not only is the seeker the only position that matters, it actually boils down to which seeker has the most expensive stick. If your seeker has a better broom than the other team’s seeker and doesn’t get maimed by a cannonball, then your team will win and the rest of the players can sit around with their thumbs up their arses. (It really is blatantly obvious that Rowling wanted to give Harry a special role to shine in, but didn’t want him to actually have to do anything… and that’s pathetic. There’s a reason we call him various permuations of Harry Sue.)

As with so many of the issues in this series, this too has an easy fix. If the seeker catches the snitch, their team gets ten points and possession of the quaffle. The snitch is released again, and the game continues. Make it last for a fixed period of time, like every sport ever that’s run by sane people. (Quidditch games have no end point except someone catching the snitch. It’s technically possible for one to literally last forever. Wood tells us in this scene that the record is three months, because nobody was bright enough to say ‘fuck it, this is stupid, let’s call it a draw’.)

[Mitchell adds: In fairness, real sports exist with this problem also, so I may reluctantly award a point for realism despite the stupidity. Growing up in the States I’ve been dragged to several baseball games in my lifetime, and I distinctly remember the misery of games that Just. Would. Not. End. My family used to make a habit of going to a game on July 4 because they’d have a fireworks show afterward, but when the game went into twenty-three innings or something like that, as it did on more than one occasion… let’s just say that I despise baseball, and while that is not the only reason it’s definitely a significant one.]

There are alternative fixes, too, though that one might be the best if we want to keep the game as similar as possible to Rowling’s; the obvious one, naturally, is just to eliminate seekers and snitches and use a clock. Thinking about it now, another interesting idea would be to then split it into two different games, so the wizarding world doesn’t have just a single sport – just make the snitch-hunting thing a separate game altogether. Without obnoxiously overshadowing everybody else who’s playing, it wouldn’t be nearly as objectionable.

Rowling apparently claims she designed Quidditch to piss off men who like sports. I can certainly believe she’d say something so stereotypical and dumb, but I’m pretty sure she only said this after so many fans complained about it, because we know she’s not anti-sport – witness all the Pottermore stuff we covered involving the wizarding world’s inexplicable interest in rugby, and the Quidditch World Cup. Besides, almost all her characters either play the sport or are at least screaming rabid fans of it. I believe Hermione’s the only one to explicitly say at any point that she doesn’t care about it, and she’s still at almost every match and still goes to the World Cup with the boys in book four. And there’s at least one match in every book, usually more than one, all described in considerable (tedious) detail.

Mitchell pointed out something interesting [I don’t think I’m the first to comment on this; I probably read about it somewhere like deathtocapslock at some point, but if I have I can’t remember the specifics]: in many ways Harry is a stereotypical sports jock personality-wise, yet physically he’s a stereotypical nerd. It’s also worth noting that, typically, wizards are a sort of nerd archetype, despite Harry not actually embodying any of those aspects (or really any Potterverse wizards except Hermione and some of the faculty: typically ‘wizard’ connotes magical power that comes from knowledge, which is bizarrely not how it works at all in the Potterverse, which is all genetics and pointed sticks).  This ties in to what I was saying earlier about the popularity of these books; because Harry’s a complete blank slate, with no discernible personality and only a few vague traits from all across the spectrum, it’s extremely easy for the reader to map themselves onto him and read the series almost as a self-insert fanfic (it’s the Barnum effect – there’s something for everybody!). That very neatly discourages your brain from noticing anything wrong with him, because nobody’s good at picking up on their own flaws.

The scene continues, but we’ve covered everything important. Wood’s explained the broken game to Harry and told him what a special snowflake he’ll be, and Harry is for once not being a dick and is more concerned about the cannonballs. Wood says they won’t practice with the snitch now because it’s getting dark and they’d lose it, and produces a bag of golf balls from his pocket to use instead. I have no idea where the hell he found golf balls. Maybe Hogwarts is near St Andrews. Also, Wood didn’t know what basketball was a couple of pages ago, but he knows about golf? Why not use almost anything else – maybe walnuts, since we’ve already been told that’s how big the snitch is anyway. Why not transfigure something? Show us some goddamned magic already! We really don’t see many spells throughout the series.

Anyway, Wood starts throwing golf balls around for Harry to chase. This really sounds more like a guy playing with his dog than two people practising a sport. Naturally, Harry catches every single one. They head back to the castle once it’s too dark to see – with no mention of Wood using his wand to light the way, incidentally, and Harry doesn’t know how to do that yet – and Wood says he thinks Harry will be better than Charlie Weasley, ‘and he could have played for England if he hadn’t gone off chasing dragons.’ We’re going to meet Charlie fairly soon, and he’s stocky and muscled and pretty much the exact opposite of Harry who is apparently physically the perfect seeker. I’m going to say that being a better seeker than Charlie probably wasn’t that hard, especially since his family are too poor to afford good brooms to win games for them, and also that England’s team apparently has very low standards. (Given that Rowling’s Scottish, don’t even try to tell me that’s not what she really meant.)

Hopefully, now that we’ve ranted at such length about this stupid sport, we won’t have to cover it in too much detail again. Apart from anything else, all this crap has really spoiled the flow of this post.

The next scene jumps forward a month or so and takes us to Halloween. Harry tells us he can’t believe how fast time is passing because he’s so busy, with Quidditch practice three evenings a week as well as all his homework (which we learn later mostly consists of very long essays). This is an insanely brutal schedule for an eleven year old, for a start, and actually probably the reason they stopped letting first years join the team – particularly since he has that stupid Astronomy class one night a week as well. I’m also questioning the logistics – we see in the next book that for some reason the teams can only practice on the single pitch, and there are often scheduling issues because all four teams need to use it. If Gryffindor are monopolising the pitch three nights a week, either this is further evidence that the school is spiteful and biased, or it’s evidence that Wood is completely bug-nuts and the other teams do perfectly well on just one night a week. (We don’t see such crazy schedules in later books, do we? She’s really hammering the gung-ho drill sergeant coach stereotypes for Wood right now, but she seems to forget about this frequency in practices in later books even while Wood’s still in the picture. Granted, she never seems to think about the scheduling if she can help it…)

As an aside he also tells us that his classes have grown a lot more interesting. It sure would have been nice to see that.

On Halloween morning they all wake to the smell of baking pumpkin. I honestly don’t know what that smells like, I’ve only ever eaten it in soup or curry, and then very rarely. I’m also not sure how the children in Gryffindor Tower can possibly smell it – the entrance to the tower is on the seventh floor, remember. Pumpkin pie is not a thing in Britain, and while we make jack-o-lanterns on Halloween very few people eat the leftover parts, though I think the seeds are semi-popular as a snack. I was never able to work out what the ‘pumpkin juice’ is that the wizarding world seem to drink so much, either, because pumpkins don’t really have juice. I imagine it’s some kind of pumpkin puree thinned down with water or fruit juice, but that just sounds gross.

Shockingly, we actually get to see a lesson. This is already so rare that it’s fairly obviously just foreshadowing a later scene, but first-time readers aren’t going to care because holy shit actual magic lesson in a book about magic school it’s about fucking time.

“Professor Flitwick announced in Charms that he thought they were ready to start making objects fly, something they had all been dying to try since they’d seen him make Neville’s toad zoom around the classroom.”

Why does Neville take his pet to classes? Flitwick is not the only teacher to abuse the poor thing. Depressingly, it might well be because he’d rather they hurt the toad than hurt him. Even so, you’d think this was against the rules. And again with the random animal cruelty; I’m guessing (hoping) that Rowling doesn’t have any pets. This could so easily have been changed to ‘textbook’ or ‘quill’ or other inanimate object. Why does she have Flitwick do this?

The students are put into pairs. Seamus gets to exist again to save Harry from having to work with Neville, but this really shouldn’t matter since frankly Neville’s got a stronger work ethic than most of the rest of his year put together and there’s no dangerous equipment or substances around for him to damage in Charms. And Ron and Hermione are working together – I assume Hermione must have somehow accidentally pissed Flitwick off, because clearly the children aren’t choosing their own partners or Harry and Ron would be together, and I doubt Hermione sits anywhere near them, nor are they close alphabetically. Either that or Flitwick’s hoping Ron might actually learn something, in which case good job I suppose. Harry says they’re both angry about this, and adds that Hermione hasn’t spoken to the boys for the last two months, which Hermione will once again contradict on the next page because nobody’s told her she’s meant to be ignoring them. I really don’t know why Harry cares since he apparently hates her. I assume it’s because in his mind literally everyone else in Gryffindor talks to him all the time and he’s sulking because she doesn’t worship him.

Flitwick tells them to be sure to remember the swish and flick wrist movement they’ve been practising. This is nice, a magic system based around wands really ought to incorporate specific movements as well as words. Shame we never see it again. He adds some further words of wisdom:

” ‘And saying the magic words properly is very important, too – never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said ‘s’ instead of ‘f’ and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest.’ “

I remember on my first few readthroughs spending ages staring at this paragraph, trying to figure out the joke. There’s clearly some sort of joke or linguistic pun in this line, but I still don’t get it. Also, ‘Wizard Baruffio’ sounds like an official title, unless his parents had a sick sense of humour and literally named him Wizard.

Levitating a feather is apparently very difficult. Seamus gets impatient and starts poking it, which somehow makes it catch fire; this is far less annoying than the movie version since it doesn’t explode, he doesn’t keep doing it constantly, and Harry puts the fire out himself. With his hat, which is interesting because they never seem to wear them.

At the next table, Ron is yelling the words loudly – Wingardium Leviosa, of course –  and ‘waving his long arms like a windmill’. This is stupid. Ron is a pureblood with two magical parents and five older magical siblings. As with the attempt to turn Scabbers yellow on the train, he should know this is not going to work. He’s seen magic being done literally every day of his life. It’s not written as if he’s getting frustrated, or anything like that; he’s just being a moron. Which admittedly is perfectly in character, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.

Hermione tells him he’s pronouncing it wrongly, in defiance of Harry’s insistence that no she’s totally ignoring both of them really, and explains the correct pronounciation. Kindly not adding ‘you idiot’ to the end of the sentence, since it’s been about ten minutes since Flitwick told them this. Ron snarls that if she’s so clever, let’s see her do it, then.

Naturally, she does.

She doesn’t make any fuss about it, just rolls up her sleeves – of her ‘gown‘, inexplicably. This is not a synonym for robe. I assume we’re meant to picture the academic gowns most people only ever wear to graduate? – and casts the spell with the proper pronounciation and wrist movement, and lifts the feather a few feet above their heads.

We’ve now seen a grand total of two specific spells in the last ten chapters, and Hermione’s done them both. Once again, why is Harry the protagonist?

Flitwick is clearly a very poor teacher, since having ignored the students starting fires in the classroom he now pays attention to what’s going on and singles Hermione out and tells everyone to look at how awesome she is. While I approve of this on general principles, he might as well have painted a target on her back. Don’t do this with a group of children, seriously. He even applauds her.

Proving that this was a very bad idea, we move to the end of the class, and Ron bitching to Harry as they leave the room. ‘It’s no wonder no one can stand her… She’s a nightmare, honestly.’

Of course, Hermione hears him, and pushes past in tears and runs off. Harry points out very astutely that she must have heard this – as if that’s the problem. Being nasty to people isn’t okay as long as they can’t hear it, you horrible child – and Ron replies with, ‘So? She must’ve noticed she’s got no friends.’ We’re told he looks a bit uncomfortable, which just makes me wonder how spiteful he’d be without this token gesture towards guilt.

Leaving aside the question of how Ron knows this – at this age boys and girls really don’t pay each other much attention and he’s not likely to know about friendships among the girls of the house – and leaving aside my own headcanon of her actually being friends with Neville and thus just upset that her attempt to help backfired, of course she’s noticed. Your nasty comment on its own would not actually make anyone cry, Ron. But on the heels of two months of trying to make friends in the most terrifying school on the planet, clearly Hermione’s just reached her limit here, especially since there’s literally nobody she can talk to since at this point the female prefect simply doesn’t exist and their head of house is a heartless monster. I imagine she’s extremely homesick and wants to get out of here. I also imagine every Muggleborn student ends up in this state sooner or later.

Because she’s a girl, Hermione can’t just have a bit of a cry and pull herself together and get back to work but must instead have a complete breakdown for several hours, and isn’t seen for the rest of the day. None of the teachers seem to care that she misses the rest of their classes, or lunch, supporting my theory of just how isolated she is. Everyone in this building is terrible. As the boys go to the Great Hall for the Halloween feast that they apparently have here (Halloween really isn’t a big deal in Britain), they hear Parvati telling her friend Lavender – egad, another female student! That takes us up to, gosh, four? Though Lavender doesn’t get a last name yet – that Hermione’s crying in the toilets and wants to be left alone.

Okay, no, if she’s been crying for that long, something’s really wrong. She’s turned twelve by this point, I suppose it’s possible she’s started puberty? That certainly wouldn’t help matters – particularly since we don’t know how witches deal with this. Muggle schools have emergency vending machines in the girls’ toilets (for sanitary items, I should clarify, not emergency chocolate. Though that would also be a good idea), and generally a sympathetic female staff member willing to share painkillers. Either that, or Hermione’s just decided ‘fuck everyone’ and has locked herself in with a book for some peace and quiet.

Also, the girls have noticed her absence, have found out where she is, and are talking about it, which if it weren’t a literary device to let the boys know what’s happened (because God forbid they show any actual concern and either try to find her or ask someone) would indicate they don’t hate her. How else could they have found out she didn’t want to be disturbed unless they’d reached out to her and tried to help?

Ron looks uncomfortable again for about 0.4 seconds, and then they reach the hall and ‘the Hallowe’en decorations put Hermione out of their minds.’ She is literally less important to them than some paper streamers. Clearly the bonds of friendship between the Golden Trio are wondrous. Also, the decorations mostly seem to consist of two thousand live bats, who are probably panicking at being trapped in a room full of noise and smoke and lit candles and are also probably less hygienic than owls. Bats carry lots of diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Have fun, kids.

The feast is interrupted by Quirrell running in with his turban askew. One, this isn’t how turbans work, they’re not just hats. Two, doesn’t this mean the back of his head is showing? Three, why a turban? Quirrell has specifically been described as pale in previous scenes, so we know he’s not a person of colour. Wear a wig, you dumbass. Anyway, he looks terrified, he shouts that there’s a troll in the dungeons, and he collapses face down on the floor. Brilliant behaviour from the Defence teacher, isn’t it.

Hogwarts School of Sadism and Misery lives up to this name. Nobody bothers to check why on earth Quirrell passed out; maybe he’s hurt? They just leave him there. And dear old Saint Dumbles gives orders that all students are to return to their dormitories, at which point I really, really, really wish Snape had stood up and yelled, ‘Slytherin’s dormitory is in the bloody dungeons, you senile old goat.’ Unfortunately he’s busy with the plot at this point, and I assume the Slytherin prefects are far too jaded to bother objecting that the Headmaster’s telling them to go play with the dangerous monster. The Hufflepuffs are probably a bit worried too, their dormitory is near the kitchens which means either at ground level or a level below and they must be quite close to the dungeons as well.

Incidentally, on subsequent readthroughs it’s obvious that at this point Snape is still the villain and Rowling hadn’t impulsively decided to make it Quirrell instead (lol spoiler alert). Because Quirrell just stays ‘unconscious’ on the floor until some of the other teachers round him up to go hunting for the troll. He let it in as a distraction and then didn’t do anything. A halfway competent author would have had him disappear somewhere, but we know Rowling has never understood that you can go back and edit things once you’ve written them. A halfway competent editor would have noticed this, too, but clearly publishers dealing with children’s books don’t give their audience credit for intelligence and don’t care about continuity errors.

As they head back to Gryffindor’s nice safe monster-free tower, Harry realises that Hermione doesn’t know about the troll. Based on everything we’ve seen of his character to date, namely his total sociopathic lack of empathy, there is absolutely zero reason why he’d have remembered this. Hey, Harry, how did your family get off that island you and Hagrid marooned them on? How’s your traumatised and mutilated cousin doing? Anyway, he mentions this to Ron, and for some reason neither of them even discuss the possibility of letting someone else know. Admittedly they believe the troll is down in the dungeons and that they just need to warn Hermione so the three of them can all scamper off to their nice safe monster-free tower, but even so. Also you’d think Percy might notice that his little brother is missing, or that someone might have noticed Harry Snowflake Potter isn’t there. And the other girls are far more likely to have remembered that Hermione won’t know what’s going on.

Harry and Ron wander off towards the girls’ toilets. This is being written about as if it’s the only one in the building (how do they know which toilet she’s in?). I really hope this is not the case. I’m also not sure why there’s such an emphasis on it being the girls’ toilets, specifically, that they’re looking for; anywhere with binary-gendered toilets generally puts them next to one another (or they do in newer buildings at least; some older buildings have issues, if they were built with gendered expectations in mind… but as far as we’re given to understand Hogwarts has always been coeducational), which is presumably how Harry and Ron know where they are. They hear footsteps and assume it’s Percy coming after them, so rather than wait and tell him why they’re here they hide behind a convenient statue, which is lucky since it’s actually Snape – presumably having realised he can’t both serve the plot and guard his students from the troll, and no doubt rather annoyed about it.

They follow Snape’s footsteps for a bit, forgetting what they’re actually meant to be doing. Severus, I understand you’re annoyed and that you’re overworked and trying to do a thousand things at once, but we know you can walk without making noise, and also there are secret passages. Honestly, the only way to make any sense of any of this – once you finish the book and learn that in fact he’s not the most incompetent villain ever – is to assume that he’s been ordered to take the blame for some weird reason, and frankly the only reason that makes sense is that Dumbles hates him.

Harry realises Snape is heading for the third floor, which would mean Hogwarts has an astoundingly simple layout for a castle except that he’s clearly using his plot powers again, but then he and Ron smell something terrible and hide again to watch the troll inevitably appear. The troll that was originally in the dungeons, but has somehow managed to sneak past most of the staff and a lot of terrified Slytherin and Hufflepuff students and get all the way up here without being seen. And also it’s twelve feet tall and would have serious trouble fitting through doorways, and doesn’t seem to move very fast, and smells so bad you can pick up on it long before you hear or see the actual troll.

The troll pauses by a door, then goes inside. Harry suggests they lock it in, because neither he nor Ron know where the fuck they are, nor is this door marked in any way, and why the hell is there a key in the outside anyway? Or at all? As we know, this door is actually the girls’ toilets they were originally aiming for, and I can’t think of a single acceptable reason for that door to ever be locked and many, many, many reasons why you would not leave the key in it. Not to mention that hey, this is a magic castle, lock spells are a thing, why do you even have regular locks and keys?

It’s also interesting to note that while at this point wizards know about Muggle stuff and it makes sense they’d have modern plumbing, this makes no sense at all for the rest of the series when they suddenly regress to complete ignorance. Particularly next book, when apparently at least one of the Founders knew about plumbing that didn’t even exist in his lifetime.

Anyway, they lock the door, and trot off feeling very proud of themselves, and then hear a scream and realise they really really fucked up. No, seriously, why do you not know where you are? Are the boys’ toilets in fact not next to the girls’? Where the hell were you going if this wasn’t the toilet you were planning to get to? Why did the troll even go in here? Do trolls eat children? Did it just hear something and wonder what the noise was? We’re never told.

“It was the last thing they wanted to do, but what choice did they have?”

This could have been phrased better. ‘Going back to face the troll was the last thing they wanted to do’, for example. Because this just sounds like they don’t want to help Hermione, which while totally in character isn’t really the impression you want to give of your protagonist and his Plucky Sidekick (TM).

They run back and flail at the door, and manage to unlock it and run in. The troll is smashing stuff for no real reason, and Hermione’s cowering against the wall and looks about to faint, whatever that’s meant to look like. Pale, presumably. At this point I’m assuming Fluffy caused some latent trauma, because she didn’t go to pieces then and I would say three sets of giant fangs is a lot scarier than one giant stick. I much prefer PTSD to the actual explanation, which is almost certainly that Girls Need Rescuing. Even when said girl is demonstrably far more competent than the boys nobly accidentally nearly killing her, and is the only character in the series to have used actual spells onscreen at this point.

This scene also marks the first instance of a very frequently recurring theme throughout the series. If you allow yourself to be upset by something, you’ll be attacked, especially if you’re a girl. Here, Hermione is crying in the toilets over being bullied, and gets attacked by a troll. Next book, Myrtle tells us she was crying in the toilets over being bullied, and got attacked by a basilisk. In book six, Draco is crying in the toilets because of sheer stress and fear, and gets attacked by Harry. There are other examples, but these all take place in toilets for some reason. Basically tears are weak and if you dare to get upset over anything you’ll regret it, because it’s your fault if you’re a victim of something. These books are downright damaging for younger readers; they’re going to absorb some pretty toxic messages without realising.

All that aside, Harry reacts reasonably here. Probably too reasonably for an eleven year old child, but whatever, it’s rare enough that he actually does something useful, I’ll take it. He and Ron don’t try to attack the troll directly; instead they start throwing bits of wreckage and yelling, distracting it and confusing it by giving it a choice of targets. While Ron’s got its attention, Harry gets to Hermione and tries to get her to run, but the plot demands that she now be completely frozen and unable to move.

It is possible to be paralysed with fear, but almost always in situations involving a fear of the unknown, or a phobia or other trigger, or when you have multiple options and can’t decide which one to take. When something is literally attacking you, you’re usually more than capable of running as long as you have a clear way to run, because that’s what you’ve evolved to do. Your brain isn’t even involved, your glands dump adrenaline into your blood to kick up your heart rate and your breathing to power your muscles to get the fuck away without any actual thought required (there’s a reason they call that reflex ‘fight or flight’). If Hermione can see the open door, she’s going to run, so for my own sanity I’m going to assume she can’t and that she thinks she’s trapped.

The troll tries to attack Ron.

“Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid: he took a great running jump and managed to fasten his arms around the troll’s neck from behind. The troll couldn’t feel Harry hanging there, but even a troll will notice if you stick a long bit of wood up its nose, and Harry’s wand had still been in his hand when he’d jumped – it had gone straight up one of the troll’s nostrils.”

I like that the narrative acknowledges that sometimes bravery is stupid. This won’t happen again. I’m questioning how Harry managed to jump twelve feet up, though. And Harry’s wand is not in his hand, he’s never mentioned drawing it at any point and he’s been throwing taps and pipes around. Also, it’s entirely possible – given that despite wands just being sticks, they’re apparently almost always unbreakable – that this might actually have killed the troll, rather than just hurt it a bit. If you stab someone up their nose with something long enough, it’ll go straight through some very thin cartilage and into their brain.

The troll howls and flails, though doesn’t seem to be bleeding even though the wand’s apparently gone deep enough to get stuck. Then we get a really random single sentence from Ron’s point of view, telling us that he doesn’t know what to do but hears himself cast the first spell he can think of.

Chapter One was partly from Vernon Dursley’s point of view, and partly omniscient-narrator. Everything else in the book apart from this single sentence is Harry’s point of view. And there’s no reason to be in Ron’s head here, since Harry could very easily hear him cast the spell.

Inevitably, it’s Wingardium Leviosa, and despite there being no way he’s going to manage precise wand movements in these circumstances it seems Hermione teaching him how to pronounce it earlier was enough to let him cast it perfectly now despite having been unable to at the time. The troll’s club lifts out of its hand, hovers, then drops and smacks it on the head with enough force to stun it. Okay, this is horribly contrived, but I like it anyway and it’s a good way of letting three first years survive a fight with a monster despite not really knowing any useful spells. I always really enjoy books that use magic more creatively, taking a spell for Thing X and making it do Thing Y instead.

That said, the movie did this scene much better. Hermione wasn’t useless and helped Ron cast the spell, and he then moved his wand to slam the club down on the troll.

Current spell count: Hermione, 2. Ron, 1. Harry, 0. Worst. Protagonist. Ever.

Hermione suddenly unfreezes now, despite that not really being how this sort of shock works, and asks if it’s dead. Harry says he doesn’t think so – it’s twelve feet tall, I think you’d be able to tell if it was breathing, but fair enough, he’s a kid in the aftermath of a terrifying situation – and retrieves his wand from the troll’s nose. It’s covered in slime, which is ‘bogies‘ in the UK version but changed to ‘boogers‘ for the Americans – incidentally it rarely if ever is after this point (or before for that matter), so I really have no idea what on earth the Bat Bogey Hex etc. actually means. There’s also no reason for this detail to be included, really, particularly since copious amounts of blood would be far more likely.

At this point three of the teachers burst in. McGonagall, Snape, and Quirrell. Well, Snape was off on the third floor chasing plot coupons and fighting monsters of his own, and I’m not sure he’d have had time to do that and get back to the other teachers and then backtrack to here again. Let’s be nice and assume he heard the noises and abandoned the idiot-ball plot to come and help. Quirrell was on the floor in the Great Hall, so apparently McGonagall went back to get him and then went looking for the troll again? And where the fuck are Dumbledore and the other teachers?

Quirrell whimpers and nearly faints. Snape ignores them and starts looking at the troll; I don’t know what for, but it amuses me that he’s apparently more concerned for it than he is for the children. Maybe it’s an endangered species. And McGonagall… well.

“Harry had never seen her look so angry… ‘What on earth were you thinking of?’ said Professor McGonagall, with cold fury in her voice.”

Yes. She’s furious with them. There’s no concern whatsoever. She’s really angry that they were attacked by a monster. Remember, kids, if you’re a victim of anything, it’s your fault! What the fuck is this woman’s problem? People do react with anger after they’ve been really frightened, as anyone who’s accidentally made their partner or parents extremely worried can testify, but it doesn’t look like this. You cry, you make sure the person you were worried about is okay, and then you’re angry at them afterwards. McGonagall storms into the room already furious, and yells at three presumably fairly traumatised children without bothering to see if they’re hurt or not first.

She demands to know why they weren’t in their dormitory – Snape glances at Harry, who looks at the floor; this tells me Snape knew Harry and Ron were following him earlier, frankly – and the boys stare at each other. Hermione speaks up and says truthfully that they were looking for her. And she should have added that they were doing so because she wasn’t at the feast and didn’t know about the troll, and that’s where this conversation should have ended, because that’s all completely reasonable and honest and she doesn’t need to add that it’s partly their fault she wasn’t there given that they did come after her and help. But for some reason Rowling then has Hermione tell a very unconvincing lie and claim that she had read about trolls, thought she could handle it and went looking for it. In a toilet several floors away from where it was supposed to be. I have no idea why – this isn’t in character, and there’s no way any of the teachers should have believed it, and it’s not remotely necessary given that the first part of her statement was enough to stop any of them getting into trouble and all Hermione’s done is put herself back in hot water with the inexplicably furious teacher. (Clearly Rowling wanted a scene where Hermione lies to get the boys out of trouble, for some reason, because that is a sort of school story trope… but this makes no fucking sense because she doesn’t need to lie to do that.)

Hermione goes on to describe the fight and that Harry and Ron saved her life, while the boys try to pretend that yes, this is totally what happened. This part at least is more believable; we’ve already seen that Hermione talks too much when she’s nervous, and she’s just realised she’s accidentally screwed herself here.

And McGonagall’s reaction to all this is to call Hermione a fool, say she’s really disappointed in her, take five house points from her and tell her to fuck off on her own back to Gryffindor Tower.

Why is this bitch allowed near children? (I generally don’t like using that word, but sometimes nothing else will fit.) This is just plain cruel. Even if you hate Hermione, you’ve got to feel for the poor girl at this point. She doesn’t get to see the end of this conversation; as far as she’s concerned, she cost her house points by being attacked by a monster, and nobody gives a shit whether she got hurt or not or how scared and upset she is.

This school is fucking horrible.

Anyway, McGonagall then gives Harry and Ron five points each, tells them they were lucky and that she’ll tell Dumbles how great they are, and sends them on their way too. I like to think that as soon as they’re out of earshot Snape tells her she’s a dreadful head of house and walks off in disgust while she’s asking what he means.

Harry and Ron discuss how they should have got more points on their way back to the tower. Ron actually admits it was good of Hermione to lie for them, though he adds that they did save her and needs Harry to remind him that he’s the reason she was there to need saving in the first place. I don’t see why Harry would be more aware of this than Ron, they’re both equally sociopathic most of the time, but at least someone said it.

The three of them reunite in the tower (conspicuously devoid of concerned prefects/brothers; Percy, I am very disappointed in you), stare around awkwardly, mutter ‘thanks’ and scurry off in different directions. It’s kind of cute actually.

“But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”

This is also kind of cute. Even though I still maintain that Hermione isn’t really their friend at all. And really she ought to be afraid to go anywhere near them, given that she gets attacked by monsters whenever she’s alone with them. And going through a scary experience together wouldn’t magically change their personalities, and we’ll see throughout the rest of the series that they still have nothing in common and still don’t honestly like one another very much. But cute nonetheless.

Also, the school as a whole for some reason never finds out about this incident. Unlike literally everything else that happens. Go figure.

Holy crap, this was a long one this time.

Something that came up in the comments on the last post, the ‘how to fix this chapter’ section that used to be at the end of these posts isn’t there any more. I’ll be honest, there was such a gap between chapter 7 and 8 that I just forgot; I did consider going back to add it once I realised, but by this point in the story the chapters can’t really be fixed except by making it a completely different book. I’ll attempt to do some sort of summary post at the end suggesting an overall rewrite of the whole thing, maybe, and continue to suggest rewrites of individual scenes as I did here.

We’d like to end by wishing you all a Happy New Year. Here’s to 2016.

(Also, there was a real-life Professor Snape and he used to teach Chemistry at my old university.)


Posted by on December 30, 2015 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Nine

All right, so ‘much more regularly’ was wildly optimistic. The universe really, really doesn’t want us to do these. But this is still pretty timely, right? I don’t know, I’m still working night shifts, the concept of time is beyond my grasp these days… onwards we go, in any case. This chapter has so much in it to hate. So. Much.

Content warnings: does Mary-Sueism count?

Chapter Nine: The Midnight Duel

The illustration for this chapter purports to be the Fat Lady. It looks
more like the bastard child of Elvis and a 1950s teddy-boy.

Before we start this chapter, an aside about the title of the previous one that we forgot to mention at the time: we’re never actually told what ‘Potions Master’ means. Fanon (including me) mostly uses it as an academic title implying possession of a Masters degree equivalent. This is because ‘master’ is a legitimate means of referring to a male teacher (think ‘schoolmaster’, though that sounds rather antiquated now), but Snape is the only one to be called such despite there being a lot of other male teachers – for example, Flitwick is always ‘the Charms teacher’, never ‘the Charms master’ –  thus implying there’s a reason why Snape, specifically, is a master. Naturally this is just one on the very long list of things Harry never bothers to think about.

Mitchell assumed when he first read the book and saw the title of the chapter that it meant Harry was going to be naturally amazing at Potions. [I remember being really excited that Harry might end up being good at something; imagine my disappointment.] This is pretty funny in hindsight, but I’m sure he wasn’t the first or the last to think it meant that, and just goes to show that some readers already guessed that Harry’s going to have at least one Sue-power handed to him.

Which leads us neatly back to this chapter, where we find out that this was 100% correct and about 10,000% less useful than Potions would have been…

The opening line of the chapter informs us that against all his expectations prior to this point, Harry has found someone he hates more than Dudley – namely, Draco Malfoy. Once again, Harry, please adjust your sense of perspective. We’ve been told that Dudley has spent ten years harassing and abusing him. Draco… um… laughed at him once? I understand this is presumably meant to be childish hyperbole, but Harry never grows out of it and will spend most of his life acting like this.

Of course, this is actually just Rowling’s own flawed perspective, since this is the woman who recently insisted yet again on Pottermore that Snape was Harry’s arch-enemy, over and above Voldemort. The man who said nasty things to him sometimes in between repeatedly saving him from his own stupidity was more of an enemy than the man who murdered his parents and a lot of other people and spent years trying to kill him, enslave the human race and take over the world. There are a lot of people in the world for whom every little thing that happens is the new WORST THING EVER regardless of what’s happened to them before (why hello Katniss Everdeen) and it seems Rowling is one; this type of person is exhausting to be around.

Anyway, since for reasons that are never explained the Gryffindors and Slytherins only share Potions lessons, Harry doesn’t have to see Draco much. So of course the narrative gives us another contrived scenario, because making all lessons inter-House was just too hard – the first years are going to start flying lessons on Thursday, and of course Gryffindor and Slytherin will be learning together.

Once again, how on earth does Hogwarts schedule lessons? Do they have yet another free period on a Thursday, or is this just arbitrarily replacing another lesson? And why should flying be mandatory – we’ll see over the course of the series that actually most witches and wizards don’t bother with brooms, understandably so given how many other means of transportation exist, and also brooms are quite dangerous and a fear of heights is common enough that these lessons are probably going to be fairly traumatic. I’m pretty sure I’d panic, for a start.

There is literally no reason why this couldn’t be an optional Saturday club that Harry chooses to join because he thinks flying sounds neat. None whatsoever. Except that it would make sense, and we can’t have that, not in this series.

Harry’s immediate response is to be worried that he’s going to make a fool of himself in front of Draco. You know, I hadn’t realised just how early the Drarry subtext started, but here we are. Aside from Black and Lupin, Harry and Draco is the only slash pairing I can see being canon. Also apparently Harry’s been looking forward to learning to fly more than anything else, which is why he’s never mentioned it or thought about it and only noticed the broom shop as one of many cool magic shops.

Ron says he won’t make a fool of himself, he’ll be fine, and Malfoy might say he’s amazing but that’s probably all talk. We’re told that Draco does talk about flying a lot, and is always complaining about first years not being allowed on the Quidditch teams and telling ‘long, boastful stories‘ about escaping Muggles in helicopters.

When are Ron and Harry hearing Draco tell these stories? We’ve just been told the only lesson they share is Potions, where Snape doesn’t let the kids talk to each other, and at meals Gryffindor and Slytherin are on opposite sides of the improbably huge hall. And how does Draco even know what a helicopter is? They’re not that common in Britain and chances are if he encountered one it would probably belong to either the police or the army, which could be a problem. They also fly high enough to cause issues for anyone sitting out in the open on a stick, and would create more air turbulence than a plane. Plus, who mindraped the pilot afterwards, assuming they didn’t just crash?

In any case, apparently ‘everyone‘ has stories about all the flying they do all the time – though obviously since this is sport-related every single example we get is one of the boys. Because except for some random names reeled off during the Sorting, Hermione’s still the only female student we’ve actually seen onscreen, and she’s Muggleborn and will also turn out later to hate flying. Seamus briefly gets to exist again to imply that he spends almost all his time flying around the countryside. Ron tells anyone who will listen about the time he nearly crashed into a Muggle hang-glider on his brother Charlie’s old broom.

On the one hand, this is pretty realistic, children do try to one-up each other and gain status. And the tone implies that Harry doesn’t believe any of them, which is refreshing considering what a credulous twit he usually is. On the other hand, if the stories aren’t true, how did Ron learn what a hang-glider was, when he’s so ignorant of the Muggle world that he doesn’t understand that their pictures don’t move? Though even if the story is true there’s still not much chance he could have found out what the weird flying person he met was doing. Honestly he’d have been more likely to greet them as a fellow wizard and cause a lot of problems that way.

Ron really loves flying and Quidditch, by the way, and gets into a fight with Muggleborn Dean about whether it’s better than football. He ‘[can’t] see what was so exciting about a game with only one ball where no one was allowed to fly’. This makes Quidditch sound as though it’s going to be a lot more interesting than it actually is, but you’ll have to wait until next chapter for us to rant about everything that’s wrong with the game, after which we’ll only revisit the subject when the narrative forces us to because we both find it very dull.

“Harry had caught Ron prodding Dean’s poster of West Ham football team, trying to make the players move.”

This is actually pretty cute. Don’t look at me like that, I don’t hate everything Ron does. Just most things. Unfortunately it does make him look stupid, since he knows it’s a Muggle picture and Harry already explained to him on the train that Muggle pictures don’t move. As an isolated incident, the football vs. Quidditch debate isn’t a bad scene, but every time this sort of question appears the Muggle option loses, even in situations where it’s clearly better. By the end of the series you get the impression that the author despises her own species for not being as cool as her imaginary friends, which is disturbingly reminiscent of Twilight, and you also get the impression that the wizarding world see Muggles as vaguely intelligent animals.

Neville’s never been on a broom before, because his grandmother wouldn’t let him. That seems very sensible of her, but at the same time utterly contradicts what little we know about his family, because surely that would be a good way to try to force his magic to manifest? Or try to ‘accidentally’ kill him, since I’m sure that’s what they were actually trying to do? Harry just thinks she forbade it because Neville’s very clumsy. Poor Neville, doomed to be the series punching-bag for six books before Harry’s told in book seven that you did some awesome shit offscreen. You would have been so much better as the Chosen One.

“Hermione Granger was almost as nervous about flying as Neville was. This was something you couldn’t learn by heart out of a book – not that she hadn’t tried. At breakfast on Thursday she bored them all stupid with flying tips she’d got out of a library book called Quidditch through the Ages.”

Are there no books about actual flying in the library? Is your only choice one that involves sport? Still, I like this reaction, it’s consistent with her characterisation and that’s depressingly rare for this series. I also like that she is always the only student smart enough to research anything in advance, because I’ve been that student in quite a few classes and it’s just plain funny watching people who didn’t bother suddenly trying to pretend they like you because they want you to help them. Though right now I suspect she can’t appreciate the humour, since the only one listening is Neville and the others are pretending to be bored by a subject we’ve just been told they’re all obsessed with because they just don’t like her.

I’m developing a strong headcanon here that Neville and Hermione are best friends throughout the series and do all sorts of awesome stuff offscreen and she spent most of her extended Deathly Hallows camping trip secretly communicating with him and helping him with his resistance fighting, and the only reason she hangs out with Harry and Ron is because they’re so useless that they need her to stop the Chosen One killing himself repeatedly and the war is sadly more important than her friend. God knows there’s no canon evidence that Harry and Ron ever take any notice of her unless they need her help.

To illustrate this point, Harry’s saying here that Quidditch Through The Ages is boring. Because he’s a dick. Later, he’s going to get his own copy, and he’ll suddenly find it really interesting.

Let’s also note that Quidditch Through the Ages is one of the books Rowling later decided to write and release to raise money for charity, so presumably she forgot it was meant to be boring. It also didn’t contain any ‘flying tips’, it was a history of the sport – yes, Mitchell actually went and checked, which was painful – which makes sense given the title, honestly, but is inconsistent with what she says about it here. Even if Rowling hadn’t claimed explicitly that she hates re-reading her works after they’re finished, it’s rather hard not to notice. I never understood that myself – if you don’t want to re-read your books, why do you think the people buying them will want to?

Anyway, Hermione gives up once the post arrives. Harry pouts a bit, because he hasn’t had a single letter since Hagrid’s note and Draco laughs at him about it. Once again, Draco sits on the far side of the huge hall with several hundred students separating them. He’s apparently gone to great lengths to monitor Harry, isn’t that cute. Of course, mocking someone for something like this is in character with the kind of boy we’re meant to believe Draco is, but it’s just not logistically possible here.

Also, who is Harry expecting letters from? His only relatives hate him. Is he hoping for fan mail? Actually, that’s a good point. You can’t tell me the Daily Prophet didn’t mention that the Boy Who Lived is now at Hogwarts, and given how deranged the wizarding world is, it’s just not possible that for his entire time at school Harry never gets a single fan letter, aside from the aftermath of the Quibbler interview in Order of the Phoenix. Come to that, given that post owls can magically find people anywhere, he should have been getting letters constantly since he was a toddler and the Dursleys must have spent their lives chasing owls away. Presumably here Dumbledore is stealing his mail, but there’s no indication that the post gets sorted and checked before being delivered to the kids. Hmm.

If this were better written, I’d assume that Harry’s jealous not so much over the lack of letters themselves but rather the lack of people to receive them from (which is honestly not unrealistic) and expressing that poorly.

On a related note, even if the Dursleys did want to write to him I’m not sure they could. Fanon has it that Muggles can contact the school via the Hogsmeade post office, but that’s never confirmed in canon. Hermione never mentions gifts or letters from her family (probably realising that her ‘friends’ don’t give a shit. I bet she tells Neville instead, he’d probably like hearing about non-homicidal relatives) and there was no mention in the Hogwarts letter of a way for Muggles to send things.

Which makes one wonder where Harry’s Christmas presents come from later, doesn’t it? Especially since we’ve been told repeatedly that the Dursleys never give him anything, yet now they’re willing to spend postage to send junk somewhere they don’t have an address for? For fuck’s sake, Dumbledore, stop messing with people.

Back with the story, Neville’s been sent a parcel from his grandmother. It’s a Remembrall – a round glass marble that turns red when you hold it if you’ve forgotten something. Disregarding the fact that this is completely useless, and that anyone who bothered to make it would have invented one that then told you what you’d forgotten (because mind-reading inanimate objects are everywhere in this world), this fits with the daft whimsical feel that a lot of the wizarding world has at this point. But it doesn’t really work with the magic system.

Draco ‘just happens’ to be passing (because he wants to be near Harry, obviously) and grabs it. Harry and Ron jump up ready to fight him, because that’s their response to literally everything, and McGonagall apparently teleports from her seat behind a huge table on a dais at the end of the hall to ask what’s going on. She ‘[can] spot trouble quicker than any teacher in the school’ apparently. Tell that to fourth-year Hermione when she gets really bad acid burns via hate mail and staggers out of the hall with blistered hands while McGonagall conspicuously gives no fucks and doesn’t bother to see if she’s okay. (Nor do Harry and Ron, naturally.) Anyway, Draco says he was just looking and gives the Remembrall back and sulks off.

We’ve been given no indication of how much time has passed between chapters, which by itself I don’t mind but does make sporking more difficult, but this must still be in the first half of September because they go off to their flying lesson at 3.30pm and there’s no mention of it being particularly dark. Just as well, really, I certainly wouldn’t put it past Hogwarts to make the firsties get on brooms in the dark. They’re also crossing lawns towards a lawn, since for once Rowling seems to have flopped when it comes to describing scenery, and the grass is rippling underfoot, which sounds rather unnerving.

The Slytherins are already there, and so are twenty brooms. So there are twenty first years between the two houses? Only nine have been named thus far, though I believe two others show up in this scene. Harry remembers Fred and George complaining about the school brooms – apparently some of them vibrate if you fly too high, or pull to the left. Okay, school equipment being rubbish is a trope, but not when said equipment is likely to kill you if it fails. Also it’s a stick, how does that go wrong or wear out? Not that we’re ever told how brooms work. There’s no mention of the movieverse stirrups and saddles either, so this is probably going to be quite painful.

The flying teacher is Madam Hooch, who has ‘short, grey hair and yellow eyes like a hawk‘. This is never going to be explained, but even in Magicland people tend not to have yellow eyes unless they’re werewolves of some description, and as far as I know Hooch isn’t. I also don’t know why she’s even on the staff – she referees half a dozen Quidditch matches and teaches this single lesson. The first years aren’t going to get any more flying lessons, which leaves them pretty screwed since it’s not as if they learn anything in this one. Let’s be charitable and assume that they happen offscreen and Harry ignores them because they’re not about him, but that still doesn’t really justify having a full-time member of staff. Though from the way Hooch acts during this scene she seems to be a very new substitute teacher who has no real idea what she’s doing or how children behave.

Without bothering to introduce herself, take a register or explain anything about brooms or flying, Hooch tells everyone to stand by a broom, hold their hand out over it and say ‘Up’. Yes. That’s literally how this works. Though incidentally nobody will ever give a broom a verbal command again throughout the rest of the series. Anyway, Harry’s broom jumps straight into his hand, of course. Hermione’s rolls over and Neville’s doesn’t move, because Harry thinks they’re both useless people; he doesn’t bother to look at anyone else, presumably in case they’re as accomplished as he is at this point. He wonders if brooms, like horses, can tell if you’re afraid. In this universe, probably, but how does Harry know horses can do that? For a kid who’s spent all his non-school time to date living in a cupboard he seems pretty knowledgeable about some random things.

We can’t really avoid the innuendos any longer at this point. Hooch shows everyone how to ‘mount their brooms‘ and then walks around ‘correcting their grips’. Of course, the whole thing with witches and broomsticks traditionally is that they are phallic symbols, but still, most of us were probably in our early teens when these books came out and there must have been a lot of sniggering worldwide. Also apparently Draco’s been doing it wrong for years. Gutter minds aside, it’s a stick, how can there be a wrong way to hold it. I assume this is meant to be reminiscent of P.E. classes, since there are correct ways to hold tennis racquets and golf clubs and such, and doing so incorrectly is usually less effective and could be unsafe… but it’d be nice to have some details here as to why it might matter.

Because Hooch is a sports coach, she has a whistle. (My P.E. teacher didn’t need one, she had a voice like a foghorn.) Why a witch would be using a Muggle item like this is not explained either. I doubt Hooch is Muggleborn, not with yellow eyes, but I suppose she could be. Of course, at this point in the series Ron’s the only one we’ve seen genuinely clueless about Muggle things, and for the rest of this book there will be various Muggle objects and phrases scattered about, because Rowling’s sticking to the original idea that witches and wizards live unseen amongst us and blend in. (Except for the people wandering around in long cloaks occasionally.) It’s only later that she decides they’re far too cool to be tainted by us lowly Muggles and makes them totally separate.

Anyway, Hooch instructs them to kick off from the ground when she blows the whistle, then lean forward to come down again. This is the only onscreen flying instruction we will ever see, and the only instruction these kids will ever get as far as the book is concerned. Aside from Neville it seems that all wizard-raised children tend to be taught how to fly at home; for everyone else, unless your name is Harry Potter you just don’t get to play with these toys.

Neville panics and kicks off too early (I would have said it would be more likely he’d be too scared to move, but okay, sure), and despite his broom being totally unresponsive earlier he shoots up for twenty feet before Harry – who appears to have magic vision – sees him go pale and gasp despite him just being a dot at that point, and fall off. Madam Hooch might as well be a Squib since all she did was shout for him to come back and she makes no attempt to save him. That doesn’t matter though since miraculously all that happens is that he breaks his wrist on impact. From twenty feet up? His arm would have shattered, followed by quite a few bits of the rest of him, and he should be quite seriously hurt. But whatever, maybe his history of being thrown out of windows has given him partial immunity to fall damage or something.

Hooch continues not using magic to either directly mend the broken wrist or to signal the castle for help, nor does she do the smart thing and send one of the children with Neville to the hospital wing. She takes him herself, leaving a score of eleven year olds with broomsticks totally unsupervised, after giving them some vague threats about them being expelled if they touch a broom. You see what I mean about her being a useless substitute teacher?

The horribly contrived scene continues. Draco finds Neville’s Remembrall in the grass – it’s much smaller than the movie version so I don’t know how it fell out of his pocket – and Harry demands Draco hand it over. Draco says he’ll leave it in a tree, grabs his broom and flies off, before calling for Harry to ‘come and get it‘. (Seriously. Canon ship right here.) Harry grabs his broom, ignoring Hermione telling him not to be so bloody stupid, and MARY SUE POWERS ACTIVATE!

Because you see, Harry can fly. Instantly and perfectly. Despite never having done so before, not having been taught how, and having absolutely zero idea how brooms work. We’re not told how he does it, either. Presumably you lean this way and that and use your weight to steer, maybe move your legs or arms a bit, but there’s no indication of what Harry’s doing. Just that it’s really easy and he doesn’t know what all the fuss was about. The book even lampshades how unlikely this is, sprinkling ‘somehow’ around.

Even on my first readthrough, I rolled my eyes so much it hurt.

Of course, this makes all the girls ‘scream’ and ‘gasp‘, while Ron just ‘whoop[s]‘ and none of the other boys make a sound, because manly men being manly. On the plus side, during the bickering over the Remembrall we learned the names of two more female students – Parvati Patel of Gryffindor, come on down! You’re our second female student to be allowed dialogue, AND our first clearly non-white student! (In theory Lee Jordan and Dean Thomas are both black. This is never stated in the books and they both have Westernised names, so I don’t think this counts.) And Pansy Parkinson becomes our first – and for most of the rest of the series, our only – female Slytherin. No, I don’t know why they both have the same initials.

Draco naturally looks rather surprised when Harry catches up, because he’s clearly unfamiliar with protagonist-based natural laws. Harry demands he give the Remembrall back, or he’ll knock him off his broom. Still thinking he lives in a fair universe, Draco sneers, and Harry discovers he magically knows how to make the broom charge. (‘Like a javelin‘, according to the book. Which presumably means in a long curved arc that misses Draco completely and ends with Harry being impaled in the ground looking like a prat. If only.) Draco dodges and Harry spins around to face him again; people below are clapping, inevitably.

Harry points out Crabbe and Goyle aren’t here. I hate to break it to you, Harry, but magic Sue powers don’t mean shit and Draco can still flatten you without needing his friends around. You’re lucky he likes you. Draco shrugs this off and throws the Remembrall away before flying off back to sanity, and Harry dives and catches it.

This is made to sound much more impressive than that, but he literally just flies quickly downwards, then pulls up before hitting the ground. For the rest of the series this is going to be hailed as an amazing super-difficult radical move that even has its own name, because it’s apparently such a difficult concept that someone had to invent it, but it’s not exactly rocket science. Also, since Harry only caught the Remembrall ‘a foot from the ground’ he did it wrong and smashed into the grass anyway because if he weren’t the protagonist there’s no way he’d have time to pull up from that.

McGonagall teleports onto the scene at this point, apparently having seen everything. In the films, the flying lesson is right outside the building and she yells through the window afterwards, thus making this possible. Here, she apparently has X-ray vision, since no matter where she was in the castle she’d have to move away from the window to get out of the building and there would be walls in the way before she got outside. Anyway, she shouts a lot about how she’s never seen anything like this and then drags Harry off, thus joining the useless-teacher club. Seriously, take the bloody brooms away and stop leaving the children unsupervised. Also, never? In fifty years she’s never seen a child fly unsupervised at the first opportunity? Or does she mean that in fifty years she’s never seen anyone dive and then pull out of it near the ground? Maybe she’s just really confused because her glasses are ‘flashing‘ and she therefore presumably can’t see. (Mitchell suggested it meant another type of flashing. We tend to drink a fair bit during these sessions sometimes, in case you hadn’t guessed already…)

Harry panics for the next page or so because he thinks he’s going to be expelled. Should have thought about that before, shouldn’t you, sunshine. He worries that he’s going to end up Hagrid’s assistant, and I’m confused because at this point he should actually be totally okay with that since he seems to think Hagrid’s wonderful and he hates his family. They stop at Flitwick’s classroom and McGonagall asks if she can borrow Wood for a moment.

“Wood? thought Harry, bewildered; was Wood a cane she was going to use on him?”

This is the only moment where Harry actually reacts believably as an abuse survivor. There’s no actual reason why he’d believe he’s going to be beaten, since corporal punishment in schools was outlawed in Britain in 1987 and he’s highly unlikely to have read any of Ye Olde Schoole Storys where being beaten is ridiculously common, but there’s certainly a lot of evidence to support the idea that the wizarding world is both backward and sadistic, and someone with a genuine history of abuse isn’t likely to react rationally anyway. Inevitably, he’s never going to have this reaction again, even though he gets into much worse trouble a lot – in fact, within the next few pages.

Wood is, of course, another student, a ‘burly‘ fifth-year Gryffindor named Oliver. McGonagall drags them both into an empty classroom (empty once she kicks Peeves out, anyway) and tells Wood that Harry is his new Seeker. I actually like the way we’re given information for this scene – Wood and McGonagall know exactly what they’re talking about but the readers have to wait for Harry to catch up – but it’s annoying to recap so I’ll summarise. A Seeker is the person who breaks Quidditch and kills any possibility of it being an interesting sport (much more on this next time) and Wood is the Gryffindor Quidditch captain. Who doesn’t turn a hair at being told that the teacher is doing his job for him, or point out that it’s actually against the rules for a first year to be on the team. This is a normal Hogwarts attitude, but refreshingly Wood didn’t so much as twitch over OMG HARRY POTTER and seems not to care, meaning that he’d blithely accept this sort of thing regardless of special snowflakes.

Incidentally, McGonagall doesn’t tell Wood why. She doesn’t describe what happened, just that Harry caught something and she was impressed. We’re also not told why Gryffindor doesn’t have a Seeker – presumably the previous one graduated, but apparently nobody else in the house can fly. (Psst. Rowling. This is why reserve teams exist.)

Wood inspects Harry and says he looks like a perfect Seeker because he looks ‘light’ and ‘speedy’. I don’t know how anyone looks speedy, but of course he’s light, you idiot, he’s a skinny eleven year old. Most of his year are pretty light. He adds to McGonagall that ‘we’ will have to get him a decent broom. Not ‘does he have a broom?’ or ‘can he get himself a broom despite the rules?’ but ‘you’re totally going to buy him one aren’t you Professor you biased cow’. Wood is much more plot-savvy than Draco. He knows how this shit works.

McGonagall says she’ll speak to Dumbledore so they can ignore the rules, and tells Harry that as long as he does well she won’t punish him and no seriously how the fuck are you a teacher ugh, then adds that Harry’s father was great at Quidditch too, and scene.

Wood tells Harry to keep this a secret. So of course the next scene opens with him telling Ron, at dinner, in the packed hall. It doesn’t matter though, since Fred and George trot up a minute later to say they know all about it too – they’re on the team as well, as Beaters. Harry waffles on about how special he is – he’s the youngest Seeker in a century.

“Ron was so amazed, so impressed, he just sat and gaped at Harry.”

Sure, if by ‘amazed and impressed’ you mean ‘astounded the school are breaking so many rules for you’ and also ‘rabidly jealous because you’d never even heard of this sport a fortnight ago and I’ve been mad about it my entire life’ and ‘wondering how the fuck you know how to fly’. Honestly, I hate the way Ron starts to act in later books, but it’s actually perfectly reasonable – the main issue is the fact that they really shouldn’t be friends in the first place.

Draco shows up with Crabbe and Goyle, asking when Harry’s going to be expelled. Poor, naive Draco. Harry sneers that now suddenly Draco’s brave, back on the ground with his friends to back him up, apparently overlooking the fact that Draco’s never been scared of him and really never will be, and Draco says he’ll take Harry on alone, no problem, how about a wizard’s duel tonight?

Ron accepts before Harry can say anything, and nominates himself as Harry’s second. Draco picks Crabbe for his, and despite being the challenger proceeds to pick the time and the place and the weapon – midnight in the trophy room, wands only, no contact – and swans off. He says the trophy room because it’s always unlocked, incidentally, but as far as I can tell literally everywhere in Hogwarts is always unlocked except the single door on the third-floor corridor. And why does Hogwarts have a trophy room? Later there’s a lot of bullshit where special snowflakes get given shiny things a lot, but those don’t exist yet and as far as we’ve been told there are only two trophies in existence, the Quidditch Cup and the House Cup.

We’re not really going to learn anything much about how duelling is meant to work, but the fact that Draco specifies the use of wands and specifically says ‘no contact’ is interesting, particularly since Crabbe and Goyle were cracking their knuckles threateningly. That is the stereotypically approved thuggish thing to do in these situations, but it’s also a threat of physical violence, not magical. Wizards tend not to go for punching people when they have all those creative and nasty spiteful spells they can use, but Draco’s words do imply that there are more physical duels in the wizarding world where they do just beat the shit out of each other. Which is frankly hilarious.

Harry’s all hang on, what did you just make me agree to, and what’s a second? Ron gives no fucks, presumably angry over the special snowflake thing, and says cheerfully that the second is there to take over if you die but people don’t die in duels very often and anyway Harry and Draco don’t know enough magic to really hurt each other. Or any magic at all, based on what we’ve actually seen. Harry asks what he should do if he waves his wand and nothing happens, and Ron backs up my theory about other types of duels by suggesting ‘throw it away and punch him on the nose‘. That’s remarkably intelligent of you, Ron. If only you acted like this for the whole series, you were mostly tolerable this book apart from not caring about Hermione or Neville or animals.

Speaking of Hermione, she shows up at this point, saying she couldn’t help overhearing. I’m not surprised, half the school must have heard. She points out that the whole of Gryffindor will suffer if they’re caught, and it’s very selfish of them. No mention of not breaking the rules because they’re the rules or because it’s wrong, you notice, but because it will affect other people. The narrative is trying very hard to show that she’s a complete goody-two-shoes, but once again her speech and actions don’t back up what we’re being told. Naturally, the boys tell her to sod off, because why would they care about that? It’s not like Harry moped and worried for hours last chapter because he cost Gryffindor two entire house points or anything. Oh, wait.

[At this point technical difficulties halted the session. Skype sucks. Bring back MSN.]

That night Harry’s lying in bed waiting for midnight and daydreaming about Draco. No, really – “Malfoy’s sneering face kept looming up out of the darkness – this was his big chance to beat Malfoy, face to face.” Heh. [Loten dear, get your mind out of the gutter, it doesn’t say ‘beat Malfoy off’…] That’s rich coming from you, mister! Anyway, he’s waiting for Seamus and Dean to fall asleep, and Neville’s still not back from the hospital wing. Really? It takes around seven hours to mend a broken wrist? You’d think someone would be worried when he didn’t show up for dinner. Oh, wait, my mistake, this is Gryffindor.

“Harry felt he was pushing his luck, breaking another school rule today.”

Really? Two pages ago Harry was freaking out thinking he was going to be whipped and expelled for touching a broom when he’d been told not to, but now he thinks sneaking out to duel with another student is merely pushing his luck? I told you he never reacts realistically again. It’s only been a few hours and he’s already forgotten to be scared of punishments. He acknowledges they’re probably going to get caught by Filch, but seems totally unconcerned about anything that might happen as a result even though he made a big deal last chapter of Filch threatening to imprison them for being somewhere they shouldn’t be.

At eleven thirty Ron says they had better go, and they put on their dressing gowns – changed to bathrobes in the US edition – and go out to the common room. I don’t know why they’re not getting dressed. Maybe Harry wants Draco to see him in his pyjamas. There’s a really nice description of the common room… complete with Hermione, who stayed up specifically to make one last attempt to talk them out of this. She makes a point of saying that she could have told Percy the prefect, but didn’t. I assume she’s worried about what Harry and Ron would do to her if she did, but really, I can only think of one occasion in the entire series where she does anything approaching tattling on them for anything and that’s because she’s worried a psycho murderer has sent Harry something that could kill him. (She’s right, but that’s another story.) They’re both furious that she’s asking them not to screw over their housemates and storm out of the portrait hole; she follows, still trying, but when they tell her to fuck off she gives up and turns back with various ‘you’ll be sorry, don’t say I didn’t warn you’ clichés.

But the Fat Lady has gone for a walk, or something, and the portrait’s closed, and she’s locked out with them. Because… well, I don’t actually know. Because the portrait is just that nasty, probably, since it’s not like she couldn’t tell from the conversation that at least one of them would want to get back in immediately. Having a sentient door guard is great when said guard actually does their job, but what happens if a fire breaks out during one of her ‘walks’? Nobody can open the portrait to get out and all the kids burn to death. Or, okay, suffocate, since stone isn’t all that flammable. And don’t get me started on Ravenclaw’s security system, that can wait.

Mitchell suggested maybe the Fat Lady is Rowling’s self-insert, given how blatantly she’s the instrument of authorial contrivance here. It’s worryingly plausible, except that Rowling hates fat people. [Admittedly, I made that suggestion fully cognizant of the irony.]

Of course, the boys couldn’t care less that Hermione’s locked out, and try to fuck off and leave her there. She doesn’t want to play that game, strangely enough, and catches up with them despite Ron trying to tell her not to; the three of them argue their way down the corridor to find Neville asleep on the floor. He didn’t know the new password and the Asshole Lady wouldn’t let him in – or tell anyone he was there, apparently – so he ended up falling asleep outside.

Has nobody been in or out of the tower all evening? (Related point, why was the common room empty at 11.30pm? I doubt the seventh years go to bed before midnight, and surely one year group has an astronomy lesson on a Thursday night.) And where the hell has he been? He even explicitly says when someone asks that Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, mended his wrist in about a minute. Given the way Hogwarts operates, it’s possible there was a wait time of several hours in the infirmary before the single very overworked nurse could get to him…

Anyway, Neville wants to go with them too, or more precisely doesn’t want to be left on his own since the Bloody Baron’s been past twice already. Why? The Baron’s the Slytherin ghost, what’s he doing up near Gryffindor Tower? I like to think he’s watching to see how long it takes the Gryffindors to notice Neville’s there. And where’s Sir Nicholas, the actual Gryffindor ghost? Or the prefects or random teachers, since they’re supposedly meant to patrol the corridors whenever the plot demands it… or Filch, come to that, since if he wants to catch misbehaving students I would guess outside Gryffindor’s common room is the best place to look.

Incidentally, nobody tells Neville what’s going on, where they’re going or why. And he doesn’t ask, just rolls with it.

Ron glares at Hermione and Neville and threatens that if either of them get the group caught, he’s going to learn a Curse of the Bogies that Quirrell told them about and use it on them. This wasn’t changed in the US edition, but I actually have no idea if this is meant to mean snot or bogeymen or something else entirely, and of course it’s never explained. Is it the same as the overmentioned Bat Bogey Hex that shows up later? Presumably it must do something useful against vampires, if Quirrell mentioned it…

“Hermione opened her mouth, perhaps to tell Ron exactly how to use the Curse of the Bogies, but Harry hissed at her to be quiet and beckoned them all forward.”

…Yes, Harry. She was about to tell Ron how to curse her. That makes perfect sense. Actually, given that Ron’s displayed absolutely no magical skill whatsoever thus far, maybe she did want to tell him just to dare him to try for her own amusement.

Some nice descriptions of the castle at night, and they arrive at the trophy room. Which, because the plot demands it, is on the third floor among some random classrooms, instead of off the Entrance Hall or near the Headmaster’s office or somewhere else far more logical. And there seem to be a lot of trophies in here, though Harry can’t be bothered to look at any of them to find out what they are. There are also doors at both ends of the room, though it’s not clear whether both sets lead out onto the same corridor or whether one leads somewhere else.

Someday I’d like an official floor plan and map of Hogwarts. I think the cash cow might be dead beyond rescuing at this point, but I’d genuinely like to see that. If only to find out what some of the odd bits Mitchell and I saw on the big model at Leavesden Studios are.

Anyway, they sit around and wait for Draco. And wait. And wait.

” ‘He’s late, maybe he’s chickened out,’ Ron whispered. “

Or maybe he never intended to show up and you’re all idiots. Also, Ron, we’ve established chickens don’t exist in the wizarding world, the correct phrase is ‘dragoned out’.

Filch shows up at this point, inevitably. Helpfully he’s talking to Mrs Norris loudly enough for them all to hear him, so they have a chance to run away before he spots them, and they scamper off down a long gallery full of suits of armour. I’m tempted to say here that Rowling hadn’t decided that the Founders built this castle as a school and it’s a legitimate castle, hence the dungeons and suits of armour, but it’s totally devoid of most castle features – a moat, a curtain wall, arrow slits, narrow spiral staircases, gateways with murder holes and portcullises (…portcullisi? Big metal gate things).

Mitchell and I talked for a while about how much more interesting the Final Battle would have been if both sides were using proper medieval siege tactics. I bet there’s some fun things you could do with an extensive potion collection and murder holes.

Anyway, Neville panics, starts to run, trips and smacks into a suit of armour, which apparently isn’t secured in any way and falls over with a lot of noise. Harry yells for them all to run and they take off, and once again the narrative has forgotten that our protagonist is meant to be small and half-starved since he’s out in front and leading the way. They get lost, inevitably, since he’s just charging blindly. The group rip their way through a tapestry and find themselves in a hidden passage – Harry, you need to stop running full speed into random walls; one day it’s really going to be a wall and you’re going to seriously hurt yourself. Actually, you know what, carry on – and go through that to come out near the Charms classroom, which is apparently miles from the trophy room but is also on the third floor corridor. The geography here is wonky. Okay, presumably somewhere the size of Hogwarts is obviously going to have more than one corridor on the third floor, but it’s always spoken of as if there’s only one.

I also find myself wondering if and/or how all the damage they’ve done to the armours and tapestries and things gets repaired, and why nobody ever discusses it (even if they can’t figure out who did it, you’d think it’s the kind of thing people would talk about). Filch doesn’t have any magic, not that we know that at this point, so we can’t just say he does it… also, if it isn’t the sort of thing that can be easily fixed with magic (who knows, really, we’re never told a thing about how Reparo is meant to work or if there are limitations on it…), you’d think they’d want to investigate who wrecked everything. Tapestries are expensive works of art and may have historical import, after all.

They’re all very out of breath now, bent over, holding stitches etc. I understand that they’re children and they’re going to panic, but the book’s made a big thing of pointing out Filch’s age and wheezy state, so it’s not really necessary for them to kill themselves running. Especially since if Mrs Norris is as clever as she seems to be, she can easily track them and they’ll be caught anyway. Still, they decide they’ve got away, and Hermione suggests that obviously Draco never meant to show up for this duel and clearly tipped Filch off; “Harry thought she was probably right, but he wasn’t going to tell her that.” [She may well be, and in fact I do think that’s the most plausible reading, but it’s worth noting that there have been other plausible explanations proposed also…]

Now they’ve calmed down, they start heading back towards Gryffindor Tower, and immediately run into Peeves. I quite like this, honestly, contrived though it is – nothing ever goes wrong singly, after all. There’s always something else. Peeves laughs and threatens to tell Filch on them, but it looks like someone’s going to talk him out of it – there are no dialogue tags, so I’m not sure who – until Ron loses his temper and tries to swat him. Peeves promptly starts screaming at the top of his… er, lungs… and they run for it straight down a dead-end corridor to a locked door.

The boys all panic, shoving at the door and whimpering that they’re done for. Hermione has no patience with this sort of bullshit and shoves them out of the way, grabbing Harry’s wand to unlock the door with an impatient “Alohomora”. I don’t know why she’s not using her own; I doubt she forgot it, so I’m going to assume it’s to rub salt in the wound. This is actually the first real spell we’ve seen, isn’t it? We’ve seen Dumbledore’s weird lighter, and we’ve seen Hagrid somehow lighting fires and vanishing, but none of the lessons have included actual spells and Harry certainly doesn’t seem to have learned any. Good for you, Hermione.

[At some point, someone might want to look into how the characters’ casual use of other people’s wands in the early books plays havoc with the supposed ‘wandlore’ Rowling introduced in Deathly Hallows. Somebody with a stronger stomach than me, though.]

This castle has the thinnest doors and walls in existence, since after shutting themselves in they all press against the door and listen to Filch arguing with Peeves. I don’t know why Peeves doesn’t tell Filch where they are; obviously the poltergeist just likes being an ass, but surely getting five kids into trouble is more fun than annoying one man? Unless he’s just hoping they’ll get eaten, as Neville quietly directs the group’s attention to where they are and what’s in there with them.

This is, of course, the out-of-bounds corridor. The school was obviously really keen to stop the kids getting in here, since the door can be unlocked by a charm weak enough for a very new first year to use and there are literally no other protections or security measures in place. I don’t believe for a second that over the last fortnight nobody’s been curious enough to come and take a peek in here. Anyway, there’s a dog in here – a giant ceiling-height dog with three heads.

Hi, Fluffy!

I’m a sucker for monsters with cute names, I admit. I mean, come on, the literal translation of ‘cerberus’ is ‘spotty’. The original Cerberus is really just called Spot.

A corridor is a really, really bad place to keep a dog. If he’s that big, he probably can’t turn around very easily, and I can’t imagine it’s long enough for him to get any proper exercise. And who’s feeding him and cleaning up after him? Monster dogs still need to pee and crap. Besides, they’re very close to the Charms classroom and probably several other classrooms, why has nobody heard barking? Or howling, if Fluffy has separation anxiety?

The children mostly react pretty well. I would think at least one of them would scream, but nitpicking aside, it’s fairly realistic. Though interestingly Fluffy’s not actually doing anything – he’s just looking at them. And dribbling, but Harry and Ron have already met Fang – big dogs drool. Harry mentions ‘thunderous growls’ but the text doesn’t say they’re actually coming from Fluffy; he’s not barking, he’s not baring his teeth, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything. Hardly surprising – dogs aren’t by nature vicious animals. Even the aggressive breeds need to be taught to attack people. Plus, it’s funny and cute to imagine he’s actually wagging his tail and hoping they want to play with him – it must be pretty lonely being locked up by himself in a corridor.

Even I can’t expect these kids to be experts in dog behaviour though, and this dog is freaking huge, so yeah. They’re terrified, and Harry scrambles to open the door and they bolt. Though not before Harry stops to slam the door again, as if an animal that big can possibly fit through a human-sized door – how the hell did they get Fluffy in here anyway? Conveniently, in the thirty seconds that must have passed, Filch has somehow buggered off far enough to be completely out of Mrs Norris’ earshot, and they don’t encounter anything else until they get back to Gryffindor Tower (which is apparently on the seventh floor. I would have thought the entrance to the tower would be lower down, but sure). The Asshole Lady is back, which is mighty good of her, and lets them in, and the common room is still conveniently empty as they all collapse into chairs.

Surprisingly it’s Ron who brings up my point about dogs needing exercise. Not remotely in character for him since he’s already been shown to hate animals – case in point, where the fuck is Scabbers? – but at least someone said it.

Hermione tells them they’re all idiots and didn’t any of them see what the dog was standing on? I like that she’s the observant one here, since there’s at least one occasion later where Harry specifically will be praised for his skill at noticing things – though admittedly said praise comes from a disguised Death Eater trying to flatter him, so take that with a pinch of salt I guess. Anyway, no, none of them did, and she tells them it was standing on a trap door and is obviously guarding something.

Given that it’s on the third floor, I’m guessing he’s guarding an inexplicable door into the ceiling of whatever second floor room or corridor is underneath them. This would have made so much more sense had the forbidden room been a) an actual room and b) either on the ground floor or in the dungeons. I’m pretty sure the mysterious hidden entrance to the bad guy’s underground lair in the next book is somewhere well above ground too, actually.

And then we get the infamous line…

‘I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed – or worse, expelled. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.’

I’m in two minds about this, really. The tone of the scene is wrong – she’s being written as bad-temperedly lecturing them, as angry, and I can’t buy that a Muggleborn who’s only been in this crazy world for two weeks is going to be able to shake off her first encounter with a genuine Magicland monster so quickly. The film did it better by having her sound at least vaguely panicky, though somewhat hampered by Emma Watson not being able to act – I love her dearly, I really do, but it took her and the rest of the kids a while to get the hang of things. And, of course, it’s just a stupid thing to say. Even Hermione doesn’t actually think expulsion is worse than death. Still, if this hadn’t been written just to make her sound terrible, I’d still enjoy it. Let’s chalk it up to her being in shock, shall we? That seems pretty plausible.

Ron’s comeback here is a lot lamer than the movie version, too – a weak “No, we don’t mind.” I like that as well. He also wouldn’t be in any condition for snappy patter.

Harry goes to bed thinking about the stupid plot device in its grubby package. Rowling really likes the word ‘grubby’, it’s on par with ‘shabby’ as one of her favourite descriptions. He remembers that Hagrid, in the face of all logic and reason, insists that Gringotts is the safest place in the world to hide something except Hogwarts. For some reason, Harry actually seems to believe this, instead of stopping to think that maybe a bank is actually going to be slightly more secure than a school. Particularly a school that thinks a very very easy to unlock door is going to stop anyone from wandering over to see what’s behind it.

And that’s where we’ll leave it, folks. I’m not going to say anything about when the next post will be, because I’ll only be proved wrong, but there might be either another of these or another damned Silkworm before Christmas. Maybe. Happy holiday of your choice just in case there isn’t. Next time, more Mary Sue treatment, and a discussion of why Quidditch is bloody stupid.


Posted by on December 17, 2015 in loten, mitchell


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