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.
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.