Monthly Archives: March 2016

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Fourteen

Apologies for the delay, work is being mean to me again. Have a lot of animal-related rants, amongst other things.

 Chapter Fourteen: Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback
As baby dragons go it’s fairly cute. Looks a bit like a baby crocodile with cardboard
wings stuck on backwards and disproportionately
oversized legs, though.

The chapter opens with another timeskip of indeterminate length. This is becoming fairly common; I suppose it’s what happens when you try to stretch a few weeks’ worth of plot out over a full year. Which is why, had I been writing this, I would have spent at least the first term writing about normal awesome magic-school stuff, and not even touched the main plot bar a couple of cryptic hints until around this point. If you can’t make ordinary lessons at a magic school interesting, you’ve got no business trying to write fantasy, frankly. And think of all the lovely character development we could have had by focusing more on the kids. Not to mention a massively bloated spell count.

Ah, well. We’ll just have to deal with what we have.

Over the course of this indeterminate timeskip, the Trio have been trying to make sure the plot is continuing to limp in circles rather than advancing. Every time they go past the third floor corridor they listen at the door for Fluffy’s growling, and thus we reach our first problem with this chapter after only three sentences. If Fluffy’s growling is audible through the door, how have there not been any incidents yet beyond some firsties being scared and Snape being bitten? If you’re walking past a door and you hear something growling, you’re either going to take a look, or you’re going to tell other people who will take a look.

Oh, wait, this is Hogwarts. Fluffy’s probably eaten half a dozen children by now and casually maimed a few more. But they clearly weren’t people Harry knows, so they don’t count.

Anyway, they’re also checking up on the two plot-relevant teachers. Snape’s still ‘sweeping about in his usual bad temper‘ so they assume he hasn’t managed to get hold of the Stone yet. Fair point, since even he would probably cheer up once he got hold of money and immortality and could happily quit the job from hell. Quirrell seems paler and more nervous than ever, but hasn’t had a breakdown yet, and the boys attempt to be supportive in their own very peculiar way:

“Whenever Harry passed Quirrell these days he gave him an encouraging sort of smile, and Ron had started telling people off for laughing at Quirrell’s stutter.”

I have no idea what Harry’s expression would be like in this scenario, but probably quite funny. As for Ron, what a nice thing to do. If only it were because you’d realised that mocking someone for a speech impediment is horrible, and not because you happen to need Quirrell to not be upset for a little while. And if only Ron weren’t a first year who would never be brave enough to tell off anyone except his own yearmates, who would likewise not have developed into the type of arseholes who’d be insulting Quirrell to his face – yet.

Hermione isn’t mentioned as doing anything to help Quirrell. I prefer to think it’s because she’s not daft enough to think that a couple of pre-teens will have any effect on the self esteem of a grown adult in the space of a week or two, but the narrative tells us it’s because she’s too busy worrying about the upcoming end of year exams, ha ha isn’t that silly of her. Naturally, she’s the only child even remotely concerned about them, though the teachers are piling a lot of extra homework onto the students and are stressing the importance of them as well.

And if this were my old school, I could see how it would be silly, since until the OWL-equivalents at the end of fifth year the exams were really just practice (and in theory a way for the teachers to make sure we were actually learning, but I doubt they paid that much attention). But Hermione explicitly tells us that you have to pass these exams or you won’t be allowed back next year. I would think that’s something to worry about, particularly for someone like Harry, so desperate not to have to go back to his Muggle life.

Incidentally, we never hear of anyone failing these exams (which is just as well; I don’t know what the wizarding world would do to a twelve year old they didn’t think was ‘good enough’ but I doubt it would be pleasant). And failing a few OWLs seems to have no consequences whatsoever. It seems likely that Hogwarts is just making idle threats to try to make the little brats behave, but if Hermione’s the only one listening the idea rather falls flat, doesn’t it?

Besides, despite the narrative’s insistence, it’s not like Hermione’s disregarding the plot. Her very first line of this chapter references it.

” ‘Ten weeks,’ Hermione snapped. ‘That’s not ages, that’s like a second to Nicolas Flamel.’ “

The book’s giving out rather mixed messages here, and is also suffering from a familiar problem of the series – Rowling knows how the book ends and has forgotten that the characters don’t. Harry ought to be worried about the exams, but he isn’t because Rowling knows he’ll pass them. In fact, Harry is never worried about his lack of academic achievement, because Rowling knows it will never impact his life in any way. This is also not a good message for a children’s book. You want to encourage your audience to do their best, and explain that not being amazing at something doesn’t mean you’re worthless but just means you need to try other things until you find something you are good at. You don’t tell them that eh, it’s fine as long as you know the right people, and if you don’t then you may as well not exist.

Anyway, moving on. Harry and Ron spend most of their time complaining while Hermione tries to get them to revise – the twelve uses of dragon’s blood gets another mention here; it’s something that’s referenced quite a lot, and never gets actually explained and is never relevant to anything. The Trio are in the library one day – I don’t know exactly what time of year we’re up to, but it’s either during or just after the Easter holidays, so around April I suppose?

I don’t know why the wizarding world would acknowledge Easter, but they apparently do – Molly Weasley sends passive-aggressive Easter eggs during Goblet of Fire, though as far as I remember will never do so in any other book. There’s no indication of how long the Easter break is, or whether it fluctuates with Muggle Easter (which has never made any bloody sense anyway) or is at the same time every year. Not that it matters, of course, but I can’t be the only one who wants to know if Hogwarts ever manages to function as a school, can I?

In any case, the Easter holiday appears to be more of an enforced study leave than an actual vacation – based on the few mentions in the series (I don’t think it takes place at all in the next book, for a start), while there are no scheduled lessons, the students are given so many assignments that they seem to spend most of the time working anyway. According to the HP wiki the students are allowed to go home at Easter just like at Christmas, but none of them seem to. The teachers aren’t mentioned as being absent either, though I expect just not having to appear in class must be a nice break for them, if not for the students. It can’t be good for the children to have to work solidly from January to June, particularly the younger ones, but why would Hogwarts care about that?

As I was saying before I interrupted myself, the Trio are in the library. Hermione’s trying to work (and fantasising about murder, I suspect), Harry’s pretending to work and Ron is complaining, until he sees Hagrid. They ask what he’s doing in the library – I’d be asking how he got through all the not-giant-sized doorways between his hut and the library, personally – and he acts shifty and says he’s ‘jus’ lookin‘,’ which isn’t at all suspicious of course, before asking why they’re there, they’re not still looking for Flamel?

Of course not, says Ron, we found out about him ages ago, let me just yell his identity out for everyone else presumably also studying in here to hear. Hagrid shuts him up, and when Hagrid is giving you lessons in tact you know you’re a mess. Harry keeps talking about the Stone and its defences, though, because he’s a moron, and Hagrid says he’ll answer their questions later if they’ll just stop talking right now damnit before making a hasty exit.

Let us note that despite having been so desperate to stop them finding anything out, Hagrid now shows absolutely no concern over their sudden new knowledge and doesn’t even ask how they found out. Nor will he ever do so, nor will anyone else. It’s almost as if there was no reason why they shouldn’t know, isn’t it. Though the real question here is why Hagrid knows – we discussed earlier that the only reason to send Hagrid to collect the plot coupon was that he was the only minion who wouldn’t ask questions about what he was doing and why, so why tell him what it is? It would be more in character for Dumbles not to say what the object was or why he wanted to borrow Fluffy.

I imagine Hermione’s still trying to revise and hoping that they’re all struck by lightning or something while all this is going on. She makes no contributions to this scene other than to be a nasty spoilsport telling the poor little boys that they actually have to do work.

Once Hagrid leaves Ron decides to check what he was looking at, and comes back and tells us he was researching dragons. How Ron figured this out is not explained; it seems awfully convenient that the section on dragons just happens to be within sight of the section where the Trio are working (why and/or how is there an entire section on dragons, such that it’s completely obvious from where Hagrid was standing what he was looking at?). I’ll let Ron get away with it though, since he’s about to give us some exposition about dragons, and dragons are awesome. Even if they’re chickens.

Dragon breeding has been illegal in Britain since 1709. Given that various bits of them are apparently super-useful, this seems like a stupid rule. It’s not like they can’t make farms invisible to Muggles. They’re apparently unable to be tamed, as well, and Ron mentions that Charlie’s had some bad burns from wild ones. At this point we’ve only been told that Charlie studies dragons, but later we’ll learn that he basically works on a dragon farm (they can call it a sanctuary all they want, anywhere that rents out the resident animals for sporting events is a farm).

Harry asks if there are wild dragons in Britain, and Ron says yes, there are two kinds – Hebridean Blacks and Common Welsh Greens.

Ho boy. Here be dragons, and also dragon rants.

First let’s talk briefly about the kinds of dragon we see in the Potterverse. According to  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, there are ten, and they can all interbreed despite being very scattered geographically and most populations being nowhere near one another. New Zealand and Australia share one, China gets one, Britain gets two as mentioned above, Scandinavia gets two (Norway and Sweden), South America gets one (Peru) and the rest are all in various countries in Eastern Europe. This sort of distribution makes no sense in a species that can fly. This fact, plus the nomenclature, suggests they’re more like breeds of dog than subspecies of a wild animal. And if this really were the case, then by now someone would have managed to breed a non-aggressive dragon that can be kept as a pet or ridden around. Because dragons are awesome. At the very least they’d have bred a more docile version so people could get useful body parts without being crispy-fried.

They’re also all standard Western dragons, with four legs, two batlike wings and lots of fire, or at least the ones we see onscreen are. Neither of the Scandinavian ones resemble the Norse ice dragons like Jörmungandr and the Chinese one isn’t the wingless Asiatic lion-headed dragon. Nor is the Peruvian one feathered, as far as I know. I don’t know any Maori/Aboriginal dragon legends but I wouldn’t expect them to fit the Western template. There aren’t any water dragons or other variations either, which is a missed opportunity – the Loch Ness Monster could easily be some sort of leviathan in this universe. (And Loch Ness is even in Scotland, so they could’ve had field trips.)

Now let’s look at the two British varieties Ron mentioned. First the Hebridean Black, because that one annoys me less. The Hebrides are two archipelagos of tiny islands off the Scottish coast. Collectively there are over a hundred, and a lot of them are uninhabited, but they’re also all very small and mostly very flat and open. Aside from livestock on the inhabited ones there’s pretty much just seabirds, there aren’t even rodents on most of them. The only dragons that could live there would be about the size of cats. Fantastic Beasts says the Hebridean Black grows up to thirty feet long, though. Given that, as I’ve just said, all Potterverse dragons are fire elementals, this is a problem. A water dragon could thrive around there, digging caves in the sea bed and hunting whales and seals and sharks and so on, but on land there’s nothing to support a large predator. I suppose they could fly to the mainland to eat deer, but if that were true they’d just live on the mainland.

More to the point, this isn’t Africa with insanely massive herds of mixed game everywhere. Britain has a few species of deer, and the odd semi-wild pony or escaped ‘wild’ boar (we don’t have them in the wild any more but people farm them). That’s really it for large wild herbivores, and most if not all large magical creatures seem to be confined to the Hogwarts grounds. Any reasonable population of large predator these days would have to also be eating livestock, humans, or both, and the Muggles might just have noticed by now. One of the reasons why it’s unlikely that we’ll ever successfully reintroduce all the large predators we killed off.

All these problems could have been fixed by Ron explaining that the surviving native dragons are very small, and that the monster-size ones died out.

Also, being native to Scotland, you’d think there would be a couple in the Forbidden Forest, wouldn’t you?

And finally, an additional problem with the Common Welsh Green. Never mind that the name implies there ought to be other varieties of Welsh Green, let me show you something.

This is the Welsh flag.

That, my friends, is Y Ddraig Goch (the pronounciation would be something like ‘ee thrayg gock’), one of the national symbols of Wales since at least the ninth century. WELSH DRAGONS ARE RED, DAMN YOU. The name even means ‘the red dragon’. I’m not Welsh by birth but I live and work in Wales and have done for years. I don’t care how irrational it is, this really annoys me.

Green dragon. Pah.

Okay. I’m fine. I’m moving on. Mitchell is laughing at me. Back to the Trio, now going to visit Hagrid. He’s clearly up to something; all the curtains are drawn, the windows are closed and his hut is overwhelmingly hot and smoky. Fang also seems to have disappeared, interestingly.

“Hagrid made them tea and offered them stoat sandwiches, which they refused.”


For those of you who don’t have them where you’re from, this is a stoat. They are utterly adorable mustelids, aka weasel-type critters. I suppose they’re probably edible, but people don’t eat them. If they live somewhere cold enough they turn white in winter and are hunted for fur (ermine), but not for meat. Apart from anything else, they’re tiny, about half the size of a rabbit. And they’re predators, who tend not to taste very nice, as well as being a bit on the smelly side like all mustelids. They’re also way too cute to eat. I used to volunteer at a zoo that acquired a hand-reared one and I fell in love and very nearly stole him.

I suppose they’ve been mentioned here to shore up Hagrid’s occasional portrayal as a savage wild man (I believe at some point in a later book there’s a ‘beef’ stew that has a talon in it), but sandwiches are a bit too civilised for that. A real gamekeeper would be trapping stoats and other predators as part of his job, but Hagrid doesn’t keep game – despite the books continuing to insist he’s “gamekeeper”, there’s never any hunting etc going on at Hogwarts. Next book he apparently keeps chickens somewhere, but there’s no sign of them here and in any case I doubt Hagrid would know about gin traps or snares, nor can he use either a gun or magic. Also, really, people do not eat stoats.

Ignoring this brief culinary interlude, Harry wants to ask about the defences protecting the Stone, and when Hagrid refuses to tell him (on the reasonable grounds that he doesn’t actually know) Hermione starts laying on the flattery and emotional manipulation to try to find out what he does know. Why? The children have no idea what Snape can get past and what would thwart him, so knowing possible obstacles won’t let them know if the Stone is safe or not. Like the earlier issue with the exams, this is Rowling forgetting what her characters know; she knows they’ll be going down the trapdoor later and would hypothetically want to know what they’re facing, but the Trio haven’t decided that yet and have no reason to need this information.

Hermione being the one to try to persuade Hagrid makes sense, though. She’s socially inept around the other children but never has a problem talking to an adult, which is often the case with a bookish only child.

Hagrid cracks within seconds, of course, and tells them that a bunch of teachers each did something to protect the Stone. Sprout, Flitwick, McGonagall, Quirrell, Dumbledore and Snape. If you don’t know anything about the teachers in question, this seems quite reasonable – the Headmaster, the four Heads of House, and the Defence teacher. Though I’ve never understood why each of them would make individual obstacles – having them all collaborate on interlinked defences would be a lot more sensible.

Oh, wait, for a moment I was in an alternate universe where protecting the Stone really was the point. My bad.

Inevitably the Trio are horrified to hear that Snape contributed. Hagrid once again tells them they’re being stupid, but Harry’s too busy making a leap of broken logic and thinks that if Snape made one of the defences then he must somehow know what all the other ones are except the one he implied he didn’t know last chapter. Harry, I think you misplaced your tin foil hat somewhere.

Harry checks with Hagrid, does anyone else know how to get past Fluffy? Hagrid says no, of course not, just him and Dumbledore. No mention of Fluffy’s past owner, who told Hagrid in the first place… A library that has books on illegal dragon-breeding probably has books on cerberuses (cerberi? Cerberus’? What the heck is the plural of cerberus?) too. Though we’re never told whether it’s just Fluffy or his entire species who suffer from music-induced narcolepsy – in the original Greek myths Orpheus lulls Cerberus to sleep with music, but it explicitly says that’s because Orpheus was an amazing musician, not because of music in general, and nobody else seems to have duplicated the feat.

We’re also never told what counts as music, of course. Humming? Whistling? Clapping? Karaoke performances of 70s disco hits? Swedish death metal?

Anyway, Harry asks if they can open a window, because it’s very hot in the hut. Hagrid says no and looks at the fire, and Harry notices there’s a huge black egg sitting in the flames. The kettle is balanced on it, which I find quite funny.

It’s a dragon egg, of course. Hagrid tells us he won it last night in a card game with a random hooded man he met in the pub. Britain does have a long tradition of pub games, in fairness, but usually not with strangers – it’s a community thing, most small villages have their own versions of games because hanging out at the pub was pretty much the only activity available except going to church. Alcohol is almost always involved, but actual gambling usually isn’t – plenty of bets, yes, but not for money or items. In any case, while Harry and company will – eventually – find it suspicious that Hagrid ended up playing against someone who just happened to have something he really, really wanted, nobody will ever ask how the mystery man got hold of the dragon egg in the first place, how he got it into the country, or how nobody else in the pub noticed it. (Shame on you, Aberforth.)

Credit where it’s due, Quirrell’s done well. His schedule isn’t quite as punishing as, say, McGonagall or Snape, but he’s still teaching full time and no doubt under at least occasional surveillance. It can’t have been easy to find and smuggle in a viable dragon egg that’s near hatching, and I’ve no idea how he paid for it. Cheating at cards to make sure Hagrid won, while drunk no less, can’t have been easy either. Though you have to wonder why he bothered, since Hagrid doesn’t need any encouragement beyond ‘hello’ to spill his secrets to anyone who asks, and his having briefly owned a dragon will never be relevant to anything again.

Of course, not every subplot should be relevant to the main story arc. In fact, in a good book, a lot of them shouldn’t be. But this isn’t developed into a side plot – it exists for this one chapter, sets up the single event that takes up the whole of next chapter, and then vanishes. It’s honestly little more than filler. Hagrid should have obtained the egg weeks or even months ago and been nurturing it this whole time, the hatching should also have happened a while ago, and this chapter should merely be dealing with the consequences once the thing’s too big for him to take care of any more.

Also I just realised, does this mean the wizarding world does in fact have other card games? Or did this really involve two grown men sitting in a dodgy pub clandestinely playing Snap? I hope it’s the latter, because that’s hilarious.

Hagrid assures the Trio that he’s been reading all about how to look after dragons – in a couple of hours, since he won the egg at night after the library had shut and has had maybe half a day at most to study whatever books were there. Kids, you need a lot more time than this to research the care of a pet. Anyway, he’s managed to identify the egg as belonging to a Norwegian Ridgeback (no, why Norway will never be explained, but at least it wasn’t Albania) and he says he knows how to look after it:

” ‘Keep the egg in the fire, ’cause their mothers breathe on ’em, see, an’ when it hatches, feed it on a bucket o’ brandy mixed with chicken blood every half hour.’ “

The only one to react to any of this is Hermione, who points out that Hagrid lives in a wooden house. The scene ends with nobody else caring about this.

Time for another diversion; let’s discuss dragon biology.

What Hagrid tells us about dragon care does sound vaguely plausible, but the mothers clearly don’t breathe fire on the eggs 24 hours a day, and a Norwegian breed isn’t going to need massively high temperatures. All he’s doing is cooking the baby alive. Also, my, that’s a lot of brandy and chickens; I wonder where Hagrid’s going to get those from, since even if he did keep his own chickens at this point bleeding your entire flock to death for a few days of dragon-feeding is a bad idea. We’re not told how long the dragon will need this food for, or whether it varies from species to species.

And why brandy? A lot of magical creatures seem to crave alcohol. Later we’re going to meet a house elf addicted to Butterbeer and some flying horses who drink single-malt whiskey. At least those are domestic, though – where would a wild dragon get brandy? (Please don’t tell us they’re mammals and produce it instead of milk. Just don’t.)

Mitchell suggested that in this instance it might be as simple as alcohol = flammable, which is a good point, though Norbert causes sparks before he’s been fed and there’s no reason why it would be brandy specifically – except that it’s traditionally used to set Christmas puddings on fire, so I suppose it’s associated with flames already. I was wondering if it was because of the association with heat and the way people think you’re meant to give brandy to people stranded in the snow – this is based entirely on some dude painting the little barrel around a St Bernard’s neck because he thought it looked neat, which never existed in reality, and giving alcohol to anyone suffering from hypothermia would likely kill them. Which means it’s exactly the sort of stupid pseudo-logic that the wizarding world would use. Choose your own explanation, I suppose.

We’re never given much detail on the diet of dragons, but there’s no reason the hatchling would need a liquid diet at all. Norbert is going to hatch able to breathe fire (well, sparks) and bite, meaning that dragons are precocial – their young are born able to move around and eat something close to the adult diet; examples include reptiles, waterfowl and hoofed animals. The opposite would be altricial, where the young are helpless and can’t do anything except squirm and be fed liquids, including humans, non-water birds and most furry carnivores. This seems to be what Hagrid’s expecting based on his ‘research’.

Given what we see of Norbert’s development, I would assume baby dragons are able to eat raw or fire-breath-cooked meat from whatever their mother kills as soon as they hatch. This is based on the egg guarding maternal behaviour we see in Goblet of Fire; it’s equally possible that baby dragons are able to hunt insects, small animals and birds for themselves as soon as they hatch. And if this is really the only food it’s being given, there’s no way Norbert can be growing as fast as it apparently does – for that sort of growth rate, which seems to be roughly equivalent to seals and dolphins, you need extremely rich milk. There’s not enough fat or protein in chicken blood to provide the calories needed, and even if there were you’d end up with a dragon unable to fly due to the thick layers of blubber (which is admittedly a cute image, but never mind that).

It’s also not clear whether Potterverse dragons are reptilian or avian. Fantasyland dragons tend to be reptiles more often than not, though avian makes more sense biologically. The eggs needing higher temperatures implies that dragons are cold blooded, but they don’t seem to hibernate in winter so they’re probably not. We don’t get much of a description of the egg shell when Norbert actually hatches, but it seems to be brittle and birdlike rather than the leathery shell of a reptile egg. Norbert doesn’t have a beak and there’s no mention of an egg tooth (a small growth on the snout of baby reptiles that falls off shortly after hatching) so how it hatches at all is another unanswered question. Norbert’s weight seems to fluctuate considerably from scene to scene as well so we don’t know if it has hollow bird bones or not.

…basically it’s very easy to tell if a fantasy author has any background in biology or not or if they bothered doing any research. See also never-tiring immortal injury-proof Fantasyland horses.

Yes, I am fully aware of how irrelevant and just plain nerdy this whole digression was. But it is possible to make magical creatures work as if they could be real, with a bit of effort, and I find it’s always much more fun when authors try it. Hopefully some of it was at least interesting.

Have another timeskip of indeterminate length. The boys continue to complain about homework and continue to be angry at Hermione for trying to help them. The plot continues to stagnate, and will do so for the fortnight or so that the rest of this chapter will cover. Most useless villain ever – what on earth is Quirrell waiting for? He has the last piece of information he needs now. Let’s assume that Severus is doing an excellent job of being a nuisance and thwarting him constantly.

Finally the egg begins to hatch, and for reasons known only to himself Hagrid abandons it for quite a while to hike up to the Owlery and give Hedwig a note to take to Harry at breakfast, instead of just going to tell the Trio directly. Incidentally, you’d think someone at Hogwarts would have noticed by now that this slightly crazy man – who we’ll learn later is at least in his sixties and probably closer to seventies – is spending a lot of time hanging out with three pre-adolescent children, wouldn’t you. Hogwarts makes Sunnydale High look like a well run and caring institution at times.

It would be nice to think it’s because Hagrid has finally learned what secrecy means, but if so he may as well not have bothered, since Ron picks a loud fight with Hermione about whether or not to skip lessons to go and watch.

” ‘Hermione, how many times in our lives are we going to see a dragon hatching?’
‘We’ve got lessons, we’ll get into trouble, and that’s nothing to what Hagrid’s going to be in when someone finds out what he’s doing –’
‘Shut up!’ Harry whispered. “

Well done, Ron. Inevitably, Draco heard them, because he’s still stalking Harry. The real question is how nobody else heard, since as I mentioned this is taking place at breakfast in the packed hall. We’re not told what Draco’s expression is like after he hears this, but Harry doesn’t like it.

Hermione actually wins the argument. I hope she doesn’t get used to it, since I don’t think the boys will ever allow it to happen again. The Trio don’t go to Hagrid until morning break, after Herbology,  ‘when the bell sounded from the castle at the end of their lesson‘.

What bell? This has never been mentioned before and will never be mentioned again. I mean, it actually makes a great deal of sense – a building the size of Hogwarts, with no access to electronic bells, in a world where few if any people seem to possess clocks, would benefit greatly from a bell tower. I’m sure they could come up with a spell to ring it every hour if they didn’t have anyone to be a bellringer. But there’s no indication that such a thing exists outside of this single sentence. Which is a shame, since it would have been a neat little bit of worldbuilding.

Hagrid meets them at the door to tell them excitedly that it’s nearly hatched. Fang is still missing, but he’ll reappear later on. The hatching is described the way almost every fantasy novel ever describes dragon eggs hatching – it rocks back and forth, there are noises from inside, cracks form all over it, and then it suddenly breaks apart. I have yet to see any animal hatch from an egg this neatly; Norbert’s egg seems to have done nothing but make noises for hours before suddenly breaking open. More realistically, little bits would have been flaking away from the first tiny hole for hours and if Hagrid didn’t help the dragon should be half hatched by now and just needing to break off a few more bits before squeezing out of the hole it had made.

Implausible hatching aside, Harry’s description of the new arrival is actually pretty good:

“The baby dragon flopped on to the table. It wasn’t exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body and it had a long snout with wide nostrils, stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes.”

Honestly, it sounds adorable. Especially since it immediately sneezes sparks and then tries to bite Hagrid.

Hagrid will insist on using baby talk for the rest of the chapter when talking to the dragon. This is meant to be cute. It’s not. He coos over it now and calls himself its mummy – yes, this is changed to ‘mommy’ in the US version, try not to cringe too much. Dear authors, editors and publishers of the world: if your story is set in Britain and your characters are British, for the love of Merlin please, please Britpick and avoid Americanisms like this. Even if you’re going to use the excuse that they’re trying to make things easier on American readers, the book is set in Britain. Unless you’re also going to move the setting, substituting out-of-place regionalisms for realistic ones is ridiculous.  He’ll say the same thing several times throughout the chapter, and I have no idea why he’s naming himself the female parent instead of saying ‘daddy’.

Oh, wait, yes I do. Because Rowling is very much of the female = nurture school of thought. That’s why it’s Lily’s sacrifice in particular that gives Harry snowflake powers, and not James’, even though both of them died in the same incident and for the same reason. Women are loving and men aren’t. Given how misogynistic her writing is a lot of the time, I don’t really know what to make of this random bit of misandry – at least not without speculating about her divorce, which I’d rather not do – but it’s a recurring theme throughout the series. The female parent is the caring emotional one and the male parent is the stoic dutiful one – we see it in the Potters (post-mortem, at least), the Dursleys, the Weasleys and the Malfoys, and arguably the Riddles. Hooray for gender essentialism!

Anyway, Hermione asks the relevant question of just how fast this thing is going to grow – none of the children seem particularly overjoyed or even much interested by this whole affair, which is a shame because did I mention that dragons are awesome? – but Hagrid doesn’t answer because he’s just looked out of the window and seen Draco scampering gleefully away towards the castle.

Another week passes with nothing happening, except Draco smiling nastily every time he sees any of the Trio. Good boy, we’ll make a Slytherin of you yet. I assume he either wrote to Lucius, went to Severus, or both, and was told that there will almost certainly not be any official punishment if you were to report it but you can have a lot of fun making them all sweat for weeks. We can’t make sense of this otherwise; Draco has never been patient about trying to get them in trouble before… once again, Rowling’s having characters move at the speed of plot rather than thinking about what they’d realistically do.

For once the Trio react intelligently and spend most of their free time trying to persuade Hagrid to get rid of the evidence before Draco squeals. Unfortunately Harry is arguing that Hagrid should just dump Norbert somewhere, because he is a terrible child. Please stop suggesting that someone should abandon their beloved pet. As I’ve already said, Norbert would actually be fine, so this isn’t an issue of cruelty to the animal – as it would be with, say, a puppy that was getting too big – but it would seriously screw up the ecology of the area. Fun fact, Britain has quite a few invasive species from people casually discarding pets – terrapins, wallabies, parakeets, even meerkats now, plus things like mink that idiot activists decided to release from fur farms. Adding a dragon would probably be a bad thing, especially if it found a wild Hebridean one to breed with.

Hagrid doesn’t care about that, of course, he just says that Norbert’s too little and would die. Norbert has implausibly tripled in size during his first week of life, despite the stupid diet.

” ‘He’s lost his marbles,’ Ron muttered in Harry’s ear. “

True, Ron, though you shouldn’t know that phrase. I doubt you have any idea what marbles are. Though saying someone’s lost their Gobstones doesn’t really sound right. This is another scene that Hermione’s not allowed to take part in, by the way, despite allegedly being present – maybe she’s outside with Fang, who has yet to reappear.

Harry points out that Norbert’s going to outgrow the hut in a few weeks, and that Draco could tell Dumbledore any minute. Excuse me while I laugh heartily, because even Draco’s not that naive. He does end up seriously misjudging this situation, and ought to have been smart enough to get Lucius to contact the Ministry, but he does clearly know there’s zero point in telling Dumbles. One assumes Severus told him not to bother.

Anyway, Hagrid admits he knows he can’t keep the soon-to-be giant fire-breathing vicious lizard, but refuses to just dump it somewhere. Thank you, Hagrid, your first reasonable statement in a very long time.

Somehow Harry proceeds to pull the solution out of his arse at this point:

“Harry suddenly turned to Ron. ‘Charlie,’ he said.
‘You’re losing it, too,’ said Ron. ‘I’m Ron, remember?’
‘No – Charlie – your brother Charlie. In Romania. Studying dragons. We could send Norbert to him. Charlie can take care of him and then put him back in the wild!’ “

I don’t know how Harry remembered about Charlie, who’s only been mentioned twice in the past five or six months, but good job. I’m undecided about Ron’s initial response – I like the implication that he’s entirely too used to being mistaken for one of his brothers, but he shouldn’t really have misunderstood this, particularly with something as obvious as a dragon right there in front of him to help the association. Also, because Harry is a God-Sue, this plan is exactly what happens, when what should have happened in reality was that they’d send Norbert to Charlie and Charlie would then use his contacts to get Norbert returned to Norway where the species is meant to live.

But no. Instead apparently there’s going to be a Norwegian Ridgeback/Romanian Longhorn crossbreed strain wreaking havoc on the ecology of the area in a few years. Or maybe it’ll turn out that Norbert is carrying some sort of disease that will wipe out the native Romanian dragons, and we’ll end up with a situation akin to the red squirrel vs grey squirrel problem that Britain also has.

Hagrid agrees to this surprisingly easily given how attached we’re meant to believe he is to this dragon, and they send Hedwig to ask Charlie how the hell to go about this.

Yet another week crawls past with literally nothing happening. At this point I don’t know what’s wrong with Draco; I can’t buy that he’s got the patience to wait quite this long. Norbert is bigger than ever and is now eating dead rats by the crateful – I have no idea where Hagrid’s getting those from either, but I suppose it makes marginally more sense than a certain creature’s ferret-only diet in Prisoner of Azkaban. At least you can bulk-buy dead rats to some extent for reptile feeding purposes, though to my knowledge not by the crate. The Trio have somehow been roped into helping with his feeds, apparently, though Ron’s the only one who’s mentioned as doing so – maybe Harry uncharacteristically loaned him the Invisibility Bedsheet in exchange for not having to join in.

Ron comes into the common room around midnight from this fun little job and dumps the bedsheet. Don’t bother asking why he agreed to night feeds or why Hagrid even suggested it, nobody will explain. Dont bother asking why Hagrid needs help anyway when Norbert can easily eat his own rats. Ron’s been bitten hard enough to draw blood and says he won’t be able to hold a quill for a week – we’ll see shortly that this injury is actually pretty serious, but Hagrid, who’s presumably been bitten several times by now, is absolutely fine. Maybe Ron’s allergic.

Luckily Harry and Hermione were waiting up for him, and luckily nobody else was in the common room. It’s especially lucky since this is taking place on a Wednesday around midnight, which we learned in chapter 8 is when the Gryffindor first years have an Astronomy lesson.

Seriously, Rowling, did you pay attention to anything? You only bothered to give days and times for two classes – this one and the Friday Potions lesson – and you still couldn’t avoid scheduling issues? This book wasn’t a cash cow, this was the book that allegedly meant a lot to you. Why don’t you care?

This is why worldbuilding matters. (And this is presumably why she got so many rejections before someone published this mess of a book.)

In fact, have a good article on worldbuilding. I was going to put it in later, but here’s as good a place as any.

This really does make me genuinely angry. I research the hell out of the things I write, and it’s only fanfic. A lot of it you guys don’t even realise. Tiny little things like the smell of Amortentia for my characters, or the specific type of rowan I put into Severus’ wand, are all byproducts of things I spent a long time reading about and researching. There is nothing in any of my stories that I haven’t taken care to study first, whether I explain it – or whether it ends up even being relevant – or not. And you wouldn’t believe the number of times I read back and double check things, or the number of errors I fix before you guys see a word of it. And I do still miss things, because everyone makes mistakes.

I put a hell of a lot of effort into what’s just a profitless hobby, is my point. Because I want to. Because it’s honestly never occurred to me not to. And the best authors put a lot more effort in than I do. But then there are published books by professional authors, like this, where the writer obviously doesn’t care. So many of the things we’ve been pointing out could be fixed in literally just a few seconds.

I know that research is much easier these days thanks to the internet and advances in technology, but there’s no excuse for basic continuity errors to get through on this scale. I don’t understand why anyone would bother writing a first novel they didn’t care about, and I don’t understand how someone who clearly doesn’t care can be this successful when arguably better authors are largely unknown – and no, I don’t mean me. I’m still a long way from being published. I’m not jealous (or fishing for compliments, I swear), but I am confused, and disappointed.

Rowling isn’t, overall, a terrible writer (except in regard to a few glaring issues). But that’s really the best I can say. She could probably be an amazing author who deserves every last scrap of success and more, because there are glimpses in this mess of something truly great, but she didn’t care enough to do it.

Anyway, Hedwig shows up at this point with Charlie’s answer, thus preventing anyone having time to remember that they’re meant to be in a lesson right now. Incidentally, Hermione is once again not allowed to speak. She has been inexplicably mute for almost the entire chapter despite being in every scene. I suspect this is actually the trend for most of the series and I just never noticed how constant it was before; we’ll see.

“Dear Ron,
How are you? Thanks for the letter – I’d be glad to take the Norwegian Ridgeback, but it won’t be easy getting him here. I think the best thing will be to send him over with some friends of mine who are coming to visit me next week. Trouble is, they mustn’t be seen carrying an illegal dragon.
Could you get the Ridgeback up the tallest tower at midnight on Saturday? They can meet you there and take him away while it’s still dark.
Send me an answer as soon as possible.

Honestly, this is quite sweet, it sounds like Charlie doesn’t hear from his family very often. It’s weird that he agreed so quickly, though – he’s one of the older responsible brothers, not like the Terrible Twins.

Actually, speaking of Fred and George, why haven’t the Trio roped them in to help? They’d love this sort of stupid stunt and everyone agrees they’re very good at breaking rules.

Anyway, let’s look at Charlie’s brilliant plan. Apparition and Portkeys don’t exist at this point in the series, so okay, let’s assume that Charlie’s friends do have to literally carry this dragon across Europe, which means brooms. We’ve not been told that invisibility spells such as Disillusion Charms exist, but there’s only so far I’m willing to stretch this and the Potterverse as we’ve been shown it so far must have some sort of concealment spell, especially given the emphasis on keeping out of sight of Muggles. So why is Charlie worried that his friends might be seen?

Why does Charlie think it’s possible for a group of random people to casually fly into Hogwarts, allegedly one of the safest places in the wizarding world, without Dumbledore knowing? Of course, it’s possible he immediately Floo’d Dumbles to come up with this plan, which would once again explain a lot, but I don’t really want this to be a world where literally everything has been engineered by the Headmaster even if that is often the only reasonable explanation.

Why do they have to collect the dragon from the top of a tower? Hagrid’s hut is in the grounds, and far enough away from the castle that it’s unlikely anyone would see in broad daylight, let alone in the middle of the night. Take Norbert directly from the hut and don’t be stupid.

And also, just how does Charlie think they’re going to get Norbert up the tower anyway? He’s studying dragons, he ought to know how big a three week old Ridgeback is. Then again, maybe he’s just genre-savvy and breaking the fourth wall, since thanks to the wizarding world’s unique physics this poses no problem whatsoever. (Presumably the dragon takes after Mummy Hagrid’s miraculous size-changing properties…)

Finally, how is Hedwig meant to get to him with their answer in two days, when it took her a week to make the first trip? The worldbuilding article I linked to earlier talks a lot about travel times and so on. It would have come in handy when I was ranting about trains all those chapters ago.

Harry says this crazy plan won’t be a problem, anyway, since his bedsheet can cover two of them and Norbert. It’s never clarified, but I think we can all tell that this statement means himself and Ron. I shouldn’t think Hermione minds, though.

Sadly Hermione doesn’t get to enjoy her escape for long, since the next day Ron has to go to the hospital wing. His hand has swollen to twice its normal size and is turning green, and is apparently very painful.

This will, of course, have no consequences whatsoever. He’ll be fine by tomorrow without even a scar, and Hagrid will never show any signs of guilt that his illegal dangerous pet inflicted what sounds like a very serious wound. Injuries should not be plot devices that only last a single scene.

Ron’s brilliant idea of a cover story was to tell the nurse that a dog bit him. What dog? The only ones in Hogwarts are Fang – who has yet to reappear and is apparently completely harmless – and Fluffy, who Madam Pomfrey probably doesn’t know exists. Also, dog bites don’t do this to people. I appreciate that it’s hard to think up a plausible alibi, but in a place like Hogwarts all he has to say is that he has absolutely no idea what happened and he just woke up with a badly poisoned wound on his hand out of nowhere. That’s entirely too realistic.

We actually spent some time trying to work out what was supposed to be going on here – were we meant to assume the dragon is venomous on top of everything else? Outside of snakes most reptiles aren’t venomous, and birds certainly aren’t… (It seems like Komodo dragons are, which is interesting, but that’s a more recent discovery and wouldn’t have been known when she wrote this). Venomous dragons are very uncommon in mythology, also. It’s entirely possible she just meant us to read this as an infection (some animals, especially cats, have notoriously filthy mouths that can breed pathogens, and it’s been feeding primarily on mysteriously-sourced dead rats…), but infections generally don’t progress that quickly…

Not that it matters, since not only are there no physical consequences, there are no other consequences either and nobody will ever try to find out what really happened to his hand.

Draco apparently showed up earlier to gloat, pretending he wanted to borrow a textbook in order to get the chance to laugh at Ron and threaten to tell the nurse what really happened. At this point, Draco, you really should have done. Making them panic is fun, but it’s been long enough now that you must realise you’re running out of time. Still, he’s young, I’m sure he’ll learn.

At this point Hermione is finally permitted to speak, telling Ron that it’ll all be over on Saturday night. This makes Ron almost wet himself, because he’s just remembered that he left Charlie’s letter in the book Draco took. In the real world this wouldn’t matter, because Draco doesn’t need a second hand copy of a textbook he already owns and would have just dropped it in the lake or set fire to it and gone on his merry way, but in this world he has of course found and read the letter. On the one hand this is a stupidly implausible coincidence, but on the other it’s an example of the kind of behaviour Ron’s been showing throughout this chapter, so on balance I’ll let it slide.

Harry says, accurately, that they don’t have time to come up with another plan and that he and Hermione should be fine with the bedsheet. I doubt Hermione’s as convinced, but it’s not as if there are many options at this point. The two of them leave Ron to his poisoned hand and go to tell Hagrid; for those keeping track, this is the moment where Fang reappears, sitting outside the hut with a bandaged tail. Let’s assume Hagrid trod on it, because if Norbert was involved he wouldn’t have a tail left.

Hagrid’s upset that the time has come, naturally, but he’s got other things on his mind since Norbet is now big enough to literally shake the walls of the hut and has just bitten him in the leg. No, of course this won’t react the way Ron’s bite did. I don’t know why anyone would expect any sort of consistency by this point. And for some reason Harry doesn’t warn him that Draco knows everything and that there’s a really high chance that they’ll be caught. I’ve no idea why.

Harry and Hermione dutifully sneak down to Hagrid’s on Saturday night. Once again, there are implausibly no other students in the common room to notice them, because all teenagers go to bed long before midnight on Saturdays. They’re known for it. The two of them are still running late though because Peeves was playing tennis in the entrance hall, which raises two questions. One, how does Peeves know what tennis is (and does he have an actual racquet and ball, and if so where did he find them?) and two, how the hell are the kids coming and going through the huge main entrance doors? I’m not even going to add an unlocking spell to Hermione’s spell count for this one because it’s just stupid that it’s even possible – and also because she’s going to hit double figures by the end of the book without it.

Hagrid has managed to get the dragon into a crate. We’re not told what this crate is made of, naturally, but let’s assume that even Hagrid wasn’t dumb enough to use a wooden crate to hold something that breathes fire. The wizarding world probably doesn’t have aluminium and certainly doesn’t have plastic or fibreglass, so what we’ve got here is a gigantic lizard in a (probably) iron box, and two small children now have to transport it up the hill, through the main entrance, and up a ridiculous number of stairs (many being narrow spiral staircases) and along an unknown number of corridors. Without being heard, which means carrying it not dragging it.

At this point I’m just going to give up and attempt to shut my brain down, because there is literally no way this is possible and I want to move on and finish the chapter.

Hagrid has packed some rats and brandy in case Norbert wants a snack, and a teddy bear. This is genuinely cute. Especially since Harry can hear Norbert ripping the teddy bear’s head off. Let us note here that nobody’s suggested trying to drug the dragon. Actual tranquilisers are clearly not an option, and we know they’re magic resistant, but you’d think someone would at least have tried to research a potion or something they could give it to knock it out. Isn’t it convenient that Norbert never makes a sound, even though it’s never been shut in a box before and would be panicking or furious or both?

They leave Hagrid in tears and start the Herculean task of hauling this dragon to the tower for no reason whatsoever. The book even lampshades that this shouldn’t work:

“How they managed to get the crate back up to the castle, they never knew.”

Quick, throw another attempt at drama in before the characters realise this isn’t possible.

McGonagall shows up on cue in the corridor beneath the tower. She’s in her night things and she’s in the middle of physically assaulting Draco – I’m not kidding, she’s grabbed him by the ear and is literally dragging him along while shouting at him. She gives him detention and takes twenty points off Slytherin for the crime of being out of bed – if you think this is disproportionate, you’re completely right, but wait until next chapter – and then tells him off for lying about Harry having a dragon. She then drags him off by the ear, saying she’s going to speak to Professor Snape about this, and I would pay quite a lot to see that particular conversation.

Poor, naive Draco. He’s obviously gone and woken McGonagall up so that she could catch them – which proves he’s been listening to his Head of House; in a different world this would have been a good plan to make sure nobody could deny the evidence and let the Gryffindors off. It’s even fairly in character for him, since I can see how he’d want to arrange their downfall on his own rather than letting Lucius or Severus deal with it. He just underestimated what a horrible person McGonagall is. Though given the events of next chapter, he has technically won this one – at least until the end of the book.

“The steep spiral staircase up to the top of the tower seemed the easiest thing in the world after that.”

No, damnit, Draco unfairly getting into trouble doesn’t mean you can break reality. The crate would not fit up a spiral staircase no matter what you did to it. Though honestly the idea that this universe is literally powered by Slytherin suffering is horribly plausible.

For some reason both Harry and Hermione are very happy that Draco got into trouble. They’re not relieved to not have been caught, or anything like that, just gloating to the point of literally dancing a jig. To be fair I suppose it’s not that stupid a reaction – I forget occasionally how young they are in this book – but it still seems like they should be feeling other emotions right now and gloating later. Hermione’s reaction in particular is strange, she’s the only one of the Trio who hasn’t actually fought with Draco at all. Or even spoken to him, as far as I remember. Maybe something happened offscreen?

A few minutes after they get to the top of the tower, four cheerful guys on broomsticks show up, utterly failing to trigger any sort of security whatsoever. They don’t get names or descriptions and we’ll never see any of them again. They wrangle Norbert into some sort of harness – it’s unclear whether he’s still in the crate or not, honestly – and fly off into the night, job done.

As Harry and Hermione go back down the stairs, they run into Filch. (Try to imagine ‘The Rains of Castamere‘ playing in the background, if you watch Game of Thrones.) And the chapter ends on a suitably dramatic note:

“They’d left the Invisibility Cloak on top of the tower.”

Shame on you, Hermione. Harry’s a moron but you’re meant to be the smart one.

The next chapter continues this scene, so ending here is a little jarring (we hadn’t remembered this and were actually pretty surprised), but even if we had time neither of us have the mental energy to cope with more than one chapter at a time.

Our current spell count hasn’t changed this chapter and still stands at Hermione, 8. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Harry, 0. Have a literal spell counter, because Mitchell and I are geeks, and we’ll see you next time for a walk in the woods.


Posted by on March 26, 2016 in loten, mitchell


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An important perspective on Rowling’s new rubbish

I became aware yesterday of this article by Adrienne K. at Native Appropriations (h/t Shakesville), and recommend you read it (these two earlier articles of hers she links to at the end are also well worth a look). She’s been writing about this since June 2015 so it’s probably negligent of me to only become aware of it now, but regardless.

I don’t think I’m really qualified to comment on how to respectfully handle writing about Native Americans in fictional milieu, so I don’t want to say much about it myself. She raises a lot of important issues I wouldn’t have thought of. My first thought was that it’s probably impossible to win, because the most likely alternative is to not include them at all and it’s probably better to acknowledge that indigenous peoples existed and mattered, but that’s an incredibly low bar to set and, as Adrienne points out, misrepresentation may well be equally problematic if not worse (e.g. let’s not forget what happened with Stephenie Meyer, and that now a lot of people only know about the Quileute tribe because of her bastardised werewolf mythology).

Likewise it’s not really fair to say “well, if you don’t want to be misrepresented, you’d better volunteer your time to explain everything to any author who decides they want to write about your culture”, that’s an undue burden to place on anybody… but what’s the alternative, encouraging them to do shoddy research and misrepresent you in problematic ways? Once again, marginalised people(s) just can’t win. I don’t know what the answer is.

But please don’t put too much stock in my whitesplaining of this, go read the original articles.

Quick edit to add: here’s another really good article on this, by Chris Lough at Tor.


Posted by on March 10, 2016 in mitchell


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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Thirteen

I’m still trying very hard not to be absolutely furious with Rowling, but the show must go on, and this chapter was fortunately inoffensive. Just nonsensical.

Chapter Thirteen: Nicolas Flamel
Today’s picture is of a conifer plantation. The Forbidden Forest is mixed woodland, but good try.

Some of you may have noticed in previous posts that I’ve occasionally spelled ‘Nicolas’ as ‘Nicholas’ – I think I caught them all before publishing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed one. It’s an easy mistake to make, particularly since the book doesn’t seem all that sure either. Without the H is the correct spelling, and the one used in my UK hard copy; in the British PDF we’re mostly working from, the chapter title is correct but the page headers add the H. In the US PDF we keep for reference, the title uses the H, but the name is spelt both ways at different points in the text. Mitchell’s physical copy is in the attic so we couldn’t check that; regardless, we found this a bit odd.

Harry’s mostly completely over his inexplicable addiction, as we expected last chapter. Though for some reason he’s now telling us he desperately wants to forget what he saw in the Mirror, which I don’t understand – wanting to forget about the Mirror itself, yes, and maybe if he seemed frightened of the addiction this would make sense, but as it is I’m not sure why he’s so eager to forget the images of his family when he was obsessed with them two days ago and why it’s suddenly traumatic when nothing bad happened. He’s also having nightmares about his parents dying in flashes of green light and the high laugh he’s ‘remembered’ (imagined) before, and I don’t know where this has come from because he’s never had this sort of dream before and the images in the Mirror shouldn’t have triggered it. This passage is treating it as though he literally saw images of their deaths in the mirror, and that wasn’t the case at all.

I suppose this is what happens when you’re going through Mirror-withdrawal?

Ron’s reaction is about as sympathetic as you’d expect: “You see, Dumbledore was right, that mirror could drive you mad.” Very helpful, Ron.

Hermione’s reaction when she comes back to school is more complicated, focusing on the ‘horror‘ of what would have happened if Filch caught Harry and disappointment that he didn’t find out about Flamel. We’re meant to read it as her preoccupation with Harry breaking rules overriding everything else, I think, but it seems more likely that the boys didn’t actually tell her about the Mirror. Even if she was somehow focused more on the rule-breaking than everything else, she would at least have mentioned it, even if only to ask how it works and are there other creepy mind-reading things in this world, or to wonder what she’d have seen if she’d been with them. I can’t accept that she has literally no reaction to a mind-reading addictive magic mirror. Also, note that use of ‘horror’ – she was worried about Harry being caught, not disapproving of him being out of bed. It also seems odd that she has no reaction to Harry’s inexplicable trauma dreams, either to be sympathetic or to tell him that it serves him right.

The alternative explanation is that Rowling either couldn’t or wasn’t interested in writing her reaction to that part and just glossed over it, but I think I can more easily buy Harry being too embarrassed to want to tell her – or the boys just not caring enough to keep her informed.

Incidentally, ‘horror’ seems a strong word. The students all seem weirdly frightened of Filch, but he’s not actually allowed to do anything except report them to a teacher. He can’t even assign detentions himself. He’s an elderly man who’s not in the best of health, and at least some of the students must have figured out that he either can’t or won’t use magic, so why are they all so terrified of him? (Well, in the movieverse he’s Walder Frey, which is a very good reason to be petrified of him…) In later books when he turns rather creepy and spends his time muttering about whips and thumbscrews I can understand it, but right now it’s just a bit strange.

And again, children, you think Snape wants to kill Harry, so shouldn’t you be more worried about him than Filch? More on this later.

Anyway, they’re still looking for information about Flamel, but Harry hasn’t got much time now term has started again because we’re back to bloody Quidditch. Wood is continuing his odd drill-sergeant stereotype by forcing the Gryffindor team to practice an insane amount, and I really don’t know how they have the time for it even if you accept that the other three teams really don’t care all that much. (There’s also a little more weather fail; we’re somewhere in the first half of January – happy birthday Snape – but the snow has already melted and given way to rain. It’s possible, but not very likely.)

Gryffindor’s next match is against Hufflepuff and if they win they’ll overtake Slytherin which is apparently a big deal for some reason. It doesn’t actually matter until later in the year, you know. At least, I don’t think it does, but we’re not actually told how the Quidditch Cup works – I think I assumed it was more of an elimination thing, all four houses play one another and the two with the most victories play a final deciding match, insert tiebreaker games as needed, but it seems to be more of a league affair with points given for winning or drawing and the scores being cumulative. Anyway, the real reason it doesn’t matter is that Harry is a special snowflake, as we know.

Wood informs the team that Snape is going to be refereeing this match, and everyone is duly horrified. I’m wondering how Wood knows, honestly – is this really such a big deal that they’d tell the students in advance? Based on what we see of Hooch’s performance in every other match in the series – yes, this is the only one that will have a different referee – the referee doesn’t actually do anything. At all. So does it really matter who it is?

Obviously, the Gryffindor team are all convinced that Snape’s going to be really unfair and rig the match to make sure they lose. I really don’t know what they’re basing this on, since despite the book’s best efforts to tell us how partisan and unfair he is we really haven’t seen any evidence of it thus far, but he won’t actually be allowed to do that. The whole school watches these stupid matches and the commentator is a Gryffindor. Snape’s only going to be allowed to assign penalties when someone actually breaks a rule – I can understand why the team would panic over this, now I think about it, since Hooch seems to look the other way and ignore it whenever that happens, but enforcing the rules isn’t unfair.

On a related note, Harry’s convinced that Snape’s done this purely to try and kill him again. Yes, Harry, it’s obviously going to be much easier to assassinate you with the entire school watching than it would be to do so from hiding. Also, you have lessons with the man at least once a week and those lessons involve explosions and dangerous chemicals. He could have killed you several hundred times by now if he’d wanted to, and that’s without counting all the times you’ve run into him out of hours. The fact that you’re too stupid to be afraid of him except when sport is involved is neither here nor there; either he’s trying to kill you or he’s not, this is not a part-time thing.

This does raise the question of why Harry actually isn’t dead, though. You don’t need literal assassination attempts – Hogwarts is already a deathtrap, how hard can it be to arrange an accident? I’m surprised students aren’t dying every week. What is our villain actually doing? I haven’t been keeping count but I’m sure there have been hundreds of chances for Harry to die by now. This is not how you write scary bad guys.

Anyway, Harry runs to tell his friends.

” ‘Don’t play,’ said Hermione at once.
‘Say you’re ill,’ said Ron.
‘Pretend to break your leg,’ Hermione suggested.
Really break your leg,’ said Ron. “

I like this exchange. But Ron’s a pureblood from a crazy family and knows that broken bones can be healed in minutes; a broken leg wouldn’t stop him playing and Ron shouldn’t think it would. You don’t even need your legs to play Quidditch anyway.

Harry says he can’t; there’s no reserve seeker and if he doesn’t play then Gryffindor can’t play. They can, you know. There is an actual game going on in the background while you chase your shiny walnut around. They’ll lose, because this sport is broken, but they can play perfectly well. And there should be a reserve seeker; if Wood takes the game as seriously as it seems, he ought to have conscripted most of the house into several reserve teams just in case. We know why there isn’t one, of course – it’s because Harry couldn’t be a special snowflake if there were! Also, again, Harry – perspective. Your life is not worth a Quidditch match. If you play and get murdered your team are also going to lose.

Neville crawls into the common room at this point, with his legs bound together by something called the Leg-Locker Curse. Everyone in the room ‘fell about laughing‘ at him, of course, because they’re all horrible people. Except Hermione, who not only doesn’t laugh but instantly jumps up to help him and does the counter-curse.

Current spell count: Hermione, 8. Ron, 1. Harry, 0. You know what, it was Draco who cursed Neville… Current spell count: Hermione, 8. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Harry, 0. Welcome to the count, Draco. Congratulations on being more effective than the protagonist. Leave Neville alone. Technically this magic happened offscreen, but I say it still counts.

Hermione urges Neville to tell someone, but he refuses. Ron tells him it’s his own fault for not standing up for himself, and Neville says, “There’s no need to tell me I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, Malfoy’s already done that.” You go, Neville – Ron is every bit as bad as Draco, thank you for pointing it out to the boys and girls. Have a hug.

The plot demands that Harry uncharacteristically show a bit of compassion here – well, what he actually does is insult Slytherin, which isn’t particularly compassionate or helpful, but it’s meant to be. He was laughing at Neville ten seconds ago, but now offers him chocolate – the last frog from the box Hermione gave him for Christmas.

Good job Hermione’s not a selfish ass like her friends, isn’t it? If she hadn’t bothered giving them Christmas presents, you know, like they did to her, this scene probably wouldn’t have happened, and God knows how this plot would have limped to a conclusion otherwise.

Neville continues to be a delightful human being and thanks Harry for the chocolate before giving him the card from it, because he knows Harry collects them despite almost never getting to actually speak to the rest of his house. Have another hug, Neville. Though actually Harry doesn’t collect the things – he has a few from the train, but after this scene he’ll never show any interest in them again, and for all that Ron’s supposedly more enthusiastic and has almost a complete set nor will he.

Mitchell and I tried to work out what Rowling was going for with the chocolate frog cards. The closest analogy we could come up with was American baseball cards, because I couldn’t really think of a British equivalent. I mean, when I was at school we collected all sorts of things, but they had a purpose – Pokemon cards, Pogs, marbles. Things you played with. Collectables with no real use aren’t something I really remember. I suppose there were football stickers, but even then those were to put in a special sticker album that you could display, you didn’t have them just for the sake of having them. Honestly the closest thing I can think of are the cards you used to get in packs of cigarettes, before my time (maybe Rowling was remembering those?).

Anyway, Harry glances casually at the card, which happens to be Dumbledore’s, and sees Flamel’s name. Thank God that’s over. Though to be fair I actually do like the foreshadowing of Flamel being mentioned way back on the train, that was genuinely well done.

Hermione has her own little Eureka moment and sprints off to fetch one of her library books from the dormitory, which turns out to have an entry on Flamel in it. The only way to even try to make sense of the fact that she didn’t remember this before is to assume that when she says she checked this book out ‘weeks ago‘ she actually meant ‘months’; that she read it before Halloween, before she was friends with the boys, before she knew Flamel was apparently important, and thus had no reason to remember the name before now. Though even then it’s a stretch, because we were told several chapters ago that she has an eidetic memory (she must do because there’s no other way a young girl can completely memorise half a dozen textbooks about utterly alien concepts in the few months she had them before coming to Hogwarts) so she should have remembered in the weeks they’ve been searching.

This would have worked so much better if she’d said ‘Oh, so he’s an alchemist, let’s immediately go to the library again and look him up in a book of alchemists’ and found this information that way. Particularly since, unlike either Harry or Ron, she’s heard of the Philosopher’s Stone already. (Interesting that Ron knows about invisibility cloaks but not this.)

I also have no earthly idea what book she’s reading, because take a look at the part she reads out.

“The ancient study of alchemy is concerned with making the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.

There have been many reports of the Philosopher’s Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr Nicolas Flamel, the noted alchemist and opera-lover. Mr Flamel, who celebrated his six hundred and sixty-fifth birthday last year, enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hundred and fifty-eight).”

Firstly, there’s a hell of a lot more to alchemy than the Stone. It’s a science in its own right. Secondly, why does Flamel’s age, where he lives or the fact that he likes opera get a mention? I strongly suspect that this text is left over from an early draft, where Harry read this from Flamel’s own chocolate frog card.

Also, if this book openly lists Flamel’s name and location, why has nobody gone after the Philosopher’s Stone before now? Why didn’t Voldemort kill him and take it during the first war? Why didn’t Grindelwald take it in the war before that? (Why didn’t Dumbledore? You can’t tell me it would have been out of character.) Immortality and infinite wealth – half the world would have been digging around in Devon looking for him. And why is it the only one in existence? Someone somewhere would find out what Flamel’s area of expertise is and would have worked out how to make another one by now.

Though I suppose this probably explains why the Stone was being kept at Gringotts – I’d imagine the goblins confiscated it. “Our currency is gold coins, we cannot allow you to keep the source of infinite gold because you’ll break the economy.”

I’d also like to mention that on Dumbledore’s frog card Flamel is listed as his partner in alchemy. Flamel has been an alchemist for nearly seven hundred years. Dumbledore would be his very lowly assistant at best.

[We also noticed that this book is described as an ‘old’ book but nothing is said about when it was actually published; despite that, Ron immediately assumes that the age it gives for Flamel is current, and I’ve noticed fans doing the same from time to time. Curiosity led me to do some maths, and this is probably an error on Rowling’s part; Wikipedia gives 1330 as approximate year of birth for the historical Flamel, and that would have made him 666 or 667 years old in 1997, when the book was published. So I suspect she was going for some kind of accuracy but didn’t take into account the time difference between the fictional book being published and the characters reading it, nor that the story wasn’t meant to be taking place the same year as she was writing it.]

Also let us just reflect for a minute on that date. 1997. Nearly twenty years ago. Do you feel horribly ancient yet?

I hope you enjoyed your brief glimpse of the plot, because now it’s time for yet more Quidditch. Harry tells us the entire team is panicking and no seriously why is this such a huge deal, you lot haven’t won against Slytherin for seven years, it makes literally no difference.

Harry also tells us Snape is apparently following him around, is being really horrible in Potions, and must therefore somehow know that the Trio have found out about the Stone. This is not only nonsense – and will never come up again; if Severus really is following him, he apparently gives up or hides it better after this single paragraph – but is also once again devoid of emotion. Harry’s not scared. He finds Potions ‘torture‘ because Snape’s being mean, but he’s not worried that the man’s supposedly trying to murder him. He does wonder if Snape can read minds, since he doesn’t know how else he could have found out what they’re doing, but he’s not scared of that either.

The feel of this entire sub-plot is really strange. Harry is absolutely not afraid of someone apparently out to kill him, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s not trying to avoid Snape, he’s not terrified of going to Potions lessons, he’s not trying to get evidence so he can report it to someone; Snape apparently being a murderer is just a piece of background detail. It doesn’t matter to Harry, it’s just the way it is. And yet at the same time he’s being ridiculously melodramatic about it:

“Harry knew, when they wished him good luck outside the changing rooms next afternoon, that Ron and Hermione were wondering whether they’d ever see him alive again.”

I genuinely can’t work out if Harry even believes what he’s saying or not. He’s pretty much reading cue cards that are instructing him to tell us that Snape’s trying to murder him, and in between reading them he’s forgotten all about it.

I don’t think Ron and Hermione are taking it all that seriously either. Their strategy is to practice the Leg-Locker curse we saw earlier in case they need to use it on Snape. Aside from kindly making sure he can’t fall off his broom, I’m not sure what this is meant to achieve – they’d be better off using it on Harry in that case. I’m sure Hermione knows actual useful spells, so this is really just emphasising the weird feel of this chapter – the cast of characters keep being reminded by an impatient director offscreen that they’re meant to be frightened of Snape, but none of them are really feeling it.

Anyway, as the team are getting changed Fred sees that the whole school has turned out to watch, even Dumbledore. Everyone immediately rushes to see and treats this as really shocking – I suppose this does explain why he didn’t intervene in the last match; apparently he wasn’t there – but for the rest of the series he’s going to attend at least most of them and it really doesn’t seem unusual for him to be there. We have to infer that he starts this habit because of Harry, and never bothered before, but in that case why was he apparently not there for the first game?

Harry is very relieved that Dumbles is there to protect him and thinks that Snape won’t dare do anything now. Harry, your head of house was there last game, she sits in the commentary box. There were at least two teachers in the crowd and I would guess most of them were there. Hagrid was there. There are already plenty of adults watching; if you don’t think you’re safe already, Dumbles isn’t going to make a difference. This just shows how quickly and easily he’s been brainwashed into thinking that Dumbledore is God, doesn’t it? Nobody else can possibly do anything, it’s only the precious Headmaster who can save him. Never mind that said Headmaster has done precisely bugger-all except talk nonsense on the single brief occasion they met.

The match itself is mercifully brief. Lee doesn’t seem to be commentating this time, there’s no commentary at all, and most of the game is from the point of view of Ron and Hermione sitting in the stands with Neville while Draco tries to start arguments with them. Neville attempts to stand up for himself and it’s adorable, and Draco responds by moving on to insulting Ron instead.

Snape gives Hufflepuff a penalty because George deliberately hits a cannonball at him. Yes, attempting to assault the referee does usually have consequences. George should also have been sent off, but that doesn’t seem to exist in Quidditch. We’re told in the next paragraph that Snape gives Hufflepuff another penalty ‘for no reason at all‘ but there’s no mention of the non-existent commentator asking why, or anyone in the crowd getting angry, or any signs that this actually happened. Rowling wants to tell us that he’s cheating to rig the match, but can’t quite manage to write it happening because there’s no possible way he can do it, so we just get this weird half a page of nonsense interspersed with the children bickering.

After a few minutes of insults Ron turns around and physically attacks Draco. Well, I assume that’s what happened, though if they were any older this scene might sound a lot more suggestive…:

“Ron snapped. Before Malfoy knew what was happening, Ron was on top of him, wrestling him to the ground.”

I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. The slash subtext in these books is ridiculous.

More seriously, I’m tempted to start a count of all the times Ron responds with violence to basically everything, but that would require going back over the chapters we’ve already covered because it’s happened several times already. This time Neville joins in, for some reason, attacking Crabbe and Goyle – no, Neville! You’re being infected with Gryffindor! Get away quickly! – while Hermione ignores them and keeps watching Harry chasing his walnut.

“She didn’t even notice Malfoy and Ron rolling around under her seat.”

It’s canon, I can’t help it.

Once again forgetting that the man’s supposedly trying to murder him, Harry charges directly at Snape in pursuit of the shiny (speaking of which, are we meant to assume that quidditch referees are normally flying about right in the midst of the play area? No real-world sport does this). Once again displaying inhuman levels of patience, Snape doesn’t incinerate him for it, or ‘accidentally’ collide with him in a way that just happens to leave Harry impaled by bits of broomstick, but just moves out of the way and lets Harry catch the walnut and end the match. Harry assures us that it took him less than five minutes and that he’s the greatest seeker ever, but the boys were squabbling for longer than that before getting into a brawl – which is still going on, by the way, even though Hermione’s trying to tell them that the match is over.

As Harry lands, Dumbles teleports onto the pitch to touch his shoulder and congratulate him and deliberately remind him of the horribly addictive mirror he’s been trying not to think about for weeks. This is gross – it’s like walking up to a recovering alcoholic and congratulating them on not having had a drink yet today. Perhaps in recognition of how terrible and manipulative this is, the scene ends with Snape spitting on the ground. My sentiments exactly.

This game ending so stupidly quickly caused another digression, as you might expect. We wondered how it’s possible to have Quidditch in a school environment when matches can apparently last for weeks. This game started in the afternoon; what happens after a few hours when it’s getting dark? What happens if they play through the night and the match still doesn’t end? Do they miss lessons? Meals? What about exams?

More interestingly, what would happen if the two opposing seekers made a deal and simply didn’t catch the walnut? It wouldn’t be hard to fake just barely missing it every time it showed up. How long would the match be allowed to go on for before the teachers intervened? It’s really not hard to imagine a couple of students conspiring to do something like this if, say, they’ve got an exam the next day they’d rather not have to sit. We found ourselves wondering if this is why Hogwarts encourages antipathy between students of different houses, so it wouldn’t occur to them to cooperate on something like this.

Sadly we’ll never know. Every match Harry plays in will be over in about twenty minutes. But it’s fun to think about.

About an hour after the match, something weird has happened to the nature of time and it’s suddenly evening and everyone’s stopped fawning over Harry to go and eat dinner. For some reason Harry hasn’t, he’s still down in the changing rooms putting his broom away. He continues to display absolutely no sense of perspective:

“He’d really done something to be proud of now – no one could say he was just a famous name any more… He’d done it, he’d shown Snape …”

Harry. Dear. Defeating Voldemort – whether you remember doing it or not – was a teensy bit more important than your team temporarily taking the lead in a sports contest that’s not going to end for months yet. You haven’t actually won anything. And you believe Snape’s after the Philosopher’s Stone, source of infinite wealth and literal immortality – on what planet do you really think he gives even the tiniest of fucks about school Quidditch?!

I don’t object to Harry feeling good about winning the match, like he did last time. I do object to him insisting that it’s the greatest achievement in the universe and more important than the actual supposedly really serious plot – how are the readers meant to care when the characters don’t?

Stretching the nature of coincidence, he finally leaves the changing rooms just in time to see someone walking towards the Forbidden Forest, and recognises Snape from the ‘prowling walk‘. Good to see that Severus has recovered from the serious dog bite by now, but it’s evening in January and Harry can apparently see a man wearing black walking across unlit grounds into an equally unlit and quite dense forest? I don’t think so. Inevitably, he jumps on his broom and follows, though he flies over the castle to do so, which makes no sense. Conveniently, Snape waits for Harry to get on his broom before inexplicably breaking into a run; I don’t know what his hurry is, Harry can’t see a thing and it’s not like this scene is urgent.

Proving my point, by the time Harry reaches the treeline he’s lost sight of Snape and flies aimlessly in circles trying to see where he went. In defiance of how the world works, Harry manages to hear voices at ground level while flying above the canopy, and further defies the nature of the universe by landing ‘noiselessly‘ in a beech tree (not a pine tree; sorry, chapter artist). Not only that, he then scrambles around in the tree while carrying a broomstick, and still somehow appears to remain both unseen and unheard. Even though it’s January and the tree is half-dead, and the branches and any remaining dead leaves or empty beech nut husks will be rattling and rustling and snapping.

I’m also not sure how Harry knows it’s a beech tree. A Boy Scout he ain’t. Beeches themselves aren’t exactly common in Scotland either – they’re native to southern Britain. But whatever, magic forest.

He proceeds to observe a very weird meeting between Snape and Quirrell. This is not how you do stealth, guys. Everyone else is at dinner and the absence of two teachers is going to be obvious, and why the hell are they out in the forest anyway? At this point I think we have to assume Snape’s putting on a show for whatever warped reason, but it must be causing him physical pain to have to be this obvious about things.

The purpose of the meeting is for Snape to threaten Quirrell. He’s demanding to know what Quirrell’s contribution to the defences around the Stone is and whether Quirrell knows how to get past Fluffy yet, and he’s sounding delightfully menacing while doing so. (Don’t judge me.) He’s also interrupting Quirrell every time the man tries to answer – maybe he’s tired of the stutter – and ends the meeting and stalks dramatically into the night after only a few sentences and a final threat, just to underscore the message that there was literally zero point to this scene for anyone involved.

Harry scampers back to the castle to tell his friends. Ron’s more interested in gloating about having given Draco a black eye; he also tells us that Neville’s out cold and has been since the match ended. Madam Pomfrey says he’ll be fine, apparently, but he’s been unconscious for over an hour. Something is seriously wrong. But that doesn’t matter, because Fred and George have stolen a load of cakes from the kitchen to throw a party for Harry and that’s obviously more important. Never mind that they’ve all literally just eaten, or that cake is the sort of thing you make fresh as needed and don’t just leave lying around, or that as we know ‘stealing’ means ‘walking in and asking for stuff’.

Anyway, Harry drags Ron and Hermione away to tell them what he saw, rather optimistically stating that he thinks Quirrell’s done an anti-Dark Arts spell that Snape will have to break through. Good job you’re wrong, Harry, because that would take him about 0.03 seconds even on a bad day.

” ‘So you mean the Stone’s only safe as long as Quirrell stands up to Snape?’ said Hermione in alarm.
‘It’ll be gone by next Tuesday,’ said Ron. “

It’s a good line to end on, I admit, but it’s already been more than a full term. I think you’ll be okay for a while.

So let’s talk about Snape (not that I ever need a reason to do that).

We’re still being told that Snape is the villain of the book, even though we’re only a few chapters from the end now. This is a bad habit of Rowling’s writing that I saw a lot more blatantly in the Strike books – if she comes up with something she thinks is clever, she will go to utterly ridiculous lengths to avoid telling the readers about it until the last possible moment and do everything possible to hide it. This can work in moderation, but it’s a really bad way to write mysteries.

Good authors – one of the more famous examples would be Agatha Christie – give the readers all the necessary information as the story progresses, but in such a way that you don’t work it out until the right moment, along with the hero. It’s very hard to do well but it allows the reader to figure things out along with the protagonist, or even just before the protagonist does, and it’s a lot more fun that way.

Big plot twists – like a sudden revelation that the supposed ‘villain’ is no such thing – can be very effective, but it needs to be a lot more subtle than this. You need characters misinterpreting far less obvious things. If this was to be done well, Snape would not be using B-movie techniques to shout HEY LOOK I’M A BAD GUY REALLY; instead there would be nothing overtly suspicious about him at all, except that he keeps showing up in unexpected places and seems to take a little too much interest in the main characters. That plus his dislike of Harry would be enough for the children to plausibly suspect him, and wouldn’t involve butchering his character to the point where the only logical explanation is a conspiracy theory that he’s faking it because he’s been told to take the rap. We would also see more of the other teachers so Quirrell isn’t our only other plausible option, and there would be more small things for the readers to misunderstand.

You can probably handwave this, as with so many other things, with ‘but this is a children’s book’. As a defence it’s starting to lose its validity. Children aren’t stupid and shouldn’t be treated as though they are; I started reading ‘adult’ books at a very young age because I was bored with the books I was ‘supposed’ to be reading. Nobody told me my new choices were too difficult for me, and I never noticed. A child old enough to understand the vocabulary in this book is old enough not to need flashing neon signs explaining the story at every step.

In any case, nobody misunderstood anything about the Snape-Quirrell twist. The book is simply flat out lying to the readers. It’s not a case of Quirrell secretly being the villain all along; Snape is the villain, until suddenly he isn’t. It just makes it obvious that in the first draft he was the villain and that a lot of the writing was just left unchanged. And that’s a shame, because we’ve seen just in this chapter that Rowling can do it well when she tries – the identity of Nicolas Flamel is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. We’ve already seen that information, but we didn’t know it was important, so we forgot about it just like Harry did, and now we read it again along with the characters and think ‘Oh, yes, that’s right, I remember that now!’

The fact that she can do it when she tries means that we can’t give her the benefit of the doubt here and say she can’t write that sort of thing, or that it’s too much for a children’s book and everything needs to be more obvious. She can do it, and do it pretty well. She just didn’t, and it’s a shame. This whole chapter feels wasted, somehow; even though there’s a genuine plot point or two in here, I get the impression that it was a transition between two parts she was more interested in and that this was more of a necessary chore to write in order to get to other parts of the story, which might explain why a lot of it isn’t well done. I don’t blame Rowling for that, necessarily, since I’ve done it myself – but if I were writing something I intended to try to get published I’d damn well polish it a bit.

I was going to talk about this plot twist at the end of the book, and we probably will talk about it again when we get there, but in light of Snape’s conversation with Quirrell we were trying to figure out just how much either of them know at this point. It’s really not clear. Snape’s implying that he knows about all the defences except Quirrell’s, but how? Either he was in on it from the start and just happened not to see that specific defence being put in place, or he’s managed to ask everyone else about their contributions without anyone wondering why he wants to know. In either case it’s weird that he hasn’t just gone and asked Hagrid how you get past Fluffy, since after this many years he must know the man can’t keep a secret to save his life – though it’s possible he has done just that by now, since he was asking if Quirrell knew, not what the answer was.

In any case, does Snape know why Quirrell’s after the Stone? I’m inclined to say no, because he certainly wouldn’t be acting like this if he knew Voldy was lurking under the turban a couple of feet away. And there’s no reason he would know, since Quirrell was never a Death Eater and for reasons that are never explained (because Rowling can’t think of a way to retcon it) Snape’s Dark Mark hasn’t reacted to its creator being literally right there next to it.

But it’s equally possible to read this as though Snape does know and is pretending he has no idea; he’s certainly a good enough actor, and he must know that Voldy can’t do anything about it right now. In which case, does he think Quirrell believes he knows? Again, I don’t think so. Though something else that will never be explained is why Voldy never makes Quirrell approach Snape; he’s got a Death Eater right there, a much more effective minion than some random untested wizard he happened to possess in Albania. Surely he would at least attempt to find out whose side Snape is on now, particularly since Quirrell must have observed that Snape doesn’t like Dumbledore and rumours must have spread that he doesn’t like Harry either. Snape could potentially be a very important ally, yet there’s no indication that Voldy ever tried to find out.

It’s even more interesting given that Snape’s putting on a show of wanting to get to the Stone himself. He could have offered to work with Quirrell – infinite gold and immortality-juice by definition means there’s enough to share – but instead he’s choosing to threaten and intimidate him. It’s hard to tell if he’s trying to scare Quirrell off, or trying to manipulate him into asking for an alliance.

Even assuming that most of his scenes are left over from the first draft where he was the bad guy, it’s impossible to tell how much of a bad guy he was meant to be. Is he acting the Death Eater, or does he just want the cool shiny thing, or does he just want to oppose Dumbledore?

I don’t really know where I’m going with this, honestly, but I think the book would probably have been a lot more interesting if Snape really were a villain, though definitely not any more coherent. It would certainly have been more interesting if he’d been allowed to do his own thing.

To put this all a slightly different way, I think what we’re trying to say is that if you’re going to write a dramatic twist reveal that changes everything you thought you knew, you have to go back and make sure all of the scenes the reader ‘misinterpreted’ make sense when read with the new knowledge in mind. What we’ve been finding throughout this book, quite alarmingly, is that she doesn’t seem to have made any such effort, and as a result scenes like this just don’t make any sense at all. Trust me, we tried. We were asking each other all sorts of questions about what Snape should know, what Quirrell might think Snape knows, does Snape know what Quirrell/Voldy knows about what he knows, etc, but we couldn’t think of any permutation or level of depth here which should lead to the conversation Harry overhears. Instead, all she did was retcon it and assume the reader wouldn’t go back and check. Though I’ll also say that it baffles me that we never seem to have noticed this before, nor do most fans; we aren’t sure if we think that’s because people reread the first book less frequently or something like that, or it’s something else… regardless, we don’t really have the data.

This was a pretty short chapter this time. Next time, here be dragons…


Posted by on March 4, 2016 in loten, mitchell


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