Monthly Archives: June 2016

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Sixteen

Sorry for the delay, folks, life’s a bit hectic right now and this will probably continue through the end of this book and whatever we decide to do about the film. By the time we get to Chamber of Secrets we’ll hopefully be in a position to get these posts done much more frequently.

Chapter Sixteen: Through the Trapdoor

This illustration is meant to be a picture of Fluffy. He looks like something off Cartoon
Network, and seems to be part cat and part raccoon with a dog’s head stuck on.

We’re told that, “In years to come, Harry would never quite remember how he had managed to get through his exams when he half expected Voldemort to come bursting through the door at any moment.” In years to come, Harry’s priorities are evidently rather weird, because I don’t believe anyone is ever going to ask about his first-year exams.

But yes, we’re beginning yet another chapter with a timeskip – despite the children concluding at the end of last chapter that the villain has all the information he needs and there is now nothing between him and seizing the Philosopher’s Stone, they still don’t try to do anything about it for another week or two. Not only do they not attempt to tell anyone, they don’t discuss it amongst themselves and try to come up with some sort of plan. Luckily for them the villain is a blithering idiot and makes no attempt to do anything either.

Instead, we’re told a little about the end-of-year exams, which as you’d expect are designed to test everything they’re meant to have learned thus far. Naturally, these are summarised for us in two short paragraphs, just in case anyone wanted to see our protagonist actually do some magic for once. They’re given enchanted anti-cheating equipment for the written exams, and that’s all we’re told about those. As for the practical exams, Flitwick asks them to make a pineapple tap dance…

Credit to Natalie Dee for the whatnapple.

Of course we’re not told what charms you’d need for this – the only charms we’ve seen are the levitation one and the unlocking one, and the latter wasn’t taught in their lessons. Nor does Harry comment about whether he managed it or not. This seems a bit simplistic for an exam – how are they graded? Surely they either pass or fail. And of course it has zero practical uses in the real world, but that applies to a lot of the things I learned at school as well, so I suppose I can let it pass even though magic really ought to be cooler than this.

McGonagall’s exam gets a little more detail; she asks her students to turn a mouse into a snuff-box. None of them refuse this on the grounds that it’s really cruel to the mouse (we could be charitable and assume the mouse is already dead, if only on the grounds that it might run away otherwise so it’s more practical). Nor do any of them refuse on the grounds that they have no idea what a snuff box is. Do wizards take snuff? For those who don’t know, snuff is a type of tobacco that you snort. Don’t try this at home. (A snuff box is also the term for the area of your hand where you typically place the snuff to lift it to your nose, between the tendons at the base of your thumb. Knowledge!)

We’re not told why a snuff box, specifically, nor how this is different from literally any other instance of Transfiguration in the entire series. Though at least we know how the children get their grade – “points were given for how pretty the snuff-box was, but taken away if it had whiskers.” Non-anatomical snuff boxes come in all shapes and sizes, so really you could turn the poor mouse into just about anything and this is essentially an art exam.

There are many teachers in the world who will add or remove marks based on how pretty your work is. All of them deserve their own special private Hell. It’s bad enough that I have to write the boring essay in the first place without making me waste time illustrating it. Anyway, once again Harry doesn’t comment on how well he does.

The only other exams mentioned are Potions and History of Magic, and the latter is mentioned purely because it’s the last exam. As for Potions… “Snape made them all nervous, breathing down their necks while they tried to remember how to make a Forgetfulness Potion.” As  jokes go this isn’t too bad, it’s sort of cute, but a) why does this potion exist when there are mind-rape spells that wipe memories without leaving evidence, and b) why are you teaching first years how to make it?

Of course the main issue with this sentence is that, at this point, Harry and company still believe Snape is the villain and that he is now completely unopposed. Yet there’s no indication here that Harry’s wondering why he hasn’t acted yet, or that he’s frightened by having the man he thinks has tried to murder him breathing down his neck. Well, there’s no indication that Harry’s thinking or feeling anything at all, but that’s par for the course by this point. We don’t know what goes into a Forgetfulness Potion, how hard it is to make, or how well Harry did.

There’s no mention of a Defence exam of any kind. I’m prepared to forgive this, actually, since from the third year exams and the OWLs it seems likely that the Defence exams often involve some sort of obstacle course, and we’re going to get one of those very shortly. (It’s been suggested that the course in question is actually the pre-existing Defence exam course and it’s been co-opted for another purpose here.) There’s also no mention of Herbology or Astronomy, which are the only other subjects we know about.

Harry’s only comment about actually taking exams is to complain that he tried really hard but his scar has been giving him ‘stabbing pains in his forehead which had been bothering him ever since his trip into the Forest‘. I think we have to assume these scar pains are psychosomatic, because there’s really no reason his ten year old scar would be hurting now when it hasn’t reacted to the villain’s presence since the start of term feast and when the villain in question isn’t even there. We’re just going to ignore the question of why he didn’t seek medical attention. Harry’s easily stupid enough to think that random stabbing pains in the same area of your head all the time for a week or two is nothing to be concerned about.

Neville thinks Harry’s having exam-related nightmares because he can’t sleep. I’m pleased you made it out of the forest, Neville, and it’s sweet that you keep an eye on people like this, but don’t waste it on Harry. Why don’t the Trio tell Neville what’s going on? He’s indirectly seen half of it anyway. Rowling never seems able to decide whether they actually like him or not (based on this book I would say Ron doesn’t like him, Harry sort-of does but thinks he’s pathetic, and Hermione is friends with him offscreen as we’ve discussed before). Anyway, Harry is having nightmares, but not about the exams – he keeps having the same dream he’s had before, but now with a hooded figure dripping blood in it. This is not how dreams work. If you have a recurring dream, you can’t keep adding bits to it whenever you see or hear something suitably scary.

Harry’s decided that because he is the specialest little snowflake who ever snowflaked, Ron and Hermione can’t possibly be as worried about Voldemort as he is. After all, they don’t have random pains, and they didn’t see the guy crawling around on the floor threateningly last chapter. And Voldy’s not visiting them in their dreams. There’s no indication that Harry’s ever asked if they have nightmares, but I’m more interested in wondering whether this is literal – these recurring dreams are more interesting once you know that Harry and Voldy are linked and occasionally share dreams. In any case, Harry informs us that Ron and Hermione are too busy revising to be concerned about a supervillain stealing the plot device. Heh. Ron, revising. That’s a good joke, Harry.

Once they finish their History of Magic exam, the students all cheer and run outside, because now they have a week off before the results come out and term ends. Er, why? End the term as soon as the exams are over and send them home. Why keep them hanging around for another week? I suppose we can assume it’s because the older students haven’t finished their exams yet and the stupid magic train can somehow only make the trip once, but still.

Hermione’s one of those students who likes to go over the exam afterwards and see how everyone did – complete with solidly consistent characterisation as she mentions various bits of extra information she learned but didn’t need – but Ron overrules her and they just wander off to sit by the lake instead. The twins and their friend Lee are molesting a giant squid nearby, tickling its tentacles (no jokes please), because reasons – this is actually the first appearance of the squid, which is kraken-sized and apparently friendly. No, there’s never going to be an explanation of why there’s a squid in a fresh water lake. Rowling just likes them.

Harry starts whining that his scar’s hurting again and he doesn’t know why. Hermione tells him to go to the nurse then, and he dismisses this idea:

“‘I’m not ill,’ said Harry. ‘I think it’s a warning … it means danger’s coming …’”

He’s pulled this statement out of his arse, of course. The scar has never warned him of danger before (and never will; it does hurt at random intervals, but usually not connected to anything), causing someone chronic pain for a week is a really bad warning system, Harry knows absolutely nothing about curse scars, and his scar is a unique and special pony-mark anyway. Plus whether it’s a warning or not doesn’t mean you can’t at least get something to help with the pain.

This just comes across as him wanting to seem important.

Ron, on the other hand, gives no fucks whatsoever and just tells Harry to relax because it’s too hot to get wound up and everything’s fine really. The Stone’s safe because Dumbledore’s around, they never had any proof Snape was after it anyway, Snape’s not going to want to go and see Fluffy again after being bitten, “and Neville will play Quidditch for England before Hagrid lets Dumbledore down.”

Like I said, Ron doesn’t like Neville. Fuck you, Ron.

While I applaud a character finally pointing out that they have no evidence of anything, Ron’s been firmly on board the Snape-is-evil wagon from the start, and will never get off it. He’s also been quite keen to get involved. This sudden apathy makes no sense at all. And it’s also an utterly irrelevant and heartless response to your best friend telling you that they’re in a lot of pain.

Harry suddenly develops a feeling that he’s forgetting something, which could have been a nice touch had it shown up weeks ago but here is too out of left field. Hermione tells him it’s probably exam stress, she woke up in a panic a few nights ago to revise for an exam they’d already taken; Harry dismisses this idea too and then has a plot-related seizure while watching a passing owl, suddenly jumping up and running towards Hagrid’s hut.

It turns out Harry’s still fixated on whether or not Hagrid told anyone how to get past Fluffy safely, despite there being a dozen ways to either get this information or just kill the monster and Hagrid’s involvement not being at all necessary. This is such a clumsy transition; this scene’s been shoehorned in very awkwardly. Our hero has finally realised that it’s a bit weird for someone to have showed up randomly in a pub with the rare illegal thing Hagrid wants more than anything else, and maybe they had an ulterior motive.

This conversation should have happened as soon as the kids found out about Norbert. At the time they all found it perfectly reasonable that a bloke in a pub just happened to have a dragon egg, despite Ron at least knowing how unlikely that is, and there’s really no explanation given for why Harry suddenly thinks it’s suspicious now.

One long rambling conversation full of Hagrid’s annoying accent later, it turns out that the mysterious stranger kept his cloak on and hood up the whole evening – which is apparently normal in this particular pub – and got Hagrid drunk and asked him about all the magical creatures he works with. Hagrid helpfully mentioned Fluffy and then told the stranger what he tells the kids now – “Fluffy’s a piece o’ cake if yeh know how to calm him down, jus’ play him a bit o’ music an’ he’ll go straight off ter sleep.

I’ve already talked about that not making sense, so let’s move on. The kids rush off while Hagrid’s busy stammering that he shouldn’t have told them that – we will note that he doesn’t go after them, or warn anyone that they know more than they should.

The Trio run inside to discuss what they’re going to do. There’s an inexplicable sense of urgency, with Harry insisting that they have to go to Dumbledore right now and tell him everything. He seems to be forgetting that this conversation took place months ago – somehow Harry finding out about it is the catalyst for the plot to start moving, regardless of when the events actually occur. This is really, really stupid. Nobody has cared for weeks, you can’t expect the readers to start caring now for no reason, and if the villain didn’t act as soon as he got the information then why would he act now?

Because Plot, of course.

Incidentally, they don’t know where Dumbledore’s office is. This seems odd to me. The Head’s office is usually a landmark you’re told about even though it’s expected that you’ll never need to go there.

McGonagall shows up and asks why the three of them are standing in the entrance hall looking panicky instead of being outside in the sun like normal children after exams.

“‘We want to see Professor Dumbledore,’ said Hermione, rather bravely, Harry and Ron thought.
‘See Professor Dumbledore?’ Professor McGonagall repeated, as though this was a very fishy thing to want to do. ‘Why?'”

I don’t know why it’s brave of Hermione to say that. Nor do I know why it’s so suspicious for children to want to talk to the headmaster. (Admittedly, in my primary school the teachers would have been a bit suspicious because my saying this would usually lead to my mother coming in to shout at him… but he deserved it.) This doesn’t say much about Hogwarts, though.

Rather than explain why, Harry says lamely that it’s ‘sort of a secret‘, and McGonagall tells him to bugger off. Dumbledore’s away on business in London and in fact he literally left ten minutes ago, because stupid contrived coincidences are the only way Rowling can try to create drama. Cue panic.

The thing is, aside from this making no sense at all – it’s the middle of the afternoon on a random unspecified weekday, this is not a sensible time to enact a sneaky plan of any sort; plus the aforementioned point that why is this happening right now just because Harry learned about a conversation that took place months ago? – if it was only ten minutes ago then Dumbledore’s still here. It takes longer than that to either get down the drive to Apparate or to get out into the Forest to find a Thestral. He could have gone by Floo but then McGonagall can fetch him back just as quickly. A broom is unlikely at his age and magic phoenix teleporting seems to be emergency use only.

More to the point, though, what business could Dumbledore possibly have so urgently? I’d love to know where Dumbles keeps going on his mysterious absences whenever the plot demands he not be there. Being called to London on business must mean the Ministry, but nobody’s going to be on trial this suddenly with no warning and he never seems to need to attend the Wizengamot at any other time, and Fudge hates him and wouldn’t willingly talk to him [at least, that becomes true later; I think in this book we still had the stupid conceit of the Minister writing him to beg for advice every day?]… Who knows, maybe he just slopes off to try and guilt his brother into talking to him, or goes to pay conjugal visits to Grindelwald in prison wherever that is (probably Albania!). He seems to be the least busy head teacher of any school in existence. Rowling really doesn’t understand that it’s an actual job and you can’t drop everything and waltz off somewhere at a moment’s notice.

Harry starts flailing because clearly this is a disaster and the world will end if the ravens Dumbledore ever leaves the Tower of London castle. McGonagall calls bullshit in superb fashion.

“‘Something you have to say is more important than the Ministry  of Magic, Potter?’”

I do like her sarcasm here, but it’s really not enough to make up for her abysmal behaviour throughout the book. And despite Harry being a complete idiot here, this really isn’t how his Head of House should respond to his obvious panic; she’s making no attempt to reassure him beyond telling him that Dumbledore will be back tomorrow. (Depending on which method of transport he actually used, he probably won’t be, honestly. Rowling is from Scotland, how does she never seem able to remember how far it is from London?)

Continuing to flail, Harry finally blurts out that someone’s going to go after the Philosopher’s Stone right fucking now Professor help send up the Bat-signal we’re all going to die. The writing isn’t bad here, but it would be a lot better if there was an actual logical reason for this urgency.

McGonagall is very shocked that they know about the plot coupon, naturally, but rather than try to find out how they know – and how much they know – she tells him that he’s worrying over nothing and to go outside and play. The Trio slink off to one of my favourite scenes in the entire series:

‘It’s tonight,’ said Harry, once he was sure Professor McGonagall was out of earshot. ‘Snape’s going through the trapdoor tonight. He’s found out everything he needs and now he’s got Dumbledore out of the way. He sent that note, I bet the Ministry of Magic will get a real shock when Dumbledore turns up.’
‘But what can we –’
Hermione gasped. Harry and Ron wheeled round.
Snape was standing there.
‘Good afternoon,’ he said smoothly.
They stared at him.
‘You shouldn’t be inside on a day like this,’ he said, with an odd, twisted smile.
‘We were –’ Harry began, without any idea what he was going to say.
‘You want to be more careful,’ said Snape. ‘Hanging around like this, people will think you’re up to something. And Gryffindor really can’t afford to lose any more points, can they?’

Oh Severus, you magnificent bastard. He’ll do this again next book and it will be just as wonderful.

The Trio leave with their tails between their legs, as Snape calls after them that he’ll try to get Harry expelled if he sneaks around any more. I like to imagine he then walks out of sight and cracks up laughing at just how stupid these children are.

Harry says okay, fine, we’ll just have to deal with this ourselves, and he declares that Hermione should go to the staff room and watch for Snape and follow him if he goes anywhere.

Real nice, Harry. The murderer and villain knows you’re onto him, so you send the girl after him. Ron explains this by saying that she can pretend to be waiting for one of the other teachers, and does a squeaky-voiced impression of her talking to Flitwick about the Charms exam. I can believe this is more plausible than either of the boys doing so, but this is still a dick move, lads. Apart from anything else, what’s she meant to do if Snape does leave? She’s got no way of contacting the boys to tell them where he’s going. For some reason Hermione agrees to this stupid plan and leaves – were this a different book she would then promptly be murdered in a quiet corridor.

Meanwhile Harry and Ron are going to go and lurk outside Fluffy’s door, except they’re not bright enough to take their magic bedsheet, so McGonagall catches them. She loses her temper and says that if they don’t quit this she’s going to take another fifty points from her own house and will they bugger off already, pointing out that they’re really not an effective defence anyway. Thanks for highlighting Harry’s superiority complex, Minerva – we’re going to see it again at the end of this chapter in one of the funniest lines of the whole series.

The boys sulk off to the Gryffindor common room, and are shortly joined by Hermione, who says Snape came out and asked her what she was doing. When she said she was waiting for Flitwick he got Flitwick for her and went on his merry way, so she couldn’t follow him and doesn’t know where he went.

The rest of this scene is absolutely hilarious. Harry declares that Snape has obviously gone after the Stone (plot twist, actually he just went to the bathroom) and it’s up to him to stop it, and delivers a rousing speech at the top of his lungs – luckily there are literally no other students in Gryffindor Tower to overhear – about how school doesn’t matter and if Voldy comes back everyone will die or be forced to join the Dark Side (oh look, we’re in Star Wars now!) but he NEVER WILL, and how this is basically the end of the world and it’s so dramatic. Hermione and Ron are convinced and declare that they’re going with him (Hermione points out that he’s not likely to get to the Stone without them, and adds that she’s not worried about being expelled any more because Flitwick told her she got 112% on her exam).

And then… they do absolutely nothing. For hours. Until everyone’s had dinner and gone to bed (as if children with no exams and no lessons would go to bed early when it’s not dark until nearly midnight).

So much for urgency.

Having sat around and played cards or whatever it was they were doing for hours in the aftermath of Harry’s Rousing Protagonist Speech, after dinner the Trio sit around some more in the common room waiting for everyone to go to bed. I don’t know why they can’t just leave and wait nearer the corridor if they really think they can’t act until late at night for whatever reason; curfew won’t start immediately after dinner. Apparently the whole of Gryffindor without exception are still not speaking to them; that sucks for Ron, who has three relatives here, though the twins ignoring you is probably a good thing. Hermione is reading, trying to find something useful. Harry and Ron are just sitting there. Nobody is surprised.

Harry finally goes to get the cloak once everyone’s gone to bed, and happens to see the flute Hagrid gave him at the same time and grabs that. I wonder how they were planning to get past Fluffy, since he apparently forgot he had this? He runs back to the other two and suggests they put the cloak on in the common room so nobody sees them once they leave – yes, Harry, that is the point of having it, thank you for explaining that – and they’re interrupted by Neville, who Harry failed to notice leaving the dormitory right behind him to chase down Trevor the toad again.

Whatever happens to Trevor? He’s only seen once or twice more after this book, I believe.

Neville spots that the Trio are going to sneak out again and says they can’t, they’ll get caught and get Gryffindor into trouble again and he won’t let them. Ignoring their attempts to lie to him, he declares that he’ll fight all three of them before he lets that happen. Neville, you are precious and too good for this universe. Keep this up and you’re going to earn roles in future fics, I’d forgotten just how cool you were.

Ron tells him not to be an idiot and Neville snaps not to call him names, adding that Ron’s the one who told him to stand up to people in the first place. Ron says he didn’t mean them and steps forward, and Neville responds by letting Trevor go and accepting that Ron’s going to hit him, which is honestly a really sad reaction that says more about his abused past than Harry could ever dream of.

Harry once again fails at protagonist-hood by ordering Hermione to do something about this, rather than doing anything himself. (Spoiler alert, he’s going to do this repeatedly throughout the finale, and in fact throughout the entire series.) Unfortunately, Hermione’s solution is to put Neville in a full body-bind; she apologises repeatedly and is obviously truly miserable about doing it, and makes sure he’s not going to choke and is as comfortable as he can be in this situation, but that’s not much comfort to poor Neville now is it. At least since they’re friends offscreen she can try to explain things to him after all this is over, since nobody else is going to (seriously, we’re never told that Neville’s been given any kind of explanation).

Current spell count: Hermione, 9. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0.

Not good, Hermione. There’s not much else she could have done at this point – even with her reading habits she must still have a fairly limited repertoire of spells – but this could have been avoided if they’d talked to Neville earlier and explained about Fluffy, and the dead unicorns, and Harry’s broom trying to kill him, and all the other things he’s seen with them. And if they hadn’t wasted so much time sitting around, they could have explained things to him now while he can’t interrupt or attack them, and then taken him with them.

We also have plenty of questions about the Full-Body Bind. What does it feel like? How is Neville breathing if his whole body is paralysed and his jaws are being forced shut? Does it prevent him blinking, in which case his eyes could dry out, which is painful and unsafe? Could it have worked on Fluffy, in which case it’d be more reliable than music? Naturally none of these things will ever be answered. It seems like it’s actually just limb paralysis and silencing, rather than a literal full body bind, but some clarification would be nice.

Sadly, we’re about to walk into the final dungeon of a video game, and it’s only set up for a three-character party. There’s no fourth puzzle that needs a fourth class to solve, so Neville can’t come. Although it’s been pointed out before that the Devil’s Snare could easily have been Neville’s if she’d decided this early on he was going to be good at Herbology.

This isn’t me being facetious, either; the finale is very much like something out of virtually any RPG you can think of. There’s a ‘maze’ that is actually very linear, and a series of arbitrary roadblocks that need specific party members to solve using skills they’ve learned over the course of the game book; there’s nothing new until the final boss, when the protagonist discovers a plot device power that somehow one-shots it but will never be used in any of the sequels.

I suppose it’s just a mercy that the token female character isn’t relegated to either healing or being kidnapped by the boss.

Anyway, they guiltily leave Neville lying on the floor and venture out. It’s convenient that nobody happened to get up at any point, found him and raised the alarm, isn’t it. Oh, wait, this is Gryffindor, I expect half a dozen students found him at various points but just laughed at him and went back to bed.

They don’t meet Filch (or Snape, which would have seriously confused them and been very funny to watch; one assumes he’s in the staff room with everyone else, passing around popcorn and watching the action on the magical equivalent of hidden cameras) but they do meet Mrs Norris, who Ron suggests they kick down the stairs. Fuck off, Ron. Then they meet Peeves, who can somehow sense invisible things and challenges them; Harry pretends to be the Bloody Baron and tells him to mind his own business, and somehow this works. Apparently Peeves can’t tell the difference between invisible humans and invisible ghosts, and apparently the Baron sounds like a prepubescent boy putting on an accent he’s made up since he’s never heard the Baron speak. Wouldn’t it be awkward if it turned out that the Baron actually doesn’t ever speak…

The door to Fluffy’s corridor is open. Since Fluffy is awake at this point, I once again ask how on earth they got him in there when he’s evidently too big to fit through the door. He can’t see the Trio, so he just growls while he tries to figure out where they are. There’s a harp by his paws – any real dog would have chewed this to pieces, it’s the closest thing to a toy he’s seen all year – and the Trio seem perfectly fine with the mental image of Snape playing the harp.

Not that Quirrell being a harpist makes any more sense – it’s a pretty complicated instrument, it takes a lot of practice, and it’s not something you’d think of and Transfigure on impulse to get past a monster. Also why did he leave the harp behind? Doesn’t he want to get back out once he’s got the plot coupon? In the film he enchants it to keep playing and keep Fluffy asleep for the duration, which would be more sensible if it didn’t randomly stop playing to create drama.

Harry starts playing the flute, rather badly. It works – Fluffy passes out almost immediately, falling to his knees in the process. This is not how dog’s legs work. Maybe he’s related to Fire Emblem 9 horses with their backwards knees (I tried to find a gif of this to show you what I mean but the internet let me down). But he’ll only sleep as long as the ‘music’ plays, meaning a wind instrument was a very poor choice; in a more realistic universe Harry would be passing out by the time he finally stops playing, and the book even states he barely pauses for breath.

‘I think we’ll be able to pull the door open,’ said Ron, peering over the dog’s back. ‘Want to go first, Hermione?’
‘No, I don’t!’

Smart girl. The boys really ought to stop trying to send her into danger ahead of them. I guess they’ve forgotten they’re meant to be brave. Ron opens the trapdoor, but it’s just black inside and there’s no way to see how deep it goes, so he says they’ll just have to drop down.

That’s a really good way to break your legs. Or your neck. Or both. At least have Hermione send some of her blue fire down to light it up a bit. Or drop something and listen for the impact. (It’s understandable that she doesn’t suggest it – if the boys want to make a blind jump, after trying to make her go first, then let them. Their bodies will break her fall if she decides to follow.)

Harry volunteers to go first, through flailing and sign language, then hands the flute to Hermione so she can keep Fluffy quiet. They both went to Muggle primary schools so they probably both know the theory behind playing the recorder, not that it’s complicated, so I suppose that makes sense. The book doesn’t comment about whether she’s any better than he was, but apart from twitching during the handover Fluffy stays unconscious.

While he’s hanging by his fingers from the edge of the drop, Harry gives Ron some noble-sounding and useless advice: ‘If anything happens to me, don’t follow. Go straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, right?’ Why, exactly, didn’t they do this earlier? They’ve been sitting around for half a day.

Harry falls an unspecified distance and lands on ‘something soft‘. We’re told this is a plant, but I suspect it’s more likely to be the result of keeping a large animal in a small space for a long time. Imagine that they spend the rest of this scene covered in dog shit. The trapdoor is visible as a square of light ‘the size of a postage stamp‘, which means he fell a damn long way and soft landing or not they should all break limbs – the rest of the finale takes place underground, so presumably they have to have fallen at least four floors. Why is there a light at all? They didn’t bring a lamp (because they’re idiots). Is Fluffy scared of the dark? Anyway, he calls that it’s fine to jump, and Ron comes down, followed by Hermione who manages to jump just as Fluffy wakes up.

‘We must be miles under the school,’ she said.
‘Lucky this plant thing’s here, really,’ said Ron.
‘Lucky!’ shrieked Hermione. ‘Look at you both!’

The plant has been attacking them since they landed. Neither of the boys noticed it tying their legs together. Since Hermione’s not that unobservant, she has time to get free and makes it to the wall, but Harry and Ron are already too tied up to manage. Just leave them there, Hermione. We’ll all be much better off.

This scene annoys me. Hermione starts off perfectly calm and intelligent – she tells the boys to stop struggling, she knows what this plant is, it’s called Devil’s Snare. Ron is rude to her and she tells him to shut up, she’s trying to remember how to kill it. Professor Sprout said it likes the dark and the damp.

Harry orders her to light a fire. We get a description of him and Ron fighting with the plant, and he has at least one hand free. But of course he can’t do it himself, why would he when he can just order his lackey to do it for him?

Hermione has a plot-related seizure and in the space of two sentences forgets that she’s calm and intelligent; she suddenly starts literally wringing her hands and crying that there’s no wood and is suddenly a stereotypical useless female. Ron joins in giving orders, screaming at her that she can use magic and has she gone mad – he also has at least one hand free at this point, and unlike Harry has managed to cast a spell onscreen before – and she instantly snaps out of it and easily creates fire to scare the plant off, and will now be perfectly fine until the end of the book.

This is not how panic attacks work. This is not how anything works.

Current spell count: Hermione, 10. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0. Congratulations on reaching double figures despite apparent brain damage, Hermione. Please never do that again. (The film version of this puzzle makes her look more competent but has a stupider solution. It’s a green plant, which implies it has chlorophyll, why would it dislike sunlight?)

‘Lucky you pay attention in Herbology, Hermione,’ said Harry as he joined her by the wall, wiping sweat off his face.
‘Yeah,’ said Ron, ‘and lucky Harry doesn’t lose his head in a crisis – “there’s no wood”, honestly.’

No, boys, the correct response is THANK YOU. Don’t mock the person who’s just saved your lives because neither of you could be bothered to do it yourself. I wish she’d left you there.

They follow a long passage which takes them even further underground. There’s water running down the walls, which suggests they may be near the lake, except we know Hogwarts is on a hill above the lake and they can’t have fallen quite that far. Harry’s reminded of Gringotts and starts wondering what if they meet a dragon – don’t be stupid, do you really think Hagrid could have been this close to a dragon and not mentioned it?

Ron hears a noise, which Harry describes as a ‘soft rustling and clinking‘ sound. Someone with no dialogue tags says it sounds like wings. They come to a huge high-ceilinged, well-lit chamber full of ‘tiny jewelled birds‘, and after a brief discussion about whether they’ll be attacked or not the Trio run across to the heavy wooden door on the far side. It’s locked, and Hermione can’t open it with Alohomora, though it doesn’t occur to any of them to try and set fire to it.

Current spell count: Hermione, 11. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0. You need to up your game, boys. (They won’t. Maybe this really is a video game, and both Harry and Ron are melee classes with really tiny mana pools and low magic stats, which is why they’re both shit at magic and keep threatening to punch people instead.)

All three of them are very unobservant and this scene goes on for far too long anyway; to cut a long story short, they eventually realise that the ‘birds’ are keys and that there are an unspecified number of broomsticks nearby, and set about trying to find the right one based on the appearance of the lock. Yes, this is stupid, and no, nobody sane would have set this up. Why aren’t all the keys similar? Why did Quirrell let the original key go? Why is there more than one broomstick, or any at all? Why do the keys have feathered wings? I’m sticking with my theory that this is reality TV being broadcast in the staff room.

Blah, blah, Harry’s super-amazing at Quidditch, blah, blah. The three of them manage to herd the right key to where he can grab it – despite Hermione not being able to fly very well and hating it, and Ron crashing into the ceiling at least once, and Harry then flying hand-first into the wall to pin the key without breaking his wrist.

Through the door, and onto the next room, which is dark until they walk in and then lights up to show a gigantic chess board.

Welcome to Battle Chess. For your entertainment, here is a video of every single defeat animation in that game (if you never played, it was a fun computer game in the late 80s/early 90s and I think there’s a modern remake floating around on Steam now). Feel free to imagine that’s how this scene progresses – particularly since Ron’s choice of piece seems to get some very nasty death scenes and gets stabbed in the crotch a lot.

You may as well imagine that, because it’s hard to imagine what’s really going on. Describing scenery is one of the strengths of Rowling’s writing, but here she drops the ball and there’s virtually no description of anything. The chess pieces are taller than the children, made of stone and have no faces. The room they’re in is very large. That’s really all we’re told here.

The Trio stare at the board for a while before Harry, fearless leader, asks what they should do now.

‘It’s obvious, isn’t it?’ said Ron. ‘We’ve got to play our way across the room.’

I don’t think that’s obvious at all, Ron. It’s a decent guess, since the board fills the room and the pieces don’t seem to be doing anything, but it’s not an established fact. In the film, the children are more sensible and try just walking across the room, and the pieces block their way so they conclude that they have to play. Here they just immediately accept it.

Ron asks one of the pieces if he’s right and gets a nod, because stone chess pieces prove to be surprisingly flexible in this scene, and Harry and Hermione spend an unknown amount of time watching him think about it before he points out that neither of them are very good at chess. We’ve seen Harry play twice, once with a borrowed set and once with a brand-new set; we’ve never seen Hermione play at all, just been told that she loses offscreen. But this is the part of the video game where the player has to put Ron at the head of the party, because otherwise he has no function whatsoever, so he tells Harry to be a bishop and Hermione to be a castle before taking the place of a knight himself.

There’s no attempt to describe the match here. It’s understandable, because not that many readers are going to know enough about chess to be able to picture it, but it also makes it a poor choice for the finale because there’s nothing left for Rowling to write about. I’ve used chess games a couple of times in my stories, and every time the players have been having a completely unrelated conversation during the game because otherwise it’s pretty boring to read about. It’s a nice metaphor, or would be if it was ever expanded upon, and the initial concept probably seemed like a nice dramatic scene, but there’s no meat to it and we’re left with vague descriptions of pieces being knocked over the head and dragged off the board (for solid stone, they seem to be able to completely ragdoll once ‘unconscious’ and also seem to be capable of a wide range of movements) before being told that Ron’s almost won.

The only reason to play, by the way, is because when they do win the white pieces will move away from the door and let them leave. Presumably this means two or three pieces have to stay in front of the door for the whole game, because otherwise the Trio could just make a run for it once the match has started, so I can’t imagine this was too difficult.

It could have been set up so instead of just playing a standard game you had to move the pieces through a sequence of moves to unlock the door – Wikipedia has a list of 45 gambits well-known enough to have names; as our resident chess ‘expert’ Ron ought to be familiar with at least a few of the better-known ones, or even one exclusive to the wizarding world. Chessboard as password system could actually be a cool concept.

Alternatively, the children could have been presented with a game in progress, and given, say, six moves to mate, something like a chess problem. That would be more challenging, though admittedly not any more dramatic to describe to the readers.

But no, the children have to physically join the game, because this is one of the more brutal RPGs and kills off most of the characters until the postgame credits, so the original protagonist has to solo the final boss. So Ron says the only way to win now is for him to bait the queen into taking him so Harry can checkmate the king. His friends are horrified by this, but I’m more interested in wondering why he said this out loud in front of the sentient chess pieces who have already shown they can understand what he says. This seems like a very poor strategy to me. Despite that, the queen decides to tamely go along with her opponent’s plan, presumably just for the chance to whack Ron over the head and drag him off – on a related note, how do you suppose the human players are managing to take their opponent’s pieces? If ‘tag, you’re out, go sit in the corner’ works, then why are the other pieces smashing each other over the head?

We’re never going to find out exactly how this chess set was created. It’s implied to be fully Transfigured, since this is McGonagall’s contribution, but that wouldn’t necessarily let you create a functional ‘sentient’ A.I. capable of playing a non-scripted reactive game of chess. I don’t know how you’d do that with magic at all, though it’s not that hard to do with computer programming – chess-playing A.I. has been around since the 70s, and Deep Blue first beat a human in 1997. So I think we have to conclude this is a normal magic chess set and it’s just been enlarged – though of course we don’t know how the normal chess sets are made either. It would be sensible to think they take years of spellcraft and charmwork, except they’re apparently common enough to be prizes in Christmas crackers…

Honestly, it’s more likely that someone’s sitting out of sight playing the other side (just like the first “chess computers”, which were really a guy hiding inside a box manipulating the pieces with a lever). Maybe the teachers are doing it remotely from their giant TV screen in the staff room, or else it’s just Dumbledore again.

If the magical A.I. was weak enough, Ron could probably have pulled a Fool’s Mate here – if you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a two-move checkmate that can only realistically happen if White don’t know what they’re doing [Mitchell adds: when I was younger I distinctly remember pulling it off on someone in reverse once, when I was playing white, but of course that takes an extra move]. Alternatively, if McGonagall was better at chess than a twelve year old ginger idiot (who, to be fair, is under a fair amount of stress at the moment), this game could have been totally unwinnable.

All these options make it clear that this obstacle, like all the others, is just a delaying tactic and isn’t meant to actually stop anyone from getting through. The only reason to do this is to be able to arrest the villain after the fact, in which case they really screwed up by letting Harry get involved because he completely mucks up that plan. Or to provide good reality TV for the teachers, of course. Imagine if they actually did this to a random firstie every year, and this year was just a celebrity version because Harry had joined?

Anyway, back with the plot, Ron joins the list of people getting head injuries that should kill them but won’t and is dumped at the edge of the board. We’re told this is inevitable – ‘There was nothing else for it‘, which is changed to ‘there was no alternative’ in the US version even though it’s not a difficult phrase to understand – but if Ron was really the chess prodigy we’re meant to think he was then I’m sure he could have managed checkmate while keeping three pieces safe. (Particularly if he’d made one of them the king like a sensible person would have done.)

Harry checkmates the king, and the pieces all get out of the way. In defiance of human behaviour he and Hermione then run off and don’t give Ron another thought; they don’t even go and check that he’s breathing, let alone stop in the doorway to see what happens when the board resets. Hermione does start to say something, but Harry cuts her off and insists that Ron will be fine before asking her what’s going to come next, so she can exposit at the readers who haven’t managed to add everything together yet and remind us that we still need to see contributions from Quirrell and Snape.

Through the next door is Quirrell’s obstacle, which I always found cheap and disappointing. It’s just another troll. We’ve seen so little of the wizarding world, why would you recycle something that had an entire chapter devoted to it earlier? Especially since we’ve already had a guardian monster to avoid? To add insult to injury, it’s already unconscious; at least have the children show that they’ve learned enough to take it down without needing quite so much luck. If they’d brought Neville with them, Hermione could have used the body-bind here instead (does that work on trolls?). At least the other defences all used actual magic – a random troll does not say Defence Against the Dark Arts to me, even taking into account seven books of evidence that Rowling never quite decided what the subject was.

Also, why isn’t it dead? I’m not just talking about the worst villain ever who doesn’t understand that evil people kill things, either – this troll’s been locked down here for most of a year. I assume someone is throwing food in to Fluffy every so often but they’re certainly not coming all the way down here to keep a troll alive, so where’s it been getting food and water?

Now we come to what I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn is my favourite of the obstacles: Snape’s. It’s not just because he did it, okay? Stop looking at me like that. It’s not. Potions are cool. And so are books that expect the characters to use their brains not their weaponry.

That said, this still could have been better. The main problem is that, again, we’re not given enough description; in this case this is a problem because the readers cannot try to solve this puzzle themselves. We’re told that there’s a table in the middle of the room with seven different sized bottles on it, and that when Harry and Hermione walk in purple fire cuts off their retreat and black fire blocks the way forward, and that there’s a riddle on a scroll explaining that one bottle has a potion to let you go forwards, one has a potion to let you go back, three are harmless and two are poison. It gives just enough clues about where the bottles are relative to one another to let Hermione solve it.

(If this was actually to stop anyone getting past, the riddle would be lying and all seven bottles would contain poison, or at least be useless. I assume Severus was forbidden to actually do that.)

But we’re never given a description of the bottles, so we don’t know which is which, and without that as a starting point we can’t figure it out ourselves. So we’re spending the whole of this scene watching Hermione think, which is nice in its way because the characters thinking is already quite rare and will only become rarer, but not letting the readers participate is pretty poor. The internet has since figured out possible arrangements for the bottles that let this riddle work – I believe the film used the same one that used to be on Pottermore back when that was a half-decent site that involved doing things instead of reading garbage, but I’m not sure.

For anyone who doesn’t have access to a copy of the books at the moment, here’s the riddle:

“Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here for evermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine’s left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onwards, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.”

The other problem with this whole scene, of course, is that this poem is utter shite. (Sorry, Severus.) Mitchell, as resident published poet, says that the meter is rubbish and will no doubt add some technical details here; I know nothing about poetry, really, though even I can tell this doesn’t scan very well.

[Mitchell here. Something definitely bugs me about the way this is put together. The rhyming is fine (size/insides is a little iffy but not quite a slant rhyme, I’ll give it a pass), but the meter and rhythm are all over the place. I think she was trying for some kind of iambic scheme; my initial instinct said iambic pentameter, possibly Shakespearean-influenced, but the lines are all too long for that. Plus they’re inconsistent from line to line, painfully so. And if she was going for iambic, she failed, because a lot of these lines end on half an iamb which feels really awkward. I can’t think of another meter scheme she could have been aiming for, though, most of these lines just feel awkward. That said, she may just have bitten off more than she could chew; I honestly don’t think I could write competent poetry that’s also a competent logic puzzle either.]

To be fair, it’s hard to write things like this, and it’s realistic enough that someone like Severus wouldn’t be able to write an amazing poem even if he somehow cared enough to try. But there are a lot of poems in the books – things like the Sorting Hat’s songs, the mercifully never-repeated school song, the threat on Gringotts’ doors, various pop songs – and they’re all bad. If you’re not a poet by nature, maybe don’t fill your books with your attempts? It’s really not that big a deal, I just find it irritating. I’m getting grumpy in my old age.

Anyway, speaking of Mitchell, time for me to shamelessly plug one of his one-shot fics about this very scene. A Logic Puzzle points out that, as I mentioned above, the logical solution here is to poison all of them and be done with it. Good job Snape’s not the villain after all, isn’t it?

Allow me to also quote something he’s just said while we were putting this post together:

“Actually, my favourite thing here is that the clue saying two bottles are the same when you taste them is almost completely useless. There are lots of different kinds of poison and this never says they’re all the same kind. And then also, who knows what the solution potions taste like? For all we know he’s made them taste like wine.”

He’s been trying to put together his own configuration while I type this up, so he’ll explain that to you now.

Mitchell here. Have an attempt to construct a valid logic puzzle from the clues Rowling’s given us. Here’s what we know:

2 bottles are nettle wine
3 bottles are poison
1 bottle takes you forward
1 bottle takes you back

And four explicit clues:

1. “However slyly the poison tries to hide, you will always find some on nettle wine’s left side”
2. “Different are those who stand at either end, but if you would move onwards neither is your friend”
3. “All are different size. Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides.”
4. “The second left and second on the right are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.”

And two additional constraints, from Hermione’s solution:
-The smallest bottle is “forward”
-The bottle farthest right (we’ll call this #7) is “backward”

So whatever puzzle we come up with needs to have a unique solution which can be reached from the four stated clues, and that solution has to agree with Hermione’s.

Now, as I said to Loten earlier, there’s actually a lot of ambiguity here, and not only because Rowling keeps talking about the sizes of the bottles in the clues without giving any information about what they actually are in the setup. The biggest offender is clue #4, because we actually don’t know what any of these things would taste like other than the wine. I’m pretty sure Rowling was just trying to think up a clever oblique way to say “these bottles look different but their contents are the same”, but that’s not actually what she said at all. We don’t know the three poisonous bottles all contain the same poison, and we don’t know anything about what the forward/back potions would taste like (and again, if Snape were being crafty he could well mess about with the flavours too). And beyond that, the implication of clue #4 is that to use the information you would actually have to taste them, which would be monumentally stupid to actually do while trying to work out the puzzle (does Snape know his audience?).

That ended up being moot for me. The only possible way for the clue to be unambiguous is if those two bottles (2 and 6) are the wine. Conveniently, working from there it’s not hard to construct a puzzle that ends up working, as there aren’t many configurations that satisfy everything where that is true. On the other hand, if you allow the possibility that it means they’re both poison, it doesn’t narrow things down much at all; I tried variations where those two were poison and couldn’t find one with a unique solution.

So let’s start there. Again, I’ve numbered the bottles from left to right, 1 to 7. Clue #4 makes 2 and 6 wine, then clue #1 makes 1 and 5 poison. This leaves 3, 4, and 7 still undetermined.

Now we apply clue #2. The only possible way to make that true is for bottle 7 to be “backward” (conveniently what Hermione ended up with). We’re left with only 3 and 4 still undetermined. Now what we know is this: we need one of them to be poison and the other “forward”, and which is which needs to be deducible from the remaining clue. Luckily there’s a simple way to do this: as long as “forward” is in the smallest or largest bottle, clue #3 specifying it’s not poison is enough to narrow it down (and it has to be the smallest, to be consistent with Hermione’s result).

There’s one last consideration. To constrain this to a unique solution, clue #3 actually provides a convenient way to ensure that my assumptions about clue #4 are correct. If we make either bottle 2 or bottle 6 the largest bottle, then we’ve guaranteed they can’t be poison (which means, barring shenanigans about the flavours of the “correct” potions, they have to be wine). So here’s one working configuration:


(Again, we can swap 2 and 6, and/or 3 and 4. And the sizes of the other bottles are completely irrelevant so I’m ignoring them. Note that what I’ve essentially done is add two more clues: “bottle 3 is the smallest” and “bottle 6 is the largest”, which is what was needed to restrict this to a unique solution.)

This works. The downside is that, once you see these additional clues written out, it becomes readily apparent that as far as logic puzzles go, this one is pretty easy to solve, especially with clue #3 explicitly stating 2 or 6 isn’t poison. Start from that, and the clues cascade into each other by logical implication, and the whole thing falls into place like dominoes. Now there’s a sense in which that’s true of all logic puzzles, but this one is very small in terms of both number of clues and number of unknowns. The challenge in logic puzzles generally comes from having to parse the clues from English into their actual logical meaning, and then deducing further information from the clues’ interactions with each other.

So what’s the takeaway here?

Firstly: I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to realise this was possible to do; I was hoping for an opportunity to scold Rowling, and have to reluctantly concede that she hasn’t done anything wrong (and she did actually put in the work to make a proper logic puzzle). I do think it would’ve been better writing to make this explicit in the text so the reader could try to work it out alongside Hermione (it’s always nice to give your readers an opportunity to feel clever, and it’s good for immersion), and it wouldn’t have taken much to do that. If she didn’t want to explicitly describe the size of all the bottles (I’ll admit that would have been tedious), all she’d have had to do is have Hermione mention it offhand while thinking aloud. “Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides. Okay then, the third from the left is the smallest, and the second from the right is biggest, that means those two can’t be poison…” (Not my best writing, obviously, but I trust I’ve made my point.)

Secondly: We’ve beaten this point to death by now, but this logic puzzle is not good security. It’s never a good idea to put the key in the same room as the lock, even disregarding the fact this puzzle’s pretty easy. But honestly, I do think it’s an appropriate difficulty level for an 11-12 year old to solve, so perhaps in that sense it works. Especially if we decide that this was all intended as a test for the children by Dumbledore (maybe he told Snape not to make it too complicated?). It’s not even particularly good as a time-wasting measure, because it doesn’t take very long to solve when you know all the clues (that’s not obvious when reading the scene, because the clues implicit in the size of the bottles are missing).

I hope this wasn’t too boring of a digression. I thought it was fun to think about. Anyway, Loten, here’s your microphone back.

Why thank you. Back with the plot, Hermione likes this scene as much as I do:

Hermione let out a great sigh and Harry, amazed, saw that she was smiling, the very last thing he felt like doing.
‘Brilliant,’ said Hermione. ‘This isn’t magic – it’s logic – a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic, they’d be stuck in here for ever.’
‘But so will we, won’t we?’
‘Of course not,’ said Hermione.

This is the other thing I like about it. Just the point that intelligence and logic – or common sense – aren’t the same thing (and certainly aren’t synonymous with magical ability) is really nice to see, and it’s also really nice to have Rowling actually say something negative about the wizarding world for once. I just wish she’d carried it a step further and had Hermione add, “I don’t even think wizards have this type of puzzle, I’ve never found any riddle games. It’s lucky we’re both Muggle-raised, isn’t it?” but I’ll take what I can get.

It’s worth pointing out that any sort of puzzle or task based around potions is going to be difficult to write about. If you don’t use this, you’re left with brewing one – which I would have loved, but I concede most people aren’t as nerdy as me and would find fairly tedious – or something like we see in book six with the potion in the cave, which was just stupid.

She manages to solve it within a few minutes. Harry, naturally, stands and watches her with a vacant expression. It would have been so much better to have his thoughts as he tried to figure this out on his own before giving up and hoping she could do it, maybe an acknowledgement that he knows she’s smarter than he is, and maybe a thought about his maybe-unconscious maybe-dead friend a few rooms back or some fear about what he’s going to be facing after this. I’d settle for him wondering what’s for breakfast tomorrow, frankly, but he once again has no thoughts whatsoever.

It’s unclear whether Quirrell had to solve this himself, or whether he already knew the answer from when the defences were being set up, or whether he just used magic to get past the fires and ignored the potions completely. The latter seems most likely, since when Hermione identifies the bottle that lets them go forward it proves to be the smallest bottle and only has a single mouthful of potion in it, with no indication that it’s already half-empty, so presumably Quirrell didn’t drink any.

If he had, you’d hope he’d be bright enough to drink it all, or to take the right bottle with him to stop anyone following him. Or to rearrange the bottles so the one in the correct spot actually contains poison. Or to just pour all of them into one another. Or onto the floor. Or… well, you get the idea. This is not how you write villains. Don’t give them endless opportunities to gain advantages and kill threats that they’re not bright enough to seize.

Likewise, this does also raise the question of why the “go forward” potion is in such a tiny bottle to begin with. You’d think they’d want it to be in a big one, so that if someone did get through they could be followed. Or just in general, so that every time someone authorised actually needed to get past – presumably Flamel needs to access the Stone on occasion – the bottle wouldn’t need to be refilled. This is stupid.

Anyway, contrived solution is contrived, clearly Harry will have to go through on his own and this is the part of the otherwise good scene that I don’t like. Firstly, we don’t know what the needed dose of potion is – who says you need a full mouthful? Maybe it’s only a few drops. More importantly, why do they both assume it should be Harry who goes through? He’s proved to be stunningly ineffective as a protagonist thus far, and has displayed all the magical ability of a damp tissue, whereas Hermione’s well into double figures on our spell count.

I cannot stress this enough. Harry has performed zero deliberate spells. He has done no conscious magic whatsoever. And the only unconscious magic we’ve seen, rather than just being told about, was way back in Chapter Two when he vanished the glass on the snake tank, and it was never explicitly stated that was even him. I’m sure a talking snake that can nod and point at things can do magic. Oh, and a stick gave off some sparks when he touched it, but that doesn’t count either.

So why, exactly, should he be the hero? What’s he going to do? We know this ends with a blazing Deus ex Machina moment, but at this point the characters don’t.

It’s Harry who orders Hermione to drink the potion that will let her go back, and he never actually gives her a chance to argue or to ask what the hell he thinks he’s going to do. He tells her to go and make sure Ron’s not dead, then grab brooms from the key room and go and get help, while he goes and Saves the Day.

Okay, to be fair, he doesn’t say that’s what he’s going to do, but he does come out with what may be the funniest line in the entire series:

“I might be able to hold Snape off for a while, but I’m no match for him really.”

I’ll just pause for a moment for you all to get over your hysterical laughter and clear up any beverages that may have inadvertently been snorted everywhere. I have no idea why Rowling included this line. Even someone as arrogant and deluded as Harry ends up becoming should not be saying anything this moronic at this point. Hold Snape off, Harry? You can’t even stop your young, allegedly unfit, non-magical cousin hitting you. What do you think you’re going to do against a grown adult powerful wizard who knows several thousand ways of killing you, with or without magic, while you have yet to cast a single spell?

The reality TV broadcast in the staff room has to be paused at this point while Snape himself gets over hysterics and clears up his spilled drink. He then spends the rest of the scene giggling to himself.

Hermione doesn’t start laughing, though. She does ask what’ll happen if Voldemort’s there and Harry acknowledges that what happened when he was a baby was just luck, so he just needs to be lucky again. This is not a compelling argument, Harry, and is also not something I’d expect to hear literally two lines after you declaring that you’d last more than 0.0004 seconds against Snape.

Apparently unable to think of a response to this, Hermione resorts to hugging him instead, which is genuinely sweet. She spoils it by joining the list of people to tell Harry that he’s special, though, and in defiance of all evidence to the contrary tells him that he’s a great wizard. Harry has the decency to admit that she’s better, but she’s having another plot-seizure:

‘Me!’ said Hermione. ‘Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery and – oh Harry – be careful!’

I have always handwaved this as just her being very worried for her friend, as well as being tired and stressed and whatever else after this insane year. But really, there’s actually no handwaving this. It’s not in character for her at this point (though I am pleased she admits to being clever; that’s already become a mortal sin in this series) although it will be suited to the butchered remains of her character in later books. More to the point, it’s not in character for any twelve year old, because twelve year olds do not talk like this. I’m not convinced anyone outside of a My Little Pony episode does, honestly.

Continuing to be terrible, Harry doesn’t respond to this but instead tells her to drink her potion first, presumably so he can see if she got the right answer or not; she says it feels like ice, and he tells her to bugger off and stop stealing his limelight. She does, and won’t reappear until the end of next chapter. I’d like to know how the character who isn’t good at flying manages to carry the unconscious Ron past a fully-conscious Fluffy; that’s certainly more challenging than Harry’s contribution to the finale.

Left alone, Harry drinks his own potion, which also feels like ice despite apparently serving a different purpose. Since we know this obstacle is just a delay rather than a prevention, it’s entirely possible every single bottle just has the same fireproof potion in that will get you through either door and you don’t need to solve the riddle at all.

He walks through the fire into the final room, and we end on this:

“There was already someone there – but it wasn’t Snape. It wasn’t even Voldemort.”

This is decently dramatic, assuming you haven’t figured it out already (neither of us had on the first time through), but it’s also flawed, because Harry doesn’t know what Voldemort looked like.

Oh well.

Next time (which will hopefully not be several months away) will be the grand finale. Full of drama and magic and bravery haha no you all know it’s full of complete bullshit already. Let me just reiterate our spell count for today:

Hermione, 11. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0.

And I will leave you all with the thought that the trapdoor Fluffy’s guarding is a literal plot hole.


Posted by on June 28, 2016 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

So, about that accursed play…

I don’t think we really wanted to talk about this, but I feel like we probably need to. (Also: we’re still working on the next chapter of Philosopher’s Stone, I swear we’ll finish shredding that book eventually. Then there are only six more to go… FML.)

(Loten adds: my bad, guys. As I mentioned on my FFN profile, I’m tangled up in ‘real life’, in the process of buying a house, working a lot more, etc etc. It’s hard to find time to settle in for a few hours of book shredding. Once I’ve moved into the new place, sometime in the next few months, things should be easier and our posts should be a lot more regular. In the meantime, sorry!)

This is the most complete plot summary we’ve seen, if you need to catch up.

And for the record, we first learnt about this from this DTCL thread. So thanks for covering this and giving me a jumping off point.

It seems like Rowling is trying to insist on keeping the plot secret, and a lot of people have been humouring her, so for a while it was hard to discern the truth amidst the rumours. Truthfully, we had a hard time believing a lot of what was being said also; a lot of the rumoured plot points sound like bad attempts at trolling. We had no intention of paying through the nose to see it and even less desire to do so now, but that said, I do agree with the people who have been saying that all of this secrecy is insulting to the fans who cannot afford to travel or buy overpriced tickets for this rubbish. At least let them learn the plot, for fuck’s sake.

(I assume she knew deep down that if anyone found out the plot there’s no way in hell they’d fork out to go and see it or to buy the script when it’s published.)

So far, what I’ve been able to discern is that the plot of this thing resembles what would happen if you fed the content of into an algorithm, and then decided the result wasn’t stupid enough. Go get your badfic bingo cards and strap in.

We’ve got a villain who could not be more of a barely-literate teenager’s OC, right down to the implausibly coloured hair, whose very existence contradicts canon to a ludicrous extent. An insane ‘plot’ involving all the time-travel garbage Rowling always claimed to hate dealing with. And a protagonist bearing deep emotional scars because Harry went on to become even more of an abusive asshole than we predicted he would.

I have also run across a common apologetic, which goes something like this: “Of course it sounds stupid when you just list off the plot! It was written as a play, so you have to see it in that format before judging it! Lots of plays seem lacklustre in script form. When you add in the stage effects and the suchlike, it’s pretty good.” Well, to answer that in one word: bullshit. Okay, so it looks pretty, special effects are fun and you see people playing recognisable characters, so fucking what? It’s still a remarkably stupid, shallow and incoherent story, and adds absolutely nothing of interest to the greater canon.

(Me again. As I said on Skype a couple of days ago when we were first discussing this, I’m not sure how seeing a bunch of people who don’t look or sound anything like my headcanons acting out a really bad story is any better than reading about the bad story. If anything, I think it would be worse. I resent the implication that we’re all toddlers who can be distracted by shiny things and forget to be upset.)

I think that’s about the extent of what I want to say about it. Except, perhaps, this: it has apparently given us alternative timelines in which Hermione becomes a rather Snapelike professor, and in which Snape apparently survives (possibly not simultaneously, but I suppose we can hope?), so there may be some potential for half-decent fanfic in those. I leave that possibility open to any authors interested in taking it on. (Likewise, I will admit to having taken some pleasure in watching the Ron/Hermione shippers implode over various implications in the play.)

Anyway, Rowling’s a hack and her involvement in this travesty does not speak well of her as a writer. Of course, her writing and plotting abilities have always been rather poor, so has her knowledge of her own canon, as we’ve been discovering over the course of our reread… but as low as the bar was, she’s failed to surmount it. That’s rather impressive, honestly.


Posted by on June 12, 2016 in loten, mitchell


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