Tag Archives: fail

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act Three)

I really don’t want to do this, but there’s the entire second night of play to get through. Here begins part two. I was actually expecting this to be called “part two, act one” but it’s actually “act three”; honestly, I find that preferable. So, here begins act three, the first act of part two. If you missed them: Act One Act Two.

(Side note: judging by the search terms bringing people to our blog, nobody else knows what a scarramanger is either.)

Scene one.

This is essentially an “infodump the timeline differences” scene, it looks like. We’re in the Headmistress’ office, now occupied by Dolores Umbridge, and Scorpius comes in to talk.

Umbridge is praising him for his “past actions” (how we learn what alternate-timeline-Scorpius was up to before being replaced by time-traveller-Scorpius). There’s not a lot to be said about this, really; pure blood is obviously included, she praises his athleticism (which puzzles him) and reveals he plays Quidditch and is known for catching Snitches, she favours him for Head Boy, and has apparently praised him to something called “the Augurey”. [Isn’t that something from Fantastic Beasts? Let me look it up… yes, it is. It’s an Irish phoenix-like bird that can predict when it’s going to rain. What the hell does that have to do with anything?] (I looked it up too, and discuss it later.)

But she wants to know what’s wrong with him because of his “sudden obsession with Harry Potter” and has been asking lots of questions, says they’ve “checked him for hexes and curses” but there wasn’t anything.

Scorpius assures her it was just a “temporary aberration”. She seems to accept this without any suspicion whatsoever, because for some reason lots of people like to write as though evil and stupid are synonyms.

She dismisses him with some kind of salute or secret handshake thing (“She puts her hand to her heart, and touches her wrists together.”), saying “For Voldemort and Valor”, which Scorpius reluctantly copies. [I’m trying to picture that and whichever way you look at it, it looks stupid. I’d rather they took the really obvious route and co-opted V for Victory, though I suppose a society that eliminates all Muggleborns wouldn’t know about that.]

That’s where the scene ends.

I have to wonder, here, whether this is Team Rowling’s love of alliteration getting the better of them, or if they’re so steeped in Gryffindorism that they think any victorious group would adopt that ideology and value system. “Valor” is a very peculiar thing for the Dark Lord and his followers to incorporate in their slogan. Why not “For Voldemort and Victory” or something like that? That one’s not perfect because this is after they’ve already won, but it would still be an improvement, and it keeps the alliteration they seem to want so badly. It took me less than thirty seconds to come up with something better. [Team Valor is one of the gym-claiming teams in Pokemon Go.]

Consistency in characterisation is important and this play doesn’t seem to care.

Also, while I’m at it, I should say that I can already see where this is going. The next several scenes at least are going to focus on showing exactly how awful this bad timeline is, and probably not revealing any information readers/viewers care about, or much that will be relevant to the plot once this all gets undone. It’s going to be a colossal waste of everyone’s time for the sake of Scorpius’ angst and making the audience miserable, and I’m not looking forward to reading it.

Scene two.

Hogwarts Grounds, Scorpius is with some generic Hogwarts students. More specifically, these are the three recurring generic Hogwarts students who show up whenever generic Hogwarts students are needed, I haven’t bothered mentioning them before because they’ve shown up only in a handful of scenes and had barely any lines. But here they are, all together, so I’ll give their names: Karl Jenkins, Yann Fredericks, and Polly Chapman. And here’s what we know so far about these people: absolutely nothing!

They call Scorpius “Scorpion King” and this is apparently a running nickname. Facepalm. Here’s how to make your play more interesting, reference bad movies! Okay, okay, it’s a bad nickname and Scorpius has to pretend to like it, much angst. [I’m assuming they’re all purebloods given that we’re in grimdark world now, so how have they heard the phrase before? I could see them managing Scorpion, but in conjunction with King?]

The boys are after Scorpius to see if they’re “still on for tomorrow night” to “spill some proper Mudblood guts”. Serious question: this is something like twenty years after a Voldemort victory, how are there still “Mudbloods” left who would be accessible to teenagers (i.e., haven’t been killed, imprisoned, or gone into hiding)? This is heavy-handed at the expense of making sense. We get it, it’s a Voldemort wins timeline. [I assume new Muggleborns are still being born, and powerful ones are still being registered by the magic book nobody understands? So they’re going to prove their manliness by killing children, because grimdark?]

Polly, because she’s a girl, wants to talk about balls and crushes. (Feminism!) No, not about crushing balls, that’d be interesting. She’s trying to get Scorpius to ask her to something called the Blood Ball (essentially she asks him, but because The Man must do the asking, she’s asking him to ask her. Of course). And because we haven’t heard that word enough already, the reason she’s asking him is because there were rumours he liked her, she repeats the word rumour multiple times.

And of course it’s called the Blood Ball (I almost wish they’d gone for irony factor and called it the “Purity Ball“, that’d have been halfway clever, but I suppose we mustn’t piss off Christians), because lazy implausible names are the way to go, subtle writing is out of fashion. You’d think if they wanted to stick to Goblet of Fire parallels (as is so much of this play) they’d just use the Yule Ball, but that doesn’t sound EEEEEEEEVIL enough.

[It just makes me think of the opening scene from the first Blade movie.]

Scorpius hears some screaming and asks what that is. Here’s Polly’s response:

POLLY CHAPMAN: Mudbloods, of course. In the dungeons. Your idea, wasn’t it? What’s going on with you? Oh Potter, I’ve got blood on my shoes again . . .
She bends and carefully cleans the blood off her shoes.
Like the Augurey insists — the future is ours to make — so here I am, making a future — with you. For Voldemort and Valor.

Again, why are these people at Hogwarts to torture? Where are they coming from? Is Hogwarts still recruiting Muggle-borns and then throwing them into torture chambers? (I thought the official talking point in Deathly Hallows was there were no such things as Muggleborns, they were stealing magic, so shouldn’t the official line be that after the existing ones were eliminated no more should arise?) Are these just political prisoners being tortured in Hogwarts because reasons? Why am I thinking about this when the authors clearly haven’t?

Why is Polly using Potter as a swear word? Do defeated enemies typically get made into swear words, do American soldiers go around saying “oh, Saddam”? Again, this is heavy-handed bullshit.

And of course, for maximum angst, bad-timeline-Scorpius has to be a leader in the pro-Voldemort movement.

And the clunky dialogue name-drops “the Augurey” again. I wonder. Could that possibly be something important that the audience is meant to remember? [No, seriously, I checked the HP wiki as well. It literally just predicts when it’s going to rain. Has Rowling forgotten her creations again?]

I hate this play.

Scene three.

We’re in the office of the head of magical law enforcement, which is now occupied by Draco. I have to quote the stage directions here:

DRACO is impressive in a way we haven’t seen. He has the smell of power about him. Flying down either side of the room are Augurey flags — with the bird emblazoned in a fascistic manner.

Is it really common practice, to use purple-prose descriptions in stage directions that are meant to indicate how to set things up? Is some naive theatre director going to decide they have to dunk Draco in a certain kind of cologne (maybe scented like crude oil, or something?) for this scene? [He sounds like an Ayn Rand hero…]

We start off with Draco scolding Scorpius, but it pretty quickly comes out that Draco isn’t entirely on-board with the Voldemort regime despite holding a prominent position in it. Scorpius keeps mentioning his mother and how she didn’t think Draco is evil so how could he be doing this, etc etc, which is what brings that on. This is actually a pretty well-written conversation, I don’t mind this scene. Except for the fact that Draco name-drops the Augurey again, as someone he reports to; it hasn’t even been revealed what the Augurey is (well, we know it’s a bird) and I’m already tired of hearing about it.

DRACO studies his son.
DRACO: There’s more of her in there than I thought.
Beat. He looks at SCORPIUS carefully.
Whatever you’re doing — do it safely. I can’t lose you too.

It’s heavy-handed, and there’s an extent to which this is a sexist cliche (once again Astoria is the Sainted Dead Mother, and it takes a woman to bring out the best in men or some bullshit), but I like that Draco seems to be a decent father even in the bad timeline.

This was definitely one of the better scenes, though.

Scene four.

Scorpius is in the Hogwarts library, and the question he’s asking is “How did Cedric become a Death Eater?”. The question I’m asking is how he knows to ask this, because this is the first we’ve heard of it. And also how he doesn’t know the answer, because “Team Potter turned me into a fucking hot-air fireworks ballon to try to get his friends together” is a pretty solid motivation and Scorpius saw that happen.

He runs into someone called Craig Bowker Jr (who I’m pretty sure we’ve never heard of before), who’s wearing “tattered and worn” clothes and frantically trying to do Scorpius’ homework for him (Scorpius is shocked by this, and more so when Bowker goes on and on about how much he knows Scorpius hates homework). He mentions the assignment is for Professor Snape, which gives Scorpius an idea.

SCORPIUS: Did he say Snape?

I guess you need to be a bit heavy-handed at times in theatre to make sure the audience catch the important things, but really, an explicit double-take after Bowker leaves? Really?

Scene five.

Potions classroom, and get ready for some awkward conversation. Snape’s apparently alone in there (why isn’t this, say, in his office? Why would he be alone in the classroom? Conservation of sets, I assume, but at the same time I don’t think we’ve seen the potions classroom before).

Snape is vaguely sarcastic but doesn’t really sound like I would expect him to (but there are plenty of ways this could be explained, so while I think it’s bad writing it’s probably defensible). He does get a handful of decent lines:

SCORPIUS: I just don’t know what help I — need. Are you still undercover now? Are you still working secretly for Dumbledore?
SNAPE: Dumbledore? Dumbledore’s dead. And my work for him was public — I taught in his school.

In response to Scorpius initially mentioning time travel:

SNAPE: I’d say that the rumors of Hogwarts’s beloved Scorpion King losing his mind are well-founded.

Anyway, they talk about things for a while, Snape is suspicious but for some reason still answers Scorpius’ questions. Apparently where it all went wrong is that Cedric Diggory became a Death Eater and killed Neville in the Battle of Hogwarts; Snape doesn’t know why this would matter but Scorpius concludes it’s because that meant Nagini survived. Snape’s eventually had enough, and tells Scorpius he’ll go to Draco if he doesn’t leave.

Scorpius’ response to this is to mention Lily. Once again, this is some heavy-handed bullshit. Snape is “overwhelmed” by Scorpius mentioning he loved Lily. Then this happens:

[SCORPIUS:] Harry Potter told his son you’re a great man. […] He said you were the bravest man he’d ever met. He knew, you see — he knew your secret — what you did for Dumbledore. And he admired you for it — greatly. And that’s why he named his son — my best friend — after you both. Albus Severus Potter.
SNAPE is stopped. He is deeply moved.
Please — for Lily, for the world, help me.

I understand you’re desperate, Scorpius, but do you really have to go straight for the emotional manipulation?

Anyway, apparently this is enough to convince him, and (for some reason) he uses a spell to close the door (so they were having this conversation with the door open), and “opens a hatch” which apparently leads to a secret passage. This will take them to “a room hidden in the roots of the Whomping Willow”. Snape mentions “we’ve had to move” a few times but doesn’t say who the others are.

[This is not how Snape would behave. I agree the lines don’t really sound like him, but he also would not be convinced this easily. He’d reveal nothing, admit to nothing, kick Scorpius out and then start trying to figure out who the hell had this much blackmail material on him and who he has to kill to keep it silent.]

Scene six.

The set name for this scene is just “Campaign Room”, whatever that means. Someone’s getting lazier. So much for hoping this play might’ve improved when Snape inevitably showed up.

Once again, this is hard to recap. Anyway, in this room is Hermione, and Ron will show up shortly. She threatens Scorpius and it takes a while for him and Snape to convince her he’s on their side.

SNAPE: Safe. He’s safe. (Beat.) You know you never could listen. You were a terrible bore of a student and you’re a terrible bore of — whatever you are.
HERMIONE: I was an excellent student.
SNAPE: You were moderate to average. He’s on our side!

This doesn’t really sound like Snape to me. It also sounds a bit flirtatious. I’m pretty sure this scene and the next one were put here entirely to tease the SS/HG shippers. [I do not approve, this is not fair.]

There’s this:

HERMIONE: Most people know me as Granger. And I don’t believe a word you say, Malfoy —

Oh, NOW they decide to bring the last-name-basis stuff in? So people call each other by first names in good-worlds when the side of good wins, but last names are what you use when evil is about? (That’s obviously ludicrous but how else do you interpret this?)

RON runs in. His hair spiked. His clothes scruffy. He is slightly less good at the rebel look than HERMIONE is.

What the fuck does this mean? Why does he have spiked hair? Are we supposed to get the impression that he’s trying too hard to look like a teenager’s idea of what a rebel is, because somehow that’s what you do when you’re actually a rebel against something? I don’t find this amusing. Even Ron isn’t that stupid. If you’re living in hiding because you’re one of the only holdouts against a totalitarian regime trying to kill you, you don’t really have the time or resources to gel your hair into spikes and keep it that way.

Ron tries to threaten Scorpius but “fumbles out his wand” and ends up holding it backwards. How is Ron still alive?

SNAPE: He’s safe, Ron.
RON looks at HERMIONE, who nods.
RON: Thank Dumbledore for that.

Why is Snape calling Ron by his first name? [Well, if the surname thing is apparently normal now, it’s presumably some sort of infantalising insult. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.]

And again with the “thank Dumbledore”. Dumbledore is not God, try to get this through your heads, writers! Dumbledore’s also explicitly been stated to be dead in this timeline. Dumbledore lost, why are you thanking him? THIS MAKES NO SENSE. [Technically Jesus lost too, and people still invoke him…]

Scene seven.

Apparently, between the last scene and this one Scorpius has done some off-screen explaining. Anyway, they’re inclined to believe him because there’s no other way he could’ve known what he knows about them.

Ron claims he and Hermione are the only survivors of “Dumbledore’s Army”.

[RON:] Granger here is a wanted woman. I’m a wanted man.
SNAPE (dryly): Less wanted.

Okay, I almost chuckled. I told you they’re baiting SS/HG. [Well, so far this has been the only line I actually like. I still maintain it’s not fair though.]

They ask Scorpius about the details of the original timeline, which he tells them. Hermione is shocked but happy to learn she was Minister for Magic, Ron less pleased to learn he runs a joke shop. Then we get this exchange:

SCORPIUS: You’re mostly focused on bringing up your kids.
RON: Great. I expect their mother is hot.

I hate Ron. He’s a stereotype of male chauvinism. Scorpius of course decides this is the moment to tell them they were married to each other, which we’re told “astonishes” them, and he makes a point of how they were surprised by this in the other timeline too. There’s much ado about them exchanging looks, I’m not actually sure what this scene is trying to imply about them.

HERMIONE: Close your mouth when you’re looking at me, Weasley.

Snape calls him Ron but Hermione calls him Weasley? (she also calls Snape Snape in the next sentence) Would it hurt you to use a bit of consistency, writers? Did you bang this out in one sitting and not proofread? [Still going with Snape insulting Ron. Also looks like Hermione is no longer friends with him, which I’m also okay with.]

Honestly, this naming inconsistency is the first thing I’ve seen in this play that clearly shows signs of being other than Rowling’s handiwork. She was very, very consistent with how she wrote last-name basis in the books. It’s weird.

Anyway, Snape has figured out that he’s dead in the other timelines, based on the fact that Scorpius was surprised to see him. He’s not too happy to find out that Voldemort killed him:

SNAPE: How very irritating.
There’s a silence as SNAPE digests.
Still, there’s glory in being taken down by the Dark Lord himself, I suppose.
HERMIONE: I’m sorry, Severus.
SNAPE looks at her, and then swallows the pain. He indicates RON with a flick of his head.
SNAPE: Well, at least I’m not married to him.

Being married to Ron a fate worse than death? I approve this message. Also, again with the naming weirdness – she called him Snape earlier, now she’s calling him Severus? (more SS/HG baiting) [Not fair!] Although his line before that is out of character: since when has Snape given a fuck about glory? [I suppose maybe it’s to call back to his infamous Potions speech about brewing it? Bit of a stretch. But I can see him at least being pleased to get a somewhat noble death. Luckily Scorpius didn’t tell him how that scene actually went, he’d be much less pleased about that…]

They discuss how the Time-Turner works (including the explicit five-minute time limit which Scorpius has figured out… somehow), what spells they used to mess things up and how they’ll reverse them (apparently a shield charm will do it). They also talk about the limitation that it only moves you in time, not in space, so they’re going to have to leave this safe room and endanger their lives; Snape thinks only he and Scorpius should go, but Hermione insists it’s worth the risk and she doesn’t want to trust anyone else with the task.

They use the Time-Turner (apparently, despite the five minute limit, they’re going to go back in their current location and then rush to the tournament; this seems implausible to me).

There is a bang and a flash and our gang disappear.

Our gang? That’s what you choose to call this group? I don’t know why, but that choice of word really irritates me.

Nitpick: if the Time-Turner moves you only in time and not in space, they’ll end up in the vacuum of space somewhere because they have no way of accounting for planetary motion (and motion of the solar system itself, and so on; nothing is stationary). In order for this play’s plot to work as written, it has to assume a geocentric universe. What amuses me is that that is actually not the most ridiculous assumption the play has made so far.

Scene eight.

It’s a rehash of the first Triwizard scene, but these four are now there watching. Hermione blocks Albus’ disarming spell (though the stage directions say “as Albus attempts to summon Cedric’s wand”, so they can’t even keep straight what spells people are using). As the time turner pulls them back they hear Bagman talking about Diggory pulling off the dog transfiguration.

[BAGMAN:] A dog — he’s transfigured a stone into a dog — dog diggity, Cedric Diggory — you are a doggy dynamo.

Bagman is awful and I loathe him. [What the fuck, nobody talks like this. Is he stoned?]

***PLOT HOLE ALERT*** I don’t understand why they’re undoing the first change first. That should have changed the timeline they’d return to: Albus’ entire reasoning around the second “humiliation” gambit was based on the fact Cedric still did well after losing his wand somehow, without that reasoning he’d likely try something different, and these time travellers should end up in an entirely different future. They show no awareness of even having thought about this; they could easily have dropped it in when they were discussing what spells to use.

Maybe it’s because I’ve studied programming, but it seems obvious to me that you have to treat these kind of changes as a stack: last in, first out. That way, each time you undo a change you return to a previously known state. The way this play is doing things, the characters are being incredibly reckless. Also, we’ll see in the next scene they return to the “bad timeline” as if nothing changed, so the play is ignoring the consequences of that recklessness. This is incredibly poorly-thought-out, and somebody should have caught this. You fail time travel forever.

This play is stupid.

Scene nine.

They return to the present, at the edge of the forbidden forest. Ron’s in pain for some reason [good], Scorpius mentions that happened to Albus too. Snape is aware that because they’re outdoors, they’re vulnerable (he also says “we came back to the wrong place”; apparently, they were expecting to return to wherever they used the Time-Turner at first, despite having clearly stated it moves you only in time and not in space? This is stupid), and is trying to get everyone back to shelter.

Dementors notice them. Hermione decides the dementors are after her, not the rest of them, so she’s going to sacrifice herself to buy them time (that’s your best plan? MELODRAMA). She tells Ron she loves him and has always loved him (sigh, so much for the SS/HG tease) [oh goddamnit], she doesn’t care the Dementors will suck out her soul because the timeline will be undone, and tells them to go. Ron decides to stay with her (“can we talk about the love thing?”). She prevents him from doing a Patronus because she thinks they’ll keep the dementors there longer that way (is that how that works? I didn’t think it took dementors long to kiss people), they reminisce about the fact they had children in another timeline and think that’s a nice thought (sigh), they kiss. The dementors pull them apart and kiss them.

Well, actually, it’s described like this:

And then the two are yanked apart. And pinned to the ground. And we watch as a golden-whitish haze is pulled from their bodies. They have their souls sucked from them. And it is terrifying.

No mention of the dementors actually kissing them, which is weird and probably an inconsistency. Also, for maximum drama Snape and Scorpius basically just stand there watching this [probably stunned by the stupidity]. I suppose that’s a consequence of doing this in a play, they don’t want to have multiple things going on to divide the audience’s focus? But that has the unintended consequence of making the characters look like idiots and wasting the sacrifice by not actually taking advantage of the delay.

Sidebar: Can I talk about the stupid soulmate thing now? I guess I’m going to talk about it now. I really take umbrage at the notion, promoted by this play, that each person has a “correct” partner they’re meant to be with (how this is actually determined varies depending on who you ask, but usually it’s some flavour of predestination) and can’t have the same quality of romantic relationship with anyone else. This is deeply toxic and dangerous, and does not reflect the world we actually live in. (I recommend Tim Minchin’s statistically accurate love song. Seriously, he really covers a lot of what’s wrong with the soulmate model and does it hilariously.)

This play is, pretty much explicitly, arguing for something like the soulmate model in its portrayal of Ron and Hermione in the alternate timelines. (Never mind what I think of the Ron/Hermione relationship, and how problematic it is that THAT relationship is the one they choose to be the “correct” one, or the frequent mentions of love potions rape drugs). This despite the fact that they’re also hinting that Ron was happy with Padma in the first alternate timeline and possibly that that relationship was better for him, until he gets wind that he could’ve had Hermione instead (despite the backstory of that timeline being that he’d gotten on better with Padma!) and suddenly changes course to pine over her. Unless you find your predestined match, you’re doing it wrong, even if superficially you look happy with whomever you found instead (this play seems to be arguing). No. NO. I reject this utterly. If all of the parties to a relationship are happy in it and it works for them, that’s a successful relationship, full stop. This shouldn’t be a controversial view.


[Needless to say, I agree with all of the above.]

Okay, that’s that off my chest. Back to this scene.

A dementor blocks the progress of Snape and Scorpius, rendering the sacrifice we just saw entirely meaningless. They talk a bit about why they’re doing what they’re doing and it’s not terribly interesting; Snape is trying to distract Scorpius from the effects of the dementor but it’s not working. [As opposed to, say, fighting the damned thing? Snape can cast a patronus and I’ve never believed that’s the only way to harm a dementor anyway.] Then Umbridge shows up saying they’ve caught Hermione.

Apparently this version of Snape isn’t very good at lying or keeping his sarcasm in check, because he says this

SNAPE: That’s — fantastic.

and apparently that’s enough for Umbridge to instantly conclude that they’d been working together all along. There’s a bit of argument, Snape admits it; she admits she’s suspected him for years, then this happens.

UMBRIDGE rises off the ground. She opens her arms wide, full of Dark Magic. She takes out her wand.

What’s this supposed to be? We have never seen magic work like this in the Potterverse before. And likewise, what the hell does “full of Dark Magic” even mean? This is word salad. Anyway, Snape beats her to the draw and uses a spell called Depulso on her that sends her flying away (why doesn’t he just kill her?).

He summons his Patronus, which is still Lily’s doe, and they talk about that a bit. More dementors come, and Snape basically does a “you shall not pass”, he intends to hold the dementors off while Scorpius does the time travel thing, and tells Scorpius to tell Albus he’s proud to be his namesake. Scorpius runs, and Snape too is kissed by the dementors (but again it’s described as earlier). [So… in this timeline patronuses don’t actually do anything to dementors except slow them down a bit? In complete contrast with everything we’ve ever seen or heard about them before?]

(Snape, you’re proud to be the namesake of a bumbling fool who screwed about with time and accidentally made Voldemort win? Those being his last words make this an even more ignominious death than he suffered in canon.)

[I agree. This is bullshit. It’s out of character, it breaks what passes for the magic system, I’m pissed at the mockery of my ship and this is not how any of these people would act.]

There are a lot of stage directions here. Weirdly, they don’t actually indicate Scorpius using the Time-Turner or anything, there are just a bunch of events and then Scorpius evenutally comes up in the lake. But “The sky certainly seems — bluer than before.” (heavy-handed colour imagery, fuck this play) and Albus is there too so he’s clearly back in one of the better timelines. They both start talking pretty rapidly at each other, apparently Albus has just gotten back from the second time-travel incident (I’ve already said why this makes no sense and won’t keep harping on about that) but he saw Scorpius cancelling the spell on Cedric just after it started. So we’ve actually skipped completely the time travel incident and just jumped straight to the good timeline. That seems a weird choice. Scorpius doesn’t even seem to know that he succeeded at stopping Albus, so I’m not clear how that even happened.

Anyway, he’s really happy to see Albus and hugs him while they’re trying to swim (apparently this is a struggle), and is really happy to realise that Albus is wearing Slytherin robes again. Albus is confused, because Scorpius is really happy that they failed and this doesn’t make sense to him. (This scene is definitely pushing the Albus/Scorpius ship really hard; they’re even floating in water!)

Harry, Draco, Ginny, and McGonagall show up and find them and there’s some talk. They know what was going on because apparently they found out from Myrtle; Scorpius eventually realises he doesn’t have the Time-Turner any more and says he’s dropped it. Albus is annoyed he’s given the game away, but Harry says he already knows. End scene.

This was a long one. And yes, all of this is put as one scene in the script. It was a real struggle to get through.

Scene ten.

Everyone’s in the Headmistress’ office, apparently having explained what happened, and McGonagall is lecturing the boys on their stupidity. Harry tries to interject but McGonagall cuts him off, says his role as parent is irrelevant and she as headmistress has the authority to decide their punishment. Draco and Ginny approve of this. I want to ask why it’s been decided this is a school matter; I actually think I’d be on Harry’s side here, because he’s the magical police chief and this ought to be a criminal matter, except I don’t think that’s what Harry was actually going to say.

She says she should expel them but doesn’t care to (again, why is this an issue of school discipline?) and puts them in detention for at least the rest of the school year, removes their Hogsmeade privileges and tells them “Christmas is canceled for you” (I wasn’t aware that’s how holidays work).

Hermione bursts in and McGonagall’s not pleased to see her, says she wishes she could also give her detention, and rants at her about how badly she mishandled the Time-Turner. (I’m inclined to agree, I complained about Hermione’s office security earlier.)

Then McGonagall’s brain falls out.

PROFESSOR McGONAGALL (composes herself for a moment): Your intentions to save Cedric were honorable, if misguided. And it does sound as if you were brave, Scorpius, and you, Albus, but the lesson even your father sometimes failed to heed is that bravery doesn’t forgive stupidity. Always think. Think what’s possible. A world controlled by Voldemort is —

Actually, that’s better than I expected of her (anyone in this universe recognising that bravery isn’t the be-all-end-all of virtue is a pleasant surprise to me), but still, I don’t even think they deserve that much praise or that much benefit of the doubt. But I suppose a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and they need an awful lot of medicine. [Not in character for McGonagall, though. These are Slytherins she’s speaking to. And that raises a point – where is their Head of House? They should be present for any punishment of Slytherin students.]

She wants them to find the Time-Turner and bring it to her. (Why does this fall under McGonagall’s authority and why are the others obeying her? This seems like yet another vestige of the books, where Dumbledore as headmaster was effectively a hugely influential political figure, nearly the ruler of the wizarding world, but the narrative liked to pretend he wasn’t.)

Scene eleven.

Albus has let Harry into the Slytherin dormitory and they’re chatting in his room. It’s uncomfortable. But they actually manage to make some progress; this is actually a decently-written scene.

Basically, Albus admits he made a mistake and was reckless, Harry admits he was wrong to think Scorpius was Voldemort’s son/the black cloud (apparently this happened in the original timeline too? We only actually saw it in the second timeline), wrong to put Albus under surveillance and he’s locked the map away.

They hint around their issues with each other but don’t really resolve them; Albus mentions that in the second timeline he was in Gryffindor but that didn’t make things any better so Houses aren’t the issue, which Harry acknowledges.

This is a competently written scene, and the dialogue feels natural enough; it’s made worse by the fact that everything they’re talking about relates to the horrendous overall plot.

Scene twelve.

It’s another one of Harry’s stupid prophetic dreams. This one’s another flashback to something that never happened, Aunt Petunia’s taken young Harry to visit and leave flowers on his parents’ graves. She tries to convince him that Lily and James were awful people and had no friends (she says Lily was repellent by nature, and James “extraordinarily obnoxious”). Go Petunia. I don’t disagree with you.

The scene doesn’t agree with her, though. Harry asks her why there are so many flowers and so many personal messages thanking Lily and James if nobody liked them. She tries to claim it’s just the wind blowing them from other graves or someone playing a prank, but the stage directions say she’s getting emotional. I’m wondering what the point of this all is.

[Plot hole alert – Petunia’s a Muggle. I doubt she could even see the graves, let alone get to them. We know there are Muggles living in Godric’s Hollow, but the Potter graves would be hidden the way the stupid statue was. Harry, your dreams fail.]

Voldemort’s voice says there’s “a stench of guilt upon the air”. We get more pseudo-symbolic bullshit. Voldemort rises from the Potters’ graves, asks Harry “do you still see with my eyes”, then for some reason Albus bursts out of Voldemort’s cloak.

We get the same prophetic Parseltongue whispers and Voldemort’s voice hissing Harry’s name.

These dream sequences are a waste of time. I don’t know why it’s so important for Harry to have all these prophetic dreams, and it’s not an ability he ever had before either (except insofar as he saw into Voldy’s mind thanks to the Horcrux). I’m not sure if they’re just trying to reference that, they’re just trying to pad out the play, or there’s actually going to be some payoff to all of this. [I’m guessing padding.]

Scene thirteen.

Potter residence. Harry wakes up in a panic. He’s disturbed because this dream was of events that never happened, and he thought that they’d resolved whatever danger Albus was in.

Ominous dreams are ominous, I guess.

Scene fourteen.

Scorpius and Albus are hanging out in their dormitory. This conversation’s pretty decent from a characterisation perspective, Scorpius is basically saying that he’s not afraid of anything any more because he saw how bad things could have been, he doesn’t mind being in detention and all that because it’s better than the bad timeline. He’s learning to appreciate things he didn’t before. He’s afraid of what the bad timeline says about him, because he didn’t like how people were afraid of the alternate-timeline-Scorpius that he replaced (not that he words it like that, he thinks of it as him).

Albus blames himself (rightly) for everything that went wrong, and wonders why he was so determined to save Cedric.

This scene’s honestly pretty shippy too.

Anyway, the reveal of the scene is that Scorpius still has the Time-Turner even though he told the adults it fell in the lake. He wants Albus to help him destroy it.

[SCORPIUS:] it’s time that time-turning became a thing of the past.
ALBUS: You’re quite proud of that phrase, aren’t you?
SCORPIUS: Been working on it all day.

That’s kind of twee, but it could’ve been worse.

Scene fifteen.

Harry and Ginny are in the dormitory trying to find Albus. Craig Bowker Jr (who is this guy again? should I call him Miscellaneous Student Number Four? This scene makes it look like he’s a prefect but that’s never stated) won’t let them in, until Professor McGonagall shows up and brushes him off. Apparently Albus and Scorpius are missing again and they’re concerned. McGonagall and Bowker leave to search the school [if only they had access to some sort of map that shows where people are… or house elves, portraits and ghosts able to cover the whole castle very quickly…], Harry and Ginny talk. Ginny thinks this is Harry’s fault and wonders if he said something to set Albus off again.

In other words, it’s a filler scene.

Scene sixteen.

Albus and Scorpius are in the Owlery (why the Owlery? Why on earth would you choose a place full of nocturnal animals to destroy something, especially when they seem to be trying to do it at night?), trying to figure out how to destroy the Time-Turner. They think they can do it with a spell and are debating which one to use. [I don’t know where the hell Rose went in all this, but it’s a shame she’s not here. She has the genes necessary to remind them that the library exists.]

Delphi shows up out of nowhere (surprise, surprise). Oh joy, not her again. [How does she keep getting into Hogwarts?] Anyway, apparently Albus sent her an owl because he thought “it felt important” to keep her updated and this concerns her too. They tell her what they’re doing, they’re planning to destroy the Time-Turner because of the bad timeline and start talking about all the awful things it involved.

She smiles (well, it says “her face breaks” but I assume that doesn’t mean the way I want to imagine). Asks them for more details to confirm Voldemort really survived and won.

They tell her that humiliating Cedric turned him into a Death Eater, he killed Neville, that’s what made everything go wrong. She plays on their emotions, she says Cedric would have understood, so they’ll destroy the Time-Turner together and then go explain to Amos. She takes the Time-Turner.

Albus notices a tattoo on the back of her neck and asks what it is. She says (dun dun dun) it’s an Augurey.

DELPHI: Haven’t you met them in Care of Magical Creatures? They’re sinister-looking black birds that cry when rain’s coming. Wizards used to believe that the Augurey’s cry foretold death. When I was growing up my guardian kept one in a cage.

Stage directions explicitly specify she’s toying them now, so this is the reveal of her villainy. [Okay, so the writers do know augureys actually don’t do anything sinister, or see the future, or anything else relevant to villains. So why use one?]

DELPHI: She used to say it was crying because it could see I was going to come to a sticky end. She didn’t like me much. Euphemia Rowle . . . she only took me in for the gold.
ALBUS: Why would you want a tattoo of her bird, then?
DELPHI: It reminds me that the future is mine to make.

Albus thinks this is cool, he might get a tattoo of it also. Scorpius is a bit cleverer and realises the Rowles were a Death Eater family, and starts asking questions, no longer believing the backstory she’d given them. Realises she was “the Augurey” in the bad timeline (which she likes hearing). She takes the Time-Turner, easily overpowers them with magic and ties them up, pauses for some villainous gloating (in which she reveals she’d been controlling Amos, surprise surprise), snaps their wands and runs off.

DELPHI: Albus. I am the new past.
She pulls ALBUS’s wand from him and snaps it.
I am the new future.
She pulls SCORPIUS’s wand from him and snaps it.
I am the answer this world has been looking for.

I am the Mary Sue. I am the Cliche Villain. The world revolves around me.

(I’m only surprised she doesn’t have an evil laugh on top of that to go full panto villain.)

[Given her alleged genetics, I suppose melodrama was inevitable, but this is just bad.]

Scene seventeen.


I’ll spare you the gag about pretending to skip it this time, but I was seriously tempted.

We open on Ron and Hermione in Hermione’s office. Ron’s eating porridge for some reason, and keeps going on about how he can’t understand how they weren’t married in the other timelines. Hermione’s annoyed at him and wonders if this is his way of asking for a separation.

RON: Shut up. Will you shut up for once? I want to do one of those marriage renewal things I’ve read about. Marriage renewal. What do you think?
HERMIONE (melting slightly): You want to marry me again?

Oh, what a healthy relationship, when you respond to your partner’s concerns with “Shut up, will you shut up for once.” FUCK THIS BULLSHIT. I still hate Ron. I also hate marriage fetishism, which this feels like, but that’s probably a rant for another time because (much as that irks me) marriage fetishism is a mainstay of mainstream romance culture so it’s not a huge surprise to see it here (it was already all over the Harry Potter books proper).

[Excuse me while I vomit.]

They’re being romantic until Harry, Ginny and Draco come in and interrupt them. They tell her what’s going on, Harry’s still having prophetic dreams and the boys are missing. Hermione wants to summon Aurors (couldn’t Harry have already done this?) but Ron says it’s fine, he’s seen Albus last night, everything’s fine.

Apparently Ron was out drinking in Hogsmeade with Neville the previous night (Ron and Neville are friends? When did that happen?) and on the way back, somehow, saw Albus with Delphi on the roof of the Owlery and concluded Albus just has a girlfriend.

RON: He hasn’t run away — he’s having a quiet moment — he’s got himself an older girlfriend —
HARRY: An older girlfriend?
RON: And a cracking one at that — gorgeous silver hair. Saw them on the roof together, near the Owlery with Scorpius playing the gooseberry. Nice to see my love potion being used well, I thought.

FOR FUCK’S SAKE, RON. Never mind the reveal of Delphi’s super-special hair colour (which, after Harry asks, he clarifies is not just silver but silver and blue). Ron’s reaction here is “your son’s fine, he’s just raping an older woman like I thought he should!”. ALBUS IS FOURTEEN. Never mind that he’s still missing, so that doesn’t really resolve what they’re concerned about either. Rape culture, everybody. Rape culture. Don’t you dare tell me it doesn’t exist.

[Fuck off and die, Ron, and by extension every writer who let this pass. Hermione, run away.]

Also, where exactly is the Owlery located in Hogwarts, that they can be on the roof of it but still visible to Ron who’s at ground level in Hogsmeade? THIS IS STUPID! [The Mary Sue’s silver hair glows in the dark, obviously.]

Harry recognises the description as “Delphi Diggory” and they hurry out of the office.

Scene eighteen.

The adults go to St Oswald’s old-age home to confront Amos Diggory. He has no clue what they’re talking about, no memory of meeting the boys or any idea why he should know where they are, even after Harry threatens him with Azkaban. The big reveal is (surprise, surprise!) he couldn’t possibly have a niece because both he and his wife were only children.

Scene nineteen.

Delphi never read the Evil Overlord List. She’s telling Albus and Scorpius her plans.

She’s taken them to the Quidditch pitch because that’s where the Triwizard maze was and she wants to go back to that. She plans to interfere again, to save Cedric in order to bring back Scorpius’ bad timeline. (wait wait wait wait… I was okay with Cedric becoming a Death Eater so far specifically because what Albus did to him was tagged explicitly as Potter-adjacent; I fail to see how it’s a necessary outcome of saving his life here)

DELPHI: I want a return to pure and strong magic. I want to rebirth the Dark. […] The one true ruler of the wizarding world. He will return.

She apparently wants to interfere with the third task because (thanks to their efforts) the previous two are too messy with time-travel shenanigans.

DELPHI: I don’t just want you to stop him. I want you to humiliate him. He needs to fly out of that maze naked on a broomstick made of purple feather dusters. Humiliation got you there before and it’ll get us there again. And the prophecy will be fulfilled.

This is stupid. (Never mind that plan, that’s also stupid.) Now there’s a fucking prophecy? We all know how good Rowling is at handling those, you’d think she’d have learnt from last time. Anyway, Albus says she’ll have to use the Imperius to get them to cooperate. She says she can’t do that, the prophecy says he can’t do it as a puppet (the prophecy doesn’t actually say this), so she has to force him some other way, so she kidnaps Scorpius and threatens him. (This play is totally shipping them.) She’s torturing Scorpius with Crucio and telling Albus to do what he’s told or she’ll continue.

[You know, there’s actually a positive message here. Entirely by accident Rowling et al have finally blundered into the concept that publicly humiliating people isn’t funny, is only done by bad people, and causes bad things.]

They’re interrupted by Craig Bowker Jr (who is he again?). I guess it doesn’t matter who he is, because Delphi kills him with Avada Kedavra. She tells him again to do obey her or she’ll kill Scorpius too. Then we get this:

DELPHI: Voldemort will return and the Augurey will sit at his side. Just as it was prophesized. “When spares are spared, when time is turned, when unseen children murder their fathers: Then will the Dark Lord return.”

Wow, that’s a stupid prophecy. And a really blatant one too, she at least tried to be subtle with the one in the books. I wouldn’t say she did it well, that prophecy was more word salad (“neither can live while the other survives”?) than anything else, but it was at least not this transparently obvious. And as if that weren’t bad enough, Delphi then goes on to spell out in detail exactly what each element of this prophecy corresponds to. I guess if I wanted to be charitable, she probably thinks Albus is an idiot and is trying to rub in how screwed he is, but I don’t want to be charitable. This writing is awful, this plot is awful, this play is awful.

She grabs Albus and makes him use the Time-Turner.

Scene twenty.

It’s 1995, they’re at the maze. Delphi is dragging Albus and Scorpius around, they’re tied up. Bagman’s announcing and (because this play is sexist garbage) we have to hear about the cheers again. This time, Hogwarts and Durmstrang’s are merely “loud”, while Beauxbatons’ is “fulsome”. At least that’s something, but I can’t help thinking what it’s saying is “those French”/”those ladies” just can’t do this cheering right, they either do too little or too much. [‘Fulsome’ is a somewhat loaded word, too…] And regardless of whether I’m right about that, it’s a pointless running gag, a waste of time and didn’t need to be there.

Delphi’s trying and failing to find Cedric; the hedges are trying to attack them. Albus and Scorpius talk (somehow without being overheard by her?) and decide their plan has to be to run out the five-minute clock, because they can’t fight her and win.

LUDO BAGMAN: Now let me remind you of the current standings! Tied in first place — Mr. Cedric Diggory and Mr. Harry Potter. In second place — Mr. Viktor Krum! And in third place — sacré bleu, Miss Fleur Delacour.

Just like the books, this play hates Fleur. I’ve already explained why this makes me angry.

The boys somehow get away from Delphi and try to run; she starts flying without a broom and chases after them. (Damn it, that’s Severus’ ability, don’t give it to her.) [To be fair (what am I saying), Voldy could do it too.] They’re shocked by this but she just gloats, and tells them they’ve used up three minutes but still have two more. Scorpius tries to logic her out of this and starts an argument about the nature of prophecies; she starts laying about with Crucio.

There’s a deus ex machina! It’s Cedric. He disarms Delphi and uses a binding spell on her. But then he seems to think they’re some kind of monsters that are part of the task; they just tell him the task is to free them and he can get on with the maze (he uses “emancipare”). They tell him his father loves him and regretfully let him go.

There’s some weirdness about that encounter if you think about it. In the book, Cedric arrives at the cup just barely at the same time as Harry; if this new encounter delayed him, it could well have altered that. It’s entirely possible they’ve just saved Cedric anyway, but I fully expect the play to ignore that. They also don’t even consider just saying “if you touch the cup along with Harry, you’ll die, don’t do that”; I kind of understand why they wouldn’t, after everything, but again, no indication they even considered it or regretted not doing it. The play doesn’t seem to really remember that Cedric was a decent guy and would not inevitably become a Death Eater if allowed to survive. [He honestly might. He’d have won and been a champion but nobody would ever have paid him any attention and it would just have been all about Harry, he’d be completely unrecognised. Decent guy or not, that would fester.]

Time’s running out, Delphi still has the Time-Turner, and they think she’s going to leave them behind. The boys grab onto it, and apparently the time limit has run out and it starts to bring them back. Delphi gives a villain speech about how they haven’t stopped her, she may have to give up on Cedric but she’s not done yet, she’s just done with them. She “crushes the Time-Turner” and it “explodes in a thousand pieces”. How? How delicate are these things, exactly? If it’s so fragile you can crush it with your bare hands (and how’d she not injure herself on glass shards, for that matter?) how did it survive this long?

She flies away and the boys realise they’re all stuck in the past now. They want to stop her but don’t know how to do it.

Scene twenty-one.

At St Oswald’s, the adults are investigating what was Delphi’s room, not learning much. Harry says she must have used a Confundus charm on Diggory to convince him she was his niece. Hermione’s found no records of her in Ministry files. Ron thinks she has to have hidden something in the walls.

Then Ginny finds something.

GINNY unscrews a chimney from an oil lamp. There’s a breathing-out noise. And then hissing words. They all turn towards it.

[…a magic lamp. Seriously? Well, problem solved, just ask the genie to undo everything.]

Apparently it’s speaking Parseltongue and wants to address someone called Augurey. Harry talks to it and it activates. It paints images of snakes on the walls and apparently the prophecy is written there. And despite this Parseltongue-as-security thing, the prophecy is written in English and Ron reads it out. I won’t repeat it here.

They figure out what it means, or close enough. Then we get this:

DRACO: Who is she? To be so obsessed with all this?
GINNY: I think I’ve got the answer to that.
They all turn to her. She points up . . . Their collective faces sink further and fill with fear.
Words are revealed on all the walls of the auditorium — dangerous words, horrible words.
“I will rebirth the Dark. I will bring my father back.”


I know why it’s written there. It’s because we needed a bombshell reveal to end the act on. It literally ends on them being incredulous and horrified at the notion that Voldemort had a daughter.

I’m horrified too, but for a different reason.

Again, full disclosure: I knew this already going in, so I’m not shocked by this. I’m not sure whether or not I would have been, really. It’s shocking in the sense that it’s hard to believe they’d actually go with this plotline, so I probably would have been surprised, but not in a good way. I still don’t understand how the logistics of Voldemort having a daughter were supposed to work out, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how badly they bungle that explanation later.

So that’s where this part ends. We’re on page 146 out of 191 now.

Semifinal thoughts.

I really don’t know what to say about this. I don’t think I reacted as much to things as I went this time, because mostly this is just an endless string of exposition and action scenes, and character-assassination against existing characters. They have to go into detail about the bad timeline and the different versions of characters, etc, and that takes time. Then there’s all of the reveals about (sigh) Delphi. Whose other name, Augurey, sounds far too much like “augury” for my taste considering all the prophetic bullshit being thrown around.

I did look up what an augurey is in the Fantastic Beasts book Rowling previously released, but it doesn’t have a whole lot interesting to say (apparently it’s also known as “Irish Phoenix” despite not having anything in common with phoenixes, it looks like a thin and underfed vulture, and its cries were believed to be a death omen but really foretold rain). I don’t actually know what this is supposed to have to do with Delphi the character, except that it’s apparently an ugly bird (and we all know ugly things are evil).

[It’s something everyone assumes is evil because it looks/sounds a bit creepy, but is in reality not remotely sinister or threatening and has no useful purpose whatsoever. That actually sounds about right for our villain. I suspect not the effect they were really going for, though.]

Anyway, never mind that. This plot is revolving around two of the biggest cliche plots imaginable, this time-travel farce and now the prophecy. They’re not using them together in any interesting way. I really doubt they’ll be able to redeem this thing in another act. Truthfully, I almost suspect that what’s going to happen is this: they’re going to find a way to make everything turn out all right in the end (because of course), and audiences are coming away from this with the knowledge that everything that came before that is meaningless and they no longer have to care about it. That’s my theory of why people are leaving theatres with a positive impression of this play.


Posted by on August 9, 2016 in mitchell


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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act Two)

Okay, let’s keep going with this. Bring on the mental thumbscrews and iron maidens, Ramsay Bolton should’ve read this play to Theon Greyjoy. Part One if you missed it.

Act Two.

Scene one.

Another flashback scene, because everyone wanted those! Do they think that if they keep using flashbacks to the time of the books it’ll get people’s interest who care less about the next-generation stuff?

Anyway, this is another nightmare of Harry’s, as the next scene will reveal (which explains some things I found weird in it). The scene is between “young Harry” and Aunt Petunia, who woke him up to berate him for cleaning the pots incorrectly, tell him what a disappointment he is, and force him back to work. Apparently (we’re getting into Inception territory here, I feel), young Harry in Harry’s nightmare has also had a nightmare, and wet himself; Petunia yells at him for this and calls him a disgusting animal.

Harry tells her the nightmare was about his parents dying, and remembers a lot of detail (he nearly gets the incantation, even) and she tells him it’s nonsense and it was a car crash.

And the stage contorts and trees rise as the dream twists into something else entirely.
Suddenly, ALBUS appears and stands looking at YOUNG HARRY.

So that happened. And we get Voldemort-voice whispering his name again, there are “Parseltongue whispers” and something saying “He’s coming. He’s coming.” (Harry, you naughty boy, you, dreaming about such things.)

Such subtle foreshadowing, I wonder what this could possibly be about.

(Side note: I’m forgiving the lapses in detail and contradictions with the books because this is a dream and Harry could be backfilling the things he shouldn’t have known when he was a child. Likewise with Petunia being more explicitly abusive than we ever saw her in canon, Harry could well remember it as worse than it was.) [Makes sense, in his own head Harry is definitely a tragic little abuse victim despite there being no evidence of any such thing onscreen.]

Scene two.

Very short scene. Harry wakes in a panic, starts telling Ginny about his dream. Except what he describes is a bit different from what we saw, and the main thing he focuses on is that he thinks he saw Albus wearing red Durmstrang robes. Somehow from that, he thinks he’s deduced where Albus is.

That’s the entire scene. [So Harry is now explicitly psychic, because reasons. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this will never be explained.]

Scene three.

Harry and Ginny are in McGonagall’s office (explicitly labelled as Headmistress’ office, so yes, McGonagall is Headmistress) at Hogwarts, telling her they think Albus is in the Forbidden Forest because of Harry’s dream. [How does Albus wearing Durmstrang robes = Albus being on Hogwarts grounds, exactly?] (I think the end of the dream scene was supposed to look like the Forest, but the stage directions were unclear in that scene itself.) They’re asking her for help searching, she offers Professor Longbottom because “his knowledge of plants might be useful” (nothing against Neville but I’m honestly not sure how that’s meant to be the case), then Hermione turns up (“tumbles out of the chimney”) offering help.

[Hermione is Santa now? As for Neville, maybe the night and day he had to survive on his own in the Forest after he was abandoned on that first-year detention taught him a few things. Facetiousness aside, I assume as a Herbology expert he probably goes looking for plants in there; I think the Acromantulas died off during the final battle in book 7 so there’s nothing really dangerous in there now.]

She’s followed shortly by Ron; the writers seem to be going for “comically inept” with him, he shows up “Covered in soot. Wearing a gravy-stained dinner napkin.” saying he wasn’t sure which Floo to go to and ended up in “the kitchen” accidentally. I don’t find this particularly funny, and also, while I hate to defend Ron for various reasons it’s not even in-character for him. Ron’s the one who grew up using Floo powder all the time (remember in Chamber of Secrets, it was implied to be the preferred method of travel for the Wizarding poor? before Rowling forgot this and just made it a universal thing), he’s honestly the last person I’d expect to bungle it.

Then Draco shows up and everyone’s surprised to see him. He’s the only person to show manners, and also just brushes off Harry’s rudeness toward him:

DRACO: Sorry about your floor, Minerva.
PROFESSOR McGONAGALL: I dare say it’s my fault for owning a chimney.
HARRY: Quite a surprise to see you, Draco. I thought you didn’t believe in my dreams.
DRACO: I don’t, but I do trust your luck. Harry Potter is always where the action is at. And I need my son back with me and safe.

As an aside: one weird thing I just noticed (and went back to prior scenes to check, it’s doing this consistently) is that everyone’s calling Draco “Draco” rather than “Malfoy”. The books were pretty consistent about maintaining the last-name-basis thing, except where close friends were concerned (and Draco even called his friends Crabbe and Goyle rather than Vincent and Gregory), so I find this peculiar. I’m not sure whether they intend to convey that they’re on better terms now (despite the consistent hostility of their interactions), or they think it’s too much to expect the audience to remember characters’ first and last names, or what.

They head for the forest.

Scene four.

At the “edge of the Forbidden Forest”, Albus and Delphi are practising Expelliarmus (which she is apparently teaching him). He manages to pull it off and they seem surprised/impressed by this. [Of course they do. Ugh.]

SCORPIUS appears at the back of the stage. He looks at his friend talking to a girl — and part of him likes it and part of him doesn’t.

Fuck this misogynistic bullshit. (Okay, okay, it’s probably a realistic-ish reaction for a teenager but still, fuck this.) Also: Delphi is nearly twice their age, she should not be a “girl”, thank you so much stage directions. [How on earth is an actor supposed to convey that anyway?]

Delphi’s really laying on the flattery: “I think you’re becoming quite some wizard, Albus Potter.” and they’re going on about how they’re friends. (They’ve known each other what, a day?) This is pretty creepy, but in fairness I think it’s sort of supposed to be (given that Delphi will turn out to be the villain later, but I’m not supposed to know that yet), so I will reluctantly give this a pass.

They go immediately from expelliarmus practice (how is that relevant to anything, anyway?) into discussing their ludicrously foolish plans. Scorpius has apparently found a way for them to get into the school.

Apparently their plan is to sabotage Cedric in the Triwizard Tournament because “if he doesn’t win, he can’t be killed.” Oh, here’s how expelliarmus comes in, they’re planning to disarm him while he’s fighting the dragon. Scorpius at least worries this might get him killed, but Delphi just brushes him off with “this is Hogwarts. They won’t let damage happen to any of the champions.” Aside from being very awkwardly worded, that’s really not a good fallback plan.

Oh, and they’re going to do it wearing Durmstrang robes to avoid raising questions about who they are. This is a brilliant idea that cannot possibly go wrong in any way. [Neither of the boys question how framing Durmstrang while they have a Death Eater as Headmaster is supposed to help matters? Neither of them suggest wearing something else, or using Disillusion charms, or Polyjuice again, or literally anything else?] Nope, nothing. Although the Durmstrang robes were Delphi’s idea, she suggested them first.

Delphi admits she can’t pass for a student and wonders if she should pretend to be a dragon tamer instead. The boys tell her she can’t come with them, which she does not like at all (and they argue about for a bit) but they override all her objections and she reluctantly agrees. She kisses Albus on the cheeks, they’re really emphasising all the flirtatious/seductive gestures she makes toward him. Hooray paedophilia. (Again, reluctantly forced to give this a pass because she’s the villain and undoubtedly trying to manipulate him, but that’s still a misogynistic trope.) [I’m not giving this a pass. He’s thirteen. This is gross no matter what.]

ALBUS: Let’s do this.

The scene ends.

Serious question: why didn’t they come up with a better plan than this? In an earlier scene (1-10) Albus and Scorpius discussed the Triwizard Tournament and knew precisely how it ended, so they have to know it’d make more sense to just delay Cedric in the maze somehow so Harry would get to the cup alone. I know they’ve not been portrayed as exceptionally clever, but it really doesn’t take a genius to work out that they should minimise the number of changes, and the farther back they go from the point they care about the less likely what they alter will make the difference (so Cedric gets fewer points against the dragon, big deal, they’ve now altered the entire future and he could make up the deficit on other tasks, and in the final task points barely mattered anyway). I guess this is supposed to be teenage hubris?


(Charitable reading would blame the characters. I place the blame squarely on the authors.)

[Aside from anything else why don’t any of them suggest leaving an anonymous note for Dumbles and/or Snape before the final task saying the Cup’s been sabotaged again and turned into a Portkey? Albus 2.0 should want to communicate with one or both of them anyway, he doesn’t know they’re going to be looping constantly so at this point this is his only chance to meet either of his namesakes.]

Scene five.

Harry is in the Forbidden Forest, looking for the children. Some other people are mentioned to be searching in the background but they vanish offstage. Bane, the centaur, shows up and starts talking with him. He’s not happy to see Harry and accuses him of trespassing (which Harry doesn’t appreciate, and basically asks why Bane can’t be more welcoming since they fought together in the Battle of Hogwarts and all). Bane basically says the centaurs fought to defend themselves, nothing else, and they don’t want anything to do with humans. On one level I appreciate this, and sympathise with him, but on another Bane’s basically just a talking schtick: every time he appeared in the books it was to be xenophobic toward humans and complain about trespassing, and here he is doing that again.

Apparently Bane doesn’t know where Albus is, but he’s “seen him in the movements of the stars” and there are bad omens. There’s “a black cloud around [him]” and this is dangerous (I almost said ominous, but that’s redundant because it’s an omen).

Oh joy. Just what I wanted, pretentious portents with no content. [This scene was definitely worth making the wardrobe people try to come up with a centaur costume. There is literally no other way Harry would ever learn that his son might be in danger in some vague unspecified way.]

Scene six.

Albus and Scorpius in the Forbidden Forest. They catch a glimpse of Hogwarts (I assumed this meant they’d already travelled back in time and were seeing it in the past, but nope, just happen to see the castle) and it sets them off into reminiscence for some reason. Scorpius goes on for a while about how wonderful Hogwarts is (surprising Albus, who hates the place), because

[SCORPIUS:] All I ever wanted to do was go to Hogwarts and have a mate to get up to mayhem with. Just like Harry Potter. And I got his son. How crazily fortunate is that.
ALBUS: But I’m nothing like my dad.
SCORPIUS: You’re better. You’re my best friend, Albus.

I’m not sure if this is cute or pathetic (and how must Draco feel, to have his son idolising Harry?). Also, this throws into relief something that’s been low-key bugging me about Scorpius’ character so far: he’s characterised primarily by his desire for friends, and everything he’s done so far has been motivated by friendship and loyalty to Albus. Why’s he in Slytherin and not Hufflepuff? [Because Hat racism, silly. Malfoy = Slytherin.]

They hear Ron’s voice calling out looking for them and decide it’s now or never, they have to use the Time-Turner. Albus “presses down upon it”, which doesn’t line up with any description of how Time-Turners worked before. In the book, it was explicitly like an hourglass and it sent you back an hour for each time you flipped it (and also you had to live out the time between whenever you went back to and the present, which won’t be happening here). There’s no indication here of how they knew how to set the thing up, how to specify when it would take them to, or anything like that. Inexcusably lazy. Anyway, trippy things start happening (the description is honestly incomprehensible and I have no idea how they meant to produce effects like this in a theatre) and the scene ends.

Scene seven.

They’re at the same location (“edge of the Forbidden Forest”), but it’s 1994 and the Triwizard Tournament is happening.

I already don’t want to be reading this. Help me.

Ludo Bagman is being a showman and calling for cheers in favour of each of the schools. Hogwarts and Durmstrang both get loud cheers, but Beauxbatons’ is “slightly limp”, and Bagman mocks this, saying “Slightly less enthusiastic from the French there”. This bothers me. It’s worst if you consider the film, in which Beauxbatons seems to have been made an all-girls’ school, but even in the books Beauxbatons (literally “pretty wands” in French, btw) is by far the most feminine-coded of the three (and has the only female headmaster and female champion), so this has more than a hint of misogyny about it. At its absolute best, this is playing into the cultural animus between the English and the French, but I think even that may be giving it too much credit.

Bagman introduces all of the champions and gives them stupid nicknames (which we never heard of in Goblet of Fire), and it is similarly awful. I absolutely must quote this so you can share my pain:

“there’s nothing he won’t try on a broomstick, it’s Viktor Krazy Krum”
“zut alors, it’s Fleur Delacour”
“he makes us all go weaky at the kneesy, he’s Cedric Delicious Diggory”
“you know him as the Boy Who Lived, I know him as the boy who keeps surprising us all . . . Yes, it’s Harry Plucky Potter.”

Eeeeeeurgh. How does Bagman still have a job? (Also notice how little attention the one woman gets. No, I’m not letting this go. It also explicitly notes she only gets “polite applause” while everyone else gets much more enthusiasm. FUCK THIS PLAY.) [Yes, that was absolutely terrible. Good grief. Though honestly I’m glad they didn’t nickname Fleur, fuck knows what they’d have pinned on her but there’s no way it wouldn’t have been sexist and slut-shaming.]

Scorpius and Albus cheer for “Krazy Krum” in an effort to look more like legitimate Durmstrang students. I’m inclined to think it’d make them stick out more, because I wouldn’t expect Krum’s friends and classmates to like that nickname and continue using it.

They’re standing near young Hermione (who the play explicitly notes is to be played by the same actor as Rose), and Scorpius calls her Rose by mistake. She’s suspicious of them because they don’t have accents; Albus fakes “a bad accent” [which accent? We still don’t really know exactly where Durmstrang is. I’m assuming generic B-movie Eastern Europe racist accent.] and apologises but calls her Hermione, and she’s more suspicious because he knows her name somehow. Typical stupid time-travel farce plot, which I despise on principle.

Cedric’s up against the dragon. Albus successfully disarms Cedric, and Bagman notices and discusses it in commentary: “but no, what’s this? Is it Dark Magic or is it something else entirely? His wand is flying away — Cedric Diggory is Disarmed” but somehow nobody saw where the spell came from or where the wand went?

Conveniently the Time-Turner starts malfunctioning and the two boys get sucked back to the present; this causes Albus pain and he screams. (This is nothing like how Time-Turners worked in the main series. I need to keep reiterating that. Aside from the brief exchange between Harry and Hermione about how amazingly different this thing is – with no specifics, of course – we’ve got no explanation for that. This is bad writing.) They deduce that it must have a time limit (with special emphasis on the word ‘time’ there, this play really talks down to its audience), and then they’re found by Harry, Ron, Ginny and Draco. There’s emphasis made that Ron dresses differently (apparently he now has a part in his hair and “his wardrobe choices have become more staid”).

They wonder if they’ve changed anything. And here’s how the scene ends:

ALBUS: Hello, Dad. Is something wrong?
HARRY looks at his son disbelievingly.
HARRY: Yes. You could say that.
ALBUS collapses onto the floor. HARRY and GINNY rush to help.

I hate this play. Words cannot express how much I hate this play.

Scene eight.

We’re in the hospital wing, Albus is asleep in bed and Harry’s fretting over him. “Above them is a picture of a concerned kindly man.” Actual description from the stage direction, which is surprisingly vague since this is Dumbledore’s portrait. Why’s Dumbledore’s portrait in the hospital wing? (Well, I guess this is an altered timeline now so anything goes?)

Dumbledore strikes up a conversation with Harry. Harry says this about what’s wrong with Albus:

HARRY: He’s been out twenty-four hours, mostly in order so Madam Pomfrey could reset his arm. She said it was the strangest thing, it’s like it was broken twenty years ago and allowed to set in the “most contrary” of directions.

Dumbledore’s being Dumbledore. Harry asks him how he felt about his namesake (apparently it’s never come up before?) and Dumbles says he thought it was something a child shouldn’t be burdened with. [ROWLING STOLE MY LINE FROM SNAPE AND GAVE IT TO DUMBLES. WHAT THE FUCK.] Harry asks how he can protect his son. Dumbledore says this: “You ask me, of all people, how to protect a boy in terrible danger? We cannot protect the young from harm.” Is this refreshing, to see Dumbledore having some modicum of self-awareness? I honestly can’t tell. [I don’t think this is self-awareness at all. I’ll bet everything I own that he’s only talking about what Harry went through here, and not anything that any other Hogwarts student has ever suffered.]

Anyway, they talk for a while but it’s mostly irrelevant. Albus wakes up and the portrait leaves.

The following conversation is really cringeworthy. Basically, Harry wants to know where Albus went and what they were planning, Albus lies and says they were running away from school to make a life in the Muggle world. Harry thinks Scorpius encouraged him to leave and everything’s Scorpius’ fault, then tells Albus to stay away from Scorpius because he thinks he’s dangerous, connected to “Dark Magic” and the “black cloud” from the omen. Harry’s also planning to use the Marauders’ Map to stalk Albus at Hogwarts (apparently he’s given it to McGonagall) and make sure he doesn’t spend time with Scorpius.

Then he drops what’s supposed to be a bombshell, I guess, and tells Albus to stay in the Gryffindor common room whenever he doesn’t have to leave for lessons. Yep, apparently our big time-travel change is that Albus was sorted differently. Of course Albus protests he’s a Slytherin and Harry doesn’t believe him, saying “don’t play games”. Harry’s also planning to have the Auror department investigate Scorpius’ “true heritage”, because of course he is.

HARRY: I thought for a long time I wasn’t a good enough dad for you because you didn’t like me. It’s only now I realize that I don’t need you to like me, I need you to obey me because I’m your dad and I do know better. I’m sorry, Albus. It has to be this way.

That’s how the scene ends, with Harry deciding he needs to be a more abusive parent. [Lovely. Just lovely.]

Fuck this play. I’m tempted to take inspiration from the (old) Pharyngula playbook and suggest the use of porcupines and cacti, but the poor things wouldn’t deserve that fate. FUCK. THIS. PLAY.

Scene nine.

Albus and Harry are apparently continuing their conversation on a staircase. Albus is threatening to run away again and Harry’s telling him to go back to bed. Ron shows up. Albus says “Thank Dumbledore” (this is now the second time this has shown up) and says they need Ron’s jokes to defuse things. Ron’s confused, Albus mentions he runs a joke shop and he’s more confused. Apparently he’s married to Padma in this timeline, and has a son named Panju; Albus has no idea who these people are. Anyway, apparently school supplies are this Ron’s idea of a cheer-up gift for Albus (admittedly, I like this Ron better than the version who gives rape juice, but that’s a pretty low bar).

Albus says something like “but isn’t Ron married to Hermione” and this Ron says: “Hermione. No. Nooooo. Merlin’s beard.” I’m amused even the play seems to recognise how implausible that relationship is, but at this point I’m not even capable of appreciating that. [Particularly since it’s implying that Hermione’s just that awful and has nothing to do with Ron being rapey scum.] That said, the way Ron talks about Padma is still creepy:

RON (to HARRY): Taken a Confundus Charm to the head, has he? (To ALBUS.) My wife, Padma. You remember. Talks slightly too close to your face, smells a bit minty. (Leans in.) Padma, mother of Panju! (To HARRY.) That’s why I’m here, of course. Panju. He’s in trouble again.

So basically this scene continues to be really awkward, Harry and Ron are expositing things they think Albus should know but he doesn’t (but it’s still weird that their response to his confusion is to list off details for the audience).

Also, I had my suspicions about the name Panju so I Googled it to see what Indian people might have to say. Turns out, yep, not a realistic Indian name and people are pissed. Quelle surprise. [It sounds like a Pokemon.]

The scene ends with Albus breaking up with Scorpius, because of course it does.

ALBUS: Just — we’ll be better off without each other, okay?
SCORPIUS is left looking up after him. Heartbroken.

Melodrama. Woohoo.

Scene ten.

PROFESSOR McGONAGALL is full of unhappiness, HARRY is full of purpose, GINNY is not sure what she’s supposed to be.

What the fuck kind of stage direction is that. Anyway, we’re in the Headmistress’ office and McGonagall is not comfortable with being asked to constantly spy on Albus and keep him away from Scorpius. (And I’d like to ask: doesn’t she have a job? She’s fucking Headmistress of fucking Hogwarts, she has things to do, you can’t expect her to watch surveillance all fucking day. The Potterverse continues to have no conception that school administration actually involves real work.)

Ginny isn’t keen on it either but Harry talks over her. Such feminism, Joanne!

Harry implies he got the idea from Dumbledore’s portrait, and McGonagall isn’t buying this either, saying Dumbledore’s dead and portraits aren’t really the people they represent. [I agree, but this completely contradicts everything we see of portraits in the books.]

HARRY: Albus didn’t like me before. He might not like me again. But he will be safe. With the greatest respect, Minerva — you don’t have children —

Fuck you, Harry. McGonagall is rightly offended by this, citing that she spent a lifetime as a teacher (good on her! even if I think she’s not done a particularly good job in loco parentis, that’s irrelevant here), but Harry just steamrolls over her and threatens to bring down “the full force of the Ministry” on Hogwarts if she doesn’t cooperate.

Fuck you, Harry. [Oh yes, this tired old line. You cannot possibly know anything about children unless you’ve contributed some genetic material to one. (Adoption/surrogacy doesn’t count among the type of people who say this sort of bullshit.) Donating gametes alters your brain and allows you to magically understand not only your own spawn but all other children everywhere and only then can you possibly have any idea of how to raise them or what is best for them. I agree, fuck you, Harry. And by extension, fuck the writers.]

Scene eleven.

It’s the classroom for Defence Against the Dark Arts (though this script continues to use American spellings for some reason and calls it “Defense”). Albus walks in and is surprised to see Hermione is the professor.

She’s not pleased to see him and is vaguely sarcastic at him (I see where people were comparing her to Snape, but she’s sadly not quite at that level yet), and when he continues to express disbelief the class laugh at him. She’s taking points off Gryffindor in Snapely quantities, though. I’ll admit some of it amuses me, though the “Albus is clueless at timeline changes” schtick is already wearing quite thin.

ALBUS: But you’re not this mean.
HERMIONE: And that’s twenty points from Gryffindor to assure Albus Potter that I am this mean.

She’s really offended when Albus mentions Rose (“Who’s Rose? Your invisible friend?”) and then, when he explains who Rose is she takes fifty points off Gryffindor (presumably for daring to suggest she could ever have married Ron. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

[I heartily approve of this version of Hermione. I’m sure nobody is surprised. Snape approves too.]

She’s lecturing on Patronuses because that’s the only thing Rowling et al could think up for a Defence lesson.

Scene twelve.

No dialogue, thank the gods. And it’s a short one. Albus and Scorpius are walking on the staircases missing each other, they exchange some poignant looks, the end. (Shippers, this scene is presumably for you.)

Scene thirteen.

Harry and Ginny are having an argument in their kitchen, or starting to anyway (there’s a knock at the door and she leaves for some reason). It’s Draco, saying Scorpius is in tears and he wants to know why Harry’s keeping them apart.

HARRY: I’m not keeping them apart.

Wow, you’ve got balls, Harry. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

When Draco continues to ask questions, Harry says he’s trying to protect Albus, mentions the “darkness” Bane sensed and Draco’s hackles go up. When pressed further Harry actually asks Draco if he knows Scorpius is his son (ugh, will this stupid plot just die). Draco is, understandably, very angry, and pulls his wand on Harry and tells him to take it back (rather than, say, saying something like “this is slander and I’ll have your job” and calling a lawyer? Bad form, Draco.). Naturally, they end up dueling. I suppose the writers wanted to shoehorn in a duelling scene somehow, and this was the best they could come up with?

They’re using almost entirely low-level spells. (I almost said first-year spells, but it’s more like second- or third-year. Still pathetic.) Here’s a list: expelliarmus, incarcerous, tarantallegra, densaugeo (the one that did Hermione’s teeth), rictusempra, flipendo, levicorpus, mobilicorpus. There’s a couple of new ones at the end, and they’re even worse than the usual incantations: brachiabindo (which apparently wraps ropes around the torso), emancipiare (apparently undoes the former), obscuro (apparently puts a blindfold around their head). Draco’s generally getting the better of Harry, at least, but it’s still a pretty pathetic duel. [Oh good grief. This is stupid. I am also giving major side-eye to ’emancipare’, that’s a very loaded word.]

I could believe Draco holding back because he wants answers from Harry more than he wants to hurt him, but that’s honestly a stretch and not supported by the way this scene is written, and likewise I find it very difficult to believe a supposedly-qualified Auror would use such useless spells in self-defence (well, okay, it’s entirely in-character for Harry, who used bloody expelliarmus against the Dark Lord). This scene is stupid.

[Alternatively, we’ve established in Philosopher’s Stone that Harry and Draco were in love for years before both marrying women to carry on their family names, maybe they just don’t want to hurt each other. Though that invalidates Harry attempting to murder Draco in book six.]

It ends with Harry throwing a chair at Draco and Draco “slowing the chair with his wand”.

Ginny comes in and complains of the mess. (Hooray, sexist tropes!)

I will admit to being kind of curious how they pulled off the stage directions here (they’re apparently shooting spells at each other and blocking with things, at one point Draco “bounces Harry up and down on the table” – hey shippers, there’s another one for you), so maybe this scene looks nice, but this is bullshit.

Scene fourteen.

We’re at Hogwarts on the staircases again. (Wow, a lot of scenes are taking place there for some reason.) [The unnecessary centaur costume earlier cost them set-building money.] Scorpius is moping about; Delphi shows up to talk to him.

She admits she’s never been to Hogwarts (she claims to have been too sick to go as a child, which Scorpius sympathises with; I think the implication is meant to be that he’s thinking of his mother), is bemused by lots of things (including “lax security”, the portraits and ghosts), and says she shouldn’t be there because it’s “endangering our entire operation”.

They discuss how their plan failed; apparently, failing the first task only made Cedric more determined to win the later ones. Who’da thunk? Anyway, she claims she’s put the Cedric thing on hold for now because reuniting Albus and Scorpius is more important. Albus has been writing to her frequently, apparently, so she knows he’s missing Scorpius.

There’s a bit of bonding over their mutual loneliness as children, apparently they both felt the need to invent imaginary friends.

DELPHI: Albus needs you, Scorpius. That’s a wonderful thing.
SCORPIUS: He needs me to do what?
DELPHI: That’s the thing, isn’t it? About friendships. You don’t know what he needs. You only know he needs it. Find him, Scorpius. You two — you belong together.

Sounds like she ships them, honestly. (Knowing what I know about who she really is, I wonder where she’s learnt off these platitudes about friendship.) [She watches My Little Pony in her spare time. Explains the hair colour, anyway.]

***PLOT HOLE ALERT*** How does Delphi know what their plan was, let alone that it failed? She didn’t go along on the time-turner trip with them, so this should technically be new-timeline-Delphi. (I’ll reluctantly accept the conceit that past!Albus and past!Scorpius replaced their new-timeline-versions on arrival, as seems to be the norm in this kind of time-travel story but that doesn’t work for Delphi). Unless she didn’t have the slightest clue and found out from Albus’ letters, but I don’t think that works either.

I’m running out of ways to use the word fuck in a sentence. [Here’s another one. Fuck it, it’s magic.]

Scene fifteen.

We’re back at the Potter residence, right where we left off. Draco apologises to Ginny about the kitchen and she says it’s not her kitchen, Harry cooks (admittedly I like this, and it’s consistent with Harry learning to cook for the Dursleys). [Okay, so what the fuck does Ginny do all day? Harry has a full time job. We know Ginny stopped playing Quidditch professionally when she had children. Has she gone back to work in this timeline, or does she just sit around doing fuck-all while Harry does everything after work?] It’s actually mentioned in an earlier scene she’s a Quidditch writer/editor for the Daily Prophet, for whatever that’s worth.

Most of this scene is Draco monologuing at Harry. He commiserates over Harry’s inability to talk to Albus and says he and Scorpius are the same, he says he always envied Harry having real friends when he only had Crabbe and Goyle (so much for my and many others’ headcanons that Crabbe and Goyle were smarter/better friends in private when not putting on the thug act). Ginny says she envied Harry his friendships also, which is an interesting characterisation note. [Hard to say how plausible this is. Literally the only other student in Ginny’s year ever named is Luna. The other DA members and Ginny’s boyfriends are all from Harry’s year, if I remember rightly.]

Draco’s really laying into Harry here and I like it: “My father thought he was protecting me.” and then he says that being alone as a child “sent [him] to a truly dark place” and then goes further: “Tom Riddle was also a lonely child.” (How does Draco know that?) “Maybe the black cloud Bane saw was Albus’ loneliness.”

Good job, Draco. I’ll deduct some points because the dialogue in this scene is a little clunky, but overall this is actually decent.

Ginny tells Harry to get the Floo powder or she will (I guess to go to Hogwarts?).

Scene sixteen.

Scorpius runs into Albus in the Hogwarts library. Albus doesn’t want to talk to him and is trying to get out of the conversation, but Scorpius won’t let him.

Scorpius reveals that he read Rita Skeeter’s book about Ron and Hermione (this exists? and is credible? what?!) [I concur. What?] and that the reason they broke up was that they actually did go to the Yule Ball together.

SCORPIUS: As friends. And they danced in a friendly way, and it was nice, and then he danced with Padma Patil and that was nicer, and they started dating and he changed a bit and then they got married and meanwhile Hermione became a —
ALBUS: — psychopath.

SHE IS NOT A PSYCHOPATH. FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ROWLING, THORNE, WHOEVER WROTE THIS. Strict teachers are not psychopaths. Being bitter over some supposed lost love (heh, I see what you did there) does not turn people nasty; Snape had plenty of canonical reasons to be nasty to students beyond just not having love in his life or whatever bullshit way you want to word this. I am not amused. This bullshit offends me. The implication of this is that being single turns you evil, and for the sake of single people everywhere I refuse to let this stand. [I agree, this is Hallmark bullshit.]

It gets worse.

SCORPIUS: And without Krum, Ron never got jealous and that jealousy was all-important and so Ron and Hermione stayed very good friends but never fell in love — never got married — never had Rose.

THE JEALOUSY WAS ALL-IMPORTANT. THE FOUNDATION OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WAS LITERALLY JEALOUSY. (This had been mentioned before, so it shouldn’t surprise me but I’d forgotten about this. This is one of the biggest deathblows the Ron/Hermione ship could possibly be given. Relationships founded on jealousy are not healthy. I know it’s a trope in mainstream depictions of heterosexuality, romcoms and the like, but mainstream descriptions of heterosexuality are terrible.)

I suppose we should thank the play for explicitly saying what sensible people already knew? Except the play isn’t condemning this, it’s arguing it’s a legitimate foundation for a relationship. So fuck this play. [I don’t know whether to be angry or horrified.]

(Also, I suppose I should mention for completeness’ sake that the reason Hermione didn’t go to the ball with Krum in this timeline is apparently because she thought Albus and Scorpius, qua Durmstrang students, were sent by him to sabotage Cedric.)

This scene has hit rock bottom and continues to dig.

Scorpius and Albus continue to argue. Scorpius gets angry that Albus is so focussed on his relationship with Harry when the problems are bigger than that (apparently something called Professor Croaker’s Law says the furthest you can go back in time without risking serious injury is five hours; no further explanation, just an arbitrary limit), and Scorpius thinks what they did created really bad changes. Albus wants to go back and meddle more to try to fix it and Scorpius thinks that’s “the wrong answer”. Scorpius apparently still has the Time-Turner, though.

Albus takes it from him and they continue to argue. Scorpius thinks they’ve proven they’re inept losers and they’ll just mess things up further (I don’t think he’s wrong), Albus says “I wasn’t a loser before I met you” and Scorpius loses his shit. Essentially (I’m summarising here) he goes off on Harry for being caught up in his own problems and not being supportive towards his own, Albus is so miserable to be the son of Harry when Scorpius has to deal with being thought the son of Voldemort and his mother’s dead, etc etc. Scorpius has a point. Also, Scorpius was hopeful that maybe fucking up the timeline could’ve saved his mother but he was devastated to see she’s still dead. This is decent characterisation given all the bullshit that’s come before, I can’t really criticise this.

McGonagall comes looking for them. Albus pulls out the Invisibility Cloak from “his bag” (since when has he had a bag? I guess he has a bag) and they hide under it. He explains he stole it from James. Anyway, McGonagall comes in and can’t see them, she figures out what’s going on and decides to play dumb, so she leaves.

Albus tells Scorpius that Harry’s Aurors are actually investigating the Voldy-dad thing, Scorpius says he doesn’t mind because he wants to actually know the truth, and Albus says not to worry because he’s too good a person to be Voldy’s son. (Genetics don’t work like this, but okay, I guess it’s a way to segue into apologising.) Albus starts waxing rhapsodic over how great Scorpius is and how much he appreciates him, keeps going on and on (it’s honestly sounding like a love confession). Eventually this happens:

SCORPIUS (interrupting): Albus, as apologies go this is wonderfully fulsome, but you’re starting to talk more about you than me again, so probably better to quit while you’re ahead.

*clap* *clap* okay, that’s a good line. [Agreed.]

Anyway, here’s where this scene becomes totally awful again. He’s come up with a new plan for how to change the past. He thinks, that because “losers are taught to be losers” (never mind that here, they’ve just made up their minds to keep trying, so clearly THAT DOESN’T WORK), they need to humiliate Cedric and maybe that will work. [There’s a nasty smell of victim-blaming here. Being worn down by things is your fault, just shake it off, if you don’t succeed you should have just tried harder.]

Scorpius, despite having shown signs of having a brain in the previous conversation, has now regressed and decides he thinks this sounds like “a really good strategy”. Albus also has a plan to get Ron and Hermione back together for Rose’s sake, but isn’t telling Scorpius what that is. Also Albus says that he’ll do it by himself if he has to, but asks Scorpius if he wants to come. The final line of the scene is the reveal that they need to go to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, whatever Albus’ “humiliation” plan is, it involves using Myrtle because they’re “not allowed to leave the school building”. I’m not sure why that matters, but I’m afraid to see where this is going. This is the stupidest plan I have ever heard.

Scene seventeen.


Scene eighteen I’m sorry for reusing this gag.

Again on the Hogwarts staircases. Ron runs into Hermione and they talk. Apparently they’re still in love, or something. Hermione’s apparently done something with her hair (she claims she’s combed it) and Ron compliments her on it; she notices he’s looking at her oddly and he explains it’s because Albus said he thought they were married. It’s awkward. Lots of wistful looks, that kind of thing. The dialogue continues to be clunky and awkward and stupid. He compliments her hair again at the end as she leaves.

[…oh for fuck’s sake.]

I’m not recapping any more of this, there’s really not much I can say about it. I suppose, if I wanted to be fair, I could say the awkwardness makes sense because how the fuck do you talk to someone about some kid randomly thinking you’re married?

I also can’t help thinking about the references to hair in a racial context, because black!Hermione (I know black women’s hair can be a sensitive issue). I don’t know if it’s appropriate to think about that, and it’s not as though he’s touching/trying to touch her hair or anything obviously inappropriate, but this is written by white people and Ron is white so this hair talk feels weird.

Scene eighteen.

McGonagall’s office. She’s pleased with herself for not following through with Harry’s plan to separate the boys. Harry and Ginny and Draco show up unexpectedly through the fireplace. There’s a bit of talking past each other but they eventually establish that Harry’s there to apologise to her and to the boys, and decide they’re going to go look for them.

They check the map and discover they’re in the first floor girls’ bathroom.

Scene nineteen.

In the bathroom. Albus tells Scorpius his plan, which is apparently to use an Engorgement Charm on Cedric’s head to make him float, so he can’t complete the task.


[I concur. Couldn’t have said it better myself.]

Furthermore, apparently Myrtle’s involvement extends only to learning how the castle pipes connect to the lake, they’re going to take gillyweed and travel there. Apparently the pipes to the bathroom sink are big enough for people to swim through? What is this?! [To be fair this is sort of canon, the pipes throughout the castle are apparently big enough for a basilisk to move through. Not that that ever made sense.]

In fairness, there are some decent bits in this scene. Firstly, Scorpius says ‘Moaning Myrtle’ and she gets offended, and wants to be called by her actual name, which is fair enough. But the actual name is Myrtle Elizabeth Warren. I don’t think she had a canonical middle or last name before, and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this name, but I cannot help fearing that this is a dig at a certain actual person named Elizabeth Warren (a well-respected leftist US Senator, if you don’t know who she is, and someone I greatly admire). If that is the case, I am very unamused. But I suppose it could be coincidence. [I don’t believe in coincidence any more where these people are concerned. Fuck you, writers.]

And Myrtle says this about the Triwizard Tournament:

MOANING MYRTLE: Such a shame the pretty one had to die. Not that your father is not pretty — but Cedric Diggory — you’d be amazed at how many girls I had to hear doing love incantations in this very bathroom . . . And the weeping after he was taken.

WHAT IS THIS WITH THE LOVE POTIONSSPELLS. WHY IS THIS ENTIRE UNIVERSE FULL OF MAGICAL RAPISTS. I get that it’s supposed to be a joke but seriously, this shit is not funny. Cut it out.

Anyway, after a whole bunch of discussion the boys take gillyweed (where’d Albus get the gillyweed? It was a plot point in Goblet of Fire that Dobby had to steal it for Harry from Snape’s stores, I don’t think we’re meant to believe this is common stuff but he just has it in his bag?) and jump into the pipes. They apparently activate the Time-Turner.

The adults show up just barely too late, because of course they do.

MOANING MYRTLE: Oops, you caught me. And I was trying so hard to hide. Hello, Harry. Hello, Draco. Have you been bad boys again?

Okay, that line actually amused me. Anyway, she mentions Cedric Diggory and Harry immediately figures out what’s going on, and explains it to the others.

Scene twenty.

At the lake in 1995. Bagman’s announcing again. The stage directions make a point that the cheer for Beauxbatons is “slightly less limp” this time. FUCK THIS PLAY.

This scene is a fucking nightmare.

The engorgement charm works, Cedric turns into a balloon and literally floats up through the water and into the sky. Then fireworks explode around Cedric that say “Ron loves Hermione” and I want to explode as well. Bagman’s going on and on about this, how much the crowd is loving it and how much of a humiliation it is for Cedric. […oh God what.]

Stage directions:

The world becomes darker. The world becomes almost black, in fact.
And there’s a flash. And a bang. And the Time-Turner ticks to a stop. And we’re back in the present.

Because “darkness” has to be literal. My god I loathe this play.

When they come up out of the lake, they are greeted by Dolores Umbridge who is now Headmistress, and is not pleased with them. He mentions he’s looking for Albus Potter and she informs him – again, I suppose this is meant to be a bombshell – that there’s no such person, the last Potter at Hogwarts was Harry and he “didn’t turn out so well” and is dead. There are a bunch of dementors around, there are “Parseltongue whispers” and apparently it is something called Voldemort Day.

Thus ends the first “part” of the play.

I believe the two “parts” are actually shown on different nights, so this cliffhanger/downer ending is actually what people are going home on (presumably why people were so upset when the plot first leaked).

This is page 101 in my edition, so 90 more to go. Fuck me. Fuck everything.

Okay, have some semifinal thoughts I guess. I know it’s a trope in this kind of time-travel story that the bungling traveller has to go back, fuck things up, and return to a bad present/bad future, so they can regret what they’ve done and work toward fixing it (or just give up in despair, depending on the tone of the story; I’m thinking of e.g. A Sound of Thunder). Usually these stories go out of their way to make the bad future as bad as possible. Presumably the next part is going to explore how awful this bad future is, and somehow they’ll put things right in the end. That’s how these stories work.

That doesn’t make this a good story, nor does it make this anything less of an Idiot Plot (tm TvTropes). This is not a pleasant thing to read, it’s just endless contrived bullshit after contrived bullshit, the characterisation is inconsistent, the whole thing’s just thoughtlessly written at best (the other thing with these time travel plots is that the different timelines are usually used to highlight characterisation details in looking at how things could have gone, etc, but none of that works here either). I have already made my opinion of the writing, the events of this play, and everything else abundantly clear, I am sure.

Anyway, I’m taking the rest of the weekend off, as I have meatspace things to deal with (and I fully intend at some point to get thoroughly drunk, I need it). I will subject myself to Breaking Dawn Part Two oh I’m sorry did I say that? of course I meant Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part Two, next week and hopefully have the writeups done before the week is out. I want to put this thing firmly behind me.

In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying my suffering. That’s what makes all this worthwhile. [I was, but now I’m just horrified and sympathetic. You brave soul.]


Posted by on August 6, 2016 in mitchell


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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act One)

Loten refuses to read this [though I will be interjecting in various places] so we decided it was my turn. Let’s see how long it takes for this thing to turn my brain to mush. I’ll try to keep up running commentary as we go and summarise my final thoughts at the end.

Full disclosure: I’ve written about this play before, I’ve already read quite a few spoilers and am aware of some of the more outrageous plot points.

Title page says: “Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne. A new play by Jack Thorne.” (Rowling’s name is in the biggest letters, naturally. I’m not sure how much of it this means she actually wrote. The impression I get from this title page is that Thorne of the small-name-font-size wrote the play itself, Rowling clearly wants the most credit for the storyline but who knows what role she’s actually played. But if this ends up reading like fanfic, that’s because in a sense it is. I wish I could be optimistic that with some other writers to help, Rowling might turn out something decent.)

Also, this is a “special rehearsal edition” whatever that means. It’s 191 pages. Fucking kill me now.

There’s a dedication page with a dedication from each of the three authors. Rowling’s is to Thorne, and reads as follows: “To Jack Thorne, who entered my world and did beautiful things there.” We’ll see, Joanne. We’ll fucking see.

The play’s divided into two parts, each of which is divided into two acts.

Act one.

Scene one.

We open literally during the epilogue everyone hated, a promising start. And they’re literally recycling lines from the book, which I suppose works as callback (the fans this is aimed at will probably like it), but is already pissing me off.

Harry and family are at King’s Cross and they’re sort of telling James off for mocking Albus and saying he might be in Slytherin. Good job perpetuating house prejudice, Harry, here’s your father of the year award. It’s shaped specially like a dildo so you can shove it up your arse.

Actual stage direction: “HARRY and LILY put their hands on ALBUS’s trolley — GINNY joins JAMES’s trolley — together, the family run hard into the barrier.” Genuinely curious how they did this in the actual show; I wish I could believe they actually did force the actors to crash into a wall.

Scene two.

More actual stage directions: “His hand is empty. It’s a lame trick. Everyone enjoys its lameness.” (about Ron doing some kind of stupid trick in an attempt to amuse a child) Ron’s barely been in scene and already I hate him. Also everyone’s using the word lame, not just in the stage directions; someone tell Rowling that it’s ableist, I don’t think she knows. Hermione’s snarking at him but I don’t think Rowling meant all of her lines to be snarky, which amuses me.

This, however, does not amuse me:

ALBUS: Dad . . .
ALBUS pulls on HARRY’s robes. HARRY looks down.
Do you think — what if I am — what if I’m put in Slytherin . . .
HARRY: And what would be wrong with that?
ALBUS: Slytherin is the House of the snake, of Dark Magic . . . It’s not a House of brave wizards.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN YOU IDIOT. Also, let’s dissect Albus’ objection here (he sounds like another Albus, doesn’t he?). What, exactly, is wrong with snakes? [I concur. Snakes are awesome and often surprisingly cute.] What, exactly, is wrong with not being brave? (I know, I know, we’re working in Rowling’s value system, where bravery is just a synonym for virtue…) Objecting to Dark Magic is the only potentially-sensible thing, I won’t go too deep into apologetics about it but suffice it to say Rowling has never once defined what ‘dark magic’ actually means, except ‘magic good people don’t like and disliking it makes you one of the good people’. Learn your Euthyphro, Rowling, your tautology is showing.

Of course from there we go into the infamous “bravest man I ever knew” line, straight out of the book, and we learn Harry’s never once explained to Albus Severus where his name came from (well, we already knew it from the book, but here it is again). Stage directions explicitly say this: “This is something he’s never said before, it resonates around his head a moment.” Way to go, Harry.

Proceed into a bunch of meaningless banter as the children board the train and leave. Most of it’s irrelevant and uninteresting, but we also get this:

HARRY: Strange, Al being worried he’ll be sorted into Slytherin.
HERMIONE: That’s nothing, Rose is worried whether she’ll break the Quidditch scoring record in her first or second year. And how early she can take her O.W.L.s.
RON: I have no idea where she gets her ambition from.
GINNY: And how would you feel, Harry, if Al — if he is?

For fuck’s sake. It’s not strange, Harry, because of your precise attitude! (Let’s also note he never responds to Ginny here, they digress and the scene ends). And then there’s Hermione’s line, it’s like they’re smashing us across the face with the fact that Rose is her and Ron’s daughter and must combine traits from them.

(Side note: I’m aware they cast a black woman as Hermione in the first performances of this show, and I’m wondering if that changes how all of these references to “ambition” come across. Hermione working at least twice as hard as everyone else and barely getting recognition for it/getting mocked for it is a bit more pointed when you put it in a racialised context.)

While we’re at it, let’s talk about ambition. Commenter janach pointed out that given the above, Rose really belongs in Slytherin. Yes, I agree. But that said, I think ‘ambition’ is a really broad category and comes in a variety of flavours. Hermione herself always comes across as having a sort of Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw flavoured ambition, hard work and hunger for knowledge (which makes it all the more puzzling she’s in Gryffindor, it’s the worst fit of the houses for her). But then there’s the Gryffindor flavour of ambition, which is what we get in Ron (and also in Gilderoy Lockhart despite him allegedly being a Ravenclaw), the hunger for fame and recognition, the desire to seem important. And, I suppose, the Slytherin flavour, which has to do with expanding social connections and influence (Slughorn, Lucius Malfoy) or wielding political power/leadership (Dumbledore, Riddle), the desire to actually be important. I’m sure there’s overlap between these, to a degree I’m oversimplifying here, but I think (for instance) what Hermione describes Rose having is, in being a ridiculous exaggeration of Hermione’s own character (and then the fusion with Ron’s) is a very Gryffindorish ambition. And no, that is not a compliment.

Scene three.

We’re on the train. Albus and Rose are having stilted dialogue about “choosing who to be friends with”. (Lovely children there. Very accepting. Much wow.)

ROSE: On the contrary, it’s exciting. I’m a Granger-Weasley, you’re a Potter — everyone will want to be friends with us, we’ve got the pick of anyone we want.

That’s really in there. That’s really something they had her say. Funny how that sounds like book one Draco, isn’t it? [It also sounds like Ron to me, not that Ron was ever in a social position to say crap like that.] I’m assuming it came from Ron also.

It gets worse.

They go immediately into a compartment which happens to contain Scorpius Malfoy and strike up a conversation with him. He talks quite a lot, and it’s actually kind of cute in a gormless way – he’s going on about sweets and how he wants to share sweets with them because his mother told him that will help him make friends with people. He comes across as nervous but friendly. So does Albus. Rose, on the contrary, is not, and keeps hitting Albus every time he tries to be friendly. (Yes, that’s actually what it says. Ron’s child, everybody.)

Then immediately they discuss the rumour that Scorpius is really Voldemort’s son, conceived via Time-Turner (except they’ve spelt it ‘rumor’, I wonder why). The dialogue about that is really stilted and awkward and nothing like how people really talk. It’s as stupid as it sounds. If they really wanted it to be credible, better to just say they’d used frozen sperms or something (oh, right, probably can’t mention sperms in a play people might take children to).

[Does it say specifically what era the rumours claim they Time-Turnered to in order to achieve this? Because Voldy as we see him in the second war is clearly not physically human, I doubt he bothered to craft himself functioning genitals for his new body even if he was fertile. And I’m not sure they could have gone back far enough for Tom Riddle. As if that’s the main objection to this pile of shite, but it’s going to be relevant later.]

No, I don’t think anyone thought about it to that level of detail (or any level of detail, really).

Even then, let’s think about this: Draco and Astoria have a child around the same age as everyone else in their cohort. Obviously that’s contrived so that we can have stories about all of the children (fucking epilogue bullshit), and Rowling couldn’t change it because she set that in stone in the epilogue. But it also doesn’t give them time for rumours of infertility to be starting. Harry’s explicitly stated to be thirty-seven earlier, so that would’ve made Draco and Astoria what, twenty-six and twenty-four when they had Scorpius? That’s pretty young. [It’s young these days, but in Rowling’s generation that was probably quite old and if you weren’t married and pregnant by 20 you were doing it wrong.]

ROSE: The rumor is that he’s Voldemort’s son, Albus.
A horrible, uncomfortable silence.
[ROSE:] It’s probably rubbish. I mean . . . look, you’ve got a nose.
The tension is slightly broken. SCORPIUS laughs, pathetically grateful.
SCORPIUS: And it’s just like my father’s! I got his nose, his hair, and his name. Not that that’s a great thing either. I mean — father-son issues, I have them. But, on the whole, I’d rather be a Malfoy than, you know, the son of the Dark Lord.

I can’t decide if this is charmingly precocious or horribly written, because Scorpius really doesn’t sound like an eleven-year-old here. [And how does Rose know Voldy didn’t have a nose?]

Rose continues to be nasty, tries to get Albus to leave. Albus knows the plot and decides he wants to be friends, so he stays. After Rose leaves, their dialogue is actually somewhat cute. End scene.

I’m only on page 17. Send help. [I’m so glad it’s you doing this. Sorry dear.]

Scene four.

We open with, yet again, what I find to be a peculiar stage direction (and written in weirdly purple prose).

And now we enter a never-world of time change. And this scene is all about magic. The changes are rapid as we leap between worlds. There are no individual scenes, but fragments, shards that show the constant progression of time.

This sounds like they want to be writing for film and doing a montage scene, but I’m having a hard time imagining that working well on an actual stage. At the very least it’s going to be challenging from a technical perspective to get all the transitions working, actors might need to change costumes very quickly, etc. I suppose it’s a good thing Rowling’s filthy rich and has name recognition (not to mention hordes of rabid fans willing to pay through the nose to see this shit) so they can throw money at the theatre to make this happen.

More weirdness:

The SORTING HAT walks through the students, who spring into their Houses. […] He puts his hat on ROSE’s head.

Sounds like there’s a person playing the Sorting Hat, but his hat is the actual sorting hat? What the fuck.

[I don’t know why they did this. Is there some problem with a teacher carrying the hat now?]

Also, what I’ve elided there is that we also get a new Sorting Hat poem-song, and again it doesn’t. fucking. scan. It’s thankfully only two stanzas, mercifully short compared to the ones in the books themselves, but someone’s actually going to be saying this onstage. In public. Couldn’t they have put in just a bit more effort to make the metre consistent?

Rose goes to Gryffindor, and actually says “Thank Dumbledore”. Really. Rowling, I know Dumbledore was your god-insert, but can we try for a bit of subtlety here? [Ew. Though it brings up a point, where are the portraits? Dumbles’ portrait would absolutely stalk Harry’s kids.]

Scorpius goes to Slytherin.

Albus goes to Slytherin and we have ALL TEH DRAMAS. The stage directions go on and on about what a profound awful silence there is. Then students start talking about how bizarre it is to have a Potter in Slytherin and someone (who’d previously said Albus looked like his father) retracts that and says “I suppose his hair isn’t that similar.” I guess the parallel works okay to highlight the hypocrisy, but this is really blatant and melodramatic. For fuck’s sake, let’s try to remember we’re assigning dormitories here (god I hate the Sorting), not putting yellow stars on a quarter of the students and sending them off to work camps.

“And suddenly a flying lesson is happening with MADAM HOOCH.” Couldn’t have said that better myself. [I’d be breaking out a bottle of hooch too. I’m surprised she’s still there though, I know witches live a long time but surely she could have found a more interesting job by now.]

Albus sucks at flying and everyone makes fun of him for being Slytherin and not like his father.

Immediately after that they transition back to platform 9 3/4 for another scene. I thought at first maybe this was meant to be the students going home for Christmas, but it seems to actually be a year later already. We’re treated to an awkward conversation between Albus and Harry, about Albus feeling like a disappointment for being in Slytherin (and James comes along to make fun of Albus for that very thing while they talk). This is actually competently written, I think, except for the fact that it’s a year later and we’re expected to believe they’ve never discussed this before? They’ve been home all summer, at the very least. Anyway, Harry’s an idiot and really isn’t very good at comforting his son or even really listening to him.

Exit children. Enter Draco. He wants Harry/the Ministry to release a statement about the time turners to help clear up that the rumours are baseless. Harry waves him off with, essentially, “don’t feed the trolls”. I don’t blame Draco being annoyed with him.

Back to the children. Rose is still being unpleasant over Scorpius. Then things move pretty rapidly, we get an announcement that Rose has made the Quidditch team (Professor McGonagall – is she headmistress? it doesn’t say – apparently failing to be unbiased over this) [imagine my surprise…], a single potions lesson with some bickering and then this heavy-handed line:

SCORPIUS: Okay. What’s the counter-ingredient? What do we need to change?
ALBUS: Everything.

I’m actually not sure whether to consider that decent foreshadowing or an anvil to the head.

We’re moving quickly, they’re back at the station starting year three now. Albus is miserable and arguing with Harry, who’s pretty unsympathetic. Albus runs off, goes to Scorpius who’s just learnt his mother died (apparently she was ill? Draco’d mentioned “she hadn’t been well” when asking Harry for help but I’m honestly surprised they meant that to mean deadly illness). Then, mood whiplash! Another sorting (and another rhyme; this one scans, at least, but it’s still pretty bad). Lily goes to Gryffindor. Albus decides to make this about himself and complain that he didn’t choose to be Harry’s son. Ah, teenage melodrama.

Scene five.

This scene takes us to Harry’s office at the Ministry. Hermione’s already there, and Harry comes in with a cosmetic injury, apparently returning from a mission/raid of some sort. The conversation here is pretty good, in the sense that it conveys what they’re talking about without falling into ‘As you know, Bob’ (although a lot of things do rely on knowledge from having read the books, I think this play would be pretty opaque to anyone not already familiar with series details).

In short: he’s arrested Theodore Nott for… something, and confiscated a Time-Turner. Which is completely special and different from other Time-Turners. Explicitly:

HARRY: And you’re sure you want to keep it?
HERMIONE: I don’t think we’ve a choice. Look at it. It’s entirely different to the Time-Turner I had.
HARRY (dry): Apparently wizardry has moved on since we were kids.

They talk a bit about Harry’s tendency not to do paperwork. Hermione reveals in conversation that she is Minister for Magic (interestingly, “Minister for Magic”, not “Minister of Magic”, that went back and forth in the books as I recall). I do like that Hermione’s his boss; less so that it seems like he’s still letting her do most of his work for him, she deliberately says she’s not scolding him and then tells him to take more time off to be with his family. [One gets the impression she’s been telling him to spend time with his family for years while watching the spare non-parent-clone child getting more and more screwed up. Or else that she just doesn’t want him near her any more, which is entirely reasonable.]

Overall, though, a decent scene and nothing particularly objectionable. Except that bloody Time-turner has shown up, and we know what that means.

Scene six.

Scene five was a nice reprieve from the awfulness but it’s back in full force now. We’re at the Potter residence (incidentally, not told more than that; a lot of fanon has them live at Grimmauld Place and it’d have been interesting if this confirmed or refuted that) and Albus has inherited his father’s penchant for eavesdropping.

Amos Diggory’s shown up at the house (in the middle of the night, which even Harry points out is off) because he can’t get an appointment to meet with Harry at the Ministry. Harry’s making excuses.

This dialogue is awful.

Anyway, Diggory is pissed off at Harry (I’m not sure if he explicitly blames Harry for Cedric’s death but he’s certainly skirting around it and that seems to be what Harry hears), and wants the Time-Turner so he can go back to save Cedric (apparently he’s “heard rumor” (sic) that the Ministry seized and kept it. What is it with this story and rumours.). Harry brushes him off and says the rumours aren’t true.

[How are there rumours? Did Harry’s team announce it to the world when they took it off Nott? This is not a rumour, it’s an information leak, and Harry really ought to be finding out which subordinate blabbed to someone in a pub.]

Suddenly we’re back with Albus, who’s been discovered.

ALBUS jumps a mile as DELPHI — a twenty-something, determined-looking woman — is revealed, looking through the stairs at him.

I’ll try not to be prejudiced based on what I already know of this character, but that’s going to be hard. I’m not looking forward to this.

She introduces herself to Albus as ‘Delphini Diggory’ and that name already irritates me (Rowling and friends sure do love alliteration, don’t they). ‘Delphini’ looks weird to me but it’s not an invented word, it’s the plural of Latin delphinus meaning dolphin (though honestly, ‘delphinus’ just makes me think of a certain flying battleship). Her name is literally Dolphins. Though it is also an astronomical name, Delphinus is a constellation and Alpha Delphini is a prominent multiple star in it. And I am giving serious side-eye to the nickname being Delphi, given certain Greek oracles (we know Rowling’s had a tendency to name characters after oracles before).

[I’ve encountered Delphine as a name, but not Delphini. Sounds more like a surname than a forename.]

In this scene, she actually comes across as pretty likeable. She talks a lot like Tonks, and is snarkily unserious with Albus. Then she trips down the stairs and I’m even more convinced she’s a Tonks clone and much less inclined to be charitable (what’s with all these clumsy female characters anyway?). [Oh God it’s Bella fucking Swan. As if this character wasn’t enough of a Sue already.] At least the script itself doesn’t seem to mention her implausible hair colour?

Apparently she’s Diggory’s niece and also works in the old-age-home where he lives (she calls him her patient so I guess she’s some kind of nurse). She seems to have intrigued Albus (somehow; the stage directions indicate her smiling at him twice) and invites him to visit them at the home sometime.

I’m also questioning why Diggory’s in an old-age home, and requiring a wheelchair (I wouldn’t have thought Potterverse wizards even used wheelchairs honestly, shouldn’t they just enchant a regular chair to move?). [Or use magic to fix the reason the chair is needed?] He wasn’t presented as a particularly young man in Goblet of Fire, but I wouldn’t have guessed him older than his forties then (which would put him, at maximum, early seventies now). And we know wizards have extended lifespans compared to non-magicals. So this just flat-out doesn’t make sense, unless he has some kind of incurable degenerative disease (and then you’d think they’d mention that instead of just saying he’s elderly and in a wheelchair).

Scene seven.

Still at the Potters’ house. We begin with some irrelevant family bickering, then Harry shows up to “deliver pre-Hogwarts gifts”. He gives Albus A LOVE POTION from Ron. Yes, a fucking love potion (I mean date rape potion who are we kidding), which in any sensible world should be an illegal or heavily controlled substance. He tries to claim it’s a joke and that he doesn’t understand Ron’s sense of humour, that the other children got joke gifts from him too.

[…what. You didn’t tell me this. WHAT. And my immediate follow-up question would be why Hermione didn’t stop him, except I fear we’re looking at the answer right now. Oh God.]

The rest of this scene… I’m really struggling to summarise this in any way that makes sense, because it’s incredibly stupid (and also lots of virtual ink has already been spilt over this).

Harry’s given each of his children a gift. James got the Invisibility Cloak (what? why? Harry’s excuse is literally “he’s been obsessed with it forever”), Lily gets “fairy wings” (so basically a sparkly Halloween/cosplay outfit) [because she’s a girl and all girls like sparkly things] and Albus gets… Harry’s disgusting old comfort blanket (which we’ve never heard of before but apparently means a lot to him). Because he wanted a gift that “meant something”. This is like Homer Simpson’s infamous bowling ball (a “gift” for his wife with his own name engraved on because he knows she’ll give it back to him).

Harry waffles on a bit about this thing, how he came to have it (apparently it’s the one he was wrapped in when he was abandoned, Petunia saved it, and Dudley found it after she died and sent it to him), and how he believes it’s a good luck charm and therefore gave it to Albus.

ALBUS: And do what with it? Fairy wings make sense, Dad, invisibility cloaks, they also make sense — but this — really?

Albus, I don’t really think fairy wings make sense either, but otherwise I’m entirely with you here (also, I thought fairy wings were pretty tiny and something you used for potions ingredients). Anyway, they keep arguing.

HARRY: Albus, please — you know, I’ve never wanted gratitude.
ALBUS: But right now I’m overflowing with it — it must be the kind gift of this moldy blanket that did it . . .

Not a huge fan of Albus as a character so far, but I’m liking the snark in this scene. [I think he inherited it from one of his namesakes.] And I’m entirely on his side because seriously, Harry’s not even trying to be a decent parent here. He’s just spouting off a lot of platitudes and projecting his own emotions onto Albus, then being shocked when that doesn’t work. [Though he shouldn’t be shocked. I remember him telling us once that Aunt Marge bought Dudley a designer watch and gave him a packet of dog biscuits one Christmas. Presumably he forgot that he was less than thrilled about it.] This ends predictably:

ALBUS: No! I just wish you weren’t my dad.
HARRY (seeing red): Well, there are times I wish you weren’t my son.

And a bit later on:

ALBUS picks up the blanket and throws it. It collides with RON’s love potion, which spills all over the blanket and the bed, producing a small puff of smoke.

I’m assuming this is going to matter for something, because it’s obviously a Chekhov’s gun. A very, very stupid one, but it has to be. I really don’t know what the inevitable bullshit payoff of this thing is going to be.

Scene eight.

It’s a dream scene. Everyone loves those, right? Flashing back to the “Yer a wizard, Harry” island scene. There are some slight variations but I can’t be bothered to do a line-by-line comparison with Philosopher’s Stone (book or film) right now.

Among differences I notice: Vernon refers to Hagrid as a “scarramanger”. I have no idea what that is. Google and online dictionaries are no help, trying to correct it to “scaremonger” (or to Scaramanga, the Bond villain). I do find some things by that name in a general Google search, but it looks like a surname of some kind. [Maybe it’s a typo, I’m not coming up with anything either. Maybe it’s just acknowledging that Vernon wasn’t in his right mind at that point.]

And the signature line is changed to this:

HAGRID: Harry — yer a wizard — yeh changed everything. Yer the most famous wizard in the whole world.

Presumably foreshadowing the time-travel bullshit. And from there, immediately after, the stage directions indicate Voldemort’s “unmistakable” voice hisses “Harry Potter”.

How is this voice supposed to be “unmistakable”, exactly, when Voldemort has never said anything in the play yet? I assume what they mean is “it’ll sound like Voldemort from the films so fans should recognise it” but that’s really quite different.

Scene nine.

Harry wakes up. It was all a dream (and a waste of my time, presumably). Harry feels pain in his scar, that thing the epilogue told us had never and would never happen again.

Harry and Ginny are talking in bed. He’s trying not to tell her what’s worrying him, but ends up doing some angsting about Amos Diggory, then about how badly he’s cocked things up with his son. Harry’s still being a pretty terrible person, he sort of understands he handled it badly but isn’t able to question his underlying assumptions.

At one point he quotes Dumbledore. “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” Sounds like Dumbledore but off the top of my head I can’t recall whether it’s actually something he said in the books, and I don’t feel like looking. [It’s definitely a Dumbles quote, though I forget where it’s from as well.]

Harry tries and fails to hide that his scar’s hurting again, and tells Ginny it’s been 22 years since the last time that happened. [Unless she’s forgotten how to count since leaving school, she already knows this, surely.]

At least the dialogue in this scene was well-written and sounded like actual people.

Scene ten.

Back on the Hogwarts Express with the children. Rose is trying to talk to Albus – she claims she wants to be friends again but it’s apparently on her parents’ orders. Also, she knows about the Time-Turner somehow and tells Albus about it; he immediately decides he has to go talk to Scorpius.

There’s a weird line where Scorpius tells Rose she smells like bread. I don’t know either, so I’ll just leave that there. If I had to read it, so do you. [What, no ‘half-baked’ pun? You’re slipping.]

After Rose leaves, Albus starts forming crazy plans. Beginning with “we have to get off this train”, yes, while it is moving. They talk about the Triwizard Tournament and Cedric Diggory, who Albus has decided he wants to save for some reason (honestly, it sounds like he also blames Harry for not being able to save him, and also for brushing Amos off, despite that CLEARLY BEING THE PRUDENT THING TO DO). Scorpius thinks he’s gone crazy, and I agree (honestly, Scorpius’ lines in this scene are pretty good).

Albus climbs out the window of the train and Scorpius reluctantly follows him. Yes, really.

Scene eleven.

Oh my god, this scene is so stupid.

Scene twelve. oh fine, I’ll talk about it.

They are on top of the train. Albus is planning, trying to figure out where they should jump off to be closest to St Oswald’s Home for Old Witches and Wizards (oh, yes, I forgot to mention the name before), and talking about cushioning charms. Scorpius is still trying to talk him out of it, and his lines here are actually pretty cute.

The “trolley witch” (who sells the snacks on the train) finds them. Yes, she is pushing the trolley on top of the train. This is meant to be *magical* and *mysterious* or something. They talk to her; she claims to have been doing that job for 190 years (which is apparently also how long there’s been a Hogwarts Express) and then basically turns into an eldritch abomination. Because “THIS TRAIN – IT DOESN’T LIKE PEOPLE GETTING OFF IT…”. She tries to frighten them by turning a pumpkin pasty into an explosive and throwing it, turning her hands into spikes, and asking them to return to their seats.

They jump off the train.


[I actually quite like the idea that the trolley witch is evil. Clearly she spikes the snacks with pro-Dumbledore happy drugs before the kids even get to school. The Slytherins aren’t affected because they’re rich enough to bring their own food.]

Scene twelve.

In the “grand meeting room” of the Ministry of Magic (have we ever heard about this before?). Hermione’s apparently called a meeting to discuss the possibility of Voldemort being back.

Oh yeah, she also says this: “I’m delighted to say there is a new generation being brought up having known only the slightest conflict.” Ha ha ha laughter. Pull the other one, Hermione, that line is a masterwork of Dumbledorean bullshittery and you should know better. [We all but know Ron’s drugging her now. That must affect your mind.]

Harry says “Voldemort’s allies” have been moving about recently (by this he means trolls, giants and werewolves). These are still “Voldemort’s allies”? Dear old Voldy’s been dead for twenty-two years, they can’t have continued being his allies after he died, surely you have a better way of referring to these groups? I’d even accept “Voldemort’s former allies”.

Professor McGonagall (who is there for some reason) mentions some boomslang skin and lacewing flies are missing from the Hogwarts potions stores, but they just blamed Peeves and thought nothing of it. WHAT. AN. IDIOT. [Somewhere in the afterlife Snape is facepalming.]

Let’s discuss that one in a bit more detail. McGonagall in particular must know about at least one incident when those ingredients were stolen – she was present in GoF when they interrogated Crouch!Moody under Veritaserum, and he explained he was stealing those to make his Polyjuice. It’s possible Hermione’s theft of them went unnoticed. But even then… HERMIONE is also in the room hearing this, she’s the one chairing this meeting and she is also very familiar with fucking Polyjuice. Does she say anything about the implication of those ingredients being missing? No, of course not. Just “Thank you, Professor. We shall investigate.” For fuck’s sake.

Hermione mentions Harry’s scar, and then Harry asks “those of you with a Dark Mark” (not clear if any are present except Draco, or who that would be if so) if there’s been any reaction. Draco flips out and accuses Harry of being prejudiced against them. Then he goes on to accuse Harry of just wanting his name in the papers, and Hermione of giving him special treatment for being her friend.

Ron “charges at” Draco and has to be restrained by Ginny, then threatens to punch him, because Ron.

Draco’s real motive comes out – he’s afraid this talk about Voldemort will cause a resurgence in the rumours about Scorpius. He leaves, and enough people follow that this ends the meeting.

For fuck’s sake, all of these characters are acting like idiotic caricatures of themselves. Even Draco, whose motive is understandable, is going out of his way to be as unsympathetic as possible and hit all of the talking points that were used against Harry in the main series. And let’s face it, Harry talking about Voldemort now really would come across as alarmist (with how certain the books’ narration was that he was gone for good, and that bloody epilogue, we can be sure that would be the official story).

This whole scene is really weird to be honest – Hermione seems to think the meeting was for the purpose of developing a strategy to deal with possible Voldemort return, but it’s seemingly open to the general public and honestly comes off looking more like a press conference than anything (Harry and Hermione are on a podium addressing a crowd). I’m not sure what Draco’s role is meant to be (we’ve not been told anything about e.g. his profession if any), he’s literally just an audience heckler who takes over the meeting.

Adults are useless! Even if they used to be children who did things! Fucking hell.

Scene thirteen.

Very short scene, but full of stupid. Here is the description given to set the scene.

This is chaos. This is magic. This is St. Oswald’s Home for Old Witches and Wizards and it is as wonderful as you might hope.
Walker frames are conjured into life, knitting wool is enchanted into chaos, and male nurses are made to dance tango.
These are people relieved of the burden of having to do magic for a reason — instead these witches and wizards do magic for fun. And what fun they have.
ALBUS and SCORPIUS enter, looking around themselves, amused, and let’s face it, slightly scared.

I’m quoting this verbatim because I have no idea what to do with it. That does not sound wonderful to me. It just sounds like more of the childish bullshit that the Potterverse has always been, that Rowling falls back on whenever she wants to depict something as “fun”. Also, I refuse to believe that Potterverse wizards refuse to do magic “for fun” during their normal lifetimes.

[…male nurses are forced to dance? WTF is that about? Is this implying that the senile old people are using Imperio against the staff, or something? Because that’s a bit of a concern.]

That really is the implication, isn’t it? It’s creepy. There’s something very disturbing about how basically everything Rowling et al think of as “fun” manifests as “pranks” that involve doing unpleasant things to other people against their will. (Recommended reading: everything Melissa McEwan has ever written about pranks)

Albus and Scorpius show up and mention they’re looking for Amos Diggory. Delphi greets them. End of scene.

Scene fourteen.

Amos Diggory doesn’t trust their offer of help, and who could blame him? These kids are nuts. (This whole plot is nuts.) Scorpius takes this as an opportunity to try to back out (good on him!) but Albus is having none of it; Delphi eventually convinces Amos with the simple argument that nobody else is offering help, and “didn’t you say yourself, having someone inside Hogwarts might be a massive advantage?”. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, or what Hogwarts is supposed to have to do with this exercise in tilting at windmills.

Amos suggests Delphi go with them, and they go on about how this is going to be super dangerous and they’ll be risking their lives. Albus agrees with this (why’s he in Slytherin anyway? He’s been acting like an idiot Gryffindor this entire play), Scorpius is reluctant.

Scene fifteen.

At the Potters’ house, Harry and Ginny are having dinner with Ron and Hermione, and they’re discussing Draco. They’re really unsympathetic to him.

GINNY: I wrote to him — after he lost Astoria — to ask if there’s anything we could do. I thought maybe — as he was such a good friend to Albus — maybe Scorpius might want to stay over part of the Christmas break or . . . My owl came back with a letter containing one simple sentence: “Tell your husband to refute these allegations about my son once and for all.”
HERMIONE: He’s obsessed.

I really don’t understand why they can’t just make an official statement about this, except that the conflict engendered by these stupid rumours is driving the plot.

Ron goes on for a while about how all this Voldemort stuff is probably nothing, Harry’s probably just getting old, etc etc, playing the denialist to the hilt. He’s being obnoxiously Ron about all of this, and it’s annoying and stupid, but honestly, they don’t really have much evidence at all.

HERMIONE: I mean it, Harry, I will not be Cornelius Fudge on this one. I will not stick my head in the sand. And I don’t care how unpopular that makes me with Draco Malfoy.

Very nice sentiment, Hermione. How about that Polyjuice you completely ignored?

They get an owl from McGonagall saying Albus and Scorpius never arrived at school. End scene.

Scene sixteen.

Albus, Scorpius, and Delphi are in a cellar. They have Polyjuice potion. They bicker about it a while, Scorpius complains he doesn’t want to take it because it tastes of fish (which, IIRC, contradicts canon, in the books we were told the flavour changes depending on the person you’re transforming into. Not that I liked that, mind, it gave Rowling an excuse to tell us some characters were better than others because magic says so, but it’s still a contradiction).

Delphi becomes Hermione, Albus becomes Ron and Scorpius becomes Harry. (Actually, I’m pretty curious how they did this effect in a stage play.)

Is there a reason they’ve done this along gendered lines? (We saw the Trio do the same thing in Chamber of Secrets and again in Deathly Hallows, though some women transformed into Harry in that stupid scene earlier in Deathly Hallows so we know it’s not a requirement…) [The reason is ‘because Rowling’.]

There’s some awkwardness. They’re making jokes. I don’t care.

They go into the Ministry through the main entrance and meet with no resistance whatsoever, because security in the Wizarding World is terrible. There’s some precedent for this in the DH Gringotts break-in, but it’s still stupid, and you’d think (again) a Ministry run by BLOODY HERMIONE would be aware of Polyjuice potion and the security risk it poses.

THIS IS STUPID! [Still blaming Ron having been drugging her for the last twenty years. For my sanity’s sake if nothing else. I knew I was right not to read this crap.]

Scene seventeen.

In a meeting room at the Ministry. Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Draco are discussing the disappearances. This line infuriates me:

HERMIONE: None so far. I have made the Muggle Prime Minister aware and he is filing what is known as a misper. Sounds like a spell. It isn’t.


(I assume she means somebody abbreviated “Missing Persons Report” but this is not humourous and I am not laughing.) [I have never heard of that abbreviation and I used to watch a lot of police procedurals.] Neither have I, but I suppose it stands to reason.

Draco’s not keen on reaching out to Muggles for help. Hermione mentions they’re investigating Death Eater channels, Draco says he knows it’s nothing to do with them.

There’s a lot of anger and arguing, especially once Harry reveals the argument he had with Albus, because they think that’s why they ran away. Draco offers to contribute all of his money if it will help because Scorpius is his only family, which is honestly kind of touching; Hermione just brushes him off says the Ministry has enough money. I don’t think I like this iteration of Hermione very much.

We end on this line:

DRACO: I don’t care what you did or who you saved, you are a constant curse on my family, Harry Potter.

I know how you feel, Draco.

Scene eighteen.

The children, under Polyjuice, are in the Ministry. They’re acting badly to throw off guards (they keep name-dropping that ‘Hermione’ is Minister), and somehow it works. All the while they’re discussing their plans. Apparently the Time-Turner is kept in Hermione’s office, and we’re going to have something of a rehash of the Trio trying to get Slytherin’s locket from Umbridge.

They come across the actual Harry and Hermione, who’ve left the meeting in the previous scene. They can’t find a place to hide, and decide Albus as Ron has to go distract Hermione while they go into her office (incidentally, they use fucking Alohomora and that gets them inside, this Hermione is rubbish at security).

What follows is incredibly cringeworthy and creepy and I hate it. Essentially, he distracts her by flirting and kissing her.[…oh God no. Hello explicit sexual assault, that was clearly something missing from this clusterfuck.]

And also tries to talk to them about the “I wish you weren’t my son” conversation, nearly giving himself away in the process. Then Harry leaves, Hermione tries to go into her office and he blocks her again. She’s suspicious but still fooled by his incredibly stupid bullshit, which includes suggesting she and Ron have another baby (WTF?!!) and more kissing. SHE NOTICES THE FISH TASTE but doesn’t put things together from that either. [More evidence that Ron’s been giving her love potion for the last two decades. I hate this.]

Hermione leaves and Albus-Ron goes into the office. End scene.

I really don’t know what to say about this except it’s incredibly creepy and awful and rapey and how does somebody write this. I don’t care if it’s Rowling or Thorne: whoever you are, you are an awful person and you should feel bad. Likewise if you are a spectator who enjoyed this.

Scene nineteen.

Inside the office. Albus is exhausted from the effort and the others congratulate him. They talk about the kissing, even praising his supposed nerve for doing it, and Albus’ excuse is “Ron’s an affectionate guy”. [And either Ron’s a really bad kisser or Albus is weirdly experienced.] This play is really selling Ron/Hermione as an abusive mess of a relationship, and in fairness I don’t think it’s wrong about that.

Albus and Scorpius talk about their daddy issues while they’re supposed to be searching for the Time-Turner.

Eventually they find Hermione’s stash of restricted books (which have some really stupid titles, as Rowling loves to do with books in the Potterverse. Seriously, one of them is even called “The Imperius Curse and How to Abuse It”).

The key turns out to be a book, ostensibly “My Eyes and How to See Past Them” by Sibyll Trelawney (I’m trying and failing to figure out what the fuck that title is supposed to mean; I think it being by Trelawney is meant to be a clue that it doesn’t belong, though) but which isn’t really a book. They open it and it speaks riddles at them.

What follows is a melodramatic nonsense scene which I’d rather not describe. Essentially, they realise these riddles are how she hid the Time-Turner and they need to solve them to find it, each riddle they solve leads to another book, which gives another riddle, and so forth. There’s some kind of magical chaos and they have some kind of struggle, their Polyjuices wear off as they go; in the end they eventually find a book which has the Time-Turner inside.

Here ends Act One.

That’s Act One of Part One, which means we have three more acts of this bullshit to go. But that’s enough for one post, I think, especially considering I’m nearing seven thousand words about this rubbish. For reference, in the edition I am using I have reached page 58 of 191, so there’s quite a lot still to go.

I don’t know what to say about this so far. Honestly, the content is pretty unrelentingly awful, it really does come across as mediocre fanfic at best. The dialogue occasionally manages to be good, there are some exchanges that I think would probably work well in a play and some well-written snappy comebacks etc (which, in fairness, Rowling has managed often in the books too), but there’s also a lot of really awkward and stupid dialogue to balance that out.

Suffice it to say that so far, I am not impressed. And I’m expecting it’s all downhill from here, but not in the good way (downhill in terms of quality, and I already feel like Sisyphus).

I reiterate: send help. [Please.]


Posted by on August 4, 2016 in mitchell


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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: , , , , , , , , ,

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Fifteen

This one took more than one session to cover. Considering this entire chapter is filler to justify a single dramatic image, it’s disproportionately long.

Chapter Fifteen: The Forbidden Forest
Today’s art is a slightly camp centaur striking a weird pose. I swear
one day I’ll go back and insert the images into these posts. One day.

When we last left our hero, he and Hermione had stupidly forgotten the magic bedsheet after the unnecessary and physics-defying bit of dragon-smuggling, and were being dragged off by Filch. The first line of this chapter is Harry informing us that ‘things couldn’t have been worse‘; yes, they could. Norbert could have escaped, set you on fire and trotted off to eat someone. But no, Harry’s remembered (or been reminded by that offscreen director) that he’s meant to be afraid of punishments and authority figures, and he’s panicking about expulsion again.

Filch dumps them in McGonagall’s office and leaves them to sweat; this must mean he saw her with Draco earlier and knows she’s awake, because it’s an unspecified time between midnight and 1am at this point. Presumably McGonagall has just dragged Draco off to confront Snape – brave woman; I can’t imagine he’d be too pleased at being disturbed at such a stupid time – because when she appears it’s clear she hasn’t gone to bed like a sane person. She has Neville with her, though mercifully not being literally dragged along by his ear.

Neville instantly tells Harry that he was trying to find them to warn them, because he overheard Draco say he was going to get them into trouble, he said they had a dragon. Neville, you are a wonderful human being and you deserve so much better than being stuck in this universe. Though you have to wonder just why he was so worried about them, since he doesn’t know the dragon is real and has no reason to expect that their being out of bed is going to be a big deal. (Then again, given the general incompetence of everyone involved, I expect the whole school knows about the dragon by this point.)

McGonagall continues to display a very harsh attitude towards these pre-teen children in her care; ‘she looked more likely to breathe fire than Norbert as she towered over the three of them‘ and demands an explanation. Her behaviour for this whole scene is, frankly, inexplicably bizarre. We were forced to conclude that somehow this incident has interrupted something, because she is disproportionately furious about them being out of bed. Far more so than she was over the troll thing.

It’s especially odd that she’s so put out by their being out of bed at one in the morning, particularly since they were near the Astronomy Tower and astronomy classes meet regularly at midnight. We’re not told whether any sections meet Saturday nights, but regardless it shouldn’t be this unusual for students to be out of bed at a time when some of them will be going to and from class. If they’d been thinking (and/or Rowling wanted to make them look clever) they should have told McGonagall they were going to meet a friend and walk them back from their astronomy class, or something like that.

On a related note, why exactly are Astronomy classes held at the top of a tower anyway? The Great Hall has a magic ceiling that shows the sky, it’s basically a planetarium.

Instead of this perfectly reasonable answer, Harry says nothing, and also judges Hermione for saying nothing. Given what happened to her last time McGonagall got angry with her for the terrible crime of being attacked, I’m not at all surprised.

McGonagall doesn’t give them much opportunity to say anything, and rather quickly provides her own explanation, declaring that obviously they told Draco some lies about a dragon to get him into trouble and they probably think it’s funny Neville fell for it as well.

Now, there are two possibilities here. One is that she actually believes this, in which case she’s punishing Draco for falling for a trick, which is admittedly completely consistent with her usual victim-blaming attitude. Alternatively, she knows this is nonsense, knows all about the dragon, and is punishing Draco for telling the truth (and feeding the others a cover story) in order to cover for Hagrid breaking the law, which could at least explain her ridiculous overreaction. Either way, this whole plotline is terrible and makes her an awful person. (I’m feeling a lot better now about the way I wrote her in PTL…) She’s also training the children to never go to her for anything, which is an absolutely stellar attitude for a head of house to take.

Harry tries to psychically tell Neville this isn’t true, though I don’t know why he cares because he’s treated Neville horribly all book and will continue to do so. ‘Poor, blundering Neville‘ wants you to take your patronising attitude and cram it where the sun doesn’t shine, Snowflake.

Continuing with the hyperbole, McGonagall declares that she’s absolutely disgusted with them all, before dropping this clanger: ‘Four students out of bed in one night! I’ve never heard of such a thing before!‘ Presumably she’s spent the entirety of her teaching career to date heavily sedated, but even so, the Marauders were clearly already part of Rowling’s dubious headcanon by this point; the woman is just talking nonsense. I think we have to subscribe to the ‘trying to cover up Hagrid’s illegal dragon’ theory here because there’s just no rational reason why being out of bed is such a serious crime that justifies the very harsh punishment.

Speaking of punishment, she gives all three of them detention and takes fifty points from Gryffindor. She only took twenty from Slytherin for Draco, and that was by far the highest penalty we’d seen from anyone up until that point. Harry understandably protests, so McGonagall promptly makes it fifty points each.

To be fair, I would almost like this if it weren’t such an overreaction to a very minor infraction and if she hadn’t been so awful previously; escalating punishments in response to whining is a thing teachers often do, and for good reason. One of my chemistry teachers once increased my predicted grade for quite an important exam because I was the only one in the class who didn’t try to argue with her about it.

I have to wonder if originally this chapter was meant to involve a worse crime. Perhaps in the first draft she did find out about the dragon (or at least wasn’t able to deny knowing about it), Hagrid was fired/arrested and the children were being punished for aiding and abetting his lawbreaking. That would actually justify taking one hundred and fifty points (in context, 150 is quite a lot when the final scores at the end of the book range from 312 to 472), detention, and lectures about how disgusted she is and how awful they are. As it is, there’s no way to rationalise McGonagall’s attitude – particularly since not too many chapters ago she was perfectly happy to break rules herself in order to get Harry onto the Quidditch team, because the stupid cup meant more to her than the rules did. The sudden 180 over breaking curfew is too hard to swallow.

McGonagall finishes the scene by talking over their protests and telling them, ‘I’ve never been more ashamed of Gryffindor students‘. I would like to remind everyone that ‘Gryffindor students’ include the Weasley twins, and have included their older dragon-smuggling brother, the Marauders (and she is well aware that one of them is a Death Eater who betrayed his friends and got them murdered, even if she’s mistaken about which one), and Hagrid the monster-breeder who was expelled after a student was killed. But no, she’s deeply ashamed and disgusted that a couple of children dared to leave their bedrooms without permission, and that’s the worst infraction she’s ever seen. In isolation you can dismiss this as exaggeration just to make them feel bad, but again, she’s acted like this before and you’d better believe she will do so again.

She then hypocritically sends them off to wander the castle unaccompanied on their way back to bed, because what is consistency.

I’d just like to point out here that what we’ve seen of McGonagall throughout this book has been much, much worse than anything Snape has said or done, despite the narrative insisting that he’s scum and she’s awesome. Not that I need to point that out, since it’s pretty blatantly obvious.

We did come up with a couple of other theories that could explain her terrible behaviour here. One possibility is that she hasn’t forgotten about the Marauders at all, and in fact this whole affair is her attempt to scare Harry into behaving so that he won’t end up like his father. I’d happily accept this in a different story, but seriously, she’s just a bad person and I won’t give her this much credit.

Our other possible explanation is that this is all part of some sort of inter-staff feud and McGonagall is attempting to oppose Dumbledore. This would require her knowing that he gave Harry the magic bedsheet and is encouraging him to get into trouble a lot, but it seems pretty clear by the end of the book that Dumbles has planned most of it all, so it’s not out of the question that McGonagall could know and be trying to thwart him. Except that we’ve all seen her blindly obeying him before, when it comes to leaving infants on doorsteps in November and other such things, and she never objects to anything else throughout the series.

We’re not seriously advancing these theories as true, of course; there’s too much evidence against them. But they could have been interesting possibilities in another book.

And it gets worse. Understandably the school are a little confused the next day to see how many points Gryffindor have lost – they’re tracked by magic giant hourglasses full of jewels on display in the Great Hall, which is pretty if somewhat pointless – but by the power of authorial fiat everyone very quickly finds out what happened. We’ll see many times throughout the rest of the series that Rowling doesn’t understand how rumours actually work, but here I think we have to conclude that McGonagall has deliberately leaked at least part of the story to add social shaming to the children’s punishments. Which is just plain sadistic – they’re only eleven and twelve years old. It also shouldn’t work, but when has realism and a knowledge of how humans work ever stopped Rowling?

There could have been plenty of better ways to write the rumours getting started, if we had to keep this plotline. All she would’ve had to do is put Harry in the scene a bit earlier. As an example, let’s say everyone goes to breakfast and notices the points missing, but nobody has any idea what’s going on. People start asking each other if they know anything, but nobody does, until someone asks Harry and he reacts with embarrassment (let’s say goes red in the face and stares at his shoes, or something), giving away that he had something to do with it. That would be enough for rumours to start, especially since he’d have to be evasive to avoid incriminating Hagrid.

In any case, while I’ve covered plenty of Watsonian reasons for all this, the Doylist reason is to slather on some more over the top Angst For Harry.

‘From being one of the most popular and admired people at the school, Harry was suddenly the most hated. Even Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs turned on him, because everyone had been longing to see Slytherin lose the House Cup. Everywhere Harry went, people pointed and didn’t trouble to lower their voices as they insulted him.’

The Slytherins, by contrast, are pretty pleased and keep thanking Harry for doing them a favour.

I really can’t accept that absolutely every student with no exceptions is this fanatical about the bloody House Cup. Slytherin have won for the last seven years in a row, as we’ve been repeatedly told; them being in the lead again now is not a huge deal. We’ve also seen absolutely no justification for ‘everyone’ hating Slytherin except that some of them used to be Death Eaters a decade ago. I’m also not sure Rowling’s realised that she’s making most of her precious Gryffindors look pretty horrible right now for picking on a small boy.

Only Ron stood by him.‘ Because Hermione and Neville don’t count as people. Though admittedly by this point I can understand why they’d both hate him…

Harry’s so miserable that he resolves to never meddle in anything ever again. This resolution will last, oh, about a page or so. Just long enough to be contrived and irritating in the next scene, in fact. I don’t know why Harry’s miserable, though; we’ve been told several times that this is exactly what his last school was like, because everyone was inexplicably in awe of Dudley and thus hated Harry on principle. Yes, being ostracised is horrible, but if it’s all you’ve ever experienced you wouldn’t really know it was horrible and would be so used to it that you probably wouldn’t care – particularly since being insulted is a step up from being physically (or magically) attacked.

Alternatively, given this history of Harry’s, this ought to be the final nail in the coffin that means he will never trust anyone again because it turns out that the magic world is just as awful as the Muggle one. From this point on he ought to hate all his teachers, especially McGonagall for doing this to him but also including his precious Dumbledore who isn’t stopping it, and also ought to deliberately isolate himself and never make friends with anyone again – including his existing friends – because he can’t trust them not to arbitrarily turn on him. (There’s a reason dark!Harry fics are quite popular.)

Of course, this is the wonderful world of Harry Potter. So what actually happens is that he wallows in angst for a few more pages and then forgets this ever happened and is completely unaffected. At least until the next time this exact scenario happens.

During his angst phase, he decides to resign from the Quidditch team. Why he expects this to help is beyond me; we’re never told how Quidditch and House points tally up, or why Quidditch contributes to House points at all for that matter, but it was apparently only due to his awesome seeker powers that Gryffindor were in the lead in the first place. Wood points this out and refuses to let him resign, ‘but even Quidditch had lost its fun. The rest of the team wouldn’t speak to Harry during practice, and if they had to speak about him, they called him ‘the Seeker’.

The rest of the team includes Fred and George, remember, who have not only certainly lost far more points than this over their school career but who also think rulebreaking is funny. They also seem to like Harry and have interacted with him quite a lot. Even without that, the team are well aware that it’s thanks to their pet snowflake that they were doing well and that he’s their best hope of getting their lead back. Not to mention that Harry’s Quidditch strategy is to soar a long way above the actual game; why would he need to speak to any of the team anyway?

Rowling, please write out one hundred times, “People do not work this way”. Preferably with a blood quill.

We’re told that Hermione and Neville are suffering too, but not as badly because they’re not super-famous special snowflakes. I fail to see how they’re suffering at all, really; nobody spoke to either of them anyway except to be nasty, so this is business as usual. If anything, this incident ought to have made Harry and Ron more tolerant of both of them and they should have formed a proper little group of four friends, though obviously it doesn’t. And we know it doesn’t because Harry then tells us that the Trio keep to themselves and get on with revising. Apparently Neville is even being ostracised by the kids who got him into trouble in the first place. I’m glad we’ve established that he and Hermione are secretly friends offscreen, because seriously, poor Neville. He needs hugs and puppies.

I do find it interesting that we don’t see any onscreen reactions at all, except Ron saying it’s not so bad and Wood saying that resigning from the sports team won’t help. We’re just told everyone else hates Harry now. We don’t see reactions from the other boys in Harry’s dormitory, or Ron’s brothers – not just the twins; Percy is the Gryffindor prefect, remember? – or anyone else on the Quidditch team. The really obvious, glaring lack, though? Draco. He ought to be gloating – a detention and twenty points is a very small price to pay for successfully costing Gryffindor 150 points and their lead, even if they got away with the whole dragon thing. He’s not even mentioned, though, let alone appearing onscreen to rub Harry’s nose in it. That’s just plain lazy writing, and given the amount of filler in this chapter there’s really no excuse for it.

Then we have a slightly random interlude reminding us that there’s a plot trying to happen somewhere. Harry is walking back from the library by himself and hears voices coming from a classroom – egad! Voices in a classroom? Anyone would think this was a school, or something! To be fair, the voice is whimpering, which probably is cause for concern even in Hogwarts.

He gets closer and hears Quirrell sobbing and saying things like, ‘No – no – not again, please –‘ before finally ending with ‘All right – all right‘. Despite hearing all this perfectly clearly, Harry is somehow unable to hear the other side of the conversation, and yet doesn’t seem at all puzzled by it. I don’t know what he thinks is happening here; I don’t think you can threaten someone silently. (Also, a public classroom is a pretty poor choice of venue for torturing a minion.)

Quirrell leaves the room, pale and trying not to cry and fiddling with his turban, and somehow utterly fails to notice Harry who promptly runs past him to look into the classroom. Implausibly, this classroom just happens to have exits at both ends, and there’s nobody else there. Some rooms in some schools do end up that way, since when you adapt buildings the space doesn’t always line up and sometimes limited money means turning awkward places into classrooms instead of building extensions, but none of those reasons apply to Hogwarts even if people couldn’t use magic.

Continuing to stretch all credibility, Harry starts walking towards the second door and then reminds himself he’s not going to meddle any more because he’s emo now and trots off back to the library instead. For the record, this is the only time he’ll stop himself pursuing something, and of course it’s on the only occasion where he might have learned something that could have put a hole in his pet ‘it’s Snape’ theory. Instead he goes back to Ron and Hermione and tells them that Snape’s obviously got what he needed from Quirrell now, oh noes.

‘‘Snape’s done it, then!’ said Ron. ‘If Quirrell’s told him how to break his Anti-Dark Force spell –’ ‘

…what spell would that be? These Are Not The Droids You’re Looking For-ius? Honestly, Ron, are you sure you’re pureblood?

The Trio discuss it a bit and conclude sensibly that it’s quite possible someone could find out how to get past Fluffy from one of the thousands of books in the library, so maybe now Snape can waltz in and grab the shiny plot coupon whenever he likes. It doesn’t occur to them that since he’s not an idiot he’d be doing so literally right this moment, because really why would you wait.

Ron’s all for charging in, of course. Hermione says they should go tell Dumbledore and let him deal with it – while this is sensible, given her treatment by the staff in recent chapters I can’t think this is really her reaction. For some reason they give Harry power of authority here despite that having been a really bad idea every single time, and his opinion is that they should… do absolutely nothing. They shouldn’t go to Dumbles because they’ve got no proof of anything (okay, maybe we should give him a little credit for acknowledging that… except that he just uses it as more angst fodder, so never mind), and they shouldn’t investigate on their own because emo emo emo everyone hates us.

Best protagonist ever. Apart from anything else, if everyone already hates you, what’s the worst that can happen now?

Of course, Rowling knows they’re going to get involved anyway, so from her point of view it doesn’t matter what they say here, but this is stupid. If the children were right and Snape was the villain, and if he’s just got the last piece of information he needs to get the Stone, then the risk is that he’d do so immediately; doing nothing is not a viable option. The real question is why the actual villain hasn’t acted all year and will continue not to act for the next few weeks. Not knowing how to peacefully sedate Fluffy doesn’t mean you can’t just kill him or turn him into some sort of furniture.

And I think it’s worth mentioning here that Quirrell is really suffering. He is not a willing participant in this plot – whatever his initial motivations (which are never explained in canon; you need to go to bloody Pottermore for any sort of backstory) he’s being coerced throughout the book, and this is not the only occasion where we’re told he is literally being tortured. (However that works.) He’s not in control, this wasn’t his idea and he has no choice. Yet there will never be any sympathy for him, from anyone. Nor will his fate ever be mentioned again. More on this when we reach the finale.

Several weeks have passed by this point, but McGonagall finally gets around to actually assigning the four detentions. There is no explanation given for what took so long, and honestly we can’t really think of one, except the general lack of organisation at Hogwarts. She doesn’t even tell the children directly, instead sending them notes by owl at breakfast one morning telling them to meet Filch in the entrance hall at eleven that night.

Yes, eleven at night. Honestly, the biggest delay in my getting this post up was our doomed attempt to try and explain why anyone, even McGonagall, would assign an overnight detention (literally all night, later Filch says he’ll come back to fetch them at dawn) to a group of eleven and twelve year old children at all, dangerous or otherwise. This chapter should be called ‘Rowling wants Harry to see something in the forest at night and come Hell or high water she is going to get him there no matter what really stupid writing she has to churn out to do so’. (The rest of the delay was mostly ranting about unicorns. I’m sure nobody is surprised.)

This problem could have been easily solved by giving them a normal detention involving writing an essay or lines or something and later having Harry follow someone he thinks is Snape out into the forest, see the big dramatic thing and meet the character who helpfully explains it to him. Really nothing else about this entire chapter is important and nothing justifies this stupid setup.

Harry ‘half expected Hermione to complain that this was a whole night of revision lost, but she didn’t say a word. Like Harry, she felt they deserved what they’d got.

One, it’s not a whole night lost, the detention doesn’t start until nearly midnight. Two, I’m not going to take his word for it concerning what anyone else is feeling – Hermione’s barely said a word for most of the book anyway. Three, why does Harry suddenly think they deserve it? His complaining about the injustice of it got the punishment increased in the first place. Also, literally the preceding sentence tells us he’d forgotten they still had to serve detention anyway. Though I suppose it’s nicely ironic that Harry thinks he deserves an unjust punishment, given how often throughout the series he’ll pout over ones he actually does deserve.

Filch, with Draco in tow, meets Harry, Neville and Hermione in the entrance hall that night. There’s no real reason for Draco to be serving his detention with them, either. I would love to have seen the arguments among the staff – Snape wouldn’t take this crap lying down.

The caretaker is gloating as he leads them outside, saying that they’ll think twice before breaking rules in future (you poor deluded fool) and complaining that ‘It’s just a pity they let the old punishments die out … hang you by your wrists from the ceiling for a few days, I’ve got the chains still in my office, keep ’em well oiled in case they’re ever needed …‘ I’m reasonably sure he’s just trolling the kids, but I believe someone mentions in a later book that his predecessor literally whipped rulebreakers; I think Molly Weasley says Arthur still has scars (because they forgot they could heal using magic, I guess). Which honestly isn’t all that surprising given what we’ve seen of Hogwarts.

Long story short, the four of them are being sent into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. At night, in the dark, accompanied by one of the only people in the school who can’t use magic. Hunting monsters. All night. Age eleven.

This is one of the biggest plotholes in the book, in my opinion. On what planet would even somewhere as sadistic as Hogwarts do this? There’s no salvaging this one, except to assume Dumbles mindraped everyone involved (except Snape, who he’d have needed to threaten quite heavily instead).

I don’t think it really works, but playing devil’s advocate I suppose there could be a bit of really twisted reasoning going on, in the sense of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – perhaps someone (McGonagall?) thinks they should be punished for being out at night by being forced to be out at night and seeing the dangers thereof firsthand. It’s not a good reason, it’s just the best I can come up with; and even that doesn’t really work because it’s a very different sort of ‘being out at night’ anyway… and that’s not even getting into the fact that if we’re meant to believe this investigation of Hagrid’s is a serious matter, he shouldn’t be saddled with students to blunder around and get in his way.

Understandably, Draco protests, concerned about the possibility of being eaten by something. He’s heard there are werewolves in the forest (and we know there are invisible carnivorous winged horses, giant man-eating spiders, temperamental hippogryphs and Merlin knows what else). Neville starts to panic as well, having been trying not to cry all the way to the forest. Harry seems to be stoic, aka utterly mindless, and has no opinion. Nor does he tell us what Hermione’s reaction is, since this is yet again another scene where she’s present but mostly not allowed to speak.

Filch tells them to suck it up and that he’ll be back at dawn to collect the survivors (actually, he says ‘I’ll be back for what’s left of them’, which could also refer to their remains… again, we assume he’s trolling them, possibly in response to Hagrid’s having just undermined his authority and heavily implied he doesn’t take the detention seriously as punishment), reminds Hagrid that they’re meant to be being punished, and stomps off.

Draco tries to refuse to do it, finding a bit of bravado and saying that this is something for servants:

‘ ‘If my father knew I was doing this, he’d –’
‘– tell yer that’s how it is at Hogwarts,’ Hagrid growled. ‘

Hagrid tells him he’ll do it or he’ll be expelled. We never find out how Lucius does react, but somehow I highly doubt he’d be so blasé about it. I’m pretty sure most of his shenanigans in the next book, including – lol spoiler alert – getting Hagrid arrested, are at least partly revenge for this. It’s not a good idea to force the son of one of the school governors to serve a life-endangering detention. Also, is Hagrid playing on Draco’s ignorance here? We’ll never see another detention like this, so this isn’t ‘how it is at Hogwarts’ at all…

Draco gives in, as if he had any choice anyway, and Hagrid takes them into the trees and shows them some shiny silver liquid on the ground. It’s unicorn blood – something’s been hurting unicorns, he found a dead one last week, and he wants to find this injured one and put it down. He seems completely unconcerned with finding out what did it, he just wants to follow the blood trail to the unicorn to see if it needs to be euthanised. He says repeatedly throughout this whole chapter that there’s nothing dangerous around, which is a bold claim considering he admits he has no idea what’s suddenly murdering unicorns – not to mention that a wounded large animal can be pretty dangerous anyway, even a herbivore – yet he also behaves very nervously and is pretty trigger-happy with the crossbow he inexplicably has. Where do you find giant-sized crossbows in a society that doesn’t use physical weapons?

This has been happening for at least a week, so why wait until now to try to do something about it? The detention was arranged early this morning, so he presumably found the blood trail earlier than that. So he’s left an injured animal stumbling around wounded for at least a day, in order to try tracking it at night when it’s almost impossible to see its trail and he’s much less likely to find it. He’s also insistent that they not leave any of the paths in the forest, regardless of whether the blood trail follows them or not.

Never mind the bloody dragon, the RSPCA should confiscate your dog and you should be banned from ever keeping animals again.

Speaking of Fang, he’s present too, for whatever that’s worth. Great Danes were never tracking dogs, they were heavy hunters; he’ll be no use finding the unicorn but he might end up attacking it.

Now we’ve established yet again that Hagrid is sadistic and stupid, he continues proving that he shouldn’t be allowed near children either by ordering everyone to split into two groups. Draco says he wants to go with Fang – very sensible in my opinion, I’d pick the dog over the maniac any day – and Hagrid shrugs and says okay, fine, but he’s a coward. (This is unlikely. Traumatised by his master ill-treating him, perhaps.) Hagrid sends Neville with them – Neville who’s been cursed by Draco at least once and beaten up by Draco’s goons at least once. Two children who hate each other, alone in the forest full of monsters, attempting to track a wounded animal with only a dog for protection. And no mention of a second lamp for their group, either; Hagrid seems to have the only one.

I hate this chapter, for the record. Everything in it is painfully stupid. Why couldn’t they at least have another adult with them? The answer is that Rowling knows they won’t actually be hurt so it doesn’t matter, and she’s forgotten that other characters shouldn’t know that.

In a better book, Draco and Neville could decide ‘hey, screw this, nobody’s watching us now’ and go back to Hagrid’s hut to make a cup of tea and play with Fang and wait for the others to come back. An unsupervised detention is a colossal waste of time. Honestly, Draco’s smart enough to have worked that out and chosen the dog for that reason, and even if he doesn’t like Neville he’s certainly bright enough to swallow that and suggest they work together in the noble cause of not being eaten.

Hagrid tells them to send up red sparks if they’re in trouble and green sparks if they find the unicorn – I assume the children somehow already know how to do this, since it’s not like Hagrid can teach them. I don’t think this is going to help much anyway since everyone is going to be watching the ground; not only because of the blood trail but also because have you ever walked through the woods at night? It is ridiculously dark and even with a light source you will fall flat on your face unless you watch your feet. Besides, the forest seems to have quite a thick high canopy, it’s unlikely sparks would reach open sky. Which makes the tracking thing even trickier, since the book implies that the blood spots are shining in handy beams of moonlight that somehow reach them, rather than reflecting the lamp. It’s hard to tell whether the blood itself somehow glows or not. Anyway, they split up.

Harry asks if it really could be a werewolf killing unicorns, and Hagrid says no, they’re not fast enough. He says unicorns are powerful magic creatures (we will never see a unicorn doing anything remotely magical and they’re basically just horses) and he’s never known one to be injured before. All the more reason for you to have done something about this a week ago, and to be taking it a bit more seriously now and recruiting some magizoologists or even just hunters to help you instead of a bunch of children.

Also, is he really saying there’s a herd of large herbivores in the forest with no natural predators? That doesn’t happen naturally, and when it happens artificially it causes a lot of problems. Scotland is currently being overrun with deer because we killed off all the natural predators and a lot of the land is privately owned by people who don’t allow hunting on their property. As a result they have to arrange culls regularly to try to keep the numbers down, and it’s really starting to screw up the ecosystem. It’s not doing the deer much good either, predation helps keep the population healthy by picking off the weaker ones.

Anyway, moving on. Despite constant assurances that everything is fine, Hagrid panics on hearing a noise (how he heard anything over the sounds of three people stumbling near-blind through a pitch-dark forest is beyond me) and capslock-screams for Harry and Hermione to ‘GET BEHIND THAT TREE!‘ while fumbling to load his crossbow.

‘The three of them listened. Something was slithering over dead leaves nearby: it sounded like a cloak trailing along the ground.’

Why are there so many dead leaves at this time of the year? It’s May by this point. And how does Harry know what a cloak trailing over natural ground (as opposed to a floor indoors) sounds like anyway? This seems like a very quiet sound to be audible over the usual noise of a slight breeze moving through branches. I suppose Rowling wanted to avoid the cliché of a snapping twig, but really, not much else sounds like something moving through woods instead of just ambient noise.

The sound dies away and they carry on, until they see movement in a clearing up ahead and Hagrid calls out a challenge, adding that he’s armed. I don’t know why he thought this movement was something capable of understanding human speech but that the earlier noise couldn’t be, but it’s not as if anything else here makes sense either.

‘And into the clearing came – was it a man, or a horse? To the waist, a man, with red hair and beard, but below that was a horse’s gleaming chestnut body with a long, reddish tail.’

Yes, there are centaurs in the forest. No, we’re never going to get an explanation of why there’s an entire race of ancient Greek monsters in Scotland (it’s not as if Scottish legends are short on humanoid monsters capable of talking to wizards, though they’re not as pretty as centaurs). We’re also never going to see a female centaur, which raises a few unfortunate implications to those familiar with the myths – we’ll be talking about this properly once we reach that one scene in Order of the Phoenix, though I’ll state right now that actually all the centaurs we do see are completely unthreatening, generally relatively friendly and pretty much just useless window dressing, so either the females are hidden in the woods or this is a random asexual (or possibly homosexual) commune.

More to the point, how can they see what colour the centaur is? Human eyes can’t see colour in the dark and moonlight isn’t bright enough. I could nerd on for ages explaining to you just why this is, but if you’re particularly interested you can read up on it for yourself – start with looking up the Purkinje effect and the tapetum lucidum.

Hagrid knows the centaur, whose name is Ronan. Ronan also seems to know Hagrid pretty well, since after wishing them good evening he immediately asks if Hagrid was going to shoot him. Honestly, probably yes. Hagrid goes on to perform introductions:

‘ ‘An’ this is Ronan, you two. He’s a centaur.’
‘We’d noticed,’ said Hermione faintly.’


A thought occurs to me as I write this: Hagrid and Hermione were never actually introduced. Hermione wasn’t friends with the boys when Ron first went to meet him. The first time she and Hagrid are in the same scene (aside from the boat ride to the castle at the start of the year, in which they don’t interact) is at the first Quidditch match, where they just act as if they already know each other and are already friends. Oops, Rowling.

Anyway, Hagrid asks if Ronan knows anything about any dead unicorns, and we find out that ‘centaur’ is essentially a synonym for ‘charlatan horoscope writer’. Ronan repeats that Mars is bright tonight several times and waffles vaguely about the innocents always being victims and the forest is full of secrets. Another centaur – Bane – shows up and agrees that Mars is bright tonight, and they both wander off. Yes, every time we see these guys, they will be spouting this sort of pseudo-astrological nonsense, or else saying that humans suck.

We still haven’t figured out why, despite both appearing equally ineffective in-story, Rowling and/or her narrator seem to think that the centaurs’ version of astrology deserves to be treated with respect but Trelawney’s is moronic piffle. Sexism!

Hagrid grouses that there’s no point trying to get anything out of a centaur, in which case I wonder why he bothered asking in the first place. Harry asks if maybe it was a centaur they heard earlier and Hagrid answers surprisingly sensibly, ‘Did that sound like hooves to you?‘ before ruining it by saying he thinks the mystery noise was whatever killed the unicorn and that he’s never heard anything like it before. Okay, one, you have absolutely no reason to assume the noise at a random spot in the woods nowhere near either the dead or the wounded unicorn has any connection to them. Two, has he really never heard anything rustling some dead leaves before? If it was some sort of growling noise or maybe some odd breathing I could buy this, maybe.

I’d like to point out here that Hagrid should have a fair idea of what killed the previous unicorn, since he found its corpse. Did it have wounds on it? Presumably yes, since as we’ll find out shortly they’re being killed for blood (more on this in a bit). You don’t need to be much of a forensic scientist to tell whether the wounds were made by an animal or a tool or weapon of some kind. The possibility of magic makes it more complicated, but I doubt any spell replicates tooth or claw marks. Hagrid should know enough basic woodcraft to be able to tell the difference between animal or human injuries. At this point he should probably think they’re looking for human poachers.

Hermione manages to spot red sparks in the sky a while later. Presumably she then walks into a tree or falls over, but never mind that. Hagrid’s response is to charge off into the trees, taking with him the group’s only weapon and only light source (the flashlight spell doesn’t exist yet) and leaving the two children alone to panic horribly.

‘ ‘You don’t think they’ve been hurt, do you?’ whispered Hermione.
‘I don’t care if Malfoy has, but if something’s got Neville … It’s our fault he’s here in the first place.’

Harry, you’re a sociopath. Apart from anything else you should be aware that if Draco does get hurt it’s your pal who’s going to get into trouble for it. And no, it’s actually not your fault Neville’s here, it’s McGonagall. Though, notably, none of the Gryffindors repeatedly screwed over by the woman will ever blame her or even slightly dislike her for it.

Hagrid eventually comes back with the others in tow. It turns out that Draco sneaked up behind Neville and scared him, and Neville sent up the sparks. This is one of those things that’s portrayed as horrible here because Draco did it, but if one of our heroes had done it to one of their friends it would have been written as a hilarious joke. I don’t find it believable Draco’s calmed down enough to be playing tricks, either, because he was genuinely frightened earlier and being in a strange forest at night is scary enough without monsters. More importantly, though:

Current spell count: Hermione, 8. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0.

Welcome to the list of people more effective than the protagonist, Neville.

Hagrid isn’t pleased:

‘ ‘We’ll be lucky ter catch anythin’ now, with the racket you two were makin’. Right, we’re changin’ groups – Neville, you stay with me an’ Hermione, Harry, you go with Fang an’ this idiot. I’m sorry,’ Hagrid added in a whisper to Harry, ‘but he’ll have a harder time frightenin’ you, an’ we’ve gotta get this done.’ ‘

Oh, I see. The staff are playing matchmaker and this whole detention thing was an elaborate plot to get Harry and Draco alone in the dark. (The frightening part is that this theory makes more sense than any of the others we came up with.) More seriously, this is another dig at Neville supposedly being a coward, and screw you book because Neville is awesome. It’s also stupid because hey, remember how Draco hates Harry more than Neville? Hagrid, keep Draco with you so you can stop him being an arsehole.

Harry and Draco wander off into the woods, and there’s a timeskip of half an hour or so. Try not to wonder what they were up to during that time. Then they find the unicorn, dead.

‘Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad.’

The unicorn never gets a description here except that it’s white and has long legs. There was a chance to make them pretty interesting – for a start they live in deep forests, which means they ought to be more like deer than anything else if they resemble any mortal animal. But they show up in later books and are just your standard shiny horse with a horn on its head, which is somewhat disappointing. It’s also rather stupid here, because horses aren’t adapted to dense forest; they’re plains animals and they need wide open spaces where they can see a long way and run in relatively straight lines to build up enough speed to outrun hunters. Admittedly since these ones apparently don’t have predators that’s not much of an issue, but food will be; horses are grazers like cattle, not browsers like deer, and you don’t get much grass growing in woods.

The boys start to approach the unicorn, which was very considerate and followed the path carefully the entire time and then chose to die in the centre of a clearing.

Let’s stop and run some numbers – with the explicit timeskip after the groups changed over I would guess everyone’s been out in the woods for at least an hour, perhaps more, and they’ve been walking for most of that time along apparently fairly clear paths. The lack of visibility would slow them down, but I’d say they’ve probably still managed to follow a blood trail for a couple of miles. If this was an ordinary forest at night, children wouldn’t get anywhere near this far, of course, but nobody’s described as stumbling, tripping etc. – not even Neville who we’ve been told repeatedly is clumsy – and the paths seem to be clear and even, and Harry doesn’t say it’s difficult to see or move. Of course, the real question is why there are paths in here at all – Hagrid can’t keep them clear by himself and animal trails don’t resemble human footpaths. I suppose we have to assume the centaurs maintain paths to compensate for the fact that horses aren’t forest animals and need more space to walk or run without breaking their legs.

Since the blood trail can’t have started at the edge of the woods where they picked it up – they walked to a fork in the path, then split up to follow the trail down both forks…

This is its own problem, incidentally. If Hagrid can’t tell which direction has fresher blood he has no business trying to track an animal. He should also have a dog capable of picking the fresher trail to follow. And there ought to be vague hoofprints since the path seems to be earth; everything’s pretty dry at this time of year but dust takes prints almost as well as mud and they only need one semi-clear print to figure out which way the unicorn was walking. Let’s assume that if they’d been smart enough to do this in daylight they could have found tracks.

Anyway, as I was saying, the trail didn’t start there, and both paths of the trail must be fairly close to one another for Hermione to have seen the sparks and for Hagrid to have found Draco and Neville. So it’s running in some form of a U shape, meaning that we’ve probably got a trail of at least four miles. And Hagrid must have found the trail at least a day ago, so it’s likely to be a lot longer than that and one arm of the U must be much longer than we see.

Google time! tells us this:

“So just how much blood does a horse have anyway? It varies some from breed to breed, but an average value is 80 ml (cc) per kilogram of body weight (100 ml/kg for “hot bloods” such as the Thoroughbred and 65 ml/kg for “cold bloods” such as a Pecheron). So, the average 1,200-pound horse (545.5 kilograms at 2.2 kilograms per pound) has about 54.5 liters of blood, which is approximately 12.3 gallons of blood.

Now that we know that the average horse has about 12 gallons of blood, how much can be lost before the danger of shock becomes significant? The general rule of thumb is that an animal will start to show signs of shock from blood loss when 10% of its blood volume has been lost. Based on the averages, the adult 1,200-pound horse can lose up to two gallons of blood before serious concern. “

Okay, we don’t know at this point that Potterverse unicorns are horses, but according to later books they are. We don’t know how heavily the unicorn was bleeding, but at no point does either party of utterly inept trackers lose the trail, meaning there are large drops falling consistently every few steps or so. It would have been running after the initial injury, assuming the trail was wide enough to let it do so, meaning an increased heart rate and thus faster bleeding, but would have slowed down fairly quickly if it wasn’t being chased assuming it behaves like a normal horse. Presumably it was blood loss that killed the unicorn, and as we’ll see shortly the blood hasn’t congealed yet so it’s only just bled out even though Hagrid has to have found the blood trail about eighteen hours ago.

It would be starting to go into shock after losing 10%, and further research suggests that 16% loss starts lowering blood pressure to potentially dangerous levels and that the 10% limit can be reached within about an hour and a half at a ‘steady drip‘ (it’s referring to nosebleeds, not wounds, so that needs to be adjusted a little for this situation). I can’t find anything that tells me what percentage of blood loss would be fatal to a horse, but it’s about 40% in humans.

Basically this unicorn should have died hours ago and wouldn’t have been able to travel as far as it has, and the blood should by now be clotted and therefore the big dramatic scene we’re about to see isn’t possible. Imagine my surprise.

We also have to ask just how the unicorn was wounded; all we’re told is that it was in the flank. Now, if we’re speaking of horses, the flank is a very specific small area where the hind legs and the barrel meet, right behind the rib cage and in front of the stifle joint. A wound there wouldn’t hit anything major except the cecum (part of the digestive tract, like our appendix only useful) and while it would be fatal eventually if it was deep enough you wouldn’t get much of a blood trail. All the bleeding would be internal, and as with most gut wounds it would be blood poisoning from the ruptured organs that would be the main risk rather than blood loss from the injury itself.

Given that Rowling seems to know nothing about any animals at all, she presumably meant ‘flank’ in the more general sense of ‘somewhere between rib and hip’, which is less useful but the same rules probably apply. A wound severe enough to produce this much blood loss would do so far more quickly than we see here – anything bleeding that slowly would clot relatively soon. I can’t think of a wound that would keep bleeding at this steady rate for a full day before being fatal.

Finally, I also have to ask why the unicorn was wounded in the first place. Our villain is apparently so inept he can’t kill it even with an instadeath spell; instead he cut its side, then let it run away and failed to catch it, then came after the same unicorn again the next night instead of going after a fresh one that hasn’t leaked away most of its precious blood staggering around the forest for hours.

If you are serious about killing unicorns for blood for whatever reason, here’s how you do it. You find a unicorn. You stun it or render it unconscious or paralysed in some way. You levitate it over some form of very large container. You cut open an artery between the heart and the container (the best way is to hang it head down and cut its throat). You drain the full 12 gallons or so of blood, and decant it into small containers to keep with you. Then you use magic to get rid of the corpse so nobody realises you’ve done it. We’re never told how much you actually need to drink, but our villain here gets an undefined amount of blood from the first unicorn and a few mouthfuls from the second, which is pretty wasteful as well as being stupid and obvious. There’s no point in asking why he’s only just started drinking unicorns, either. It will never be explained.

Of course, it would be a lot more sensible to catch and stun the unicorn, then make a small cut and take enough blood for a couple of drinks, Heal the wound and let it go. Nobody, throughout the entire series, ever stops to point out that blood does not equal death. (It’s Rand al’Thor syndrome, for any Wheel of Time readers in the audience. I never for a moment thought that ‘his blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul’ meant he would die, even before he got a handy wound that kept bleeding at random intervals all the time and never healed.) Nothing indicates that the unicorn has to die for the properties of the blood to activate, and if the unicorn does die then the blood also curses you.

It would be interesting to handwave this as Quirrell wanting to be caught; it’s pretty clear by now that he regrets what’s going on and has been forced into it. But if that was what he wanted, there are much easier ways to go about it that don’t involve killing sparkleponies.

Back with the plot, let’s see the big dramatic scene that was the basis for this entire nonsense chapter, the climactic image that Rowling evidently loved so much she insisted on a convoluted implausible setup to get Harry to witness.

‘Harry had taken one step towards it when a slithering sound made him freeze where he stood. A bush on the edge of the clearing quivered … Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. Harry, Malfoy and Fang stood transfixed. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, it lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.’

Yes, yes, very spooky. But also this is a more or less sane adult human we’re talking about – why on earth is he crawling across the ground licking wounds, instead of walking over and using magic or a knife to get the blood? Apart from anything else, that would make it a lot easier for Harry to realise that’s what he’s doing. There’s no mention of, say, sucking noises, or anything else that would indicate drinking blood.

Draco, understandably, screams and runs away, followed by Fang. Incidentally, we won’t see Draco again until the end of term feast in a couple of chapters. Nobody bothers to find him after this detention. I assume Fang led him home, or else Snape went to find him the next morning and was very angry that Hagrid lost him.

We’ll also never find out what Draco thinks of all this. He doesn’t know about any mysterious packages or three headed dogs or evil teachers. He’s had a normal, annoying, unfair school year full of secret crushes on boys. Now he’s suddenly seen a random guy in a cloak licking a dead unicorn, and nobody’s going to explain it to him. I wonder if he even tried to tell anyone once he finds his way back to the castle – maybe he convinces himself it was a hallucination or a trick the others were playing on him, and never mentions it again.

Harry doesn’t have as much common sense as Draco, so he just stands there vacantly as the cloaked figure looks up and starts walking towards him. He can see ‘unicorn blood was dribbling down its front‘ but somehow conveniently can’t see the face the blood is dribbling from; there’s no mention of a mask or even some contrived shadows. He just doesn’t mention it. I assume because he can see very clearly that this isn’t Snape and is keeping silent so the denial circuits in his brain can tell him that it is.

At this point, for no real reason, his scar starts hurting extremely badly, causing a level of agony we haven’t seen before and that Harry tells us he’s never felt. I can’t explain this – the only time we’ve seen Harry’s scar hurting before was a quick twinge back at the start-of-year feast when he was looking at Snape and Quirrell talking. It was implied then that it’s because he made eye contact with Snape, and we learn later that it’s because he made eye contact with Quirrell’s turban. The turban is facing away from him now, though – unless Quirrell is walking backwards, which even Harry would notice. And why has the scar not been hurting all year? It should be triggering in every single Defence lesson whenever Quirrell turns around to write on the board or something. Obviously this would spoil the big ‘plot twist’, since it would be happening in Defence and not in Potions, but in that case it shouldn’t have been included in the first place. The scar will never hurt consistently and works at the author’s whim like so many other things.

At this point another centaur conveniently gallops into the clearing, jumps over Harry’s head (not a problem for a horse on open level ground, but I don’t think it could get enough speed in a small space full of tree roots) and charges at the cloaked figure. For some reason, said evil figure doesn’t kill the unarmed centaur, but instead runs away.

This centaur is younger and prettier than the previous two, because reasons, being a shiny palomino. He’s also the only non-evil blond character we’re going to see for, oh, four books or so, and one of only two that I can think of in the entire series (the other is Luna). Rowling has issues.

His name is Firenze. This is the Italian name for the city of Florence. Centaurs don’t seem to have any sort of uniform naming convention, admittedly, but still… a Greek monster living in Scotland with an Italian name? He’s also not a true palomino, since he has blue eyes; blue-eyed horses with palomino-type colouring do exist, but they’re more properly cremello or perlino. That’s a little too nerdy and obscure for me to protest about it, though.

It’s been a while since we were reminded that Harry’s super-famous, so Firenze – despite being a half-horse living in a forest in the middle of nowhere – recognises his special scar of specialness and greets him by name. Oh, come on. Even if Firenze actually had somehow known about the scar and what it meant, why the hell would he care who Harry is? Voldy never got anywhere near Hogwarts, and while he might have killed any centaurs he happened to encounter he really wouldn’t have cared enough to hunt them down as long as they stayed in their forest. There’s no reason why the centaurs would even particularly know who he was, let alone care. Centaurs mostly think humans suck anyway, I can’t see them caring that one of them sucked more than the others. We can’t even blame Dumbles for this one, we know he’s friendly with the merpeople but there’s no mention anywhere of him ever speaking to the centaurs until book five.

Harry’s reaching new levels of stupidity even for him, since he feels the need to ask what it was he’s just seen. It was a human or at least a humanoid in a cloak, Harry. You could see that much. Firenze ignores this and tells him the forest isn’t safe and he should get back to Hagrid; I would argue that he should avoid Hagrid and get back to the castle, or back to the Muggle world if he really wants to be safe, but sure, whatever. He adds that it’ll be quicker if Harry rides, and kneels down to let him climb on. I don’t think this will be quicker, I doubt Harry’s ever even seen a horse in real life, let alone ridden one. Hope Firenze doesn’t mind being strangled by a boy trying not to fall off.

Ronan and Bane reappear for no real reason at this point, except to say ‘ew, human cooties, you’re gross Firenze’.

‘Do you realise who this is?’ said Firenze. ‘This is the Potter boy. The quicker he leaves this Forest, the better.’

Excellent point, Firenze. Everyone should want Harry a long way away from them. Carry on.

The centaurs all shout at each other for a while. Bane implies that the planets have told the centaurs exactly what’s going to happen, and that they can’t interfere. Firenze insists that the planets have also told him personally who the villain is, and that he’s going to fight against it with the humans (no, he isn’t. He does nothing to help for the entire series and we won’t even see him again for another four books, though I believe he does show up with the other centaurs to ineffectually shoot a few arrows during the final battle). This is a little like a kangaroo wanting to fight a South American drug cartel – the war involves a different species and will never touch the place where Firenze lives. There’s no reason for him to care whatsoever. There’s not much of a reason for him to even understand the problem.

Firenze declares that he’s won the fight and runs away with Harry before the other two can continue it. Harry asks again what’s going on, but the centaur doesn’t answer for a while and they walk through the woods for what seems to be a very long time. During this time Harry does not signal to Hagrid, either that he’s found the unicorn or that something bad has happened. We can’t have our wizard protagonist actually using magic, after all. Nor does he wonder if Draco’s okay, or if Hagrid’s going to be angry that he lost his dog. In fact, he doesn’t wonder about anything at all, including what he’s just seen. His inner monologue vanishes, because he’s an extremely boring narrator.

Finally Firenze stops at a random place in the trees and starts expositioning. He asks if Harry knows what unicorn blood is used for; no, says Harry, we only use the horn and tail hair in Potions.

This must mean that unicorns shed their horns like deer antlers, because they seem to be pretty ubiquitous but killing unicorns is super-bad and curses you.

Firenze tells us that killing unicorns is super-bad and curses you, and that unicorn blood will keep you alive no matter what but the whole curse thing rather spoils it. Once again, you don’t have to kill something to make it bleed. Has Rowling never had a cut or a nosebleed? And also, once again, Firenze is a random horse dude living in a forest. He’s not a wizard. His species tries to avoid contact with humans, except occasional grudging conversations with Hagrid. How the hell does he know what the properties of unicorn blood are?

Seriously, this would have been so much better if Harry had sneaked into the forest following ‘Snape’, seen the dead unicorn, and met Dumbles stalking him afterwards to have this explained to him. Or asked Hermione when he got back to the castle to help him look up unicorns and figure out why someone would want to drink one.

Harry’s continuing to be stupid, but in his defence it’s long after midnight by now, he’s spent most of the last few hours being scared, and he must be pretty tired. He can’t understand why anyone would want to be alive and cursed instead of dead.

We’re never told what ‘living a half life’ actually means, either. Does it make you semi-undead, or cut your life span in half, or what? There are plenty of other questions as well – why blood, specifically? Does it apply to other body fluids, or eating the meat, as well? Would you be cursed if you took the horn or tail hair from a dead unicorn? Can the curse tell the difference between blood from a unicorn you killed yourself and blood from a unicorn someone else killed or that died from natural causes? Would Hagrid have been cursed if he’d found the unicorn alive and had to kill it? Why doesn’t the curse activate when you kill the unicorn, rather than only when you specifically drink blood from it? Firenze specifically says you’re cursed ‘from the moment the blood touches your lips‘, so do you have to drink it at all? Does touching it with your fingers count, and if not, why not?

Of course none of these questions will ever be answered. This is Harry Potter. The HP wiki used to have an unintentionally hilarious entry about unicorn blood that mostly consisted of a long list of bullet points all beginning with ‘it is unknown’, but they seem to have taken it down now.

Firenze gently explains that yes, it’s bad, but not if you only need to buy time until you can get hold of something better – like, say, the Elixir of Life, and by the way did you forget that the thing that makes that is in the castle right now?

Yet again, how does Firenze know this? And how is he so sure that the elixir can neutralise whatever the blood does? You know what, I don’t care any more. Maybe the planets told him. I hear Mars is pretty bright. (I’m so sorry.) [Loten, the bad puns are my job, you’re leaving me nothing to do here! 😉 ] You’ve been a bad influence, clearly.

Harry still doesn’t understand. Who would possibly want immortality??? Apart from, you know, most people? I suppose I ought to be grateful that he’s not immediately defaulting to Snape is the root of all evil again, but given that he’s been doing that for the whole book the absence now is pretty stupid. We were introduced to the concept of there being a villain in this story somewhere around chapter 8 or 9 and Harry’s spent most of the year thinking about it.

Presumably trying not to facepalm very hard, Firenze reminds him that there’s this bad guy literally everyone knows about and is still too scared to name that multiple people have hinted probably isn’t dead.

Harry is utterly stunned by this revelation, of course. At this point Hermione and Hagrid show up, and Firenze takes the opportunity to get away from this idiot boy and scamper back to his forest.

Yes, Neville has vanished. No, he’s not going to reappear until next chapter. No, nobody’s going to acknowledge this. He hasn’t even got Fang with him, and all evidence suggests nobody’s going to care enough to go and look for him. I suppose he spent the rest of the night crying in the woods, since he doesn’t have special protagonist powers to summon friendly monsters, and once the sun came up he managed to climb a tree to see where Hogwarts was and had to make his own way out. We all know he’s much brighter and more resourceful than our hero. Capable of more magic, too, evidently.

Harry did tell Hagrid where the dead unicorn was, but he didn’t tell him what happened to it or what he saw. Instead he and Hermione go back to the castle, wake Ron up and tell him, because that’s much more useful. This does mean they walked away before their detention was finished, since it was meant to last until dawn, but if nobody noticed them losing two students I doubt they noticed the other two not finishing it.

Our hero spends the rest of the chapter ranting that Snape doesn’t want immortality and infinite money after all, he wants to help Voldemort get it instead, as soon as he gets the Stone Voldy will come back and kill Harry and the centaurs will be happy. Harry, I know you’re sleep deprived and not thinking straight, but you’re sounding a little crazy now. Particularly since you already think Snape knows how to get the Stone, so why would he be wasting time drinking cursed unicorns?

Ron’s only contribution is to repeatedly bleat that Harry shouldn’t be saying Voldemort’s name. That is literally the only thing he says. Good job, sidekick.

Hermione, perhaps recognising that we are not at home to Mister Logic right now, seizes on the only thing that might shut Harry up and reminds him that Dumbles is awesome and Voldy is scared of him so Hogwarts is safe and also the centaurs sounded a bit mad. Of course, this instantly makes Harry feel all better, and they all go to bed.

Where Harry finds that someone has sneaked into his bedroom and put his magic bedsheet in his bed. Appropriate place for it, I suppose, though that doesn’t change the fact that this is gross and creepy. It’s accompanied by a note saying, ‘Just in case‘.

So, yes, Dumbledore has planned at least most of the plot from start to finish. Nobody is surprised by this point.

The chapter ends here, so we have no idea what Harry thinks about this. I’m going to guess ‘nothing’.

So, the main fail of this chapter is the questionable detention that exists purely to force Harry to see something creepy in the woods, which he could have seen in far more plausible circumstances. The second big fail is unicorns and the incoherent mess of lore about their blood, which is an even larger fail when you finish the book and realise it never went anywhere and turns out never to matter. The narrative tries to imply here that it’s a big plot point, but if Quirrell had been even vaguely competent he could have got to the Stone a long time ago, and as we’ll see at the end of the book the unicorn blood doesn’t save him or Voldy in the end.

I think Rowling was just going for the evilulz here – we should be grateful it wasn’t kittens. Bad guys kill unicorns okay don’t question it. But as she so frequently does, she went too far; her protagonist is eleven and not too bright, so he doesn’t need to be told anything beyond ‘unicorn blood has important magical properties that make you stronger and harder to hurt, but it’s dangerous and cruel’. The readers know very little about the Potterverse at this point and they don’t need more details either. There’s no need to invent the weird never-developed immortality-with-a-price thing, particularly when we already have a source of immortality in the Philosopher’s Stone anyway (that will also never be relevant again).

Next time, after another long timeskip where our villain fails to do anything at all, he finally does something and we start limping through the grand finale.

Remember how in a recent post Mitchell told you that he’d had some poems published in a book of humanist poetry called Filling The Void? The physical paperback is now available, if anyone’s interested and didn’t want a digital version.


Posted by on April 18, 2016 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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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The Silkworm: Part Eleven – I quit.

This is the last post you’re going to see about any of the Cormoran Strike books. This part finally pushed me over the limit. You’ll understand why in a moment – it only took half a chapter.

Content notes: physical assault, victim blaming, transphobia, rape jokes, ableist slurs, misogynistic slurs, racism, fat hatred and anything else disgusting Rowling felt like throwing into the mix. Also my excessive language, I’ve been trying to tone down my swearing but… not this time.

As expected, chapter 37 opens with Strike whining about his knee and about being poor and how he’s spent too much money on eating in a restaurant. He almost has a plot-relevant thought, about how strange it is that everyone familiar with the book is looking to blame anyone except Owen and maybe someone else did write at least some of it, but is distracted by once again encountering the woman who’s been stalking him and fulfilled happy fantasies of most of the readers by trying to stab him.

We’re treated to a nauseating paragraph about how utterly amazing Strike is, which you all have to suffer through too. I know I’m meant to be speed-running through this now, but just look at this crap.

“Strike’s pace did not falter, nor did he turn to look at her. He was not playing games this time; there would be no stopping to test her amateurish stalking style, no letting her know that he had spotted her. On he walked without looking over his shoulder, and only a man or woman similarly expert in counter-surveillance would have noticed his casual glances into helpfully positioned windows and reflective brass door plates; only they could have spotted the hyper-alertness disguised as inattentiveness.”

Excuse me while I throw up.

And it keeps going. There are two full pages of Strike walking along telling us how awesome he is and how stupid people messing with him are – interspersed with comments about his knee, and how even though it just hurts soooo badly it’s not enough to stop him being awesome. Then finally he turns into an alleyway, hears running footsteps behind him, spins around and assaults the person.

Fortunately for him it actually is the woman who was following him and not some random person running for the bus, but I don’t think that justifies a full page of him hitting her with his walking stick, getting ‘a ferocious grip that made her scream‘, putting her in a headlock or forcibly dragging her up the stairs to his office while she screams bloody murder. Of course, there are no witnesses until he actually gets to the office, when someone looks out of the room next door. Oh how I hope they call the police.

Robin lets him into the office and is understandably horrified, especially since the book informs us this woman is very young – maybe 20 – and has scratch marks on her neck where Strike grabbed her. (The book feels the need to specify her ‘white‘ neck several times. I don’t know why.)

Strike tells Robin she tried to knife him again, and orders her to call the police; as Robin picks the phone up, the woman starts crying and begging and pointing out that Strike’s just hurt her quite badly. Robin ignores this in favour of slut-shaming her.

I’m not kidding.

” ‘Why have you been following me?’ Strike said, panting as he stood over her, his tone threatening.
She cowered into the squeaking cushions yet Robin, whose fingers had not left the phone, detected a note of relish in the woman’s fear, a whisper of voluptuousness in the way she twisted away from him. “

Fuck. This. Book. (This was the start of the meltdown.)

And it gets SO MUCH WORSE.

After a lot of yelling, some more assault and battery on Strike’s part and a fucking stupid attempt at good-cop-bad-cop, it turns out this woman is the mysterious Pippa.

Although at the moment she’s actually Philip, and won’t be legally Pippa for a little while yet.

Hence Epicoene the hermaphrodite in Owen’s book, which has just become a hundred times more awful and insensitive.

Strike’s reaction to this is to stare at her Adam’s apple, which under the scratches and bruises he’s left is ‘still prominent‘.

Robin’s reaction is to try not to laugh.

My reaction was to start yelling at Mitchell.

Pippa starts crying, understandably, and these two terrible people continue their ghastly good-cop-bad-cop interrogation routine to try to work out what the fuck is going on and why she wants to kill Strike (apart from the fact that he exists, which would honestly be good enough for any jury). The single bright point is that the book is still using female pronouns.

And then somehow the book manages to become even worse, thanks to Strike.

” ‘If you go for that door one more fucking time I’m calling the police and I’ll testify and be glad to watch you go down for attempted murder. And it won’t be fun for you inside, Pippa,’ he added. ‘Not pre-op.’ “

Fucking hell, Rowling. Even for you, this is low. The yelling got worse.

Skipping past the rest of the scene, which is just filled with insults and stereotypical hysteria and a lot of bullshit I don’t want to deal with. It boils down to Pippa thinking Leonora hired Strike to frame her and Kathryn, and she’s been following Strike because she wanted him to lead her to Owen so she could kill him for the terrible way he wrote about her in his book. Owen apparently lied to the two of them and said he was writing something much different that was really lovely about them both, and then wrote Bombyx and sent it to them.

I was initially extremely sympathetic, but later in the scene Pippa calls Orlando a retard.

I quit.

I’m not kidding. I’m done. That was the straw that broke the camel’s fucking back.

I’m going to very quickly skim through the remaining chapters, and give you a brief summary of whodunit and so on. And then I am going to give this book to my father and tell him to throw it on the bonfire next time he burns some garden waste.

There is nothing this book can say or do now that would justify my continuing to read it. Rowling has literally checked every possible box of awfulness and I’m not willing to deal with it any more.

Pippa eventually escapes, and afterwards Strike calls her a ‘self-dramatising twat‘. Full fucking house, Rowling.

Highlights of the rest of the book, speed-read in about twenty minutes while ranting.

In a later chapter we learn one of Strike’s oldest friends has yet another nickname for him, this one derived from a Cornish slur for travellers/Romanies. Because it’s fine to be racist if it’s an obscure regional slur that other people won’t recognise. Their conversation involves endless misogynistic sex jokes and calling Charlotte crazy.

Brief glimpse of plot – Leonora is arrested. Kathryn had a credit card receipt, given to her by Orlando, showing that someone bought overalls, ropes, tarpaulins and a burqa shortly before Owen’s disappearance, and after Strike attacked Pippa the two of them handed it to the police. Leonora insists it was Owen’s card and she never had access to it.

Charlotte texts Strike out of the blue. ‘It was yours.‘ Don’t care, book. Later  there’s a lot more bullshit attempting to once again vilify a character who has never appeared onscreen, and I still. Don’t. Care.

Turns out Strike’s daddy knows Fancourt and is in talks with Chard about publishing his biography. Look at all the fucks I don’t give. This never turns out to be relevant and I wouldn’t give a shit if it did.

Emotional blackmail of Orlando in the hope that she happened to steal some evidence.

We finally meet Fancourt. He is true fat-shaming MRA scum who says things about Liz Tassel that make me want to do something very painful to Rowling’s nervous system. If I hadn’t already quit earlier I would have done here. And we’re still not done.

The actual plot resolution would be unbelievably annoying if I still cared. Several chapters of Strike mysteriously telling people to do things that we’re not told about, telling people his theories that we’re not told about, and generally abusing the already long-dead flogged horse.

Turns out all the shit with the Cutter was because Jerry’s daughter might not actually be his, but might be Fancourt’s. This absolutely does not justify all the shit with Charlotte.

Nina finally tells Strike to fuck off. Best bit of the book.

Lots of crap about how clever Strike is.

The final solution to the plot: there were two versions of Bombyx Mori. The version Owen wrote, and the version everyone saw, which Liz Tassel wrote. In a better book this would actually have been a decent twist.

It turns out that it was actually Liz who wrote the parody that caused Fancourt’s wife to kill herself and started this whole feud. And Owen knew and had been blackmailing her ever since.

It was Liz’s idea that Owen should stage his disappearance, and then she met him at Talgarth Road, talked him into posing for a ‘publicity photograph’ and killed him.

The whole thing is summarised in unbelievably poisonous terms. Liz’s entire motivation for all of this is because, being fat and ugly, she wasn’t laid enough. I’m not even kidding – she apparently orchestrated this whole thing out of sexual frustration and depression and a decades-long crush on Fancourt that ended badly. That is the only motivation the narrative gives her and all the depth her character gets – a sick stereotype straight from the depths of dudebro culture and modern fat hatred.

As if that wasn’t enough, over the space of two pages she breaks down and turns into a frothing lunatic talking to herself in weirdly Bellatrix terms (though not the baby-talk) and ends up a stereotypical TV ‘crazy person’.

The book ends with Liz, having been set up, getting into a ‘taxi’ driven by Robin. There’s a big dramatic car chase, and they crash. Sadly they’re both fine. Robin gets a media concussion, i.e. there are no consequences whatsoever.

Liz is on suicide watch pending trial.

She kept the original Bombyx Mori manuscript. In the freezer with Owen’s guts. It’s going to be published.

For reasons surpassing all understanding, Robin and Matthew are still together, though the very last page of the book is her and Strike flirting.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need a very stiff drink and preferably brain surgery to remove any memory of this book.

Do not read it under any circumstances.

I’m not touching anything else Rowling ever produces – unless it’s Harry Potter related, because in children’s books she can’t show her true colours and I don’t have to think about what a terrible person wrote the books that are still a big part of my life and how much she despises me and other people who look like me.

That said, there won’t be a HP post for a week or two. I need time to forget this before I can look at anything else she’s written without screaming. She has forfeited all right to ever be given the benefit of the doubt ever again and it’s going to take a conscious effort to stop my current anger with her bleeding through into our coverage of HP.

I have no idea why she decided to do this.



Posted by on February 18, 2016 in loten


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